I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change…
Although I did not follow the Moskva like the Scorpions, I did end up in Gorky Park but only in the former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, a city name whose name essentially means “apple”, due to it being the area of origin for certain varieties of apples and how bountiful they were a long time ago. I nicknamed it the “Soviet Big Apple”.
After taking the subway to my a stop near my hostel, getting checked in by a friendly Kazakh girl named Nuri and getting settled into my capsule style lodgings akin to those found in Japan, I went off in search of Russian food. In all the time I traveled in former Soviet regions, I did not try any Russian food and I suddenly had a hankering for it and research revealed an eclectic Russian restaurant called “Gosti“, whose decor is a sight to behold or puke at, depending on who you ask. Personally, I loved it. My Russian-German friend Alex had previously ordered okroshka while we were in Kyrgyzstan and I was wondering what that soup would be like so I ordered that, as well as an oldey-but-goodey, beef stroganoff.
While in Almaty, I had decided to submit an application for my Uzbek visa at the Uzbek consulate. While I had done research on the E-Visa that was supposed to have been working, it wasn’t, so I fought the crowds waiting outside, people ranging from the random Western foreigner to the local Kazakhs and neighboring Uzbeks, to enter and submit a paper application. By that time, my mind was made up; there was no way I’d be missing a chance to visit Samarkand, a fabled ancient city that I read about in children’s books growing up, US$160 be damned if that’s what it took to get a visa. When I submitted the application, I was told that it would take 4 business days. I figured I’d use to the time to relax and see as much of Almaty as I could. Off I went to visit all the attractions and places listed on my Lonely Planet.
One particular mission I had was to find the Green Market, a place where I was told sold horse meat. Once I had located it, I walked in and after getting past many shops, I found my way into the wet market area and lo and behold, I saw a sign with a picture of a horse on it and below, every cut of horse meat product you can imagine. The idea of eating horse meat wasn’t new to me as I had previously eaten beshbarmak in Kyrgyzstan. It was just interesting to see a counter with horse meat product, that’s all.
As I wandered the isles of the wet market, I spotted a counter selling bottles with a picture of a camel on the front; shubat! This was definitely an interesting treat because I’ve never had camel milk before. I bought a bottle, found my way out, and sat on a bench to try this beverage; thin, milky, sourish, tart, a little fizzy.
The day after submitting my Uzbek paper visa application, the E-Visa website, in all its beta glory, miraculously worked. I immediately applied and paid the low $20 fee to get it. I then ventured back to the Uzbek consulate, fought the crowds outside once again, entered, and went to see the office to ask to withdraw my paper application. Since this was Day 2, it wasn’t approved yet and I wasn’t obligated to pay the $160. I was joyous and had a $25 dinner (this would be considered quite a splurge) at a fancy Korean restaurant that evening. (You’d be surprised at how many Korean restaurants there were. Apparently, there’s a large diaspora of ethnic Koreans in Almaty. It’s hard to identify them because many Kazakhs have eastern Asian looks so everyone blends in.)
There’s plenty of things to do and see in Almaty but there’s also plenty to go see outside of it. However, I chose not to take the time to visit Big Almaty Lake or Charyn Canyon, recommended by some Kazakhs I met. Those trips involved calling tour agencies to see if there was a spot open in one of their tour cars and if there wasn’t, like in Kyrgyzstan, I’d be paying for all the seats and as Almaty wasn’t exactly filled with foreign backpackers looking to go into the countryside the same days I was looking to go, that meant my odds of paying for 1 seat were slim. (Many hostels are actually filled with Kazakhs who needed a cheap place to live as Almaty is actually quite an expensive city to live in, relative to income.)