As much as Kyrgyzstan is not my favorite country (and Bishkek far from my favorite city), there are a few things I miss about living there after a month and a half in Ankara.
(There’s plenty I don’t – the rent, the roads, the graft, the inconsistent Bishkek weather, the constant feel of power competition on the streets and in almost every other situation, the [often lethargic] pace of work). But, focusing on the positive:
- No bombs! While you might have to watch your step for fear of falling on the uneven sidewalk (all of my high heels have migrated away from Kyrgyzstan…) or being run over by a red-light running car, you don’t have to be wary about bigger dangers, like car bombs and terrorists (or, to do a US comparison, muggings and shootings). While there are accounts of ultra radical conservative Islamic groups in the south, there’s barely a trace in the city. Kyrgyzstan is also [to be honest] too small and too poor to really attract refugees or any but internal migrants – and is thus free of subsequent social insecurities. (For comparison, Turkey’s Syrian refugee population is half that of the total population of the entire nation of Kyrgyzstan)
- Ease of public transportation: Bishkek is flat and built (more or less) on a grid, with buses and trolleys that trace all over the city. It’s basically always possible to get from one corner to another without changing buses. Ankara’s public transportation scheme looks more like a bicycle wheel, with all spokes meeting in Kizilay. From where I live it’s literally almost impossible to get anywhere on public transportation without transferring in Kizilay. I do not, however, miss the madly-bouncing marshrutkas. Dolmuses here seem to undergo regular tuning and never smell like a men’s sauna.
- The general benefits of living in a small city: we always know where everything is (even if we can’t find half the things we want), there’s an ease of getting around (not a lot of new roads to navigate), and it never takes long to get anywhere (at least in terms of road length…when the traffic lights are out, or everyone’s just come back from summer vacation on Issyk Kul Bishkek traffic can rival that of any metropolis)
- Half an hour gets us out of the city and to this:
- Meat (it’s cheap!). Kyrgyzstan does have some beautiful natural local meat: mountain brook trout (форель), tender juicy lamb, sizzling beef kebabs. I miss roasting incik kebab at home – steaming slow-cooked packets of tender meat and spice-infused vegetables. For those of you new to Bishkek, try the shashlik at Barashek (review with photos here) and the incik kebab at Park Cafe (review here). Meat is a staple of Turkish cuisine, but it usually comes in smaller portions, mixed inside other dishes, and is quite a bit more expensive..
- The white cheese made by the Meskhetian Turkish woman at our local bazaar. It’s basically pressed whole milk yogurt – and it’s delicious. I find the white cheese here tends to be a bit fatty.
- Frozen chocolate milk. The Chydo-brand chocolate milk sold at Narodnie (41 som) tastes better than ice cream after an hour in the freezer.
- Moist dark Russian rye bread. The “grandfather” brand topped with whole roasted cumin is the best, especially when spread with honey and natural butter, or (again, natural) peanut butter and bazaar-bought raspberry jam.
- Decaf cappuccinos (and having a cappuccino machine). So far I’ve found decaf at Starbucks – which tastes like dirty acidic water. I do miss being able to buy beautiful cappuccinos (oh, the foam!) at Giraffe Coffee or decaf coffee beans from Sierra to grind at home and use to make cardamom-cinnamon cappuccinos. While cafes here do serve espresso drinks, it’s really hard to find anything but nescafe and Tukish coffee at the market.
- The green space, trees, and wild space. While Bishkek can look rather…unkept, I do miss the broader avenues and green permeating the city. Parts of Ankara feel like a concrete city, with apartment buildings almost stacked on top of each other, and not enough green space or wild space.
- Working in cafes. Ankara cafes are for chatting, not working – few people bring their computers and set up to work for hours, while this is quite the norm in Bishkek.