Almaty Unconventional. Subjective.


Since I have traveled and pictured in my blog so many amazing places from around the World, I now feel unjust of not talking about my native city — Almaty, which is yes, in Kazakhstan.

Photo by Larissa Pak
Photo by Larissa Pak

Almaty is a heavenly beautiful piece of land, a sunny valley surrounded by the gorge of alpine mountains, capped in snow. The fame of the city however goes back to 50s-80s when apples were so abundant that they would float in the water canals running down the city streets and the air so fresh in the mornings and the nights carrying the breezes blowing from the mountain canyons. Things are different now… Post-soviet era has marked the city with bizarre architecture, pollution, chaotically populated districts, status of now to be “ex-capital”, “southern capital”, “business capital” of the country, and a really poor mayor. Alas.

But my hopes are with the people of Almaty, 2 million now, the essence and jist of life of the ambitious megapolis in the “middle of nowhere”, in the middle of the Eurasian continent, just 400 km from the northern Chinese border.

Should you happen to walk down the Almaty streets paying attention to the people’s faces, you would be amazed at the stunning variety of genes mixed and represented: Kazakhs, Russian, Uygurs, Germans, Ukranians, Koreans, you name them… 100+ ethnicities mooshed together! And that’s what makes me hopeful for the future of this place.

The Humans of Almaty are genuine. Even naive at times. If you have a friend from Almaty most probably he is well educated, bilingual at least, curious, hard-worker and well-traveled. We love traveling or dreaming about traveling — that’s the longing people develop living so far far away — there is at least 5-hour flight from Almaty to any major airport. We love studying and learning. We love analyzing self and others. We are traditionally forward looking.

But this post is not an anthropological essay. With this I would like to share the city for those travellers / new settlers who want to experience it as a local, as me. Almaty can be enjoyed. Through the summer walks at the break of the night, a morning coffee at a open terrace cafe, a trekking day with friends, and… these:

1. Get Social and Cooking.

Really, Almaty is all about food. With so many nationalities living here the home cooking represents an eclectic bazaar with Ukranian borsch, Uzbek plov, Korean salads and Kazakh meat. Dozens of restaurants cater any taste. But visit here:

Cooking is optional. Socializing is not.
Cooking is optional. Socializing is not.

Compote Studio — a social cooking place hosting classes almost nightly, is owned by two wonderful ladies making the food the reason for meeting new people in town, and learning new recepies like a pro. A class usually takes up to 14 people who are random and therefore interesting. It is conviniently located in the heart of downtown.

2. Take a tram. Yes, a tram. Despite Almaty’s public transport ineffeciency, there is one tram you should take — a Tramcafe. Jumping on the hard wheels, circling around, you pass by the city life, people’s stories, your memories… A one nostalgic night.

Photo credit: tramcafe.kz
Photo credit: tramcafe.kz

The idea of the tramcafe was launched by two then students of the business school and we loved it. It is usually busy on weekends nights — romantic couples occupy the space, otherwise try weekdays— runs since 8 pm.

3. Learn to ski and/or snowboard.

Photo credit: Pavel Mikheev
Photo credit: Pavel Mikheev

We love winter. Winter means snow. Snow means skiing. There are couple of skiing resorts around Almaty. Shymbulak is the one in the closest proximity to town — 20 mins drive. Twenty minutes drive and you are up there, speeding down the hill to grab a cup of hot tea. Yes, you drink hot tea with milk — the way we do it.

4. Get on a horse. Literally. Ah, Kazakhs is a nomadic culture indeed, and there is a number of stables around the city.

Photo credit: Saken Nigmashev
Photo credit: Saken Nigmashev

Chamberlain Club is a state-of-art facility where horses are being cherished and pampered. It is mostly works with kids’ innovative hippo-therapy programs, but if you are woman and not heavy one, they will let ride too.

5. Feeling artsy?

Photo: clayhouse.kz
Photo: clayhouse.kz

Clay House is one of the art galleries in the city where you can both admire and create. Master classes on are offered on a regular basis. Management is super friendly and can introduce you to the local art scene.

6. Theatrical Almaty. There is a dozen of different theaters in the city: classical Kazakh, Russian, Korean, German, Uyghur, opera and ballet, modern dance and others.

Image credit: Artishock.kz
Image credit: Artishock.kz

I recommend visiting Artishok — an experimental “underground” yet brilliant representation of the Almaty’s theater scene. Located in the basement premises of the traditional apartment building, it immerses you with the reflection of life, history, city and self. A treat.

7. Music nights. Here are few points of interest. For classical music your path is for the Almaty Conservatoire, which runs concerts year-long, except summers.

Image: Larissa’s iPhone
Image: Larissa’s iPhone

In case you want to enjoy music socially, I love Muzcafe — it offers quiet piano ambiance during the week and hosts jam sessions on Fridays — Saturdays, along with decent food and drinks. Another choice would be the Brooklyn Jazz Club (yet, haven’t found their website).

But, let’s go for a walk.

8. Terrenkur Is my eternal refuge.

Photo by Larissa Pak
Photo by Larissa Pak

Terrenkur is a path along the mountain river which runs up through the city. A mild healthy pedestrian slope is perfect for long walks and talks, jogging and biking. If you don’t know how to find it — ask the locals, they would know, if they don’t — they are not locals ☺. Otherwise, try looking for a path besides the river in-between Dostyk and Kaldayakova streets.

8a. Do trekking.

Almaty is a heaven for the lovers of short and long hiking / trekking tours. There are myriads of ways to explore the surrounding mountains either for a day trip or an overnight or even crossing the gorge towards Kyrgystan.

Photo: mine.
Photo: mine.

My favourite Sunday day is trekking on Kok Zhailayu plato, which is an easy hike for all. Unfortunately, chances are that this unique national park will soon be devastated with the Mayor’s plans of building a “resort”. If you haven’t signed the petition against it yet, do so here please http://www.greensalvation.org/index.php?page=kokzhaylyau_campaign.

9. Coffee culture. It is new to us, but we got hooked already and it is blooming. Coffee is a new oil for us. Every single restaurant would have a coffee machine, and a dozen of coffeeshops small and large across of city, yet, check out on this one:

Please do not mind the photo quality. The coffee is delicious.
Please do not mind the photo quality. The coffee is delicious.

Underground Coffee — is a tiny shop in the one and only metro line of Almaty recently opened by two baristas from Holland and US, is an experience for a change from glam’n’rocking coffee houses.

10. Shopping for groceries. Do bazaar. Not every day, but weekends. Bazaars are almost everywhere, but Green “Zelenyi” Bazaar is one and only.

On the picture: a variety of “kurt”- dehydrated salted or sweetened milk.
On the picture: a variety of “kurt”- dehydrated salted or sweetened milk.

Green Bazaar is 1000 sq.m. roofed space which is what you know a “farmers’ market” but a stationary one. Not saying it’s cheaper than supermarkets, but more “exotic” since you can find a variety of foods which are not available at the shops, since you can bargain, since the produce is fresher. Try it and tell if you like.

11. Buy flowers. Always. Flowers is the everyday art. And Enjoy Almaty.

Photo credit: Somethingelse.kz
Photo credit: Somethingelse.kz

Repost and sharing is welcomed by Almaty city and its citizens.

  • Саша

    Nostalgie? 🙂