Category Archives: Kazakhstan

Days Fifty-One – Fifty-Two: Almaty to Astana

[Time for some long-overdue posts! I've been writing some of this as I go.]

The last couple of days in Almaty were relatively uneventful – but not completely uneventful, as Nazerke invited us all over for dinner, which she and her parents insisted was simply required when having guests, and we tried the Kazakh national dish beshbarmak, composed largely of horse meat, which was excellent.

I took an overnight express train to Astana. This train is an exception to the rest of the Soviet rail system, being designed/built by a Spanish company and fairly new and clean, and containing a restaurant and bar car, and comparatively comfortable bunk beds (see later for what I’m comparing them to). I knew in theory that it wasn’t normal for this rail network, but only truly understand that now, as I sit writing about it while aboard a train from Astana to Ekaterinburg, Russia (currently stopped at Kurgan), which I shall have to describe in more detail later. The other trains from Almaty to Astana take about 24 hours.

Train tracks in Almaty
Train tracks in Almaty

It’s at least sort of true what they say about trains in this region: although there were no endless vodka shots (supposedly this is a common sticky situation as it’s made hard to say no), people are talkative. Through the language barrier (meaning about 75% in English, 25% in Russian), I made one friend and also met one less than savory character. The friend is a Kazakh girl, Venera, who also just finished university; she might be reading this, since we became Facebook friends! The other guy, from Siberia (where I now am), scoffed at my claims of being a tourist, pointing to his own hefty hiking boots and swearing at me in Russian, and repeatedly told me to flirt with Venera (after having, as it seemed to me, tried to do so himself and been rebuffed).

Venera was amused that my name was Michael. “Michael” is the stereotypical American boy, she said, the way that Natasha is the Russian girl. I asked what the equivalent for an American girl was. Jessica, she said. I guess it makes sense, because a plurality of my friends at Yale are named Jessica!

Astana train station
Astana train station

When the train journey was over, it was time to find my hostel in Astana. To be continued…

Posted from Moscow, Moscow, Russia.

Day Fifty: Shymbulak

Today Nazerke and her sister took us to Shymbulak. This is a ski resort in the winter, but the high mountains just outside of town are just as amazing to see in the summer.

We rode several cable cars (gondolas) to the top of the ski area – first to the lodge, then to the very highest part of the ski trails.

View from one of the cable cars
View from one of the cable cars
Looking back towards the city
Looking back towards the city

When we got to the final stop, the view was magnificent – but we wanted more. Sam, Nazerke, and I climbed what the GPS said was 120 meters higher up a steep slope and took it in for a while. Our top altitude was 3336 meters, or 10,945 feet. It was hard to catch my breath during all that exercise.

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Only a panorama can begin to do the place justice.

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This is the kind of thing I bought my GPS for. Here’s the track.


As an aside, I’m posting this on battery power using cellular data, because the electricity has gone out at our hostel. This is the first I’ve encountered an outage on my whole trip.

Posted from Almaty, Almaty Province, Kazakhstan.

Day Forty-Nine: Almaty, part two

The major destination of the day was the Central State Museum, which is quite impressive on both the outside and the inside. It fairly comprehensively covers Kazakhstan from the time of dinosaurs to modern history.

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Photos aren’t allowed inside, but I snuck this one to show the amount of effort that went into making handwritten signs.

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I had already met up with Sam (a friend recently made in Dushanbe) and Brendan (from Yale), and after the museum we were joined by Nazerke, a friend from Yale and a native of Almaty, just arrived home here, who in her apparently infinite hospitality has now spent the last two days showing us around.

I’ll just leave a couple of snapshots:

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The dome is over an underground mall.
The dome is over an underground mall.



Posted from Almaty, Almaty Province, Kazakhstan.