2/22 – Today we will travel across town to see the sights of Almaty. This used to be the capital city, before the president moved it to Astana in 1997, and is still the business and financial capital. It feels like a real city, instead of one just built for show.
I have been trying to see a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and today is our chance. The Zenkov, or Ascension Cathedral, is the 2nd tallest all wooden structure in the world, and was built entirely without nails. We needed to travel 5 km across town to get to it, and here is how you do it. Stand at the edge of the busy main street. Ever so subtly, stick your index finger out, pointing down at the road. The very next car to come by will stop and ask where you want to go (in Russian, of course). Negotiate a price, and off you go!
The Kazakh man who picked us up had no English, and even though Jim had written out our destination in Russian and drawn a map, we were not sure he knew where we wanted to go. Solution? One block further, he stopped for a Russian man who had his finger out, and asked him if he spoke English. Problem solved! The young man worked for an international medical supply company, and was happy to tell us about his city, and how beautiful it is.
It was Sunday afternoon, and the local folk were out enjoying the day. The Cathedral is in Panfilov Park, also called the Park of the 28 Guardsmen, and there were vendors selling candy and balloons, giving pony rides, and offering photo opportunities for kids to pose with a bird or a rabbit.
The Cathedral, built in 1907, was colorful and stunning. Constructed totally without nails, it survived a major earthquake in 1911 with minimal damage, which some considered miraculous. It served as a museum during the Soviet years, and was reconsecrated and returned to the Church in 1997.
Inside, the faithful lit candles, bowed three times when crossing themselves, and kissed the golden icons.
We were able to sit and meditate for a while.
When we emerged, we strolled the park to see the monuments commemorating the sacrifice of the 28 local Guardsmen who helped defend Russia against the Nazis in WWII. There were monuments and a tree planted in the name of each one.
And an eternal flame.
We caught a ride home using the one-finger method. This driver had a little English – enough to tell us “Putin good, Obama bad. Bush okay. Bill Clinton good, Hillary bad.” Well, there you go!