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Before Vacation #1

Greetings! I wanted to write a “quick” blog post about our shenanigans before we fly away for our first vacation! Woo hoo! We’ve been up to no good, per se, touring the city and getting ready for our trip. We’ve visited the various malls, markets, and restaurants around town. This post will pretty much be about food, as that seems to be all that I blog about anyway. It is exciting finding new restaurants because we don’t know what the food will be like. So far, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by everything. I’m sure you will be too.

We went to the mall and had some Mexican food at Uno Dos Tacos. Casey’s burrito was very fresh and delicious. My tacos were also tasty, just a little small. The portion sizes are smaller than in the US, but that’s better actually since they are more like what normal sizes should be. They give you plastic gloves, which I presume are for eating the tacos since they are juicy and messy. How convenient! (If you can see the small writing next to Pasta Nostra, it says “The offer you can’t refuse!” Love it!) Then we went to a café for a cappuccino and red velvet cake.

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That same day, we went to another mall to find a tailor to take in Casey’s backpacking pants. There was a wooden hut in the middle of the mall which sells smaller carvings of wooden things. Adorable and clever!

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We also found SeoulMart! A small store filled with Korean items. They had quite a few food items, as well as makeup products and dishes, etc. We grabbed a few snacks for the road.

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We started making snack bags for our upcoming trip. Casey likes to combine his snacks in one bag, while I prefer to separate bags into sweet or savory items. This one bag of his caught my eye. Shrimp chips and M&Ms! A winning combination??

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We finally went to eat at Café Nedelka! Like Casey said, it was delicious! Very good flavors at a very reasonable price. A smoothie, grapefruit lemonade, caesar salad, and fetuccini alfredo. Yummy!

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Casey went to play football one evening with his co-workers. His company pays for the field once a week, so the guys meet up and have a good time for free. It’s a great system. The guys are very nice, and he loves getting the exercise while having fun. There are three fields, so it’s a fairly big place. It’s an enclosed area but the sides are open to let in some air. In winter though, they can lower the tarp on the sides of the fence to keep out the cold air.

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We found a very tasty place just down the block. The menu was like a passport. He ordered a cappuccino and I ordered a lemonade of some kind. I certainly had enough to drink. We ordered a lamb burger (the other meat option was horse) and a chicken stir-fry type of thing. Very good flavors! The presentations of everything was quite fancy too. This was one of the more expensive meals we’ve had. It was about $21 dollars. Still not bad! They also like to give you the check in some cute mug or box around here.

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Another day, we went to an American-style restaurant called Mandy’s Diner! We sat outside next to the “river.” There is open water like this around the city. It’s just water drainage from the mountains nearby. It’s actually quite relaxing to hear the sound of the water if you’re walking by it. Anyway, Casey had an iced latte and a nice American breakfast with pancakes and eggs. Their pancakes are perfect! I had a BBQ chicken burger that was decent and a strawberry lemonade that seemed like Kool-Aid. Probably won’t order that again.

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The final meal I’d like to note is our dinner last night at Manga Sushi! They have sushi all over the place here; at restaurants and in the food court at malls. I’ve been saving myself to eat it at a nice restaurant, and we finally had the chance. Their menu was like a magazine in style and thickness. (To Shannon – I kept wanting to say “Skip ahead to chapter 4. It’s the lunch menu.”)

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We had some delicious raspberry mint lemonade, little bao burgers, two dinner sushi rolls, and even a sushi dessert! The berry sauce that came with the dessert was served in a dish made out of a fried wonton skin. Casey took a bite out of it and he looked just like Willy Wonka taking a bite out of the flower teacup! (To Mom – it made me think of you!) They gave us a piece of gum and a toothpick with the check. Nice touch.

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Every restaurant we’ve been to has some sort of lemonade drink. It’s not necessarily the classic lemonade we think of in the US, but it’s usually very good. It seems like sparkling water, some type of sugar syrup, and then some type of fruit. Sometimes there’s a citrus flavor to them but not always. I wonder how they started calling it lemonade in the first place.

Well, I have much more to say about my time here, but I’ll call it good for now and move on to our backpacking trip. We’ve been planning and packing almost every day. We bought our food and portioned it out into specific meals and days. We weigh all the food and figure out exactly how many calories is in each meal or snack. Then we bag it all up and know how much we have to eat for each day.

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We are going to carry some of our food at the beginning of the trail (that’s in bag number one), and then we’re going to send the rest to the little mountain huts along the way to resupply ourselves when we get there. We have all the food portioned out into four different bags. We also have been very particular as to what else we carry along the trail. Casey’s pack weighs less than 8 pounds, and mine is just over 8 pounds. That’s not counting food or water. It’s an interesting lifestyle out there. I’m not sure what to expect since I haven’t been on such a long trip before. It’ll be about 18-19 days. We’ve planned out each of our days pretty carefully mileage-wise, but there is one detour to a mountain that we’ll decide when we get there. We’ll see what the weather is like and then decide if we want to go or not. The pictures below show exactly what is in our backpacks.

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So that’s about it! We had a nice evening tonight for our last night in Almaty. We met two of his coworkers who used to work at Arik Air in Lagos. I knew one of them already, and it was nice to see a familiar face! We ended the night with a decadent dessert (or two) at a place called Whoopie Cakes! A little pricey for the area but very tasty. I got carrot cake and Casey got red velvet cake which really tasted more like strawberry shortcake, and they actually weren’t that sweet. Certainly not as sweet as they look.

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On the walk home, we met this adorable, friendly cat! I wanted to pet it sooo badly! It sat on my shoes for a little while til I had to nudge it off. Too cute! It was a perfect way to end the evening. IMG_20170731_200727DSC_0164DSC_0166DSC_0167DSC_0168DSC_0170DSC_0172

I’ll blog as soon as we get back! I’ll have lots of pictures from our trip!

Ciao for now!

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The Beginning in Almaty, Kazakhstan

About 32 hours later, I made it! My journey was long, smooth, rather uneventful, mostly comfortable, a bit tiring, and thankfully over. After a rough start (my first flight was canceled so I had to quickly change to an earlier flight in order for everything to not be messed up), I hopped on the plane and began my trip: Sacramento – Los Angeles – Houston – Istanbul – Almaty.

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The flight to Los Angeles was short and simple. I read on my Kindle. I had a short layover at LAX, so I got some lunch from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (and kicked myself for not bringing my gift card!). The flight to Houston was longer but easy too, and I knitted the whole time. Once I arrived in Houston, I went straight to the international terminal to check it out. I had a 2.5 hour layover here, so I walked around the terminal, which didn’t take long. It was either a very small terminal or I missed a whole section. Where I was it was virtually empty. Then I sat and relaxed for a little while before boarding.

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It’s odd to me that international terminals in the US tend to feel like you’re in a foreign country already. I don’t know why. They seem to have their own vibe that differs a lot from domestic terminals. I don’t know if anyone else feels that way. But the bathroom was very nice with Dyson faucets. Once boarding was called, everyone rushed up and stood in line. There were actually separate boarding groups, but you can’t tell here.

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I flew with Turkish Airlines for the first time, and it was quite nice! The cabin lights changed colors at the beginning and end of the flight. They gave everyone a pillow, a blanket, headphones, and an amenity kit with slippers, socks, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

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The food was great too! They gave each of us a menu for dinner, which I thought was a lovely touch. I chose the grilled chicken and it was quite tasty, albeit a little hard to cut on the plane, even though they gave us real silverware instead of plastic utensils (another nice touch). Casey would have liked the smoked salmon and artichoke salad. I tried the moutabel and tabbouleh but didn’t care for the flavor personally. The panna cotta for dessert was especially good and creamy. I chose the homemade lemonade as a drink and that was better than Minute Maid lemonade. Breakfast was a mushroom omelette with potatoes and fresh fruit. I skipped the assorted cheese. All-in-all, I was very impressed with the food! And overall, the only downside I could tell was that the seats weren’t very padded so they weren’t the most comfortable, but otherwise I’d gladly fly with Turkish again.

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On this long flight, I couldn’t get too comfortable in the seats, but I slept as much as I could. When I couldn’t sleep, I read and then watched the movie “Avatar” (finally) on the in-flight media. Then 12 hours later, we arrived in Istanbul! We got off the big plane and boarded a bus to take us to the Ataturk airport.

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The terminal I was in was quite old and small, but I walked around and ended up in a huge area with expensive clothing shops and more food options. I found this souvenir shop called Old Bazaar and perused for a little while. I had a 4 hour layover here, so I paid to enter a lounge and was able to take a shower. It was refreshing and help push me on for the last 9 hours or so of the trip.

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When it was time to fly to Almaty, we boarded another bus and headed out to the plane. Everyone was in a hurry to board and crowded into this small enclosure. To my surprise, we got another meal on this flight! It was a 5 hour flight, but I just didn’t expect a meal I guess. I chose the pasta, which was simple and tasty. It came with Greek yogurt mixed with herbs as a side and raspberry Greek yogurt for dessert. I wasn’t too tired after dinner, so I watched the movie “Hidden Figures” (which was good!) and then tried to sleep.

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After awhile, I finally arrived in Almaty!!!!!! I looked back for one last look at the plane, then went through customs and baggage claim. My bags came quickly enough, and Casey was waiting for me just outside the door. Yayyy!!!! It was so good to see him again! It had been over a month and a half since he left the US, so it was about time to be reunited. We left the airport and I took a quick picture of one side of the building that I could see. And that was that! Off we went to our new apartment!

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Saturday

I arrived on Saturday morning around 5 AM local time. Once we got to the apartment, we ate some muesli for breakfast, relaxed a bit, then went out to a café for a snack. We ordered a waffle with caramel syrup and it was delicious. Beautiful presentation too.

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After a stop in their very ornate bathroom, we left to walk around the neighborhood. I took pictures of various things that caught my eye as we passed by.

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A restaurant called Hot Dog Club – “American Hot Dogs since 2017,” apparently.

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There are trees and parks everywhere. Just from what I’ve seen so far, the city looks very old and very new in certain places. Some buildings look old and you can tell they’ve been there for a while. But then they also have very new, modern buildings, so you can tell that they are improving the city, which is also what I’ve read online.

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We walked by a neat street with a few restaurants like Café Nedelka, Mandy’s Diner, and Pita Green. Casey’s been to Café Nedelka a few times and really likes it. He’ll take me there soon. So far, he loves the food here and has had good experiences everywhere.

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We spotted a bus advertising Qazaq Air, Casey’s new airline! Then we arrived at our destination, Dostyk Plaza. It’s a huge, beautiful mall. Anyone would be happy shopping here. I’ve noticed that malls in Europe, and now Asia, are much nicer than the malls in the US. They remind me of the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas actually; only the size might vary.

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Have you ever seen so many immersion blenders or meat grinders in your life?! No! You haven’t! This was amazing.

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I don’t know if Kazakhstan Cola is different. They also had rows of honey. Every kind of honey you could imagine. Refined, unrefined, flavored, etc. Very cool.

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We saw some pretty mosaic murals on our way to dinner. He took me to a burger joint with very nice, juicy burgers. I ordered the classic and Casey got the kimchi burger! The kimchi flavor was subtle but added a nice spiciness to the meat. We also had the best grapefruit soda, which they called grapefruit lemonade. I think it was just sparkling water, simple syrup, and grapefruit wedges, but it was delicious.

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On the way home, we passed by a pretty building with fountains. I think it’s a theater of some sort.

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Sunday

On day two, we took the subway to another mall. This subway/metro was quite nice with stained glass, some cute paintings, and pretty mosaic tiles on the walls.

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We got to the ADK mall and had coffee and sandwiches for lunch. I ordered a mocha to perk myself up and Casey got a cappuccino. I was surprised to find Nathan’s Hot Dogs in the mall! You hardly see those in the US these days. Who would have thought it would be here.

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This mall was smaller than the one yesterday, but we walked around and then went to the market downstairs. We bought a few things and then went back to the apartment for the rest of the afternoon. When dinnertime rolled around, we walked to a café/restaurant on the corner and had pizza! The crust was fabulous (they obviously have a good pizza oven), hardly any sauce, but the flavor was good with the cheese and toppings. We also ordered bruschetta and a berry iced tea that turned out to be purple. Fascinating.

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We stopped at the market on the way home for a small treat. Casey picked out these tarts with adorable bees on top! They were so cute that I didn’t want to eat it. All of that cream is not whipped cream actually. It’s meringue! I was surprised too. And we saved that big one to eat the next day.

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Monday

Yesterday we went to yet another mall! But first, we started off the day with breakfast at a café near by. I got another mocha and it had the cutest spoon! It’s curved to rest on the glass. I just love it!

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This time we went to Mega Mall, which lives up to its name. It’s HUGE! This is actually very much like the Fashion Show Mall in terms of size. We walked around for a long time, and I’m not even sure we saw everything. There may have been a corridor we missed.

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At the food court, we finally found McDonald’s! They also had Burger King, Carl’s Junior (which is called Hardee’s here), Pizza Hut, and Baskin Robbins. Is Baskin Robbins even still open in the US? We ended up ordering some local fast food. We had chicken teriyaki (which had some sweet Middle Eastern seasoning) and some kind of noodle soup. I forget what it was called. We also had boba/bubble tea that was tasty.

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I loved this tree in the middle of the mall. We debated whether it was apples or cherries. They also had a beautiful fish tank with a puffer fish, two sharks, three eels, and lots of pretty fish.

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There was a huge, metal fountain with gears moving water up and down. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but it was really cool. Then I found this cute cup with a curved spoon! Very similar to the one we saw at the café. I might have to buy some curved spoons one of these days.

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We stopped at the market when we were finished, and I had to take a picture of the horse meat display. Very interesting! On one of our lunch menus, there was a horse sandwich option. We tried it once when we were in Spain and it was good if you can get past the mental block, but I don’t know if I want to try it again. We’ll see. We decided to get an ice cream treat to end the day before going back to the apartment.

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Tuesday

If you can believe it, we went to another mall today! This one was very small and not worth taking a picture of. Then we went to the market. Each mall we’ve been to has had a market inside it, attached to it, or next to it. Casey wanted to show me the various malls and markets in the city so I could get an idea of what each place sells. It’s been fun exploring the city and the shops!

We have more shopping to do this coming week in order to get ready for our upcoming trip to Sweden. For anyone who doesn’t know, we’re going to go backpacking in Northern Sweden for about 3 weeks, so we’re getting prepared for that.

That’s all for now! Hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures!