Posts Tagged ‘cities’

Cities

1st November 2010 by Helen

It’s been interesting (to me at least) to see how some of the cities we have seen have differed and reflected their countries.  This is just one of my ramblings of comparison.  We’ve not set out to visit cities, in fact, in a Land Rover Defender set up for overlanding and camping, cities have been more of an inconveniences.  Nonetheless, they have provided some interesting (I think) comparisons.  If you don’t agree, please ignore what follows.

Almaty is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, since the creation and development of the of Astana.  Yet Almaty is still a huge draw for many visitors.  It still retains the feel of being the capital, is a modern and bustling city, with rich and poor alike.  Like most Western cities little of the rural lives of the country are reflected here.  Perhaps the only reminders that Almaty is in Kazakhstan come in the frequent power cuts and daily water cuts throghout much of the city.  Whatever outsiders think of the long term rule of the president there is no doubt that many people, young and old, are very supportive of him and the way he has brought Kazakhstan through the difficulties of separation from the USSR and into the modern world.

Ulaanbaatar was sprawling and very cosmopolitan, in complete contrast to the rest of the country.  Although some people were living in gers, mainly on the outskirts of the city, Mongolian culture and history did not predominate.  It could have been any Westernised city anywhere.  A plethora of Irish pubs suggest a large ex-pat community, and indeed many Western faces could be seen in the city, far more than mere tourism would suggest.  Perhaps more than the other cities we have seen, here we saw the extremes of poverty and wealth that often charactrise cities around the world.

In Russian cities it would be impossible to forget which country you are in.  They all have at least a Lenin Street, or a Lenin Square, and a statue of Lenin.  However, of all the Russian cities we visited it was Vladivostok that stood out as the most individual.  The importance of the Naval history in this port city was everywhere, from the museum WWII submarine, to the countless statues of naval heroes and lists of honoured naval serving men.  Water dominates this city, the sea is visible from almost everywhere.  Yet here too, the old history of the country is clearly evident in the traditional wooden houses still in occupation in the sprawling suburbs.  The docks, the railway station and the bus station nestle side by side, overlooked by the statue of Lenin.  And it’s here that the Trans Siberian railway ends, having taken all but a week to travel from the capital city of Moscow.  Despite this tourism is not pandered to and it’s hard to find somewhere even to buy a postcard.

2010 11 01 - 6 - signposts in anchorage (4) - Copy

It's a long way home from downtown Anchorage

2010 11 01 - 10 - cook monument in anchorage - views across the bay (9)

Captain Cook's view across the bay - the one he never saw because he never actually landed here!!

Anchorage has been another contrast.  Today we walked ‘downtown’, following a walking tour suggested in the Frommer’s guidebook. Downtown is very touristy, much like central London, bristling with ‘souvenir & craft’, ‘craft & Native art’, and ‘Native art & souvenir’ shops.  Whilst we both enjoy Native art, the commercialism manages to cheapen it and we were disappointed.   Tourism is evident elsewhere too, in the supermarkets and other stores, with Alaska hats, books on Native history, Alaskan wildlife and scenery.  With the white topped mountains looming over the city, and it reported that wild animals frequently stray into the city, they can perhaps be forgiven for the unabashed promotion of the glories of this the 49th US State.  Statues to Captain Cook, looking out over the magnificent bay, and Eisenhower, along with some of the public art such as the bronze Blue Whale and the Tlingit totem poles, are a welcome change from the more touristy representations of Alaska.  Anchorage is a young city, beginning, according to the guidebook, as a tent camp for the workers building the Alaska Railroad in 1915.  Hardly surprising then, that to us the architecture of the city gives it a kind of dated 60’s feel – big modern buildings in the often characterless style of the 60’s.  A few traditional wooden buildings have been preserved but they are few in number.  But it’s clean, tidy and well maintained.  And easy to navigate, laid out as it is in the traditional American grid system.  Anchorage even postdates the time when Alaska was bought from Russia in 1868 for 2 cents an acre, although I’m sure $7.2 million seemed like a lot of money at the time.  The Russians have kicked themselves ever since the Klondike gold rush, and the discovery of other minerals and oil!

Ah well, wonder what the next city will bring?