August 2006 - Summer Vacations

Hello All,
Well, after 10 amazing days with each of our families in Rome and Paris respectively, we are back in Almaty for some last training and then we'll be on our way back to Bayanaul. While in Almaty we hope to get all our pictures loaded, but we will let you know when that happens. We have so many! Thanks so much to our families for a great time abroad. I'll turn you over to Jack now for an amusing look back on the last month.

From Jack: After our long vacation, we are back!

Way a long time ago (June) we had our first visitors to Kazakhstan, our friends Andy and Jon, all the way from the land of her Britannic majesty. we showed them around Bayanaul and introduced them to all the Kazakh goodies, including kumyz, banya, and 30+ hour train journeys. They liked it a lot. Really; they said so.

Then we tagged along on their journey to Kyrgyzstan, and after finding the Kyrgyz embassy (which has recently moved and doesn't work on Fridays, American holidays, Kazakh holidays, or Kyrgyz holidays) and getting our visa we were off. We took a 40 mile hike over two days to the beautiful Song Kol Alpine Lake. Despite the fact that it rained all day the second day, it was really cool—the scenery was incredible. There we, in the words of a local Frenchman, "made some gallop" along the lakeshore on the local horses.

Language note: the horses only spoke Kyrgyz.

(Note from Amy, apparently that whole American trail riding thing where you only follow the horse in front of you doesn't exist anywhere else. Our guide asked in Russian, "Do you want to go faster?" I said, "yes" and he said, "go." That was it. The horse took off and me on it. It was amazing to actually gallop across the steppe.) We also got to ride a camel, which was interesting, although the camel only seems to have one speed. (It was a 2-humped camel for those that care).

Other notable events: we saw a yak, we got stuck in a hailstorm, and we stayed in a yurt.

Price comparison: a 100 mile taxi ride for four in Kyrgyzstan is a little less than $5 per person.

Altitude comparison: the highest pass we walked over was over 9500 feet.

Then we were back to Almaty for our flight to Rome (via amsterdam) to spend time with my (Jack's) family. We arrived at the airport for our 7:15 am flight at 4:30. But, due to administrative efficiency, we made our flight by a slim 4 minutes. (Note from Amy, apparently if you don't push through the customs line you will never get through in the Almay airport. After being very silly and standing in "line" for 2 hours without moving we just had to surge forward or we were going to miss our flight. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it through.)

Rome was hot but really awesome. We spent our first day watching the toilet flush, and by day 2 we were on to the running water and clean towels that seemed to appear from nowhere each day. After the towels the coliseum was probably my favorite, although I really liked the Vatican museums and varied churches. We ate at two different restaurants every day and enjoyed all the Italian pasta we couldn't pronounce. We didn't need to pronounce it-- they were all good.

Paris was hotter—where we spend time with Amy's family— was over 100 degrees. By Paris we were over the running water but found the machine that coffee came out of pretty cool. At the touch of a button if you can believe that. The food in Paris was great too although a lot more expensive, and my favorite there was probably the palace of Versailles. We got stuck in a severe lightning storm under the Eiffel tower. Open question: is the Eiffel tower safe to stand under in an electrical storm? Fortunately we never found out. (Note from Amy, we did find out though that Mexican food in France isn't quite Mexico, but if your waiter is Mexican and the margaritas are cold, there are no problems. Mmm Parisian Fajitas.)

after our vacations came the fun part, where we were set to fly from Paris to Rome, Rome to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Almaty in the same day. But, our aircraft in Amsterdam was deemed "unsafe to fly" so we got a free night in Amsterdam. We went on a walk in the old city, and boarded the train to go back to the hotel. To our surprise our train was delayed due to "a person on the tracks." apparently some nut was running around in the train tunnels at the airport. So we had to wait until the police caught up to him, and got to bed at 2 am. The rest of our flight was uneventful, except that KLM lost our bags. Apparently overnight wasn't enough time to load them.

But, the happy ending is that after 3 days of our bags arriving "sometime tomorrow", our bags did actually arrive today. So now we're back, set to return to our village in the next few days. Looking forward to that 26 hour train ride. We'll let you know how it goes...

PS:
Good news everyone! I have finally discovered a store that sells horse sausage flavored potato chips! I'm accepting orders now. Come on, you know you want some. What greater party treat?