Founder of the Walking Almaty service
Dennis Keen, founder of the Walking Almaty walking service. Dennis talks about how he began showing the city to foreigners, what amazes visitors about Almaty and what kind of tourists come to us most often.
How did you end up in Kazakhstan?
The first time I came here through the exchange program for students when I was 17 years old. I lived in a Kazakh family for two months and began to learn Russian and Kazakh. And fell in love. Then I returned to California. I studied linguistics and chose Russian as the main language. After that I went to Kyrgyzstan to practice and lived in Bishkek for a year. Then I came home and began to learn the Kazakh language at Stanford. Four years ago, I came to Kazakhstan. At first I was drawn here because I knew nothing about this country. Americans do not know anything about Kazakhstan, this is a big mystery. For me, it was an interesting adventure. Living in Almaty, I began to notice small attractive details - in architecture, infrastructure, in the city itself ...
Of course, I tried the local cuisine, for example, I love kebabs and samsa. I also know Kazakh traditions and customs well – first of all, as I said, I studied Kazakh culture, and second of all, my wife is Kazakh.
What do you tell travelers about Almaty?
- I have a goal - to explain the Kazakh history and culture so it would be interesting and easy to follow. It is very easy to say: “here is our great Abai, he is a poet”. For foreigners, this information won’t mean a thing. I have to explain why Abay is popular. Or, for example, Americans and Europeans think that the Soviet architecture is ugly, that it is all just terrible concrete structures. My goal is to show them that this is not true, to change their opinion. I explain: there are buildings that belong to different periods. I show, for example, the Academy of Sciences or the hotel "Almaty" - they were also built in Soviet times. Tourists are always surprised.
How do you create tours? What locations are included?
- My favorite area is the Golden Square. This is the historical center of Almaty, tourists want to walk there. Therefore, it was the first tour that I created. Then I realized that foreigners often want to visit not only the center, but also the outskirts: they need authenticity, they want to see how people actually live. Sometimes, when guests walk in the center, where they see many beautiful cafes, good boutiques, they realize that maybe not all Kazakhstan citizens live at this level. Tourists love it when we walk in an area like the Small Village (Malaya Stanica). This is a historic district, there are many old buildings. But this is, let's say, a modest area where ordinary people live.
In your opinion, what places in Almaty must be visited by tourists?
- It is difficult to say for sure, it depends on preferences. But I think that the top 5 in the city are Koktobe, Medeo and Shymbulak, The Park of 28 Panfilov Soldiers, Green Bazaar, Golden Square. Source: www.kapital.kz