February 12th - Day 2: We arrive in Almaty...

Happy Birthday, Robin!  We "celebrated" Robin's birthday before landing by giving him some cards and a t-shirt we had bought in the Washington airport (see photo below).  We arrived in Frankfurt around 7:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. EST) and immediately bought four large bottles of water to quench our thirst.  Unfortunately, we forgot to request that they be without "gas" (uncarbonated).  Oops!  We found a corner near the gate to our next flight where we could hang out for a few hours and Dave tried in earnest to find a way to log on to the internet so we could let you all know we were doing well.  While we weren't successful, our frustration was soon replaced with more excitement and anticipation when we ran into our travel partners at the gate.  They are John and Eileen Andrews from Illinois and they are also traveling to Uralsk to adopt a baby boy!  I can't tell you how comforting it is to have another couple to share the journey with, plus the fact that they just happen to be really cool people who are sooo easy to get along with and fun to be with!

Every step of this journey so far (since we were given our travel dates) has been so surreal.  Even while physically experiencing each step of the journey, it's still hard to believe it's really happening.  For example, as we prepared for takeoff in Frankfurt, we listened to the flight attendant give instructions in German, Russian, and, finally, English.  We are feeling farther and farther from home and closer and closer to our baby!  The flight to Almaty was only about half full, if that.  Half way into the flight, several smart people (not us, unfortunately) filled the empty rows by using them as a place to sleep.  The movie was much better (Shall We Dance? - or something like that - with Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez) and we had a delicious meal (salmon .... ymmm!).  Because the flight was so empty, Sierra got a lot of attention.  One of the flight attendants had her help collect the passengers' empty glasses.  It was so cute to see Sierra walking down the aisle with a tray, helping out ... she was just beaming with pride and the feeling of importance!  They also gave her some coloring activities and games and a rattle for the baby.  Dave and I reread the directions we were given about what to do when we arrived - baggage, customs, etc. - and Robin tried to fall asleep.  Sierra finally fell asleep for the last few hours; she is such a resilient traveler!  The screens on the plane had a map that showed how far along we were on our flight to Almaty.  It was so exciting to watch the picture of the plane on the screen get closer and closer to our destination.  We kept pinching each other and exclaiming, "It's really happening!  We're almost there!"  The whole concept of traveling half way around the world to adopt a baby probably sounds weird or at least foreign to most people.  It can even feel unreal for those who are in the midst of preparing for it.  What's amazing is that we're actually doing it ... we're almost there ... and it still feels unreal!

Because it was a clear night, we could look down from the plane and see the mountains of southern Kazakhstan.  They are so beautiful!  We landed in Almaty around 11:40 p.m. (12:40 p.m. EST) and saw that there was snow everywhere ... not unlike Syracuse!  The difference was that they don't seem to be as concerned about getting it off the runways!  The airport in Almaty is new and so the planes can now go right up to the terminal and you don't have to go outside when you get off the plane.  The first thing that struck us when we entered the terminal is that everything is in Russian or Kazakh (not that I can tell the difference); no English.  We've been told that Kazakhs are not real keen on people taking pictures of them but I really, really wanted to.  They are such beautiful people with dark complexions, dark hair, and distinctly Central Asian features.  Also, they wear the most beautiful long coats, some woolen, some leather, some suede, some fur, and many are a combination of the above.  They also wear large fur hats, some that stick out, some that stick up, but all very elegant.  (It probably doesn't sound that way from my description; hopefully I'll be able to get some pictures at some point so you can see!)  

World Partners had prepared us well so we knew to go right up to the passport checkpoint where they stamped our passports and a camera took our pictures.  We then went on to the baggage area and were pleased to find that every piece had arrived!  That in itself was cause for celebration!  In customs, they asked us why we were visiting Kazakhstan and how much cash we were carrying.  They said they would have to count the cash and, at first, we got nervous and our hearts sank.  Then they said that we needed to buy them a beer and we realized that they were just teasing us!  Phew!  We proceeded through the throng of people asking if they could give us a ride until we found someone holding a sign saying, "Sander David Amelia!"  It was our driver, Vitalii, the Andrews' driver, and our interpreter, Dilnosa.  We loaded our baggage into the two vehicles they had for us and headed for our apartments.

We noticed that they apparently don't plow the roads either.  Most of the snow is just packed down and doesn't seem to interfere with the flow of traffic for the most part.  We took the Andrews to their apartment first.  We drove down an alley behind a building and were a little surprised and definitely taken aback when we saw the entrance.  We said goodnight and were taken to our apartment just a few blocks away and found that our entrance was no better (see photo below).  Nevertheless, we climbed the four flights to the apartment and were really pleased with the inside.  It is warm, clean and spacious ... enough space for Robin as well as Dave and I to have our own rooms, and a bed in the living room perfect for Sierra.  It has a decent kitchen and two bathrooms.  One bathroom had a toilet and a sink and the other bathroom had a sink, a tub with a shower wand, and a washing machine.  The kitchen had a stove and oven, microwave, and fridge with three horizontal sections - the top for frozen food, middle for beverages (we think), and the bottom for everything else.  We got undressed as quickly as we could and crashed for a good night's sleep ... finally! 

   

Sierra the junior Flight Attendant                                            Tracking our progress

     

Robin's true identity still unknown                            Where did Amy go?

   

                              Almaty airport                                                                                    Passport checkpoint

   

 Arriving in our Almaty apartment - home for two days                                          Robin's room

   

                    Living room / Sierra's room                                                                      Kitchen

    

                         Entrance to apartment building                                       Our apartment building's electrical box