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travel

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.

A day in Athens

Sometimes people ask me why I stay such short time in some cities – and I fully understand that they are asking. For me there are mainly two reasons for this. When you travel you want to keep costs as low as possible, and cheap flight tickets usually mean a transit or even two in order to reach your final destination. When I see a cheap flight, with a long transit in a city I haven’t been, that’s perfect for me. I get to my final destination at a low price – and at the same time get a glimpse of another city or country. The other reason is simple: in some places you don’t need more than one day – Athens is one of those.

My flight from Tallinn was 03.30 in the night or in the morning, depending on how you look at it. Also another thing with cheap flights; the departure times suck! Usually I sleep like a baby on airplanes, but this time I didn’t catch a second of sleep – ironically thanks to a baby. In the seat behind me there was a young mother, with obviously a much younger baby – perhaps a little too young. This baby constantly from the second it entered the flight until it left, probably set a new record in screaming which kept me and rest of the plan awake for the entire flight. However, I’m not bitter and I don’t complain – I’m just telling the story. I’m extremely grateful being able to live this life of traveling and I want other people to enjoy traveling as well. But on the other hand, I still question people traveling with young infants.

Let’s face it; for whom do you think the parents decide to travel – for a 1 year old kid that can’t enjoy, appreciate or remember anything of it – or for their own ego? It’s as obvious that water is wet. They are doing it 99 % for themselves! No one really likes flying, buses, taxis or many things that’s a part of traveling – and especially not small children. And also, when they can’t even remember anything of it – is it really a good idea? I would say no and here is my suggestion. Wait until the kid is 3-4 years old. Take the money those travels would have cost, put them into a fund and when the kid is 20 years old that would probably be enough cash for the upfront payment of an apartment – which I think the kid will appreciate A LOT more than a bumpy flight to the Mediterranean that it can’t even remember.

So, not so many word about Athens in this post and there is a reason for it – it simply didn’t make any impression on me. Or at least not a good one. Simply just a big, busy and also pretty ugly city bowl. When I write this, of course some people will say that I’m such a jerk judging a city after only one day. But as I’ve said before; I don’t need to eat a whole pizza to tell if I like it or not it’s enough with a slice or maybe two. Also, there are MANY cities that I literally fall in love with after just one hour. If I get no positive emotions at all after one day – I’m not negative – just honest. Although I’ve met some people that say it’s a fantastic city, and I respect that people are different. But if Athens is fantastic, I really wonder with which word they would describe cities like Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, San Diego, Barcelona or Vancouver to name a few.