Saturday 4th March 2017

Today we are based in Almaty at the centrally located Hotel Otrar.

It is a modernised Soviet-era building and it is facing Panfilov Park, in fact we can see this from our room.

It was -5 C with light snow when we set off to explore the Zhibek Zholy, a pedestrianised part of the city centre with a mix of expensive shops and inexpensive cafes, takeaways and handicraft stalls.

Continuing our walk we eventually reached the large two-level market known as Zelyony Bazar or Green Market. The smells and presumably flavours of the Silk Route and Central Asia are found here. The stalls are piled with nuts, fresh and dried fruit, spices, spice mixtures as well as the usual market fare and textiles. The stall holders were particularly friendly and offered tastings of just about everything they sold. They were amazed at meeting two British people and for once on our journey when mentioning Manchester it did not immediately response, ‘United’, though one young man did eventually mention Rooney. Photography here was very difficult so we avoided the hassle.

Our explorations concluded with a walk through the wonderfully tranquil and beautifully snow-covered greenery of Panfilov Park. At the centre of the park is Zenkov Cathedral. With its cake and sweet like colourings it is Kazakhstan’s equivalent to Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral. It is one of the city’s few surviving tsarist-era buildings designed in 1904 it is built entirely of wood and held together with wooden nails like English half-timbered buildings. In Soviet times it was used as a museum and returned to the Orthodox Church in 1995. Its interior has been restored with icons and murals.

The park is named after the Panfilov heroes. They were soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit who died defending a village outside Moscow in 1941 against a German advance. They are commemorated on the War Memorial which depicts soldiers from all the Soviet Republics bursting out of a map of USSR. An eternal flame honours the fallen of the civil war (1917-20) and Russia in WWII (1941-45).

Almaty was founded in 1854 as a Russian frontier town on the site of a Silk Road oasis called Almatu. The town was destroyed by earthquakes in 1887 and 1911 and by 1927 had been rebuilt as the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan with the name Alma-Ata. This name when translated into English is ‘father of apples’. Here around 2000 years ago apples were domesticated and then transported along the Silk Road to Europe. All of the apples we have today essentially started here. Although out of season it is hard to escape the reminders of this element of Almaty’s history.

It is getting dark now (6:00 p.m.) and we have returned from our second visit to our favourite Chinese restaurant in Almaty. The Restoran Printsessa, round the corner from the hotel, is recommended in our Lonely Planet travel guide. It definitely lives up to its billing as a bustling restaurant with good value Chinese meals. We were instantly recognised by our waiter and greeted in English! One of the party yesterday had the LP recommendation of the chicken, chilli and peanut dish. Delicious! Today the two of us ate essentially sweet and sour chicken. Again delicious! So two Chinese meals have set us up for China and got us back into using chopsticks.

We catch the train to Urumqi in China just after midnight and hope to be there after 10:00 on Monday morning.

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