Day 116: Our house is a very, very fine house

Almaty Travel Blog

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Almaty II station

Tim & Wim (Belgium), Aselya, Daniyar, Bek (Kazakhstan), Tim (USA), Robin (UK) & Rayhan (Uzbekistan)

We divided the tasks as follows: Tim and Wim would drive the car to a mechanic near the guest house, probably needing most of the day buying replacement parts, while I would go into town to find accommodation for tonight.
We both bought a Kazakh SIM card for our mobiles, so that we could keep in touch. A prepaid SIM costs a whopping € 1 in this country. Who said technology has to be expensive?

I took a bus to the centre and an hour later I was standing at the central train station of Almaty (strangely named Almaty II station). I dropped my bags at the left-luggage and walked to a hotel listed in the Lonely Planet as 'affordable'.

Our apartment was right behind the main shopping street. Just why it says 'Happy New Year'... I dunno...
Well, affordable it was, I could get two rooms for the three of us, which together cost less than half of what we had paid last night. I realised with that last night's accommodation had been a real rip-off. The guest house makes clever use of the myth/fact that accommodation in Almaty is expensive by announcing everywhere that they are a budget alternative, even though they aren't exactly cheaper than the budget accommodation in the city. The recommendation on the Thorn Tree forum had probably been their own post. I made a mental note to post a correction and a warning on the forum about this.

That said, the hotel I had found wasn't much to write home about, so I decided to continue my search. I had heard there are plenty of people renting out apartments in the centre, and after the good experiences with private apartments in Ukraine and Moldova (and Kyrgyzstan!) I wanted to try and find a good apartment for the three of us.
Our apartment

Well, luckily for me, the people renting out apartments (which isn't 100% legal) presently hang out right next to the hotel Zhetisu which I had just checked out.

I walked over to a group of people that were sitting in the shade and did my usual 'hello, I'm an ignorant tourist, please come up to me with offers for accommodation' look, and it worked - within minutes I was surrounded by people all trying to give me the best offer. I tried to call their bluff by shouting the price I had in mind, which caused some to walk off immediately, but one person was happy to rent out an apartment for that price.

The apartment was only two blocks from where we stood, smack in the centre of Almaty, just behind the main shopping street Zhibek Zholy, crawling distance from restaurants and coffee shops and a supermarket.
Tim and Wim celebrating the return to civilization with: burgers!
The apartment itself was perfect. Two large bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, shower and toilet, and most important, a washing machine. A bargain at only €15 per person per night. Sure, compared to what we had paid in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan this was quite a dent in our budget, but for Almaty this was definitely a good deal. And besides, the money we saved on laundry alone already made the apartment a viable investment.

The main reason for my visit to Almaty, which could influence my entire trip around Kazakhstan, was that I had to apply for a visa for India here. I had no idea how long it would take and how often I would have to come back to the embassy, so as soon as I had paid for the apartment and arranged for a pick up of the key on Monday morning, I headed over to the Indian embassy.
Oh yeah, it is great to be back in the civilised world again

Unfortunately it had just closed. Visa applications are only accepted on Monday, Tuesday and Friday between 10 and 12 AM. Guess I had to come back on Monday then. Bugger, I had actually hoped to leave Monday morning or perhaps even Sunday night. Now it looked like I would have to stay Monday in Almaty as well.

When I returned to the apartment I got a call from the guys that they were on their way to the city as well. They had found all the spare parts they needed and could pick up their car again on Monday. That meant we would have the whole weekend in Almaty. What to do?

Well, one thing Almaty certainly doesn't lack is places to go out for a drink. Even before our re-encounter in Kyrgyzstan we had already agreed to try and meet up in Almaty for a proper farewell drink.
Beeline, our telco company that we bought new simcards with. Amazing they can do these kind of promotions and still only charge a euro for a SIM card

And I am not just talking about drinking alcohol. Oh, no, Almaty also has an active coffee culture. I was dying for some decent coffee again. Apart from the one espresso in Tashkent I hadn't had any proper coffee since Georgia!

One of the trendiest places in Almaty is Coffeedelia, where they don't just serve coffee, but they have food and beer as well. And, oh yeah, sheesha! We shared a sheesha between the three of us, while sipping some beers, nibbling on some snacks and checking our mails on the free wi-fi. Nope, this was not a bad place to be.

As we sat there we were all of a sudden approached by a Kazakh girl who asked us: “Are you guys speaking Dutch?”
What a weird question... it turned out the girl, Aselya, was a big fan of Dutch singer Anouck and she had just been downloading a recent live concert and she noticed the introductions Anouck made in between the songs sounded a lot like our conversation.
Aselya buying some balloons
She offered to buy us some beers if she could sit down with us and talk to us.
Hmm, local girls buying us a drink just because we speak Dutch? I think I'm starting to like this place!

Aselya turned out to be lovely company. She spoke impeccable English, which was a nice change for once, since normally the only people you meet who speak some English are people working in the tourism industry, who will only talk to you if there is some kind of financial incentive.

After about an hour she told us she had to leave, as she was meeting some friends at a birthday party. “Hey,” she said, “most of the people there will be expats, so it might be interesting for you to join. Why don't you come with me?”

Yeah, sure, why not. We're always up for meeting new people.
Aselya and me

So we tagged along with her, crashing her friend Tim's birthday party. Tim was an American, who has been living in Almaty for several years now. His friends were a mix of Kazakh, Russian, British and whatnot. I chatted for a while with his Kazakh flatmate Bek and with an Uzbek/British couple who are both working for the BBC in Kazakhstan. All very interesting people.

The party was held at a restaurant, so we were able to have a late dinner here. An unexpected fun first night in Almaty.

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Almaty II station
Almaty II station
Our apartment was right behind the…
Our apartment was right behind th…
Our apartment
Our apartment
Tim and Wim celebrating the return…
Tim and Wim celebrating the retur…
Oh yeah, it is great to be back in…
Oh yeah, it is great to be back i…
Beeline, our telco company that we…
Beeline, our telco company that w…
Aselya buying some balloons
Aselya buying some balloons
Aselya and me
Aselya and me
Almaty by night
Almaty by night
The bar where Tims birthday party…
The bar where Tim's birthday part…
Tims birthday party
Tim's birthday party
Wim and a guy I dont know
Wim and a guy I don't know
Tim and Wim and a drunk Russian
Tim and Wim and a drunk Russian
Aselya and me and that same drunk …
Aselya and me and that same drunk…
photo by: Alfiya