When you get into Kazakhstan you don't notice many changes from Kyrgyzstan in terms of landscape, probably a bit less mountanious, but that's all. but you do notice when you get to Almaty. The city is huge, modern, with tall and new buildings, good cars on the streets... it feels like you are back in Europe instead of deeper into Central Asia.
Being quite late, we headed to the restaurant with the discount coupon. And here is where we started to realize that Almaty, besides having a totally European look, it also has totally European prices. The restaurant was a kind of self-service one. A new, big and modern one but for sure one of the cheapest options in town. But looking at the prices was quite a shock. We had some chicken cutlet, a small salad and a beer and we payed what we would have payed back home in Barcelona. It was going to be hard to have cheap eats in this city and it also looked it was going to be hard to find some traditional Kazakh places, as all the restaurants we saw around the hostel looked the same: new, modern, fancy, trendy, posh and expensive.
The following morning we woke up quite late and started exploring the city. The first impression was right: Almaty could easily be in any European country. But actually they are overreacting a bit. I think they want to be that much European that now the city is too European.There are thousands of these trendy restaurants and cafés everywhere, all of them looking the same and overlit at night, so it gives you a feeling of being wherever but not in Central Asia.
We went for a coffee and muffin in one of these places and then headed towards a nearby park. There we could see the University building before going to the next park. This second one is a big one and it has two of the most important sights of Almaty: The Zenkov Cathedral and the WWII Memorial Monument. The Cathedral is especially nice, made totally from wood and beautifully painted, making it look like a birthday cake.
We continued our way through the park to reach the WWII Memorial Monument, which is a huge black Soviet monument commemorating the deadth of 28 Almatian soldiers. It is like all Soviet monuments, which means ugly and with no charm, but this one is really big and the faces of the soldiers are scary. There's also an eternal flame nearby and some tombs.
After the park, we headed to the tourist information center, as we wanted to ask for the possibility of seeing some eagle-hunting in the area these days, but being impossible to find the office we continued our tour. First we went to the mosque, which is a huge white building with a golden dome, and then to the main pedestrian street. Again, it felt like being in Europe, this street could easily be Portal de l'Àngel in Barcelona or Stroget in Copenhagen, with the only difference that the Almatian street has nothing really special, just shops, shopping malls, restaurants and a lot of people giving you flyers.
As we were not going to buy anything, we decided to end up the day by having some laghman at a surprisingly not very expensive and not fancy restaurant and some beers at an expensive and fancy place. From there back to the hostel.
We woke up again quite late and we went to find the bus to get to the Stadium. After a lot of waiting, we finally got to the right bus and up to the stadium. It is an Olympyc stadium surrounded by mountains. Even if it is only half an hour from the city, you feel you are in the middle of the nature: mountains, snow, a river... really nice. What was not as nice was that we got to the stadium exactly when they were closing. They have a break between 3 and 6 and we were there at 3, so that meant we had to wait 3 hours to get in. Great.
To kill the waiting time we went to have some food and to try to get up to Chimbulak, a ski resort reachable by taxi or by ski lift, but after seeing the prices we just decided to get back into the restaurant and order another beer.
After the skating activity there was only time to go back to town, have some kebab and go to sleep. Next day, waking up late again, was devoted to visit Kok Tobe, a hill from where you have views of Almaty. We went to the foot of the hill by bus and the rest of the way walking uphill, but when we got up there it was quite disappointing as most of the place was undergoing renovations. Just a small zoo with some birds on display, a closed amusement park, a statue of The Beatles (yes, don't ask me why, but there's a statue of the Fab Four there and even their music on the speakers) and a couple of terraces from where to have some views of the city.
The stay in Almaty was all in all nothing special, the same as being in any European city but with not many sights. Anyway, it is ok if you want to go out of the Central Asian atmosphere and spend some days feeling like "back home".
Hope to see you in China! (I know already that, same as in Iran, most of the internet is blocked, but this time we'll try to use a good VPN to be able to update earthlooping as much as possible, otherwise it will be updated after some 3 weeks).
You can now check our Almaty picture gallery as well as the Almaty travel guide!