Almaty is the original Big Apple. I know, you are probably shaking your head right now. New York is the right answer, you are 100% certain of this. But unfortunately, you would be wrong. While this amazing city definitely holds a dear place in my heart, Almaty wore the crown first. It used to be the former capital of Kazakhstan, until 1997 when it went to Astana. However, Almaty is still known as the “Southern capital”, as it is the largest city and 9% of the 17 million Kazakhs call it home.
The city of Almaty celebrated it’s 1,000th anniversary this year. Archaeologists discovered coins with inscriptions dating back that acknowledged the land known as Almaty. As we all know, the United States of America is quite a young country and New York was not even the first state.* Almaty has a rich history that is present throughout the metropolis.
Almaty and the rest of Kazakhstan were historically inhabited by nomadic tribes. Yurts are large round shaped portable accommodation that allowed the nomadic peoples to pack up and move with ease. An important aspect of the nomadic way of life was their relationship with their horses, and it is believed that Kazakhstan is a part of the region where horses were first domesticated.
In New Square (Novaya Ploshad) located in the centre of the city, you can find the monument of the Independence of Kazakhstan. In 1986, protests and uprisings were lead by the youth against the communist rule. Being a former USSR country, this new independence was celebrated with this monument. At the end of the square stands the magnificently named “Golden Man”, who has come to represent modern Kazakhstan. A burial mound near Issyk was found to have a skeleton that was buried with 4,000 golden ornaments, lending the statue it’s golden name. Disabled access to the square and it’s monuments are good as the area is flat.
There are wide range of parks in the city, including one that is actually called Central Park! It’s official name is Central Park, but the locals still refer to its former name of Gorky Park. This place is popular with children as there are fair rides in one section of this large park. First President’s Park is a popular destination as it has the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains, which makes it an ideal photo shoot location for newlywed couples. During the evenings, the largest fountain in the city displays a show every hour. It is easy to get around here as there are different accessible points, plus a lot of the grandeur can be seen from the front if you are short on time.
Thanks to shows like Friends, NYC became synonymous with coffee and coffee shops. There are many coffee places to choose from in Almaty, including such favourite as Coffeeroom on Satpaev Street. In order to not create confusion, it would appear, most places that serve coffee have it in their name. Coffeedelia, Traveler’s Coffee are just a couple that come to mind. Many coffee shops have outside seating, so you can enjoy your time here during the summer.
Why skate in a small ice rink at Rockerfeller Center? When you can skate in Medeu Ice Rink up high in the gorgeous mountains. This large space is situated nearly 1,700 metres above sea level. The atmosphere is just magical, and it looks amazing any time of the year, but truly comes life in the winter. Plus after you have skated here, you will have officially skated in the highest skating rink in the entire world. While some disabled users may not be able to make it onto the ice, there are plenty of different things to do and enjoy at the rink, while taking in the spectacular views.
Owing to the location of Almaty, you need not go far to enjoy the cityscape with the added bonus of mountain peaks. But there are many other places in the city that will catch your eye. The Zenkov Cathedral is a masterpiece in the 28 Panfilov Park. The bright colours make it stand out in the mainly Soviet Union inspired park. On a warm summer’s day, you can just relax in the park and take in its beauty.
If you prefer your sights a little higher up, you will enjoy the Kok Tobe Mount. Kok Tobe means Green Hill in the Kazakh language. This amusement park is on top of Almaty and is the highest point in the city. You walk or drive to the top, or you can take a cable car from the entrance at the bottom. Taking this route gives you spectacular views of the city before you even get to the top. The entrance to the cable cars can be slowed down so that wheelchair users, and others with mobility issues can climb aboard.
Visiting Almaty, you are spoilt with natural landscapes close by the city. Located at bottom of the amazing Tien Shan mountain ridges, you are never too far away from the best nature has to offer. Just a short 20/25 minute drive from the centre is the Shymbulak ski resort. You take a 15 minute cable car to get to the top, passing the Medeu Ski Rink, and the Medeu Dam. The air is deliciously fresh, you just can’t get enough. There are restaurants and amenities available should you wish to stop, or you can continue to another cable car to get even higher up.
Big Almaty Lake is a place you have to see to believe. Depending on the time of year, the water changes from light green to turquoise blue. The lake is surrounded by mountain peaks of Ile Alatau in the Tien Shan mountain range. Due to its astounding beauty, it is a must see for locals and tourists alike. During the summer months, you can pack a picnic and just enjoy the day there. There is no disabled access at all here, but the lake is large enough to be appreciated from further away.
Almaty is literally the “big apple”. The city is adorned with sculptures and monuments dedicated to this delicious fruit. The Almaty “Aport” gained fame around the world for its large size and its taste. It has been shown in exhibitions around the world and the seedlings were even introduced in the United States. All around the city, you can take pictures with giant apples that represent both Almaty and a great export of Kazakhstan. There is even an attempt to ensure the prosperity of the Aport apples by two young Kazakh entrepreneurs. Scientists believe that the apples that we buy in our supermarkets are descended from the wild apples of Kazakhstan, specifically within the Tien Shan mountain range in Almaty.
NYC will always draw in crowds by the millions, and has a lot to offer tourists. Remember the city that was the original, the one that started the big apple craze; Almaty. This city offers the excitement and entertainment of a large urban city, with the proximity to nature and relaxation. So what are you waiting for? Go book your ticket and discover! And for disabled visitors, while Kazakhstan may not be there yet, they are working on making the two major cities barrier free
*That honour goes to Delaware.
Have you ever been to Almaty, or anywhere else in Kazakhstan? What was your favourite part?