Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Karaganda! Ice Skating & Museums

I had not been to Karaganda in two years.  My first trip was to see churches, seminaries, and convents.   The second time (see part 1 and part 2)  was just a weekend trip for fun.   So I was excited when my Kazakh friend R. proposed a quick weekend trip there.  Her daughter, A, Sophia's best friend, was to be in an ice skating competition there.

We drove down after school on Friday evening.  It's a 220 kilometer trip, and most of the road is in decent condition; however, it's a narrow, two-lane highway, so you still have to be cautious.

We arrived after dark and checked into our hotel, the same one my brother I had stayed in two years ago.  It's 8000 Tenge for a small 2-room "suite", that's about $50.  It's neither dirty nor clean--the rooms are cleaned daily, but they still have the appearance of needing a major scrub-down.  But quite satisfactory for 2 kids and 2 adults who just need a place to sleep.  The girls shared the pull-out couch and R. and I got separate beds in our tiny room.

The hotel is right in the middle of downtown.  One of the things I love about Karaganda is its downtown.  It's a decent-sized town (its population is a little under 500,000) and most of it seems to be concentrated on one rather long strip of road.  So everything is easily walkable.  You have dozens of shopping centers and restaurants on this road, plus a modern mall, plus a circus, and several museums either on this road or just off it, plus a really nice Central Park a block off this road.  The sidewalks are extremely wide and not too crowded.  The road is rather wide for a main street, but much narrower than most the roads in Astana, which are like insane freeways.

The ice skating competition was Saturday morning, and the ice skating rink was across the street from the hotel.  We ate breakfast in the hotel's restaurant (blinies, which are like crepes, and fried eggs).  Then we watched the competition.  A.'s grandparents and uncle came, since they all live in or near Karaganda.

A. won first place in her division!  She's been winning first place quite a lot lately, it's quite exciting.

After that we wandered to look for this Eco-Museum that the Lonely Planet thought was awesome.  We wandered down the main street, asking people, some of whom thought we were crazy, some of whom had actually heard of it before.  We finally found it, unlabeled.  The door was locked and there was no sign.  Peering in through the window, I did see an arrow with the words, "Eco-Museum" on it, so I do know we found the place.  Maybe it's not open on weekends.

The sun was hot over our heads and we were sweating and the girls were whining.  So we got ice cream from the place that sells the best soft-serve ice cream in the world, and then we took a bus to an art museum.

We came in talking, and then R. asked the cashier how much.  As they were talking, I read the sign and couldn't help but notice that foreigners cost more.  R. didn't see the sign and thought the women was crazy when she said I cost more.  She's not foreign, she lives works here, R. tried to tell her.  Well, she doesn't speak Russian, the lady said.  To which R. replied, Do you speak Kazakh?

Finally she convinced the lady to let me in at local price.

The girls enjoyed the museum.  There was some beadwork and glasswork, as well as a few paintings and sculptures.

Then we walked back to the City Mall, which is next to our hotel, and went inside to eat fast food.  Sophia said the chicken nuggets rivaled McDonald's, and I wondered why this place (Mac & Dac, I think) isn't in Astana.

R.'s sister joined us and then we took a taxi to another museum.

This museum was AWESOME and Astana doesn't have a museum like this one.  The first room was like a natural exhibit of the Karaganda region.  It had a decent-sized collection of (dead) bugs, which the girls liked, plus various rocks from the region.  Karaganda is known for its mining.  There were also some fossils, including a mammoth bone.

Next, there was like a life-sized diorama of animals unique to the region, including a saiga, a kind of antelope.

The next exhibit was about the peoples who lived in the Karaganda region in pre-historic times, as well as artifacts from their time.  It was interesting looking at the different tools--including a razor for shaving!

The rest of the rooms bored the girls but still fascinated me.  It led us through the history of the region, showing yurts and traditional clothing, typewriters from the Soviet period, a room devoted to concentration camps, another to the space program.  Every item had a label in English as well as Russian and Kazakh, although the longer explanations were all in English.

From the end of ice skating to the end of this museum, the girls spent most of this time whining.  It was quite annoying, and finally I conceded--if we give you an hour at the hotel, will you quit your whining?  We had driven so far and all they wanted to do was hang out at the hotel!

So we returned to the hotel, where they played hide and seek while we rested.

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