After breakfast, I decided to give Uber a try for the ride to the airport. This allowed me to use one of my favourite tips for international travel: if you know how much your travel to the airport will cost you, spend all the rest of your local cash on your hotel bill if you don’t see coming back to the country any time soon. This ensures you don’t get stuck with any currency which may be hard to get rid of, but I usually keep some small coins for my coin jar.
That said, Uber worked like a charm. The car didn’t have AC, but it wasn’t warm in the morning and the driver (although he didn’t speak English) was super friend and excited to talk about how much Novosibirsk had changed in his lifetime. I was impressed someone going on 60, who’d grown up in Soviet times, was so in touch was modern technology that he was driving for Uber. Turned out to be a great experience, and only about $7 for the 30+ minute ride.
Gorgeous blue skies above Tolmachevo Airport:
After checking in, I was told that “international VIP passengers can use Door #1” so back outside I went. Turned out the VIP Terminal was for all International Business Passengers. Sure, it’s no Lufthansa First Terminal, but for a small airport like Novosibirsk it was pretty cool having a separate terminal. My lounging area:
Stand-up view from my lounge cubicle:
More views of the lounge. It was empty except for three of us:
30 minutes before flight time, all three of us were escorted out of the terminal from the back door…which led into another waiting lounge complete with security. X-ray done, all three of us were loaded into the van for the drive to the plane. However, the other two were going to Frankfurt so I was beginning to wonder if I was the only passenger to Almaty. When we arrived at my plane, the driver said “no, it’s hot, you wait here. Business class does not wait in lines!” So, I got to admire the peasants from afar:
As soon as everyone was on board, except me, it was time to board.
S7 Airlines flight 3298
Novosibirsk, Russia (OVB) to Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 13:20, Flight Time: 2:30
Airbus A320, Registration VQ-BDM, Manufactured 2004, Seat 2F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 120,424
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,309,561
Pre-departure beverage of water was offered…to go with the bottle of water which was already at my seat:
There did end up being three other people in business, no idea why they weren’t in the terminal with me, but the seat next to me was open so I moved to the window to do a bit of plane spotting:
The amenity kit is something even United would be embarassed of. It was essentially a folded brown paper bag with some art on it. There was also nothing of any real use inside:
Even for this relatively short flight, a printed menu was on offer:
In addition to a breakfast menu, there was a lunch menu. I almost thought we might have a choice…but nope, we got lunch:
A little red wine to start, and no 10 year old seated next to me to steal it this flight:
The meal looked nice, but the self-described “meat starter” looked to be way too much processed meat product for my taste. Salmon on a plane is a dicey choice, so I enjoyed the olives, and decided to at least have the chicken for some protein…
…or maybe not. It was without a doubt the driest most-overcooked bird I’ve ever seen. Completely inedible…and on plain pasta to top it off.
Desert…I managed one bite. It was the most sickeningly sweet cake I’ve ever tasted. I swear it was 99% sugar and 1% flour….
Although the meal was a huge let-down, we were arriving nearly 45 minutes early! Almaty from above:
Super old aircraft on the tarmac:
Immigration was quick and painless, and the fixed-price taxi line was super convenient for getting to my hotel, the Ritz Carlton Almaty. I can’t remember the last time I’d stayed at a Ritz Carlton, but had some hopes they would give some perks for Marriott Platinum status, but nope, nothing at all beyond a 2pm checkout. The room was very small, but comfortable:
Nice wood paneling:
Nice marble bathroom with heated floors:
One of the best parts of the hotel was the view. The lobby is on the top floor (30th or so) and the whole hotel is like 8 floors going down from there. The rest is an apartment building I believe. It was a bit annoying having to take the elevator from the lobby up to 30, and then catch another elevator down to your room, but the views made up for it:
I had to go attend a few meetings, so walked out the front door to the main road, held my hand out, and had no problem negotiating a driver to take me for a 25 minute drive for barely $2. Taxis in this part of the world are very informal, and anyone who has the time will offer to drive you where you’re going, usually for very little money as long as you speak the language.
So, apparently, Kazakhstan had heard I was coming, because the first Starbucks in the country had opened this year! So yeah, apparently I’m Jon:
After wrapping up my meetings, it was back to the hotel, where the Almaty Ski jump was very visible on the nice clear day with the mountains in the background:
Went for a walk to check out the super upscale mall next door, which was practically empty but was full of pretty much every international luxury brand you could imagine…including Kazakhstan Cola of course:
When I left the mall, there was a huge musical performance going on outside with hundreds of people watching performers on stage. Turns out it was an offshoot of the Kazakh Idol competition and some sort of a local talent event. I watched for a bit, and the strangest part was that most of the songs were in French. According to one lady I asked French songs are very trendy in Kazakhstan now, so everyone was trying to imitate the style. Maybe it was just one person’s impression, but…
It was evening by this point and the 100+ Fahrenheit temperatures had dropped a little (but, given it was a dry heat it wasn’t too bad) so I headed to the hotel’s bar/cafe for something to eat. Turns out, apparently, the cafe is sponsored by Veuve Cliquot. While I was tempted to get a bottle to enjoy but decided to exercise at least a little restraint this trip:
Theemed right down to the VC bicycle, umbrellas, and aprons on the wait staff:
Three of the largest “sliders” I’ve ever seen made for a very tasty dinner:
Slept in the next morning, and as tempting as it was to grab a taxi to Starbucks for some coffee, I wasn’t in the mood for a 50 minute roundtrip taxi just for coffee when the luxury mall next door had a Paul which served up a very tasty croque madame:
Which went well with a pain au raisin and a iced coffee. They couldn’t however, understand the concept of either a triple espresso or an iced coffee, so I did have to order three espressos and a big glass of ice. They seemed very puzzled by this behaviour, but were more than happy to provide it:
After a relaxing breakfast it was time to head to the airport, and continue the trip onward to Abu Dhabi.