[Time for some long-overdue posts! I've been writing some of this as I go.]
The last couple of days in Almaty were relatively uneventful – but not completely uneventful, as Nazerke invited us all over for dinner, which she and her parents insisted was simply required when having guests, and we tried the Kazakh national dish beshbarmak, composed largely of horse meat, which was excellent.
I took an overnight express train to Astana. This train is an exception to the rest of the Soviet rail system, being designed/built by a Spanish company and fairly new and clean, and containing a restaurant and bar car, and comparatively comfortable bunk beds (see later for what I’m comparing them to). I knew in theory that it wasn’t normal for this rail network, but only truly understand that now, as I sit writing about it while aboard a train from Astana to Ekaterinburg, Russia (currently stopped at Kurgan), which I shall have to describe in more detail later. The other trains from Almaty to Astana take about 24 hours.
It’s at least sort of true what they say about trains in this region: although there were no endless vodka shots (supposedly this is a common sticky situation as it’s made hard to say no), people are talkative. Through the language barrier (meaning about 75% in English, 25% in Russian), I made one friend and also met one less than savory character. The friend is a Kazakh girl, Venera, who also just finished university; she might be reading this, since we became Facebook friends! The other guy, from Siberia (where I now am), scoffed at my claims of being a tourist, pointing to his own hefty hiking boots and swearing at me in Russian, and repeatedly told me to flirt with Venera (after having, as it seemed to me, tried to do so himself and been rebuffed).
Venera was amused that my name was Michael. “Michael” is the stereotypical American boy, she said, the way that Natasha is the Russian girl. I asked what the equivalent for an American girl was. Jessica, she said. I guess it makes sense, because a plurality of my friends at Yale are named Jessica!
When the train journey was over, it was time to find my hostel in Astana. To be continued…
Posted from Moscow, Moscow, Russia.