Day 127: The northernmost point of my journey

Astana Travel Blog

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Arrival at Astana train station

Thanks to the people I met and/or travelled with: Minda (Norway), Franck, Anais, Marie (France), Marie-Louise (Germany)

Astana, the northernmost point of my journey. After having spent so much time hovering around the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, I now find myself at the same latitude as Holland again.
Lying this far north, Astana was never part of the Silk Road or any other trade route. In fact, Astana never had much significance at all, until 1994 when it was suddenly announced that the capital of Kazakhstan would be moved from Almaty to Astana. At the time Astana was little more than a provincial town.

The (empty) streets of Astana
Well, to be honest, it is still little more than a provincial town, even though it has been the seat of government for since 1997.

You could compare it other countries where the capital is a small provincial town, rather than the economic centre of that country. Belmopan, Brasilia, Wellington, Canberra, Washington...

Reasons for the move were cited as Astana being less earthquake prone than Almaty as well as having a more central location (read: closer to Russia). I dunno, in terms of relations with its neighbours it would make sense to keep Almaty the capital, as Tashkent, Bishkek and Almaty are all relatively close to each other, making it easier to establish some much-needed relations between the three countries.

When I arrived in Astana I immediately noticed everything is different here.
Random building
The train station lies in the 'old' part of town, which still looks very much like a provincial Soviet town. The people look different here too. As do the buses! I got on the bus to go to the centre and noticed that every bus has an attendant, who will come to you to sell you your ticket, rather than that you buy the ticket at the bus driver or at a machine, like in Almaty. This inevitably means that the bus tickets are twice as expensive here as they are in Almaty. Then again, the taxis are about five times as expensive in this city, so buses would be a better alternative (and as I would soon find out, the bus network in Astana is excellent).

Bek has some friends living in Astana and he had arranged a place for me to stay. Or actually, he asked his friend, who in her turn asked her friend who then put me up for a place to stay.
Building of the Norwegian embassy

I met Minda at the Norwegian embassy where she works. She handed me the keys to her apartment (a few blocks away) so that I could let myself in and drop my bags. Once again I was amazed at how easy people invite complete strangers into their house. I mean, I am literally a friend of a friend of a friend, yet she trusts me with the keys of her house.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes I went into town again. Astana is clearly split into a new and an 'old' part, or perhaps a better description would be a residential part and a business/governmental part. I decided it would be fitting to start my exploration at the 'old' part of town, on the eastern side of the river, and leave the new part for tomorrow.

My first goal was to find myself some breakfast.
The mall where I found my breakfast
Not an easy feat in Astana. Whereas Almaty is teeming with lovely coffee places serving good espressos and a wide variety of breakfasts, Astana has exactly... none! At least, in the centre of the city. All is different across the river, as I would find out the next day.
Eventually I managed to find a coffee place inside a shopping mall and my breakfasts consisted of the only food they served: pizza.

I strolled around the town for a while, hoping to visit the National Museum, but it turned out to be closed until the afternoon. I spent the rest of the morning just wandering around aimlessly. While the area across the Ishim river is most famous for its striking architecture, quite a few interesting buildings have been erected at this part of town as well, especially along the river front.
Baraeva bridge and Norwegian embassey


I met up with Minda for lunch and together we crossed the river towards the building of the European Union where her flatmate Franck works, as well as Anais, Bek's friend who had arranged my room with Franck and Minda for me. Apart from Anais and Franck three more colleagues from the EU joined us.
Immediately it became clear that work ethics in Astana are different than in Almaty. In Almaty I had met up for lunch with Aselya a couple of times and each time she had been able to take several hours off work to have lunch with me in some nice restaurant. Here in Astana, at least for these people, all working for embassies or other government bodies, lunch break was only half an hour, which was spent eating a packed lunch in the park.

The afternoon was spent with more walking around.
Ishim river waterfront
I visited the Central Park, which would have been named Gorky park had it existed in Soviet times. It was quite similar to the Gorky Parks in Almaty and Kiev: a small theme park, several bars and restaurants and some outdoor activities.
Since I was on the south bank of the river now I decided to leave the National Museum for what it was and visit that tomorrow or the day after. It was lovely weather, so I spent quite some time just sitting out in the sun drinking a beer. The weather forecast for tomorrow was even better than for today, so I was in no hurry to do any major sightseeing.

For dinner I met up with Minda and two of her friends who I'd also met during lunch: Marie and Marie-Louise. We had dinner in a Turkish restaurant on the north bank of the Ishim - the first Turkish food I've had since Turkey and dare I say it tasted better here than anywhere I had had in Turkey. Today was the start of Ramadan and for that reason no alcohol was served. Since we all fancied some beers we crossed the river to central park and had a few drinks at a nice bar.

NJTProadcruiser says:
Interesting... I want to get out to that part of the world and do the Almaty-Urumqi and points in between some day :)
Posted on: Nov 16, 2010
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Arrival at Astana train station
Arrival at Astana train station
The (empty) streets of Astana
The (empty) streets of Astana
Random building
Random building
Building of the Norwegian embassy
Building of the Norwegian embassy
The mall where I found my breakfast
The mall where I found my breakfast
Baraeva bridge and Norwegian embas…
Baraeva bridge and Norwegian emba…
Ishim river waterfront
Ishim river waterfront
Astana
Astana
Another building
Another building
Stalinist architecture
Stalinist architecture
Radisson hotel
Radisson hotel
Astana
Astana
Ishim River waterfront
Ishim River waterfront
Ishim River waterfront
Ishim River waterfront
Ishim River waterfront
Ishim River waterfront
Baraeva bridge
Baraeva bridge
Baravea bridge
Baravea bridge
no idea what this statue depicts, …
no idea what this statue depicts,…
Ishim waterfront at night
Ishim waterfront at night
Ishim waterfront at night
Ishim waterfront at night
Ishim waterfront at night
Ishim waterfront at night
Astana
photo by: Biedjee