Astana: Intro to Central Asia

Arrived in Astana at a fairly awkward time so was exhausted, the consequence of cheaper budget flights, but was able to catch up on some work emails and fit in a couple of hours of sleep.  After a quick nap we had a good long day exploring the central square from the Bayterek area near our hotel, all the way up to Shatyr Khan mall.  Along the way we were stopping to see some public art, park areas and playgrounds.  This was after a sub-par breakfast, but only because we went to the very last minute after a tired night.  The weather is amazing here and had a great traditional Kazakh meal with lots of horse meat, horse milk, camel milk, yogurt, horse broth “soup” thing with bread, potatoes and onions. Rounded it all up with traditional Kazakh sweets made of pasta and honey and cookies with grapes (very interesting and very heavy).

Our Astana stay

All the while the city was gearing up for their expo so they had a series of contemporary ethnic music and concerts, and a bunch of stalls and kiosks everywhere.  After walking around the mall and having (for some reason) a shorter walk back, we rested in the hotel suite.  The suite itself was massive, and the décor was too baroque and ornamental for my liking, but comfortable.  There is a language barrier here, but nothing unmanageable, and people were polite enough to be patient with us.

Exploring Astana…..

…….and it’s “Horse”-centric  food

We went for some sea food at the Ocean Basket restaurant.  Great digs and excellent food, and having a kids play area made a big difference for us and our guy, he was fully entertained and we had a great meal.  The food was delicious and very filling.  Passed by a grocery store and as usual saw a lot of exotic products there that we haven’t seen before, couldn’t resist buying a few to try.  Hoping to explore more tomorrow by myself, and maybe take the little guy for a swim in the in-house hotel pool.   Hopefully we can book a folk-dance show once I can explain that to the reception.

Didn’t really have any expectations for Astana, or Kazakhstan – wasn’t sure what to expect, but it has been a very easy going holiday – much needed after what has been a nightmare scenario at work the past month or so.  (Day 1, Diplomat Hotel, Astana – 11:40 p.m.)**

As part of day 2 in Astana, I started off with a very productive sightseeing solo walk leaving early to see the Presidential palace, Palace of Peace, the big Hazrat Mosque passing through the Elia Monument and to the National Museum.  At that last stop of the museum, I took MANY selfies with kids that thought I looked like an actor for some reason, a good 15 to 20 at least.

Hazrat Mosque

The surreal Palace of Peace

I also managed to get a couple of small things form the souvenir shop (which I am fully aware were overpriced) with a couple of magnets, a leather wallet and a small embroidered bag for my niece.  After hydrating on a few bottles of water and soaking in the history, walked back to the hotel to meet my “better half” and “little spawn”.

City of new grand monuments, and humble traditions

After a quick change we all headed out to the Bayterek tower, the nearby mall “Keyren” and along the main boulevard for the little guy to satisfy his playground fix.  At Keyren mall had a great Turkish lunch (heavy) with the usual Eskandar doner.  Got back with sore legs from a 6-hour full on walk day and ordered some room service (really tasty chicken in nut crust and apples with kiwi sauce, apple strudel and a berry lemonade – very impressed).  You can imagine that all helps in giving me a deep sleep, and relatively early.

Will see if there is a half day tour somewhere nature-focused for later today (day 3 of the trip, yes I’m writing a day late), might take my kid swimming in the nearby hotel pool and/or this close by Dino park – will see how it goes. Traditional food on the menu is a must today, had enough “safe” food, it’s also the first day of Eid, with decorations all over the city.  Eid Mubarak! (Day 3, Diplomat Hotel, Astana – 6:40 a.m.)**

Had a relaxed day overall with a really chilled walk in the early afternoon – this was after a lazy morning where I woke up at 5:30a.m., went back to sleep and back up again – never sleeping early again.  Went to this international restaurant and had great steak and veggies (so much for my traditional food pledge), while the wifey and son got their fill with two pasta dishes and a Carpcaccio which looked amazing.   Went to a mall, where we did a quick visit and Hanan got some Asian beauty products reminiscent of Korea shopping, located on the edge of the central area. Then we walked down restaurant alley to hit a great gem with amazing central Asian food.  Had the national horse meat dish (again – not a huge fan but when in Rome); the dumplings and beef kebab were awesome.  Tea and some dried fruits and nuts capped the day before we walked back through the central boulevard making a couple of playground pit stops along the way.

Astana night and day – a mesh of personalities

Wasn’t much too exciting, but all the walking seems to be taking its toll on me, feeling tired.  Looking forward to tomorrow where I will try to go to this traditional Kazakh village set up for the expo 2017 where it’s like a “Medieval Times” type of vibe, seeing how people used to live in this part of the world in them olden days, should be interesting.  Will take it easy though ‘cause we’ll be flying back in the very early morning; and I’ll have to change and go to work for a full day for the next 3 days.  So will pace myself.  (Day 3, Diplomat Hotel, Astana – 01:30 a.m.)**

Despite the inevitable moments of arguments and silent treatments between the three of us, the day went smoothly.  Late morning after a long day yesterday, going for breakfast in a highly rated international coffee shop called Bon Bon near our hotel.  Had a great egg and chicken pesto sandwich, but the treat was the “Morrachino”, which is espresso with Nutella and cream! Yum.  After a quick break in the hotel we went off to the medieval Kazakh village.  It had some relatively affordable authentic handy crafts, despite the tourist trap vibe it gave and the silent emptiness that it was (I think we were the only visitors there).  Got my boo a “genuine” leather wallet (to be determined) and she got some silver jewellery, a framed print and the traditional water bottle to hang as decoration.

Beautiful Kazakh traditional Yurts

After spending all our cash, we had a minor panic attack when trying to find a cab and then paying in cash.  We did enjoy an authentic meal in the exhibit where I had the traditional dish this time with goose meet and a new light sweet made of fried flakes and sugar.  My boy really enjoyed the atmosphere and the Yurts (tents) as well as the playground with the traditional swings.  We were lucky to find a quick cab on our way out (with some help from the exhibit watchmen) and managed to use the ATM in the nearby Silkway Mall (the new largest mall in Kazakhstan).  We paid the driver after he took us – gave him a nice bonus doubling his fair, still relatively cheap.  Always glad to be a ballin tipper if the guy doesn’t ask for it or expect it even.

After a nice stroll where I finally got my souvenirs in the form of a small book on Kazakhstan and a folk music CD along with some minor toys and of course some more Korean cosmetics for the lady (no comment), she got more here than in Seoul!  Back at the hotel relaxing before we pack and get ready for our late night/early morning flight to Dubai.

Exotic culture, friendly and warm people with a sense of innocence; which was actually inspirational.  Beautiful weather and despite the sanitised feel of Astana still a very family friendly city (playgrounds everywhere, must be the highest number per capita) and amazing food. Very slow service at restaurants but fresh ingredients and great tastes, very unique.  We leave very satisfied in having a much-needed pleasant break from the searing heat of the UAE.  Well worth it! (Day 4, Diplomat Hotel, Astana – 4:52 p.m.)***

Many people say Astana is soulless compared to Almaty – do you agree?


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