Friday, May 30, 2014


It has almost been a week since I returned to Atyrau from San Francisco.  Although the fastest route is to fly from SFO to Amsterdam and then after a quick connection in Amsterdam fly on to Atyrau, I take different routes, principally to avoid the ridiculously high prices on the Amsterdam Atyrau leg.  Though I have to say, in all fairness, the prices are coming down to a level where this route is becoming competitive.  Nonetheless, this time I came in via Frankfurt and Almaty, which meant the journey began on Wednesday at 9am and ended on Friday at 5am, making it a long 33 hours, instead of about half that on the Amsterdam route.  However the saving was substantial, enough to buy a couple of iPads, so I wasn’t short of reading material, movies, crosswords, soduko, music and all the other things these funny little gadgets do to keep us amused.

When I arrived in Atyrau the first thing I noticed was the Airport Hotel, The Abukkhayir  Khana Prospekt, a couple of minutes walk from the terminal.  This will be useful for people transiting overnight but right now I am having a hard time understanding why people wouldn’t take a 5 minute taxi ride into town and stay in a place closer to their business and all the other facilities that Atyrau has to offer.  Of course if congestion becomes really bad, it will be useful to stay at the airport before flying out on that early morning plane, but the authorities are planning for that.

Right now the airport road is closed for a couple of months as it is being developed into a new four lane highway, ready for the rush.

Actually, I think that the work is associated with the rumoured impending visit of Presidents Putin and Nazarbayev. This snippet from a local newspaper...

"We arrived to Atyrau together with Said Zabitov, the General Consul of Russia located in Uralsk, to look how the preparations for the forthcoming forum of interregional cooperation of Kazakhstan and Russia is going. The forum will take place in your city in the fall of this year. The exact date of this meeting is under discussion. Similar meetings of the presidents, the members of the governments and heads of regions of our countries have been held before and they showed their efficiency"

In any event there is the start of a grand new building appearing on the airport road. I was told that this is where the meeting will take place.  It is suitably convenient for the airport, about 4KM along the soon-to-be expanded road.

Yes, the road improvements are continuing rapidly here.  I was only away for two months and I can report that the concrete curbs along Satpayeva have now all been replaced with granite, and the program is being extended into Azattyk Avenue.

Work is also going on re-laying the walkways and upgrading their curbs too.  I was surprised to see piles of bricks all over the Park Oblakymata.

There are also some new traffic lights, the most effective probably being those at the Dostyk Junction, scene of many interesting but not serious accidents. 

There are also new pedestrian crossings, with lights counting down the crossing time, and many of the pedestrian crossings, which I would call Zebra crossings except they are red and white, have already been repainted. Some, like the one below, have not yet been painted and show the wear and tear that a Kazakh winter has on a bit of road paint.

The planting season is also upon us. The concrete urns along Satpayeva have been planted.  As have many of the roundabouts and road islands.

There are also pots hanging on the lamppost with flowers in them, though Sandra tells me that these are not real. 

I also note that that much maligned watering and dining institution, TGI Fridays is no longer in the Marriot and there is a new American Bar and Grill for us to try.  As it is a “grill” I expect it might have steaks, but I will bet that there will also be pasta and pizza, the signature dishes of all fine international restaurants in Atyrau.  I’ll report back later.

Here in Zheti Kazyna winter has ended with a flurry of activity too.  Planting has started, maintenance of winter worn facilities is going on, and work is, today, underway on some new construction by the gate house.  

My money is on some sort of bike park with cover, as we all (or at least, those with better bikes) take them indoors to protect them from the weather.

And here in the apartment Sandra has had the sitting room wall repainted as it had been damaged.  She was told the new colour wouldn’t be an exact match with the old one, and was somewhat startled that the slight variation in color was from moss green to bright orange.  Anyway, there is nothing to do about it now except face the other way.

This city really is changing all the time.  It is mostly getting better, significantly better.  The living accommodation is much better than a few years ago and the produce in the stores is much better too.  But it still requires a little “adjusting”.  

On Sunday the weather was nice, it’s been nice all week between 25C and 30C and sunny, if a bit windy, anyway we thought we would walk out to the river, but just as we started to leave there was rain.  It was a brief but effective 15 minute squall which left the dusty ground with a thin mud layer on top. In winter with boots one might decide to walk it but in summer with light shoes it is disastrous, so we had to get a taxi to the nearest sidewalk, about half a mile away.  Then we had a nice walk!

Sandra has had a different sort of week with out of town visitors and workshops, so I have not been going in to meet her at lunchtime with our “picnic” to eat in the Riverside Office canteen/lunchroom.  Instead I have been walking to Rahat each day to visit Luda, the famous vegetable lady and getting back in the groove of Atyrau shopping.

My walk to Asia (I like to say that, it sounds suitably dramatic) is a circuitous route around the back of the Zheti Kazyna compound and along the irrigation canal to connect with the paved roads and sidewalks.  One day as I was walking along the top of the dyke I spotted something on the ground ahead. 

You can see it in the middle of the above picture, at the bottom.  And if you have good eye sight you will even notice that it is indeed a fish!

I have no idea how it got there or why it hadn't been eaten by birds or other scavengers.  There is no fishing done in the dyke, and I dont even know if there are fish in it.  Just another one of those odd things that we come to expect.

I mention that apropos nothing in particular, but I wanted to have it on record, and get the evidence on line!

On Wednesday night we hosted a simple dinner for the workshop participants, 15 were able to make it and although we were a little thrown by suddenly and for the first time, being told by Kheti Kazyna management that there not enough tables and chairs to supply us, some of our guests were less than surprised and more than willing to bring their own chairs.  But this is a lesson well learnt here, just because you are told that it will be done, don’t expect that it will be done.  In this case it was a minimal inconvenience.  

A couple of years ago when we went top our poultry lady in the market to get the Thanksgiving turkey that had been ordered weeks ahead and that we were assured would be supplied….well you know the rest, and what is wrong with Thanksgiving duck anyway?

This trip I brought back a few basic tools, as I always do, which makes life a little easier.

However these simple luxuries are as nothing compared to our new toy...

Yes. a second fridge, which acts as the summer substitute for our winter fridge (that being, outside on the kitchen balcony). Our existing fridge was packed to the gunnels so this will make life a lot easier and I can start stock piling frozen meals for Sandra to eat when I am away.