Searching for Saint Patrick – Almaty, Kazakhstan

We had a nice whole luxury day in Almaty, and we had two main objectives to achieve. Firstly, we needed to find somewhere where something was likely to be going on that night for St Patricks’ Day – it is now a tradition of ours to hit up the Irish/ex-pats bars (i.e. the places we usually avoid like the plague) wherever we are in the world on Paddy’s Day. Secondly, we wanted to buy some Kazakhstan ice hockey jerseys to wear at the next IIHF world championships, so were on the lookout for some kind of sports/merchandise shop. We’d asked at the hotel reception about the latter, but they looked at us like we’d just vomited up a live cat and said they didn’t know.

We got a couple of beers from the shop near the hotel and sat on a wall in the sun, trying to formulate a plan of action. Looking in the Lonely Planet, the most likely candidate for the first objective was The Shakespeare – a “pub” themed pub that was popular with ex-pats. It looked about a mile away, but the route cut through the main shopping streets so we figured that we’d have a leisurely wander by that way and hopefully come across some shops selling ice hockey jerseys on route.

Almaty was a very lively place, and much more cosmopolitan than any of the cities we’d visited so far this trip. It was however, still very much the sprawling soviet style with huge blocks, massive roads and official looking buildings. Oh how we yearned for a nice little cobbled old town with windy streets and courtyard bars! We eventually found it after walking for ages, discovering that the Lonely Plant map had the pub on the wrong corner and having to use the wifi from somewhere to finally get there.

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That’s Susan’s happy to find the pub face.

It was a “nice brown pub” selling Strongbow and real ales, and we had to get an overpriced pint of Efes as they didn’t sell any local beers. They had quite a nice “business lunch” menu for about a tenner for three courses, but they were all meat dishes and there was nowt for Susan plus the place was totally empty so we decided not to eat there. When the bloke came over to see if we wanted any food we asked if anything was going on for St Patrick’s Day later and he said no, they were doing it at the weekend instead! Fair enough it was a Tuesday and everyone would have work in the morning but it was ST PATRICK’S DAY TODAY!!! We used their wifi to search for Irish pubs in Almaty and came across “Dublin” which sounded promising. It was a canny walk away but we eventually found it – it was another nice brown pub with lots of good knick-knacks on shelves (we love a good knick-knack so we do so) and a nice terrace which would have been lovely in the summer. The waiter came over and Susan greeted him with “Happy St Patrick’s Day!”, which was met with blank stares. He didn’t speak much English, so she got out her phone and put “It is Ireland day today!” into Google translate, which was also met with blankness. Shortly afterwards, he started hastily putting up some green and orange balloons all over the pub, so we reckon that they must have forgotten all about St Patrick’s Day until we reminded them! We got some lunch there, which was very nice but SUPER EXPENSIVE (well – normal UK/Ireland prices. Damn ex-pats bars!) especially compared to our usual 2 courses and 2 bottles of vodka for £20 meals that we’d been enjoying in the more obscure ‘Stans. Jill had some nice horse sausage (that was unfortunately wasn’t made of rectum) and Susan decided to try something different for once and had a caprese salad (heh), with beers – no bottles of vodka with dinner at these prices thank you very much!

We continued to look on the internet for other Irish bars and came across “Mad Murphy’s” that sounded good and we hadn’t seen mentioned anywhere before AND it was just round the corner from the bloody Shakespeare so the huge walk to the Dublin could have been avoided! We decided that that was the best plan for the night time as it sounded like there was always something going on there so there would bound to be something happening on Paddy’s Day!

We decided to have a bit of a walk and see if we could go up in the cable car that was supposedly not far away but we walked all around where it was supposed to be and couldn’t see it anywhere! You’d think you couldn’t miss a bloody cable car like, but we managed it! We just ended up completely lost in a little ghetto type place (where all the houses were cobbled together from corrugated metal sheets – it was like being back in Guatemala!) but we found a shop and had a couple of beers sat on a step next to a substation on the corner like some low budget prostitutes and got strange looks from the man whose step we were sat on when he wanted to get into his house. It was getting dark and we decided we should really stop dallying and get out of this dodgy part of town before night time, so we headed for the bright lights of the Hotel Kazakhstan, which was a huge high rise building and had a crown of lights at the top – we reckoned if we aimed for that we could get out of the slum no bother! It worked eventually, and we decided to celebrate by going for a drink in the panorama bar atop our beacon of salvation. It was pricey but very pleasant and they did a decent margarita, a zombie (with Worcestershire sauce in!) and apple whisky.

The waitresses were pretty much Robert Palmer’s backing band in the “Addicted to Love” video, only less cheerful – what is it with places like that that like to make you feel that unless you’re a wealthy business man who is bringing clients there to seal a deal, you are totally too common to drink there? It can’t have been that classy anyway, as there was a big sign saying “No Sex” in the toilet (and their Earthquake advice was to hide under an umbrella!).

After the Hotel Kazakhstan, we got a taxi to Mad Murphy’s which by then was buzzing with people, all wearing green and sporting the obligatory Guinness hats. There were a couple of buskers with acoustic guitars, belting out the Cranberries. Result! Nice one St Patrick’s Day celebrations location unit!

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Susan’s happy to find a proper Irish pub with people in it face!

As we queued for the bar, we were immediately befriended by a couple of Australian blokes – we congratulated them on being the first native English speakers we’d met in the last week! We’d actually met more Sunderland supporters than English speakers so far in the ‘Stans! They were canny anyway, if a bit negative about Kazakhstan. They both worked in the oil and gas industry and had lived in Almaty for a couple of years and one of them had a really bad experience when he was beaten and robbed on the street and no one came to help and then the police somehow tried to blame him for it, so we could kind of understand his negativity. The bar was equally full of ex-pats (mainly all planet rapers) and local folk and there was a really good atmosphere. The owner of the bar, a very glamorous Kazakh lady bedecked in red and gold silk (wafting about with her glass of champagne and sporting a fabulous jewelled turban that would have made Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan green with envy) took a bit of a shine to Susan and kept getting very close and telling her how very beautiful she was, and was making her feel a bit uncomfortable as she doesn’t enjoy compliments. We met loads of nice people that night – a lovely couple from Kyrgyzstan who thought we were the best thing ever and the girl had an uncle who had a guest house in Issyk-Kul and said we could stay there for very cheap when we go there, loads of random Irish blokes, a Canadian, some locals and the Turkish manager who, on finding out it was Jill’s birthday once it had gone midnight broke out a bottle of bubbly and made everyone sing happy birthday! We were sad that we had forgotten to re-stock the paperclips (aka business cards) to give out and were too busy having craic to deal with phone stuff (hence no photo’s also unfortunately).

We had a really great night and ended up in a bit of a lock in, sat in the smoking area with the guitars having a good old sing song with the buskers.

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The only picture of the night as having too much craic

The girl (who had been previously playing the Cranberries – Dasha, we think her name was) was really lovely and interesting – she had travelled all over the world playing her music, had some mad stories to tell and enjoyed the hilarious tales of our misfortune so far on the trip. We ended up going out with Dasha and one of the Irish lads after we got turfed out of Mad Murphy’s (the other Irish lad who was busking had to go home as he was very drunk and his wife would be angry) and where did we end up? Why, Esperanza of course? The only place that is open at 3am on a Wednesday morning! We got some very bizarre looks as we stumbled in drunkenly, wearing our Guinness hats. The crowd tonight still had the same immaculate, emotionless girls strutting about, but there were also a couple of people who were dancing like total nobs and looked like they were actually enjoying themselves and having a great night. The best of which, was a lad who was cutting some crazy shapes – it was hilarious watching him trying to woo one of the glamorous zombie girls jumping around like an idiot to Daft Punk. He was actually warming them up a bit – we’re sure we saw one or two of their vacant faces twitch into what may have been a hint of a smile! We were talking to his mate, who was slagging off the girls – “they are like zombies – they have no emotion! My friend is Armenian, that is why he shows emotion and has a good time.” . And so it came to pass that an Armenian impressed the panel on “Kazakhstan’s Next Top Dancer” (i.e. us) with his moves so much that we awarded him the title and made him a lovely rosette out of a napkin and some peanuts.

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Kazakhstan’s Next top Dancer – an Armenian

After a good old dance with the champion and several more beers Susan was struggling to stay awake so sheepishly requested that we head back to the hotel, apologising profusely for being sleepy on Jill’s birthday night out (and of course this was at about 5am, and Jill was pretty knackered herself!) so off we staggered.

We’d forgotten that we had left all our stuff at last night’s hotel, and hadn’t checked into tonight’s yet, and were pleased to find that we had an amazing suite with a middle class super king-size bed and a working class regular single bed. So Susan kindly let Jill have the middle class bed since it was her birthday and we fell into a contented drunken slumber.

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