December 12th, 2008 – by: sayohat
No it's not Saint Louis...Astana at night and the bridge
I didn't leave Karaganda until about noon, and settled for a 4-hour bus ride that seemed quick by comparison to other recent bus trips. The bus and train stations in Astana
are adjacent and luckily I found a room at the train station with a check-out time corresponding to exactly the time I needed to leave for the airport the next day. Astana was even colder than Karaganda, probably in the upper teens to low twenties when I was walking around. It was pretty much dusk but the city was lit up at night with the same spirit as Las Vegas. I was particularly surprised at how busy the traffic was coming in, although it was technically rush hour. The skyline featured tall elaborate buidings and just as many cranes, constructing new shopping centers, apartment buildings or other architectural projects.
On the bridge in the FREEZING cold!
Museums were closed so I spent the evening walking around in the subzero (Celsius) temperatures.
The main boulevard near the bridge dividing the city into new and old was called Respublika (again) and featured many of the city's boutiques and cafes with bright neon signs ılluminating their names. I turned off of the busy street and began looking for a place to eat and was pleased to find Samovar, where I filled up on sorrel soup and a minced chicken dish. Since it was my last night in Central Asia I decided to splurge again and had a Belgian beer at the Line Brew restaurant. Although it cost 1000 tenge, which was more than dinner had been, the Barbâr beer was excellent and well worth it for the taste. When I returned to the train station there was someone else in the four-bed room, but he was asleep and I felt bad when the floor lady woke him up.
Astana's main drag at night
I took a much-needed shower down the hall, read a little on the sofa (also in the hall) and then went to sleep in one of the warmest rooms I'd had in awhile.
In the morning I woke up around 8:15 and went to have breakfast somewhere in the station. On the television was a Russian version of Married With Children, which had been precisely copied down to the details (Al Bundy's typical grimace, the opening montage with the cigarette butt in the salad, etc.), but with Russian actors of course. I tore myself away to get back downtown to see what I could see of the city. It was my last day in Kazakhstan and the realization that I would be in Turkey later that evening was a little hard to conceive. The first place I went was Astana's most famous landmark, the Bayterek Tower.
As the "tower" part of the name suggests, it hovers over the rapidly changing city, revealing a birds-eye view of all the fantastical buildings, already erected or in the process. From the top orb of the tower it was easy to see that someday Astana really may capture the attention of the world with its over-the-top architecture. Looking north I could see the old town, which had been revitalized as well but had more history with its many incarnations (before Astana, the city was known as Aqmola, Tselinograd and Akmolinsk over the course of about 100 years). To the west was an ambitious project known as the Khan Shatyr, currently in the beginning stages of construction. The final product is supposed to feature a miniature city within a space-agey jet-shaped building that somehow converts subzero temperatures into summer-like weather without the use of heaters.
Presidential Palace view
Also visible was a large apartment building shaped like one of Moscow's famous Stalin-era "Seven Sisters," a gigantic Islamic center and a couple of wavy-shaped buildings. To the east was the presidential palace, opposing gold buildings and a pyramid-shaped palace where a conference of world religions supposedly takes place. Finally to the south the view iıncluded a few buildings but mostly wide open steppe that surely has plans for future construction. At the very top of the monument was a gilded handprint of the president which of course I placed my hand inside so as to otherwise become inspired. A replica of the completed Astana was also on the next level. It was worth the cold to see the surreality of it.
I walked over to the Presidential Palace first before catching another bus to the State Museum.
Holiday tree in front of Presidential Palace
The museum was an impressive collection of typical artifacts but also the history of Astana, replicas of several of Kazakhstan's ancient attractions and treasures bestowed upon the city from the rest of the world. One room featured a collection of gold and silver artifacts found near the infamous Golden Man, a legendary warrior. A Kazakh girl painstakingly gave me a tour in English explaining symbolism of the many animistic medallions and charms on the replica of the Golden Man in full regalia there in the center of the room. It was actually interesting to hear.
From the museum I walked across the street to the North Winds Pub to meet Giray, a CouchSurfer from Turkey who was living in Astana for six months. We had a "business lunch" that ended up being ridiculously expensive for what we got, but we had a good conversation about the growth of the city.
Da zvidaniye, Central Asia...
By then it was nearing the time for me to head back to the motel to check out and then catch the bus to the airport. Everything moved like clockwork and I got to the new looking airport and had plenty of time to talk on the phone with my friends Hamid and Eric to thank them again for a wonderful time in their country. I didn't spend as much time in Astana, or Kazakhstan for that matter, as I'd planned but it was a good glimpse and I wonder if I will be back sooner than I could imagine.
As we boarded the plane, I reflected on how much was packed into two and a half months with several transitions but overall much more positive than I ever expected. Air Astana's plane was excellent and the service on the flight exceed most American carriers' service. At one point I looked out of the plane window to see a full moon illuminating the Caucasus Mountains. It was then official that my journey in Central Asia had come to an end and the next chapter would soon begin in a new region related but yet distinctly different.