On Keanu Reeve’s Favorite City in the World

Apparently, Keanu Reeves once visited Almaty and proclaimed it his favorite city in the world. This statement also made national Kazakh news. Almaty was definitely my favorite city thus far, filled with quaint cafes and stunning natural wonders just a stone’s throw away.

Friday, July 14

We left Karagundy early to fly to Almaty in the morning. Once we arrived, our Airbnb wasn’t available until 12:30, so we taxied to the area and stopped by Madlen Café. We got wifi, dessert, lemonade, and sangria. Once 12:30 struck, we headed to our Airbnb to drop off our things. It was our biggest Airbnb yet.

Once we dropped off our luggage, we headed out in taxis for Shmyulak, a local ski resort. While there was no skiing offered now, the mountain was still beautiful. Everyone except for Slava and I went on an hour-long trek to touch an iceberg. Since I twisted my ankle earlier, I stayed behind. Instead, we stayed with Slava’s friend Sultan, his wife Adina, and his daughter.

Adina had studied in Turkish school and university and had lived in Romania, where her husband had worked for a year. While we meant to take the cable car to the top of the mountain, our friends’ hike took longer than expected and it started snowing. Instead, we got Paul’s pastries at the lodge and joined the large line to take the first cable car down the mountain.

We had dinner that day at Navat. Later, I would find that Navat was a Kyrgyzstani restaurant with a franchise in Almaty. The food was delicious—raspberry lemonade, small doughnut-like breads, lagman, and meats. There was also a live performance with traditional instruments. After Navat, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some water for our ill-fated hike the next day and went home.

Saturday, July 15

We woke up early and packed snacks for our trip to Big Almaty Lake with Sultan and his family. We had booked a minivan together. The drive took a few hours over quite bumpy ground. While we meant to take a hike around the lake and have a picnic, it turned out to be quite chilly and rainy, and so we decided to eat in the car and just drive back.

On the way back from the lake there was quite a bit of traffic. Our driver was wild, cutting through people driving the OTHER direction. Many of us, including me, got carsick and had to take a nap after we arrived back at our Airbnb.

Slava had met Tim, a local entrepreneur, though a mutual friend. Tim had some friends from UChicago in town and so we all went to Chicken Star together for dinner. Chicken Star was also Korean food, hurrah! We got fried chicken, soju, tteokbokki, and bibimbap. The best part was that, on Saturdays, there was an open mic and so Courtney blew away the other singers with Alicia Keys. After, we went to a speakeasy where Tim had rented out part of. My Milk cocktail was just alright but the ambiance was pretty cool. Although some of the rest of the group wanted to continue to a different bar, we begged off to go to bed.

Sunday, July 16

Linda left us early that morning for her internship back in San Francisco. The rest of us decided to spend Monday exploring the city. We walked past the British College, where Slava had taken many national computation exams back in the day. He told us that his favorite food at the time was doner, slightly different from the German version.

We found Zheka’s Doner House nearby the university and gorged ourselves on crepes and doners. Honestly, doners are one of my favorite Kazakhstani foods. We then walked around the local park, including visiting the largest wooden church nearby.

Since it started raining, and Slava and Courtney weren’t feeling too well, we ducked into the metro to take it home. The metro in Almaty took 125 years to build and only has nine stops. It’s incredibly clean, well decorated, and doesn’t look too used. In Soviet times, metro stops were some of the best-decorated spaces. In fact, one recommended thing to do is to just look at all the metro stations. We paid for one time small tokens to take the metro back.

At first it looked like there was no one else there, but as the train arrived, some other people came out of the woodwork. For dinner, Slava went to visit his friend. The rest of us walked around on a main street where there were musical performers and stands hawking food. We stopped for dinner at a local Italian restaurant, where we ordered small portions of vegetables, cake, and meat to split. We were finally able to finish our food.

We then headed to the grocery store to pick up some things for our yurt camping trip the next two days. We also picked up some vanilla spirits and vodka to go home and play Jackbox. Linh added Sprite to hers and it started bubbling in a disgusting way. We then cleaned up and went to bed.

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