When I left Atyrau this morning, I was hoping that the scenery would improve as I drove north so that I could find a half decent camping spot for the night. No such luck. The flat boring landscape continued for the entire journey. At least the roads were in very good condition. So, after seven hours of driving (about 510km), I decided to pull into the last city before the Russian border.
I’d already researched hotel options online last night, just in case, so I headed to the Pushkin Hotel – ranked number 1 of 4 hotels on Trip Advisor. At $87 for a single room, it is more than I usually want to pay but it has secure parking which the other hotels lack, so I decided to go with it. On getting to my room around 5.15pm, I saw a card advertising massages in the hotel – a full hour for about $20. A call to reception had me lined up with an appointment for 20 minutes later.
After an enjoyable massage there was still time to go out and see a bit of Oral, the city also known in Russian as Uralsk. So what were you thinking? The receptionist proudly told me that ‘This is the main street of our city”, so I set off walking along the main street to see what the city had to offer. It’s a long street so it took me about 50 minutes to reach the end, but there was very little to see other than a fancy church and some statues. I’d read a report online that said Oral was ‘more Vienna than Almaty.’ Well, if there is a part of the city that resembles Vienna, it isn’t along the main street! Disappointed, I walked back to the hotel and had dinner.
Kazakhstan has generally been a big disappointment. Almaty and Charyn Canyon were enjoyable on the eastern side but there has been nothing on the western side to recommend. Tomorrow I plan to cross the border into Russia. The initial route would have been through eastern and southern Ukraine to Romania but the current situation in Ukraine means I will have to head north and cross the border close to Kiev. Unfortunately, that means re-tracing the route through Saratov, Voronezh and Kursk. It wasn’t very inspiring the first time, so I’m not expecting much on the way back. I just need to push through Russia to Ukraine and then make my way through the north before dropping down to Romania.