I opened my eyes and it finally hit me: we were done. There were no more routes to plan, no more distances to estimate and no car to worry about. It felt liberating, though I will not deny the sense of melancholy that clung to me for not making it to Mongolia. I was determined to spend a few relaxing days in Almaty before heading back home to Germany.
The weather was not particularly nice. We wanted to explore the city anyway. We first stopped at a roadside food stall near the Green Market, where we had a delicious lunch of plov and laghman. We washed the food down with some hot tea, all within the price range of 1100 Tenge (~ 3 EUR). I was mesmerized by the man serving plov from a giant cauldron. He never looked up and was completely focused on meticulously spooning rice onto each plate. He had the air of a man who took his responsibilities in life seriously.
After lunch, we strolled around the Green Market, a large covered bazaar offering everything: fresh produce, meat, cheese, bread, sweets, nuts and even clothes & shoes. The bazaar was very organized and there were guards everywhere, waving for us to put our cameras away. It wasn’t immediately clear why.
Once we had our fill of the bazaar, we walked to the Panfilov War Memorial, a massive monument dedicated to fallen soldiers that died in battle against Nazi forces near Moscow in 1941. It was a little disconcerting to find a wedding party all decked out and having a photo shoot at the memorial, but hey, who am I to judge?
Not too far away was the Ascension Cathedral, also known as the Zenkov Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral. We walked around it and admired its ornate designs. Being a tourist is hard work, so we soon went back to the hostel to lay down for a nap.
The nap was energizing, and as soon as we were awake enough to handle our credit cards, we booked out flights back home. Unfortunately, we could not find any flights for Saturday, but got a pretty good deal through Pegasus Airlines, flying through Istanbul very early on Sunday. This will have to do.
We headed to a fancy restaurant specializing in Central Asian and Uzbek cuisine for dinner. As we approached Tyubeteika, we realized that we probably weren’t dressed up enough for the place. We then discovered that we had only USD in cash and no credit card. The restaurant wouldn’t take our USD, so we caught another cab back to the hostel, picked up a credit card and went back. The food didn’t disappoint. If there’s anything to be said of Almaty, it is that the sprawling cosmopolitan has an impressive number of food options.
The weather the next day was much better. I had been craving some comfort food. Moritz found a curry place for lunch, but we only realized it was closed when we got there. We found a surprisingly posh pizza/pasta place within walking distance. The food was good, but pretty expensive for even European standards. We took another walk after lunch and ended up at the Republic Plaza, with stunning views of snow-capped mountains in the background.
We soon discovered a random underground mall nearby and settled ourselves into a fancy coffee shop. I sipped my coffee and scribbled in my journal. It was suddenly strange to be drinking such an extravagant coffee after 28 days on the road. It was our last day, I reasoned. I could indulge myself.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:30am the next day. We had an early dinner at a great Korean place, and then laid down for a snooze around 9pm. We had ordered a taxi for 2am, and I kept wondering if the taxi driver would show up. He did indeed, and drove us to the airport in top speed. We tipped him extra for being on time, and checked into our flight after elbowing our way through throngs of people. For such an odd hour, the airport was surprisingly full. After all the formalities were completed, we boarded our flight to Istanbul.
It was finally over. We had mostly done it. 14 countries, 10,000 kilometers and 28 days after we first started the trip in Bonn, our hearts were fuller and our senses a little sharper for having embarked on this amazing journey. It was a true test of our own abilities to cope with harsh temperatures, lack of creature comforts and the searing disappointment of not having finished the rally, but boy was I glad that we came this far.
This post is part of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.