By the summer of 1936, Europe was in a state of perpetual crisis. Hitler’s rise to power, German invasion of the Rhineland, Spanish Civil War, Fascist Coup attempt in France, etc. World War was just a few years away.
25-year old Scotsman with a proper Scottish name – Fitzroy MacLean, who was in the His Majesty’s Foreign Service, was on his way from Paris to his new post in Moscow, where he would spend the next few years of his life traveling around the Soviet Union… and specifically Eurasia.
No Westerner had been to the region for decades.
He wrote his memoirs of the trip in a great book called Eastern Approaches. It’s a must read for any travel lover. To give you a flavor of the book, Maclean describes a night he spent in a dingy basement room at an inn where the floor above him was a restaurant:
At a point which must have been just above my bed a team of six solidly built Armenians were executing, with immense gusto, a Cossack dance, kicking out their legs to the front and sides and springing in the air, to the accompaniment of a full-sized band and of frenzied shouting and hand-clapping from all present. There was no hope of sleep. I ordered a bottle of vodka and decided to make a night of it.
Maclean writes very fondly of Almaty, then the capital city of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan
Alma Ata must be one of the pleasantest provincial towns in the Soviet Union. . .
In Kazakh its new name means ‘Father of Apples’, an appellation which it fully merits, for the apples grown there are the finest in size and flavour that I have ever eaten. The central part of the town consists of wide avenues of poplars at right angles to one another.
In some respects, very little has changed. Almaty is still very much a provincial town– quiet, picturesque with tree-lined streets and bazaars.
It’s no longer the capital– that distinction is in a city formerly known as Akmolinsk, which became Akmola, and was then renamed Astana in the 1990s, and renamed again to Nursultan a few months ago.
Almaty is more quaint and traditional than Astana/Nursultan. It’s incredibly cheap.
Gasoline is about 40c per liter, less than $1.50 per gallon.
Kazakhstan’s economy is a one-trick pony. But it’s a great trick… one that has created a lot of wealth.
70% of exports are energy. #1 producer of uranium, with roughly 40% of the world’s supply. Top producer of coal, oil, and gas.
Limited population… smaller than metropolitan Paris, but larger than all of Western Europe combined.
So this has had a hugely beneficial impact that has actually trickled down and created a robust middle class.
You can see a lot of wealth. Nice houses, nice apartments, nice cars. Incredible infrastructure– highways better than what I’ve driven on in North America and Europe.
Despite that economic success and robust growth, this is definitely not a place for a casual entrepreneur. Large scale energy or agricultural project, sure.
What’s really compelling is for people who are location-independent... who can take their work with them and roam from place to place. Tens of millions of people, more and more every day.
Kazakhstan ticks the boxes... sufficient Internet speed (minor censoring that’s easy to get around with VPNs), incredibly cheap.
Good lifestyle– plenty of nightlife, plush shopping malls and restaurants.
Remote, but easy to get to. Air Astana flies to plenty of gateway cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Beijing, Dubai, Moscow, etc. plus other major airlines fly to/from Frankfurt, Istanbul.
But there are lots of cheap places with decent Internet.
What’s really exceptional about this place is the outdoors… it’s Disneyland for nature lovers.
20 minutes in one direction and you’re in the Tien Shan: Mountains of Heaven. Ski resorts, hiking, cable car rides, pristine alpine lakes.
20 minutes in the other direction and you’re in the vast open plains… the legendary steppe grasslands of central Eurasia that extend all the way to Mongolia.
I spent some time here en route to Uzbekistan for our Total Access trip. Wild horses across the infinite openness. Some of the most scenic vistas I’ve ever seen traveling across 120+ countries on all seven continents.
And no one else around. You feel like you’re on your own planet. No endless nuisance of rules and signs telling you what to do, where to go, etc. Just beauty and freedom.
And to continue learning how to ensure you thrive no matter what happens next in the world, I encourage you to download our free Perfect Plan B Guide.