Founded in the mid-19th century by Russians as a frontier post, Almaty is no longer the nation's capital, but it remains Kazakhstan's cultural epicenter. The town's name means grandfather of apples, and you will understand why when you see the enormous apples grown in the area's orchards.
Along the main street, Tole bi, which runs east to west, you'll find most of the old government buildings and, unexpectedly, several movie studios. Zhibek Zholi (Silk Road) and the streets just off it make up the main shopping area, hosting TSUM (a large department store) and a number of smaller enterprises.
Nearby, in Panfilov Park, is the beautiful Zenkov Cathedral, which was built entirely without nails and, at a height of six stories, is reportedly the second-tallest wooden building in the world. Just north of the park is the main bazaar, which has a market atmosphere, but contains little of interest unless you are looking for cheap Chinese goods. There is also a colorful fruit and vegetable market called the Green Market. Almaty has a number of museums, including the Central State Museum (archaeological exhibits), the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments and the State Art Museum.
After a day of touring, stop by the Arasan Bathhouse, a good place to rejuvenate yourself after a hard day of walking. Inside are white marble baths divided into Turkish, Finnish and Russian sections (private rooms are also available). As for other things to do in the evening: New restaurants, bars, casinos and floor shows appear regularly, but the city's nightlife is still pretty limited and fairly sleazy.
The Medeo Ice Stadium outside town is the site of international skating events and is open to the public, too. The skating complex and the surrounding areas are being developed as the city prepares to host the multisport 2011 Asian Winter Games. Those interested in skiing may want to plan time at the Shymbulak resort. And an excursion can be made to hear the singing desert sands at the Ayak-Kalkan resort.
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