We arrived into Almaty at 3am and at that time in the morning there was nothing to do except wait it out at the airport until the city got going. It's a tough place for backpackers as people speak little English and prices are more aligned to Europe than Asia. We felt lucky to find a room in our price range at the very Soviet and soul-less Hotel Saulet where Bryn was promptly propositoned by some Kazakh chap looking for a 'foreign acquaintance' for his rather ropey looking 40 year old 'girlfriend'. Bryn was pretty happy to be able to point at his wedding ring.
Almaty is definitely the most European place that we'd been all trip and we felt quite at home walking along the wide tree-lined streets. It's a pretty affluent place...so it was a surprise for Fi one day to be walking along, without her bodyguard Bryn, and have some little Kazakh chap make a pickpocketing attempt on her rucksac. Not too sure who was then most surprised by the reflex reaction right hook that landed on the left side of his face. He didn't get anything But it was a reminder to us to start using those money belts again!....particularly as Fi had just withdrawn $1000 from the cashpoint!
There's not really loads of key sights in Almaty but having been in 40 degree Delhi for 6 weeks it was a bit of a novelty for us being able to walk around without triggering undue perspiration. It was wierd for Fi, after 2 months in India being starred at for exposing any flesh, now being starred at for quite the opposite reasons. It's definitely not wrong in Kazakhstan to wear 6 inch sparkly heels for a stroll in the park.
We went up the cable car one day for a pretty hazy view over Almaty and were amused to find the Beatles at the top with all the Kazakhs queueing for photos.
We got tickets to the circus one afternoon, and despite out initial horror at realising that we were the only adults in attendence who didn't have children with us, actually had a great time watching all the performers. We then headed out for a slap up central Asian feast...mouth watering lamb shashlik...yum. This, and the circus, was all courtesy of another wedding present - thanks to Great Aunt Tillie for all of that!
Dog school was actually pretty funny
And as for the giant orange skipping fluffball...
We headed out to the Charyn Canyon for a day trip on a bus full of Kazakh/Russian tourists. Charyn Canyon is definitely not the Grand Canyon but we had fun wandering through all the sandstone formations.
We also headed out into the mountains just 10km from Almaty to stretch our legs. We headed to Medeu where they are currently refurbing a massive ice rink in preparation for the Asian Winter Games. We set off on our Lonely Planet walk and were disappointed for it to finish 10 minutes later as we'd actually only walked along a BMX track.
Undeterred we set off up a small path leading straight up a steep hill. We quickly gained height heading up through the trees and stubbornly kept going as the path got narrower and narrower. We did wonder whether we actually were on some sort of animal track as the vegetation closed in further around us......careful what you wish for.....round the next corner there was a massive hole leading into the earth......a bear's lair!!! We beat a hasty retreat.....we didn't feel quite so confident without our jungle guide. We headed further up the hill into a lovely Alpine type clearing full of flowers and aromatic herbs...however, by now there really wasn't a path and our mountain was getting steeper and steeper.
We realised we had to head back down and as the heavens started to rumble we realised it was the right one. We felt quite elated to be back down at the road as the rain was really starting to come down, so we found somewhere to shelter with a load of Kazakhs. These were Kazakhs on holiday and despite their lack of English and our lack of Russian - they wanted to be friends. We all posed for photos and then the vodka bottle came out and before we knew it there we were, in the middle of the afternoon, doing shots of vodka with the locals in the middle of the beautiful mountain scenery.
Ok, off to Stan number 2.....