Day 130: Almaty for the third time
Almaty Travel Blog› entry 175 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Nicholas (France), Aselya, Maya (Kazakhstan)
My third (and last) time in Almaty. I realised that I hadn't done any proper sightseeing in this city. Sure, I had visited some nice places around Almaty with Aselya, but inside the city itself I hadn't seen zip. And this city is considered one of the prettier former Soviet capitals.
The first place I wanted to visit was the Central State Museum, the former National Museum (it was renamed when the capital was moved to Astana). This is the site of Kazakhstan's most famous archaeological find: the Golden Man.
The Central State Museum is a pretty good museum. In about a dozen rooms you can journey through Kazakh history from the bronze age to modern times. Particularly much attention is paid to the Kazakh's history a nomadic people, direct descendants of Genghis Khan. The Kazakh tribes were called 'The Golden Horde', after their gold-coloured steps, a name they still fondly use.
Of slightly lesser historical value was the room dedicated to President Nazarbaev and all the great things he has done since the country gained independence. Ah well, I'd seen a similar exposition at the museum in Shymkent, and the national museum in Uzbekistan had a similar room about their president as well.
From the Central State museum I walked to Republic Square, the former governmental area. The square is flanked by some truly hideous Soviet government buildings: The former senate and presidential residents. Big, ugly, concrete bunkers - hideous! Heck, if I was president of Kazakhstan and this was my workplace I'd move the capital to Astana as well!!
I made my way back through the city and ended up at Panfilov park. Now I had walked through this park a dozen times, as it lies on the way to Bek and Nico's apartment, but never really paid any attention to the buildings and monuments in the park.
First there's the Zenkov Cathedral, a beautiful colourful Russian orthodox cathedral which survived both the 1911 earthquake and the 1930s Stalinist purges.
Nearby is a war memorial. These memorials are found all over the former Soviet Union. They commemorate the fallen of the WWII, and often some other, local, wars as well (in this case the 1917-1920 civil war). They all feature a tomb for the unknown soldier and an eternal flame. What makes this one so special is the truly haunting sculpture that looms over the tomb. The sculpture depicts several soldiers in a gruesome battle and is shaped in the form of a map of the former Soviet Union.
The second museum I visited today was the Museum of Kazakh Instruments, housed in a beautiful wooden home. I like traditional instruments, though as interesting as they may be to watch, I prefer to hear them played. I was in luck, there was a performance going on, a Kazakh lady playing traditional songs on a 'dombra' (a two-stringed lute).
As this was my last night in Almaty Nico and I were planning go out tonight. Bek was away for the weekend, together with Anais (the girl I met in Astana), while Aselya was to spend the weekend in a summer cabin with her niece. She did join us for dinner though.
We had wanted to go to Coffeemania again, which had been great fun last week, but unfortunately it was packed to the rafters and there was no way we could get a table here. We ended up in a semi-traditional Kazakh restaurant, where I had some lovely laghman - pretty sure this would be the last time I would eat these Central Asian noodles.
After dinner we went over to Soho again.
It was a lot busier than last week and of the three times I visited this place I think this was the best night. This time there were far fewer expats chasing hookers and much more locals just having a fun time. Also, there were two bands on tonight. First there was the band I had seen twice before and they impressed me with the fact that they play different songs each week. The second band played more songs in the pop rock vain, including several covers of Radiohead and Coldplay.
We met some lovely Kazakh people and it seemed the bar closed all too soon at 3 AM. Nico and I didn't quite have enough yet, so we moved on to a place which would stay open a little longer: Da Freak.
This was a techno-club, of the type I usually avoid. But hey, it was my last night in Kazakhstan, my last night in Central Asia, my last night in the former Soviet Union, I might as well enjoy it!
I don't think we made it home before 7 AM...
I had loved my time in Kazakhstan. Not so much because of the sights, because, well, quite frankly, the country doesn't have any. I mean, the wacky architecture in Astana was all very nice and the mountains south of Almaty were beautiful, but overall, in terms of interesting sights, Kazakhstan ranks at the bottom of all countries I visited this trip.
But I had really loved my time in Almaty, a welcome return to the modern world for a few days. It was nice to have this in the middle of my trip, after my trip across Central Asia and before my venture into the more Asian Asia.
But above all, it is the people I met that made Kazakhstan a truly special place in my memory. The time I spent with Aselya, Nico, Bek and their friends have been among the highlights of my trip and I know that I shall miss the lot of them.