Kazakhstan

Friday August 2nd – Monday August 5th

When you have just forty two days to circle the globe — visiting ten places for three to five days apiece — it’s hard to imagine that you can properly see any one of those places in such a short timeframe. And yet, I am continually surprised at the selection of sites the Humphreys Fellows have prepared for me — each one bringing me joy and amazement while at the same time serving as a showcase for what makes their countries so special. Big Almaty Lake in Kazakhstan is one such example:

With my arrival late Friday evening and departure early Monday morning, I really only had two days for proper sightseeing. And yet, when I look back on those two days, I can hardly believe all that we managed to do.

Saturday August 3rd

We began and ended the day with visits to downtown Almaty; in-between, we drove into the mountains for a picnic and then stopped to see an eagle show on the way home. Somehow, it never felt rushed — it was such a relaxing pleasure… A truly wonderful day!

Our first stop was at a park in downtown Almaty; it felt familiar to me, like Central Park in New York City — an expansive venue, with honors and memorials whilst also having a great variety of activities and things to see.

It is called the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen, honoring a group of soldiers from Kazakhstan in World War II who stood against the Germans heading to Moscow; in spite of their small numbers, these men managed to have significant impact. There is also an eternal flame and other statues honoring the fallen of WWII and the Eastern Front in particular.

The park is a beautiful and peaceful place now, with long, tree-lined walkways and recreational areas for children. We toured Ascension Cathedral there, a bright and elegant Russian Orthodox cathedral built in 1907 in Ukranian Baroque style. Children rode in small trains or drove little cars, as we took a carriage ride and enjoyed the sunshine. And with temperatures approaching 100 deg F / 37 deg C, ice cream from Zheka’s was most welcome…

During the afternoon, we drove to the mountains for a picnic at Big Almaty Lake.  I had never seen such colors, so beautiful that on any given day it seems you can find a couple posing for wedding photographs as they stand on large rocks at the edge of the lake.

On the ride back to Almaty, I was told that we were going to see an eagle show at Sunkar. As it turned out, there were were many birds in the show, including owls, falcons, eagles, and a vulture called The Manager. Should you visit Kazakhstan in the near future, be sure to go to Sunkar.

We returned to the city in the evening for a dinner with Sultana, who recently returned from her year at Boston University in the Humphrey Fellowship program.  Qaimaq is an elegant restaurant, with tables set inside yurts throughout the property.  An indoor section featured an apple motif, which the city is named after.

After dinner, we joined into the constant stream of people who were out enjoying downtown Almaty nightlife.  Families strolling with their children, and people of all ages were taking in the scene:  street musicians, art displays, food stands, and more.  The city comes alive at night with scenes like this which stretch for many city blocks.

Sunday August 4th

Weather should never hold you back from going places; first, it probably won’t last long, and second, it will lend some excitement to the day — as long as you find safe haven.

Our haven inside a cable car, however, didn’t feel quite so safe as it swung (slightly) back and forth while winds whistled and howled. As we arrived at the top of the mountain at Shymbulak Mountain Resort, I attempted to record the scene but found the winds a bit too strong. Fortunately, there was a cozy and well-stocked cafe station nearby, and refreshments were forthcoming.

Yet again, our good fortune continued as the worst of the weather happened while we enjoyed a comfortable meal inside. This made the obligatory photo-with-a-falcon-on-my-arm much easier, thank goodness. Oh, what I do for my Humphreys Fellows!

I was told we were going to go out to dinner in Almaty next, but “dinner” alone would not be enough to describe the experience at Abay restaurant. That is because it is located at the top of a grand hillside overlooking the city — making for a most spectacular sunset as we dined.

Since the immediate area around the restaurant has an amusement park, we explored the grounds before dinner and had a great time: speeding on a roller coaster that extends out over the hillside; visiting with the Beatles; posing for pictures in an upside-down house; and more… A full, fun day followed by sunset over Almaty — truly unforgettable!

Bonus pictures can be found in the Journals menu — see the blog post on Kazakhstan

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