The last time I left Bishkek was 12 years ago and it involved a middle of the night escape to the airport – it’s fair to say that I was a little *tired and emotional* after the previous night’s drinks with the group I’d been travelling with. This time, I arrive at an equally painful hour and I’m still tired (because its 4am..) but as a virtual backpacker OAP now at age 37, the emotions are set to ‘mature grown up’ at all times (ahem..). I’m not sure if I’ve achieved anything notable during the intervening years but Kyrgyzstan has managed two revolutions (the 2nd of which in 2010 in fact derailed what would have been my second trip, as the finish point of the London Tashkent rally).
Anyway, in an immediate display of my new maturity, I smugly found the marshrutka (shared vans that make up a large part of public transport across the former USSR) into town and got in to wait for more passengers. No taxi rip off for me, I will be authentic with the locals! (yes I realise there’s probably a Viz/daily mash thing about people like me..). My authenticity evaporated after a few minutes of waiting and the appearance of a giant spider that was determined to hunt me down, as I repeatedly shifted seats to evade it, then gave in and fled to a rip off taxi.
I didn’t have a particular plan for Bishkek (notice the recurring theme!) other than as a way to get to Kazakhstan and you don’t come to Bishkek for a city break. However googling ‘things to do in Bishkek’, the lonely planet description of the state art museum’s biliously miserable concrete exterior was immediately appealing to me, obviously – and it’s not the only one; Bishkek has quite a collection of soviet modernist gems 😃:
Other than that, a couple of days of wandering the wide leafy boulevards, parks and squares was very soothing:
Interspersed with checking out the various ways of spending all my money: Osh bazaar, near my guesthouse- for buckets of strawberries, piles of apricots, medicine for your sheep, and those weird rock hard dried cheese balls the central Asians apparently go crazy for.
Zum, the original soviet style department store (unchanged since 12 years ago apart from the addition of a vape section).
And Dordoi bazaar, an amazing mini city in the north of Bishkek constructed from shipping containers:
Or for shiny, modern and expensive there’s Bishkek Park:
But the highlight for me was tracking down Bishkek’s microscopic tango scene, located at a Korean fried chicken restaurant obviously…(Chicken Star – highly recommended whether or not you’re bothered about tango). I got to flex the old tango muscles again and also found out about a big event in Almaty on Friday which was all the encouragement I needed to postpone that 3 day train ride..So I’m now in Almaty, and can’t deny I’m pretty happy to not be getting on that train tomorrow (or err, whenever it departs- I don’t actually know!).