Almaty (+ Astana Part II)

Ideal stay: prolonged weekend trip
Temperature:
similar to Astana (depending on season; winter very cold (-20) & summer quite hot (30°C))

..here I go again..

The “see you later”-day has finally arrived. There I was – sitting in the fully booked airplane to Astana.
Astana? Once again I realized that many people are not really familiar with this capital and are not too sure to which country it belongs..

IMG-20170927-WA0019

After a few hours of good airplane-sleep I arrived at the Astana Airport. Incl. my damaged luggage piece…well done. How to report a damaged luggage piece in a country where barely s.o. speaks English.. Licious made it. Not too sure how but it worked out.

After going through that struggle – I was even happier when I spotted HIM in the crowd at the arrival area.

20170928_144359

We took a UBER and went to his new kicka** place (super fancy high-tech apartment) to get some sleep & recharge for the upcoming sightseeing days.

btw: UBER is the best way to move around since you do not need to speak the local language; distance and destination as well as price are set – no struggle to bargain etc.etc. = super convenient)

 

DAY 1

..same old same old..

He left early to work and I stayed a little longer in bed.. cosy & nice observing the snow storm out there.

I wrapped myself in my winter clothes and left for grocery shopping. The “European” & classic stroll through the city, window shopping and unwinding is a no-go with these freezing temperatures. I quickly went to the supermarket, grabbed some fruits, spotted the Crossfit place and decided to have a relaxing manicure & pedicure.

20170928_154308

The way to get the mani & pedi was again quite tough – google translator, pictures and videos helped to get what I was looking for.

..me-time..

Afterwards I went home, relaxed, watched a movie and two series, did some paperwork and all of a sudden it was 18h & he got home from work.

Cute to see that he enjoyed the fact that I was waiting for him at “home”. Till his career step & move to Astana we have lived in several countries together – this was the first time we were “forced” to live apart.

We enjoyed some qualitytime at home before heading to the restaurant near his flat.

IMG_3174

The Chef is famous for delicious burger, homemade sauces and affordable prices. For the first time in my life I ordered a burger with a black bun – crazy.

..Fun fact: they give you gloves prior serving your burger.. 

After dinner we went to the nearby mall and checked on the different products. I love to do such store checks! One is able to buy almost everything (overpriced!) since they import around 32% of the products from Russia, 26% from China and 4% from Germany.

We went home, watched a movie and talked until we fell asleep.

 

DAY 2
He went to work and I – yes – stayed in bed.
This time it was not possible to stay that long since he booked a crossfit trial class for me.

20170928_150626

I got there, tried to communicate (fail), changed clothes and waited. All of a sudden everyone gathered around the trainer – so I joined.
He explained the whole training in Kazakh (well-done) but at LEAST the technical vocabulary is the same all over the globe: sit-ups, dead lifts & burpees. After the first intense round I wondered why burpee is such an international term – else I could have skipped it, reason: lack of understanding. 😉

At the end of the session I went to the adjoining coffee shop and had a “Paleo”-meal. Not. My. Style.
I left quite unsatisfied, went home, did the laundry – well at least I tried to do the laundry. But…

..excuse me?..

IMG-20170929-WA0007

At 19ish a UBER drove me to the St. Regis Astana: dinner with my loved one.

This property was brand-new and its unique restaurant “The Grill” – the new place to be.

IMG_3188

Impressed by the well-matched interior decoration we were escorted to our romantic table. I was not even done with reading the menu & I already smelled the truffles and saw him looking at me like “you see, I know what you like”. 😉

..TRUFFLE LOVE – BIG TIME!..

While freakin out on the truffle (+ the extra truffle topping + the truffle butter + the truffle mashed potato) I felt so much gratitude. Gratitude for our collective life, the mile stones we achieved, our lifestyle, our trips, our future vision, our exclusive taste when it comes to food etc.etc.

We ate pasta, bread with the dif. sorts of butter, he got his onion soup (he LOVED it).. We had steak with truffle mashed potato as a main course and wrapped the dinner up with a sweet dessert assortment: chocolate souffle & “destroyed” tiramisu.

IMG_3184

UBER picked us up, drove through the “Schlagbaum” (Kazakh for toll bar – HAHA) and brought us home.

..happy and lucky us.. 

IMG_3198

At home we had a really good laugh (us – being us) and brushed our teeth in our dress & suit. Fancy manancy. I was unable to open the child safety lock of the mouth wash – and relied on the “house husband”. Just a quick glimpse into our “routine”. 😉
We fell asleep and were looking forward to our trip to ALMATY!

 

DAY 3

..early börd..

Not amused by the way he woke me up at around 4h.. got up, prepared myself – he packed my suitcase – we rushed down, caught the UBER and drove to the Airport.

..Boarding: Almaty..

20170927_172751

Prior Boarding he showed me a super fancy app: Google translator with SCAN. Deeply impressed, I have to admit.
Basically your phone serves as “scanner” – you just hold your camera towards the document / sign / letter you want to translate from Kazakh to English and the letters on the screen change immediately into the translated version. Super cool..
Obviously then he got obsessed and translated almost everything around us.. boys.

IMG_3481

Travelling with my best travel buddy has always been great – and just now a huge advantage having him by my side since he managed to study RUSSIAN in the past few months!

We arrived at the Almaty Airport , got our rental car and drove to our hotel: Ritz Carlton Almaty (+/- 30min).

20170930_151929

We were escorted to the reception, impressed by the views and got our upgraded room quite fast.
I love to enter hotel rooms, inhale those vibes and the BEST part: personalized treatments or Cards. 🙂

..knowing me..

20170930_152621

We ate the heart-shaped cake, drank a coffee and left to the St.Nicholas Cathedral. We took a stroll through the park and ended up at the bazar.

IMG_3224
Well – in case your tummy is sensitive this would probably not be the best idea.. Meat all over, horse penis (yes..) but also homemade honey, jam & a huge variety of dried fruits, fruits and veggies.

20170930_173013

It was a super cool experience since in “Europe” you would not encounter this (anymore).

IMG_3233

This country is so full of contradictions: top modern banking system with instant transfers or super high-speed internet connection vs. old-school, poor housing and missing food cooling-system.

..#whataview..

We decided to check on Kok Tobe Hill, took the cablecar up and were amazed by the city views. IMG_3276

Up there it was pretty cold but we walked on, talked and ended up in the amusement park. Always a child 🙂

..incredible sunset vibes..

IMG_3257

Dinner was served at the restaurant “Inkhzu” – not my stlye but okish.. Afterwards we went to the hotel and enjoyed the amazing facilities.

 

DAY 4
We got up quite early and drove to Leo’s where we had an amazing grapefruit juice and a yummy omelette with goat cheese.

20171001_103201

Butter over here is quite “animally” to be honest… just FYI ;).
We joked, laughed and were looking forward to the mountain trip.

20171001_114140

After entering the reservoir & the endless ride up to the mountain, we paid the entrance fee and walked around. What we spotted next was just INCREDIBLE – such a beauty..

..wow..

IMG_3347.JPG

Big Almaty Lake

Amazing views: shiny, clear, blue water..snowy mountains..fresh air..sun on our skin.
Us: 100% HAPPY ..and ok, a bit tired of me – poor him. Haha.

IMG_3339

He promised I would be able to spot some animals – but this was not the case. You can imagine how I reacted.. #BockigeJenny.

The mountain was steep and snowy but obviously we aimed high and drove all the way up.. LOVELY view.

IMG_3354

At one point we got stuck – managed to get out and drove back down.

..schöner Rucksack..cooler Rucksack..Profi-Rucksack..

IMG_3381
We spotted the (dried out) Ski-Area and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the sun.

IMG_3474

It was amazing to feel the warm sunrays on my skin – living for such moments!

..Liebe..

IMG_3465

Lived also for those endless laughing fits; our stories; our words; our signature features; our vision; our shared opinions and opposing views; our spirit; our humour and our love.

IMG_3469

Till our city trip to Almaty, I was not aware that this area is well-known for skiing. If you are into skiing you should def. give it a try!

For Lunch we stopped at an amazing place with local food. Unfortunately I was not able to read the name of the restaurant, check the picture:

IMG_3405

I immediately fell in love with this place. Calm, peaceful, traditional, romantic, sunny and – it turned out to be – DELICIOUS.

IMG_3400

As usual he was hungry AF and we nearly ordered the whole menu.. a normal thing 😉 At least we got to try it ALL.

We also enjoyed a hot tea after the winter feeling on top of the mountain.
A glorious laughter ensued.

..us being us..

Me = a wannabe influencer and at times advertising specialist and him = an involuntary follower which had the best giggles because of my attitude.

collage

Our day was not over yet.

..Yes, our travel pace differs from other travel styles (never relax & chill only)..

We drove to the Central Park (also known as Gorky Park) and went for a walk.

Interesting: In KZ they do not just sit on the floor and beg for money (like in Hungary or Portugal).. but rather try to sell sth to you or offer you a service which they want to get paid for later on.
eg. They take pictures of you while walking in the park with your loved one and afterwards they show you the printed pic version and try to sell it at an horrendously high price. Smart.

IMG_3428

The park is lovely.. huge green areas, multifaceted flora, cute lake with a waterfall, amusement rides (yes, seems they are into it!) and stunning TOP views.

IMG_3418

We rode the big wheel to get one last shot of the Skyline, afterwards we enjoyed the sunset at the Barfly Rooftop Bar.

..sunset is my fav color..

IMG_3446

Unfortunately this bar did absolutely not come up to scratch. Service was “non-existent”, windows were dirty and the whole place rather shabby.

Tired we went back to the hotel, checked on the nearby posh mall, purchased some fresh juice and fruits. We got a “quick” rest and went to the jacuzzi….yesssssss.
An amazing end of a quite eventful day!

 

DAY 5

IMG_3481

We grabbed a coffee and a croissant at PAULs and drove to the airport – time to fly back to ASTANA.

We arrived in Astana, took a UBER, went home, relaxed a bit and went to the Nur-Astana Mosque.

..beauty..

IMG_3499

This mosque was so full of energy, good vibes, style, classiness and love. It reminded me of the positive spirit which Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque spreads.

IMG_3503

This mosque is the third largest mosque in Central Asia. The minaret is 63m high which stands for the age of Muhammed when he died. The whole structure is made of the best glass & granite and has capacity for 5000 people.

We left quite impressed and walked aka. jumped over to the famous “Pyramid” aka. Astana Piramida.

IMG_3515

The Piramida is also called “The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation” – “..it is a Symbol of friendship, unity and peace in Kazakhstan..”.

We paid the entrance fee and waited for our guide. After +/- 20min the (rather military) lady showed us around. She showed us different national dresses which stand for the over 130 diff. Nationalities who live in peace and harmony in KZ.

..clichee-ridden..

IMG_3517

After showing us the basement, the Atrium Hall and the Opera Hall, we got into the fancy elevator (build by SWISS engineers) which took us diagonally up to the peak.
IMG_3527

Under the sky-blue roof there is a meeting room which is – among others – used for the worlds’ leaders congress.

..the sky is the limit..

IMG_3532

The whole room radiated such a positive and peaceful vibe. No matter how rainy or snowy it is outside – inside it will always stay bright and friendly. Well done!

..proud..

As mentioned earlier he already acquired some Russian skills – reason why he did such a good job at bargaining the taxi price. The crazy taxi took us to the famous Baytarek Monument.

IMG_3546

Remember? This is the tower which I have already seen the last time I came to Astana but was back then under construction.

IMG_3548

The price to access this 97-m high tower is around 700T and “..embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach”.

..one world..one love..

IMG_3554

The elevator takes you – basically – inside the egg. The view from up there is incredible. The highlight is President Nazarbayev’s palace.

Exhausted and overwhelmed by all the information we have received, we decided to take a break at my fav. place: Rafe Cafe.

IMG_3563

Obviously I had to order the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE – ever. But – guess what – he was not INTO IT!! How come?! (“How comes” like he would have said)

He took a snacky-pumpkin soup and drank a fresh juice before we headed in the direction of the parliament.

Our last stop for this day was: The Ritz Carlton Astana.

20171003_152228

A surprise for me 🙂
He took me there to enjoy a couple massage as the GRAND ENDING of this beautiful trip.

20171003_153732

The spoiling started with a dip in the (cold) pool and after 30min they called us for the main treatment: a hot stone massage.

20171003_175426

We relaxed and enjoyed it sooo much. It was literally the perfect ending. During this massage I just remembered how grateful I am for this life and my travel buddy. This travel style is unique but exactly what we love.
We love to explore it all in a rather tight time frame and at the same time we love to indulge in those fancy treats. I could not wish for a better travel buddy.

20171003_175658

After this incredibly unwinding massage, we got some tea and cookies, talked and laughed in the relaxation room.

IMG_3574

Following this we went to the mall near his place, ate plemini and went back home to sleep because at 4h a taxi would pick me up and take me to the airport.

..all good things come to an end..

Thank you ASTANA, ALMATY & my LOVE for this incredible trip! I had a blast and will never forget those HAPPY FEELINGS back in those days 🙂

Forever grateful.

 

Jordan

…mystical!

Ideal stay: 4days for Amman and Petra, add-ons for Dead Sea
Temperature: depending on the season, between 13ºC and 38ºC

When a European talks about Jordan it is (again) often associated with a negative connotation.
If Arabs talk about Jordan – you hear plenty of positive comments. I also love it now after visiting this amazing country not too long ago.

From Abu Dhabi there are several direct flights with Etihad and Royal Jordanian which take you in 3hours to Amman – the capital.

img_0441

I went there on my own to visit a friend who was living there for a traineeship/Arabic course.
Yes, on my own – as a Blondie – and I made it safely there and back – don’t worry!

Day 1
I arrived at the airport and was shocked by the huge visa price: 50dollars! Wow. Quite a lot to be honest in comparison to the flight which was only AED 500… The immigration process itself was quite easy and fast. Afterwards I took the local bus to the city which is really affordable and clean and it was easy to find the departure location.

At the central bus station my friend picked me up. Of course, a Blondie is something “interesting” over there but still no one would dare to come too close or annoy you in any way.

img_0452

Jordan is a country with a huge historical background but due to the civil war in the 70’s it was partially destroyed and obtained a rather negative reputation. Despite Jordan´s direct “crisis”-neighbours (Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi), it is safe to travel and you will experience true Arabian hospitality.

img_0767

..Looking for water pressure..? Not available in most parts of Jordan..

After unpacking my things at my friends quite “basic” flat we went for a walk through his district Jabal al Wabdeh (sahat Paris) by foot (yes it´s safe enough to walk there), went to the local market and ended the arrival day with a traditional, Arabic dinner at a very cozy place (cannot recall the name) – amazing terrace with views over the crowded and lively streets.

img_0458

Hotel-wise I would recommend Kempinski Amman and Intercontinental Amman but I must admit that my trip was simply amazing and wonderful through my 100% local experience.

Day 2
This day started very early since we had a long car drive waiting for us – 3hours from the capital to Petra.

img_0468

Generally, it was an exhausting drive through not well constructed roads, partially through the desert where you encounter plenty of police stops / controllers. Even us with 2 locals in the car were constantly stopped and asked to show documents etc. So you better be prepared for this…

img_0469

On your way down south you will see desert left and right, some villages and a lot of lovely donkeys which belong to the rather poor villagers.

img_0488

We reached Petra and before we entered the area we opted for a quick lunch. My locals obviously bargained and there you go – a huge plate of rice with chicken to share among all of us for little money.

img_0484

So, here we were, after a long, almost 4 hours drive & countless control points; fed and happy we reached Petra.
Wow. Just the first two sneaks into the area made my heart beat faster. The entrance fee for “maintenance” as they call it – is another 50$ for tourists and 1$ for locals.

img_0490

The Italian, the German, the Saudi, the 2 Jordanians and me, the Blondie. Actually I believe it’s a great move from your own country if your “local experiences” incl. museums, monuments, culture etc. are free of charge for the inhabitants.
Take the money from the tourists rather than from the locals. Jordan leads by example!

petra-map

Temperature-wise we were absolutely lucky – not too hot, not too cold else you could not do the 10km through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’d better wear some good shoes, shorts, sunscreen and light shirt since you are going to walk and hike quite a lot. Heels and dress are not recommended – although it’s seen a lot.

img_0592

But don’t worry, in case you get really exhausted you will have to chance to “rent” a horse, donkey or camel from the very attentive and rather pushy shepherds. The whole area is about 60km2 and the walk from the entrance until the “typical” and well-known picture spot is more or less 20min downhill walk.

The exhausting part starts afterwards once you go through the old, abandoned, rock-city up to the last hill. The peak of the “misery” is the whole way back after you finally made it to the top, knowing there is no other exit but hike and walk all the freakin way back to the entrance.

But hey, I do not want to discourage you – this whole thing is totally worth it… Let the pictures talk!

img_0496

img_0501

img_0506

img_0551

img_0554

img_0560

img_0574

img_0584

img_0601

img_0619

To be honest, reaching here was already quite tough. I was craving a fresh, ice cooled coke – and there it was – alhamdollilah it was not a Fata Morgana but my life saver selling my coke. Yeah.

..Amira was exhausted and my poor boys had to handle my small crisis-attack..

img_0624

Finally we got to the Monastery and as said, it is def. worth it. Giant, tremendous, incredible.
Me, a life-lover sparkling with ideas and fun pictures – convinced my crew to take a rather unusual picture at this beautiful site. Make LOVE not war!

img_0630

Usually people turn around at this point and start their walk back to the entrance. Not us though. We went ALL THE WAY UP to the mountain in order to be able to breath in this whole day one last time.

img_0637

The lovely Bedouins on “the top of the world” received us with a tasty, traditional tea and offered us some dates which we gratefully accepted.

img_0696

IMG_0658.JPG

After our little time-consuming Photoshoot – yes, because our Saudi guy was never happy with his face or position…;) we handed a tip over and left thankfully this incredible, breath-taking place.

img_0713

During your exhausting walk you will encounter several eager camel and donkey owners who will make it very tempting to you to hire one of them for an exaggerated amount of money.
The best way to get rid of them is with one of the top 10 Arabic phrases.

..“La, Suekran” (No, Thanks)..

Dusk arrived and we made our way back – the lazy ones took a camel but we walked all the way through.

..Let’s go the whole hog..

img_0715

Meanwhile all tourists were gone and the employees started preparing the candles for the “night-tour”. This must also be a nice one… but honestly, once is enough!
By writing this review and choosing the pictures it comes straight to my mind how we suffered that day…

Yes, it is beautiful but the walk/hike was likewise unforgettable.

img_0716

Once we were all reunited at the Entrance/Exit we went for a local bite and slept at the Valentine Inn located in Wadi Musa.
A quite cosy, affordable, basic but nice hotel where we could finally get rest.

DAY 3
Yes, this picture was taken in the morning. Start your day right – with a Shisha.

img_0733

We had a quick breakfast and drove back to Amman. On our way we encountered some roaming camels and again we had a small photoshoot.

img_0736

In the evening we went for a fresh juice and a nice, simple traditional dinner (bread, hummus, falafel, etc.) in downtown Amman Albalad.

DAY 4
In the morning we had a walk through the famous “Rainbow Street” where we grabbed some nice breakfast and interesting ice cream flavours. My friends emphasized that Rainbow Street would be more fun at night…

..Well, we gotta get through my “To Do”-List, shbab!..

Midday we went to do some more sightseeing and opted for Amman Citadel, the historical site in Ammans´centre. The entrance fee to the Citadel is only a few Jordanian dinars, and you can get access to the Roman, Byzantine as well as early Islamic ruins which is located at the top of Jabal al-Qala’a.
Not only are the artifacts still extraordinary, but so are the views of Amman!

If you are into culture and archaeology – Jordan is definitely the right place for you!

img_0779

IMG_0792.JPG

img_0797

If you wonder what you should wear in Jordan – in general it is an open-minded country. Obviously in the countryside you should cover yourself a bit but in the city or even in Petra it is completely fine to walk in a sleeveless shirt and long skirt.

img_0813

It looked like rain the whole day – but it never did actually rain.

img_0833

This was actually the most fascinating thing in the whole citadel: the spoon.
What happens here? What is it all about? Go, and find it out by yourself!

img_0843

Our afternoon was completed by the warm welcome from my friend’s aunt to her house – I will never forget this moment.
Not only because my Italian friend was not familiar with the local behaviour code (unmarried man should not touch married woman at the greeting) and wanted to kiss and hug my friends aunt but also her total open behaviour towards me, the Blondie, in her house.

She was happy to see me, so was I and proudly introduced me to her daughter.

img_0864

She offered us homemade cookies and tea and prepared a shisha on her handmade carpet. It was soooo cool! How can an auntie prepare a shisha in the middle of her living room?

Arabian culture and her openness did totally represent the warmth of Arabian hospitality. Incredible.

By end of the day I was exhausted but happy.
Fulfilled and grateful for life.
Thankful for this local experience and in the end we were even rewarded with this splendid sunset.

img_0884

Of course it was not enough for today – my boys would not let me depart without showing me their favourite coffee shop aka. Bar – “books@cafe” where we enjoyed our last yummy dinner, some drinks, completed by amazing city light views.

img_0910

Jordan was simply mystical and surely not my last visit!

Dead Sea and Wadi Rum are still on my bucket list and therefore I would recommend everyone to stay a little longer than I did to be able to enjoy it all to the max.!