Sunday, August 8, 2010

Almaty Monuments

The first stop for any tourist in Almaty is Paniflov Park. It's right in the middle of town, near the downtown shopping and markets. There, we found one of the oldest buildings in the city, Zenkov Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral (the colorful building in the back).

Much of the park is filled with memorials for the two World Wars. We happened to stop by while a vet was proudly getting his picture taken.

Closer to our hotel, we found the newly dedicated Park of the 1st President of Kazakhstan. (Note that he is the 1st and thus far only president.) The first time we went there was at night and it was quite lively.

Troy wandered back there during the day to take more photos.

It's tough to capture the whole thing, but it's a 2-level fountain, with these recreations of rock art under the 2nd level.

Presumably the 2nd level will have water flowing where you see those large rocks on the "steps." They're pretty good about keeping public places clean by sweeping daily.

Next stop: Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, the school that hosted our summer seminar, although we did not meet at the school. If you click on that link, check out those mortar boards! Here is Al-Farabi, the scholar himself in front of some of the newest campus buildings:

Note the Soviet-era building right next door. Can you see a difference in architectural style?

No tour of Kazakhstan would be complete without a sighting of the Golden Man. He's not so golden here on the Independence Monument, but he's been dressed up with some weapons and a flying snow leopard... apparently he's supposed to look like a rocket.

The Independence square has several statues and is a required place to get wedding photos. Couples drive around town all day getting their photos at all the major attractions.

Finally, we have the National Museum of history, housed in one of the last public buildings erected during Soviet times.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


People always ask about the food in foreign places, and I have plenty to say and show about food in Kazakhstan.

Included in our hotel stay were three meals a day. This food was described as Soviet style. The breakfast buffet included everything from pickled beet salad to sausages to yogurt. Usually there was some type of porridge (heavy on the cream or butter), meat leftover from yesterday (possibly chicken wings), and occasionally we had some sunflower halva which the Americans fell in love with. Lunch, being the largest meal started with salad, continued with soup and ended with a meat and starch dish. Here's a photo with the salad and soup. Dinner looked similar but without the soup, and sometimes had a fruity-bready dessert.

This cafeteria-style food got old quickly, so we frequented the market at the end of the street. The outside looks like a typical fruit and veggie stand. Most of the produce seems to come from Uzbekistan. Step just inside the door, and you can fill a plastic 2-liter bottle with local beer or kvass fresh from the tap.

The downtown Green Market offered more variety. Dried fruits and nuts:

Horse sausages, a rib, and a load of fat:

Pork is actually not that popular due to the large Muslim population, but who could resist such a photo? And seriously, what does one do with a whole pig head? There weren't sheep or cow or horse heads hanging around. The most common meat is probably lamb/mutton followed closely by beef. Horse is more of a specialty and is usually served as a thin slices of sausage which are quite tender and tasty.

We had a couple of meals in yurts, featuring Kazakh food. The most memorable part of the meal is of course, kumys (fermented horse milk) and shubat (camel milk), pictured below with our Coke chaser hiding behind. The meat you see in the foreground is lamb - various parts. If it doesn't have bones in it, it is probably liver.

Here's a view of the low table inside a yurt with our salads and bread being served:

Meanwhile, the carrots for plov are boiling:

Another typical feast (not in a yurt) featured brilliantly arranged salads (and you can barely see the plate of sliced meat including liver, heart and sausage hiding behind the fried dough).

While we were in Kazakhstan, we were able to try the variety of dishes that people from other areas of the world have brought... most notably Korean dog soup. I personally did not eat this, but was told that it tasted like any other dark meat. The soup is served boiling hot with just broth and meat. Those little white bowls of stuff are things to add to one's own taste.

String cheese.
I'll end with dessert. Every cake is a work of art. They truly look too good to eat! Seriously, I wouldn't eat one because I'm sure it would be a disappointment.

I tried a lovely cupcake with my afternoon tea one day, only to discover that I needed a sledgehammer to get through the frosting and then the cake was really a dry cookie. But it had plenty of sugar, so I was happy.

They like to call kumys the national drink. But from what I've seen, tea must be the national drink. They drink it morning, noon and night... brewing it up quite hot and strong and then loading it up with milk and sugar.

Friday, August 6, 2010


So, you've been wondering where I've been the last few weeks? I've been in Kazakhstan. It'll take a few blog posts to talk about the place, so I'll start with this preview:

Our hotel in Almaty, the largest city in the country. We were here for 2 weeks.

We stayed in one of these cottages.

Attending an international seminar (I rarely sat at the table, so you can't see me in this photo.) Ten of us were from the University of New Mexico. Most of the students you see are from Kazakhstan. There were also students from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Russia.

The view from the seminar room, looking south. Those mountains are the Tien Shan. Beyond them lies Kyrgyzstan.

The view from the other seminar room, looking north. In the distance, through the haze, is the beginning of the steppe.

The entryway to our little resort compound. At first, we were told that we could not leave the premises without a local (for our own safety). However, the locals were perfectly happy to hang out at the resort enjoying the pool and free food. Eventually, we ventured further and further afield to explore the city.

Then we took a train to the new capital city of Astana and stayed there for a couple of days before starting the long trek home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pulling my hair out

This is the saga of a sweater that either wasn't meant to be knit or had to be knit, I'm not sure. In summary, I had the wrong yarn, wrong pattern, then it was eaten by a dog twice, pattern lost, and I had to learn several knitting techniques while pulling out my hair along the way to even make the thing work.

It started with a trip to the Taos Wool festival in 2008, where the mountains of wool inspired me to knit a sweater for my husband, despite having only learned to knit a year earlier. I bought 1600 yards of yarn, in two colors which he picked out... then started looking for patterns only to discover that the thin yarn I bought would not make a men's sweater.

So it became my sweater. I found a tank-top pattern that I liked and thought to just make it a bit longer, with less of a scooping neck and add 3/4 sleeves to make it more of a sweater than a tank top. Nevermind that I had never made a sweater and did not know how to make sleeves, and the pattern wouldn't tell me. I'd deal with that when I got there.

I started knitting the sweater in September 2009, and a couple of months later discovered that my re-designed neckline was not acceptable. I undid the top of the shirt, and re-knit it. Then spent a couple of weeks researching sleeves and how to get the right size/shape. At about this time, the puppy managed to bite five holes into the front of the sweater. The helpful people at Village Wools taught me how to fix up those holes.

The sweater went along with me while camping in the winter, although I also found plenty of time to ignore the sweater by working on other projects.

As I was finishing up the sleeves, the puppy once again got her teeth on my project eating the needles off of it. It is possible to make a complete circle in our house from the dining room to living room to hallway to office to kitchen back to the dining room. Puppy did this trailing sweater yarn with her... twice. What a goofball and a terror, she is missed. I fixed that mess but lost my motivation to finish those sleeves, until just a few weeks ago.

And voila, I have a very well-fit sweater, as though it were custom-made for me! And no more hair to pull out!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mittens for Akkol

I will soon be embarking on a trip to Kazakhstan to participate in a seminar with the University of New Mexico and the Kazakh National University. Upon researching what kind of knitting tradition I might find in Kazakhstan, I found Mittens for Akkol. Click on that link! It's a charity that sends warm mittens, hats, socks, scarves and sweaters to orphanages in Kazakhstan. So I'm making and donating a hat and pair of mittens to take with me.
Pinwheel hat with Lion Wool (lemongrass) and Kerry woolen mills (berry). It's sized for a child and is quite thick and warm.

Now I'm starting on mittens in Plain and Fancy wool. They may not be completed before I leave, but in that case they certainly should be done after 26 hours of traveling.
If this sort of charity interests you, you should also check out Wool-aid. And even if you do not knit or crochet, these types of charities could also use cash donations to help ship donations to their destinations.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

San Pedro Parks

Once again, we ventured into uncharted territory (for us) within New Mexico for a backpacking trip over the holiday weekend. This is the San Pedro Parks wilderness section of the Jemez Mountains, a high-elevation wilderness of dense forest and grassy parks. Along with a friend who is visiting before moving to Colorado, we spent 4 days hiking about 40 miles. Couldn't really say exactly how many miles because we frequently found ourselves without a trail, despite bringing along a good trail map.

Above, is the highest point we reached: San Pedro Peak itself at 10,500 feet. As you can see, it was quite an accomplishment scrambling up those rocks to a height almost the same as Sandia Peak. Actually, the Geronimo Lake trailhead where we started is at about 9200 feet, so this whole area stays pretty high in elevation. We'll have to go back with cross-country skis in the winter!

Often, the trail was easy to follow, but other times it would disappear under thick grass crossing a park, or underneath fallen logs in the forest. Most of the time, we were able to pick the trail back up again, except on day 3 when we deliberately left the trail shortly before lunch. We didn't find a trail again until later in the afternoon, and then we had no idea what trail it was because it was not labeled. We didn't figure out where we were until the last day when we finally came across a trail intersection with a sign. Fortunately, we were about 8 miles from the trailhead and it was an easy walk out on Monday.

Apparently, carving names into trees is a tradition going back 70 years in this area, and it's hard to find an aspen with any blank space left. The handwriting on the trees helped us find the trail when it wasn't visible in the ground, but then it also led us down trails that certainly were not on our map.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Spirit Lake

After a full week of no exercise, and lots of sleep, I was feeling pretty good. Seriously, the most exercise I got was a 2-mile walk along the river, followed by a 2.5-hour nap; which convinced me that I really was sick and needed to rest. So now that I'm feeling ready to get out, what better way to spend the weekend than by throwing a 30lb pack on my back and hiking up a mountain? It may not be your idea of fun, but it sounds like a great weekend to me.

Vixen had been just as lethargic as me for a few weeks, so she needed some cheering up. And this is also her idea of a great weekend.

We started at the trailhead by the Santa Fe ski area (lower left on map), and hiked about 6 miles into Spirit Lake along trail 254. Spent the night there and came back the same way. As you can see on the map, there's a whole network of trails out there, so it would be nice to go back and try some of the other trails. We've hiked from this trailhead before on snowshoes in winter, but it turns out that it's also quite nice in the summer.

Two pieces of advice if you decide to do a similar hike: Don't forget the bug spray and remember that nights in the mountains are cold!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Marathon vs Century

Note that I have done exactly one marathon (26.2 mile run) and one century ride (100 miles bicycling). Since I did the Santa Fe Century, I have been asked many times whether the marathon or the century was easier. So here is my amateur answer to this very easy question: The century ride. Why? It boils down to this: I enjoyed the century ride about 90% of the time. There were some difficult times, but most of it was pure fun. For the marathon, I enjoyed it maybe 60% of the time, and then the last 40% of the run was pure pain and suffering.

But there are some pros and cons:

Time (Marathon is easier)
Century: 9 hours, Marathon: 5 hours. Now imagine doing some fraction of that EVERY Saturday for a few months. So the century does not just take longer on the day of the event, every single training ride takes longer.

Expense/Equipment (Marathon wins here too)
Basically, for a marathon you need good shoes maybe even two pairs and a watch. The rest of the clothing and special food is similar in running and cycling. For cycling, you need a bicycle, preferably a nice one along with all the accessories like gloves, helmet, cyclocomputer, repair kit, shoes, etc... Note that if you travel a lot during the training season, it is more difficult to bring all this cycling gear with you than running gear.

Pain (no clear winner)
This probably depends on the individual. Running hurts joints and can injure specific muscles. I now have plantar fasciitis which prevents me from running but I don't blame the marathon because the pain started 3 years later. Also, I found chafing to be a bigger problem running than cycling. Cycling could be quite painful on the hands and butt. I also fell over a couple of times on the bike, but with no injuries. I've never fallen while running. So there is more potential for pain from crashing a bike.

Recovery (Century wins)
After a long training run, I'd be done for the day and would hardly be able to eat. After the marathon I took an ice bath to speed recovery and the next day I could walk slowly but stairs were somewhat challenging. After cycling, I'd simply go back to life as usual except that I couldn't go running the next day. Cycling never bothered my stomach the way running did.

Fun (Century!!)
Flying downhill at 30+ mph, yippeee! No such freebies in running - it's all work uphill and down. This also makes cycling less monotonous than running. Running literally is "one foot in front of the other", hour after hour. Whereas cycling feels quite different whether you're heading up, down, or around squiggly roads. There's also the pace line to keep you entertained during flat, straight sections. On the flip side, I find it easier to talk to my buddies while running than while cycling.

There are plenty of other issues that divide marathoning and century riding, such as the fact that weather can be more of a problem to cyclists than runners. But then cycling can be a more useful form of transportation than running/walking (you get better distances) so it may be easier to incorporate cycling into your regular day.

Personally, I will likely never do another marathon but I'm already thinking about which century ride to do next.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Heartbreak. My puppy-girl left me much too soon. Exuberantly chasing birds, too impatient to wait for anyone to grab her leash. But birds are more adept at crossing roads than are puppies. In an instant she was gone. I am missing her puppy kisses, hugs, smiles and even the headaches she gave me.
Just 7 months ago, we said hello to Eureka (post) and we were looking forward to celebrating her 1st birthday in June. This is far too soon to say goodbye. Admittedly, this isn't the first time that she did something stupid and dangerous in her life, but she just wasn't as lucky this time.