Monday, 6 October 2008

From Glorious to Gopping Heights

It has been a good day: my first outing with the Almaty International Women's Association hiking group (not the same as the invitation-only ladies walking ensemble) for a bracing stroll through stunning scenery only 20 minutes drive from town. 

We were a mixed bunch of me and my mate L, American group coordinator ("only because everyone else left"...), French lady who knew this route, a Venezuelan lady, two guys from Zimbabwe and a Swedish man, some more french ladies, a Dane and a Romanian. And we all got along very nicely, using our multiple languages to fill in the gaps when someone could not quite remember the word they were searching for in a story. 

We set off in a convoy of 4WD cars, two or three hikers to a vehicle, and drove out of Almaty on the excellent road up to Chimbalak, the nearest ski resort to town. Passing the Medeu ice rink (the world's largest outdoor ice rink) on the way, we soon pulled onto a short, rough track and stopped. We were next to a tiny small holding, and there was a track leading into the magical landscape. It is spectacular, and it was very exciting for me, after all these weeks of looking at the mountains, to be finally walking on them.

We began with a short, sharp ascent, but then moved onto a nice smooth and steady uphill stretch with a stream running down one side, and wide expanses of scenery in front of us (an area known locally as The Sound of Music). Pottering along at a nice gentle pace, we stopped from time to time for water or take a group photo and let people get their breath. After crossing a stream, we came to a small but pretty waterfall, where there was enough bouncy moss to make a million Christmas wreaths. It misted over while we were eating our sandwiches and we quickly got cold, the temperature must have differed by about 10 degrees in under a minute when the sun vanished. 

Two and a half hours of pretty scenery, nice exercise and interesting chat, and we were all back with our entourage of cars and drivers, ready for the quick drive back into the city and the afternoon school run. 

As we drove in, we passed the end of the road for a house that we recently viewed. We had a bad phone call on Friday when our estate agent phoned to say that the landlady on the house for which we have been trying to sign a contract for nearly a month, has decided to include a clause giving her the right to raise our rent more or less when she wants (we had already agreed with her in person that she would fix the rent for a certain time period). We are not really prepared to accept this, since we are already agreeing to pay her a whopping amount of money every month, and don't really want her to raise our rent in a year's time, for us to either pay, or suffer the inconvenience of moving again. 

So we had started to re-consider some of the places we had previously viewed. One of which is this place, now christened Gopping Heights (because it is genuinely one of the most outrageously unattractive dwellings you have ever seen) but which we have not written off because despite its aesthetic, and let's face it, quality drawbacks, it does still fulfill many of our criteria for a house: large, big garden, view of mountains, enough bedrooms, roof etc etc! 

I had described it to L before we went, and I wanted her opinion on it. She later told me that she thought I had been exaggerating about its lack of looks before we arrived, but soon realized that I had been pretty straight. The question now is if we can embrace its vulgarity in an "ironic" way, and "make it work for us"... I think Gopping Heights may be a step too far. 

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