Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kazakhstan, anyone?

Earlier today, I came back from a business trip to Almaty, KZ. It was my first time in Kazakhstan and I have to admit that for me, that country was a blank space on the map. If I had been able to locate it on a map, ahem. Geographic genius, I am not. Thus I was surprised it is quite far away. There are no direct flights from Vienna and I took the route via Istanbul because of the better connection versus Frankfurt. From IST it is another 5 hours to ALA and the time zone is CET+5 there.
So what are your association with Kazakhstan? APART from Borat, I meant! See. I'm not saying that 4 days in Almaty have made me an expert on the country, I just wanted to share a few snippets, illustrated by smartphone photos of varying quality. Here goes. On the first night, I got to tick off the horse meat that Central Asia is famous for. Unlike my manager and a female colleague who love horses it did not gross me out at all and it tastes like beef. Here is a cold starter and horse in sausage form. I preferred the cuts (minus the fat, which I didn't eat), but in general I am not a fan of cold meats. We just ordered this to share. I also took a sip of a colleague's fermented camel milk, which tasted not much different from Turkish ayran. Speaking of which, this word is a false friend: when it says "ayran" on the menu in KZ, this means just yoghurt, not a yoghurt-based drink:
Our hotel was very fancy indeed. The name Ritz-Carlton alone evoked images of decadence. Hotel reception is on the 30th floor and rooms are on floors 21-29. Puttin on the Ritz! In any case, the views were breathtaking. Here you can see the mountains and ski slopes very close by. Two colleagues went skiing this morning and I was dead jealous, but if I had joined them I would have returned to Vienna on Sunday afternoon. Since I am flying to Sofia on Monday and wanted a bit of time to recharge at home and re-acquaint myself with the European time zone, I decided against it. Next time, though, I am SO packing my ski clothes!
This is the view of the traffic:
We also ate at the Ritz a few times and the food was really excellent. Here's a shot of our dessert plates yesterday. I suppose you can guess which one is mine:
The food in the main restaurant where this picture was taken was already on the very pricy side, but the prices in the steakhouse on the 28th floor could seriously make you bankrupt. To give you an idea: one person of our party had steak (as you might well do at a steakhouse) and it cost €70 (with side dishes).
On Wednesday between meetings we went to a viewpoint to take a look at the city from even further above and enjoy the fresh snow at the other side:
On Thursday night, we took the fairly new metro for one stop out of curiosity. This particular station was decorated with children's drawings depicting the metro. Many of them were very good, too!
I wish I could have explored other areas more since the hood surrounding our hotel did oil oligarch clichés proud. This is a picture of EAST, the sushi restaurant in the mall next door. More about this mall and...erm...purchases there in a separate post:
They have a new Malaysian chef who (explained to us himself that he) just redesigned the menu and the food was as tasty as the atmosphere was stylish. So, you can have it all: horsemeat and fancy sushi.
The people we met were all super friendly and mostly spoke very good English, unlike in e.g. Minsk where I was last November. Despite that fact, learning Russian is on my agenda for this year.
The only thing I really didn't like were seriously overheated rooms in most places we went. At one meeting where I was presenting I sat next to the radiator and seriously thought I would pass out any minute. My colleague felt the same and asked if we could open the window, but after literally 10 seconds some people began to theatrically put on their cardigans or coats so we took the hint. I had expected it to be very cold outside (which it wasn't at all), but I was not prepared for rooms at sauna temperature. I guess oil is cheap in KZ so you get used to overheating homes and offices.
Other than that: very impressed and looking forward to my next visit (probably in April).

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