Astana was the last stop on a trip which took me from Uzbekistan to the north of Kazakhstan. It was a trip that started in the searing heat of the Uzbek desert and ended nearly 40 degrees colder in Kazakhstan’s purpose-built capital city.
I hadn’t packed for cold weather. Astana was always going to be colder than the other areas I visited but I hadn’t planned for such a drop and it made my last day a little uncomfortable. Added to that, with Astana feeling like quite a soulless city, it’s fair to say the trip ended on a note lower than which it began.
I hesitate to pass comment on anywhere I visit with such a short stopover. With Astana, I arrived on the overnight train from Almaty and had one evening before catching a flight back to London the next morning and that provided my entire experience of the city. It was in freezing cold weather on a dull day, and the areas I visited had very few people around. It doesn’t make for the most memorable time.
The overnight train from Almaty brought back the fantastic experience of the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian journeys from the year before. I love long train travel, especially when it’s almost free of technology related disturbances and it’s a chance to socialise or switch off. On this trip, with a train much like the most basic Soviet trains I travelled on before, I’m pretty sure I was the only non-Russian/Kazakh speaking person in the carriage. Despite this, I managed to have a chat with some people in the kupe. One phoned her friend to tell them there was a foreigner who could only speak English on the train, and with another, somehow, I managed to have a conversation about iOS vs. Android.
But much of it was switched off and relaxing, watching the weather change out of the window as the temperature outside plummeted from the mild Almaty to the freezing Astana. On arrival in the capital it felt bitterly cold and it dropped further throughout the night.
My accommodation was a little out of the way. Astana seems to be a conference city; built for hosting events, spaced out, modern, but lacking atmosphere. The massive wide-open roads and showcase buildings give the image of Kazakhstan presenting itself to the world, but in a way that lacks all of the authenticity that makes a country like this so interesting in the first place.
I spent most of the time wandering the southern part of the centre from the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation to the Baiterek Tower, which could well be entirely the wrong place to explore on a short trip. Around there I found a reasonable bar for a drink and some food and saw some rush-hour commuters. The dull sky and cold weather coupled with the lack of atmosphere only compounded that ‘end of a trip’ feeling.
Following a taxi to the airport (the driver called me and shouted down the phone to me in Kazakh or Russian because I wasn’t at the correct meeting point), the journey home with Air Astana was a good one. Astana airport, however, is one of the most modern yet basic airports I’ve visited; lacking in things you’d expect from an airport in a relatively big capital city. In a wide-open space it had a couple of shops and a couple of basic cafes.
Astana in no way left any kind of positive lasting impression on me. But then I am saying that based on one evening in the city. There is a lot to see, but, going by my own experience backed up with what I’ve read online, Astana is not known for being a city that people flock to for reasons other than work. After Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, this trip took me to Astana only to catch a flight back home, and it’s likely that’s the only reason I’d visit the city again in the future.