Sunday, 27 September 2009

Fancy seeing you here

When I took the cable car to a hilltop funfair outside of Almaty, I found the coconut shies, gift shops and roller coaster which I had expected. I was more surprised to find these Liverpudlians, frozen in a glade which resounds with their music.

Prayer sock

Like many of the peoples of Central Asia, the Kazakhs attach prayer ribbons to trees in auspicious locations. It seems that some latitute exists with regards to the nature of the ribbons. Alongside the more traditional strips of coloured cloth, this tree sported toilet paper and ... a sock.

Higher! Lower!

Almaty is an enormous uphill grid iron, orientated towards the Tian Shan mountains in the south. This means that directions in Almaty are idiosyncratic. Like many other twentieth century cities, everything is measured in blocks, but in Almaty there is the added dimension of elevation. Thus "Three blocks higher, on the left" is a normal way of describing things. If I am on the right track, I sometimes feel that I am in a gameshow, as the only directions I will get are "higher, higher", or "lower, lower"!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

In search of old Faithful

In 1854 the Russians established a fort here which they named Verny ('Faithful'). The streets around the site of the fort are still colonially chic, with wooden shuttered houses along dust or tarmac roads; younger children play with acorns and building debris, older ones squat pensively in conversation.

Pub Loud

When I feel like a pub,

When I feel like being loud,

I go to Pub Loud!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Day 4: Дома (home)

Arrive in Almaty 10 minutes late (not bad after four nights and 4017km). Met by rain and representative of my school. Snow-capped mountains brooding over the low cloud. Welcomed into spacious flat in 4-storey prefab block by 25-year old Englishman.

Day 3 (part 2): Into the mountains

At last we leave the steppe and climb up into the Black Mountains. By Almaty these will become the White Mountains, topped with snow all year round.

Day 3 (part 1): My sputnik leaves me

Decorated for his service the to the Soviet Airforce in WW2, and for his technical achievements in the USSR afterwards.

My sputnik (travelling companion) in a two-berth compartments, my Kazakh teacher, teller of dirty jokes and sharer of tasty food.

Day 2: Kazakhstan - The Steppe

Grass (and later sand) as far as the eye can see. Sometimes camels, horses, goats, and tiny settlements defying the expanse. Occasionally the domes of a great person's tomb, with a cluster of gabled graves of lesser folk.

Day 1 (part 2): Crossing the Volga

I believe it is a river, but it looks like the sea,

Though it is far removed from its estuary.

Day 1: Rtishchevo (Old Russia)

A perfectly planned grid-iron of 5-storey Khruschev-era blocks, round a central rectangular park with chrysanthemums and pansies. In the middle a bust of Lenin, and at the end a fountain, a Soviet-style hall of fame, and Lenin once again. Blue-and-white chocolate box station finishes the ensemble.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Happy Moscow Day!

I'm off now - train at 10.50pm, arrive Almaty 7.20am Wednesday. No posts till after then.

Friday, 4 September 2009

...and I cannot lie

Loved the opulent Metro stations (but didn't get any decent photos).

Less impressed by the sculpture park (but some redeeming features).

Inevitable "Stalinist" architecture shot

How unoriginal!

(cool though)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Changing trains

Just before dawn on the Poland / Belarus border:
Massive jacks lifted our train into the air, whilst a team of orange-clad workmen (with a little help from a gantry crane) efficiently swapped the Western European gauge wheels for the slightly broader Russian standard.

We were supposed to sleep through this, but I was too excited...

(Have safely arrived in Moscow now.)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

1939 / 2009

Seventy years ago today German troops attacked Poland, leading to the occupation of the west of the country. The Soviets soon attacked and occupied the east.

Today I say farewell to my friends in Berlin, and am to travel in peace through Poland, and on to Moscow, where other friends await my arrival.