Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Back in the Old Country

Arrival through a back door at Heathrow T5 on a battered airport bus as the plane had to embark us on the tarmac 'for operational reasons'. A low key arrival - always the best!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Time for Tea

We sampled a traditional Kazakhstan tea. A very smoky blend served from an ornate china pot with the milk already mixed. A selection of dried fruits, nuts, raisins, spices, spices, pastry and a sour curd cheese.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Atyrau Buildings

The Russian Orthodox Church
A local government building
Atyrau theatre

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Belief and Faith

The Russian Orthodox Church is in the centre of Atyrau. I spent some time on a Sunday morning with the congregation who filed around the church in silence to take the communion wine and bread from the priest on duty. No photographs were allowed inside. I was struck by the silent dignity and belief even when the way of life appeared harsh to an outsider.

Monday, 8 April 2013

On The Ball


I spent week-end time on the streets observing life, meeting people and kicking a ball with kids. The young footballers playing on the makeshift pitches in the ex-USSR residential areas all had their heroes from the players of the great European teams like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Chelsea, Man Utd, Ajax and PSG but I doubt any of those players had bigger smiles or bigger dreams than the kids who sought to emulate them.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Amsterdam to Atyrau Kazakhstan

I arrived back at Amsterdam Schipol airport 2 hours ahead of my Air Astana flight to Atyrau. I checked in early and spent the time before the flight taking things easy and making sure I had all the paperwork needed for my 3 week stay in Atyrau. The flight took 5 hours and with the change of time zone I found myself walking into the customs and immigration hall at around 8pm local time. It is hard to imagine that this place was more than 2000 miles away from home - air travel these days just seems to relocate people like a piece on a chess board. Here as definitely somewhere I had never been before and a culture that was not only new to me but also new to a lot of the local inhabitants. The independent Republic of Kazakhstan had only existed since 1991 follow ing the break up of the former USSR. Anyone under the age of 22 was just like me - experiencing something new. Only difference was that I was flying in and out - they were living here all the time.

On my first week-end, I went out with my camera on the streets and to the local market. Fish is a speciality : caught in the shallow waters of the Caspian Sea and in the Ural River which flows through the town and which is the natural border between Europe and Asia.


Monday, 1 April 2013

Swansea to Amsterdam

Off to Kazakhstan. Left home at 9am to catch train to Paddington at 9.30. Usual Bank Holiday and Weekend engineering works apply to journey. This time Reading Station was closed for final stages of redevelopment and re-opening later in April. A journey of normally 3 hours today was billed as 4.5 hours due to diversion via Oxford, Banbury and High Wycombe. A missing driver at Oxford, later found, added another 14 minutes. Luckily the short hop on the Heathrow Express added only another 20 minutes and I found myself checking in for my flight from Heathrow T5 to Amsterdam earlier than expected - in fact too early for the baggage drop. Two hours to spend in the terminal before boarding turned into catching up with some reading, getting in touch with people concerning our upcoming group Exhibition with Commensalis, and general Facebookery and Tweeting and some old fashioned emailing. The papers are full of stories about the coldest Easter since 1986 and Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of Stare for Employment, claiming that it was possible to live on £53 a week benefit or £7.57 per day. Made me think - I paid £6.50 for a sausage panini and an orange juice on First Great I'm not sure how he worked that one out. He needs to realise that it's not just a question of living on this amount for a few days which maybe is possible as a paper exercise - once someone gets into this situation for a prolonged period, a lot of other adverse effects often follow, including a feeling if worthlessness leading to possible depressive illness. It is important for young people to feel the benefits that come with working. I think an incentive needs to be found for people like myself to consider retiring early and offering the benefits of a job and training to a young person. At the moment, early retirement is penalised by 4% reduction per annum on a pension. So maybe that is also some food for thought rather than just asking the Minister to prove he could live on £53 per week. He couldn't - no one could.

I took a BA flight from Heathrow T5 and arrived at Amsterdam Schipol airport with a large crowd of Japanese tourists. I found the courtesy bus for my overnight hotel and was very glad to get some sleep!