I was annoyed that we couldn’t find a direct flight to Dubai when we were making travel plans for our Fall Break. We have not been traveling much during the pandemic and with family visiting us over the Winter Break, we wanted to get out of Uzbekistan. We managed to get flights to Dubai on Air Astana, however, with a night in Almaty at each end of our trip. It ended up being really nice actually because we have not visited Kazakhstan. We had a pleasant autumn afternoon here today in the cultural and economic capital the country.
I can see why Kazakhstan is the “older brother” of Uzbekistan (like Argentina is to Uruguay) and something Uzbekistan is striving for. I was really curious how the lifestyle of Uzbekistan compared to that of Kazakhstan. Almaty felt like an older, more established Tashkent. The roads and sidewalks are nicer with solid bike lanes on many of the streets. The parks are well-maintained and everything seems a bit more orderly. Tashkent now feels more of a frontier city after seeing Almaty. In my opinion, Uzbeks are the “country cousins” of the Kazakhs, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Tashkent is rapidly developing and with all the new construction, the buildings are much more modern, larger, and more varied. I didn’t see many impressive buildings in Almaty and the place felt more Russian or Eastern European than Tashkent. Tashkent is flashier than Almaty. In my little time here in Almaty, I didn’t see any women wearing headscarves and didn’t see any mosques. Tashkent is much more religious, specifically, Islamic than Almaty.
The Kazakhs also look different than the Uzbeks. They have Mongolian facial features and the Uzbeks look more Turkish. Kazakhs were a nomadic people and that is similar to the Mongols. Uzbeks were always the city-dwelling, farmers and they have more of a Persian and Turkic influence. I bought a biography of Ghengis Khan as I want to learn more about the Mongols and the Turkic Golden Hordes of Central Asia.
We are stayed at the Hotel Kazakhstan, the equivalent of the Hotel Uzbekistan. It was the premier hotel during the 1970s and 1980s during the Soviet era. It is better maintained than the Hotel Uzbekistan and we had a nice stay. I would recommend it to visitors looking for that type of experience. We had a fantastic dinner on the 26th floor “BarFly” Restaurant. Gourmet food and drinks! This is in stark contrast to the 17th floor restaurant in the Hotel Uzbekistan.
The main goal for my family was visiting franchises that have not come to Tashkent yet. Our first stop was Mc Donald’s, followed by Starbucks, and ending with a mall trip to H&M and Stradivarius. We hit all of these places and were surprised at the European city-like feel of Almaty. It is prime autumn color time and with so many trees, it didn’t feel like we were in the desert of Uzbekistan.
My highlight was seeing Zenkov Cathedral, a colorful Russian Orthodox that is made of wood and does not have any nails. It was constructed in 1907 and was recently restored. The cathedral is in a large park with mature trees. It was a prime autumn day and with the yellow leaves and setting sun, it was a peaceful atmosphere.
We were fortunate to get good weather yesterday. We awoke to rain and it was a gloomy taxi ride out to the airport. We’ll be back in Almaty this upcoming Saturday. I was impressed with the city and want to come back and explore the country more.