I’m not one of those people who feels the need to count the number of countries they’ve visited. I don’t pride myself on quantity when I travel; I think about where I’ve been and how I actually got my hands dirty (figuratively) in that culture for a while. I also think about how a place makes me feel in general.
For these reasons, I’m not afraid to travel to the same place twice, and in actuality, I’m excited to explore what differences I see, feel and taste on the return.
This November, I am returning to Bishkek.
Where is Bishkek?
Before I go further, I should probably explain more about this mythical sounding place of Bishkek, right? Well, Bishkek is the capital city of the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and if you’re thinking that’s where Borat is from, you better think again (that’s Kazakhstan). When considering all the countries that make up the area of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan would be the most accessible for tourists given their lighter visa restrictions and the ability for visa acquisition on arrival at the airport.
Bishkek is a place that, without knowing more, one would assume to be very crowded and chaotic – perhaps a place with dry desert heat and sand blowing in the breeze. Or, maybe you have no idea and could therefore not paint a picture in your mind at all. Let me tell you this: Bishkek is a spread out city with wide streets and lots of space, surrounded by the beautiful Tien Shan mountains that show up in all photo backdrops; it is a place of hot summers and cold winters, filled with scattered areas of lush foliage or covered in snow; it is a place that feels comfortable, quiet and unique. Don’t you feel like visiting now, too?
My History with Bishkek
My history with Bishkek goes back to 2008. I was still fresh into my worldly travels and got the idea of challenging myself with Russian lessons (they’re super cheap in this area) in the far reaches of Central Asia. I landed and was thrust into an unknown world quite fiercely with full-on lessons followed by living with a local Kyrgyz family, and it took a good couple of weeks before I started to come to terms with my surroundings. Everything from the public transportation (van taxis) that I needed to take to class to the language that I couldn’t understand or read left my head hurting from constantly trying to focus and decipher every word, sound and situation.
After 1.5 months, I had acquired a basic understanding of the Russian language and found myself in a tight circle of other students in the same situation as myself. Bishkek became home-like. There were several days of the week where I was constantly trying to think of ways I could prolong my stay. You could say there is a draw to the city, if not for it’s uniqueness and small-town vibe, then for the simplicity of it all – and that included my detox from television and my overuse of the internet. Life was easy.
After a few more months, I took up an apartment with friends, paid rent, dealt with a crazy land lady, walked home in dust storms until finally, I booked a trip home to visit my family. That was the moment when courses changed as I then found a job teaching English in Ukraine, met my Australian boyfriend and moved Down Under (where I’ve been since). Three years have passed since I left Bishkek, but now… I’m going back.
My Return to Bishkek
My return to Bishkek will only last a month, but I can’t even begin to explain the memories that keep rolling across my brain as I come to terms with my impending departure date. All my favorite restaurants, where I did my grocery shopping, and even street names are all being mapped in my head in preparation. The sounds of the bazaars, the taste of borscht, my kefir for breakfast – I’m remembering these all now and I can’t wait to have them again in my life.
Only, will the visit be just as good as I hope?
We have yet to see the outcome of this trip, but I can say that the anticipation of the return is much more exciting this time around. I think knowing that I’ll be back in a comforting place that is home to so many features and oddities that I grew to love in 2008 makes me a bit on the giddy side, much like a child waiting for Christmas morning.
Brooke Schoenman is the blogger behind Brooke vs. the World, a site that covers her worldly travels dating back to 2007. Brooke’s next big trip is to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where she will begin work on a Kyrgyz travel guide and a guide to learning Russian in Kyrgyzstan. Learn more by following along via the blog, Facebook or Twitter.