February 22-March 4
Back to school, and back to icy roads. The temperature has risen to the point where we feel we are through the worst of this harshest of winters, and we have brought the feel-good factor back from the U.A.E. to the place dubbed ‘the Dubai of the Steppe’.
Being in the cold and snow allows us to do different activities to those we enjoyed in the desert. One such undertaking is cross-country skiing, and I tried this for the first time soon after returning to Kazakhstan. It is a cheap and relatively accessible activity. Downhill skiing is not an option in this part of the country, due to the flatness of the land, but cross-country skiing is a popular Kazakh pastime.
Kazakh fun fact: Kazakh skier Vladimir Smirnov won seven medals in total in the 1988, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics, including gold in the 50 km competition in 1994.
There is a small cross-country track in a park near to our flat, so we ventured across one Saturday afternoon to test out our skiing abilities. Ski in Russian is лыжах, pronounced LY-zhuh. The track is flattened and slightly bumpy snow, but also has smoother grooves which your skis fit snugly into. Being in the latter allows you to build up a degree of confidence before attempting to master the main route.
We had been told before skiing on a rather mild Astana afternoon that it is a challenge for both your arms and your legs. I can now validate that theory. The use of your arms, in particular the shoulders, is vital in order to generate any speed when cross-country skiing. Ultimately, this resulted in us all going rather slowly and then moaning afterwards.
It was, however, a pleasant way to spend part of our weekend. The highlight was descending from the top of a small bridge, giving you a feeling that you are actually skiing, as opposed to walking with horizontal stilts. The lowlight was getting up that bridge. Difficult.
Due to tightening purse strings post-Emirati excursion, as well as having the usually heavy workload, we haven’t done too much else of note recently. We have found a new bar that actually shows rugby, which has allowed me to revel in Wales’ latest successes. Being the solitary Welshman in the school meant that I had to rely on local support, but it was a still a nice occasion.
The weather is now getting warmer. We have to now state that a temperature is ‘minus’, unlike in December and January when we could just shout out ‘25’ or ‘30’ and know that it unfortunately was not flip-flop weather. Consequently, wintry adventures such as cross-country skiing are coming to a close, but there will be plenty to keep us occupied as the heat rises. Soon…
Love you all