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.
No jerseys but a mini Eiffel Tower
Sprawling streets in the hunt for St. Patrick
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.
We arrived in Moldova after thankfully having no trouble at the border (so we must have still been within our allotted time, although it was very bizarre the way the officials just handed the pile of passports/ID cards to the bloke sitting at the front of the bus and they were all just passed around everyone until they landed on the lap of their rightful owner!), again in the pitch black. As is now routine for us, we ended up in the bus depot and not in the city centre as you’re never sure where to get off so we normally wait until the last stop. There was a pizza place across the road that had wifi and accepted cards (we didn’t have any Moldovan Lei), so we thought we’d pop in for a beer and use their wifi to get our bearings and decide where we were going to stay.
The place smelled so good and we were pretty starving (we’d forgotten about our Transnistrian pasties that were still in Jill’s bag) so we ordered a pizza to share, a couple of nibbley things and a bottle of wine. We were also over the moon to be back in the Latin alphabet (Ukraine and Transnistria were all Cyrillic)! Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s much easier to work out what things are if you recognize the letters! Still, something must have broken down in our communication as the waitress brought us a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Sauvignon Blanc, and we struggled to communicate this through gestures and grunts and even trusty Google Translate so she got the manager who spoke English, was really lovely, sorted it out and thought the whole thing was hilarious. Upon booting up our faithful companion Google Maps, we discovered that Chisinau was quite a small city, the bus depot wasn’t far out of the centre (not in the in the back of beyond in an industrial estate as per usual) and we would only have 20 minutes or so to walk to either of our shortlisted hostels. Put the rest of this in your face
Wandering in search of a nice loose egg, your favourite idiot broads abroad embarking on an yet another enchanting voyage of self-discovery (not the kind that's in those arty french films with subtitles and hairy biffs). Join us in our journey!