14 February 2013

About Astana

When we first heard that we were going to Astana we set about researching as much as possible.  The only thing I knew was that Astana is the second coldest capital in the world, below freezing for half the year and blazing hot for the other half.  A few books and Wikipedia entries later and I was left little wiser.  I did look on Google Earth to see the city on a fly-over and I was very excited by what I saw.

Winter Astana
Astana - Winter-wonderland
There are very few direct flights to Astana most carriers still fly to the old capital of Almaty which is a bit of a pain.  We have to fly via Istanbul, Moscow, Kiev, Frankfurt, Vienna, Minsk or Almaty adding a transit to any journey.  We arrived at 11pm on a Wednesday evening in August which meant that we got to see the city all lit up.  As we drove past a giant tent, a huge glass pyramid and many other weird and wonderful buildings our interest was piqued and we could not wait to explore.

Astana has only been the capital of the country since 1997 so it is a relatively new city.  It was previously called, at various times, Akmola, Tselinograd and Akmolinsk.  As Tselinograd it was at the center of the Soviet Virgin Lands campaign and agriculture is still very important in the surrounding countryside.  The name was changed from to Akmola at independence in 1990 and then to Astana, meaning capital, in 1998.

Khan Shatyr Astana
The Khan Shatyr, a giant tent housing a shopping center, theme park and beach
During the summer Astana is a garden city with large open parks planted with fragrant flowers.  It is a delight to walk everywhere and explore the various strange buildings and futuristic architecture.  The new city has developed on the left bank of the River Ishim.  The main axis of the new city is the long, open pedestrian Nurzhol boulevard stretching from the Khan Shatyr (a large, tented shopping and entertainment complex complete with theme park and swimming pool) to the Baiterek (Astana’s famous landmark), past the Parliament buildings to the Ak Orda (the presidential palace).

Bayterek Astana
Baiterek - Landmark of Astana
View from Bayterek to Khan Shatyr
View from the Baiterek to the Khan Shatyr along Nurzol Boulevard
View from Bayterek to Ak Orda
View from the Baiterek to the Ak Orda 
Across the river along the same axis you get to the giant pyramid, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.  Many other buildings are close to this main axis – the beautiful concert hall, a new museum in the process of being built and the Astana Mosque which was finished only recently.  Astana changes rapidly with new buildings springing up all the time.  In the photo of the view from the Baiterek to the Khan Shatyr you can see an unfinished building.  The photo was taken in August 2011 and the building finished shortly thereafter.

Astana Pyramid
The Pyramid - Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
Pyramid, Astana Mosque and Kaz Eli
The Pyramid with the Mosque, Concert Venues and Kaz Eli monument behind.
Away from the main boulevard there are many parks – opposite our house is the Arai Park, perfect for teaching the kids to bicycle or for walking the dog.  The river is calm, frozen for half the year; we enjoy walking along it in the winter or sledging down precipitous ice slides.  In the summer there are pleasure boats and you can see scullers from the Astana Rowing club. Many people enjoy swimming in the river in the summer and there is even a beach for sunbathing.  The river has a beautiful embankment making it a pleasure to run, cycle or even roller-blade along.

Astana Arai Park
Arai Park in the Winter
Astana - Ishim, Ak Orda and Majlis
The River in Summer with the Ak Orda and Parliament buildings behind.
Astana has a permanent circus building – it looks like a flying saucer particularly when it glitters with flashing lights at night.  A lot of touring circuses come through and the kids love to go and see a show.   Despite Kazakhstan being as far away from the sea as you can get in the world Astana has its own Oceanarium.  There are some displays of local fish but the showstopper is the tunnel through the main tank.  Here you can walk through a water wonderland and see sharks and fish, truly a miracle in this land-locked country. Nearby you can explore all Kazakhstan in miniature at the memorial map complex.

Circus Astana
Astana Circus with beautiful summer flowers
The right bank of the river is the older part of the city.  It has a very different vibe to the newer part and younger expats prefer to live here close to the night life.  Respublika Prospect is the main artery of this part of the city and is vibrant and chaotic in equal measure.  Over on this bank you find the Concert and Organ halls, the bazars, some very good museums and, if you know where to look, some interesting antique shops.

Everyone who comes to live in Astana worries about the weather and this is as true for locals as it is for expats.  Winter 2011/12 was very cold with temperatures getting down to the very low -40’s at times and consistently below -20 but we found we were able to enjoy life nevertheless.  This winter has been much warmer with temperatures rarely falling below -20.  The cold in Astana is very dry so it does not penetrate the bones in the same way a wet cold does.  The biggest problem is the wind as windchill can have a big impact on the temperature. 

Astana Gardens in Winter
Nurzhol Boulevard Gardens in Winter
 Because of the extreme weather living in Astana is like living in two different cities, both are beautiful, exciting, enjoyable places to live.

Click on the picture for more posts about life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favour:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Kazakhstan? I understand perfectly that you think that your e-mail is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Kazakhstan in order to complete my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and a original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com, where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

  2. Dear Emilio

    I will send you a postcard. There is a post office just around the corner from our house and I will go there on Monday. It may take some time to get to you though as the post is not the most reliable! You have some really wonderful stamps on your website. Good luck with your project.