Bishkek is located in the northern part of the Kyrgyz Republic, 10 miles from the border with Kazakhstan. Its latitude is just north of that shared by Tbilisi, Barcelona, Boston, and Rome. A 30-minute drive from Bishkek leads to the foothills of the Ala-Too range of the Tien Shan, or "Heavenly" mountains.
Bishkek has many beautiful parks and monuments. Walking tours to architectural and historical landmarks are a good way to get a feel for the city. In the center of the city are the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library, the Opera House, the National Museum, the Circus, the Frunze Memorial House-Museum, and the Monument to the Great Patriotic War.
Bishkek has lovely tree-lined walking parks and wide streets, although one must watch for open manholes. Erkindik Prospect (Erkindik means "freedom" in Kyrgyz) is a mile-long walking park lined with huge oak trees. One can stroll along Erkindik Prospect through an outdoor sculpture garden, past the Drama Theater, along the Art Gallery in the Park, by the Tea House and continue in the large walking park for 30 minutes until you reach the Train Station. This walk provides a pleasant break in summer and winter.
Bishkek has several cultural activities. The Bishkek Opera and Ballet Theater offers autumn and winter performances. The Kyrgyz Drama Theater and the Russian Drama Theater perform classic productions. The Philharmonic provides classical, modern symphony, and Kyrgyz orchestral and traditional performances. The Philharmonic was built in 1980. The gigantic statue in front depicts the 1,000-year-old epic hero Manas atop his magic steed Ak-Kula slaying a dragon.
Recreational shopping is a great way to get to know the city. Bishkek offers a wide range of local products of interest to American staff. Kyrgyz rugs are unique in their design and construction. Jewelers produce beautiful designs using semiprecious stones and local rocks. Craftsmen produce stone boxes with inlaid designs from types of rock found throughout the country. Kyrgyz musical instruments, local wool felt hats, ethnic clothing, and pottery are also of great interest to foreigners. The Kyrgyz Republic has a number of expert painters and sculptors, and prices for quality Kyrgyz artwork and crates are still reasonable.
Markets ('rynoks') provide a colorful feature to Bishkek life. The largest market for food is the Osh market, named for the second largest city in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Osh market features the greatest variety and least expensive fruits, vegetables, meats and souvenirs in Bishkek. On the weekends, cats, dogs, and birds are sold at the Osh market. The Alamedin market is a smaller market located closer to the center of the city. On the weekends, Dordoi offers the greatest selection of merchandise in Bishkek, the latest from the popular shopping trips to India, Turkey, and the Middle East.
In addition to ethnic Kyrgyz food like shashlik, plov, and manti, there is now a large variety of restaurants serving Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Indian, Italian, and Mexican cuisine. Also, numerous restaurants and cafes are now serving pizza and some American-style food. The Hyatt is a popular place to go for a meal or a drink. One should be careful when deciding to try the local cuisine from street vendors.
The two main hotels in Bishkek, the Hyatt and Pinara, have bars, cafes and souvenir gift shops. The Pinara hotel provides free membership cards to American staff of the Embassy, allow access to the pool and gym and a 15% discount at the café. Movie theaters, for the most part, show films in Russian. Some Western films play in theaters, but they are dubbed in Russian. Kyrgyz television programming includes some interesting cultural events and historical documentaries. There are several bars and clubs that play live music varying from rock to jazz. There are also a handful of discos/dance clubs.
Many sports are found in Bishkek and the surrounding countryside. A large outdoor swimming pool, located at a hotel near the Embassy, is open to American staff and their families, and a modest indoor pool is sometimes open in winter. A group of Embassy staff play basketball weekly at the local Bishkek Physculturni Institute versus a local team. A rock climbing wall and lessons are also available through the Institute. The Maple Leaf Golf Club, a golf course started by Canadian expats, opened in 2002 and is about twenty minutes from downtown toward the mountains. Though the course is still somewhat rough, you can't beat the beautiful mountain scenery and cheap green fees! Clubs are available for rent, but it is a good idea to bring your own if you have them. Bishkek has a limited number of outdoor tennis courts, and an indoor tennis court is available for rent in the sports palace during winter. Some spectator sports, such as soccer and wrestling, are played in Bishkek.
Downhill skiing is possible in the mountains, about a 1-hour drive from Bishkek. Ski weekends are organized to the slopes with chalets. Stables in and around Bishkek offer everything from indoor riding to overnight mountain trips. Trekking through the mountains on horseback and on foot are popular ways to see the beautiful areas of the country during the spring summer, and autumn. Fishing, hunting, and white-water rafting are other popular activities in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Embassy's CLO office often arranges outings for the American and diplomatic community. In general, bring all your own sports equipment and clothing, since items are difficult to find. On an informal level, individuals organize visits to areas of interest and short trips for rest and recreation.
During summer and fall there are plentiful supplies of fruits (apples, plums, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, local berries, melons, and imported bananas and oranges) and vegetables (tomatoes, cabbage, beans, loose leaf lettuce, onions, cucumbers, radishes, squash, beets, spring onions, summer squash, pickled vegetables, and of course, potatoes). The markets also have an abundance of pickled cabbage, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and there is excellent rice sold in bulk. During winter and early spring, the selection shrinks dramatically, leaving only basic root vegetables and a very limited selection of high-priced imported fruit and local apples and pomegranates.
Two Western-style supermarkets provide a good selection of canned and fresh produce throughout the year. Prices tend to be higher, but these shops do provide variety during the winter months. A Western-style butcher and the two largest supermarkets provide a good selection of fresh and frozen meats available in a variety of cuts. Beef, chicken, pork, and lamb are available year round.
A selection of soft drink products, including Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, and Fanta is available. These are bottled locally by joint-venture companies. A selection of Russian, European, Mexican, and Australian beer is sold on the local market, as well as Moldovan, French, and Italian wines and Kyrgyz champagne and cognac products.
There is an abundance of spices sold both at bazaars and supermarkets. Local sources of sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, and macaroni are adequate, but the quality of these products may not be suited to American tastes. Local salt is not adequately iodized, so personnel should plan to ship salt with iodine in their surface shipment.
Items that are difficult to find include reasonably priced coffee, personal care products, paper products (toilet paper, tissues, paper napkins, paper towels, note paper, computer paper, wrapping paper for gifts, gift cards, etc.), chemical products to fight insect infestation, English-language books and magazines, and contemporary music tapes and CD's.
Americans are popular and generally welcomed by all segments of society in Bishkek. The level of violent crime is going up, however. The number of thefts, burglaries, and even muggings have increased substantially in the last two years due to the worsening socio-economic conditions. Foreigners have often been targeted. Because of energy deficits and broken street lamps, Bishkek is poorly lit after dark. The precautions necessary in any large Western city should be taken in Bishkek after dark. One should avoid walking anytime after dusk.
Many apartment buildings have poorly lit entrances through courtyards or in the rear of the building. Some bars and restaurants are frequented by the local Mafia. It is better to avoid these facilities. Travel by train from Bishkek to Moscow and other locations is not recommended due to an increase in crime on the trains. Bus travelers have had backpacks slashed, and shoppers in the various bazaars have also been pick-pocketed or mugged. Normal precautions, such as not exposing money or dressing ostentatiously, should be taken. The Embassy also recommends that all staff vary routes and times and pay close attention to their surroundings.
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