Monday, February 2, 2015

New Year's in Kyrgyzstan (and then some)

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent New Year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan - a former Soviet Socialist Republic in Central Asia (it's near Kazakhstan, of Borat fame). So first - why? Answer: I'd actually wanted to visit Kazakhstan after a student recommended it, but the flights to Kyrgyzstan were cheaper.  At any rate, I wanted to visit Central Asia, and this certainly qualified.  I wanted to get further from Europe to somewhere that not many Americans (or Westerners in general) often visit.

What was it like? Though I was in the capital, the city itself was quite small and uncrowded, with fewer shopping malls, bars, and restaurants than you might expect in a capital.  It was fairly warm during the day (around 4C/39F), but the temperatures dropped drastically once night fell (-4C/24F).  Nearly everyone I met was really friendly, and people in general seemed quite happy.  The architecture is overwhelmingly still very Soviet, since the country is rather poor and doesn't yet have the funds for large construction projects.  The food was amazing - lots of noodles with fried meat and vegetables, dumplings, soups, and horse meat! There was also a fermented horse milk drink that I tried and didn't hate.  Everyone in Bishkek seemed to speak fluent Kyrgyz and Russian, and all of the store and street signs were in both languages as well.

What did I do? On New Year's Eve I went to the main square, where people were buying explosives on the side of the road and lighting them in large crowds of people (lots of families, in fact!) as the police looked on.  There was a concert, there were fireworks, the president's speech was broadcast in Kyrgyz and Russian, and there were taxidermied bears and lions, in addition to people dressed as Santa Claus, Tom from Tom and Jerry, sheep (because for some reason, in Russia and former Soviet countries, they use the animals from Chinese New Year), and rams.  There were bunnies, doves, and big displays you could have your picture taken with.  After midnight I went back to the hotel (because nearly every single thing in the city was closed; I did not anticipate that) and had a mini celebration that the hotel staff invited all of the guests to.

The next day, the entire city was still pretty much shut down, so I walked around a run down amusement park and ate some of the aforementioned delicious food.  During the rest of the trip I managed to visit the state department store (TSUM, which was essentially just a lot of random stalls selling even more random items; Moscow TSUM, on the other hand, is stocked with luxury brands), the State Historical Museum (the most Soviet thing in the city, except for maybe the giant Lenin statue out back), a museum dedicated to Mikhail Frunze (who won the Eastern front for the red Army pretty much single handedly), visited bazaars, saw the circus, the eternal flame, and travelled to the mountains to eat dinner in a yurt, among other things.

For me, Bishkek had two major benefits: the first being that it was completely different from anything I'd ever experienced, and the second that because it's in Central Asia, the crisis didn't affect prices much.

After getting back I spent a lot of time trying new recipes and relaxing.  I also went to see the Phantom of the Opera, which I highly recommend if you get the chance to see it!

Work is now back in full swing, but I'll think of a new adventure soon enough.   

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