Saturday, January 6, 2007

New Year's Eve and the Alatau

So New Year's in KZ is a big deal. Christmas isn't really celebrated because about half of the population is Muslim and the other half are Russian orthodox, who celebrate christmas in the second week of January. New Years is the opportunity for everyone to party non-denominationally. Plenty of vodka and fireworks: a dangerous mix.
We spent New Years with Albert, a Canadian expat who works with Brooke at KIMEP. We planned to go out to dinner, but after 5 unsuccessful attempts to find open restaurants, we had nearly given up. Luckily, Albert happened upon a restaurant nearby that was staying open through the festivities. The food was great, and the service was MUCH nicer than the usual "service with a dirty look" that we get around here. They even brought us plastic masks, champagne, and a big firecracker! At about quarter to twelve, we walked up to the New Square, where the city was lighting an official fireworks display, and hundreds of locals were lighting their own competing, more dangerous varieties. We were lighting our own firecracker at midnight when some clowns next to us lit an INSANELY LOUD firework and all three of us thought we were in Beirut in 1980 and jumped for cover. Luckily, 15 minutes later, we could hear without using one of them 18th-century ear trumpets.
All in all, it was a good night. People lit fireworks throughout that night and through the next day. We've still been hearing a smattering of cracks and booms in the evenings.
On Tuesday we met up with Albert and some of his friends and ventured into the mountains to visit an ice-skating rink called Medeu. We took a city bus up, and it was cheap (50 cents) but the bus was completely packed full of people. One guy leaned over Brooke's lap pretty much for the entire ride, and Brooke had to resist the urge to punch him in the leg. Something about his gold teeth and scowl prevented Brooke from doing so. The window next to us was broken and held together with clear packing tape, so we didn't get a great view on the way up. Once we were there, though, the mountains and forest were so beautiful. In this picture, the big building that you see is the skating rink:

When we got there, though, the rink was closed for a few hours. We decided to hike a bit further up the mountain to go to a restaurant where we could wait for the rink to be open. Here we are on the walk up:

The restaurant had a bunch of seperate yurts. A yurt is a traditional Kazakh dwelling used by the nomadic people that don't live in Almaty. Here's a picture of us in front of one:

Unfortunately, they only had one of the yurts open for business when we got there, and it was already full of people enjoying tasty Kazakh food. We snuck a peek at the eaters, and they were sitting on pillows at low tables. Inside, the whole yurt is carpeted, floor to ceiling, with exotic-looking traditional rugs. I don't know about the ones we saw, but a real yurt can be taken apart and rolled up like a tent.
So anyway, we were disappointed that we didn't get to eat in the yurt, but I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to go back again. After leaving the yurt, we decided not to go ice skating because it was too cold for anything outdoors to be very fun. We caught a van back down to the city, which was more expensive (about $1.50 per person) but a more pleasant experience than the bus!


Claire said...

Wow, looks like your new year is off to a great start. Here it is going to be...wait for it...69 degrees today. Can you believe it? It is *raining* today. Very much like May or June. Happy New Year, guys!

Bobby said...

Sounds like a memorable new years! Keep up the posting!

Anonymous said...

wow! I wish we had some weather like that here. I guess Al Gore is right...69 degrees right now!!!! I sure hope I leave a legacy before those polar caps melt...Love ya


Anonymous said...

thanks Bruce...Heard you were down in my neck of the woods yesterday...Go Vols!!


Eugenia said...

What is the tasty Kazakh food like?
Lauren's interest in learning and speaking new languages has just arisen and she wants to know a few Kazakh expressions - especially bad ones (just kidding...) teeheeheeheeheehhh, Eugenia laughs maliciously (jk).

Lauren said...

Really, how do you say "Good Morning", "Thank you" and "your welcome", and "Delicious food, but I'm full after the 7th serving, thank you"? I'm wondering about the food servings there..mmmmmm mmmm
Wishing you great luck, keep up the interesting blog!
Sau bol!