In Astana, the first step was to get to my hostel. Easier said than done, as I took the wrong bus from the train station; didn’t have enough Kazakh money and had to find an ATM; and the door was locked and the proprietor of the hostel took an hour to come and open it for me (I never did see him or any other staff again)… Whatever it lacked, the hostel made up for in location. I strolled almost straight out to the Bulvar Nurzhol, which is a pedestrian plaza leading from the Presidential Palace past the Bayterek (a tower and monument) to a shopping center, the Khan Shatyr, lacking nothing in extravagant glass skyscrapers and gardens and fountains along the way.
Asel is a Kazakh friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since high school, when she was an exchange student. She lives in Astana now, and we met up and she showed me around for the day.
Our first stop: Hazrat Sultan Mosque. It’s the biggest mosque in Kazakhstan and all Central Asia, and it was only built in the last few years. (Mosques with minarets are hard to photograph… sorry for the angle!)
Asel assured me that she had seen tourists there before, but none were inside when we visited - only people at prayer. The majority of the area was men-only. I took a few photos and left quickly – I wasn’t at all sure my presence would be tolerated for long.
One of Astana’s more curious attractions is the Palace of Peace and Accord, which is a pyramid-shaped building inside of which, apparently, the dear president holds conferences with diverse religious and ethnic leaders every few years. It’s got interesting architecture, and some offices inside, but I have to wonder about its stated purpose. You can go inside on a paid, Russian-language tour only.
To change things up, next we went to an aquarium. There were a lot of fish… including the famed золотая рыбка.
And finally, a visit to Astana wouldn’t be complete without a walk through the central park and along the river.