Monday, May 13, 2013

Issik Ata: a pool in the mountains

Issik Ata, a mountain resort featuring an outdoor pool heated by spring water, is a place we had often heard about but never visited - until this weekend. My friend Svieta, who was one of my Russian teachers, invited us out for a day of swimming and picnicking, and we were delighted to have the chance to go. The weather in Bishkek was warm, but after driving two hours into the mountains, the air had a definite chill. We immediately changed into our suits and took advantage of the pool. It was as warm as a bathtub, going from moderately warm in the deep end to comfortably warm in the shallow end to burning hot under the chute of water piped directly from the hot spring. Old ladies loved to stand under this water for several minutes at a time, even though I could only stand it for a few seconds. The water is believed to have healing properties from the radiation. I'm not convinced that radiation is a good thing, but we enjoyed the heated water anyway. Sebby especially loved it, since this pool had a shallow end in which he could stand and run. Other pools I have taken him to in Bishkek didn't have a section shallow enough for him, so this time he had a huge smile on his face the whole time, even if he tripped and dunked himself every now and then.

While swimming was very enjoyable, getting out of the pool was torturous. We dashed out to the changing room (a three-and-a-half sided outdoor structure) and dressed as quickly as possible. The air was getting colder by the minute. We spread out a picnic and enjoyed oromo, salads, potatoes, eggs, and chocolate, talking in Kyrgyz and sometimes Russian, chatting, making toasts, and encouraging everyone to eat more. Luckily we just managed to finish our feast before the heavy rain started.

Gulsar, me, Svieta, Bekjan, Baitur, Miki, Sebby, Misha. Photographer: Josh

We piled back into the car and drove partway back home, stopping at a beautiful meadow with grazing sheep, a gushing river, and picturesque foothills in the distance. The weather there was warm and sunny, and the children ran off toward the flock of sheep with their lambs in tow. To the boys' disappointment, the sheep immediately turned and fled. But never fear, there was a river to play in, and kids can be content for hours simply tossing stones into flowing water. Misha and Sebby worked together to start building a stone bridge across the river, and they were disappointed when we had to leave before it was finished.

We drove back to the city by early evening, having enjoyed the day and worn out the kids nicely in the process!

The next day we spent preparing for Bud and Ashley's arrival, while Misha and Sebby spent most of the day outside, playing with friends and climbing trees. I love tree-climbing pictures, so here is the weekend spider-monkey installment:

Sebby was content digging below.

A great shot of Misha and Vladik

Misha taught Alihan a bit of climbing technique
Turat helped Sebby find a good place to sit.
 In the evening we walked to the cafe Faisa with friends to eat delicious gan fan and lagman, particularly enjoying the pleasant walk to and from.

Anara and me
A few other recent shots:

"Kakuyu ruku?" - which hand? - Sebby asks me. Gee, so hard to tell...

I was a bit frustrated when Sebby got into the non-washable paint and ruined one of his cute sweatshirts with random splotches. But then I realized we could still save it by strategically planting his hand-prints on it. Now he loves this shirt and he can't wait to wear it to school.

Misha gives a bike lesson to Yan in Derjinka

Biking over the train bridge

Sebby could watch trains for hours.

Sebby and Misha in front of the Bishkek train station.

Bud and Ashley arrived early, early this morning! The boys were so excited to see them when they woke up. Josh is thrilled to have his brother here, and we've got a long list of things to squeeze into these two weeks with them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Savoring Bishkek

Wild poppies by the side of the road
Not having to work or study in May means that I have had time to get the house in order before our guests - Bud and Ashley! - get here tomorrow. It also means I can spend the whole day walking around Bishkek, savoring the view and the companionship. For example, last Wednesday, I walked with my friend Alesia, taking the obligatory narcissistic portraits in choice spots and capturing images of the small streets that I love, away from the main noisy roads.

Peeking out from a birch tree

The little streets of Bishkek


After drinking coffee and whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, we continued our walk, this time jumping on a marshrutka so she could show me the Russian Orthodox (pravaslavni) church. I would hate to leave Bishkek without seeing the inside.

Covering one's hair is required before entering.

I like the blue dollops.

This donkey was tied out back, perhaps for Easter. Or maybe he always lives there.
The inside of the church, full of icons, paintings, and color
The side room

Another small building requested that women not only cover their hair but remove their lipstick and wear a skirt in order to enter. That made me think of Saudi!

Outside the church, a small store sells candles (to burn for loved ones) and icons of all sizes.

 After that, it was time to pick up the kids from school, so we made our way to Ak Bala. We took the boys downtown to enjoy the weather and take a look at the tanks set up along the street for Victory Day.

Camaraderie in the avtobus.

The Vechni Ogon - Eternal Flame monument, shaped like a yurt.


The weather was so nice that we sat in the soft, fresh-smelling grass while the kids ran around the monument. Then we walked along the street to see the tanks, crossed the street, and admired the absolutely beautiful irises planted in front of the luxurious Hyat hotel.

 The next day was Victory Day itself, May 9, so the kids didn't have school. We met up with fellow moms and kids at the cafe Teremok: Baktigul with her three children, Alesia with her two, and me with my Misha and Sebby - that's seven children! Luckily the cafe had a playground, and we enjoyed pizza and shashlik while the kids ran back and forth. We even descended upon my apartment for a while afterward to eat cake. It was a bit scary to have so many kids in the house, but Misha quite enjoyed it!

Pizza party

A crazy rocking teeter totter - Misha, Sebby, Timur, Pasha, Yan. They all go to first grade together as well as Ushu classes (except Sebby).
 While we were there, we saw a family celebrating a child's first birthday. The Kyrgyz tradition involves tying the feet of the birthday child, then having a race with all the other children. The first child to reach the birthday baby cuts the ropes binding the feet, symbolically readying the child for his first steps. I had often heard about this tradition, but never seen it, so I ran over to observe.

Kids in the trunk. Did we drive like this? Well, this is Kyrgyzstan ...