Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Evening at Medeo

Ever hear of the fairy-tale of the Olympic sized speed skating rink located in the mountains?  Well, Saturday evening we set out to determine if indeed such a place really existed.   In this case, the ‘we’ consisted of Amy, Griffin, and me, as well as our new American friends the Finney’s (Ben, Kerry, and Liam).  Medeo is truly a unique place, and is hard to describe in words, so I’ll include several pictures to help give an overview of the place.  As you can tell from the picture below, Medeo definitely exists, and is truly an Olympic sized speed skating rink located in the middle of the mountains.

Medeo is only about 20 kilometers outside of Almaty, and can easily be reached within 20-25 minutes.  The roads to Medeo are very well maintained, since they pass through some of the most expensive properties in Almaty (as our driver would say ‘big dollars’).  Contrary to the American stereotype of Kazakhstan living, there are certainly many people in Almaty that are very well off, American standard or otherwise.  As a matter of fact, Amy and I happened by a gentleman driving a Ferrari just yesterday afternoon.  And the cars parked in front of the McMansions on the way to Medeo would rival any posh neighborhood in the States (think BWM, Lexus, Mercedes, etc.). 

As we wound our way up the mountain toward Medeo, the first thing we noticed was the cooling temperatures and clear, alpine air.  The landscape was beautiful, and certainly not a place where we would expect to find an Olympic speed skating rink.  Actually, Medeo is one of two venues that were built as a start toward a bid to host the winter Olympic games (unsuccessful so far), with the second being the Chimbulak ski resort that is located another ~7 kilometers farther up mountain from Medeo.  Since the weather definitely gets much cooler in Chimbulak, we decided to enjoy our stop at Medeo and hold skiing for another trip (hmm… say next year?).   Below is a picture from inside the rink.

If you can get past looking at the good looking people in this picture, you will notice the large damn-like structure in the background.  It’s actually not a damn, but was built to protect against avalanches.  Makes you feel safe, eh?  If you look really closely, you will see many, many steps leading up the structure.  We felt that the views had to be outstanding from the top, so we mentioned to our driver that we would make the trek to the top with the kids in tow.

He smiled at us politely.  Then he nodded, and communicated that we could do that, but we would in effect be crazy.  Now realize that our driver speaks only slightly more English than I speak Russian, but for some reason we had some ‘Onagee’ thing (‘Friends’ reference for Jamie) going that allowed us to fully understand each other.

He then motioned to a side road that we hadn’t noticed, and indicated that we could drive up to the top.  As we sat in the car and listened to it struggle to pull us up the hill, I realized the magnitude of the error that I would have made had we tried to climb it.  I’m thinking that Griff would have had to roll back down on his own, as his two out of shape parents would surely have suffered heart attacks.  Below is a picture of the group from the top.

To help give some additional perspective on how remote this area really is, below is a shot of the valley from the top of the ‘damn’, opposite side from the skating rink.

Yep, there is really nothing else out here but the skating rink and a few snack stands, but we really enjoyed getting out of the city for a few hours.  On our way back to the city, we noticed that they are building a ski lift from the city to Medeo, continuing on to Chimbulak.  That will be a great addition for tourism, and should hopefully help spur along some additional investment in the area surrounding the rink (as much as you can on the side of a mountain).

And for those that are curious, the rink is actually used for more than simply entertaining goofy American tourists.  Several Kazakhstan Olympic skaters have apparently trained here, and Medeo will be one of the venues when Almaty hosts the Asian Games here in 2011.

After our adventures through the mountains, we enjoyed a great late dinner at L’Affiche, a little café outside the Hotel Almaty.  For those that will be staying near this area, we highly recommend this spot, as the food is the best we have had yet in Kazakhstan.

Long Distance Happy Father’s Day Wish


I know that we traditionally get together on Father’s Day and grab dinner together as a family.  Since we are half-a-world away this Father’s Day, we’ll obviously need to postpone the dinner, but wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you today. 

Ever since I can remember, you have always been there for me.  You have shown me that one of the more important traits of a great father is not in having all the right answers to the difficult questions, but just always being there to support your children in their struggles.  While this sounds fairly obvious, I think it’s more difficult in practice, as the perspective of a youngster tends to make everyday issues into monumental quests.  I thank you (and mom of course – focusing on dad since it’s papa’s day!) for having the patience to deal with my continually changing interests as a child, and for now showing the same love and care with my kids.  They are very lucky grandchildren. 

Know that Amy and I would not be able to maintain our sanity (or what’s left) without the knowledge that you are holding down the fort at home, while we are off globetrotting for Griffin.  It’s clear that Connor and Lana are doing great, primarily due to the activities that you have planned for them on a daily basis (swimming, karate, gymnastics, movies, sweatshop work… kidding).  I thank you for being the rock during this process, and can’t wait to get back home to thank you in person, and give you some relief from your duties. 

Give Connor and Lana and hug and kiss for me today, and let them know that we’ll celebrate my day when I get back.  I’ll expect cookies from Lana, and some fierce tackling from Connor.

Look forward to seeing you soon,

-Your son

And to the other father’s out there, have a great Father’s Day today.  I know that I’ll be looking for some shashlyk (i.e. kabobs) and a few colds ones to enjoy with Amy and Griffin (nyet cold ones for Griff, but he certainly enjoys the kabobs).  Best, Jesse.