Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beauty of the mountains

Mountains - this is something, which makes the heart of every Estonian beating faster, when he sees them. There is no mountains in Estonia. And that is one of the greatest thing, which I love about Almaty - mountains.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Almaty: the city, where I am going to spend one year

What is actually Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world by area, but it is only the 62nd country in population. The population in 2006 is estimated at 15,300,000. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world.

The economic development of the country has been rapid recently. GDP growth constantly exceeded 9% since 2000. So, similiar to Estonia. One of missions is to find out, what is such growth based on.

What is actually Almaty?

Like in many other countries in the world, the capital and the rest of teh country are two different worlds.

Officially, the capital of the country is Astana in the centre of the country. Almaty was the capital before the mid-1990s. Almaty people call the city "Southern capital". So far, it is still financial and business centre of Kazakhstan and the whole central Asia.

Big part of oil incomes (Kazakhstan has vast natural resources, including petrolium and natural gas) flows in to Almaty. One can truly see it. The city is booming. Young people are fashionable. I have never seen so many expensive clothes trends of boutiques like in Almaty. I have neved seen so many expensive cars like in Almaty.

K6ik need, kes arvavad, et kogu Kesk-Aasia on mingi m6ttetult vaene regioon, oleksid v2ga yllatunud, avastades, et Almaty meenutab m6nda rikast USA v6i L22ne-Euroopa linna teatud Aasia omap2raga. See muidugi kajastub ka hindades. Almaty on 30. linn maailmas oma kalliduse poolest.

Economic development has some negative sides as well. Like in big Chinese coastal cities, the main issue here is environment. There are many cars and terrible traffic jams. Almaty is situated in the valley, which makes the circulation of teh air just minor here.

That all compensates with the fact that Almaty is very green city. Indeed, in Soviet times it was known as the garden-city. There are plenty of green alleys, parks and gardens everywhere. I truly enjoy it.

The best part of this city for me are neighbouring mountains. They are simply amazing. Me and Viljo had chance to get proof of that during three-days trip to the mountains next to it. Although it was raining and tehre was not that much sun, the views were breathtaking.

Matk m2gedesse on v2ga eriline syndmus. Nagu kunagi ytles yks my s6ber Slovakkiast, ei l2he halb inimene m2gedesse. T6epoolest, 6hk on seal nii puhas ja loodus nii imeline, et k6ik tumedad m6tted lihtsalt kaovad 2ra ja j22b vaid meelerahu.

How I am doing?

So far, I live in one-room apartment, which is cool. The AIESEC work will be definetely challenging, but that's why I came here. In general, I am doing great, because there are some great people around me here. That's enough to feel happy.

My trip by train from Tallinn to Almaty

Yeah! Finally I got a chance to sit a little bit longer in internet.
After about 5 days travel by train from Tallinn through Moscow to Almaty, after two weeks of integration and solving a lot of practical issues I can say that I more or less settled down.
The trip by train Tallinn-Moscow-Almaty
Every time I said to the locals that I came by train and spent 5 nights in the train, they were really surprised :) They didn't know anyone, who would have done the same. That was actually cool trip! Me and Viljo enjoyed it!
Farewell at Balti Jaam was nice. Some important for me people came to see me for teh last time during this year.
Train from Tallinn to Moscow was quite decent. A couple aged about 50 shared a compartment (kupee eesti keeles) with us. Me and Viljo celebrated our first evening in restaurant-wagon by drinking some Baltika beer.
Crossing the Estonian-Russian border got me a little bit sentimenthal. Probably, I won't see my homeland for one year. A lot of different thought in my head before I got sleep...

We arrived in Moscow and were happily picked up by Nastya from AIESEC Russia. We walked around in Moscow for about a day. We saw famout Red Square and Kremlin. I got impression from Moscow, which I had expected - it is too big, too crowded, too noisy. Too everything. Probably after living there for a while, I would start to like some things there. But so far, no intensions to go there for a longer period.
Jalutades Moskvas, m6istad p6him6ttelist erinevust Eesti ja Venemaa vahel - suurus. K6ik on v2ga suur, imposantne ja muljet avaldada sooviv. Iga hoone, park v6i tee karjub sulle n2kku: "Vaata kui suur ja uhke ma olen!" Sama karjuvad ka loendamatud mustad maasturid t2navatel.
The train Moscow-Almaty was different from previous one. Less decent, so to say. More of 1970s style. The major difference for us was that we were not in a separate compartment, but in platzkart, instead. It means that there is a big wagon, which has separating walls inbetween the sections, but no doors. So, you really had to get to know your neighbours. Me and Viljo discovered restaurant-wagon and celebrated the first evening in our new home for 3 upcoming days and 4 nights. We celebrated it with the first Kazakh beer I ever tried.
During the first night we discovered the whole "beauty" of sitting in the wagon without a conditioner. It was hot. During the day worse. The more south we went, the hotter it got.

Towns in Russia, where we stopped, looked all the same - railway stations, many kiosks, lazily walking people around enjoying summer sun, gray brick or wooden houses with blue windows.

Important moment for us was crossing Volga river. I always dreamt to see Volga - the biggest river in Europe. And it was impressive. Huge, broad, endless massive of water. Tartu Emaj6gi tunduks v2ikse ojana v6rreldes sellega. Me and Viljo celebrated seeing such an impressive picture by having few shots of vodka with borsh in restaurant-wagon.
Looking at Volga river, I rememberd about my feeling in being in Moscow - everything is biiiiig. Kazakhstan is similiar. And that is seen in mentality of people. It is different from Estonia. While Estonians generally (with some nasty exceptions) care about every piece of their small land, Russians and Kazakhs just feel that there is so much of it.

One example of it is one small incident, which happened to me in the train. Generally, people are okey with throwing the garbage out of the windows. The garbage bin in our wagon got full and I told about it to our provodnik (person, working in the train, rongisaatja). He asked me rhetorically: "What do you think, where do I throw out the garbage from this bin? Isn't it easier for both of us, if you will throw your bottle from the window right now?". I saved my bottle until the next train station.

The Russian-Kazakh border was interesting. We crossed it three times. The railway was built in Soviet time, when there was no borders inbetween. So, it happened that the road crossed the border three times. We were checked and asked different questions four times (twice at the first border). Russian bordergards were serious and straightforward, Kazakh borderguards were humourous and friendly.
Huvitav seik oli see, et mina ja Viljo v6tsime osa salakaubaveost. Rongisaatja nimelt palus k6igil, kes l2hevad Moskvast Almatysse v6tta 4-6 tykki mingeid riideid enda kottidesse. Meie Viljoga saime uusi, ilmselt kusagilt Moskva turu pealt ostetud teksasid ja s2rke. Pidime ytlema, kui keegi kysib, et need on kingitused. Yks vene naine tegi selle peale nalja, et kui avastatakse, et k6igil on samad s2rgid ja teksad kottides, siis ytleme, et ostsime sama turu peal :) Keegi ei leidnud midagi. Rongisaatjad (kaks kasahhi rahvusest meest) said ilmselt m6ned tenged (kohalik valuuta) enda tasku.
After about 6-7 hours of the borders we finally entered Kazakhstan. Me and Viljo celebrated it with the beer in restaurant-wagon.

People in the train are generally friendly and helpful. That's interesting phenomena, when you travel together with the same people in closed room for a long time - after a while you become like one big family. Our neighbours were one Russian couple in their 60s. They were really nice. People tend to help each other, share their food, share some stories.

Cool thing about the stations in Russia and especially Kazakhstan is that there is small business flourising, when big train like our is coming (ours had something like 30 wagons). People know the time in advance and prepare drinks, food and all possible and impossible stuff to sell. Some men and women come to the train at one station, travel few hours and walk through the wagons offering stuff from fake jewelry till ice-cream.
The prices were really cheap. Much cheaper than in restaurant-wagon. We were constantly buying different delicious fruits from them. After a while me and Viljo celebrated it with a beer bought from some grannies at some train station.
Impression from Kazakh landscape - it is huge. :) The steppes were interesting to see in the beginning, but became too monotonous after a while. But when the train started to go through mountainous valley, we both became gluied to the windows. Amazing views! The woman next to us laughed that boys from Pribaltika are really excited (she had some good friend in Latvia, who had told her that Baltics don't have any mountains). She was right...
Some of the auls (Kazakh villages), we saw from the window, looked really poor. Mud-hut, couple of horses amd endless steppes around. Nothing to compare with Almaty...

One great thing about travelling in the train is, of course, drinking tea there. It is like a holy process, which you enjoy. Because you don't have anywhere to hurry up to. :) I think I drank the best tea in my life in this train. I am not kidding.

By our fourth night in the train me and Viljo started to get used to being hot. You are just sweating all the time. It becomes your normal physical state :) We were excited about our soon-to-be-arrival and celebrated it with the bottle of Vana Tallinn, which we had with us. We shared some with our neighbours, who got good memories (elder people know Vana Tallinn from Soviet times).

0,5 liitrit kodumaist jooki palavas rongis keset Kasahstani - see oli uskumatult hea tunne. Elu on jummmala ilus! Vahel on vaja vaid v2ga v2hest, et 6nnelik olla...

And then we saw Almaty. Yeah! The city was waiting for its new son, who will rock there one year! That's how I can describe excitement I had, when I arrived in Almaty...
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