UrbanLegends: Andy loves Almaty!
In this UrbanLegends interview we meet Andrew Boland of Andy’s World Journeys, a truly intrepid traveller and travel author. In fact in my short blogging career, I don’t know that I have met a blogger so keen on offbeat travel and destinations – and that’s why he’s a legend!
Andrew is a travel blogger from Melbourne who works in disability and also does a bit of amateur film-making. He’s been to 70 countries so far, his first overseas trip was in 1999, and he’s travelled on average every two years since then, sometimes on long trips, sometimes on shorter ones.
His favourite places to visit include Iran, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and London. He has released a series of ebooks called ‘Short Journeys’, as well as a book that documented his travel from Dhaka in Bangladesh to Dakar in Senegal. Later this year he is heading for a very short break to New Zealand and also to Sydney for the Doctor Who Festival – Doctor Who being another one of his passions!
Do visit his blog some time; he blogs 5-6 times a week sharing experiences, opinions, tips and photographs (and the odd video) about the places he’s been and occasionally his home country of Australia.
What is your favourite city in the world, and why?
To nut down a ‘favourite’ city in the entire world I think is just impossible. Cities are almost always unique and loveable for their own, distinct reasons. So let me tell you about one of my many favourites – Almaty, in Kazakhstan. I had the pleasure of staying there, with friends, back in 2011. I was there for a week and then went north to Semey and Astana, and returned for a few more days before leaving south. I had a wonderful time with good friends, and also exploring on my own.
It’s full of beautiful parks, of theatres, surrounded by beautiful mountains that you can visit in half a day. The people are warm and friendly. There’s an amazing mix of Kazakh and Russian. There isn’t a single McDonalds, KFC or the like in the city ANYWHERE. I enjoyed the food there, although I admit it’s probably not the best place for vegetarians. Simply, I have very fond memories of my time there. It’s a very attractive city for nature and for buildings.
When did you first visit the city, and what was your experience like?
This was my first and only (thus far) visit to Almaty. I found the city to be easy to navigate, with trolley buses the most common way of getting around. However, the metro system there has since opened so that’s a bonus for those going there now (I was there in 2011). Also, taxis are very cheap and easy to wave over.
I spent time with friends and I went out to the State Opera and Ballet Theatre where I saw a combination of traditional dance and symphony. Having friends to take me around to places was a real bonus and I don’t think I saw any foreigners except for when I went to the Uzbek embassy seeking a visa. The city is full of parks and statues, and I think is a very genuinely artistic city. I went up to mountains one day on a local bus from the city centre, and it was really beautiful there as well.
I stayed in an apartment some twelve floors up with a great view across the city, not far from Panfilov Park which is a great place to spend a few hours. In short, I had a wonderful time in a beautiful place filled with culture and art.
What is your idea of a perfect day in this city?
Almaty has a cable car that takes you up the hill ‘Kok Tobe’ from which you can see right across the city and to the snow covered mountains that surround Almaty. Share some time with statues of the Beatles, and then come on back down and find yourself a restaurant to dig into some delicious shashlik for lunch. After that, head to Panfilov Park in the afternoon and visit the beautiful Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Ascension. Also within the bounds of the park is the Museum of Folk Instruments, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to score a small performance of various instruments that the museum houses.
Spend a bit more time at Panfilov Park as evening gets closer and people start to gather. Then into your smartest gear for a night at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre for a performance there. Choose one of the city’s many restaurants for dinner, and if you’re still going (this will probably mean you’re younger than I) there are plenty of clubs for a dance.
What is your favourite place to go/thing to do in this city?
Maybe I’ve given it away already, but it is Panfilov Park. Gorgeous place, interesting War Memorial, Folk Instrument Museum and stunning church. Also a hive of activity most hours of the day.
Do you know have any insiders tips for visitors to this city?
It pays to know people in any city before you go. Non-marked cars often act as taxis and you can just flag them down most places. Fares are cheap, but not as cheap as buses. Gogol street has a very good supermarket for self-caterers. For most things under the sun if your shopping, the TSum shopping centre is pretty good too.
Is there anything you don’t like about this city? (be honest!)
I think restaurant-wise there isn’t a lot of variety in Almaty, and if you’re a vegetarian, well, you’re not going to be very well catered for. You can get your fill of Russian food, and Central Asian favourites such as Shashlik and Plov (meat and rice basically), and kebabs and dodgy hamburgers are easy and cheap to find, however, as I said, not a lot on the vegetarian side of things!
If you could sum up this city in a word, what would it be?
Character-filled. If I hyphenate, that counts as one word, right? (ed note: of course!!)
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