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Burned Bridges, Soviet Monuments, and a Man Named Berghoff

I rolled around as the sun worked its way into out room at the Hotel Turkistan in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Scott was still sleeping. I could not remember what time he’d come in from his adventures with our new and rather tiresom fabulous friend last night. I hoped the adventures had gone well. I was more than happy to be able to sleep through them. Scott woke up as I was typing away on my computer on correspoindance for you, dear reader.

“I had a hell of a night last night.” He said, looking groggy, and scratching at his stubble, I’ll tell you over breakfast.

And so we headed downstairs and climbed on the Speed TRs, rolling out in search of breakfast. As was becoming the rule for Kazakhstan, it was not easy to find a restaurant, but eventually we road by a little down home café that looked decent, nearby another branch of the Silkway City.

We sat down and ordered some coffee, a basket of black bread, and a couple bowls of Солянка (Solyanka), my favorite Russian soup. They arrived quickly, and Scott told me the tale of the previous night as we ate. It sounded like a pretty raw experience. I gave him my condolences and poured a little of my coffee out onto the pavement in mourning of our lost warbucks. I hope you buy yourself something really nice, officer.  Like a new gold tooth.

From there, we strolled into the Silkway City, looking to investigate the opportunities for internet to be had inside. We did find a ridiculously priced branch of a St. Petersburg internet café that I’d used once called CafeMax, and an interestingly branded tea shop, but little more that was of interest.

We were not quite ready to hop on the cycles and begin wheeling again, so we headed out on foot, trusting that the phone booth where we’d locked the Speed TRs would keep them safe.

So we began strolling, past some truly amazing looking structures. And some really bold Kazakh jeans advertisements.

We continued on, enjoying the closer look that strolling gave us as compared to wheeling, past a pink and blue wall covered with tattered advertisements, and on through an underpass where an fantastic fellow was playing Ukrainian tunes on the accordion.

He was so good that I decided to throw a few Tenge in his shoebox and listen to him play for a bit.  His artistry and imagination served as a breath of fresh air.

We strolled from there into a large pedestrian mall-type area, where we were able to purchase a few more cups of coffee at very reasonable prices from a street vendor who’s sole advertisement just said “mojitos” in large pink letters.  Large scale advertisements continued to flank the pedmall, giving up pause to dissect each one in critical investigation.

With that coffee in us, we bagan to perk back up, remembering Hosam and the Syrain BBQ we’d had, and that life was good. And so climbed back on the cycles, and completed the long wheel back up to Transavia. We had burned a bridge you might say, with our fabulous friend, and we felt it was important to express to Katya that no one was to be authorized to pick up our registered passports except for us.

When I wandered into the office, I was pleased to find it still there, thinking for a moment before I opened the door of all the movies about long cons in which the conned individual runs back to the office only to find it a vacant rental…

We wandered around for a while outside of Transavia, in that office/residential park, looking at the kids playing. This entry into Kazakhstan had been quite the trial by fire. We were changing, and we could feel it. Or maybe that was just hunger. Regardless it was time to eat again.

So we headed into the nearest grocery store, which turned out to have plenty of ready to eat foods, which we purchased with abandon.

We ate a picnic lunch of the things we’d bought at the store in the shade of a giant green awning. We were joined there by plenty of Kazakh business men and women on their lunch breaks, also mothers who were picnicking with their friends while the kids played in the park. Particularly delicious was this “grandma” brand kefir, which was a very mellow an approachable version of the more tart and mildly carbonated classic Russian drinkable yogurt.

So with that we climbed back on the cycles and attempted to wheel on. But somehow through a mismanaged series of field commands, we ended up siphoned into a Kazakh military training area, where were decided to dismount and walk our bikes through the field where all the concrete barracks were, so as to most politely arrive at the other side where we could see a promising looking highway.

The barracks were stange buildings, covered with ads to joint the army or the Militsiya (as the police here are called). Each window also had a large concrete chuck sticking out next to it, presumably to keep the occupant from sticking his head out the window and Bro-ing out to hard with his neighbors.

Past the barracks, we got in the highway. And we followed that highway on towards a district of giant glass office buildings, which we were only able to access by means of a half build and very creepy pedestrian underpass. Once we finally got close, though, we found the structures to be quite impressive.

From there, we took a right, and continued to head towards the outskirts of town.

It was easy not to get lost, since the whole city is on a slant that always indicates which way is north (down). The street signs were even marginally helpful.

And so we wheeled on, out of the commercial district and into a kind of suburban area. Here the roads got more narrow, and navigation became more difficult. We had spotted a large and very bizarre structure in the distance, and were interested in more closely investigating it, but we found it extremely hard to get to, being again and again siphoned down roads that lead the wrong way.

Eventually, we found our way back onto a more major road, and wheeled along the sandy sidewalk-esque trail that ran along it for a bit, which lead us to a huge hydrologic engineering project, along which a road ran that looked like it just might lead to our strange structure.

And here it is. Speculation as to what this thing is is more than welcome in the comments.

On our way back, we managed to myander our way onto this much more manicured path, which lead us through a bizarre manicured forest of miniature trees, right back to the giant glass office building district. From there, we began wheeling north (downhill) past a huge university, with this devastatingly attractive observatory complex

and on down into the large park that separated our hotel from the southern more affluent and businessy part of the city.  We wheeled into through park and not long into our explorations stumbled upon this startlingly brightly colored church, which also might have been a palace.

I am sure the truth lies in-between.

We were riding through what for all intents and purposes seemed a sunny and pigeon filled park

When it all of a sudden starting to downpour, in broad daylight, forcing us to seek shelter.

The rain disappeared as quickly as it had manifested, and soon we were off wheeling again, now through puddles on wet pavement. The rain was quickly evaporating, though, leaving a most dramatic mist hovering above the ground. The next thing we stumbled across was the famous Almaty WWII memorial. It really is a very impressive structure, with a certain angular brutal feel to it that one usually only gets in two-dimensional art. Bravo communism for making this one.

It’s true Kazakhstan is no longer a communist country, but man oh man am I glad they kept some of this soviet stuff around. Take the crest on this building for instance.

Like something from a video game, or an action figure set, or even star wars. It’s just too good.

That evening, we met up David Berghoff, head of Stantours. Stantours had played an invaluable role in our planning of central asia, and is a fantastic resource for readers out there interested in visiting the region.

We met with David at a beer hall called Stad, where he to our great surprise and excitement, ordered us all glases of Shymkent brand beer.  Following that was a “stinky fish” from a river that flowed into the black sea, transported quite far to this restaurant in Almaty.  We began telling him the story of our registration and the fabulous fellow, which he found neither surprising nor profound, until we mentioned where we’d dropped our passports off.

“Transavia!” he exclaimed. “They’re the Russian visa mafia, you know that?”

Fair Enough, Mr. Berghoff. Fair Enough.


  1. Carol | December 15th, 2010 | 11:34 pm

    I think maybe that “strange structure” that you rode towards is a ski jump area? It’s hard to tell by the picture.

    Russian visa mafia? Yikes.

  2. laura | December 16th, 2010 | 3:14 am

    ski jumps?

  3. Alex | December 29th, 2010 | 2:43 pm

    Stab? Isnt that the spot with the posters of all the guns on the walls?

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