I love arriving at new places and experience the exciting difference in smells and sounds! Although Almaty at 4 o’clock in the morning didn’t greet me with all of those new sensations, I knew I wasn’t in England when I was faced with Kazakhstan queueing technique at the airport; the locals were all trying to cram themselves into the “queue” for Residents and if your mind and elbows weren’t sharp as razors, you quickly found a whole family of locals miraculously appearing in front of you. At that godawful time of the morning I should have known better and chosen the “German queue”, a nice and orderly formed line with lots of personal space – and as it turned out, just as fast (or slow).
After a few hours of sleep I was ready for Almaty. First stop Green Market (Zelyony Bazar) where I stepped into an explosion of smells! Meat, vegetables, fruit, Hello Kitty backpacks, metal spare parts who knows what they were for, bras the size of babyhats – you name it they had it!
Remembering the absolutely wonderful pickled cucumbers from my Moscow days in the 80’s, I decided to buy my lunch here and bring it out into the warm sunshine. Three words of Russian and the use of fingers was enough to complete the transaction.
Travelling is fantastic, if you allow yourself the time to enjoy the day as it comes, just around the corner there is another unexpected highlight! Crossing the park back to the hotel in the last warm rays of sunshine, I came across some kids practicing martial arts on the grass. Kids and mothers are the same all over the world – the kids were larking about and the mothers were proudly taking pictures of them with their mobile phones!
The next day I decided to warm up my hiking legs before our Three-Day-Trek and took a driver to Aksay Valley. At a remote spot, monks built a small monastery in 1917 to avoid repercussions for their faith. The monastery was closed in 1921 but in 1993 some monks returned to live a secured life in the mountains. It’s a lovely walk up through fruit orchards where the monks have painstakingly laid stones to form stairs up to the monastery. A little further up the hill, passed the church, you get a wonderful view of the mountains, valleys – and the spreading city of Almaty. I ate my lunch in the shade of a tree overlooking Almaty on one side and the towering Tian Shan mountains on the other – remembering how wonderful life can be!