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Travelling to remote and not so remote places

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April 2014

Still in Munich


Travelling! The bug never dies, I think. Ever since Max, who turned 8 in Dec 2013, was born, there was very little of it. Family holiday – yes. Swank hotel on Crete (Domes of Elounda, it rocks for what it is – a family and probably honeymoon place, even though I don’t quite see how that goes together. I experienced the family part and that was abso.f.ing.lutely fantastic – leave out the buffet food), business trip here and there (Bonn, the former capital of Germany a frequent destination, some trips to France, lots of journeys to lots if places for a two hour meeting), a few days in Delhi to visit a partner company – that was the extent of my travelling in the last few years. And now this trip to Kazakhstan, the great unknown. Still largely unknown, demystified, but just to an extent with a lot of curiosity still to be satisfied.

Back in Munich


Adventure, of sorts, is over. I am back in Munich, waiting for my family to return from Dubai. I liked Almaty and thus the part of Kazakhstan, which I could experience: no particular highlights, but all in all pleasant and full of friendly people. So, what does a family man do, when he’s all alone? He goes skiing! But not if the weather forecast for the glaciers is rather awful. So I went and played a round of golf – my first this season. And here is the first par:

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On my way home


While I thought that I knew what it means to take the red-eye-clipper at 6.50 int the morning the term took on a new dimension with my 3.50am flight from Almaty to Frankfurt. Next stop:

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Same same – but different


Almaty – Day 10 – Traffic


Traffic, as it turns out, is fairly harmless in Almaty. Pollution aside, which is horrendous, the traffic flows fairly well through the rather spacious perpendicularly aligned streets. Since the earthquake towards the end of the 19th century, which pretty much wiped out the garrison town of Verniy, as it was known then, Almaty has been rebuild with relatively wide streets which cope with the traffic quite reasonably. I have read otherwise, so bear in mind that this observation merely reflects what I have experience in the two weeks I have been here.

Cars range from oldish to new and flashy – there’s quite a selection of Bentleys on the road (sold by a local dealer), you see a lot of Porsche Cayennes and BMW X5’s, I have already mentioned the ubiquitous Toyota Landcruiser Prado. Most of them are in good shape; the local attitude towards cars is closer to the French approach then to the German “my car is my castle” attitude.

The owner of this car will be getting a ticket, won't he?
The owner of this car will be getting a ticket, won’t he?

Driving behaviour in general is very civilised, even though I have no idea what the driver of this car thought when he parked it at the stairs.

Almaty – Day 9 – Idiosyncrasies


Having spent more than a week in Almaty now, albeit with a limited set of experiences due to having to spend my time with other things than exploring the town and, for that matter, Kazakhstan, it is time to share a few observations.

Online banks: I thought online banks  were virtual organisations only present in the internet. I remember when Egg started business in the UK – I was quite attracted by the idea of having a lean easy bank that does what I want it to do: take care of my money, give me access to it when I need it – and all of this without having to bother to go to a high street branch. It seems there is a bank around here, that does not fit my understanding of an online bank:

Online bank? Doesn't look like it.
Online bank? Doesn’t look like it. Seen in Almaty.

The photo isn’t very good, but I think you’ll see the interesting bit all the same. Puzzling…

F… the system: I am so glad, that virtually everywhere we can find people who feel that they have to publicly express their differentiated view on this world. Should you have read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, about the Soviet labour camps – he is describing his experiences in a Kasakh Gulag close to the city of Karaganda – you might have been shocked by the stories of completely innocent people having to go through the unthinkably cruel life in the Gulag. Now, I am not saying that somebody who quintessentially damages somebody else’s property by spraying stupid statements, in this case without even the faintest trace of artful aesthetics, should spend years in the Gulag. But, whoever the brave sprayer was, he would have been much braver had he done his work during the Stalin period. Which, thankfully, has been over a long time.

F.. the system, the sprayer says.. F... the sprayer, I say.
F.. the system, the sprayer says.. F… the sprayer, I say. Seen on the way and close to Gorky Park.

I always like a nice view…


… out of the office window

Or the hotel as well

Almaty – Day 8 – Reflection


Back to the treadmill it is. I don’t like Mondays. Which is actually not true; I don’t have a special like or dislike of any day of the week. And the treadmill is not so much a treadmill but rather enjoyable: how many people have got the chance to work on an exciting project at an interesting place like I have now? Alas, this is not about work, this is about, ehem, well, just rambling on in public, really, isn’t it?

Almaty's Gorky Park - probably not a great difference to any other Gorky park in this world.
Almaty’s Gorky Park – probably not a great difference to any other Gorky park in this world.

So, we had a good stroll in Gorky Park on Saturday and explored all the roundabouts and carousels and pools that are there. Unfortunately the weather was rather bad, so everything was closed (not that I knew whether it would have been in operation if the weather had been good), but it is a pleasant park with some quiet areas and  a large section which is clearly kids paradise.

What did Mom's do before the smartphone? God beware, they might have interacted with their offspring instead of sending text messages.
What did Mom’s do before the smartphone? God beware, they might have interacted with their offspring instead of sending text messages.

A few kids we saw, and we saw them in a familiar situation – probably known around the globes: kids play, mother focusses on her smartphone. While this might not be particularly interesting it just shows the normality of Almaty in Kasakhstan – just like anywhere else in other parts of the world that consider themselves civilised. I am still stunned about the fact that I hang out in this place and feels so normal. However, it is a bit of a melting pot with people from all over the ex-Soviet-Union and Asia with no (at least visible to me) difference between people. One is almost tempted to describe that as tolerant where it is just pleasantly normal. I like it.

Almaty – Discoveries


Mc Doner. Now, that is a highlight. If not inventive, so at least funny. It’s not going to make the guys in Illinois nervous, so good on Mr. Mc Doner. The kebap stand is located at the Western end of the pedestrian’s area which is referred to as Arbat (with Moscow’s pedestrianised street as a model) – the street is actually called Zhibek Zoly Avenue.

Mc Doner at one end of the Arbat pedestrianised area. I wonder whether you could order a Quarter Doner with Cheese?
Mc Doner at one end of the Arbat pedestrianised area. I wonder whether you could order a Quarter Doner with Cheese?

As appealing as the sign might be: I did not try a doner here, even though a Kazakh-American-German-Turkish fusion meal sounds like something worth trying. Next time. Maybe.

Walking around in Almaty’s streets we stumbled upon this rather exciting sample – a little gem which has been used to chauffeur an elite Soviet functionary around. But that’s way back, now it stand close the Almaty’s Gorky Park and wants to be admired. And deserves to.

An old Chaika. Production ceased until 1981, but ever since 1959 it has been a symbol of the members of the elite in Soviet times. Not available to ordinary citizens.
An old Chaika. Production ceased until 1981, but ever since 1959 it has been a symbol of the members of the elite in Soviet times. Not available to ordinary citizens.

 

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