Monday, March 12, 2012

At long last: a little Hockey and a lot of messy, wet spring

Here in Kazakhstan, March 1st is celebrated as the first day of spring.  While it may seem a little odd to say "happy first day of spring" while there is snow falling outside, it does feel like spring.  On March 2nd the great thaw began.  Temperatures rose high enough to turn the icy sidewalks into icy sidewalks now riddled with deep puddles the size of cars (don't worry, I'm getting to the hockey).  While the warmer weather is welcome, navigating the resulting labyrinth of icy ridges can prove to be an adventure on the best day.

Last Monday was exhausting.  It began with me slipping, first thing in the morning, into the thick layer of dirty slush that covered the access road to my building.  When I returned home from work, I was at the end of my rope and was absolutely determined to go find the hockey game between the Astana Barys and the Almaty HC.

So, I set off into the grey dusk and gingerly picked my way around pothole sized puddles that somehow reminded me of a frigid version of the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings.  I was within a half block of my bus stop when I slipped off the narrow ridge of ice I was traversing into an immense puddle that swallowed my whole foot and then some.  I yanked my foot out of the icy water and somehow finished crossing to the other side.  My shoes were filled with icy water.  I leaned on a fence as I emptied them and decided (against my better judgement) to go on.  I was tired of being sensible.  My bus decided, mid route, to take an unplanned detour through the narrow back alleys of Almaty and so I found myself walking the last kilometer to the intersection where the sports arena was.

As I stood in front of the sports' center I realized that I really didn't know if there was a hockey game inside this building or not.  I knew it was a sports center, and I knew it was one of two possible sports centers for the game and so, I realized that it was possible that I would walk in to find any number of events in progress.  Additionally, I  heard from a friend that the games were free, but one can never be sure about these things in Almaty, and so it also occurred to me that if the game was not free I would have to negotiate ticket buying with a brain that was partially frozen and that desperately wanted sleep.

Gandalf's advice to Merry was "if in doubt...always follow your nose," and while generally I find that to be good advice, I often find that, if at all possible, it is far better to follow other people who know what they are doing. So I spotted some people who were going inside (and looked like they knew what they were doing) and casually followed them up the ramp into the building. We went past some apparently un-manned metal detectors and turn-stiles, past the empty and dark coat-check rooms and into the arena where, to my relief, I found an ice rink complete with zamboni and choose-your-own seating.  So I chose a seat with a good view of the action and proceeded to enjoy a fun (if a bit rough) game of ice hockey forgetting my cold feet in their wet socks even before the end of the national anthem.

The crowd was small but spirited.  The sound of drums, horns, hand clappers and other noise makers filled the arena constantly. The game was so fun that I went again the next night when we enjoyed the spectacle of three refs trying to fix the hole they drill (with a battery operated power drill) to secure the goals.  So, as promised, here are pics.  Oh and the best part?  It was completely free.  Can't beat free hockey.

And this concludes the somewhat long story of how I finally got to a hockey game in Almaty.

P.S:  Oh and thanks to IbragimKZ for this link to video footage of the Beybarys/HC Almaty Game that ended the HC Almaty season.

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