Almaty, aka Apple City

I was a horrible tourist in Almaty.

So horrible that I’m afraid I have only one photograph from my time there. I visited no museums and barely saw the city during the day.

Despite my laziness, I still had an amazing time in Almaty. Almaty, which translates as Apple City (apples come from the Kazakh steppe), used to be Kazakhstan’s capital, until the president moved it to Astana in the north. I can only describe the city as spread out – the streets are wider, the yards bigger – it’s sort of like a bigger, wider version of Bishkek.

After arriving to the hostel wet, hungry, and crabby, I laid in my bed letting myself feel emo until Kaiwen, another American traveler, introduced himself and offered to share his dinner. We talked for a while and were eventually joined by Dan, another American and friend of Kaiwen. We talked philosophy, politics, and linguistics (I was amazed at Kaiwen’s Russian, which he picked up from a bit of online lessons but mostly from roughing it in Russia), and swapped travel stories. Once the meat and cheese sandwiches were finished, we ventured out to find more food (plain noodles, canned peas, and pickled peppers – because, #hostellyfe) and Kazakh beer.

The next morning, we had plans to visit the Big Almaty Lake, the source of 80% of the city’s tap water. Snow and my lack of proper clothing foiled these plans, so instead we ate a long lunch at a nearby café and took lazy naps to pass the time. In the evening, we were feeling ambitious, and walked to a British pub where the local Couchsurfing group had a meet-up.

At the meet-up, we met Ahmet, a young Kazakh studying to be a lawyer. Ahmet joined our American crew as we left the pub to walk the streets of Almaty and drink Baltika-9’s until our hands and feet got too cold. Ahmet called his friend Ruslan, who picked us up from the hostel and drove us up a mountain to the site of a giant ski jump. The ski jump could come in handy in 2022, if Almaty is chosen to host the Olympics, but it also was a beautiful point to look at the city from a high point. We paid the guards 500 tenge (3 dollars or so) to let us through, and we jumped around in the snow and gushed over the strange sights – a metal flag, a skyscraper-height light installation, the tallest buildings in the city.

I might not have seen any tourist attractions in Almaty, but when weighed against the friends I made and unusual night adventures I had, I’m okay with missing the museums.

ski lift night view

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