Thursday, 21 October 2010

Almaty, Almaty, Almaty...The city of a thousand yawns...

Almaty - October 14th

Becks is under the weather once again…Hopefully not a repeat of her first illness. We spend the whole day confined to our hotel room, hopefully the bug will sort itself out during the course of the day.

On the plus side, I get to spend the day catching up with the blog & answering emails.

Almaty - October 15th

Hurrah! Becks is feeling a little better, but we wander over to the nearby medical clinic just to be sure. Surprise surprise, the Russian doctor doesn’t speak any English, but fortunately the receptionist does, and tries her best to act as an intermediary translator.
After so many doctor visits we‘re now semi-pro at describing symptoms without speaking, so its no big deal. More medical tests…..The verdict? They reckon it’s the same bug as before, which is making a minor come back, a last stand. The Doc prescribes 4 different drugs including a course of antibiotics & reckons it will be cured in less than a week.

That night we catch a cab over to the “Tobe Kok” cable car at the South Eastern edge of town. Its described in the guide book as a sleek, recently refurbished gondola which glides its way to the summit of a small mountain on the edge of town…....When we get there we’re a little disappointed but not really surprised, to see what looks like a dodgy Russian greenhouse hanging for dear life from a rusty cable. Still, it’s a pleasant enough ride to the top, if a little unnerving at times.

The view from the summit is excellent, the bright lights of downtown Almaty stretch out for miles around us. On the walk back to the cable car we stumble across a roller coaster which snakes its way down to the bottom of the mountain - We’re both slightly tempted, but reckon it might be pushing our luck for one day, so we take our chances back on the cable car..

Almaty - October 16th

Our hotel in town is great, but the staff have been pretty rude right from the word go, we decide to move elsewhere. It seems to be the older generation of Russians that really arent too keen on Western Europeans - At checkout the moody Russian receptionist definitely has the last laugh as she hands me a $125 laundry bill. Mental note, always ask how much the laundry costs before handing them 5 carrier bags full of it…

Almaty is bordered by huge snow capped mountains which are only 20 minutes from the city centre by car. Seeing as we need to drive to our new hotel anyway, we decide to venture out of town to check out the mountain scenery.

A new toll road snakes its way into the mountains and up to huge lake nearing the summit. The scenary is stunning but the road is steep, steep, steep ! We push on as far as we can, but nearing the summit it becomes so ridiculously steep that even 4WD vehicles are turning back - Its probably not ideal for our clutch, so we call it a day about 500M from the top and pull over for a brew and a bite to eat.

I scoop some fresh spring water from a nearby mountain river, break out the petrol cooker and get lunch on the go. The Coleman stove proves to be absolutely brilliant and in no time at all we’re tucking into a hot meal. (See pics in gallery)

The engine is now due for another oil change, so the journey back to town is used to hunt down a garage. I spot a small oil service depot just on the edge of town and walk in to check it out - Neither of the two mechanics speak English, but luckily for us an English teacher is sat in the waiting room. Spotting our language problem she quickly sets about translating for us, a real life saver.

The mechanics are keen to work on the car and because we’re on a charity drive, they insist on taking care of the oil change for free. Just twenty minutes later we’re back on the road with new engine oil & filter - The guys did a great job of the oil service, so I ask our friend the English teacher if I can give them some money for helping me out. Something as a token of appreciation, even if its only $10. She quickly explains that $10 would be FOUR TIMES the cost of the work if they charged it out….They really wont take a penny, so we thank them once again and hit the road.

We find new lodgings at Hotel Astra, a really great place at the Northern edge of town with friendly staff, great rooms and good rates. Highly recommended, a great refuge from Almaty city.

That evening I use some down time to adjust the front wheel bearings on the car. Half way through I get a tap on the shoulder… Turning around I'm a little worried to see it’s a soldier, one of a ten man team on a night patrol around our neighbourhood - Carrying batons and torches they look pretty menacing, I cant imagine theres going to be any trouble around here tonight. The Captain explains that he spotted the car earlier and wants to get a photo of it for his son, I take the photo and the team disappear off into the night...

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