This Saturday I took a day trip to Astana, Kazakhstan's capital (Astana literally means capital in Kazakh). I found a cheap flight from Almaty and after 1.5 hours I arrived in Astana early in the morning. Before going to the city centre, I visited the ALZHIR memorial, 30 km outside of the city, which used to be a gulag camp for the wives of 'betrayers of the motherland'.
At the memorial site, they reconstructed some of the towers and baracks that used to be part of the Gulag camp.
Next to the memorial, there was a museum telling the story of the Gulag and the political oppression during the 1930s-1950s. Some of the women in the camp:
After that impressive museum, I took a taxi back to the city to see Astana's modern architecture. Astana was founded in 1830 but only became the nation's capital in 1997, after which a new city centre was constructed. Now, Astana seems like a modern capital, although located in the middle of the steppe. I had heard it's a windy place, which is true! Don't bother doing your hair if you visit the city.
My first stop in the city centre was Khan Satyr, a futuristic shopping and entertainment centre designed by UK architect Norman Foster.
On the third floor of the mall, there is a whole amusement park complete with dinosaurs! Above that, on the top floor, a subtropical swimming pool.
Next, I stopped by the Nur-Astana mosque, which is the third largest mosque in Central Asia and has a capacity of 5,000 people.
On the square next to the mosque, there were some traditional yurts - quite a contrast with the modern skyscrapers in the background.
Then I walked further along Nurzhol boulevard, a collection of modern buildings housing offices, ministries and apartments.
At the end of the boulevard stands the Bayterek Tower, a monument which embodies a folktale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness: the bird, named Samruk, had laid its egg high in a tree so the evil dragon could not steal it... Normally you can taken an elevator up to the egg to get a view of the city, but due to renovations for the upcoming Expo 2017, it was closed.
Behind the tower lies the Akorda Presidential Palace, which is the official workplace of president Nazarbayev.
After crossing the river behind the palace, I entered the presidential park from where you have a good view of Astana's skyline.
At the park there is a pyramidic structure, also designed by Norman Foster, which is known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. It was specially constructed to host the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and according to Wikipedia it is conceived as a global center for "religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality". Included in the ticket (0.80 EUR) was an English tour.
From the pyramid, I walked a but further to see another 'palace' and mosque. Then I took a taxi to a museum in another part of the city, which turned out to be closed due to renovations. The aquarium on the opposite side of the street was closed as well, sadly. Since I still had some time left, I crossed the river again to walk to the old (Soviet) part of the city in the north.
There, I went to the Military Museum, where I arrived only 15 minutes before it closed. Just in time to see the WWII exhibitions (photo) as well as the impressive collection of weapons they had on display.
After the museum, I went to a closeby vegetarian restaurant for dinner (had a vegan cheese burger!) and then took the bus back to the airport, to catch my plane back to Almaty at 21:15 in the evening.
The next day I went to the spa with a friend/colleague to relax from my adventures in Astana. Sadly, this was my last weekend in Almaty. On Friday I am having a goodbye party and then I leave for Amsterdam coming Saturday! So this was my last blog post (at least for this trip), thanks for reading xx