As glamorous as driving across Eurasia sounds, after 18 countries and over 100 days on the road, we were tired. We hadn’t spent more than four days in one place since we left Germany in July. We’d recently journeyed through three dictatorships and were starved of our creature comforts. We’re not ashamed to say, we wanted it all: cheap international cuisine, friendly locals, real coffee, fast wifi, numerous drinking establishments, ATMs on every corner, indoor heating, neon lights, people in the street after 12am, and to not have to check out of a hotel or hostel the next morning.
Bishkek delivered brilliantly.
From the moment we arrived I knew we’d struck gold. Driving down Chuy Street we passed blocks full of swanky-looking bars, Korean fast food joints, cinemas and shopping. We parked the car and asked a taxi driver where to find an ATM. He pointed to a twenty four-hour supermarket!!! I put my plastic card into a machine in the wall and it quickly spit out cash. After almost a month fiddling with black market money changers and scraping to conserve our US dollar supplies, I could have cried. We went into the nearest coffee shop (that happened to be blasting dubstep), ordered an espresso and a cappuccino, and used their fast, free wifi to hunt for a hostel. I was impressed—What kind of desert oasis was this?
Turns out Bishkek is quite a buzzing little metropolis. It’s laid back and multicultural, with a hearty population of native Kyrgyz, ethnic Russians, and local and international students. Also, for some reason there’s a large number of European and American expats here, ranging from NGO adventure-seekers to wannabe Charisma Men. All this adds up to a funky East-meets-West (meets former Soviet) city that is far more liberal and fun than any place we’d seen since Tbilisi.
It was clear that Bishkek was where we would sell our car, and selling a car takes time. So we booked a short-term apartment rental via Booking.com for one week at a great location near the central station. The apartment was cozy and fantastic. We immediately went to the supermarket and stocked the fridge, then sat in our undies all day wasting time online while we did all of our laundry. It was AMAZING.
During our nine day stay, we streamed movies online, cooked food almost every day, sat around in the bathtub, did shitloads of laundry, invited our only friend in town over, stumbled home drunk after visiting multiple bars in one night (!!), then spent half of the next in bed. All the stupid crap you can’t do when you’re living our of your car and travelling to a new place every few days—this was our opportunity to live the sedentary life to its fullest.
We also enjoyed being in a city that has multiple drinking and dining options. There are loads of restaurants and bars to choose from, and we managed to try quite a few. By the end of one week we’d nailed Turkish, Georgian, German, English, American and Russian food and booze. And there were always surprises: gigantic, passable pizza at Obama Bar & Grill; free cappuccino and crepes at Kvartira 148; a motherfucking burrito stand; cheap bottles of Hoegaarden everywhere; and the WORST BEER EVER at Blonder Pub.
Bishkek is cheap, friendly, big enough, international enough, and colourful enough. For us it was pretty much the perfect (and much-needed) pit stop on our overland journey. A little slice of home on the Central Asian steppe.