Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Buildings and Monuments Everywhere: It's like a capital city in Civilization!

We've been here in Astana for a little over a week now, and that has given us a chance to walk around (a lot) and see our area of the city. Astana isn't exactly a large city, positively tiny compared to the sprawl of Atlanta, but it's large enough that walking isn't exactly a feasible way to get around the city; with our apartment on the southeast edge of the city, if we want to go anywhere or do anything, we have to walk a couple of miles minimum. It will be even tougher in the winter when temperatures get down to -30 and below, but so far we have a lot of people who've offered to drive us to the different stores, and since the weather isn't bad yet, walking is still a possibility.

Our apartment is basically on the equivalent of the National Mall in Washington. From our balcony, you can see the presidential palace right across the river.

It's that massive white one with the blue dome on the left. Past that (to the right) are two gigantic mustard bottles, right out of The Phantom Menace, and a bit further is the Bayterek (the tower with a large golden ball at the top). I'll get to some better pictures later on.

Before I do, though, I want to point out some things about the above picture and most of the rest you'll see from me in this country. Astana is a very, very young city at only 14 years since it was made the capital of Kazakhstan. The president wants it to be huge, beautiful, and built before he dies (and at 72 years young, you never know when that might happen). Because of this, there is construction work going on every hour of every day. Here's the view from the back of our apartment:

Everywhere you look, there are massive cranes being used to put together massive, amazing buildings. It is undeniable that they look great, inside and out. What is a bit more questionable is whether they are actually great. Everything is done with speed and beauty primary, so what gets left behind sometimes is quality. We were told a story about a building that absolutely had to be finished, so they slapped it together, opened it up officially with all of it's amazing looks, and then they spent the next couple of months taking the facade of the building, putting the insulation in, and replacing the facade. The maintenance guys at the embassy can't stop complaining about how everything looks nice to cover up weird pipes, sketchy wiring, poor fittings, and any other of a number quality issues.

That being said, we haven't experienced any significant problems, so much like some of the other things we've been told about Astana, it might be a bit overstated.

Back to the point of this post: cool buildings and monuments! Right outside of our apartment is the back half of the national mall, and there are some really cool things over here:

This is the Pyramid of Peace and Reconciliation. Apparently there is a 1,500 seat opera hall, a restaurant, and conference rooms aplenty inside, but I don't know that I really want to go in there. We saw a couple of wedding parties going in and out of it this past Saturday, so it does get used. It is surrounded by a huge park with trees and flowers stretching out in all directions, apparently forming a giant bird if seen from above. Keep an eye on that tall, white monument with a bird on it in the background.

Flowers! Everywhere. We're right at the end of these guys' lifespan, but apparently in the warmer parts of the year, they spread them on even thicker, especially out near the Bayterek and in front of the presidential palace. (Notice the cranes in the distance. There were about 10 we could see from this spot.)

Speaking of, this is a view from the foot of the pyramid towards the palace. If you look closely, you can see those big golden mustard bottle buildings. Way past it is the rest of the mall and the Bayterek. To the right of where I was standing is our apartment:


This is the pyramid again. That pathway is large enough to drive a couple of cars down side by side, for reference. Also, keep those two little white spires on the left of the picture in your mind.

On the other side of the pyramid, there is a big arrangement of fountains on the ground. The water kind of goes everywhere, but it looks very nice. There's that bird on a stick again!

This is a legendary legend of what I think was a phoenix that laid the gigantic egg that is precariously balanced on top of the Bayterek, and on either side of it are MORE oddly shaped buildings. The left one is a concert hall shaped like a dog bowl. The right one is... something... shaped like a bread basket.

Remember those two white spires? They belong to the largest mosque in all of Eurasia. It's pretty big. I haven't been inside... I don't know what the rules for that are. See that tiny black speck on the dome of the place? That's a guy. I don't know what he was doing up there, but he's got a rope and he's dangling from the crescent moon. To the left of this picture is where the U.S. Embassy is, but I didn't want to take pictures of it. There is a menacing Kazakh guard at the front gate covered with body armor and carrying some sort of assault rifle. I don't want to upset him.

Lastly, if you walk about 30 or 40 minutes from our apartment, you can get to the actual "in-the-city" part of the national mall. Here's a shot of the presidential palace from the OTHER end of the mall:

I walked out there one day early on, apparently for the only two hours it rained that week, so the pictures are a bit (or extremely) fuzzy and gray. You can see all of the flowers and the mustard bottles for location reference, though.

And right behind me is this guy:

The Bayterek. You can go up there and take pictures, and we probably will some time. It only gets busy on Saturdays. The last thing I will point out is the big egg-shaped thing on the left of this photo. I don't know what it is, but just behind it is a pretty nice mall with lots of stores and a huge food court with a Hardee's and KFC. We may have been there a couple of times already...


  1. So, the transportation thing... Can you drive? Would you want to? Did you bring an International license? No buses or trains run near your apartment? I guess that's one thing Japan has over Kazakhstan. Do they have taxis around? I would be bummed if I had to walk everywhere, but then again I'm old and out of shape.

  2. We don't need international licenses because the cars drive on the right (not left) side of the road. However, we don't have a car. When you are posted internationally, you can either bring a car (which takes months) or buy certain cars (but not just any old car off the market). Basically, even if we did have a car, we would need to figure out something else for the first couple of months. We've got friends who have been here for months and are just getting their vehicles. We haven't really needed a car yet, because the embassy is really close to where we live, and when we need to go to the grocery store, we can ask for rides from other people who understand our situation.

    We have been thinking about acquiring a vehicle, though. The taxis here are pretty sketchy (and difficult to manage without speaking Russian), and I have no idea what is going on with the busses. There are no trains. The city isn't big enough to justify them, from what I can tell. When it gets colder, we may need a car to get around in ourselves, and that is even more true if we need to sponsor or help out new people when they arrive. It would be ridiculous to help a new person by saying "Someone else can take you to the grocery store!" So we're keeping our eyes open for any super-cheap vehicles. Until then, it's walking and catching a ride with someone. We'll see how that pans out.