"A Long Way From Anywhere" Top 5 Page for this destination Kazakhstan by TheWanderingCamel
Kazakhstan Travel Guide: 707 reviews and 1,643 photos
For how long?
That was the typical response we got from people when we said we were flying out to Almaty, the biggest city (though not the capital) in Kazakhstan for 5 days.
10 hours flying time from London but, with friends living there and an open invitation, how could we not go?
Central Asia? Vast, empty steppes.
Almaty ? Boring ex-USSR city.
Well, those preconceptions were turned on their head pretty quickly.
The setting is spectacular. Almaty (mother of the apple) sits in a green, lush, Alpine bowl while the mountains of the Tien Shan march along the horizon in snow-capped grandeur.
The city is small, full of trees and gardens (somewhat shaggy and unkempt but they gives a good feeling to the place).
Huge Soviet-era blocks of flats are adorned with with elegant murals
Quirky yurt-shaped bus-stops covered in mosaics of broken cup and plates,
the old Tartar part of the city with little white and blue wooden houses and a new, small, mosque built on the site of the one the Communists pulled down years ago, blue domes - gold-starred Russian onions on the Church of St Nicholas and gilded crescents atop the new Grand Mosque all add colour to the scene.
There's a not-to-be-missed typical Central Asian Bazaar where caviar is sold in plastic take-away containers and the white apricots are absolutely delicious.
Bridal parties come to lay their bouquets at the Eternal Flame of the massive war memorial that commemerates the heroes of Kazakhstan who saved Moscow.
A charming wooden buidiling in traditional Kazakh style houses a Museum of Musical Instruments.
Hardly one's idea of a boring Soviet-style city at all.
And then there was the steppe -
driving out to Tamgaly Tas - World Heritage site with thousands of ancient petroglyphs, and the little rag prayers and wishes of modern-day pilgrims. The hot, herby smell of wormwood under the tyres;
flocks of birds flying up from the ground in front of us;
a deserted collective farm with rusted machinery and a long-disused railway line running to nowhere;
boys on little Kazakh ponies
and a picnicking family singing on a hilltop.
Years of Soviet rule has left the city with a legacy of grandiose buildings, a couple of enormous squares and huge blocks of flats.
The rather gloomy and cavernous museum is mixture of natural and cultural history, signed only in Kazakh and Russian but with some interesting exhibits. There are a couple of carpet shops in the museum, with rugs of good quality and fair prices.
Much smaller, well laid out and housed in a charming small wooden building , is the Museum of Musical Instruments.
A visit to an artist's studio was a chance to see inside one of the ubiquitous blocks of flats, and some rather lovely paintings -Kandinskyesque semi-abstract dreamy images of the steppe, folk stories and family life - that quite belied the dreary surroundings in which they were being produced.
If the interior of a Soviet-era flat was as expected, the colour and vibrancy revealed by an invitation to see inside a yurt was amazing. It was a riot of gorgeous colour - long, intricately woven straps criss-crossing the roof, all hung with tassels of wool and silver beads, beautiful hand-embroidered hangings all around the walls. Definitely a home to be proud of.
We were very fortunate in having a driver available to us at all times, so getting around the city, and out in to the surrounding countryside, was easy.
Not much more than an hour's drive from the city, Medeo and Chimbulak are Almaty's playgrounds - skating and skiing in the winter, climbing and trekking in the summer, or - for the less actively inclined - the ski lift at Chimbulak operates all year round, taking you up to 3000m. The mountains are beautiful In Spring the ground beneath you is a carpet of flowers and the views are spectacular at any time.
Much closer to the city centre is the Kok-tyube Hill, accessible by cable car, crowned by the enormous television tower, where you'll find pleasant outdoor cafes and more great views.
- Pros:The unexpected charm of the place; beautiful scenery around Almaty
The horse has been central to Kazakh culture throughout the ages and even in today's Kazakhstan the horse holds a... more travel advice
Whilst the Museum of Traditional Instruments is the most attractive museum in Almaty, it is by no means the only one... more travel advice
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