July 2017
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  • Day2

    Almaty

    July 3, 2017 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    At Almaty's green market. Sprawling 2 floor, full block complex of interlocking buildings. We enter through the fruit section, berries, cherries, oranges, peaches and melons. Each area it's a different product group, with each product sold by a different ethnicity. The Russian's control the milk/ cheese and meats, the Uzbeck import nuts and dried fruits, Koreans have salads and pickled vegetables, there's also a whole floor of cheap Chinese goods.Read more

  • Day2

    Arrive in Almaty

    July 3, 2017 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Arrive in a blur at 4:40 am local time. 17 hours of transit spread over 2 time changes, Moscow and then Kazakhstan passport control. Aeroflot no problems, two dinners served at 3 am and then 2 am . Met the car service and make it to Hotel Otrar by 7 am. Meet Chris on security control line and share taxi in with her. Quick refresh in the room and then we're off. We go to the El Doro cafe for a quick breakfast, feels like my 10th meal in 48 hours. Weird interaction with a woman sitting next to us who keeps insisting we should try the pizza for breakfast. Then a young man joins her and begins staring at us, unclear what he wants, but feels like he wants to sell us something. Waitress comes back and moves us to the other side of the terrace. I do order the pizza and it hits the spot. Discover and verify over the course of the next few days, coke light is not a thing here. First we head to the Russian Orthodox Church and enter while a service is in session. It's deeply moving with a full chorus behind a screen, two priests and an assortment of women in Babuskas who enter, some getting down onto their hand and knees. We head out and start to walk towards the cable car, stopping at the hotel Kazakhstan, then finding the elusive Coke zero at a Burger King.  We get to the cable car in time for it's 10 am opening, and get to the top of kok tobe. We walk around and admire the views, it's a bit early but we see all the amusement rides, we go through a handful of souvenir shops.  We meet an interesting Canadian who is a wanderer, working his way through the Stans.  We find the Beatles statue and take pictures. Head down and begin to walk across town in search of the central state museum.  Eventually we find it, enter the impressive cement dome that contains a golden man replica.  We walk through the exhibits, the most interesting being the costumes and ethnography exhibit.  Now tired, and hot, we eat at Trattoria -a high end Italian restaurant. Exhausted, we take a bus back to the hotel and crash for a bit.  We then head out and find a pub like place for dinner.  A good, long dayRead more

  • Day3

    Walking Almaty

    July 4, 2017 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Go down to breakfast at the hotel Otrar and discover a circular room with walls lined with carpets and scenic pictures, suggesting a yurt night club.  Meet additional group members, Esther and Emily.  Make plans for the day. With Chris and Emily, set out for Central mosque about 10 minutes from hotel.  The mosque is only 20 or so years old and can hold 3000 worshippers.  We gain access through the  women's side and enter the main sanctuary which is empty except for a man sleeping on the floor, a single man worshipping and a handful of cleaning women chatting with each other.  Bright turquoise blues and greens. Dramatic chandelier.  Very peaceful. In the afternoon I had contracted with Dennis through trip advisor for 2 local tours.  He takes Canela and I back to the green market for a more extensive tour.  We start on the lower level in a hand pulled noodle shop and listen to the whack of noodles being slapped against the counter.  We share  spaghetti like noodles mixed with Chinese leeks and spices and general Tso like dish of chopped and woked noodles.  Discover compote - an cross between I've tea and cold fruit juice.  We talk Kazakhstan history, ethnicity, general state of affairs.  Then head up to the main floor to converse with individual vendors and sample some products.  Honey vendor has products from every step of the process, from bee pollen, to honey with dead bees.  Each food group is dominated by one ethnicity.  Move to dried fruit and nuts , spices from uzbeckistan, meat slabs - mostly pork which seems somewhat surprising with muslim  population, milk vendors have found unique way to turn goods into products with long shelf life. As we leave the market, the scent of chocolate is in the air. There is a Willy Wonka-esque factory bordering the market area that supplies most of the Stans. On to part 2, we meet sisters from Slovenia and board a local bus top visit M the first neighborhood of Almaty, about 15 minutes from the center of the city. We first visit the Russian Orthodox Church that is the first to be built in the area, 150 years ago. We learn that RO churches don't have pews or seating, worshippers stand and will get on hand and knee and kiss the ground.  There's is a wall of icons, most Russian but a few local touches.  After leaving the church, we walk through the local market - vendors of fresh produce, fruits, kid toys.  We walk through the neighborhood of original wooden houses. Many are hidden behind fences and walls that were built in a period of violence in the late 80's.  Next we head back to the main street and learn about Kazak taxis.  It's like Uber without an app.  You stand on the street and hold your hand slightly apart from your body and wiggle your fingers.  Anyone driving past you can decide to pick you up and you negotiate a price and hop in.  There is a general level of understanding what the price should be.  Dennis has a conversation with our driver and then tells us about the driver and that the driver has invited Dennis to join him sometime up in the mountains.  The locals are always in inviting and offering you what they have.  We make it back for the GEEO kickoff meeting , 10 of us in all and head for a local Kazak restaurant. Read more

  • Day4

    Almaty city tour

    July 5, 2017 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    After another breakfast in the Disco yurt, we head out as a group on a city tour. We start out walking to the church and learn that it is built completely out of wood, as earthquake protection.  During the communist years, the church was turned into the museum of atheism, then a theater, now restored to it's full glory. The church has a completely different feel from when the service was going on.  We walk to the eastern part of the park and see the massive war memorial, mother Russia and the 15 republic's.  Sheer strength.  The memorial also has an eternal flame. We walk out to the street and board the bus and drive through a series of memorials and fountains.  With independence, Kazakhstan searched out local heroes to honor and built monuments in the Russian style.  We drive back to the hotel and I set out with Canela and Anne for lunch.  We dine at an Israeli street food shop, which has a complete israeli menu and feel minus any actual Israelis.  Food is delicious, salads, Shwarma, and falafel and hummus.  For Canela's sake we walk to Almaty's first Starbucks, complete with cute barista who speaks English - a rarity in our experiences. I walk into the hamam and contemplate a massage but instead opt back to the hotel for a short rest.  I had out at about 6pm and sit in the plaza by the church, it is quite a scene.  There are many families, toy electric cars that they can pay to ride, a small train, cotton candy vendor, bubble makers, and feed for the pigeons. I hang for awhile, then head back, pick up canela and we sit at an outside terrace - American style food shop that serves sushi and burgers.   I get fried rice along with a milk shake topped with an Oreo, Carmel corn and m&M'sRead more

  • Day6

    Karakol

    July 7, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    we wake to a cool breeze and birds chirping in our delightful guest house.  We are ringed by mountains and surrounded by flowers.  We sit for a communal table filled with fresh berries, baked goods and are served porrige, a fried egg, blinis and a fried cheese curd.  Delicious.  We set out for quick photo shoots at the wooden Russian Orthodox Church and Himalayan Temple like mosque, then it's off to the Nikolai Przthevalsky museum honoring a great Russian explorer.  The grounds are beautiful and we visit a statue honoring him as well as his grave site before climbing through a hole in the fence for a sweeping panoramic view of the surrounding countryside with the lake in the distance.  We step inside the museum and it's like a Russian Explorer's club, circa 1860. Blue silk walls, photos ring the room that contains a giant globe and one wall has map showing the routes of his expeditions.  A guide gives us a very detailed overview of his life.  We then begin the drive to kochkar via the lake that caused the border delay yesterday. A few hours into the ride. We stop and head to a rocky beach.  I dip my toes while others opt to swim.  Eat a picnic lunch which is fine except for the ants.  Head back in the van and stop to see a yurt making display.  We are taken through all the steps. From carving the wood, to shaping the posts. We give some assistance attaching the beams, then watch as the outside layers are added.  Our yurt builders are champions at the nomadic life world games.  We finish up and head to our homestay, passing a group of camels running by us.  We arrive at the delightful homestayRead more

  • Day7

    Kochtar

    July 8, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    Wake up in our multi share. This is more house like, with a series of bedrooms and one bathroom for the ten of us. We have a quiet morning to relax, then head out at 11:30 for the market and then our women's co-operative felt making work shop. The market is a bit chaotic, almost like a Manhattan supermarket with crowded narrow aisles and locals trying to push you along so they can finish their shopping. From the market, we drive a few minutes to the co-operative and are shown to a shared area outside in the back. First a women with sword like instruments shows us how the sheep's wool is sliced down, almost like fruit ninja to tame it. We all give it a go round. Next, pulling the tufts, it is pulled in horizontal rows to make a rectangle. A set of vertical rows of tufts is layed on top of that. Then pieces of colored wool are layed on top to make a design. The design is rolled up like a sushi roll. A burlap cloth is rolled onto the roll and a strap tied around it. At this point we have been joined by a smiling, cherubic older woman who hugs each one of us. She demonstrates how water is poured on top of the roll, then picture Lucy and Ethel in the grape vat, we alternate dancing on top of the mat to squeeze out the water. This goes for a few rounds until the flattened felt is laid out to dry. We are then served a delicious lunch inside a yurt, soup, eggplant and tomato, dumplings, other courses. It's time to head up to Song Kul. We start up a mainly narrow dirt road, dodging pot holes and motorcycles and start through a series of switch backs as we climb from 5000 to 12000 feet. We take a few photo stops, see a few yaks, before reaching the yurt camps, preceding to ours at the base of lake song kul.

    Stunningly beautiful and peaceful, surrounded by yurts, horses and cows, wild flowers covering the Meadows in purples and blues and yellows. We divide into 2 yurts and are given some free time to wander and take pics. We have afternoon tea in an elaborately set table that we've become used to, with candies, dried fruits, breads and jams, cookies yak butter, honey and other assorted goods. More free time to wander then dinner and time to watch a spectacular sunset and rise of a full moon.
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