I first learned about Almaty last May when I participated as a juror in a competition to select a consultant team to prepare a new master plan for Astana. Prior to Astana being made the capital 21 years ago, Almaty was the country's capital, and as described in guidebooks, a beautiful cosmopolitan city with tree-lined streets and a mountain backdrop.
I only stayed one night at a dated Hyatt Regency Hotel but got a taste of the city, and the local food, wine and vodka. Arriving in my room after dark, I was intrigued by an illuminated circular building I could see out my window. It turned out to be a circus, dating back to the days of Russian occupation.
The conference was held next to the hotel in a gathering space called SmArtPoint. At first, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to understand much of the printed materials since my Google Translate app didn’t work well in Kazak. But then I quickly realized all of the materials were in Russian, the principal language in Almaty and Astana. However, I need not have worried when a charming man in blue jeans came up to introduce himself. "I am your translator", he said. When I joked that he should feel free to improve on what I say in his translation, he responded that on the contrary, I was the needle. He was just the thread. (I'm sure it's even more poetic in Russian!)
Hopefully the next time I am in Kazakstan I will be able to return to Almaty for a more extended visit. And if the developer who approached me after my talk to see if I would be interested in helping them with a 40 hectare site follows up, I may well be back!