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.