Sunday, June 8, 2008

Impressions of Bishkek

We've spent a few days in Bishkek (2 million people, the capital of Kyrgysztan) doing the Visa dance and arranging our China travel.

The city has little history, and as a result, the layout is excellent.  The streets are wide and lined with big trees, and there are broad sidewalks everywhere so it is very walkable.  Huge mountains loom just 30km outside of town and their snowcapped peaks tease us in the 35 degree heat.  There are lots of parks and public spaces although they are all very run-down.  A lot of the parks are just tangles of weeds that look like they haven't seen a gardener in decades.  Many of the marble buildings of the downtown are abandoned and falling apart.  I think the only maintenance that has happened since the Russians left is the removal of all the Lenin statues.

There is a pretty good public transport system in mini-buses ($.25), although preversely, none of the buses has windows which open- an amazing cruelty in a city that sees 45 degrees celcius in the summer.  Taxis are cheap ($3.00 anywhere in the city), and easy to find and we've taken them a few times when we couldn't handle the thought of a crowded mini-bus with all our luggage.

The people are friendly, vibrant, and young.  This feels like a place that is going somewhere, and with a bit of money to fix the roads and mow the lawns this city could be a wonder.  I've rarely seen a city with so much potential.  In 40 years time, Bishkek may count itself among the best places in the world to live.

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