Before we came to live here Astana was just a name on a map – a remote capital under the achingly beautiful blue sky in the middle of the endless Central Asian Steppe. Remote Astana may be but it is also vibrant, modern and beautiful.
Astana is the second coldest capital in the world – the temperature drops below freezing in November and the city is frozen until March. Temperatures of between -20 and -32 Celsius are common and it is not unknown for the temperature to drop below -45. Add the windchill factor from the fierce, ceaseless northern winds and the actual temperature is enough to freeze the car exhaust fumes as the cars drive.
The City freezes in November and remains frozen for five months. The cold temperatures mean there is no freeze thaw cycle so the snow remains clean and beautiful. The winter skies are often clear and blue. (below)
Astana is, however a dichotomy, a city of opposites. While our winters may be brutal we bask in a beautifully warm summer. Once the temperature warms up the flower beds bloom in a profusion of colours and walks in the park become heady with their scent. Fountains are all over the place, providing a cooling respite from a walk through the city.
Beautiful, fragrant flower beds are laid out in tengrist (ancient religious) patterns. (below)
Getting around can be a challenge, particularly in the winter when the temperature drops. Public Buses are frequent and warm but the wait can be cold. Most people prefer to hitch-hike with a gypsy cab - a great way to practice Russian and Kazakh skills. We bit the bullet and bought our own car which makes life much easier.
Any car can become a cab - just stick your hand out and wait for someoneto stop. Rides cost about $2.(below)
Our children go to British Independent school Haileybury Astana here in Kazakhstan and there are several other international schools including an American School and a Turkish School. Local schools are found throughout the city and pupils are educated from the age of 7. The Schools tend to be large, low buildings designed around functionality for the extreme weather. Local schools will close if the weather gets too bad - this is to make sure that children (who often walk to school) are not out in very cold weather. The temperature at which children must stay at home varies depending on age.
Shopping in Astana can be has high end or as low end as you wish - all the prestigious malls have supermarkets and they make for an easy one stop shop, particularly for dry ingredients. Supermarkets, however high end, are not, however, the best place to find fresh ingredients, particularly vegetables. When I need to buy fresh produce I tend to visit one of the covered bazaars in the old (right bank) part of town. My particular favourite place is Artyum a five floor emporium. The ground floor has a good selection of stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruit, pulses and spices. The shops on the upper floors sell everything from household equipment to sporting goods, coats to lingerie and dogfood to furniture.
Stall holders in Artyum display their wares.(below)
Produce is always artfully displayed.(below)
Astana is being built before our eyes – go away for a month and construction will have started on a new building. The right bank of the River Ishim comprises the original town but the left bank is the bustling centre of the new metropolis. Wide boulevards are lined with prestigious apartment complexes and statement architecture.
New buildings spring up every few months – the ‘Death Star’ is to be the new National Library. (below)
The skyline of part of the left bank of Astana – cranes are a constant presence in the city as something is always being built. Most buildings are commercial on the lower floors with apartment accommodation above. (below)
Most of the accommodation is comprised of apartments in large square buildings built around a central courtyard containing playgrounds, sports facilities and small convenience stores (although skyscrapers such as the ones in the background in the photograph above are becoming more popular. Each lobby has a concierge responsible for ensuring services to the apartments are managed and to deal with maintenance and cleaning of the common parts. A good concierge can be a useful friend and ally - ours pays all our bills for us and keeps our plants when we are on holiday.
Typical apartment buildings as seen from the Baiterek.School 66, a local high school, is seen in the mid distance. (below)
The playgrounds in the apartment buildings are popular during the summer when children will stay up to play as late as 10 or 11 at night. Most of the parks in the city will have bouncy castles, plagrounds and small electric scooters for hire.
A typical summer entertainment complex in a park -electric cars are very popular and can be hired for five minutes at a time. (below)
Article published with permission from the Author
About the Author
The Author is a global soul, a perpetual expat. She was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch/Irish Family. Since then she lived in Norway, Nigeria, Turkey and Venezuela. She went to school and university in the UK and then she decided to have an adventure and took her children and the dog(s) to live abroad, firstly in Kazakhstan and now Sarawak. This blog is about how we muddle through daily life as expats and how things have changed from the adventures of her childhood.http://ersatzexpat.blogspot.com/All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced or distributed, in whole or in part, without prior written permission of the xpat.kz. However, reproduction and distribution, in whole or in part, by non-profit, research or educational institutions for their own use is permitted if proper credit is given, with full citation, and copyright is acknowledged. Any other reproduction or distribution, in whatever form and by whatever media, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of the xpat.kz. For further information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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