Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Next Adventure: Kazakhstan

I suppose it is time to update this blog. We are almost a month into our next adventure: Kazakhstan. Our trip here was a mix of the enjoyable and the annoying. The enjoyable part was a few days in Vienna, walking around the centre of the town, seeing what there was to see. We are thinking of returning to Vienna over Christmas, as we hear it is quite beautiful. The annoying part of the trip was that for both legs of the trip, we were in older planes without entertainment for individual seats. The kids (and I) were not amused. I thought each seat having its own entertainment was now the norm, certainly for international flights, but it seems Austrian Air is a bit of budget airline. I am pushing for Lufthansa in the future. We arrived in Kazakhstan on 4 August, early in the morning. We had no problem with immigration and were met by people from the university. The same people had made sure that our apartment was ready for us. Our apartment is very comfortable, being both spacious and modern. The apartment was originally designed to be two, with the wall knocked down between a one and a two bedroom apartment. Katie has her own room, with the younger girls sharing a bed in a very large room that was meant to be a living room and kitchen. (There is no obvious sign that a kitchen was ever there.) Lori and I have a largish bedroom with an ensuite bathroom. We also have a bedroom that I am using as an office. In total we have three bathrooms, each having a shower, and a bathtub only in our ensuite. The kitchen is small with very little counter space. I think we had gotten spoiled having an island in our last place of residence, so this is taking some time to adjust. We have a reasonably sized fridge with a largish freezer section, a microwave and a water filter system. The water is filtered when it enters the building and then we filter it again in our apartment. Dishes and cookware were also provided. They are adequate but not good quality. I think we will supplement when we find better stuff. Adequate but not good quality sums up the whole apartment quite nicely. It looks nice but if one looks closer it just isn't built very well, with some very odd design choices. For example, in our master bedroom, there is only one electrical outlet, and it is in a corner. I think we will enjoy the apartment, but I suspect maintenance will be an issue, as things fall apart. The living room is comfortable, with a nice tv and dvd player provided. We haven't used the dvd player yet and I don't see us ever using it. We can't find English language dvds here. We have cable tv with some English channels, including CNN International, BBC, some Discovery channels, as well as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, for the kids. We also have internet that is usually quite fast but occasionally bogs down. There is a large industrial sized air conditioning unit in the living room, which we have used extensively. It has been hot here and our apartment warms up. In total, we have three air conditioning units in the apartment and we are grateful for all of them. We live on the 17th floor of the building and have views on both sides. The one side looks out over a large park with many paths and fountains. We have enjoyed walks in this park and the girls have enjoyed biking through the many paths with the bikes we recently bought. On the other side, our view is partially blocked by another apartment building under construction, but we can see some of the old city, as well as the American embassy. Something I had never seen before, but understand to be common in this part of the world, is that our building has multiple entrances and that only one of them can be used to access our apartment. So, when we get off the elevator, there are doors to only two apartments. When people come to visit us, we not only have to tell them our apartment number, but more importantly we have to tell them which entrance to the building they have to use. Our building is one of three completed apartment buildings, each of them very large. The ground floor of each building has commercial space, though a lot of this space is still vacant. However, we have two smallish grocery stores, two restaurants, a pharmacy and some other stores. We haven't tried the restaurants yet, but one of them is probably a bit too expensive for us. The complex also has a fitness center with a pool. We will get a membership once my first paycheck comes in. What makes this particularly attractive is that we can access the fitness center without having to go outside, a bonus when it is very cold outside. That sort of sums up our current living conditions and I will post more about my university and our first impressions of Astana. Phil