Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Weekend: Sunday

After a late Saturday night another late Sunday start we went to the Kazakh restaurant next door in Ardager to have some proper local food.  The restaurant is nicely decorated and the menu did look very local.  There were items such as a whole spit roasted sheep, sheep meat with boiled head, and various versions of horse. As you can see

I had manty which are dumplings stuffed, in this case, with lamb and onions.

Unfortunately the ground lamb which had been boiled with chopped onions and it was very greasy.  Sandra's shashlik was greasy too.

Our shared green salad turned out to be two piles of parsley and a bunch of dill and a lettuce leaf or three!

We didn't find much of interest in that! The flat bread we hoped would be like thin pita but it was more like a sweet dinner roll.

Not a great meal and I felt rather the worse for wear the rest of the afternoon.

In the afternoon we had signed up for a free  (for Ardagar Dom residents) boat trip up the Ural.  We went to the Europa Residence where the trip was to start only to find we were the only people and the boat had a technical problem.  So a driver came to collect us and take us to the boat, while they tried to fix it.  We ended up standing on the bank of the Ural in 40C heat waiting for the boat to cross the river and collect us.  It was rather a primative affair when it finally arrived.  A couple of chairs for seating, an awning for shade, a smelly cabin and a very loud and shaky engine all on a rusting hulk. A captain and his mate were our Russian speaking "hosts".  Here are the pictures of our journey showing the numerous "beaches" with people swimming, some old and new river craft and the buildings along the banks.

The vessel
As we got to the end of the journey we were presented with two plastic cups of luke warm sweet milky instant coffee, both of which I felt I had to drink.  We managed to slip the soggy cookies into Sandra's bag for later disposal.
We went to the Renaissance Hotel to have beer and recover from the tour!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

First Weekend: Saturday

Sandra no longer works Saturdays so we had a slow lazy start.  People were coming to dinner so we had to do some shopping and cooking. We went out for a walk to a restaurant called Zazu where we had Shashlik (kebabs).
Red faced after a mile walk in 100F Heat

After the walk and lunch I sat down in the cool flat and went to sleep.  Sandra went shopping and bought a table and two chairs so we could seat the 5 people that were coming to dinner, though we only have six place settings!
Seating for seven, but one unmatched plate!

Then I went out and did some shopping for dinner.  The Ramstore is much better than it was at Christmas.  Vegetables and salads with lettuce are a treat so we planned on starting with a blue cheese, pear, nuts and grapes salad featuring as a star ingredient....lettuce leaves.  I managed to find a lettuce.
The star ingredient
Our guests arrived at 7pm.  There were Jon and Aleida (Jon works for Sandra and Aleida also works for NCPOC), Alwyn (who is a trailing spouse) and Yimnys (who works for Sandra) and Michele from Calgary (whose husband is back in Calgary)  for dinner.  We ate beef and green beans from California, then Nectarines and Mango from California (with local ice cream) finally ending up with cheeses.  The very hard but delicious Oro Secco broke the knife!

Friday, July 29, 2011

First Full Day: Friday

Sandra went off to work on the 8.30 bus, fortified by poached eggs and the home made bacon I brought from California.  Two of Sandra's colleagues were invited to dinner so I was planning to make a curry.  I went next door to the supermarket, Pamctop (Ram Store), to look for ground lamb.  There didn't appear to be any and I narrowly avoided buying minced ventricle which was next to the minced hart (sic).  I decided to use beef instead!

At 11.30 I walked the 2km to Sandra's office and go for lunch.  The sun was bright and it was about 40C with a light breeze.  In those conditions one walks very slowly.  En route I stopped to have my visa reviewed by the HR department at NCPOC.  This involved entering in a book the date I dropped off my passport, my signature, the date I collected my passport, my signature, my residence and my signature....all at the same time.  I felt much better knowing that I was officially in the book!

We went to Sancak, the Turkish restaurant, for lunch.  I started with a litre of sparkling water.  The dry heat is very dehydrating.  I walked home after lunch and had another litre of water.  I drank more water in two hours than in the previous month!

Ian and Roel came for dinner that evening and we ate the smoked salmon from Schiphol Airport and curry, then finished with some of the good cheeses from California.  They finally left after 1am.  We had a few empty wine bottles to dispose of.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Journey to Atyrau

I left Sonoma at 5.30 to go to San Francisco International Airport for the 9.15 flight to Chicago.  All went to plan with my two large suitcases and two carry on bags.  One suitcase mainly contained an induction cooker, kitchen supplies like baggies and Press-and-Seal, and food supplies like crackers, cheeses, spices and  dried milk.

Industrial Induction Cooker

In my larger carry on bag I had perishable produce (we have had our baggage delayed so often on this route that we have learnt the lesson not to put meat and vegetables in the hold.).  This time I took a large 4 lb piece of home made bacon and a 3 lb piece of rarely cooked roast beef as well as broccoli, nectarines, mangoes, asparagus and green beans.  I also had Sandra's winter coat, panty hose, and four new pairs of shoes!  I did manage to fit in a few shirts and shorts for myself and an iPad. 

The luggage and I made it to Atyrau with transfers of about three hours in Chicago and two hours in Amsterdam.  I did manage to buy some smoked salmon, salami and pate in add to the supplies.
The final flight was only about a fifth full of the predominantly male oil workers going back to work.  It was still daylight as we approached Atyrau from over the Caspian and so I was able to take some photos of the scenery below as we made our approach.

As I was in the back of the plane I was last on the single bulging bus from the plane to the terminal (they still use buses even though the distance is about 100 yards and it would be quicker and easier to walk) so I was first off the bus and into immigration which is about 15 yards from the drop off door with another 5 yards to the baggage carousel then a further 5 yards to the customs control where all the luggage has to be x-rayed!  The induction cooker was spotted and had to be unpacked and examined, but it got through.  However I couldn't get it back in the case, so pushed my cart piled with luggage the final few yards into the arrivals hall.  It was actually a very quick process other than the immigration inspection where the official could not grasp that I didn't work and changed my "tourist" declaration to "work" as he couldn't conceive of a non-working husband and working wife (and of course the cooker didn't help!).

It was 8.00 pm and Sandra was there to meet me with an Agip "taxi", and so we were home in twenty minutes and able to get the food in the fridge. The outside temperature was cooling down, about 80F so we went next door to the Rennaisance Hotel for something to eat and drink before bed.  Beer at last!