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Astana Tour

Day 1 of the 5 Stans

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 5

With a bit more sleep I was able to get down to the buffet while there was still food. It made for a much better breakfast.

I met the rest of my tour group in the lobby. They had arrived on the same middle of the night flight that Michael and I took last night. Their plans were to get here a day earlier like we did, but due to missed connections at the new Istanbul airport, spent a night there instead.

The new folks are a couple from Switzerland (Rita and Silvio) and a German man (Thomas). They are all in their 50s complimenting the original three of us from yesterday, all in our 60s. I am really a travel virgin next to the rest of my group. Most of them are at over 100 countries visited. Thomas is at something like 150. Silvio does not have such a high number since he has only been travelling for about 11 years, since he started travelling with Rita. I will not yet be to 40 by the end of this trip. That’s what happens when you do not travel for 30 years.

Our tour today was in the new part of town which is a planned city. Prominent architects from around the world have designed the plan and the many prominent structures.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Kazakhstan. Some highlights were the Golden Man who dates from the Saka period 500 BC and a noblewoman, the Uzhar Princess, also dating back to the Saka period. I was impressed by the woman warrior.


I cannot remember what the lights were all about, but they were impressive.

The ex-president Nazarbayev was there.


While I was taking a short video, this guy decided to join the cast.

We then walked through Independence Square past the Kazak Eli monument.


Across the road is the Palace of Peace and Accord, a Norman Foster structure. We will soon hear more about him.

We stopped at the Palace of Independence where we were shown a giant model of the city, which is already out of date. There was also an impressive portrait of the ex-President receiving his honors in front of other world leaders. I do not think that they would remember that day.


Our final morning stop was at the Hazret Sultan Mosque. We were visiting during prayer times. Our female contingent had to use the provided wraps to cover themselves. Women had to stay on the sides. Men were allowed to walk in the middle. Like everything else in this part of the city, the mosque is new, having been opened in 2012.


Our lovely guide, Gaukhar, and our tour group ladies looking very stylish.


After a busy morning Gaukhar took us to a very colorful restaurant where we enjoyed a filling meal which included a traditional noodle dish.

After lunch we visited the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre. This strange structure was designed by British Architect Norman Foster. From what I have now read he should be referred to as Lord Foster, which of course really impresses me.

I took the following description from the Foster + partners website (I did take the liberty of fixing the punctuation since architects sometimes believe that design esthetics are more important, “To deal with Astana’s drastically polar climate (-35 degrees in the winter and +35 in the summer) the tent is made up of a tri-layer ETFE envelope that shelters the interiors while allowing daylight to wash in. To avoid the formation of ice on the inside of the envelope during the winter, a system is in place to monitor the interior temperature while warm air currents are directed up the inner surface of the fabric. During the summer, the vents at the top of the tents can be opened to encourage stack-effect ventilation. Low-level jets can also keep the temperature down by directing cool air across the space.”

Or, you could just call it the world’s biggest tent. Yes, it is impressive. There is a tropical beach at the top with sand imported from the Maldives. Michael and I went up to investigate but were told that we had to pay the admission fee to get in. We declined.

I have to admit to my bias. I avoid malls at all costs. I thought that it was a step up from the West Edmonton Mall, but it is still a shopping mall.
Of course, it has a Starbucks.

It did not take long to get the name changed here.

We then drove off to the site of Astana’s Expo 2017 where the highlight was visiting the futuristic post office and meeting a robot that can answer your postal questions but also is a great dancer.


After Expo we went to the center of all the development, Nurzhol Boulevard. We passed the Kazakhstan Concert Hall and then stopped in front the Ak Orda or “white horde” in Kazakh, which is the President’s residence. The presidential palace features 21 different types of marble, flown in from all over the world.


At that point there was a little miscommunication. In the distance we could see the imposing Baiterek Monument or Large Lollipop as locals like to call it. The sun was coming from that direction, so I wanted a photo from the other side. Had I known that we were actually going to be driven to there, and go to the top, I would have been happy to get a ride in the van. I was really suffering so that each step was painful.

Instead, greatly misjudging the distance, I suggested that we walk to the monument. That idea was quickly seconded by some of the others, and off we went, with me limping on every step. I think I enjoyed the walk. There were beautiful fountains and a few great photo opportunities.

Golden Towers (or the Beer Cans)

When the walking group arrived at the monument, we found Gaukhar and Lynley relaxing on a bench. I wanted to get far enough away to get the full tower in my photo, so I hobbled on. Meanwhile the group was ready to go up to the viewing area. Just as I got back from my photo taking, the elevator closed. There was an afternoon break. After a brief discussion we decided to just relax until the platform opened again.

We had a great view from up there, but it was through the yellow glass. At the top there is an impression of the right palm of the first President Nazarbayev expressing the bond between the state and citizens and peace, friendship and harmony. Everyone wants to get their photo taken with their own palm in his. I passed on that opportunity as well. So, I missed two of the top things, the beach and the President's palm.

Silvio did put his palm down. Rita took this photo.

The official information is that the shape of Baiterek represents a poplar tree holding a golden egg. The images come from a folktale of the tree of life, a central symbol in Turkic mythology, and Samruk, the legendary bird of happiness, who is said to have laid her egg between the branches of a poplar tree. According to the same official line, it was designed by the former President.


From there we walked (I limped) to our restaurant where we had a fabulous view. Our meal included horse meat and lots of food, very good food. So far, I have been extremely impressed with our guide, our accommodation, and especially the food.


After dinner we walked back to the hotel. Everything was quite amazing at night.


I had not had a chance to take a photograph of the Astana Opera which was next door. As we got closer, I debated whether I had the energy to walk over and get that photo. Then Michael said that he was going. Rita, the other keen photographer in our group, said she was on her way. So, I had to do it.


We had an early flight to catch. We were expected to be in the lobby by 5:15. I planned to be up by about 4:30, which I calculated would be about 9 pm back in Pouch Cove. I asked Po to call me at that time. She said that she would be at our friends for dinner. I said, fine, let everyone call me. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It had been a very busy first day of the tour.

Posted by Bob Brink 12:58 Archived in Kazakhstan Tagged kazakhstan astana nur_sultan

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Wow, a busy first day! The modern architecture is very impressive - I'm a fan of Norman Foster's work, although usually visiting a shopping mall wouldn't be high on my list of must-see sights for a trip ;) And I empathise with the hobbling - I'm often in a similar predicament, weighing pain against photos opps, as I suffer from ankle problems at times

by ToonSarah

Sarah, I think visiting a shopping mall kind of sums up the whole Astana experience. It is an easy place to say that I am happy to have seen but am equally happy not to go back.

by Bob Brink

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