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Travelling to remote and not so remote places

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May 2014

A lazy Sunday in Almaty


After our Saturday excursion to the Charyn Canyon with 8 hours on a bus, followed by the glorious Bayern victory in the German Cup Final we felt rather lazy on Sunday morning. Off for brunch to the Coffee Room, which we’ve experienced during our last stay here already and which seemed worth another visit. Which was indeed the case: it’s a nice relaxed atmosphere there, a very nice terrace to sit outside, good service and coffees and brunch type food. Following that we walked down to the cable car which goes up Kok Tobe, the hill that overlooks Almaty. Excellent choice, as it turned out!

We took the cable car up (single ride: 800T, return 2000T – don’t ask me why that is), which was an experience on its own: being used to fairly modern cable cars that go up the Alps stepping into a rather small cabin, which swung up and down with every person entering, was almost a small adventure. The ride up took a few minutes and provided some great views over Almaty.

The cable car up Kok Tobe - a hangout place above Almaty for families and everybody, really.
The cable car up Kok Tobe – a hangout place above Almaty for families and everybody, really.

Kok Tobe itself turned out to be a very relaxed hangout catering for everybody. A few very nice attractions for kids, a loungy restaurant with some life music and tasty food, a few sad cages containing mostly birds (that was a bit sad, actually) and a good crowd wanting to have a good time make for a nice, pleasant atmosphere. Since the weather was really nice it was a great place to be.

Jurassic Park meets Kok Tobe.
Jurassic Park meets Kok Tobe.

There’s also a summer tobogan ride (some refer to it as roller coaster) on top of the hill: it’s good fun to do the downhill ride in the little carts – try it! Further, there is a Beatles monument on the hill, which seems to be a very attractive place to have your photo taken. All in all, a nice, relaxed Sunday.

 

The German Cup Final – Almaty


If you are into football (even if I am at risk to repeat myself: the real football, not the game that has been designed to bridge the gaps between ads on television) you will understand that the day your team is playing in your country’s cup final is not the day you want to be away 6000 km. Alas, here I am in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and my home team, Bayern Munich, is playing our arch rival, Borussia Dortmund. As it turns out, a lot of locals are into football and support clubs like Barcelona, Arsenal and … Bayern! So, there I was, in the Assorti Arena Bar in Almaty, watching the German club final with a whole crowd dressed in Bayern kit!

Avid Bayern fans in Almaty. The picture doesn't even remotely picture the enthusiasm, and for that matter, the number of fans who support Bayern Munich.
Avid Bayern fans in Almaty. The picture doesn’t even remotely picture the enthusiasm, and for that matter, the number of fans who support Bayern Munich.

The game ended 2:0 for Bayern in extra time – I have seen better football games, but none with more enthusiastic supporters in front of the TV. Almaty, keep supporting Bayern!

Kazakhstan – Not just Almaty!


Finally! Not just time for an excursion outside Almaty, but also the weather for it. You might remember, my first weekend in Almaty, as exciting as it might have been, suffered a little bit under a weather condition that one might call “raining cats and dogs”. Which basically meant, that our chance to explore anything outside Almaty was restricted to a very brief trip up the mountain to Shymbulak. But, here we go:

Approximately 210 km East from Almaty is the Charyn Canyon located in the Charyn National Park. There is a variety of tour operators offering day trips from Almaty - so it is easily accessible and not overly adventurous.
Approximately 210 km East from Almaty is the Charyn Canyon located in the Charyn National Park. There is a variety of tour operators offering day trips from Almaty – so it is easily accessible and not overly adventurous.

After the best part of four hours we arrived from Almaty at Charyn. We hadn’t booked a tour, but some local friends called on of the tour operators for us to check whether seats were available. We showed up at the bus stop at the Central Stadium in Almaty (East side), found the bus and, again with the help of a local friend on his mobile phone, bought the ticket here and there for 4000 KZT. It would be helpful to have a vocabulary of 300 words in Russian. Unlike on other Asian countries (if you ever bought a bus ticket for an express ride in India you know what I’m talking about) it was a direct ride from Almaty – one stop to fuel up and another to visit the restroom:

Refreshment stand at along the road to Charyn Canyon.
Refreshment stand along the road to Charyn Canyon.

So, all in all an easy trip. The bus wasn’t new, but fairly comfortable, the air-conditioning worked, the roads, once outside Almaty, were a bit pot-holed but not too bad and the general behaviour on the road was acceptable. Our journey went along with a range of mountains in the South on tarmac roads, just the last maybe 10 km were on gravel roads. The canyon didn’t show until we arrived – there it was, like a gigantic hole in the ground. We had a nice and experienced guide who led us down a little bit off the beaten track. The canyon itself is quite impressive. I haven’t been to Grand Canyon and would expect that to be even more impressive (bigger, deeper, faster, stronger – in other words: American), but I have hiked in the Colca Canyon in Peru (which I was led to believe is the second biggest canyon in the world) – Charyn canyon rocks! You walk among impressive rock formations, you see some huge rocks seemingly ready to be tipped down by the next gust of wind – it is an exciting display of natures forces. Some say that the big creator has done a particular good job in creating this part of the world – seeing that Moshe, Ali and Peter would have a hard to even agree on who the big creator I’d say thanks to the River Charyn and nobody else!

Impressibe rock formations in the so called Valley of Castles, a relatively narrow part of the canyon. The whole canyon is approximately 150 km long (almost 100 miles for the non-metric folk), but the Valley of Castles is the most impressive part. So I have been told. And impressive it is.
Impressibe rock formations in the so called Valley of Castles, a relatively narrow part of the canyon. The whole canyon is approximately 150 km long (almost 100 miles for the non-metric folk), but the Valley of Castles is the most impressive part. So I have been told. And impressive it is.
All the way down Charyn Canyon you'll see the river which carved the structure out of its surroundings. A very pleasant and relaxed place - you'll find plenty of people there who enjoy the tranquillity of this place. Except there's not much tranquillity left with all the enjoyment. Still, it is pleasant and relaxed.
All the way down Charyn Canyon you’ll see the river which carved the structure out of its surroundings. A very pleasant and relaxed place – you’ll find plenty of people there who enjoy the tranquillity of this place. Except there’s not much tranquillity left with all the enjoyment. Still, it is pleasant and relaxed.

This has been a very enjoyable day, crowned by the spotting of a bird of prey (something in me wants to believe that it has been a golden eagle, but something else says: you have no clue of birds, so stop pretending.) circling over the canyon. The way back was uneventful, but 8 hours in a bus in one day is a lot of time.

An eagle circling over Charyn Canyon. Well, I think it is an eagle. Looked impressive enough to me. Anybody who can identify the bird - please comment!
An eagle circling over Charyn Canyon. Well, I think it is an eagle. Looked impressive enough to me. Anybody who can identify the bird – please comment!

Let’s see what Friday evening has in mind


It’s already Friday and I guess there’s a nice evening with the team coming up.

Usbekian Restaurant in Almaty


Today we went to a very nice Usbek restaurant in Almaty: Kishlak

Very interesting are their traditional tables, which look like a small table stacked on top of a bed.
You take off your shoes and enjoy your meal sitting crossed legged (if you can enjoy a meal in that position).

I really enjoyed the food!
Although vegetarians are clearly not the typical target group I got a very tasty lentil soup and a vegetable kebab – whereas the others tried some deliciously looking meat.

All was lovely spicy and fresh.

So, bye for now – and – ” I’ll come back”

Dresden – Idiosyncrasies


I really enjoyed Dresden. The city has a lot of things going for it – beautiful architecture, nice contrasts between old glory and a vibrant modern student life in Neustadt, all very cool. Now, there were a few things that were distinctively odd.

What the world has always been waiting for: the Trabant as stretch limousine - and you think Germans don't have a sense of humour.
What the world has always been waiting for: the Trabant as stretch limousine – and you think Germans don’t have a sense of humour.

Dwelling in nostalgia is one thing, but a Trabant stretch limo another. Not quite my cup of tea, but I don’t think there’ll be many of those on this planet. Now, there has always been a rumour that due to the lack of other entertainment possibilities the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic took to rather carnal sorts of experiencing pleasure – I certainly have a hard time not to smirk at this pedestrian traffic light. But then, I am a dirty old man.

Huh. Now what is that supposed to mean?
Huh. Now what is that supposed to mean?

Heck! I forgot my guide book


What a bummer! Here I am again: in Almaty, looking forward to a sunny weekend and had to realise, that I’ve left my travel guide at home! Paul Brummell’s “Bradt Travel Guide to Kazakhstan” proved to be a helpful travel companion last time, see http://adebiportal.kz/catalog/book/kazakhstan-bradt-travel-guide/?lang=en.

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Not this time, though.

Almaty – Trip II


There we go again: Munich – Frankfurt – Almaty in approx. 10 hours with one stop. Not too bad a journey, even when you consider the distinctively cattle transport like economy class of Lufthansa. Very nice flight attendants, this time: super attentive, helpful, friendly – makes flying that bit nicer!

The Holiday Inn in Almaty on a nice sunny morning in May.
The Holiday Inn in Almaty on a nice sunny morning in May.

Almaty in May 2014 feels very pleasant: temperature in the morning close to 20º Celsius, rising to a pleasant 25º during the day.Beautiful weather, pollution not too bad – even though that might be a subjective feeling driven by the excitement of just having arrived. Well, off to the office to a good day of work, but more to come in the next days. Hopefully a chance to explore the surrounding and meet the “real” Kazakhstan with yurts and kumis and eagle hunters and tasty Aport apples.

Dresden – Karl-May-Museum


If you never heard of Winnetou, the noble Apache, or Hadschi Halef Omar, the slightly comical, but incredibly loyal Arab, it will be difficult for you to share my excitement. I grew up reading Karl May’s fantastic stories about Apaches, Comanches, black horses, Indian beauties, fights with grizzly bears, Middle Eastern countries, sneaky visits to Mecca – so it was a pleasure to stand on the grounds Karl May spent the last quarter of his life at. Villa Shatterhand and Villa Bärenfett – they host a collection about May’s life and a large and comprehensive collection of North American Indian artefacts. They don’t show the scalps any more, though.

The most famous rifles of the Wild West: Henry rifle, Bear killer and Silver rifle (Henry Stutzen, Bärentöter und Silberbüchse). Any reader who grow up with these rifles and their heroic owner will stand there in awe. Whilst wondering whether Karl May actually had lost his marbles...
The most famous rifles of the Wild West: Henry rifle, Bear killer and Silver rifle (Henry Stutzen, Bärentöter und Silberbüchse). Any reader who grow up with these rifles and their heroic owner will stand there in awe. Whilst wondering whether Karl May actually had lost his marbles…

And I thought, they were fiction. So did Karl May, until he eventually decided to let them come alife.

The Karl May Museum is outside Dresden in Radebeul, easily reached by tram – it is just a 8km ride from the historical centre of Dresden.

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