We’re wrapping up our first week in Almaty. We’re pretty settled and comfortable, and it’s feeling like home. We haven’t done any major tourist excursions or activities yet – our days have mostly involved working, teaching, and walking around the neighborhood to get the lay of the land. We’re starting to look ahead to the remaining five weeks, to make sure we see all that we can.
Yesterday a few of Colin’s students took us through a number of museums at KazNu. We started at the large museum detailing the history of the University and its impact on the country. While browsing, Kat noticed an image of a natural history display printed on one of the exhibit backdrops. When she inquired, we were told that the biology department housed an entire Natural History museum. The history students led us through the campus and found a biology professor who could unlock the museum and turn on the lights. We were shocked by the size and quality of the exhibits inside. Last updated in 1984, the museum hosted amazing dioramas and sculptures depicting evolution and the biomes of Kazakhstan. We were thoroughly impressed.
Today, we ventured out to the Green Bazaar, a large indoor/outdoor market in the northeast of the city. The Green Bazaar has the good fortune of being next to a candy factory, which means the air is an intoxicating mix of caramelized sugar and chocolate. We wandered the bazaar, paid far too much for some nuts and dried fruits, and snacked on some fried dough. Near the bazaar children were feeding pigeons and enjoying pony rides in front of Zenkov’s Cathedral. The streets were also lined with people selling flowers – today was International Women’s Day, which is celebrated in part through gifts of tulips and candies. Most of the museums and shops were closed for the holiday so we simply spent the day enjoying the sun and exploring the area.
Almaty is perhaps the most pedestrian friendly city we’ve ever visited. There are generous protected sidewalks along most major routes, clear differentiation between bike and pedestrian trails, and the most respectful drivers we’ve ever encountered. There’s also an abundance of park spaces throughout the city. It’s clear that as the city greens up with the arrival of Spring, it will be truly stunning. The only negative is the amount of pollution – a combination of the amount of older vehicles and diesel trucks and busses, as well as the geography of the mountains creating a “bowl” effect. It’s definitely a city that one could imagine living in long term – though learning Russian would be a must!