Day 116: Our house is a very, very fine house
Almaty Travel Blog› entry 161 of 260 › view all entries
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.