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Ust-Kamenogorsk

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Ust-Kamenogorsk (Russian: Усть-Каменогорск, Kazakh: Өскемен, Oskemen) is a city in northeastern Kazakhstan, and is the capital of Eastern Kazakhstan Province, with a population of about 350,000 people.


Get in[edit]

By Air Air Astana [1] and also SCAT Airlines [2] have several flights to Ust from Almaty every week. SCAT also flies to Semi-Palatinsk (Semey) and Bayaan Olgi, Mongolia, once a week. However, SCAT is banned from flying in European airspace.

Air Astana also has daily flights to and from Almaty and Astana, sometimes twice daily, although this depends upon the weather conditions in Ust-Kamenogorsk (temperatures can be as low as -45C in December - January).

By Train There are daily trains from Almaty and Astana to Ust-Kamenogorsk Zashita (защита)station every day. Both the trips take around 18-24 hours and tickets range from 1500 tenge for 3rd class to 3000-4000 tenge for second class.

By Bus There are daily buses to Ust from both Astana and Almaty. Buses leave Almaty from the Sairan bus station and arrive at the main Ust bus station on Abai St. The trip is overnight to both Astana and Almaty.

Get around[edit]

Ust has an old but very pleasant tram system, and buses move easily around the city. Fares for the bus is 75 tenge and trams are 55 tenge (the price may have risen on the tram recently late 2014) for any distance in the city and suburbs.

When the conductress comes, just hand her the 55 or 75 tenge and she will issue you with a ticket, there is therefore no need for Russian or Kazakh language skills (although please and thank you in either language do not go astray). Also be aware, if they spot that you have a large amount of small change in your hand, they will take it from you (often without asking) and give you a small note or notes (generally a 200 or 500 tenge note) equivalent to the small change extracted from you.

Beware of the smaller buses, they are not as safe, stable or as well driven as the larger "normal" buses such as the ones imported from the Scandinavian countries. Do not be surprised to see destination boards with Stockholm and other cities still on the buses as they have been bought second-hand from these countries. There are newer buses, although they tend to be Chinese or Korean made rather than European and do not tend to have the double glazing or suitable heating for the extreme winters.

In contrary to the other main cities in Kazakhstan, standing on the side of the road and putting your hand out will not result in a taxi or well meaning local stopping to exchange a ride for money. You can stand all day long and will be roundly ignored. To obtain a taxi, you must go to a taxi rank or station and take one from there (preferably do not pick a Lada with wooden floorboards or one unable to have any gear other than first), or telephone for one. You will need to speak Kazakh or Russian to do this.

Cost of a taxi varies wildly, mostly depending on whether you are detected as a foreigner. From a rayon (suburb) outside the city to the other side of the city, about 10 kilometres, can be between 300 and 1500 tenge. A shorter trip of only 2 or 3 kilometres can also yield the same cost. In winter time, the price varies with the temperature, the colder it is, the more expensive it can be. At -45C, count on remaining where you are, or on getting the tram or bus if they are still running.

In general, try to fix a price with the driver in advance to prevent any sticker shock at the end of your trip. If you are leaving from a hotel, cafe, office or restaurant, try to get them to telephone a taxi for you, then you will generally stand a better chance of getting a safe and comfortable trip to your destination.

From larger shops or supermarkets such as Metro, you can organise and pay for the taxi in advance and they will wait until you have completed your shopping and deliver you to your destination.

Download the 2GIS app for Ust-Kamenogorsk for your smartphone, it has helpful information about bus routes, taxi contact details, restaurants, bars, cafes, banks, pharmacies, hospitals et cetera.

See[edit]

Стрелка (Strelka) Strelka is the arrow of land where the Irtysh and Ulba rivers meet. It is also the site of the Great Patriotic War Memorial. A nice place to stroll and have a "Limonad" on a warm evening, usually plenty of people hanging around.

There is free WiFi in some of the public parks now (August 2013), certainly in Zhastar (Kirov) Park and Zhambyl Park. Most parks also have piped music as well, although this gives it a bit of "The Village"[3] feeling ...

Do[edit]

Набережна This is simply the promenade along the Irtysch river leading up to Strelka. Grab a beer, find a spot or stroll, and hang out by the water as the sun goes down.

Go to a Hockey Game Ust-Kamenogorsk is home to Kazakhstan's most famous ice hockey team: Kazzinc-Torpedo. This is where NHL-players Nik Antropov and Evgeny Nabokov started their careers. The team plays in the Russian 2nd league.

Buy[edit]

The eastern oblast of Kazakhstan is at the base of the Altai Mountains and known for its honey. If you are in Ust in September ask around for the local honey fair, where vendors from surrounding villages show off their wares.

General shopping can be performed at the little shops (magazine) in most apartment blocks although the prices will be higher than at the supermarkets such as Daniel, Mega and Metro. However, sometimes, the little shops will have foods that, bizarrely, are not able to be found in the major supermarkets (various condiments et ecetera).

The various bazaars in your rayon (suburb) are also good alternatives to the larger supermarkets for many items including fresh food if you have a grasp of Russian or Kazakh, or can see the item you want to buy and can point to it. The babushkas (grandmothers or older women) at major bus stops often sell good fresh fruits, vegetables, sauces and often other merchandise.

If you have a local Kazakhstan SIM card (generally cheap rates and highly recommended) in your 'phone, like most former Soviet countries, it is easy to recharge at any of the little mobile 'phone bankomats which are in almost every little shop, on the street, restaurant, hotel et cetera.

ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) or bankomats are everywhere you would expect to see them in Western countries and most will take all the "normal" credit, debit and pre-charged cards. Most will have an English language option (as well as Kazakh and Russian) and some will also dispense euros, roubles and US dollars in addition to tenge.

The economy is still very much cash based, although new laws are coming into play (2013) that will enforce the provision of electronic transaction facilities for businesses with a turnover greater than a certain amount (I doubt that this will include the local babushka selling knitted socks or fruit and vegetables from her dacha at the bus station however).

Eat[edit]

Pizza Blues A chain of restaurants with good, reasonably priced pizza and beer. Great place to meet young people. Most Pizza Blues cafes have an English language menu, just ask for an angliyskiy menyu if one is not obvious.

Near Kirov (Zhastar) Park is a quite European style cafe with free WiFi, Cafeeiro, serving reasonably priced dishes, soft and alcoholic beverages as well as coffee. However, some coffee styles may vary significantly from what would be common in Sydney in Australia for instance although cappuccino is now quite good (not just milky coffee with a cloud of thin froth on top as is common elsewhere), with the barman/barista appearing to have had some training recently.

There are two menus, English and Russian, both have photographs of the food (although they may not have much semblance to what you might receive) and are mostly equivalent although there is a new Russian language menu since November 2014 that has some dishes that do not appear on the English language menu, try to have a Russian speaking friend with you if you wish to understand quite what the new dishes are. The staff are welcoming and some appear to have some mastery of English. It is in a courtyard in the block surrounded by Ulitsa Kirov, Ulitsa Gorkiy, Ulitsa Golovkov and Ulitsa Ordzhonidkidze.

BarBQ is another cafe/restaurant which is owned by the Pizza Blues chain, although it is a little more "upmarket" than the average Pizza Blues cafe. It has sushi and more European dishes than are available from Pizza Blues. It is across the road from the shopping complexes of Imperator and ZUM. BarBQ is on Avenue Auezov opposite the conjunction of Avenue Pobedy.

ImBeer is another cafe/restaurant which is owned by the Pizza Blues chain, and again it is a little more "upmarket" than the average Pizza Blues cafe. It is more for young adults/teens with video screens showing MTV type video clips. The service can be quite patchy with half an order missing ... unfortunately, the customer service mentality doesn't exist in Kazakhstan as one would know it ... the staff will apologise, but really do nothing about the problem ... it is in Building 64 Ulitsa Kazakhstan (previously known as Ulitsa Ushanov) opposite Ulitsa Kaysenova and the bus stop.

Some of the larger hotels such as Shiny River, also have restaurants open to the general public, often with a wide choice of foods on their menus. However, many of the items that appear on the menu are seasonal and you will often play a game of twenty questions before you can eventually find something to order.

The Turkish Dedeman Oskemen Tavros hotel at 11/1 Permitina Sokak opens its restaurant and cafe to any visitor now, although for the restaurant it is best to check first that the restaurant is open (it is now popular for functions and celebrations and can be booked out) and book your table beforehand, 'phone nr +7 (723) 220 82 08.

There is a Georgian restaurant, Old Tbilisi at Protozanova 117 (+7 7232 25 63 92), that is quite popular, although there is no English language menu and is more for a "night out" with entertainment rather than just a meal.

For the more adventurous, there are the traditional Kazakh restaurants, which are mostly meat and bread in different forms. Horse is their favorite meat.

Sleep[edit]

There are several hotels such as Irtysh and Tourist, but these usually provide poor value for the price. An old favorite is a small hotel in the large bright green "Nursat" building on Abai street, about a kilometer east of the bus station. A room there can cost as little as 1200 tenge per night.

Shiny River Hotel on the banks of the Ulba River is quite popular with many of the mining companies that populate the region and some of the higher ranking government officials. As a consequence, it is often difficult to find accommodation here.

As of May 2014, a new hotel belonging to the Turkish Dedeman group, Dedeman Oskemen Tavros has opened on the banks of the Irtysh River, the address is 11/1 Permitina Sokak, 'phone number +7 (723) 220 82 08. The cheapest rate at date of opening was US$95 per night.

The food available tends to the more European end of the scale, but with some Turkish and Kazakh delicacies.

If you speak Russian, an alternative is to rent an apartment, even just for one night. These are listed on various websites such as Apartamenty KZ which has an English language option and in the classified section of newspapers (for which you will need to speak or at least be able to read Russian).

Contact[edit]

There is a law firm on Ulitsa Vinogradov that is able to translate various documents into Russian and apostille them. It is apparently the only one in the city able to do this. The cost to translate and apostille a passport will be between 10 000 and 15 000 tenge (depending on the number of pages and number of words. The telephone number is 23-92-23.

Do not underestimate the number of documents that the various authorities may demand be translated and have an apostille afixed. Their love of documentation and official stamping rivals the Swiss and German bureaucracies. It also helps if you have at least a basic understanding of what your immigration card allows and what stamps are required on it.

For people from a list of around 41 countries, some will demand additional stamps on it, this is not correct if you have entered through the international airports such as Almaty or Astana and have a visa. If there is any dispute, try to get in contact with the local immigration police (ask a taxi driver to take you or a local to direct you to the immigratsionnoy politsii) who will resolve any dispute quickly.

Get out[edit]

Panorama of Mother-in-Law Tongue facing East

In winter (or even at any time of the year), drive into the Altai mountains along the road, "The Tongue of the Mother-In-Law", so named for the treacherous and dangerous twists and turns and the sheer drop into the valleys, then have lunch (a mug of tea and a horse meat blini) at the cafe at the bottom of the road and drink from the natural spring which flows even in the middle of winter when it is -40C.


However, try not to get run off the road by a lumbering ex-Soviet era repurposed missile launcher masquerading as a general haulage vehicle, especially in winter when there may well be 10 centimetres of ice under your wheels ...

In the summer, the lake formed by the damming of the Irtysh River in the 1960s, Bukhtarminskaya Reservoir, is a popular place to holiday and relax with possibilities for fishing, swimming and boating, although the water temperature may be a little cold for Western tastes in the early and later parts of summer.

Alt
Local shallow draught ferry on Bukhtarminskaya Reservoir

In some areas of the lake, there appears to be a large number of jet-ski users. It is best to try and avoid these as they are not expertly or carefully driven and spend their time attempting to impress ...

There are various private dachas and some hotels available too, although they are often booked for many months in advance (and are not inexpensive). Many people bring tents and pitch them on the various artificial beaches.

It is about 90 minutes to two hours drive (depending on road conditions) from Ust-Kamenogorsk.

Supplies can be obtained from the bazaar in a little village, Novaya-Bukhtarma if you neglect to bring any and intend to stay for any length of time.

In summer, it is honey season and many vendors can be found along the route selling their honey to passing travellers, the type and taste varying from vendor to vendor.




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