|dinner (or tea - we can't agree)|
|it needs a soundtrack|
|but what's under the cloth?|
We are being hosted in Almaty by Brian, a bright, cheery American who meets us with camera in hand. He's into his street photography when he's not teaching Air Astana crew English. His flat is a great old Soviet appartment bang in the city centre. Regrettably we are here mid-week so he's off to work every day, but we catch up in the evenings. Brian is contemplating cycling to Europe when he finishes teaching here and has lots of questions about cycle touring. Bizarrely he has just hosted Chi from Shanghai, who is cycling with a friend around Central Asia. We met Chi in Beijing in 2009 and have missed him by a matter of hours. Small world. Many roads. Brian is debating the Russia/Ukraine route versus Central Asia/Caucases. Apart from a little ongoing difficulty in the first option there is also the knowledge that "from here to Moscow it's almost all forest". (Brian visited St. Petersburg taking advantage of his staff discount on flights and got the bird's eye view.) Meanwhile we are touting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as two of the "must sees" for all cycle tourists. But wouldn't it be hard? Brian reasonably asks, bearing in mind he's never done anything like this before. The answer undoubtedly is yes, but the rewards are immense. What to do?
|we're lovin' it|
Our visa for Russia began yesterday and we have news from Gabor who is ahead of us and probably taking the same route as us through the Altai into Mongolia. He helpfully fills us in with useful information on his train ride north to Barnaul in Russia, ticket purchasing, train times, bike storage on the train, train facilities, lodgings in Barnaul, number of power sockets in the room. (All of which turns out to be completely accurate except for the number of sockets in the room.) We feel no inclination to cycle the 1400km northwards into Siberia, even if our Russian visa hadn't already started ticking. There remains nothing further to do in Almaty except find some chain lube. Off I trot. On my way back I make one last visit to the post office. Postwoman no.2 smiles and says 'no' when I ask about the untracked packet that should also have come. One last bid with postwoman no. 1 turns up trumps - the packet is safe with her. So far my mum and dad have scored 100% success with sent parcels. The odds on failure must be shortening.
|represents the average wait in minutes for the toilet|
The train ride would make great copy if it was full of dodgy characters and wheeling-dealing smugglers who spit seed husks in between slugging vodka and chain-smoking. But it's dull. Most of the passengers are Russian families on their way home from holidays. Everyone is quiet, polite and helpful. Apart from the charmless and overweight dear who pushes past me in the queue for the toilet when I've been waiting over twenty minutes already. Even the carriage stewardess has melted and is now filling in our immigration forms for us. After seven days in Kazakhstan we are about to enter Russia.