Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2006 Trip to Kaz, Part 1

After a short flight to Dulles, complete with comedian flight attendant ("Please put your tray tables and seat backs in their upright and uncomfortable position") I found Debi’s gate.  Her flight wasn’t due to arrive for two hours, so I settled down, plugged in my iPod and waited.  When she got off the plane, Debi looked like she was about to throw up!  She is not a traveler … her last passport expired in 1976.  This was a HUGE undertaking for her, going to Kazakhstan.  We grabbed a Subway sandwich and wandered down to where our outgoing flight was.  It was at the end of a crowded hallway, and we found two empty seats to eat our sandwiches and hunker down until boarding time. 


On the plane, we found we had two seats together on one side.  Sleep was out of the question due to sardine can conditions, so we listened to my iPod, and watched a movie (which one, I forget!)  We landed in Amsterdam at early o’clock .. probably about 6:30.  It was close to 8 before we made contact with out Bed & Breakfast host, Joop (pronounced Jope – like Rope) due to the intricacies of using a cell phone in Europe.  All those extra numbers that you’re magically supposed to know about.  Hmph.   Joop was a scruffy older man, typical Dutchman with a wrinkled rain coat and a shock of long white hair.  He drove us in his rickety old Volvo to our home away from home in Amsterdam.  Strewn with garden tools and trash, we wondered if the car’s transmission would last long enough to get us to our destination!  But arrive we did.  Our luggage was unloaded, and Joop informed us that our room wouldn’t be ready until 10 a.m.  So he took us to a little café where we had a huge breakfast of eggs, bread, cheese, and coffee.  We sat and watched the people go by 90 miles an hour on their BICYCLES … apparently it is the no. 1 mode of transportation in Amsterdam.  We saw moms with babies in the front and on the back of their bikes … zooming around corners at breakneck speed.  Bikes were stacked outside of apartments 3-4 deep.  We knew that if we even tried to ride a bike in Amsterdam we would be dead in minutes. 


Joop drove us around the city to orient ourselves, then due to some translation snafu, informed us that our room wouldn’t be available until NOON.  We were tired, sleep deprived, grimy and PISSED OFF.  Joop plunked us down on a canal tour of the city, and said, see ya!  We almost fell asleep during the slow, meandering tour with the monotone narration in three different languages.   I was too tired and disoriented to figure out how to ride the tram, so we hailed a taxi and went to the B&B, prepared to wrestle Joop to the ground to get our room.  Lucky for him, it was ready, and we collapsed into a deep sleep for most of the afternoon.


We woke up about 6 hours later, and showered for dinner.  We set out walking along the main drag near the B&B, past charming row houses covered with flowers.  We had a fabulous meal at an upscale restaurant Joop had recommended.  I think I had lamb chops … and they were either really really good, or I was really really hungry.  I think a bit of both.  Strangely enough, we went right to sleep that night and slept all night.  The jet lag had won.


The next day we set out with clean bodies and renewed, rested spirits.  We found an internet café and shot a message home, then set out to find the Anne Frank House (note:  prounounced Ahnn-uh Frahnk – who knew that all these years I’ve pronounced it like she was from Texas!)  We even had the courage to figure out the tram system, which is really quite easy when you’ve had enough sleep!  We toured the house .. and got a whole new perspective on the book and her life in hiding.  I had read the book as a young girl, but didn’t absorb it at all.  I bought another copy and just inhaled it.  If you’ve ever read the book, read it again.


We went to the Van Gogh museum, where they were having a special exhibition on Rembrandt and Carvaggio.  It was very crowded and HOT.  Thus began our two week sweat fest, for we were to see very little of Mr. Air Conditioner in the coming days.  That night we ate dinner at an Indonesian restaurant, again recommended by Joop, and again a Home Run.  The food was delectable, and brought back a lot of my memories of Singapore when I was in high school. 


We had to be at the airport early the next morning for our flight to Almaty.  Joop again drove us to Schiphol airport in his clanky Volvo.  After some friendly handshakeswith Joop, we were off.  The demographics of our flight here became quite different from the groups of teenagers on aEuropean vacation, and elderly folks who finally get the children off the payroll and get to see Europe at long last.  Here we were surrounded by stocky, square faced Asian men in business suits with pointy-toed shoes; and beautiful Asian women with adorable, chubby babies.  We spotted groups of  American geologists traveling to Central Asia to develop the oil and gas industry there (okay I read the business cards on their briefcases.  I’m nosy).  Our 6 hour flight was unremarkable … more movies, more bad airplane food.  We arrived in Almaty near midnight, and immediately started sweating again!  It’s amazing how much heat a heavy backpack can produce in a non-airconditioned airport!  (Note:  I asked someone in Kaz later why they had such an aversion to air conditioning.  The reply: it will make you sick!  Imagine my horror at seeing a fully operational air conditioner in many of the cars we rode in in Kaz, but the driver refused to use it, since he might get sick.  Gee, should we sickly Americans take a hint from the Kazakhs?)  

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