Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Last weekend was a three day weekend celebrating the feast of Eid Al-Adha.  This is a Muslim holiday meaning The Feast of the Sacrifice.  Some readers may be surprised to learn that the Sacrifice in particular, was not a sacrifice but the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, on God's command.  This, in the Bible, is the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Many Old Testament prophets also appear as prophets in the Quran. 


So, thanks to Abraham, we had an extra days holiday.  Unfortunately this is not the place for jumping in the car and heading out into the countryside and staying in a little characterful cottage, there being no countryside and no cottages.  So not being as organised as those people who flew out for a few days , we did the Atyrau equivalent of taking a trip in the country and walked around the town a lot.  This is easier in the new apartment as it is about 3km to the river, which is the best place to walk.  The shortest and best route out of Zheti Kasyna is to head out to the canal and walk along the canal bank to the main airport road, Satpaeva, and then follow that road to the river, which is exactly what we did. Starting at the top right picture (and going round clockwise) we left the compound and followed the dirt track to the gravel road.  Then we climbed up the canal bank and walked along it, going under the hot water pipes and up to the road.  Unfortunately this will not be easy when it gets wet and snowy.

It is only abot a kilometer to the nearest shopping center, Tamasha.  Though this is not one that we use very much.  As we walked past Tamasha we could see a cloud of smoke in the distance.  

It looked as if a car was on fire as it came from the road.  But we got closer and it moved closer till we could eventually make out that it was a street cleaning truck.   

This is a first time sighting for us here and leaves us wondering what will happen to the dozens of street sweepers that are usually relied upon to do this work!
A couple of summers ago after the sidewalks were completed along Satpaeve, a beautification project happened.  This was the appearance of rows of large flower planters all the way down each side of the street.  These are planted in summer with colourful annuals, and laboriously watered by hand.  

Well, in the last couple of months there has been a further development, the appearance of bright orange trash bins all over town.  This one was part of the riverside walk tribe of bins, but there are also two columns of them on each side of Satpaeva now, as you can see in the picture on the left.  The old style blue bins are now likely to be a thing of the past as Atyrau take another step to becoming a city of the future!

Another development on Satpaeva has been the disappearance of the construction site between Ardager and the Renaissance Hotel.  This was once rumoured to be the site of the Renaissance extension, but is now the site of the Renaissance overflow car park and mini-park. It looks a great deal better.  The old photograph below shows what the space used to look like.

We continued our walk over the bridge to Asia.  We wanted to take a look at the damage that had occured a few days before when there was a fire under the bridge which resulted in the loss of the internet for a large part of the city!  Last summer I watch the workmen toiling on the bridge and these cables, and was impressed by their casual approach to wiring.  I think now that something might have become a bit too hot!

We crossed the Ural and continued our walk along the river as we were on a mission to try a different restaurant for lunch.  This restaurant, Venezia, is of course Italian, and apparently owned by an Italian who has been in Atyrau for a few years and operates it with a guest house/hotel above.  The picture below has been copied from the internet (attributed to rove75, thank you) as I forgot to take a picture.  However, I did take a picture of the menu and the food.  It is a simple place seating about 30, some on a large communal table. The guests were all Italian.  The menu was in Italian.  The presumed owner was indeed Italian and shouty loud!  Sandra had a good pork and bean soup and I had spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chili.  She then had grilled chicken and I had braised rabbit which I haven't seen on an Atyrau menu before.  As you can see in the picture below, the set menu was not very compicated.  An a la carte menu had mainly pizza on it.  The food was good and inexpensive and the restaurant is worth another visit.

When we left we went exploring for another restaurant that we have been trying to locate.  We have to go there by taxi!  We didn't find it, though as you can see in the pictures below, we looked in looked diligently.

Unfortunately that afternoon the air started to deteriorate. We have had problems for the past days with either petrochemical smells from the refinery, of burning garbage smells from the dump.  That day it was very hazy and smelly.  

Going back over the bridge we saw an oncoming wedding motorcade.  This was remarkable as it contained two streched limos, which could be the entire streched limo population of Atyrau, clearly an important wedding!

Saturday night is curry club night, so we headed home to recover in time for a visit to the Green Hotel and a curry evening.


I didn't blog about Fridays walk, which was not dissimilar to Saturdays!  Sundays walk was also much the same, though we took a different route out of the compound, which is about as exciting as it gets!

On Sunday we had lunch at Noodles.  Noodle has managed to escape my blogging thus far, so I will now put that right!

Just past the Renaissance, going towards the river on the other side of the street is Noodles restaurant.  It is by far the most cosmopolitan restaurant in Atyrau having an extensive menu with pictures of the dishes and with each dish being labelled with a flag denoting its country of origin. There are many flags! 

There are no prizes for guessing that it has the ubiquitous pizza and pasta, thus elevating it to international status immediately.  It also has Kazakh dishes though not the truly serious ones with sheep's head and horse. But it also has Thai, Japanese, American and others, including, what we have found to be the safest bet, Turkish, which is what we stopped and ate.  We had pide and borek (Turkish pizzas and pasties) and lentil soup.  All was quite acceptable as an occassional snack meal.

You may notice that in the picture there is shakily focused picture of a Gloria Jean coffee bar.  This is an Australian chain which has an outlet in Noodles.  The coffee menu says all the right things, though I don't know if the coffee is any good, and I have never found anyone who has tried it, though I haven't made that a priority.  I think I will have to go back and do some more menu research. 

We walked on to the Theatre where we bought tickets to the ballet.  A touring company is visiting next week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  We bought two tickets (best in the house!) for both Monday and Tuesday (we have a dinner engagement on Wednesday) so how desperate are we for a spot of culture?  Oh, and lest you think us extravagant the best tickets were about Euros25 each, which wont get you any kind of seat in California!

Sandra at the Box Office.
Sandra negotiated the purchase with great competence.  She was shown a diagram of the theatre seating with only a very few seats circled as already taken.  We made our selection, the lady in the ticket office spoke to someone else behind her, who then informed us that the seats were not available.  Eventually it came down to the standard method of choosing, used mainly with restaurant menus; they tell you what you can have.  But it worked and we are looking forward to next weeks adventure.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I did a brief blog on Sandra's move when I was in California.  We had been and seen around when I was last here and decided what apartment would be our first choice.  Fortunately, by moving sooner rather than later Sandra was able to get the apartment that she wanted.

There are seven residential blocks around a paved courtyard.  Each is 5 stories and each floor in each block is identical, having One three bedroom apartment one large two bedroom apartment and two smaller two bedroom apartments.  They are all fairly well appointed, but there are some peculiarities to the layouts as the floor plans were changed from the original design to meet an higher standard for emergency exits.  The three bedroom is the most logical layout, is the only floorplan with a bath tub rather than showers, and whereas nobody is likely to visit us, making a third bedroom redundant, there is no off site storage provided so one needs a bedroom just to store suitcases, bikes and any extra furniture that one has brought and cannot use.  The management will not remove any existing furniture here so, unlike Ardager and Marriott one has to live with what has been supplied.  This is more of a problem for people who have brought their own beds etc!

Above is what the three bedroom apartment looked like as we were walking round it last August, and below, after we moved in.
You may notice that the third bedroom is now rather full as a storage room.  All closets are also full, which is another reason to maximise the room space...closet space comes with bedrooms, even though there is room in the hall for two large closets.

One of the differences between the previewed apartment and the apartment after we moved in was that "artwork" had been put up on the walls. We have actually got four large pictures; these are they.
If they appear to be somewhat similar, it is because they, and the pictures in the other apartments are all exactly the same.  After all after making the tough decision on the selection of "the best" picture, why compromise by selecting and second third and forth choice.  Far better to just use the best everywhere.  Unfortunately, some people are not as keen on these poppies as they should be, so they need an extra bedroom to store them in.

The Zheti Kasyna compound has a fairly nice club house with a pool, gym, sauna, restaurant, beauty salon, games room and small shop.  The photos here and below were taken in summer before we moved in and the place was not yet finished.
There is also an outside tennis court and soccer area and terrace.  These pictures were taken before they were finished.
Here are a few pictures of the finished facility.

There are a few problems with this new facility, the first and most unchangable is the location.  As my earlier blog on Isker showed it is located in an area which is hard to reach on foot.  I have been taken to task for saying this and been told that it is an easy bike ride back into town.  However, I do not have a bike here, and do not intend to buy a bike for here, and do not want another bike in the bedroom.  I am also not convinced riding a bike in winter here is a safe thing to do on the main road.  The bottom line is that it is over a kilometer walk to the nearest half decent shopping facility, which means that taxis are really the only quick way in and out.

I have already walked to the main shops, river and markets several times.  There are definite similarities to the same walk from the Marriott as you can see in the pictures below.  Both routes involve a walk by the river, a bridge to cross, and a view upstream.  Can you tell which pictures are from the "old" Marriott walk and which are from the "new" Zheti Kasyna walk?

The other thing about this location is the views are rather different.  This is what I used to spend most of the day looking at from the Marriott.

And this is the best I can get at Zheti Kasyna, in other words, it is the view to the outside and not over the courtyard.

The new view from my desk is not helped by the windows being caked in dirt. We have asked about cleaning but it doesn't seem a priority.  So I keep the blinds shut most of the helps with privacy anyway!
But once over the location issue, the new home has a lot of advantages.  There is a lot more space!  The equipment is not to the Marriott standard but it is newer and adequate.  It is possible to cook a large meal in the kitchen and to seat the guests round the table.  The Clubhouse has more facilities than the Marriott, though the gym is not as good, the pool is an added bonus for the swimmers.  

The restaurant appears to have been designed and the menus planned before the Management realised that this is not likely to be a majority Italian occupied facility, and therefore the residents are unlikely to share the unmitigated belief in all things pasta that the Italians have.  In fact, restaurants in Atyrau still seem to believe that adding pizza and pasta to the menu moves them up into the top league!  

I believe that the AGIP staff in Atyrau are largely unaccompanied men, and they seem to be happy to eat Italian food prepared in a restaurant.  But there are more and more families here now, and from many other countries where a plate of pasta is not the dish of choice, and if it were, they know how easy it is to make at home.  There are also more young children and the restaurant does not seem to cater for them opening, as it does, at 7pm, a little late for small children from northern Europe or America.

However the restaurant and bar have been open for a special Happy Hours Evening on Thursday with less expensive drinks and a very nice spread of appetizers, which last week when we went, attracted a lot of people.  

One final point worth making is that this location is actually considered to be quite desirable.  It is a newly developing area on the edge of town and whilst the roads are not yet all paved, there are a lot of large homes built and still under construction.  This means we have can watch Kazakh home building first hand.  Here are some general photographs of the surrounding area. These are typical large homes in the area.

And below are some photos of the construction work.  The builders walk around on top of the roofs wearing flip-flops and without safety equipment.  It is scary to watch.

And although we miss the fabulous sunrises over Asia, we can now look instead at the sunsets over Europe!

Monday, October 15, 2012


I arrived back in Atyrau on Friday evening, having left California on Wednesday morning and spending Thursday night in Istanbul, which was good for some wonderful fresh fish, but only about three hours sleep.

It has been a busy weekend and Monday, and I must still be a bit jet lagged because I don't really know where to start this blog!  I arrived at Sandra's new apartment which is in what I used to call, incorrectly, Isker, as that is the company behind the development, but is actually called Zheti Kazyna (sort of pronounced Djittee Kasna).  I will introduce you to this new residence in more detail later.

On Saturday we had to do some shopping as Sunday was to be our rather late Canadian Thanksgiving dinner with 11 guests, and I needed to get on and prepare!  The key ingredient was naturally turkey, which Sandra had ordered through the kitchen of Zheti Kazyna, which provides a food supply service.  We got two turkeys about 7 pounds each, the largest they had.  Not only were these the smallest turkeys we had ever seen, but they were also the most expensive!  We supplemented them with a  two pound piece of ham which we also got from the kitchen at a modest $35.00.

So having sourced the meat we needed to make stuffing, vegetables, and of course, pumpkin pie!

Saturday and Sunday were spent in preparing the dinner.  Though to be honest, I woke at 4am on Sunday morning and had it almost all prep-ed and the pies made, before Sandra awoke.

Our guests arrived at 5pm on Sunday, they were all the Canadians, we could find plus Lena, who's parents lived in Canada, and Jon and Aleida (who are Americans and included us as honorary Americans in their Thanksgiving party last year so deserved reciprocation). 

We had those famous turkeys, with cranberry sauce and turkey gravy.  Undecided on the right choice for stuffing I made an English style bacon and chestnut, American style with cranberries and of course a plain Canadian stuffing.  We had roast parsnips, carrots and potatoes, mashed yams with chipotle flavoring and brussel sprouts (chiefly for their value as bubble and squeak, the next day (some of you may have to look that up!).

Our guests arrived on cue with much wine and other goodies. And this is the beauty of the new apartment....we have a large enough table to seat a good sized group of guests, something we have badly missed.

The residence mangement also supplied extra chairs so we could seat all 12 and an half of us round the table.  I wont say 13 as that is an unlucky number for supper, and as one guest was only 2 years old I dont think she will mind if I only call her an half.

I was using the new oven for the first time and it only has instructions in Russian so there was slight technical hitch when it failed to crank up for the last blast of heat for the roast vegetables, but it responded to some fiddling and cursing (under my breath) and came on.  People were drinking and chatting anyway, so only the few jet lagged guests really noticed, I hope!

Anyway, the turkeys were eventually ready and shown to the guests as evidence, before being taken away and carved.  (I look a bit red because I had my head in the oven!)

The guests at the table.  Jon and James managed to slip out of sight.  We managed to get James later, but Jon somehow got away!
James was especially partial to the roast carrots!

We were quite surprised how much meat there was on the turkeys.  After feeding the whole crew we had enough left to make four chicken pot pies, which we had with bubble and squeak the next evening when we invited Ian and Simon over.  And I still have a large pot of turkey barley soup, made with the stock and another 3 cups of turkey leftovers.

Of course we finished with pumpkin pie, and ice cream.  No pictures of those I am afraid.  The photographer must have gone off duty.