Four blissful days on a beach

13 Aug

This was somewhat unexpected.  The last thing I expected to do in Central Asia was go to a beach resort and spend lazy days sunbathing and evenings listening to holiday-makers karaoke in Russian to Lady in Red.  However, Issy-Kol lake in Kyrgyzstan has clusters of beaches all around its circumference, together with trekking, horse-riding, yurt-dwelling [...]

Travelling to Kyrgyzstan

11 Aug

Having got our two Kyrgyz visas in record time (two rather frantic hours from start to finish, involving three taxis, four stop-offs around town and a lot of pleading), Chris and I left Almaty to spend the weekend in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan.  The journey involved some spectacular views during a three-hour drive, through the [...]

Grand Old Duchess of York

11 Aug

I got stuck for a couple of days in Almaty after Kyrgyzstan because my inability to work the Kazakh railway ticketing system.  I therefore decided to explore the mountains south of Almaty, apparently fantastic snowing territory in winter.  This involved an adventure: a 10pm taxi up the mountain after waiting for 3 hours for a [...]

Apples in Almaty

11 Aug

Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan, replaced in 1999 by a spanking new capital Astana, on the decree of Nazarbayev.  It was razed to the ground in an earthquake in 1900s and so has few old buildings, but is an enchanting place to visit.  It’s effectively the economic hub of Central Asia in terms [...]

The journey: over the Volga and through the Steppes

5 Aug

The terrain is fairly industrial for the first day of the journey, but then consists of the Steppes – a never-ending landscape of yellow wheat and grass – until we got to the south of Kazakhstan and went through the old silk towns of Turkestan, Shymkent and Taraz before hitting Almaty.  To give you an [...]

Muscovite highlights: top eight memories

4 Aug

First thing to say is how confusing it was being in Moscow pouring with sweat, next to the traditional sights like St Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square or the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral.  No fur-wrapped and red-cheeked tourists warming themselves with vodka-filled hipflasks, here.   Instead, there’s been no rain for 2 weeks and the weather [...]

Among quiet company in St Petersburg

29 Jul

One of the most interesting and contemplative places I visited was the cemetery of the Monastery Alexander Nevsky and its nearby necropolis of artists.  It was beautiful for its quiet and coolness.  It is only here and in the metro that you see any real presence of the Bolshevik past.  But there is an interesting [...]

St Petersburg: light and colour

23 Jul

My first and lasting impression of St Petersburg is that of light.  Similar to Venice, the presence of water reflected against the grand open facades of the buildings results in a diffuse glow as if the city shines from within.