Archive for October, 2011

Astannaaaa

October 31, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

The past two days have also been filled with hard work and some really snowy and windy weather. It’s snuggley weather definitely so it’s a little bit hard to be alone. I’ll work backwards. First Happy Halloween.

Tonight I had the WORST “Indian” food ever. Thinking about it now makes me nauseated. I was the only one in the restaurant and I think I know why. The one redeeming thing about the restaurant was that they played Snoop Dogg in the restaurant, and I absolutely Adore Snoop Dogg.

Earlier today, I ate lunch at a Turkish restaurant in the old part of town and before that went to the Beach! Not the real beach obviously as Kazakhstan is landlocked, but a beach on top of the Khan Shatyr tent mall… the largest tent in the world. It was very cheesy but a lady showed me around because I was asking all sorts of questions about the “beach club”. They have a wave pool, a kids pool, a regular pool, and sand from the Maldives! If you join the beach club you can have free access to the fitness center. You can also buy a six month pass that makes the daily rate much cheaper, if you’re interested.

It was so freezing today and extremely windy. I also wore summer pants which was a very silly idea.

Yesterday, I had a Fabulous dinner “Kazakh national cuisine” at a fancy restaurant. The Kazakh national bread is like donut balls but not sweet. When the servers ask you if you want some they say something that sounds like “Ballsack” but actually they are saying “Bursan”. I know this because I asked someone to spell it for me because I couldn’t believe my ears. HA!

Before that, i went up to the Bayterek monument, the “symbol” of Astana. It’s supposed to represent a bird flying out of a nest. I put my hand in the handprint of the president and took a picture because that’s what you do. I found it pretty dirty as so many people’s hands have been there! Great views from the top of the monument as well.

Before that was the first time I went to the Turkish restaurant I visited again today. One concierge recommended it to me because I expressed a strong desire for Turkish food and the Turkish restaurant in the hotel was closed and I hadn’t eaten breakfast and couldn’t wait until 4 when it opened on Sunday. At this non-touristy restaurant, there is Zero english and because of the language barrier, I ended up with an unbelievable feast. Meats, salad, vegetables, that awesome bread that they grill and it pops up like a balloon. I had lots of leftovers but gave them away.

Before this, I slept late and did a lot of walking. I promise many pictures as soon as I get to a place where pictures will upload to the web site!.

Love,
Annie

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Astana Saturday

October 29, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was another pretty good day in Astana. Today I slept late(ish) and worked hard. I went to a mall that’s in the largest tent in the world. It’s very new. There’s a “beach club” at the top of it, but in my working state of mind I completely forgot to go check it out.

After many hours of working and walking through stores, I decided it was time to shop a little for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to resist. I saw some shoes I liked and was very excited to try them on, but unfortunately I was told the largest size they have is 7.5. I’m an 8 or 8.5 so that definitely put a check on my spending! I’m told by expats that live in Kazakhstan that it’s very difficult to buy clothes here because everything is too small!

After I finished with the mall, I was walking outside and in a plaza area a little girl ran up to me and asked me for my mittens. I was wearing my knitted Canada Olympics mittens that I bought in August on my last survey in Toronto. I had been getting good use out of them because it’s been very cold here. I really really liked these mittens. Also, I was very excited to wear them and match my boyfriend who has the same pair when it got snowy and cold in Boston but I couldn’t say no. She spoke Russian and at first I didn’t know what she was saying but then she showed me her hands and she looked so freezing and I noticed that her clothes and hat didn’t fit properly and thought well she obviously needs them more than I do. So I took them off and put them on her hands and she smiled hugely and seemed extremely relieved to have warm mittens. I was sad to have given away my matching mittens and a favorite souvenir from a previous survey, but also more sad that this girl was so freezing. I feel very lucky for many things but at that moment especially for having a warm jacket that fits me and also that I know I can go and buy more mittens. With some fortune, maybe some more matching mittens.

After more work, I tried to go to an Indian restaurant with a very good reputation, but they were not open to the public because they were hosting a wedding. Okay. So then I tried to go to a Kazakh/Uzbek restaurant and same thing, they were closed for having a wedding! In all the hotels, there are men and women taking wedding pictures. Same story near many of the landmarks and statues. I’m witnessing a strangely large amount of wedding events here!

I ended up going to a restaurant called “Line Brew” which was also on my list of restaurants to go to, just further down on my list. It’s in a castle-like building and they brew their own beers! I ordered wrong (vegetarian-ly) but it was okay, I still got satisfied. When I took a taxi home the driver tried to rip me off to the extreme, but I told him no way jose and gave him half as much as he asked for, but still double what the taxi ride should have cost.

Now it’s snowing outside but I’m cozy in my room. I think tomorrow for my day off I’m going to explore the older part of town and go up to the top of the Bayterek monument.

Love,
Annie

Astana Day One

October 28, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday I was homesick and kind of sick, but today I’m feeling much better. I had an extremely productive day after a pretty good night sleep.

Astana is pretty crazy. There are an overwhelming amount of cool looking buildings, but it doesn’t seem like there are many people around! Again, great pictures, but for now a Google search will have to do.

It’s very cold here, but nothing I’m not used to.

I had a great dinner at a Turkish restaurant. There are a lot of Turkish restaurants in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh language is very similar to Turkish I’m told.

All the best,

Love
Annie

Arrived in Astana

October 27, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

Not much to report today. I said goodbye to Almaty and had an evening flight to Astana. I’m at the hotel safe but it’s not the nicest place. I’m feeling a little sick and not very hungry for dinner.

On the airplane I sat next to a Korean man who made me very uncomfortable. He wouldn’t leave me alone and I just wanted to read my book. Usually I like communicating and learning about people in the world but not this time. Also I didn’t like how he was hitting on me and brushing my leg and tried to give me a neck massage. He gave me his number and I ripped it up as soon as I got to the hotel. I feel better after a shower. That was my last flight on Air Astana. Good thing it was really short just about an hour and a half I think.

My first impression of Astana was in the dark but there are a lot of futuristic looking buildings. It’s snowing here and I think it might have snowed in Boston too today. I love snow but am having a hard time appreciating it right now.

I apologize because pictures are still not working for the blog here and there are many great ones to share from Almaty.

Love,
Annie

Almaty Continued

October 25, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

The past two days in Almaty have been very nice. I’ve worked very long days, but have also enjoyed myself. Yesterday it was rainy, but I didn’t mind this because I spent most of the day in shopping malls and supermarkets. After a long day of work, I decided to go to a bar called Guns and Roses that’s known to have a lot of English speakers. However, when I got there, I was literally the only one in the bar so I checked out the menu (which was the same as the Guns and Roses in Atyrau) and promptly left. I made my way to the “Shakespeare Pub”, another bar that has a reputation with English speakers. I walked in to find a few people sitting so I ordered a glass of wine.

At Shakespeare, the most notable person was a drunk Englishman hitting on one of the female servers, and the bar was playing an Eagles album. While I like the Eagles a whole lot, the mellow Eagles songs, for instance Tequila Sunrise, cause me to be very emotional, especially in my alone state, very nostalgic for my childhood and make me miss my dad a lot. Since I was not happy with the scene (I was looking for something a little more uplifting), I left to go eat at the Intercontinental Hotel where I had a fabulous salad and eavesdropped on a group of men speaking English. I believe they were in the Mining consulting business. They were kind of pigs, but it was interesting anyway. The server and I had quite a laugh at the mess I made from spilling salad dressing. Eek. She found the mess when she tried to take away the napkin I had strategically placed over the red plops of dressing (tomato goop) on the tablecloth. She let me keep the napkin there for the duration of the meal. At least no wine was spilled!

Today was sunny and beautiful outside, and I also got my laundry done!

For lunch, I had some traditional Pilaf from a vendor on the street. It consisted of rice and carrots, and some kind of meat. Horse? Beef? Not sure. I sat down on a ledge in the sun and started eating, but a police officer made me move to a bench in the shade.

After work, I went to a bar called Soho that has a very good reputation. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with “Bonjour!” and some French men invited me to sit with them. Turns out they work for the French Consulate here and are Extremly kind and have Great senses of humor. They thought I looked French, which I found flattering, and after exchanging business cards, they told me I had a French name. Who knew!

They shared their foods —appetizers of smoked salmon (better than Costco!!!), some other smoked fishes, bruscetta, and then mini desserts. We drank and discussed TV shows, travel, Monty Python, family, music, etc. We had many laughs. After eating and drinking wine and beer, we had espresso and a few glasses of Cognac. I’ve never drunk Cognac before but pretended, and turns out I like cognac! We have plans to have lunch tomorrow at my hotel. They know the Chef here and called him right then to make sure we will get fresh fishes that are uncommon here and foie gras. I’m very excited. The men helped to negotiate a taxi for me back to the Hotel, and here I am now. I plan to catch up on Gossip Girl and South Park before sleeping.

Many kisses and hugs,

Annie

Sunday in Almaty

October 23, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

Today I had an Awesome Sunday in Almaty. It was the first day on this survey that I was able to wake up without an alarm (didn’t set one) so that was great. Hooray for days off! I got up at what I thought was 10:45 (turns out it was 9:45 and my clock was wrong) and walked down to the Coffeeroom restaurant a few blocks away where I had a nice coffee drink and a Panini of mozzarella and tomato for breakfast. I figured it was about lunch time when I got there… now I realize why the staff looked at me funny for ordering lunch at 10:30 in the morning.

After this, I walked down to the Kok-Tube (hahah!), a “famous” (?) cable car that takes you high up on the hill of Almaty. I hung out at the top of the Kok-Tube area for a bit. There are very nice views of the city there and some cheesy fair-type games. I was tempted to buy a funny Kazakhstani hat but thought better of it as I can probably get one cheaper elsewhere. By the way, Almaty city is built on one big slope under the Tian Shan Mountains. This means, walking one way is very easy and awesome and walking the other way is fairly difficult (or at least much slower).

After the Kok Tube, I followed George’s (the Californian I met yesterday) instructions for what to do and headed to a big Bazaar market. There, I saw the biggest pomegranate I’ve ever seen, probably 7 inches in diameter, and bought one that was less large. I also ended up purchasing some apples that I didn’t mean to get due to the language barrier, but it was okay because they weren’t so expensive and I gave them to a woman on the street asking for money.

After the bazaar, I went to the Rahat chocolate factory, where I got some chocolates. People kept cutting me in line there because they just screamed out what they wanted, but I finally got the counter lady’s attention and with pointing, ended up with some milk chocolate, some dark chocolate, and a gift box of what I think are chocolates.

After the Rahat market, I wandered a little more, and then headed to the Medeo. I think you can categorize the Medeo as a winter sports area, but im not sure what it technically is. At the Medeo, there’s the Highest Skating rink in the world. I have a picture but will have to post it later as the pictures are still not working on WordPress for me now. I bought a (student rate!! Ha!!) ticket for two different gondolas for the Shymbulak ski resort. At that point, I did not really know what I was doing, but it seems like when you’re in a place where you can’t speak the language, you just have to go for it and hope for the best.

Luckily, this worked out brilliantly. I went up the first gondola, which was extremely long and took me to the base of the skiing area. On the way, I saw some horses grazing on the hills. I also saw two people kneeling on a blanket and praying to the mountains. Unfortunately, there was no skiing because there was not enough snow, but it was SO beautiful and awesome anyway. I got to the top of the first gondola, and saw a second, and went up that.

The second gondola was a combination of a chairlift and gondola units, something I’ve never seen before. Anyway, this gondola took me much higher – up to to the snowy area, and when I got off I hiked around for a while and got people to take pictures of me. I also had the nicest bathroom experience up there. I had to pee so hiked up high where no one could see me and had a wonderful view of the mountains and Almaty in the way distance. Definitely a “5.”

It was getting to be about 5:00 pm when the lift closed, so I headed back down just the higher gondola and explored the ski lodges. They had fancy restaurants there so I stopped for a snack of Russian pastry and cappuccino and water with gas, and then took the long gondola to the base.

I started to worry about how I was going to get home because the Medeo area is about 20 minutes away from town. I wandered down the road a little ways and found a bus stop. I asked some people “Almaty”? and one guy said, “I hope so!” Good enough for me. We got on the bus and there was a group of people singing, and suddenly the whole bus was singing. It was pretty crammed yet very pleasant, they had a guitar. All of a sudden, I started to hear English words in one of the songs and then of course… “alejandro, alejandro…” hahaha. (That’s a Lady Gaga song).

I got off the bus near the Hotel Kazakhstan which is on the main road – I had to walk a bit, but the hotel is very easy to find because it’s extremely tall and the top is all lit up – and from there, took a taxi to my hotel. I’m about to go down to have some wine and a bite to eat, and then I plan on watching the last two episodes of Breaking Bad season four in my room. Yess…

Well, it was certainly an awesome Sunday, and I am all ready to work hard here for the next three days.

LOVE

annie

adios Atyrau

October 22, 2011

Dear family and friends,

Hope all is well. Happy Weekend! I’m sitting here in the hotel in Almaty, happy to be here. Upon arriving it was a nice relief to see things growing (like grass and trees) as nothing grows in Atyrau. It’s certainly a depressing place. I spoke to an English guy at a bar that had been here for 20 years. Yikes. There’s really nothing to do there, and even walking around isn’t fun as there’s nothing to see (except the Ural River), it’s pretty dangerous to walk around alone especially as a single woman that quite obviously is not from the area (I didn’t even pass for a Russian native), and the air quality is pretty poor. Most people I walked by gave me really weird looks.

I apologize for not writing for the past few days, my internet in the hotel in Atyrau stopped working. I also apologize for no pictures in this post- for some reason the internet here doesn’t really like WordPress and won’t allow any uploads. That would make the blog much more interesting so I’ll try to find a way to add some pictures soon.

Yesterday and the day before, I worked hard and didn’t play that hard. On Thursday night, I found an unexpectedly Awesome pizzeria in the downstairs of my hotel. On Friday afternoon, I went to a bar called “Guns and Roses” where a lot of the Expats hang out. There, I drank wine and hung out with some Dutch people.

This morning, I took a flight to Almaty, the city I’m in now. On the flight, there was a Turkish family with two little kids, one six and the other three. They are from Atyrau and were going to Almaty for vacation. The six year old was learning English in school so we were able to speak a little bit! For most of the flight, I played Trains (the little boy had thomas the tank engine toy) with these kids. We got a little roudy. Turns out I am Awesome at playing trains.

Before the flight, I met a guy from California that lives in Almaty and he helped me to get on the right flight (it was fairly unclear to me in the airport.) Once we got off the flight, we exchanged business cards and he emailed me soon after with Tons of things to do in Almaty. I’ll be doing some of these things (going to a cool park, a WWII memorial flame, a chocolate market where you have to be careful of your purse, a cable car…)

I got a taxi to my hotel (the taxis here seem to be a little less crazy than the ones in Atyrau) and after I did my routine of unpacking and showering, I did some Serious wandering around the city. Almaty is a beautiful city. It’s right next to the Tian Shan mountain range, which is visible from the city and creates a Beautiful backdrop. Pictures to come, of course. I stopped at a café to have some wine, and kept walking until it got dark out. After dark, I decided to get some traditional Kazakh food.

The Kazakh food was pretty gross. I’m not really sure what I ate. Some meat dumplings I think it was beef. I hope it does not make me sick because it was Certainly Not worth it. I played with some other little kids while eating, and I’m not sure the parents liked how we were playing because they gave me nasty looks.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is a fun off ay I’m going up into the mountains to see what I can do. Maybe go skiing, maybe go horseback riding, maybe go on a hike. We’ll see! I’ll definitely be safe about it.

Love,
Annie

Atyrau Day One

October 19, 2011

oh haaayyy family and friends,

its the end of my first full day in Atyrau. here’s a picture of the marker of the asia side of the city. Theres a similar one on the other side of the bridge, shown in the picture, that says “europe”. today i walked across the bridge from asia to europe. i’ve found out that my hotel is on the europe side.

The city itself seems pretty depressing (maybe it was today’s nasty weather or perhaps the super shady taxi experience i had coming home from a supermarket) but there’s definitely fun to be had and i’ve met some local people that are extremely nice, understanding, and helpful. after a hard day of work i went to a pub that expats frequent, and had a lot of fun drinking and hanging out with some guys from south africa and england who are both here for the longish term.

it’s kind of late so more tomorrow. i go to bed in happy spirits and excited for tomorrow’s adventure.

love, annie

Hello Kazakhstan

October 18, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

After a long two days of traveling, i’m finally safe in the hotel in Atyrau, Kazakhstan. The accommodations are very nice! There’s even a bathrobe and slippers 🙂

The flight to Amsterdam was painless. It seems like a long time ago now! I watched two movies, but forget what they are. I had an open seat next to me, which was pretty special. We even arrived early in Amsterdam, which gave me another half hour to explore the city. I immediately hopped on the train to Amsterdam Centraal, the big station in the middle of town. It took about 15-20 minutes, and by 6:30 AM I was exploring the streets. It was very cool even though it was raining and nothing was open. By 7:00, I found a cafe and got a tomato and mozzarella sandwich for breakfast, with watercress on it or something that looked like watercress. It was great as I was very hungry.

After breakfast, it was still dark, but approaching 8:00 AM. So, I decided to go to the Anne Frank house.

Just kidding!! haha. At that point I made my way to the famous Bulldog Cafe for some… tasty coffee drink! I hung out there with some other tourists and chatted with the bar man. It was nice to be somewhere warm and inviting and with good music and out of the rain! at around 9:30, I made my way back to the airport without a hitch.

It was finally light at that time so I took this picture of the Beautiful train station there. That’s one view. I took it kind of hastily as it was raining. I got back to Schiphol airport with plenty of time to spare. Great news because there was a lot to explore there.

As I got on the plane to Atyrau, i started to feel very tired. The flight was empty so I moved into a row with three empty seats and was able to stretch out and finally get some zzzs. I slept for most of the flight which was 4.5 hours.  I liked how on Air Astana they give you little lemon candies before take off and landing I imagine for ears popping purposes.

One thing I noticed on this flight was that the ratio of men to women was about 25:1. There were about 4 women on the entire flight! After the flight, the line at immigration took Forever and during that wait I chatted with some guys from England and Australia that were also here on business. They learned that it was my first time here so they Insisted upon helping me get a cab to the hotel as the cab situation here is apparently pretty shady. They ended up getting one of their company cars to take me (for free!!) and I tipped the driver. Pretty nice and lucky!

Okay, now it’s time to get a much needed sleep. The hotel is right on the Ural River but I’m not sure if it’s on the Asia side or Europe side. Will provide an on which continent I’m sleeping in tomorrow.

Love,

Anne