Sunday, March 11, 2012

Out and About Town in Winter

Yesterday I spent more than three hours putting together a new blog posting, downloading and preparing photographs etc.  When I went back in the evening to let Sandra read it before it was published it had gone, disappeared completely!  Needless to say I am rather annoyed as this is the third time this has happened.  So I am now going to write the blog in Word and just paste it in to Googles blogging tool.

I arrived back here on February 10, after a week of exceptional snow.  In fact there has been three times more snow than usual.  At that time it was also very cold, around -27C and everything was frozen.  Between then and now the temperature increased in approximately 10 degree jumps.  It was fine at around -15C, but when it got up to -5C the snow and packed ice started to melt in the sun.  As it rose to afternoons above zero it became very muddy and unpleasant (as I have blogged in the past).
Top left: street outside New Chagala, bottom left Rahat car park, and typically dirty cars
But then it started to get colder and we got new falls of snow.  It was white and clean again, clear blue skies, full sun, only a light wind and crunchy snow not slippery ice to walk on.  When it is like this it is perfect.   
The view from the apartment, the left scenes changed to the right scenes overnight
Today it is back at -17C, but we haven't had any new snow for a couple of days, it is good walking weather, if a little on the cold side.  

The Ural River is still very frozen.  I have been walking on it quite a lot as the diagonal routes allow one to short-cut using the bridge.  The only problem is the steps from the footpath along side the river are iced up.
Europe bank river side path under the Satpaeva Bridge
Different sets of steps, non of which Sandra would risk using.
The steps on the bottom right were the ones I went down a couple of days after Sandra declined.  I went backwards, abseiling, using the rail like a rope.  I must have looked like a real foreigner, unable to use a staircase in the snow!  Fortunately there were not many people around, just the odd ice fisherman .  I took the photos below from a distance as I am not sure people really like being photographed.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking down the river to a reception for a visiting dignitary.  It was about 6pm, the sun was low in the sky, and there were some snow clouds forming but it was crisp and bright not too cold.  The river was at its best.
View upstream with the Ventures new office, Riverside, on the right.  Moving in very soon!!

View downstream and the Satpaeva Bridge
When I climbed off the river up the steps by Riverside Office I was in the area where the venture has a number of offices.  So being a little early I took some pictures of them.

The bottom right is not actually an office but one of the residences, New Chagala (blue trim) and behind it is a new block which we call New New Chagala, but I am sure it has a proper name too!

The warm afternoons and the cold all other times that we had a few days ago has resulted in icicles forming where ever the water was dripping.  I particularly liked the air conditioner with the logo of two children in swimsuits next to the icicles.  

The roadworkers that sweep the dust and sand off the roads all through the summer enduring temperatures over 40C, in winter turn equally valiantly to shovelling and sweeping snow.  But now they have done about as much as they can and they are left with the ice patches on the roads and side walks which can be several inches thick.  The technique they use is to chip it away using an axe head spliced vertically to a broom handle.  
A snow cleaner working on a patch of ice with his instrument of choice.
The problem with dealing with the ice in this way is that it is a little hard on the paving tiles beneath the ice which by the end of winter, many of which are cracked or missing.

Below is a picture from the apartment of a team of cleaners working together to clean a section of side walk.  I watched them work all morning, to clear it just in time for an afternoon snow fall.  This must be back breaking work as they are usually shovelling up the snow and carrying it on the shovel to a flower bed or the river bank to dump it.  But what is even more impressive is that, as best as I can tell looking at the swaddled figures, over half of them are women.
Last Thursday was International Women's Day, which is hardly acknowledged in Europe and North America, but here it is a National Holiday.  In many countries, when the opportunity to have a three day weekend arises, the government moves the holiday.  It is similar here with two differences, firstly the announced change in dates is only made a few days before the holiday, making it difficult to make any travel plans, and secondly, instead of moving the Holiday, they change the weekend.  So Friday became an holiday and Sunday a work day.  Unfortunately Sandra and her team had Friday meetings scheduled with visitors from out of town, so they all still chose to work, and now this week we have a six working day week.  

On Wednesday, for Thursday's Women's Day the men give the women gifts, often just a single flower.  All the women arriving at the office were presented with flowers (three tulips), the Marriott management left a single tulip with a note for Sandra.  Her team at work also gave her flowers, a little pewter jewellery box and a very sweet card.

On Thursday, we went walking, that is when Sandra couldn't get down the steps to the river, and we visited a flower shop and bought 5 long stemmed pink roses individually wrapped whicg we gave to the girls on reception at the Marriott and to our apartment cleaner.  In exchange we got lots of "thank you's" and kisses.  A fair trade.

On Saturday we walked to a large market, Koktem, which we don't visit very often.  As the quality and variety of fruit and vegetables has improved so much over the past 18 months in our regular market, Rahat, we wanted to see if Koktem's had too.  Not that I am likely to forsake my "vegetable lady".

My "vegetable lady" is short and roundish and very smiley.  She has a stall about 5 feet long in Rahat and it is about the best.  She has the widest range of produce, lettuce, celery, aubergine, corgettes, celeriac, parsnips, cauliflower and broccoli.  Her tomatoes are the tastiest, and her mushrooms look newly picked.  She also speaks English, or at least enough to do the job for me.  She knows the names of all her produce plus their origins, Morroc, Olland, Turkey, Egypt, Mos-cow and Almaty.  She knows numbers or at least the important ones, 1 to 10, and key works like big, small and her favourite "fresh".  If I pick up something like a cauliflower to check it out she often says, "nyet, not fresh" and then disappears behind the counter (she has to stand on a box to see over it) and then she pops up with a fine specimen of the same item, obviously too good to put on display!  She also lets me choose my mushrooms when most vendors like to do the selecting so they cull a few of their rotting items with some swift hand work.  Of course one pays for the service and the quality but I don't haggle and I don't resent it.  If more people paid for quality, then more sellers would offer it and competition would start to effect the price.  Anyway, she always rounds down the total cost (so good is her margin!).  I love her anyway.

Koktem had some good produce, lacked the variety of Rahat, and there was nobody like my vegetable lady.  But there was a pot shop!

I have been looking for a container, an hotel pan would be ideal, to mount my sous vide cooker in and create a warm water bath to cook in.  I only had a tupperware type thing as shown below.

This is cooking port tenderloin, if you are interested.  I am using zip lock bags as I couldn't bring my vacuum sealer.  It is all a bit flimsy.  However at Koktem I bought a 25 litre enamel pot, show below in all its glory!
As you can see it will not be much good on the stove, but should work just fine for attaching my sous vide machine.

On our Koktem walk we stopped for lunch at Bavarius, which is a micro brewery (very micro) and so has some different beers.  It also has quite reasonable food. In the evening it morphs into a night club. 

We always have trouble finding it as it is in among a group of apartment blocks which all look the same.  Last summer when we (ie Sandra) asked a girl for directions, she replied in good English and led us there.  She also warned us that it wasn't the best area to be wandering around in.  That might account for the sign on the entrance, and that there is a guard and barrier on the car park!

The menu is quite large and there are some different things.  Unfortunately the Kebab section (which is local cooking and therefore, to my mind, more reliable) was not available.  We were tempted by the "allsorts from danties" but felt we needed something more substantial.  Sandra had the veal and mushrooms which she had had before and eaten.  I had the horse steak.

The veal turned out to be the better choice.  The horse was salty and tasteless and very soft and spongy, can't have been a work horse.  The sauce was overpoweringly spice and boiled potatoes and boiled onions never get my gastric juices running.

When I have horse next time I will see if I can get kebabs.  I think the texture could be better.

Just wandering around on Friday, when Sandra was working and the holiday streets were very quite I used the opportunity to take some pictures without all the cars.  Traffic here isn't bad unless something goes wrong like a car breaks down on the bridge or traffic lights go out.  Sandra's colleague, Jon, does a private newsletter and has many great phots, some of which I have stolen before, like some of those on Burns Night.  Here is another (thank you Jon).  It is the junction by the Abay Office when the traffic lights failed.  At the bottom left two cars on the wrong side of the road seem to have met a bus.  

But anyway, on Friday this photo below was taken in almost the same place.
You can see the flag poles in both pictures, and the office from which Jon took his picture, and where Sandra works is behind them.                                         


  1. Hi Mark,

    now after I reed all your blogs about Atyrau, I would like to thank you for your effort.
    As we move to Atyrau next week, I looked for information about the living there on the internet for ever and was unable to find any helpful info. Now I know what I can expect and I will think through my packing again.
    Thanks a lot

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