Killing Time in Bishkek

The first thing I noticed entering the hostel in Bishkek were all the bikes in the garden, there must have been more than 10 cyclists, all waiting for some visas, in that hostel. And I was going to join them for a long time, I soon learned that the Kazak embassy closed the day before and nobody knew when it would open again: it seemed like the short detour in Kazakhstan I wanted to do was not going to happen and that I was going to spend three weeks in Bishkek, waiting for Urs, a friend of mine who cycled with me from Munich to Trieste last year and that was coming to visit me in Kyrgyzstan. The hostel was half an hour walking from the city center, but everything I needed was no more than 10 minutes walking from the hostel. There was a big and colourful bazaar, the Alamedin bazar, where I would go almost daily to buy some food – finding lentils, cheese, dried mushroom and other hard-to-find food made me particularly happy -, to get lost between the stands or to eat some particularly delicious shashlik. And then, less than 5 minutes walking from the hostel, there was a restaurant selling some of the best lagman I’ve had in Kyrgyzstan; most of my dinners in Bishkek have been eaten there, always with the company of some other travellers. This, together with the free wi-fi at the hostel, was pretty much all I needed to have and, combined with the fact there were always a few other cyclists at the hostel willing to have a chat and a beer, made me extremely lazy; I rarely went to the city centre and I spent most of my time in the garden of the hostel, taking endless nap and trying to escape the heat during the day, drinking some beer during the evening and occasionally playing chess with Joris, a Dutch cyclist I kept meeting and that I met in Mashad for the first time.

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Alamedin bazaar.
The fact that Bishkek doesn’t have a lot to offer didn’t help me to fight the laziness. Its perfectly symmetric structure, with roads being directed either North-South or East-West and always crossing in a perfect orthogonal way, and its Soviet-style buildings and monuments are the main attraction of the city, something that can be interesting for no more than an afternoon, unless you are a big fan of Soviet architecture. At a certain point I thought about going around the city taking pictures of the Soviet remaining; it goes without saying that this has never happened. Ala Too square, Bishkek’s central square, looked like the perfect example of Soviet architecture, but in the evening it became closed to traffic, there was music on the background, families walked around and it looked more like the main street of a town rather than the main square of a capital city.
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Ala Too square.
Bishkek is also said to be one of the most lively city in Central Asia, maybe the most lively after Almaty, and this is due to the many Westerns living there. The centre is full of Western-looking cafe, with people working on their laptops, and there seemed to be a very active expat life. I spent some time on some of these cafe, but I never got involved on the expat life, something that might have been interesting to do. The three weeks passed faster than I thought, at a certain point I considered leaving Bishkek and the hostel, that started to appear like a trap hard to escape, to go for a trekking in the mountains; the lack of a proper pair of shoes and a few burocratic things to do were excuses good enough not to go. The burocratic things to do included waiting for the Kazak embassy to reopen to finally obtain a Kazak visa, something that happened after more than 2 weeks, and waiting for a parcel that my father sent me containing a few bike parts and, most importantly, all my winter clothes, something I was very happy to have again: no more cold nights in the mountains with my thermal sleeping bag packed in my panniers. I also applied for the Chinese visa: to obtain it I had to cut my 9-month long beard and to go via an (expensive) agency, two things I didn’t particularly like. And then Urs arrived, we spent another day in Bishkek, so that he could witness himself how little there was to see in the city and we finally left the hostel, the bazaar and the good lagman, to hit the road for a three weeks tour of Kyrgyzstan.
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