After the ‘included’ breakfast at the Hotel VanGogh, I asked my landlady via the Google Translate program where Astana Airlines had an office. She drew me a map—-oh good, it was not far. I set out and despite asking several people (Google Translate) nobody could tell me where it was. Eventually I went into a bank to inquire. That guard sent me to some young women in the bank who could speak English. They sent me (with a written note) to a travel agency via a taxi. My mission was to change my flight ticket that was to the city of Astana to go to Almaty. I had decided to skip Astana as the temperatures were showing lows of 24 degrees F and highs of 38! I had bought my ticket to Astana on the website of Astana Airlines and it said I could change it.
Finally the travel agent said I would have to go to the airport. So this I did (taxi) and that woman at the ticket office (knew English!) sold me another ticket but said I would have to get credit for this ticket on line, which is how I bought it. Taxi back to hotel and cancel my hostel for the city of Astana; then go on Astana Airlines’ website to get credit for my ticket. Of course they make it very difficult to find where you want to cancel a ticket! Finally I telephoned them and got a woman there to give me the credit on my credit card, and the credit has actually shown up!
Then it was time for my linner, which I started with 100 ml of vodka—-I needed that after my morning’s frustrations. I ate ‘laghman,’ a local dish but this time it was ‘Westernized’ for tourists at this hotel. It was OK, but not great. This VanGogh Hotel has pictures all over it in the manner of VanGogh—-this one of him with the bandage on his ear (when he cut it off) was in the dining room.
The next day I took a taxi to the Regional Museum—-he understood my saying ‘Musai’—-Russian for ‘museum!’ Well it happened again. Every now and then in a developing country I run into the phenomenon whereby a good-looking museum official gets totally officious. Today this person charged me 1,000, for FOREIGNERS, she said—-that’s fine, but it’s the first of about six museums I’ve visited in Kazakhstan that had the price differential. Then she told me , “No Photos!” even without flash. Again, all the others let one photograph without flash. Then she glued herself to me, following me through all the rooms, all the while thunking on her iPhone. I asked her if she were the police (she could speak a little English) and she kept saying it was her work. When I went up to the second floor, I had a different escort. I asked her (with Google translation on my iPhone) why I couldn’t take photos. She said I could. I pointed to the downstairs, meaning that lady, and she shrugged her shoulders, indicating that I should take photos if I wished.
I find Kazakhstan much more like Mongolia and Russia than Uzbekistan is. While they no longer live in yurts like the Mongolians do, they certainly revere them as something not too distant in their past. Also the way their cities are laid out—-oodles of squares with fountains/statues/clocks, etc are everywhere, which resemble the Russian cities that I saw in Siberia.
After walking around for quite awhile, I decided to get on a city bus (number 1) and go to the end of the line. I sometimes do that to see a city. At the end of the line, it wasn’t returning, so I got another bus (number 11) and figured I’d take a taxi at some point when it seemed to be in the middle of the city. Well, lo and behold, it went right past my hotel! So I got off at the next stop (a few blocks past), walked back and went to another restaurant nearby for linner. Then as I walked back to my hotel, I stopped in a cafe and had a cappuccino and sweet.
It was fun just to ‘be’ and ‘see’—-here’s a typical couple walking down the street.
In riding the buses, these are some things I saw: a young girl eating corn-on-the-cob; decorations that they have many places over the streets. They are highly reflective and when the sun hits them, they really glow; signs here and there where they are teaching English. I saw these in huge numbers in Sri Lanka—-here they are surprising out in this rural nondescript small city.
I got my flight out of Kzyzlorda to Almaty Saturday evening. Well, I had an interesting flight. During the airplane’s taxing to take off, my young man seat mate began praying like crazy. He would cross himself repeatedly (Russian Orthodox—right to left), then bow way down to pray; then he got out a card with a picture on it and kissed that and held it to his forehead many times; more crossing, more bowing and praying. When the drink cart came, he needed to get out and went to the back of the plane. I looked at the card, which he had tucked into the seat pocket, and it was an old white bearded man. He didn’t return and this all made me suspicious. When a flight attendant came by, I actually told her the whole story and said, “Maybe he is simply afraid of flying, and now he has been in the rear of the plane for quite awhile, and I’m concerned about this activity.” She said, “Oh, don’t worry, he’s a football (soccer) player and he just went to sit with his friends, but thank you for telling me this.” I had seen some young men come on board with identical athletic jackets, and when my seat mate eventually returned to his seat, I could see he was wearing one also. So, not a terrorist!
He initially asked me where I was from, so could speak a bit of English. When he got back, I said, “So you’re a football player.” He said, “Yes.” I asked, “For Kazakhstan?” “Yes.” “Did you play in Kyzylorda yesterday?” “No, in Astana—we lost.”
Got a taxi from the airport and once again, as we were leaving, the taxi driver invited another taxi man (?) to come along. I said, “NO, NO, NO” and so he got out again. This is their ruse to gang up on me when I go to pay—and the door to the hostel is kind of in a remote area and this is 10:00 at night. This is what happened when I arrived here initially a couple of weeks ago. This time I told him to let me off on a main street, which he did. He got out my bag, handed it to me and I handed him the money—more than quite necessary, and walked away.
The next day I walked down to the place where one can take the cable car up to a mountain. I had taken it before, but had forgotten to look for the statues of the Beetles. Well there they were, although not easily recognizable. I really couldn’t tell one from another.
Monday I returned to the Central State Museum to see the special area (with special ticket) of gold pieces that were found in a Sythian tomb in 1969. This is where the “Golden Man” was found, but he’s safely in a bank vault someplace else, although I have seen two reproductions of him.
These gold pieces are from the 8th to the 1st C. BCE! They are really beautiful. This piece is about three inches high and about 7 inches long. An English speaker gave me a tour of the exhibition. Unfortunately no photography was permitted, but luckily I had taken three pictures before they told me that. Previously I had included a picture of a piece (reproduction) from the Golden Man in one of my email-blogs, and my friend, Susan, said that it was similar to an exhibition that she had seen years ago on Sythian gold. I asked the tour guide if this exhibit had ever toured in the USA. He said, “I have heard (he was young and probably hadn’t been born when Susan saw it) that it was once shown in New York and in Berlin.”
Then I went to the Dostyk Plaza, the big landmark hereabouts. I thought I was in the Mall of America in Minneapolis! All the store signs were in the Latin (our) alphabet; there were many American name brands; all very spiffy. There were three floors—-I wonder if the designers of this mall visited the one in Canada that our Mall of America is modeled after.
Tuesday I walked a long ways to see the Central Mosque. It’s the biggest in the country and can hold 3,000 worshippers. It was mildly interesting. This is a Muslim country but they’re not ‘in your face’ about it. I haven’t heard any musseims call me to prayer. And they sell pork in the markets! There are quite a few Russians here that were conscripted to work in factories that were moved here for safety reasons from Russia during World War II. Then also Koreans were conscripted by the Soviet Union and placed here from Siberia. There’s lots of kimchi in the markets. So there’s quite an ethnic and religious mix.
Back to MY restaurant via city bus. Oh, I love that restaurant. As I was sipping a white wine, I saw spectacular dishes being taken to a neighboring table. I got up with my menu and excused myself and asked what that was. They were happy to help me, and found the dish on the menu (and they spoke English). It was Cheburek, a fried bread kind of thing that poofs up, and has meat in it. So I ordered one of those and also a dish called Chuchvara, described in English as ‘meat pockets with meat gravy.’ Kind of like meat ravioli. It was all just great, especially with two more glasses of red wine.
Four-inch heels??? I was told that this hosteler came from a wedding.
The thing that’s so nice about the DimAl Almaty Hostel, is Tai and Andrew. They really go out of their way to help you, and are so pleasant all the time. Reserving train tickets on their computer, arranging for a taxi at 4:00 AM—-it’s all in a days work for them!
My last day in Almaty I revisited the Art Museum. Again, I loved seeing the room full of tapestries. At first I thought they were paintings, but no, they’re done with needle and thread in these wildly bright colors.
Some Russian, some Kazakh artists—-it was hard to keep track since many of the labels were only in Russian in the Cyrillic alphabet. Here is Bebutova with “Harvest in the Ukraine.”
Then it was time for linner, again—-my last at ‘my’ restaurant. This time I had Dumgaza, which are braised veal tails with potatoes and onions. I did get a kick out of a couple sitting near me, having lunch. I guess this is a contemporary Date!
Some special things about Kazakhstan:
1) I’ve never been in a country that never complained about making change like in Kazakhstan. Goodness, in Egypt they would actually jerk a smaller bill out of your hand when you tried to pay with a larger bill. Needless to say, one was always out of small bills! Here—-never! Sometimes they would have to go out to find change, but never complained.
2) In every place I stayed, including a kind of nice hotel in Taraz where one of the President’s Ministers stayed (I saw him at breakfast) there is always a receptacle right near the toilet for you to put your toilet paper in. Often there is a sign telling you to do that. No, we don’t put the poopy papers in the basket—-we flush those down and it usually takes two flushes.
3) All of the young people dress totally in the western fashion; older women wear traditional clothes, so in 20 more years, the traditional clothing will be gone.
4) As in most developing countries, smoking is pretty widespread here among the young people.
5) As I have mentioned before, it is quite amazing on city buses to see 10-year-old children spring out of their seats to give them to adults, without any prompting. And not just to old people, but really any adult.
6) They eat a lot of horse meat; I learned in the market that horse meat is the most expensive, followed by beef, followed by mutton, followed by chicken. I’m not sure where pork fits in, or seafood, although there isn’t much seafood—-some dried fish.
7) Since the population has large numbers of Russians, who were conscripted to work in the factories that were moved from Russia for safety during World War II; and quite a number of Koreans, who were conscripted from Siberia to also work in the factories, it is quite a mixture, both ethnically and religiously. It’s basically a Muslim country, but there are quite a few big Russian Orthodox churches. Tai told me that many Jews were moved out of Russia to Kazakhstan also. Andrew is Korean, but can’t speak the language. I suppose it was his great-grandparents that were resettled here.
So, tomorrow a taxi will come to the hostel at 4:00 AM to take me to the airport, for me to start my homeward journey. Kazakhstan has been interesting and challenging, but I’m very ready to go home! Of course I’m missing Burt and the rest of family.
Burt and I are off to France for a month in six more days—-you’ll be hearing from me.
Roger and out——-Carol