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October 5, 2002

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After another jaunt on an overnight train, we arrived at Kazakhstan's economic capital, Almaty. Because Kazakhstan is Central Asia's wealthiest country, Almaty claims to be the economic hub of the region. If you've heard the cliché 'this city is like a big village,' then you may know it applies to Almaty. It's like a village because there's no city center, every street is a low key affair of small buildings, and you always feel as if you're on the outskirts of town. After traveling through the barren Kazakh steppe we're surprised that trees line every street. We take long, shaded walks around town; each block lasts a country mile.
Founded in 1854 as a Russian fort when Kazakhs still lived in yurts that moved with the seasons, Almaty isn't very old or exotic. It's a place of rising Central Asian business that deals mostly with exploiting Kazakhstan's vast oil and gas reserves.
Wedding processions meet Gypsy beggars.
Zenkov cathedral, it's built entirely of wood and without nails, sturdy enough to have survived two earthquakes that leveled the city; it's one of the oldest buildings of Almaty (1904).