Not what i expected
Astana Travel Blog› entry 341 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
Lousy Planet from 2004 said that hotel prices in Astana had sky rocketed in recent years, and having witnessed first hand the hefty prices we had paid throughout the rest of the country, i feared the worst. Leaving the station, we spotted numerous gostinitsas (cheap hotels) around the station square and headed to the one that looked most run down. It took a little bit of time to find the owner, who finally came to open a big red security door to let us in.
Julia went in to inspect the place and when she came back out, it was pretty clear that she wasn't overly enthusiastic about it.
The owner left and Julia went to take the first shower. After 5 days of no running hot water, it was to be a long awaited treat. Several minutes passed before a sorry looking face reappeared at the door to say that there was no hot water, crap! A phone call to the owner led to his reappearance 5 minutes later and his false surprise at what we had to say. Julia explained there was no way we were paying so much, for basically nothing and he agreed to give us our money back. He said it was ok for me to stay with the bags whilst Julia darted around the other hotels to find somewhere else more suitable.
20 minutes later she surprisingly returned with several decent options. There were two bedroom fully equipped apartments for rent, costing 4000 Tenge ($33), or a twin room costing 2000 Tenge ($17) in a hotel that was adjoined to the bus station. As we didn't really need anything fancy, we chose to wander over to the cheaper option. The only problem now, was that the hotel owner wanted to keep 500 Tenge ($4) of our money, as he said we had used the facilities for an hour... what facilities!?!? The sheets stank of sweat, the TV had no power cord and there was no hot water. Even if we had wanted to use them we couldn't have! After a few minutes arguing, he finally handed the cash over, goodbye shit pit!
Crossing the station car park we got to witness a terrific sunset.
It was starting to get pretty late and the apartment was looking like our only option, but we decided to carry on checking out some more hotels first.
Neither of us had eaten in 9 hours, so we ventured out into the night in search of food. Having walked around for 20 minutes with little success, we settled on some freshly made samosas from a street stall and took them home with us. Having scoffed every last morsel, we both got to take well earned showers and i got the unexpected bonus of finding the opening game of the 2008 European Championships on TV.
Having stayed up late to watch the football, we slept in until 09.00 and checked out at 10.00. Strangely the hotels in Astana have a very odd pricing structure connected to half day rates. If you check in after 20.00, our room cost 3000 Tenge, but if you stay an extra day, you have to pay 5000 Tenge. Its therefore far cheaper to just check out, leave your bags in the bus station for 120 Tenge ($1), go out for the day and then come home and check back in! The receptionist said they were empty every day and full every night. Even more ludicrous is they have more washing and cleaning to do, so they probably lose money in the end!
A couple of chicken samosas for breakfast gave us the energy to walk into the old town centre, which was about 3km away.
On all denominations of Kazakhstan bank notes, there is a monument that i believed could be found in Astana, so our plan was to show it to anyone passing by and find out where it was. The first lady we saw told us that it was South of the river and that taking a bus was the wisest option.
It was a 10 minute ride South and once we crossed the river i was gob smacked by what i saw. Smart modern buildings dominated the skyline, this was a city that any country would be proud to boast. We were dropped off by the towering Bayterek Monument (on the bank notes), which stands at 97m high. From here there were impressive views in all four directions, but sadly the tower was undergoing renovations, so we couldn't scale it.
From this central point, we headed east towards the gleaming Presidential Palace, and had the entire area to ourselves.
At face value the area seemed like it was perfect, but when you scratched the surface, you began to encounter some problems. Namely, there were no shops, restaurants and general buildings in the area. It would appear that during the rush to shift the Presidential seat South of the river, the planners had overlooked such trivial matters! Maybe this will be amended in due course, but i cant see a small grocery store been able to afford the rent, in any of the buildings that currently make up the Nurzhol Bulvar!
Foolishly we had no sun cream with us today and by the time i decided to finally put my baseball cap on, i was already frazzled.
After an hour on the internet to burn my photo CD's, we did some food shopping and caught a bus back to the train station. By this point, we were attracting quite a lot of strange looks, as we had got burnt so badly! It was only 19.
Julia headed off to use the public toilets at one stage and returned rather embarrassed. When she had gone to enter, the lady had told her that she couldn't, as she thought she was a drunk â�� due to the red face! After protesting her innocence, the woman begrudgingly let her in, but warned her not to wash her hair in the basin hahaha, classic!
A different lady was working in the bus station gostinitsa tonight and she was altogether a nicer person. She rented us a room for 2400 Tenge ($20), which although nothing fancy, was clean and habitable. We had some more samosas for supper, and relaxed in the hotel room for the remainder of the evening,
Our check out time the next morning was 10.
The train to Semey was an arduous 16 hours and we had only managed to get two upper berths in plaskart. This meant that we were stuck on our top bunks for the entire journey, which really sucked. I passed the time reading a book and trying not to fall off the shelf, as the bedding was too big and was constantly slipping down! Needless to say it was a fairly restless journey.