Continuing in a long-held tradition, an overview of all the many adventures of the last year.
Every year we have a tradition! And this one, my seventh annual review (see: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), is already excessively late. In part because it was an eventful year. And in part because my blog has been horribly behind since last February. But better late than never! More than any single calendar year of my life (though in no way unusual), 2015 was defined, from beginning to end, as a year on the road. We greeted the New Year at a dive bar in Kansas City, followed by the most Soviet of all holiday parties at a friend’s parents’ home. We were, at the time, a week into what turned out to be a four-week trip across the US, with stops in New York, Columbus, Madison, Chicago, Kansas City, and DC. January saw us in Kansas City for Rachel’s wedding, and then in DC, where I waited on my Kazakh visa, a week past Maki’s return to Kazakhstan. With plenty of time for museums, homemade donuts, Ukrainian Christmas caroling, reunions, and many other adventures. With so many pictures, it seems impossible to pick just one event, but I’ll go with one from Almaty, on a pristine January day after a night of snow.
By the time we finally arrived in Kazakhstan, we were very eager to be settled, and we celebrated our arrival with a fabulous housewarming, complete with tacos, guacamole (with self-imported avocados), and no fewer than four chocolate cakes to choose from. This rather set the tone for Almaty winter, which covered the end of January, all of February, and well into March. There were plenty of trips up into the mountains, if only to climb the steps of the Medeu dam, as well as many potlucks and house parties.
Of course, these were only the most exciting parts. My day job, taking Kazakh lessons every morning and sitting in archives and libraries until closing was really what I was doing most of the time. But this still left plenty of time for adventures, small and large. In March, we finally got out of the city for the first time together, when we took a long weekend to Kyrgyzstan over Women’s Day. Another of these adventures was the string of guests we hosted during our time in Almaty, as people seemed finally to get the message that Kazakhstan is a place you should visit. And trust me, it is! Our first guest, Alison, a Harvard classmate and friend of a friend, came just days after me, fresh off skiing adventures in Kyrgyzstan and Almaty, and our friend Margaret, with whom I had taken Kazakh with in 2012 and seen in Dushanbe in the fall, was a regular in our home. In March, our friend Eli came, fresh off election observing in the Pamir Mountains (Tajikistan), followed almost instantly by our friend, Adrian.
Hosting people always gave us a chance to see our adopted city with fresh eyes, as we introduced people to a city and country we had come to love. And before we knew it, after a few growing pains of late winter blizzards, spring was upon us, the snow gradually receded, and April brought fresh adventures, including celebrating Easter, enormous puddles, and even a half-marathon.
The end of April and beginning of May also saw my second trip out of Kazakhstan. Maki left for Kyrgyzstan basically every month, for the record, since his visa required him to leave Kazakhstan at least every 30 days — so he had many more Kyrgyzstan adventures, with Margaret in February, with me in March, taking Adrian to Bishkek in March. But sometimes, I managed to find a way to go with him, and the long weekend around May 1, along with the presence of Russian tourist visas in our passports, enabled us to cross a different border, this time by flying to the Kazakh border town of Uralsk, in the west, which was combined with a trip across the border to Orenburg. We made a great weekend of it, and we got back just in time to have a quick breather of a few days before we greeted our parents for their May adventures in Almaty and South Kazakhstan Oblast. We were especially pleased that we convinced our parents to both come at once, and, taking advantage of the long weekend around Victory Day, we took them on a grand adventure to South Kazakhstan Oblast.
After our adventures in the South, we brought them back to Almaty to enjoy a nice series of adventures around our home city, which provided a perfect introduction to Kazakhstan. No sooner had they left, however, than did the Kazakhstan hosting resume again, as my roommates — first Marina, followed by Alana, and finally Kate, made their way to Kazakhstan for a grand reunion — our first since Kate’s wedding reception in Champaign in 2011, when we also had Yuliya (I’m guessing our next complete reunion will be next year some time in Toronto, which means Yuliya will also be around). We had a great time traipsing around Almaty, too, and again, on to Kyrgyzstan after Kate had left to return to Vienna.
Marina and Alana left in what was early June, and suddenly, our departure was upon us. Summer was very much upon us. I finished up my Kazakh lessons shortly thereafter, and spent the final weeks scrambling for documents in the archives. Our weekends were spent hiking and enjoying all the wonderful nature that Kazakhstan had to offer, including a spectacular trip out to the Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes.
At the end of June, we made our first rounds of goodbyes, before we took off for our biggest adventure of the summer: three weeks through Russian Altai and Mongolia, which kicked off with a flight to Novosibirsk, and through the stunningly beautiful Altai. And from there, we came to the edge of Russia on the Chuiskii Trakt and crossed into Western Mongolia. Our serene days along Khoton Nuur mark what was one of the most peaceful, relaxing, and eye-opening times of our life, as we lived with a nomadic Kazakh family for three nights, spoke Kazakh constantly, saw some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, and even attended a Kazakh wedding. All with no cell phone service in site. It was amazing.
The rest of our time was a veritable Naadam tour, and even if Ulaanbaator was a bit of a dud, we ended the trip with nothing but fond feelings for the country, and we vowed to return. You know, the next time we can justify spending a few weeks away in the middle of nowhere. From UB, we swung through Kazakhstan for a day and change to bid our final goodbyes, and returned to the US, first for two solid weeks of reunions with my family, including with my father’s side to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday in Northern Michigan, and my mother’s side for the triennial Mayo Family Reunion, in Northern Florida. Having arrived in Columbus, we covered all that over land, so those two weeks were full of driving. As the reunion came to a close, August was upon us, and we flew to DC to spend an unspecified amount of time waiting for a visa.
This gave us plenty of time to catch up with Maki’s family, including a trip up to Connecticut for his parents’ annual Family Camp, with so many of their closest friends, seeing the installation of Maki’s aunt’s memorial near Union Station (dedicated in November), lots of time to reconnect with our many friends in the DC area, and also, plenty of time to spend with Maki’s grandmother. By late August, it was clear our visas for Russia would take a little longer, so we cut our losses and flew to Columbus to surprise my mother for her birthday, and continued with Labor Day in Wisconsin and visits with friends in Chicago, before we returned to DC to wait out our visas.
We arrived back in DC just in time to receive our visa paperwork, and our passports were returned, visas in hand, shortly thereafter, and we were cleared to leave. Not before spraining my ankle, of course, but we found a fabulous flight deal out of New York to Moscow (we paid $268 each for our one-way tickets), so October brought one final set of adventures in the US — a long weekend in New York City, for reunions with Maki’s cousins and so many of our friends, before we were off on October 4. What a whirlwind our two months had been! And then, we were off, for quite a non-stop October.
After an all-day layover in beautiful, sunny Venice, we arrived to snow flurries in Moscow, but as luck had it, since we were anticipating an early September return to Moscow, all our warm winter clothes were in Almaty. So no sooner had we arrived in Moscow than we were off again, this time for a one-week trip to Almaty, with ample layover time in Kyiv to catch up with friends and take advantage of the very, very cheap tickets that passed through the capital before Russian-Ukrainian flights halted. By the time we finally arrived back in Moscow, we were glad to have zero plans to leave until December. And thus, we settled in, returning to work full time in archives, at libraries, and in cafés. Before we knew it, our November birthdays had come and gone, Maki’s dissertation was suddenly two-thirds completed, and my dissertation was progressing in new ways. We had a great time with our fellow historians, and we didn’t leave Moscow, except for one weekend trip to snowy Veliky Novgorod for a weekend, until our holiday travels kicked off before Christmas.
December may be the finest month to be in Moscow, so our final weeks here of 2015 were full of festive New Year’s cheer, with trips for ice skating and some of the most stunning New Year’s decorations I’ve ever seen. The real cold has barely hit, everyone is in a festive mood, and the decorations are everywhere, even inside the archives.
And before we knew it, the archives started posting their holiday closing schedule, and it was time to be gone. So we caught our flight to Berlin, and then on to Porto, to finish up 2015 as part of nearly a month-long trip that took us to Coimbra, Sintra, Lisbon, Seville, Morocco, Paris, and Belgium, before we finally found ourselves back in Moscow, just as things were opening up again after the extended holidays here. But from Seville onwards, of course, that’s a story for 2016. Stay tuned. We’ll close with a more complete version of the header, featuring one picture per month.