Yesterday was "getting acquainted with Almaty" day. David had several errands to run in the morning; go to Lufthansa to tussle with them about his ticket and Melanie's. He and Vitallik, our driver, ran out to do that, and to buy an I-Card (phone card for the internet and long distance -- no other long distance cards will work here: not MCI, not ATT, no one. Can you say, 'monopoly'?) When he got back he took Melanie to have her picture made: 2 5x5 shots of her for the embassy. David walked around the neighborhood to get acclimated. Mom and I literally stayed in our jammies until way after noon. That felt really good! After Melanie's nap Vitallik arrived and we did a quick walk-through of Panfilov park, where there are several large (huge) sculptures glorifying the heroes of the Great Patriotic War (WWII). It was a beautiful Saturday, and there were quite a few wedding parties around having their pictures made, and laying their bouquets at the eternal flame. We meandered down through the park to the cathedral (need to look up the name of it ... you know, the big gold one). It was just our luck that there was a mass going on at that time, and we stood and listened to the beautiful choir singing and chanting, and watching the priests and other golden-robed men walk out of the altar and circle around, swinging the incense. Several of the ladies were crossing themselves and bowing deeply. I felt a little like an intruder, but no one seemed to mind.
We then drove to the "Arba" restaurant, which serves authentic Kazakh food. David and I chuckled when we drove up to the restaurant (we didn't know where we would be going) because we have been there before! On our last trip to Almaty, to adopt Lisa Asel, we ate at the same restaurant with several other WPA families. Our driver at the time, Sasha Ponytail (for those of you reading this who are WPA vets) told us that he would call the restaurant after we ate and see if we were done, and then come pick us up. We all finished eating and wandered out to the front to wait for our drivers. Everyone else's driver came and they left, and then it was only us, and our travel partner, Donna. We waited. And waited. We were in a fix because we had no idea what the address of our apartment was, or how to tell a taxi how to get there. We had left our bags with all of of our information in them, in Sasha's car, since he said "no problem, I'll pick you up". We stood there, not knowing what to do, as the children got tired and cranky. The waitresses didn't know what to do with us either, but finally an older lady, the cook at the restaurant, came out and told us, by sign language, that she was going to drive us home. We drove and drove, looking for a familiar landmark, until suddenly I remembered a childrens' store down the street from our apartment, "Detsky Mir" (Childrens' World). I leaned forward and started yelling, "DETSKY MIR! DETSKY MIR!" and she nodded enthusiastically. In minutes we were home. Turns out that Sasha had called the restaurant, and since we were out in front, the staff told him that we had left! He was sooo embarrassed! He couldn't have apologized more ... but it made a good story.
So there we were, again at the scene of the crime. We had a great dinner of shashlik and plov and other great Kazakh dishes. We came home and crashed pretty early; mom was feeling the jet lag big time.
This morning Melanie slept until nearly 8:00! Meanwhile the kids had called from home to say hello at 7:30, so the timing was perfect. Aida is in town for a couple of weeks, so she agreed to take us to a bazaar today, "Baraxoka". Her sister, Alia, agreed to babysit for Melanie for the afternoon. The bazaar was a literal maze of stalls and shops with everything imaginable for sale. We were looking for a stroller for Melanie (Frankfurt's airport is huge) and perhaps find a deal on a leather jacket? I swear I will never go shopping without Aida again. She is a ruthless haggler, and I walked away with a beautiful Turkish leather jacket. Poor mom's tongue was dragging on the ground (her stamina ain't what it used to be!) and we set out for the mountains south of Almaty. "Medeo" is a national preserve .. forests and walking trails and picnic areas. Winding up the mountain at a 12% grade you arrive at the Medeo skating rink, a huge outdoor rink where the Kazakh speed skaters train for the winter Olympics. On up even further is a ski resort, Chimbulak. Today was Sunday, so there were gobs of people milling about, and I heard a virtual UN of languages around me. We ate lunch at a restaurant down a bit from Chimbulak, called "The Kazakh Aul". The restaurant is all in yurts, the collapsible round tents that the original Kazakh nomads lived in. The walls are covered in colorful embroidered fabrics, and the ceiling goes up into a point at the top. There were musical instruments on the walls too. Again, we had shashlik and I had "monte" which are small noodle dumplings filled with meat.
While we were eating, we casually mentioned the fact that we had been "stranded" at the Arba restaurant on our last trip, and suddenly Vitallik started laughing. He had heard the story from Sasha, and he was cracking up that he was now our driver. We're famous.
A quick stop at the Ramstore, and then home. David and I walked to a grocery store for some provisions ... and he leaves tonight for home. He will be picked up at 1:30 in the morning for his 4:00 flight. Mom and I will be doing the same thing this Saturday. What torture.
Tomorrow is a national holiday, Republic Day, so there will be a lot going on in the streets. All the stores will be closed, so I guess mom and I will stay close to home. Maybe a driving tour of the city? I think we will be meeting up with some other WPA families in the evening. In the meantime ... happy trails to David. While I know it's good that he is going home, I will feel a little strange without him. He always takes care of the piddly details like the money, the cell phone, the credit cards and such, so now I have to step up. Oh well, we will be fine. I think our medical appointment is this Thursday, and we will visit the US Embassy on Friday. Then off to points West on Saturday. (Didn't I already say that? I must be looking forward to going home!)
For some reason the pictures are not loading here in Almaty. I'm planning to just email my journal and pictures to David the rest of this week, and he can update the blog from home. The internet connections here are s-l-o-w and sometimes finicky. Until tomorrow.