Living in a Soviet-Era Kyrgyzstan Apartment

The view

Water & power often failing, sparks shooting out of your circuit breakers and hearing the walls crumble at night are just a few of the joys we get living in a Soviet-era apartment.  Balykchy is filled with dozens of nearly identical 5-story block apartments put together like puzzles from concrete panels, many of which were made right here in Balykchy decades ago.  Since last December we’ve had the pleasure of learning the ins and outs of living in one of these poorly up kept units and thought we’d share a little bit for friends at home, future volunteers here and those who are just curious.

The apartments can look depressing at first, drab brutalist architecture has never actually been inspiring, but it starts to grow on you.  There are a few trees in the courtyard to break up the gray of concrete and rocks.  There is a brand new playground thanks to a political party hoping to make up some ground with the local populace in the upcoming election.  After some time you get past the look of the apartments and just notice the families walking about and the children playing – it really feels a lot like a neighborhood anywhere.  There are some things that never feel normal though.  The garbage is never picked up early enough so it’s burned in the metal collection bins every few days and you never can get used to the acrid smell.  There’s also the vendors that periodically up into the middle of the courtyard with a megaphone letting everyone know they have products to sell (anything from vegetables to cheese.)

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Ljubljana, City of Dragons

Dragon Bridge

Looking back at Ljubljana it’s a bit hard to explain why we loved it so much.  After our trip, people often asked, what was your favorite part? What was your favorite city?  Without pause, my answer is always Ljubljana… and then comes the question, why? Here is where things get a bit tough because it’s hard to put a finger on it.  The city just had an amazing, relaxed vibe to it.  A lot of travel is luck which may explain part of why this city was just so enjoyable, everything seemed to work out so well during our stay.

Ljubljana boat tour
Ljubljana boat tour

Truth be told, there’s not a lot of activities and sights for tourists in Ljubljana.  Wikitravel’s section on the city only lists a handful of things to see or do and most of those are museums – not usually my thing.  But the city is beautiful with a river running through the center and many great restaurants and cafes.  The city center is also very small, you can easily walk across it in 45 minutes.  We spent the first day just walking through the old town, seeing the picturesque bridges (it’s like a mini version of Paris where each bridge is unique) and walking up to the Ljubljana Castle.  There’s a funicular up from Old Town to the castle but since the walk only takes five minutes we skipped the line and just took the path up.  There are boat cruises leaving from many spots along the river for short 50 minute cruises.  We took one just before sunset which was perfect.

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Lake Bled & Vintgar Gorge – Reason enough to see Slovenia!

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
About 1/2 of the walk along Vintgar Gorge is on narrow walkways like this one

It was a single photo that drew me to Slovenia, the photo was of Bled Gorge and I was immediately drawn to the green water, steep canyon walls and most of all, the trail that followed along – and sometimes over – the water.  We love finding unique hikes to do such as Angel’s Landing in Zion and this one looked fun.  I wanted to make sure there was more to do in Slovenia (seems dumb to wonder in hindsight) so I googled ‘cool places in Slovenia’ and quickly got lost in the hundreds of options.  The next must-see destination I found was Lake Bled, actually right next to Vintgar Gorge, which is most famous for the beautiful church in the middle of a tiny island.  So we made plans to see these two areas after stopping by Predjama Castle and Škocjan Caves on the way.

Castle on the hill
Unfortunate to have the crane in the shot but Bled Castle is pretty awesome
Church & Castle
Lake Bled’s church and castle

Bled is an awesome little town. It looks like it could be in Austria except being Slovenian, everything is half the cost.  The town itself is situated on the Eastern edge of the small lake – you can easily walk around it and there is a nice path. The most obvious feature as you walk around the lake is tiny island with picturesque Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church rising sharply from it.  You can get to the island via rowboat, captains depart from several spots around the lake.  On the cliff overlooking the lake is Bled Castle.  You can walk up there to enjoy the views for free but you must pay to go inside (we skipped it.)  In the winter they have a small ski hill you can enjoy, in the summer there are many nearby areas to hike and it’s a great town to just relax in.  Also, we ate at the best restaurant of the entire trip here.  Penzion Berc, a ten minute walk SW from the town is incredible!  I ate the best octopus dish of my life here and everything is affordable (like everything else in Slovenia.) They only take cash though so come prepared so you can avoid the mid-dinner dash to find an ATM (and call to your bank in our case.)

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