John:

We made it! We're in Almaty again! The trip was an experience not to be forgotten. We have a shot of the Yak-40 we rode, but only from the outside. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary 727 or DC-9. What we really needed was a shot from the inside! Suffice it to say, a claustrophobic should not get into this plane. We loaded by walking up stairs that came down from the belly of the plane. It had a capacity of 34 - 8 rows of 4 across and the last row sat 2, the other side of the last row carried all of passenger's luggage. Fortunately, we could hire a porter to carry out 3 of our biggest bags for 600 tenge, about $5. Best spent money ever!  The ceiling was too low for me to stand straight up, and after we sat, we looked at each other. 'This just feels very surreal. It feels like we're in an old movie like Casablanca.' We would have taken more pictures, but the kids started fussing, plus a stern security man approached us in the airport while we took pictures in there and said, 'Nyet! Nyet photgraphia!' Fearing jail time, we put the camera away, but snuck a quick shot of the airplane as we walked over. Still, it was better than the tiny propeller plane we were both expecting.

The kids did GREAT! Daniel cried while we waited for take off, so we fed them. As soon as we took off, Daniel fell right asleep! Sweet! Would he stay asleep the whole trip? No such luck. He woke up, stayed awake, fussed every half hour or so, but settled down whenever I made a funny face, and that came very easily to me! Anne held Maya, and she fussed a bit, but mostly would decide every now and then to scream at the top of her lungs for no apparent reason. The women in front of us would look back, turn back around and make a face. When we arrived, we needed to get all of our bags out from the back of the plane, but just as I started to do this, some porter appeared and grabbed them for us. Then everyone gathered around us and helped us down the steps since they were very steep steps straight down the from the belly of the plane again! Some passenger in a business suit took pity on us and grabbed our two biggest bags, brought it to the bus for us, then unloaded them from the bus when we got to the terminal! He even tried to hold me up on the bus when he thought I couldn't reach the pole to steady myself! What a nice guy!

Three very interesting aspects of the flight itself: halfway through the flight, the pilot appeared from the cockpit wielding a screwdriver and a pair of pliers and walked to the back of the plane to fix something. Scary, but it just seemed like he was tightening a seat or something. On our final descent as we flew back down into the clouds, the metal screws on the inside of the emergency door next to where we sat were all frosted up. Then we noticed the door handle was dripping water, probably from condensation from the cold and clouds outside!

When we settled into our apartment, it was about 830pm, and we hadn't eaten. I hoped Anne would venture out for food since she's more confident in her Russian, but I agreed that due to the little back alley it would be better if a male went out alone. I wandered for a while and saw many beautiful and chic cafe's. But no easy take out! So I went into what looked like the easiest place to order out from, the Guinness Pub across the street! Yes, it's true, the Guinness Pub, I was so excited! There was a sign for a sushi bar right above it, so I asked the security man outside: 'Guinness?' while pointing to the basement door. 'Da, asj anskodp ankdo Guinness jskn sushi sadko' while nodding and pointing to said door. I walked through that door, turned left, and saw a bunch of waitresses dressed in Japanese kimonos. I turned back the other way, and saw signs that said 'sushi bar'. I wondered if the Guinness pub was upstairs? No, he clearly pointed me down here. I went back the original way and took a closer look: in between the kimono-clad women were signs that said 'Guinness' and all the usual 'Guinness is good for you' and other Irish pub decor. Wow! A combo Irish pub and sushi bar! After fumbling around in English and Russian, I ordered some kabobs, then pointed to the word 'Guinness' and said 'dva' (two). 'Oh, you want two root beers?' 'No, I'd like two Guinness, please.' 'Oh, we don't have any Guinness.' 'What? No Guinness at the Guinness pub?' 'Sorry', he said, smiling. He ran through a list of beers, I didn't understand a word, and I ended up with a bottle of draught beer in a carry out bottle that looked dark, tasted like a stout, and was called something like 'Lefreunt'. It was very good!

There's lots more about our last day in Kokshetau and our new apartment in Almaty, but I need to leave something for Anne, plus I think she'll do it more justice.

Anne:

Yippee!!!  We made it to Almaty with a minimum of drama!  The flight was interesting, as John said, but the kids did really well.  We spent the morning finishing our packing and cleaning-- our little brown flat was sparkly clean!  The only thing that we forgot (we think) were the meat pies in the refrigerator that were supposed to be our dinner tonight.  I remembered them halfway through the flight to Almaty.  So that's why John had to roam the streets in search of some kind of take-out while I attempted to deal with two extremely overtired and over stimulated babies!  I managed to feed them simultaneously-- one sitting in the walker, one lying on a pillow in my arms.  I tried to put them to bed soon afterwards, but they were FREAKED OUT!  Luckily, after lots of rocking, singing and shushing, they seem to be sleeping peacefully in their little cribs.

So I just have to say, our apartment here is the lap of luxury!!  We were sort of expecting to go back to the same apartment where we stayed on our arrival, since we drove through the neighborhood.  When we pulled up and unloaded and unlocked a door in a back alley, I was pretty much expecting a similar place.  But this place is nice!!!  Very open, great view of the city, hip neighborhood, light colors (no brown, Sue!), and just a totally different feel from our beloved but dark little place in Kokshetau.  I love the bedroom-- the bed faces a huge picture window that looks out on the city.  There is a washing machine!!  Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be able to use it because we still won't have enough days here for anything to dry.  I think this is one of the "going home apartments."  We see evidence that our friend Dana has been here on her way home-- we see the cat stroller, Dana!

It sounds like we will have a pretty packed schedule since we are only here for two days.  They are coming to pick us up tomorrow at 9:45 am to go and do paperwork, get the official "welcome to the U.S." physical for the kids, do photos for the embassy... lots of stuff.  Hopefully we'll have some time to relax and walk around in the afternoon.  It looks like we are close to a large park and not too far from the cathedral.  We'd like to take in Almaty just a little bit before we go!

For as much as we are happy to be in Almaty, we are really going to miss Oleg and Inna.  It was hard to say goodbye to them.  Alone in a country where we didn't know the language or the customs, they became not only interpreter and driver but also "lifeboats" and most certainly, friends. We look forward to continuing our friendship across the miles.

OK, it's now almost midnight and I think we are too tired to even watch "Sex and the City!"  We are full of chicken kebabs, the non-Guinness beer and Inna's parting gift to us-- chocolate-covered cognac cherries!  We'll catch you tomorrow!

 

Daniel and Maya help me vacuum before we leave.

Vacuuming mosquito corpses off the ceiling before we leave.

Last picture of us in Kokshetau!

Our stern and unemotional driver, Oleg, gets all mushy whenever he sees the kids!

 

Goodbye Inna and Oleg! We'll miss you!

Truly, they were great! We had tears in our eyes when we hugged them goodbye at the airport!

Kokshetau airport. Four flights per week from Kokshetau to Almaty. Four cars parked in the parking lot.

The walk to our Yak-40 airplane. Oleg tells us it's a refurbished military plane!

Whoa! Check out our new digs! We're in the lap of luxury!

The kids like it, too! New toys which contain them well!