(I realise this is a day late for Aussie readers, but it’s still Tuesday somewhere, right?!)
In honour of the Winter Olympics: Medeu (in Russian: Medeo) is an ice-skating rink, and believe it or not, it is the highest outdoor ice-skating rink in the world. It lost out on the bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and won a bid to host the 2011 Asian Winter Games.
When it was first opened by the Soviets in some time past, lots of competitions where held here and lots of world records were subsequently broken. After a while, the world record powers-that-be decided that these world records wouldn’t hold, because the air is so thin in Medeu that skaters wizz through the air faster than mere mortals.
I visited Medeu in December 2006. To access Medeu, one has to organise for a driver to take one up the mountains from Almaty. I got a non-Kazakh (i.e. ethnically Russian) driver with three fingers and lots of tattoos. I can’t remember how long the drive was, but it was sufficient time for me to wonder where the driver’s missing fingers were, and shake in my boots a little.
Contrary to what people will tell you, during the winter months Medeu is not open to the public from 9am. It is, in fact, open to the national and junior speedskating teams of Kazakhstan and Russia, who train there until about midday. With this in mind, if you do turn up at 9am, ensure you have some form of entertainment, e.g. a camera, and really warm boots. You will lose feeling in your toes after about five minutes.
I enjoyed my time in Medeu, it was very interesting to see lots of big guys who I don’t know, but who were evidently celebs in speed skating land. I ended up hiring myself a pair of skates when the afternoon rolled around, but my heart wasn’t in enjoyment mode by then: in an effort to entertain myself around lunch time, I’d gone ‘exploring’ outside the rink, and was surrounded by a hungry looking pack of dogs. I didn’t know the word for ‘Help’ in Russian, but eventually someone shooed them off for me.
While I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit Medeu, if you’re ever in the (rather remote Central Asian) area, pop up for a visit! And those hardy travellers who really love the white stuff can go further up the mountain to ski.
Oh and perhaps hire a car.