We were up today at 8. We did some minor rearranging, since we were coming home the next day and we wanted to get our breakable stuff as padded as possible. For the first time all trip, breakfast had bacon, although it was almost certainly beef bacon. We met our guide Diana (who didn't know she was going to be guiding us until yesterday) at 9. We got some money from the ATM, trying not to get too much since we were here for only one day. We didn't know exactly what to expect, as originally we were not planned to be here until the afternoon. We didn't know if MIR had re-arranged our excursions for the day, or just moved everything forward. [Moved everything forward.]


From the hotel, we drove to Paniflov park. There were some giant Soviet statues, commemorating World War I and World War II. There was also an eternal flame, which unlike in Bishkek was still lit. The nearby church, Ascension Cathedral (aka Zenkov Cathedral), was a bit of a letdown. It was completely covered on the outside for renovations, and inside it was full of people, as there was a religious holiday that day. We didn't want to be sightseeing in the middle of a religious ceremony, as that just seemed like it might lead to some bad juju. So we watched a bit of the ceremony, standing out of the way as much as possible, then headed out. The park was smaller than we were led to believe from the travel websites, so we were done with the park and the cathedral in less than an hour.

The next stop was a nearby musical museum, which was similar to things we'd seen in Isfahan. This was going by in a hurry, and Diana told us there wasn't much left. We knew there wasn't a ton to do in Almaty, but this was even less than we expected. From the museum we went to the Green bazaar, an outdoor/indoor market. We saw some shops, and also an area like in Tashkent where it was covered and full of different types of meat, produce, nuts, fruit, etc. Nearby the bazaar was a famous chocolate shop, which Diana showed us around. Thankfully Jalil had told us about Green Hill (Kok Tobe), so when Diana asked us if there was anything else we were interested in, we said that. Otherwise, we would have been done around 10:30 with a whole day to kill.

To get to Kok Tobe, we took a short drive south to place where the funicular is. On the drive we saw a Starbucks, so Crystal thought she might be able to get a mug later in the day. We parked near a landmark hotel (the Kazakhstan Hotel), and then took a short walk across this square that had a couple statues that looked like robots. We got our tickets, then headed up the funicular with Diana. As we started ascending, it was immediately apparent how bad the smog was. Once we got above it, we thought maybe it might be a good idea to stay up there. Diana said the city was blocked by mountains on three sides (all except west), and since the wind was usually west to east, everything just got stuck above the city until rain.

There was no one at the top, as apparently people don't wake up to do anything early on Saturdays. The snow-capped mountains to our south today were the north side of same mountains where we saw snow leopards a few days prior. In fact, as the crow flies, Cholpon Ata (where we went to the museum and had lunch) is only about 60 miles due south, with border about halfway. Besides the nice views, there were lots of things to do at the park, but mostly for kids. There were bumper cars, a roller coaster, toy gun shooting, etc. It was almost like a carnival or county fair. Then there was a tiny zoo area as well, with birds, some livestock (llama, deer, etc.). Diana was really interested in feeding the animals, not with food, but just with leaves that had fallen. The animals seemed to know what was up, and refused to get tricked by the non-food.

We finished up around noon. Diana was willing to wait for us to have lunch and then head back down, but we figured we might have a long, leisurely lunch, so there was no reason to keep her (and Pasha) waiting. So we said our goodbyes, and then ate lunch at Abay, which was on the west side of the park, right by the funicular, with great views of the city below. We confirmed they took credit cards before we ordered, so that we'd know what we could spend. They did take cards, so now we really knew we could have a long lunch. The food was very inexpensive, but drinks were about US prices. Crystal got an Aviation, whilst Justin got some Bacardi Reserva 8 with cola. For food we split some fried manti (basically a giant potsticker) and Green Onion Lamb. The fried manti was fine, but nothing spectacular. Meanwhile the lamb with green onions was spectacular. Our best guess is that it was green onions, boneless lamb, garlic, and sea salt tossed in a wok. It was truly excellent. Then, for seconds, we got a different lamb in wok dish, this time with bell peppers and maybe some chilis. Crystal got one random hot bite, not sure from what. Everything else was more mild. This dish was also very good, but we couldn't finish since we were now stuffed. Lunch did take awhile, probably 2 hours or so.

The smog was rising, so we decided to head back down, and then hoped we could meander our way to our hotel from memory. We knew generally which direction we needed to go (northwest), so we decided to try our luck at finding the Starbucks and hotel on our own. We tried to retrace our steps (well, the car route) from the drive earlier. We were generally heading north, and a bit west every so often. This would have been much easier if we'd saved offline maps like in Samarkand. Just when we were about to give up on the Starbucks and just get cab to the hotel, we saw the Starbucks one block over. Crystal got her mug, adding to her lengthy collection. We still needed to find the hotel, however. There were green signs on some street corners, with tourist maps. Thankfully our hotel was on there. It turns out we were going the correct direction - mostly - but needed to go several more blocks west than we originally thought.

We got back to the hotel sometime between 4 and 5. The hotel room was still ridiculously hot, so we opened the window again, as it was now late enough that outside was cooler than inside. We cleaned ourselves up, backed up everything on our electronics, and got most everything packed. Justin cut his hair, figuring he'd rather get hair in the hotel sink than the sink in the home where we were having showings every few days. At around 7pm, headed down to the lounge in bar area. There was a giant open window, so this was the only place in the hotel that wasn't hot. We took two seats at the table next to the window. There was club music with music videos. Between the music in Pasha's car and this, Justin was starting to like some of the club music; Crystal not so much. One of the workers came in and changed the TV to a football match, and his team scored a goal within about 30 seconds. We told him we must be his good luck charm.

We spent most of the evening trying to get one of our Turkmenistan videos onto Instagram. Justin couldn't transfer files from his camera to the phone - the phone wouldn't recognize the MP4 format. He also couldn't email the video to his phone, as it was too big. Crystal had some video on her GoPro, but couldn't grab it from the app for some reason. Eventually Justin installed the GoPro app on his phone, and then grabbed a video from Crystal's GoPro. Better late than never; it gave us something to do tonight. We headed back upstairs around 10, trying to get some rest before our 3:30am wake up call.

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