Paper cupids and foam hearts; Red roses; White doves; Pink martinis handed out by women in lace; An unseen sound system serving up syrupy smooth jazz. I searched for clues I was still in Kazakhstan, my little-known host country whose holiday calendar melds Persian, Russian and historically Kazakh traditions in pursuit of its own post-Soviet identity...
With Uzbekistan getting the lion's share of Islamic architectural masterpieces from the heyday of the Silk Road, Yasawi's mausoleum is a jewel in Kazakhstan. Although it was never finished, it bears the signature stunning tile work and onion-shaped domes of all the great monuments of the day.
Winter in Kazakhstan was not something I was entirely looking forward to. I knew temperatures could plummet to -30°C at night (-22°F if it even matters at that point), with far less extreme but squarely sub-zero days. I was aware that the already noticeable air pollution would increase as the heat was turned on (this is done city-wide, all at once).