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  • Day8

    Almaty

    August 29, 2018 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    I didn’t do much on my first day because I was so tired. The train arrived at 10:15 a.m. and as its an internal service there is no security or immigration check. I was in the main hall a few minutes after the train arrived. First thing I did was find little cafe and have a cup of coffee and some breakfast. I hadn’t eaten at all the previous day. This was because of bad planning but also because I like to have a mini-fast once a week or so. Then there’s the whole logistics of eliminating waste products. You don’t wanna even go there on Kazakh trains.

    I checked into my hotel almost immediately. They were very helpful and allowed me in before official check-in time. I had a shower, changed my socks and underwear and unpacked. This is very easy due to my using packing cubes, as mentioned earlier.

    Talking briefly about underwear, I think I might be adopting some Mormon tendencies. I’m looking for magic garments. As I travel light, I have a wear one and a spare one policy with most clothes so need clothes that will stand the rigour of travel, be good at the underwear stuff, be olfactory neutralising and, importantly, wash and dry in a few hours. Ordinary Marks and Sparks or Dunnes Stores boxers will not do this so I got a 2 pairs from USA. They cost a few bob but worth it. They work a treat. I can get a weeks sweaty wear out of a pair and they’re still fresh as a daily. A pretty traumatised daisy, mind you, but a daisy of a sort nevertheless.

    Then I started looking for a magic shirt that would have similar qualities to the above but would also make me look about 7kg lighter. I found one in a shop in Dublin at an almost give-away price as the summer season was coming to an end. It has SPF50 protection, two big front pockets, foldable neck shield, long sleeves, anti mosquito bite and a whole load of other qualities. It’s made by Columbia. I’ve been wearing it since Wednesday last, 10 days now, and even slept sweatily in it twice. It’s still fresh as the proverbial daisy. It’s dark blue so doesn’t show the dirt. A result!

    However, I’m going to wash it tonight as I’ve started noticing, just out of the corner of my eye, that it’s beginning to develop independent motion. I don’t want it to become sentient. Then I’d be in a pickle.

    And then there’s the socks. I got a single pair of Arctic merino socks for when it gets seriously cold. I wore them in Siberia last year when it was sub-zero. They were great. But they’re not magic, just fabulous. The magic ones are liners I got for the thermal ones and they dry quickly, don’t smell, etc etc. I also wear them as main socks when the weather is average. They’re great with sandals when it’s hot. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to wear socks with sandals but I’m so old now the fashion police ignore me. They don’t even register me. Blessed invisibility. They are grey, though.

    I have no magic trousers. I never quite got to the bottom of that. Mind you, I saw many a pair of trousers I’d like to magic off other people. But that’s another story and not for a family audience, like here.

    But, back to the hotel. It was a very soviet era establishment where shabby chic definitely wasn’t an interior design choice. It was evolutionary, probably from a revolutionary time. Sorry, couldn’t resist that. I had what was called a suite but was really a huge room with an enormous bed and air conditioning. The electrical sockets were hanging off the walls and all had scorch marks on them. There was a smell of burning rubber and bakelite when I switched the kettle on. And so on and on. I found myself starting to grumble internally and stopped this in time. Chill, babe, I said to myself, just go with the flow. It’s all adventure, experience. And, you know, it worked. I laughed at myself for being a bit of a silly goose and started to enjoy the differences and idiosyncrasies of the place. It was cheap too, at 11€ a night, with breakfast. I eventually got a smile from the formidable looking woman provodnitsa at the front desk. She was Russian!

    After my shower, I went out exploring but first went to get a Kazakhstan SIM card for my phone. They’re incredibly cheap here. The woman at the hotel pointed me to a tech market nearly and as I was waiting in the queue, it’s an ex-soviet country so queues are inevitable, I had a delightful giggling interaction from a lovely old babushka next to me. Her standard of English was similar to my Russian but we stíll communicated. She had the most stunning set of full top and bottom gold teeth, they looked amazing. I got SIM and 2GB internet for less than 2€. It’s 4G and fast, quicker than Dublin.

    The Kazakh people are extremely friendly, in my experience and according to my research. There are two main types of people here, to my untrained eye, European Russians and Turkic people who are the original indigenous inhabitants of this part of the world. There are also Chinese and some other peoples I don’t recognise.

    The traffic here is fierce. They travel at a great rate of knots and there are many crashes. I saw several during my time here but nobody seemed to be hurt. I was on a bus on my first day and the driver was driving crazily while texting and beeping his horn. Brrr.

    The roads are in great condition, at least in the inner city but the suburbs are not so bad as well. There are traffic light controlled pedestrian crossings at every junction and the rules are respected. Although the traffic looked fearsome, I felt safe crossing the roads. It’s a bit hairier when there’s no pedestrian crossing. Instead, they paint crossing lines on the street but the cars don’t stop until you step in front of them. I was very nervous about found this at first as it looked almost suicidal but I soon got used to it. Now I just walk in front of cars and they stop. Drivers are pretty irritable and rev their engines and play chicken but stop eventually. They also shoot past as soon as you’ve passed frequently missing you by centimetres. Once I thought it was not personal, I thought it funny. It’s still a bit nerve-wracking, all the same, especially when I wonder is that eejit speeding right at me on his mobile phone now. But I survive!

    There is some mammoth building work going on in the city centre at the moment with thousands of workers making the place pedestrian friendly and green. They’re doing a great job.
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