Got to the hotel around 430am, the Hyatt Regency Bishkek:
Guess this is as good of a place as any to start the hotel review…since I had problems from the very start. Check-in was quick, up to my room, and it was roasting. AC and blower weren’t working. Call down to front desk and ask to switch rooms, “no, we are full, I will send someone up.” The maintenance guy fiddled with it for 30 minutes and couldn’t get it to turn on either, and then I elevated and demanded a manager. He still said there’s no rooms, blah blah blah. I threw a mild fit. Well, look there, there’s a room on the Executive Floor. Funny how that worked out! An hour after arriving, around 5:30am, I passed out…and didn’t wake up until nearly 2pm.
But, back to the hotel. The staff was friendly the entire time, although I didn’t have a ton of interaction with them. The perk of the new room was executive lounge access, but it was nothing to get excited about. A nice espresso machine and cookies (?) in the morning, but in the evening they put out quite a nice snack display with meats, cheeses, etc, and free beverages. I was allowed to bring my colleague in as well, so that was a nice perk.
Other than that, we really didn’t use any hotel facilities. We had one drink in the bar which tried really hard to be cool, but weren’t overly impressed with it. There was an in-house travel agent, who was fantastic and managed to book us a daytrip for the next day at around 9pm – impressive, and more on that later.
The room was comfy enough, and no complaints about the bed or room temp once I got a room where the AC worked. It was plenty quiet, and my room had a huge shower and tub in it. I would say the paying the extra $20 or so for the deluxe room upgrade was way worth it – it was double the size of the standard rooms plus had a king bed. Overall, no question this is THE place to stay in Bishkek.
So, woke up at 2pm, and decided to go for a stroll. I’ll go through the sites pretty quickly, and I didn’t see all of these the first day….since I had the weekend to recover. But, going to post them all now regardless.
We’ll start right next to the Hyatt with the national opera and ballet:
A short walk away was the Dom Soyuzov, a very cool Soviet-era building:
…and the very festive City Hall!
Not quite positive what this place was, but I love the slogan on it…roughly translates as “Citizens! Do not leave your gas appliances unattended!” LOLZ!!!
A cool statue, but not real positive who this dude was. Kalik Akayev? Same surname as the first president of Kyrgyzstan, but…
I don’t remember what this was, but I want to say it was a University building?
…and now, the National Museum. Complete with a very Soviet-style goose-stepping changing of the guard!
…and a giant statue of national hero Manas, talked about in an epic poem from a couple hundred years ago, and thought to have lived around 1000 years ago. The airport is currently named after this dude as well, although the code FRU comes from its former name Frunze International Airport, named after Mikhail Frunze, a major figure in the Bolshevik Revolution who was born near Bishkek (formerly called Frunze from 1926 until Kyrgyz independence.)
It was the inside of the museum that was delightfully kitschy, starting with the giant Soviet-era statues:
…and continuing with giant Soviet-era murals on the ceilings! No to war American Imperialists!
Unfortunately, only the display on Kyrgyz history and art was open, and the floor on Soviet era kitsch was closed. Bummer because I”m sure it would have been awesome! Instead, we had to settle for this lovely explanation of evolution. Who knew we came from apes and eventually became cro-magnon man, and eventually evolved into mongoloids, negroids, and europeans!
Last stop was the Parliament building, a rather grand structure:
So, done with sightseeing, time for a little food talk. We considered the Obama Cafe, pictured below, but decided to give it a miss.
Instead, we got dinner at Bella Italia per TripAdvisor recommendations. Well, not sure if it’s called Bella Italia or Chef Walter, his named was plastered over everything!
So, what was for dinner? It’s a surprise! …or at least served with one
We decided to sample what they had to offer, and started with some bruschetta and a cheese plate. It was reasonably tasty.
followed up with lasagne, which was also quite good, and I was especially impressed given the fact we were in Kyrgyzstan!
…and the true test of every good Italian meal…the tiramisu. I have to admit, I was seriously impressed! Way to go Chef Walter!
All said and done, I was quite impressed with the meal, especially considering all that food we paid maybe $30 each for the meal. The only small detraction was the smoke. The managers/owners sat in the middle of the restaurant smoking, as did most of the other patrons. I guess when in Rome, but it was still a bit of a negative in my books.
Also, need to give a small shoutout to Sierra Coffee. I found this place the first day when out sightseeing based on TripAdvisor reviews, and it was a very western style coffeeshop with lots of good cheap food and most importantly…reliable caffeine!
The next day, we decided to head out of the city to the mountains, which had been recommended by lots of other colleagues. We headed to the Ala Archa national park. We negotiated this with the hotel travel agency for $50 each, and we thought we were just getting a driver to take us there and back. Oh no, we also got a fluent English-speaking guide, and park entrance fees included. Score!
The drive was maybe an hour or so in each direction from the Hyatt, and once there we hiked for a bit over two hours in the park. It was absolutely gorgeous, but quite a bit cooler. It was maybe 25C in the city, but only 12-15C in the mountains. I really should have worn more than shorts and a t-shirt. Some pics from the hike:
Other than that, it was just work, work, work in Bishkek. Overall, I was impressed by the city and really enjoyed it. The people we encountered were seriously nice, and there was still enough Soviet-era kitsch around to make it entertaining and fun. Just enough to see, but also not so challenging that we were constantly looking for a decent place to eat or find groceries. I actually rather liked the city, and hope to come back for a much longer trip and visit more rural areas.
Next up, Bishkek to Almaty, Kazakhstan by car!