Friday, November 30, 2007

Kazakhstan Travel Plans


Kazakhstan lies in the north of the central Asian republics and is bounded by Russia in the north, China in the east, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the south, and the Caspian Sea and part of Turkmenistan in the west. It has almost 1,177 mi (1,894 km) of coastline on the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan is about four times the size of Texas. The territory is mostly steppe land with hilly plains and plateaus.

In January, Michael and I are traveling to Almaty, Kazakhstan to visit The Almaty International School http://www.qsi.org/kaz/ and speak at a teacher's conference. Already I am impressed by the school and its philosophy which leads with an emphasis on kindness. Kindness is not a word that gets airtime in US school goals. How do you develop a standardized test for kindness? If you go to the website, be sure and check out the online student newspaper which is very informative and the little video.

Airline tickets all booked and new down coat purchased, we are ready to go to the cold cold steppes -- in January (did I mention?) The trip will be long -- what the travel agent calls an "over over." Overnight to Amsterdam, get on another plane, and overnight to Almaty. The flip side of the world.

So, naturally we are looking for some background reading material to help activate and assess our prior knowledge (which amounts to zip) of this area to help increase our comprehension. Unfortunately, Lonely Planet does not have a guide. Neither does Fodor's or Frommer's. Mmmmm.

So when we went for our visa pictures at AAA and (just thought I'd ask) I asked the travel agent there if she had any brochures or travel information for Kazakhstan, she replied, "What country is that in?" Mmmmmm.

We politely informed her that Kazakhstan IS a country -- in fact the 8th largest country in the world. Casting a suspicious eye on both of us, she informed us she only had information about Europe, which looks to be only a launch pad for this trip.

Filling out the VISA application, I notice that the word for NO (as is "have you ever visited Kazakhstan before?") is OK. OK means NO? That'll make your number two pencil turn backflips. Mmmmmm.

Our contacts at the school have been warm and inviting -- in direct contrast to online descriptions we have read about the geography in January. Lonely Planet online has this caution: If you do decide to battle the winter, be aware that many domestic flights are grounded and finding food can be a problem since lots of eateries close for the season. Mmmmmmm.

But then there are the rich descriptions of the food, the hospitality, the friendliness -- all in direct contrast to the weather. Just now, I was back on the site looking at the buildings and the faces of the students, getting excited.

So, here's my today thought to ponder: Is January considered winter in a land when OK means NO?

8 comments:

Eva said...

What a trip! Lucky you! - Even if Kazakhstan is at the latitude of France, only 40-45 degrees north, the inland climate would make for really cold winters. I would guess that the harsh climate would make it a necessity to be helpful and friendly, at least in the countryside, where population centers would be far apart - a plain survival trick. - At least you won't have the darkness of our 60 degree latitude (remember?). - Here in Uppsala we now have sunset at 2.50 pm and sunrise at 8.25 am losing almost another hour of daylight before Christmas...

sara holbrook said...

I DO remember visiting in Uppsala, Sweden in December. And I remember the Christmas market and hot spiced wine in Stockholm. But I don't remember being cold hardly at all. So, see, it is all about the comradarie. Michael and I also visited Alaska in February once and I am right now looking into a trip to Tucson next June -- one of these days I'll have to get that turned around! Meantime, I'm very excited about Kazakhstan. Miss you! Have a great holiday season, Eva.

evaort said...

It was actually late November '97, and you're right: it wasn´t very cold - but I do remember helping one of your friends to buy some warm underwear in a store in Rinkeby, where you did your poetry thing. She obviously was cold... but you can´t go dressed for summer temperatures here in winter, no matter what kind of comraderie.

So when are you heading here again? Slam poetry is on the rise, and since a few years back they even have occasional competitions and such here in Uppsala.

kathy said...

I'm eagerly anticipating posts about Kazakhstan after your trip... I know nothing about it.

sara holbrook said...

Eva!

No plans for Sweden any time soon. Maybe I should do some outreach to schools there. That was such a magical trip. This year it's Kazakhstan, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul. My head is spinning with itineraries and visas and what all. It's cold here, too now. Wish I had some of that spiced wine -- mmmmmm.

eva said...

Here is a recipe how to make your own 'gl�gg' or spiced wine:

You take 1 cup of water, and in it you boil 1 small piece of dried bitter orange peel, 1 piece of ginger broken into small pieces, 2 whole pieces of cinnamon (app 1 inch long each), 8 cloves, 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds. This makes the spicy taste of the 'gl�gg'.

Then sieve the solution free from seeds etc. Add it to one bottle of red wine and 1 dl (0.4 cup) of sugar. Heat it to the point of boiling (not too much, max 76C (168F) - or the alcohol will go away!) and put as much almonds and raisins into it that you care to have - or serve them dry at the side. If you want it stronger, add vodka to taste.

And have a wonderful time in Kazakhstan! Did you see that 'Borat' movie? I didn't, but it was much talked about.

Anonymous said...

I want to know about all of kazakstan. I love kazakstan ......

Anonymous said...

nice...

Travels in munnar, Travels in kodaikanal