Not what i expected

Astana Travel Blog

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Sunset at Astana train station

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.

National Heroes - Kazebek Bi, Tole Bi and Oyteke Bi
Dirty, filthy, flea pit could describe our room, but on the plus side it supposedly had a hot shower down the corridor and cost 2250 Tenge ($19) a night. Now by most countries standards that would be a lot, but for Kazakhstan i found it to be much the norm.

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.
Bayterek Monument


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.
Looking East to the Presidential Palace
I think Kazakhstan has the most amazing sky that i have ever seen, there are always beautiful cloud formations and stunning sunsets. Across at the hotel the sour faced receptionist now told Julia that the price of a room was 5000 Tenge ($42). When Julia asked about the room she had offered us just minutes ago for 2000 Tenge, she just said she had given it away. It wasn't so much the fact that she had sold the room to someone else from under our nose, it was how she was so rude in telling us that made me want to lay the bitch out cold. Deep breaths were needed as we exited back into the bus station waiting room.

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.
Bayterek Monument
Prices ranging from 4000 � 6000 Tenge ($33 - $50) were standard, until a friendly old man told Julia of a hotel located not too far away. Tucked just off the square we managed to get the last room in the small gostinitsa for 3000 Tenge ($25). Actually it was like a small apartment, as it had a bedroom, a living room and en suite hot water bathroom. Compared to the original hotel from hell that we had been in, this was pure luxury and only a few dollars more.

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.
Julia with 2 hedge Elephants and the Bayterek Monument in the background
A good end to an otherwise frustrating day!

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.
Presidential Palace
My first impressions were that the city was pleasant enough and seemed quite orderly and tidy. Our first points of interest lay around the intersection of Abay and Beibitshlik. Situated in this area is Parliament Square and various other governmental buildings and museums. It didn't take too long to meander around these streets and i started to wonder how we were going to fill the rest of our day. We sat down on a bench and enjoyed the warm sunshine, whilst munching on a sandwich.

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.
Cherub in the fountain
Instead we decided to walk along the Ishim River, which splits the city, and cross a bridge marked on our map. 20 minutes later we reached a building site where they were reconstructing the bridge, so had to turn back and return to where we had come from, to catch the bus!

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.
Presidential Palace
Fountains adorned with cherubs and altogether bigger fountains spouted out water in rhythmic bursts. After walking around for 20 minutes, we headed back to the Bayterek Monument and then walked West to the impressive new Mosque. The sky was dotted with patches of cloud and mixed with the brand new buildings and lack of people, it almost felt like we were in 'The Truman Show'.

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.
Camel sculpture on Nurzhol Bulvar
We walked past the monolithic Triumpf Astana apartments, which looked very similar to the building at Warsaw train station in Poland. From here it was a short walk to Central Park, where we enjoyed an ice cream and sit down in the shade. At the edge of the park there was an impressive little man made beach on the banks of the Ishim River, where plenty of sun worshipers were making the best of the glorious weather. We'd already had our fair share of sun, so skipped it and crossed the pedestrian walkway back to the North of the City.

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.
Mosque
00, so we had some food in a small eatery located at the bus station and played some yahtzee to pass the time.

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 � 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.
Triumpf Astana Apartments
00, after which we had 2 hours to kill before our train left. The sensible option was to sit in the cafe that we had been in the previous evening, and eat some food and play yahtzee. At 11.30 we crossed the square in front of the station, and there were already plenty of young people sat around drinking. Something that had become more apparent throughout our stay in Kazakhstan, was that there was obviously a drinking problem, as you always come across people waking down the street with a beer in their hand, at any time of day.

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.
Sunset at Astana train station

treadie53 says:
What's with the gloomy weather? Best blue sky I've seen in ages! Ha!
Posted on: Jun 19, 2008
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Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
National Heroes - Kazebek Bi, Tole…
National Heroes - Kazebek Bi, Tol…
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Looking East to the Presidential P…
Looking East to the Presidential …
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Julia with 2 hedge Elephants and t…
Julia with 2 hedge Elephants and …
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Cherub in the fountain
Cherub in the fountain
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Camel sculpture on Nurzhol Bulvar
Camel sculpture on Nurzhol Bulvar
Mosque
Mosque
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
Sunset at Astana train station
National Opera and Ballet Theatre
National Opera and Ballet Theatre
A sculpture and behind the Preside…
A sculpture and behind the Presid…
Sculpture at Novaya Pl.
Sculpture at Novaya Pl.
Nice architecture in the old centre
Nice architecture in the old centre
Presidents Museum
Presidents Museum
Government building
Government building
National Heroes - Kazebek Bi, Tole…
National Heroes - Kazebek Bi, Tol…
Building on the Ishim River
Building on the Ishim River
View down the Ishim River
View down the Ishim River
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Government Building to the North
Government Building to the North
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Government building to the South
Government building to the South
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Looking East to the Presidential P…
Looking East to the Presidential …
Julia in front of the Bayterek Mon…
Julia in front of the Bayterek Mo…
Me in front of the Bayterek Monume…
Me in front of the Bayterek Monum…
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Golden building
Golden building
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Fountains at the Presidential Pala…
Fountains at the Presidential Pal…
Government building
Government building
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
View from the Presidential Palace …
View from the Presidential Palace…
Fountains at the Presidential Pala…
Fountains at the Presidential Pal…
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Bayterek Monument
Bayterek Monument
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Triumpf Astana Apartments
Man made beach on the Ishim River
Man made beach on the Ishim River
Apartments line the Ishim River
Apartments line the Ishim River
View along the Ishim River
View along the Ishim River
Statue by the Ishim River
Statue by the Ishim River
Astana
photo by: Biedjee