Almaty, Kazakhstan

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
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Trip End Aug 10, 2007


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Monday, May 28, 2007

With over a million people Almaty is the largest and most important city in Kazakhstan, although it is no longer the country's capital since it was moved to the more centrally located Astana in the 1990s.  From the looks of things, though, it appears that much of Kazakhstan's oil wealth is still gravitating to Almaty even though it's far from the production centers; the city is full of construction sites, glassy skyscrapers, expensive restaurants and hotels, western luxury goods shops like Hugo Boss and Gucci, and shiny Mercedes and SUVs cruising the streets. 

Situated at a rather high elevation on the lower slopes of the Alatau Range of the Tian Shan mountains with nearby glaciated peaks, Almaty's location is also spectacular.  The leafy streets and parks, bright sunny skies, dry air, and brief afternoon thunderstorms with torrential rain and hail thoroughly reminded me of Denver. As in California the POSHer neighborhoods in Almaty are all on the higher ground just below the mountains and POSH many are - gated communties of huge suburban homes with gas-guzzling SUVs parked in the driveways.

Almaty is more of a nice city to walk around in and enjoy than one packed with tourist sights.  I took a cable car from the center of town to the top of Kok-Tebe Hill for a spectacular view of the city and its mountain backdrop, visited the Independence Monument and the Central Museum of Kazakh Culture and Anthropology, and passed through the former Parliament and government quarter.  Panfilov Park in the heart of the city is site of two absolutely contrasting monuments, a WWII Memorial in the most gruesome Soviet style and the Russian Orthodox Ascension Cathedral.  Although I later found out that the 2014 Winter Olympics was awarded to Sochi, Russia, Almaty was still a contender while we were there and appeared to be a place with the the ability and facilities to host such an event.
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