17 February 2013

Astana's Ishim Embankment, Perfect for a Traditional Sunday Stroll

We have always enjoyed a Sunday afternoon stroll after lunch.  From treks through the Bush in Nigeria to strolling along the River Tigris in Turkey or the dunes in the Netherlands our Sunday Stroll has been a family tradition.  
Traditional Family Sunday Stroll
When I was a child in Norway we would walk for hours through the mountains even in the coldest winters but Norwegian winters look positively toasty when compared with the temperatures we experience in Astana.   We were very worried when we moved to Astana, that we might have to sacrifice this tradition in the winter.  Sadly we were right in one respect – it is not so easy to get out to the countryside to stroll by a lake or in the woods during the winter but there are plenty of alternatives in the City.  As long as the wind keeps down it is possible to enjoy a walk in temperatures down to about -20 with kids and -25-28 for adults.   Our dog does not always join us in the winter.  She has a coat and winter boots but does not like to go outside below about -15 and even then asks to go back inside after only a few minutes.  She dreams of the warmer weather when she enjoys spending the days outside. 
Winter clothes for dogs
Our dog wears a thick coat and booties but still feels the cold very badly.
The Ishim’s course through Astana is very heavily managed and in the Winter it is frozen from November through to about mid March.  The river is lined with embankments which  are kept clear of snow making them  a lovely place to walk.  They are a wonderful place to people watch - older couples and effortlessly elegant Kazakh women with their husbands and babies wrapped up warm in their prams come here to enjoy the winter sunshine.  
Astana River Embankment
People Watching on the Ishim Embankments
You can also go down onto the River itself, many people ski or snowmobile along here,  there are ice rinks where children play hockey or just skate for fun and every now and then you come across little tents covering holes kept open for ice fishing. There is something disconcerting about walking on the river, it feels as though it should be dangerous but it is frozen solid to quite some depth and is very safe.

Astana, Ishim River, Ice Fishing
Ice Fishing on the Ishim
Astana Ishim River in Winter
Snowmobiles power along the river and perform flips on the banks.
The city constructs ice slides from the top of the embankment down to the river at set places every year.  These are fairly vertiginous and very fast.  With a good fast sledge (wax it for optimum performance) you can get about halfway across the river.  The builders, in their wisdom have built walls on either side of the slide. Steering the sledges is almost impossible because the slides are made from ice rather than snow and I speak from experience when I say that it hurts to bang against these.    We have seen little children as young as 2 or 3 send themselves down these slides on their sledges without fear but a couple of near misses, one of which resulted in broken glasses, mean that we now send our kids down the snow by the side of the slides instead.
Astana Ice Slides
Children enjoying the Ice Slides 
As you walk along the embankment you get to the statue of Kenessary Khan, a national hero who led the fight against the Russian occupation until his death in 1847.  In the summer we would cross the river and go into the Astana Park – a fairground and pleasure park near the Circus, before walking home, but in the Winter we stop off at Rafe, a Café near the Kenessary Statue that does a very tasty and warming hot chocolate.
Kenessary Khan Astana
Kenessary Khan
Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Thank you for this blog! I,too, love a good walk and perhaps someday we can all post our favourite walks from around the world! Mine is a city walk, others enjoy a country walk...thank you for sharing yours! from Kathleen who is finding a new walk in a new location.

  2. Hi Kathleen

    Great to hear from you and so pleased your enjoyed the post. Walks are a brilliant way to keep fit and to spend time with friends. Finding a new walk in a new place is one of my all time favorite activities. I noticed from your blog that you had connections with Farnham, England. Our previous posting was there and there are beautiful walks in the area. A lot of flims have been made in the woods just outside and you can walk right around the sets.

    All the best EE

  3. Hi Kathleen

    I found your information useful. We have 2 young children, so I was interested in your outdoors description.

    We are coming from NZ. How many months of year are on average durable, we have 1 & 5 yr old. We're trying to make our mind up 're. Pram. And if so, what's recommended....I like the idea of being able to run...but sounds like ICECY so guess not option. How about cross country skiing...is that doable within city.

    Like yourselves, we enjoy outdoor weekend walks.

    Are you likely to get hassled for cash ....is winter clothing clothing something that you d recommend bringing out? I'm looking forward ..

    If you don't mind emailing too jonathanguykelly@yahoo.co. nz appreciate.


    Jonathan Kelly

    1. Dear Jonathan

      Sorry for the delayed reply - we have been away for the summer with limited internet.

      There is a cross country ski track in the city, it is also possible to ski (and snowshoe) on the river. You will probably need a pram for the 1 year old but make sure that you buy a warm fleece liner and cosytoes for it. When you are here it is possible to buy sledges with seats that you can strap the kids in to.

      We bought winter coats for the kids from a company called JAck Wolfskin. We like them because the kids stuff is as high spec as the adults and we bought down jackets with a waterproof liner and extra warm fleeces. The kids will also need winter boots and salapettes. Very warm hats, ear muffs, scarves, mittens and balaclavas also help. You can buy good quality winter clothing for kids here though, in all sizes and realistically kids will never be able to stay out very long.

      For day to day wear for adults a good quality heavy sheepskin coat or even a fur (if you don't mind wearing it) is often more practical and warmer than technical wear. Heavy down jackets are also a good option and can be bought here. Winter boots for adults can be bought here - most mens and womens winter foot wear that is sold here has been adapted with fur liner which makes it very warm. A lot of expats love ugg boots and Bogs wellies. I tend to find them less effective (and less elegant) than the local stuff.

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