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Kindness in Kazakhstan

There is one area in the world I think most people are not very familiar with, including me, and that is Central Asia – or also known as the Stan-countries. Stan means land or nation. Kazak means wander or adventure. Not very surprisingly Kazakhstan means land of adventure and I guess that fits me quite well. Just like Athens, this will be a short stop with just a transit of 20 hours. But you know what they say; it’s not about the quantity but the quality! So even though this was a short stop, it was full of impressions and only very good ones.

I got here with yet a night flight and I managed to get a few hours of sleep and woke up 15 minutes before landing when the lights was turned on – and I’m glad I woke up then. I flew to Almaty, not the capital but the biggest city in Kazakhstan, which is located right next to a mighty mountain range which we flew right next to before landing. Blue skies and an amazing view. Since Kazakhstan has removed the VISA for a lot of countries, the migrations went really fast and after quick breakfast at the airport I took a taxi to a park in the city, just to walk around, relax and enjoy the weather. I really wanted to go up in the mountains, but it was a little too far and expensive going there by taxi, so the plan was just to stay in the city – but usually things don’t go as planned.

Suddenly a man who was out jogging approached me, speaking only Russian, but he was very curious and I understood that he invited me to his nearby home for lunch – so of course I joined. His kids could speak a little bit of English, so we got to understand each other a little bit better. After lunch we jumped in his car and he took me up in the mountains to some different scenic locations and I was very grateful for the hospitality. He even bought all the food even though I insisted on paying – which I eventually did on the last meal before he drove me back to the airport in the evening.

We really had one thing in common; an active and sporty lifestyle. He was an Iron Man competitor (triathlon) and also did lots of skiing, climbing and hiking so even though we could not speak very much on the entire day, we showed each other pictures and could get an understanding of each others lives. Almaty seemed like a very nice city to live in. A modern and wealthy big city with a population of 1,5 million people living there. Kazakhstan are big in oil and gas and they are also the biggest exporter of uranium, so there are great job opportunities here. At the same time it offers lots of recreational possibilities and people seemed very sporty and healthy. A likable place!

I don’t know if I’ll ever return though. After this big trip of mine, I’ve set a few travel goals (for example climbing Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in South America) but besides that I think that the majority of my travels will go to the United States. Speaking of the United States, only a few more stops and I’m there and I really can’t wait!

Gorgeous Georgia

Before going to Georgia some people “warned me” and asked me to be careful and vigilant. This because, apparently, it’s dangerous here and the people are not trustworthy. It’s not the first time I’ve heard these words before going somewhere, South and Central America were two other areas. But anyway, common for all these “warnings” are that they come from people who had never been there. In my opinion, that’s even worse than judging a book by it’s cover. Another thing that’s common is that I felt safer in those places, including Georgia, than I usually do in any big city in western and northern Europe.

It was a great feeling leaving Europe and the “civilization” for some adventures in a not so well know country. To be honest, I can only think of one person I know that has been here – and that is a TRUE adventurer. I don’t know him very well, we were old colleagues but didn’t work on the same department. However, if I’m not mistaking he rode a bicycle from Scandinavia to China and has also completed the Mongol Rally – which I was supposed to do this summer as well but my passport is soon full so I’ll have to save that for next year. But back to the point; to go a place not many friends have been is always a great thing – because you don’t know what to expect, which I think is a great feeling!

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, was the first stop on the visit here. I stayed only for 1,5 days since I knew I would have another 1,5 days here at the end and that’s usually enough for a mid-sized capital city. I would say it’s pretty beautiful, very cheap and has both old and new architecture in a good mix. But I have been to enough cities lately, so I went to the mountains – the Caucasus mountains to be accurate. I’ve been in that mountain range once before but on the Russian side, last summer when I climbed the highest mountain in Europe, Mount Elbrus. This time I went to the Kazbegi area, which is just 10 kilometers from the Russian border and it had much of the same feeling as when I was in Russia. The mountains here are big, wild and beautiful and the villages on the other hand are very small. I went hiking two days but didn’t go any higher than 3000 meter above sea level and no really big, but still scenic hikes. Unfortunately I struggle a little bit with a knee so I’m a little limited at the moment. Sometimes you take the most simple things for granted, for example just to be able to go hiking without any problems. I really hope this knee pain won’t last long and that I can be back to my active self again.

When I arrived Kazbegi, 3 hour bus ride from Tbilisi, I had no booking for accommodation. I thought it would be pretty easy to fix – and it was. An old lady approached me as I went off the bus in the village “centre” and she knew only one word of English: guesthouse – which for me was enough. I turned out it wasn’t a real guesthouse, more her home where she had two rooms available for travelers. 3 nights cost me around 12 Euro which for a traveler is almost for free. Even though the standard was extremely poor, I really enjoyed it because it was the first time in a really long time I’ve had a room for myself. Being able to sleep without earplugs was a blessing – and also one of those things we take for granted in our everyday life. I really hope that I will remember all those small uncomfortable things as a traveler, when I get back home. As it is now I would consider my normal life luxurious compared to the life as a traveler – but on the other hand, there is a great chance that when I get back home, I will consider the life as a traveling nomad as luxury. You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Anyways, I’m living in the moment and having the time of my life. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is my biggest dream, because we humans adapt really fast to new circumstances – even though we want it or not. So I will probably adapt and get used to the standards back home as well – but I will for sure look back and remind myself of how hard, dirty but also of course wonderful the life on the road was.

Israel and the world’s worst and most expensive kebab

There are two ways of showing a person that you don’t like them. The direct and simple way would be to just scream and tell he/she is an idiot and it can’t be misunderstood. Or, the more sophisticated way, you just turn your back at them and shut up – not giving them any attention at all. In the case of Israel, I would like to do both.

This was perhaps not the most positive of ingresses, but I actually was very positive going here. It’s been on the list for many years and for weeks I’ve dreamt of this “pearl” by the Mediterranean where I expected nice climate, a chill vibe, good food and some awesome days. You can say I overrated this place. The climate however was close to perfect. Around 25 degrees, blue skies and a light breeze kept you warm enough not be be the least cold and also not to sweat – even mid day. So, why didn’t I like this country?

A country never gets better than the people living there and of course how they behave. And there we pretty much have the answer. I had no idea before going here that Israeli were known for being rude and arrogant, but it didn’t take me more than my first breakfast to realize that. After a bad, but expensive, breakfast with no customer service what so ever – I chose to tip “only” 1 Euro (the bill was around 8-9 Euro, so I tipped more than 10 %). When I left the place, the waiter ran after me wanting my attention. I thought for a moment I had forgot something. But no, he wondered why I didn’t tip him more. I was actually shocked and this was pretty much my first meeting with an Israeli. And, my first meeting with Israeli food. Expensive and bad, and it was just the start.

After a week of poor service, arrogant, rude and and in general anything but friendly people I couldn’t wait to leave this place. I went around a little bit to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and also down south to Eilat in order to visit Petra in Jordan. All over the service and hospitality was the same non-existing with very few exceptions. But before leaving, I went for what became probably the world’s most expensive kebab.

All over Israel they serve kebab (or shawarma) which I usually like, but here it didn’t taste much to be honest. Just dry and free from flavor. However, I eventually found a place where the prices didn’t make you feel like have been robbed, but still it cost 12 Euro without something to drink so you can imagine how much an ordinary dinner would cost. Anyway, in Israel the currency is Shekel and this shawarma cost 40 Shekels. I only had 200 Shekel-bills left, so I handed over one to the cashier. He gave me 60 Shekels back, and I said that now I think you mixed a little bit here. Mathematics was never my best skill in school but I still can manage, without a calculator, to solve the equation of 200 – 40 = 160. Not 60. It goes with the story that I’m also 100 % sure I gave him 200 Shekels, since that was the only bills I had left. Anyways, he said I was lying and that I gave him 100 Shekels. We argued for about 5 minutes and I was pretty annoyed I can tell you, and I usually never have a temper. I even spoke to the manager, but sadly ended up paying 35 Euro for the smallest and most tasteless kebab on planet earth. Perhaps I should call Guiness.

Anyway, this was only one of many things that happened during my 8 days in Israel. One thing is for sure; I will NEVER ever go back to this country and I encourage you not to go here as well. There are so many poor countries in this world but with great people and hospitality that really need and appreciate tourism and the money it contributes with. In Israel they didn’t seem to like either the tourists or the fact that it’s a big industry. So an advice to you (and myself) is to go to other countries instead. Save your money and spend them in a place where they are needed, deserved and people are grateful for them. Last but not least, it’s of course very tragic with all the war and conflicts that have taken part in Israel and Palestina. But I must say, that in such a small area full of so many idiots, I can understand that there will be conflicts. I am by the way fully aware of the religions situation as well, which of course makes it even more complicated when these people believe in things in old books written thousands of years ago.

If I was enthusiastic going here, I was 10 times more enthusiastic leaving. Next stop: Europe and the country of Count Dracula!