Day 11 – Permanent Suburbia?

Sunday 7 September 2014

Oh it feels good to be wearing underwear again.

I realised today that, despite having been in Almaty for two nights, I hadn’t really seen much of the city itself. I’d certainly not found the ‘centre’; all the roads I’d been down so far gave the city an unusual feel of being made up of hundreds of mini-suburbs, with tree-lined avenues of residential blocks giving way to corner shops, fancy restaurants, and local amenities, then just as quickly returning to suburbia. Sometimes the streets became very rough-looking and a bit derelict before suddenly again returning to fancy shops at the next crossroads. Indeed this evening I took a long walk down a road that displayed this split personality several times in a search for a recommended restaurant that when I got there, I found it was closed up with chains and people were outside repainting it. So much for using a 4-year-old guidebook.
In the event, I ended up going back to that same airy cafeteria place I visited yesterday. More cake.

Oddly, despite walking for maybe five hours, I still never really found a true ‘centre’. At the Northern edge of my trek I did come across both the main bazaar and a pedestrianized street called Zhibek Zholy which seems to serve as the main shopping street, but they didn’t feel like they belonged to the centre of a large city, rather that they were the main focal points for merely a larger suburb.

I did notice, in typically Soviet methodology, the large numbers of public parks and green spaces. The largest of these that I walked through – Panfilov Park – contains both an Orthodox Cathedral (Zenkov) allegedly made out of wood, and a rather large war memorial in typically-overblown style. Both were incredibly popular with camera-happy locals. The inside of the cathedral felt surprisingly small compared with how it looked on the outside a sort of ‘reverse TARDIS’ if you will, but I suppose most cathedrals are like that – their height and over-ornamentation are designed to give a much grander impression than a simpler building would.
I did pass by another cathedral later in the day – St Nicholas – but it was surrounded by building-site walls and couldn’t work out how to get closer to it.

This hostel has quite a friendly crowd, including another Brit (James) who seems in every way just like Friday’s Brit isn’t. In a way, he’s the sort of traveller who’d get annoyed by people like me, who just breeze through a country and don’t bother to explore it or learn the language (he’s a regular visitor to Russia and is pretty competent in the language). He’s particularly chatty, but in a friendly way rather than a ‘listen to me I’m great’ way. He’s also headed to Bishkek tomorrow, to explore a bit of Kyrgyzstan, so we’ll head out together.
There was also a Dutch lady living in Hong Kong who chatted with us for a time; she was having difficulty sourcing an Uzbek visa so was quite jealous of mine – Hong Kong doesn’t have an Uzbek Embassy and other places she tried said ‘ah you need to get it in your home country’, which doesn’t help when you live seven time zones away from it.

The hostel owners also finally realised who I was today, and that I had pre-booked yesterday, so they gave me a refund of 700T, presumably for the deposit. One of them came into the dorm mid-afternoon with a piece of paper with ‘barefoot backpacker’ written on it and said ‘is this you?’.

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