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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Day Off With Larissa

Today is Sunday so I had a down day, which I spent with my colleague Larissa. She was kind enough to take me around to see Almaty a little. We went to the history museum where we saw an amazing array of textiles, costumes, jewelry and many things from Kazkh daily life long ago. It was really impressive.

She also took me to Paniflov Park which is one of the prettiest public parks anywhere. It is very large and is essentially kept like a little forest. It is a very special retreat from the city. Inside the park, you find Zenkov Cathedral – a Czarist era church built of wood with no nails. It is one of the only buildings to withstand a terrible earthquake in 1911. Larissa told me that it was a history museum during the Soviet era. It is back in regular business since the collapse and we found it full of people lighting candles and paying their respects to various saints.

Zenkov Cathedral in Paniflov Park. The trees look groomed and organized here. But they are like a forest in the rest of the park. It is gorgeous

Just a short walk from the Cathedral to the edge of the park, you find an enormous memorial to Kazakh people who defended Moscow during World War II. It is an impressive and moving sculpture. As Americans we often have a rather distorted view of that war because all of our studies focus on our own involvement. As huge as that was, it is nothing compared to what the Russians did or went through. They lost 20 million people just for starters. I like to be this far from home and have the chance to see commemorations like this just as a reminder to myself.

Monument to the sacrifice of Kazakh people in Moscow during WWII

We followed Paniflov park by visiting another park high above Almaty. I am embarrassed to admit that I have already forgotten the name of it. But, it offered amazing views of the city, which was sadly covered in smog and fog today. The views of the Al A Tau (or Tien Chen) mountains were dazzling. The air was clear and beautiful even though it was pretty cold. It was a lot of fun to be up there and get a sense of my place in the landscape and to get out of the haze of the city a little.

View of the Alatau or Tien Chen from the wonderful park high above Almaty

This was a very special day and I’m grateful to Larissa for sharing it with me and showing me around. There is nothing better than having a native show you around.

Lovely Larissa

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Early tomorrow morning marks the start of a new adventure in Kazakhstan. Now that we have done our initial research it is time to put a program together and begin getting some things done. I am traveling by myself this time and will be working with our team of colleagues in Almaty. So, it promises to be a very different type of trip.

I am packing today and finding it a new challenge. This is the first project I’ve done in a cold weather place and my usual strategies do not apply. I plan to do my Christmas shopping while I’m on the road so as I lay everything out to pack, I’m thinking “which do I want more, this warm sweater or space in my bag for gifts I pick up along the way?”

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Green City

Before coming to Almaty, I had a hard time visualizing what it might be like. Just as with very old maps with drawings of dragons in the unknown places, this region of Central Asia had dragons on my own mental map. Even with no expectations, I continue to be amazed with all the trees in the city. Literally every single street is lined with carefully maintained and beautiful trees. I am sure they do a lot to keep pollution down. But, more than that, there add a gentleness to the place that is really lovely. My colleague David is in the process of moving here and says he enjoys the trees too. But since he doesn’t know the city, he is having to learn new ways to orient himself because the trees block views of any landmarks. It really is like finding your way in a forest.

my view walking down a city sidewalk to lunch yesterday. This could be anywhere - every street has trees like this

my view walking down a city sidewalk to lunch yesterday. This could be anywhere - every street has trees like this

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Starting Over

It seems I have skipped over two entire projects since my last post. If it makes sense, I’ll find some spaces in between to talk about them. But, since this blog has primarily been a space to share travel stories and projects abroad, it is time to dust it off and start again as I prepare for a new program in Kazakhstan.  I leave bright and early Monday morning and promise to post pictures and reflections so that I can share about discovering and exploring this fascinating country.

travel kit

Here is a quiz for anyone who knows me well. What is the most critical item in this pile of travel stuff?

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Full moon in Leo over Addis

Full moon in Leo over Addis

The moon is close to the earth now anyway, but this close to the equator, it is spectacular. When it rose this evening, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such  a huge moon. Sadly, I did not get to my camera until nearly 10:00. But still. Clear African sky and silver bright full moon…. doesn’t get much better.

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In between working, I am very much enjoying the marvelous gardens around the Ghion hotel. The grounds used to part of the palace and a good 10 acres of gardens remain as part of the hotel. It is centering to walk the grounds at the end of a difficult day.

In addition to soothing the soul, the gardens provide diverse habitat for all kinds of birds. The most dramatic I’ve seen was an African Paradise Flycatcher with a bright blue beak and a white tail at least 18 inches long rippling behind him.

The gardens are also filled with mouse birds. They seem to eat fruit, so I was puzzled by the name until I saw a flock of them in the grass fly up to a tree when I approached. They looked all the world like flying mice.

Mouse Bird in a Date Palm

Mouse Bird in a Date Palm

I know I am here for work and have just been writing about the gardens and after work things. I need to do a post on the substance of this trip. Maybe next week!

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Blooming Brides

The nicest part of the Ghion Hotel is the beautiful garden. We are backed up against the palace and the grounds used to be part of it. A mature and impressive garden remains. I imagine there are 10 acres or more. Every weekend, the Ghion Garden is THE place for couples to have their wedding pictures taken. At least fifty wedding parties come every day of the weekend during the dry season, each with an entourage of attendants, grandparents, little kids in their best clothes running around and being chased by adults who want them to keep their clothes clean. They also bring musicians and everyone sings. It is a very raucous celebration and big fun to watch every weekend.

Ghion Brides

The Ghion Garden Blooming with Brides

The Ghion Garden Blooming with Brides

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