Yes, it’s been four months since the last post, and this blog is at risk of getting abandoned if I don’t put something up soon. So here we go; some highlights of our summer travels–no pictures of Georgia today, actually. First of all, we headed back to Canada for a month to visit home. On the way from Tbilisi to Winnipeg via Toronto, we had an 8-hour layover in Italy, so we got to go into Rome and hurriedly rush past a few of the major sights, like the Colosseum up there.
Except whoops, at Rome’s airport they told us last minute that somehow the middle leg of our trip had been unceremoniously cancelled. This left us with 2/3rds of a ticket, from Tbilisi to Rome, and from Toronto to Winnipeg, but with no connecting flight in between. While we weren’t very satisfied with this news, fortunately a kindly Alitalia agent eventually rebooked us for the following day (after the airplane we should have been on was already gone). We had to pay for our accommodation (since nobody would take responsibility for the error), but it just meant that we traded one night in Winnipeg for a night in seaside Italy. And got to taste the local pizza, of course. But yeah, don’t ever book with FlightHub.
After our unexpected 32 hour stopover in Italy, we made it to Winnipeg. Since about 60% of this blog’s readers live there, you’re probably not terribly interested in looking at pictures of the place. But if somebody feels otherwise, I can certainly add some images of home.
Next stop after a month in Canada: Kazakhstan. First destination was Almaty, the largest city and the former capital (yes, there’s a story behind that “former”).
Unlike Georgia, Kazakhstan’s relationship with both Russia and its own Soviet history is much less troubled. So it’s not uncommon to find enormous Soviet-style monuments all over the place, with Russian inscriptions firmly intact, like the above memorial to the Great Patriotic War (a.k.a. WWII).
Of course, there are copious monuments to nationalist heroes as well, like Shabyt, the national bard.
After living in Georgia, huge bazaar-type open markets were nothing new, but horsemeat sellers certainly were.
Speaking of novel cuisine, this kymyz certainly qualifies. It’s fermented mare’s milk, and it tastes about as…interesting as you’d expect.
Although Kazakhstan is a firmly “Asian” (or Eurasian) country, its Russian population is still sizable, probably about 20% (and Russians were actually the majority until after the fall of the USSR). Russian is still spoken almost universally in Almaty, although the majority language is Kazakh, part of the Turkic family.
Luckily for us, the National Museum of Musical Instruments was quite interesting and well-designed. Rosa didn’t quite make it through the whole visit, though.
We took a trip to Charyn Canyon, a few hours’ drive from Almaty, for a look at some impressive scenery. It’s only about 100 miles from the border with China.
After Almaty, we took an overnight train up to Astana, Kazakhstan’s new capital. Apparently the president, Nazarbayev, decided about 20 years ago (yeah, he was president then and still is today…) that Almaty was in too much danger of a potential earthquake and decided to move the capital 1300 kilometers north. Astana is totally bizarre, full of enormous highrises, crazy architecture, and shiny new but often shoddily constructed buildings; it’s basically treeless since most of it wasn’t even there a decade ago, and still feels very “unfinished.” It’s an interesting place to visit for a few days, but probably wouldn’t captivate most tourists for long.
Fortunately, I had an ethnomusicology conference to keep me busy for a week, held in the blue “Palace of Creativity” here. We met a lot of great folks, both local organizers/volunteers, and ethnomusicologists hailing from all parts of the world.
As always, we ran into some friendly young locals who were excited to practice their English and wanted us to take a selfie with them.
We did make it out of the city once for an excursion to a national park a few hours away, closer to Kazakhstan’s northern border (with Russia).
Kazakhstan’s population is majority Muslim, and Astana accordingly has a few brand-new, shiny and enormous mosques around, befitting of the city’s general approach to everything. One day I took a quick walk over to this white one, the largest mosque in the country, and was entranced by the beautiful ornamentation and peaceful atmosphere inside.
Our flight back to Georgia included another lengthy layover, this time in Kiev.
We took a tour of the city’s old and new sights, capped off by a visit to the mansion of mysteriously super-rich oligarch and former president Yanukovych. After he fled the country in early 2014, his estate was seized by local activists, who have preserved it as a “Museum of Corruption.” Imagine what a 12-year-old with bad taste tasked with designing a stereotypical rich person’s mansion might include, and it’s probably there. Taxidermied lions? Solid glass tables covered with gold leaf? Ornately carved geometrical hardwood floors that are completely hidden from sight by thick Persian rugs? A secret underground passageway leading from the house to a spa? An Orthodox chapel, complete with altar, filled with gold- and jewel-covered icons? All this and more, at the piddling cost of your eternal soul…
Next time, I’ll post some pictures from our summer in Georgia!