I was certain that I had plenty of time to get to the airport without being rushed, however when you add things to get done before you leave, well… Nevertheless, I made it to the airport with some time to spare. I tried to check in at the kiosk three different ways. No luck. The attendant was of little use and sent me to the ‘Special Services’ or travel dumbass line. I was annoyed only as long as it took for the agent to tell me that my flight left out of DAL and not DFW. Shi….. Without enough time to catch a cab back to DAL, I was relieved to find that there was a flight that left 30 min later than my ticketed flight, so I wasn’t going to miss my flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. Whew! $50 for the change, and I was set.
The rest of the trip was a pleasant mix of napping and reading. I arrived in Almaty at 2AM quite awake, but then again, it was 3PM Dallas time, so not too surprising. Since I was in THE last row of the plane, I was the last through passport control, last to get my luggage, and last to go through customs. This, I thought, would mean the taxi hawkers would have gone home, but two were there to hound me as I exchanged some money. I laughed at their ridiculously high quotes for the ride to my hotel and walked off to find others that would accept a reasonable offer. I did and made sure he knew which hotel and which street it was on. He didn’t and I was dropped off at the wrong hotel. I purposefully picked a hotel on a major street to make sure this wouldn’t happen, yet it did. So, it’s now 3 in the morning or so, and the guy at reception has pulled out the map and figured out where my hotel was. At this point, I am without enough of the local currency, since I didn’t this to happen, and not able or willing to take another cab to the wrong place. So, I set off for what seemed like a 30-45 minute walk. Without a scale on the map, I had no idea that I was in for a 1.5 hour, 4.5 mile hike, but that’s how it happened. I know that some of you are thinking, you ARE a dumbass, and you would be right. This is certainly not the first time I have walked much further than expected- just the first time you’ve heard the story. My only obstacle along the way were a couple of timid stray dogs. Otherwise, it was just a boring walk or good training for the trekking I anticipate later in the trip. Take your pick. I will admit that there was some serious fist pumping when I arrived. Then, I glanced in at the reception since the door was locked. Shi…. “I chose this place because it has a 24 hour reception,” I mutter to myself. I knocked anyway and walked around to see if there was another entrance. When I came back around, there was someone standing in the door. Hallelujah! Sleep!
I woke up at 9AM but couldn’t stay awake long enough to get out of bed, so 11AM was the start of my day. While comparing my guidebook map and the one given to me, I realized after too long that the one given to me was oriented upside down. Why someone prints a map with south as north and vice versa is beyond me. However, it made me laugh at the stupidity of my taxi driver. My hotel was closer to the airport than he thought. Oh well, at least the act wasn’t malicious.
A bus into the center of the city and I headed straight for the Embassy of Uzbekistan since visa applications are accepted at 2PM. I get there to see two other people and we are all told that they are closed on Wednesdays and to return tomorrow. I double check my guidebook to see that Embassy must have changed their minds about staying open on Wednedays. Whatever. I was hungry and needed to get more tenge (Kazakhstan’s currency). I found a cosy place in the lower level of the Green Market that was hopping with customers for some delicious lamb laghman- a very common Kazakh noodle dish quite similar to lo mein. Recharged, I start to run amok in the market taking video and photos until I was rudely interrupted by the security guard who reminded me there was a sign telling me not to do so. But…. there was a camera crew with a tripod and everything in there…. I had photographed most everything I wanted, so I left without argument. I noticed that there were some sites nearby, so I decided to be a tourist in the more classical sense. I went to a war memorial and saw an orthodox cathedral, all in Panfilov Park, but what I really wanted to see was a museum of traditional Kazakh instruments. However, it was closed for renovations until May.
By this time, the overcast sky grew darker, it started to sprinkle, and my short sleeve was no longer sufficient for warmth. It was time to go back to the hotel and eat at the restaurant just in front of it. There, I had shashlik (kebab), a salad, and a pot of tea, which was fine and all, but that pot of tea would ruin my sleep that night along with the rain slapping against the corrugated sheet metal roofs below.