Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Hunting for Lenin and Lattes

What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I thought to myself while going stir crazy in my hotel room (they are still working out paperwork to arrange our flats). 

So, I texted Flowergirl and asked if she fancied going out and about,  thankfully she did. 

I have priorities in life, one happens to be finding a good spot to have a caffeine fix, and in particular a good latte. There is something soothing to me about a good cup of coffee, I cannot survive on only Nescafe for an entire year. Unfortunately Starbucks has not ventured in the Kazakhstan as of yet, (Someone please send me a Pumpkin Spice Latte), so I knew it would be time to try some new places and find something equally good, or better (one can always hope). After an extensive Google search a few options cropped up and after assessing them scientifically (okay, I totally judged them by their names...) one caught my eye: Booblik - a french bakery. While the latte was standard, nothing special or fancy just a good ol' latte, the atmosphere and the staff made the experience very enjoyable. I can see it quickly becoming a favorite spot to hang out or do some work after school at. It also happens to have fantastic deserts...

After recharging with a surge of caffeine Flowergirl and I set out to hunt down the mysteriously hidden massive Lenin Statue. We knew the general direction and had a somewhat decent description of where the statue was, it looked to be about a 45 minute walk from the cafe. We set off down Aztyrek Avenue, moseying down to discover whatever it had in store for us, this street happens to have a lot going on. Tons of restaurants and little shops, quite the place to hang around. One of the first things that I noticed was the amount of people out, walking around (that's right! people walk here!) and enjoying their friends and families company.

After walking for what seemed like hours, we saw what appeared to be a large pair of feet on top of a stone block.
"That must be Lenin!" I exclaimed.
"Hurrah" replied Flowergirl.

You would think that there would be some sort of special space designated for a statue of his size, not so much. Lenin is situated in a small courtyard on a street with private residences, walking up to the statue, placed just in front of the walls of residences there are busts of Lenin lining the side walk. It was truly a Statue Graveyard, that looks as though no one looks after. Amazing.

The Lenin statue is absolutely massive and so well done. Truly beautiful sculpting. It was well worth the walk and the adventure.

Here are the coordinates to the statue if you are feeling adventurous!


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Atyrau: My New Home!

Atyrau is a small city located NEAR (not on as I originally thought) to the Caspian Sea and has the Ural River running through it! So yes! You can visit both Europe and Asia in a matter of seconds, which is pretty cool. Atyrau is hot hot hot in the summer – not as hot as Kuwait but still 40 + - and coldish in the winter.

The first day after my arrival I was pretty disappointed. I expected there to be more greenery, and not look so brown. Moving away from Kuwait I was looking forward to living around more greenery.  I quickly realized that I have traded one desert landscape for another, with the added disadvantage of having a cold winter. Great...

After venturing out and exploring my little town a little more, I am starting to see that it has more to offer than I initially thought. The returning staff at my school have been absolutely wonderful in showing us around.

Two things I have learned since my arrival one week ago…

1. The whole city seems to revolove around the river. Flowergirl and I were out for a walk yesterday, and I noticed that tons of people hang out along the river, walking, bicycle riding, or fishing! It was wonderful to see.

2.  There are hidden treasures all around the city, but in most cases there is not a lot of information to be found on them, so they require an adventurous spirit.

Thankfully, I have found an adventuring partner who has been keen to explore the city with me and been very helpful in changing my mind about this new home.

See my next post about some of my adventures with my new friend, Flowergirl. 

The River at Sunset! Walking from Asia to Europe

Large Intersection leading towards the river. Beatiful flowers!

The Main Square - Celebrations for Constitutional Day
The Mosque

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Astana: Shiny and New!

This is a few days late, but here are some first impressions of Astana, Kazakhstan

Well I made it! As did all of my bags, which is more than I can say about some of the others that have arrived in the country.

All the new staff have come together in the Capital of Astana to partake in an induction session to the school program. So, before we take off for our respective home cities, we have a few days to wander about.

Things that I have noticed about the Capital.

1. Astana is shiny and new. The capital was moved to Astana from Almaty in 1997. As such, there are many new buildings that have gone up because there was a lack of government, social and economic buildings in the city.

2. Astana has an eclectic vibe in their architecture. The architects were given free licence to design what they wanted with no sense of congruence. In Astana you will find, the most beautiful mosque I have ever seen, a Parthenon that serves as the national Opera, a leaning Tipi-type thing, a building modeled after the Atlantis hotel, and an Arc de Triumph. There are some amazing buildings, and it gives Astana a unique feel. I think that it is quite spectacular.

3. The center of town is very small. Everything in the center is very close together, and easy to find which makes it feel very low key. I found this quite enjoyable.

The capital lacks the overt hustle and bustle of other capitals of the world, but maintains a great sense of propriety and pride in their new city. I have really enjoyed my time here, but it was only a few days. Alas, we are off to our home-cities tonight - fist impressions to come soon!

Here are some photos of the buildings mentioned:

Monday, 21 July 2014

Oh, The Places You'll Go

Life is funny, it takes you where you least expect it will.

You all know that I have lived and worked in Kuwait for two years. You've seen my adventures, and come along on my journey. Next year I will be teaching in Kazakhstan, I hope that you will continue to follow my adventures and share in my mishaps with me. This will serve as my "official public announcement" of my plans. I don't really think that I am nearly important enough to need one, but I cant abandon you to wonder what I am doing with my life for the next year.

When I first entered University, I had no direction or plan. I simply enrolled in the Arts program because I liked Social Studies and English better than Math and Science in school. After a few persuasive adults told me that I would make a wonderful teacher I decided to give the Education program a whirl, the  rest is history. I learned to love what I do, though it wasn't immediate. Working in a non-native speaking country has made all the difference for me. Those who know me personally know that I love to challenge myself, and it was in the challenge of teaching 'mainstream' English to non-native speakers that I have learned to appreciate the hard work teachers do; they made me work for it, and this made me love it. I did not see myself as an English Teacher until the end of this year, after all I was trained as a social studies teacher, not an English teacher. However, after teaching both middle and high school English and Creative Writing over the last two years, though I still have much to learn, I do believe that I have earned this title.

In my first year of university, a dear friend and I enrolled in all of the same classes. Being in the arts program we had to decided on a second language, arbitrarily we chose Russian. Both of us agreed that the added challenge of learning a new alphabet would make it all the more interesting. Upon the discovery that the professor wanted us to know the alphabet prior to entering the class, even though it stated that it was for raw beginners with no previous experience, we decided that it wasn't for us and would switch to something more compatible with our brains. We chose Middle-Eastern and North African Studies, this class sounded wonderful but was a higher-level class than we could cope with in our first semester of university so again we decided against perusing it and allowed ourselves to take a 4 class semester, instead of 5 classes.

It isn't particularly strange for a first-year student to test out some classes and decide against them at a later date, but for me it is the topics that make me look back and giggle.

Taking the Middle Eastern and North African Studies class would certainly have been beneficial to my years in Kuwait, and learning Russian would certainly benefit me in a country that speaks little English over all and has a large Russian presence.

My point here is not particularly poignant, rather it is simple. If you are enrolled in a class that you think has no bearing on your life, but are interested; take it. Educate yourself how you want to be educated. Life takes us in many different directions, you've no idea what will be valuable to your future self.

Live, Learn and Enjoy.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Grand Mosque - Kuwait

The Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque, Kuwait City

Come back at 5:30…” the security guard said as he turned us away at the front entrance. Civil had already  been told by another security guard that morning to come back at 5 pm.

Here we go…prepare for the run around…. I thought cynically as we wandered down the road to grab a coffee while we waited. Figures…Kuwait.

There isn’t much surrounding the Grand Mosque except office buildings and a few small shops, but it is located closely enough to the souk to wander over.

Happily, and somewhat shockingly, when we arrived back at the Mosque at 5:20 pm, and were promptly whisked into the changing area to don Abayas to enter the mosque.  We were rushed through to meet the group, just before entering the Grand Mosque’s Prayer Hall. Of course they started early…

All of my annoyance washed away the moment we stepped into the Prayer Hall. Whatever hoops were needed to jump through were worth it.

There are so many aspects to the room that are absolutely breath-taking; from the golden ceiling to the plush royal blue carpet decorated for prayer.

The Carpet

In theory, there should be one outlined space for each person praying, but during Ramadan when the main prayer hall in the mosque is open for people to pray, there isn't enough space for each person to have their own. The guide informed us that about 5,000 people will pray inside the mosque, with another 155,000 inside the courtyard and the surrounding streets during Ramadan. 

The ceiling was one of the most beautiful aspects of the room. From inscriptions to gilded iron and painted tiles, it is a stunner. The pillars holding up the ceiling are absolutely beautiful as well.
Pillar & Ceiling
The Dome

A question that was burning on my mind, was: "How do you change the light bulbs?" The tour guide promptly answered my question with a small laugh and showed me the mechanical ladder to hoist the people up to do maintenance, including cleaning the ceiling as well as changing the light bulbs.

The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and had many little secrets to show us about the room, in addition to educating us about prayer practices and the Islamic faith. The tour is wonderful and very enlightening.

Truly, this is something worth doing in Kuwait!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Morocco: What We Ate

When the American and I travel together, it is all about food. Okay, maybe not really, but it is one of the things that we enjoy most. If you are travelling to a brand new place it is absolutely essential that you try the local cuisine. It is one of the best ways to experience the culture! And it is most often absolutely delicious.

1. The Best Thing I Ever Ate...

Walking along a market street in Fez's Medina
Me: (Puts nose into the air and sniffs numerous times)
The American: (Follows Suit)
Me: What is that smell?
The American: Whatever it is I want it.

Both of us hopelessly look around searching for the origin of the intoxicating odor. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man standing at a bakery dangling something from his hand...

Baker: You want to try?

The American and I (In unison): YES!

The baker graciously allowed The American and I to try one of his sweets. Instant gratification. The most intoxicating thing I Have ever eaten. It was a deep fried pastry smothered in honey and cinnamon. Maybe there was a secret ingredient, because it was absolutely divine!  The American and I proceeded to eat about 25 of them. Worth every calorie.

2. Tagine
The whole point of a Tagine is that it is cooked in a clay pot  over coals for numerous hours until the whole dish is piping hot, the meat is tender and juicy and the flavoring has permeated everything. I highly suggest that if you have a reputable Moroccan restaurant near you, to go and try it NOW. Or you could always hop on the next flight to Casablanca and try it authentically.

The American and I tried all sorts of Tagine, Lamb Tagine, Beef Tagine, Citrus Chicken Tagine - none disappointed....Well except the one from the dodgy restaurant under the waterfall...all I will say is the American and I were glued to the toilet for more than a minute after we arrived back at the Riad. Gross.

3. Roasted Chicken - Street Style

Street food is the best way to eat in Morocco, it is cheap, it is delicious and it is easy to find.

I know, I know - this doesn't seem very adventurous, but seriously, whatever the Moroccans do to their chicken I thoroughly enjoy.

We had chicken with similar spicing cooked two ways. The first was over open coals - I swear, everything cooked in this way is so much better, and the second was rotisserie style. Both were mouth wateringly juicy and packed full of flavor. The American and I were silent during both meals as we enjoyed our food too much to talk.

4. Some-sort of red sausage sandwich.

YUM. This was fabulous. In their homemade bread the sandwich artist served up a delicious sausage sandwich with caramelized onions and mushrooms. The American and I stood in the middle of the street and literally inhaled these. They were to die for.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Morocco: The Atlas Mountains

Morocco might make my top five list of favorite countries to visit for the simple fact that it is absolutely beautiful in it's biodiversity and character. The food is pretty good too. It is certainly a top five now, but there is still a lot left of the world to travel!

The first two days of our visit were only marred by the loss of our baggage and the thought of having to wear the same outfit for another two days. Once we were headed out to the mountains however, that seemed to fade away.

I signed The American and I up for two day trips from Marrakesh with Atlas and Sahara Tours to travel into the mountains.  We toyed with the idea of renting a car, but were advised against it by a few others who had traveled there, citing poor roads and dangerous drivers. We absolutely made the right choice in choosing a tour company - they were not kidding about the roads - scary. The tour company was great! They did a fantastic job ensuring that we were enjoying our time.

The SUV purred through the flat lands towards the mountains in the distance with Arabic music playing lightly in the background. Sooner than I could have imagined we arrived at the Atlas Mountain Range, and started our drive to the other side.

 I have never heard the American and I so silent. The sound of it was astounding. 

Our guide asked us many times if we were alright - all we could say was yes. Words were too much to express what I was feeling driving through the mountains. 
I know what mountains look like, I grew up near the Rocky Mountains, but for what ever reason this particular range took my breath away. We were simply awestruck.

Maybe it was because I wasn't expecting the zebra like stripes of snow and dirt, or the crystal clear sky line. 

As we drove to the highest pass, we passed many cactuses (or so I thought they were, apparently they are fig plants) popping out of the snow. I was astounded at the juxtaposition. I just could not wrap my head around it. It was beautiful.

We slowly made out descent to the ancient village of Ait Ben Haddou - a casbah of old where many popular tv shows and movies featuring desert landscape are filmed. It is absolutely pristine in its architectural design, and it very cool to see. It was also the first town to use irrigation in North Africa.

It is a MUST DO trip! In only a few short hours you drive through three different geographical landscapes, and ezperience countless beautiful moments.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Stranger Danger, False Advertisement

First Impressions of Our Moroccan Adventure

I stood there staring at the baggage carousel, thinking to myself that I had only seen the same bags coming around for the last couple of minutes so where were ours? Please be there, please be there, please be there...

Nope. Nadda. No such luck.


The American and I proceeded to baggage services and stated our claim.

"Yes miss. Your first flight was from Kuwait? Oh, none of those bags made it. Inshallah they will be here tomorrow."

After a lengthy process, we settled that our bags would be delivered to Marrakech, after they arrived in Casablanca as we had planned to leave the city immediately for Marrakech.

The American and I had a pouty moment and decided that it didn't matter. We had our passports and our money, each other and a sense of adventure. We made it! Our first time in AFRICA!

Now what?

We grabbed tickets for the first train to Marrakech, had a cafe au lait and headed into Casablanca.

Remember when your mother told you not to talk to strangers? Well that rule should stop applying after you realize the guy telling you he has candy in his creepy van is, in fact a creep. Some of the most interesting people I have met have come from striking up conversations with strangers.

A friendly looking man was sitting opposite me on the train into Casablanca, I asked him about the crops that were growing in the fields we were passing, wheat, and he was quite happy to tell us about the economy and state of affairs. 65% of people work in agriculture, and they export all of their wheat to the US because the hard cash is more valuable to them. they then proceed to import wheat from the US. Crazy, huh?

First impressions of Casablanca: dirty, crowded, nice transit.
Casablanca Voyageurs Station 

What did we get ourselves into?

We had about one hour and a half to mosey around Casablanca before our next train departed for Marrakech, we walked around a little bit and before long the only thought in my head was why is there so much garbage on the street? Now, we all know that living in Kuwait you see a lot of garbage everywhere - so I wasn't shocked, it just seemed to me that it didn't fit with the picturesque surroundings.

Beautiful Park, but garbage everywhere.

We wandered around the area surrounding the train station for a few minutes, and soon discovered that there wasn't much to see or do. It was mostly businesses, a few hotels and a large park.

So, being that The American and I are always focused on food when we travel, we grabbed a few treats - a coconut tart and sweet bread - from the nearest bakery, parked ourselves in the park and people watched to pass the time. It was very calming to nibble on our delicious treats and take in our surroundings. Wishing that we had clean clothes and a toothbrush. The sweets worked wonders to taking our minds off our lost luggage.

Yummy Treats!

Five hours, a sweaty, overcrowded train ride and a kink in my neck later we arrived in Marrakech. My first thought when we stepped onto the platform was: FRESH AIR. My second: Oh wow! Even the train station was the prettiest thing that we had seen so far.

A short taxi ride later we arrived at Bab Doukkala  - the gate closest to our Riad.

The two main roads make a T-Intersection and along both of these roads, you will find all sorts of goods. From fresh meat and fruit to copper goods and clothing. Like a souk, if you will.

Bab Doukkala

We were greeted at our Riad by our most gracious host, Rafik, with hot tea, kind words and a gentle spirit.