I booked my tour on the Internet and am a little alarmed when my car turns up containing three stocky men wearing leather jackets. One guide, called Vladimir, one driver and one driver instructor I’m told. I feel as if I’m on a Mafia excursion, but decide not to pass on this information
After the competitive goliath construction in the other central Asian countries it’s already looking as if the only award Almaty is going to win is Most Boring City. It’s dull and hazy, which doesn’t help and we can only just discern the mountains that surround it, already frosted with snow.
The mountains are gorgeous, like fruit cake dusted with icing sugar. This is reassuring, as we’ve been assured, by astonished guides when we planned to leave the tour, that there is nothing to see in Tajikistan.
The airport is all white marble, green and gold, with every modern device possible and cascades of automatic escalators and moving walkways. It is eerily absolutely deserted – even more so than the one in Pyongyang.
Visiting Kiev is essentially a tour of churches and monasteries (both Ukrainian and Russian orthodox- there was yet another schism) with some panoramic views of the river Dnieper and its islands thrown in. Like Rome, it is built on seven hills (give or take a few) with catacombs below.