|Astana looks like mini Dubai|
|Astana concert hall|
|Abs trying out the president's hand cast|
|Davis cup in Astana, Kazakhstan vs Uzbekistan - hard core fan|
|Davis cup - Kazakhstan champion|
|Astana by dusk|
|Almaty metro station|
|Ascension Cathedral in Almaty - 2nd tallest wooden building in the world|
|Ladies selling yummy korean pickles|
|Filming in front of our hostel in Almaty|
|Almaty by night|
|Cool batman in Almaty|
|Abs's favourite Kazakhstan chocolate - he ate 4 of these|
|X factor recruiting in Almaty|
|Lenin statue graveyard in Semey|
There are no mankinis in Kazakhstan. Nor are there any cages for retarded people. And if there were any gypsies we did not see them. And so it transpired that all we had been led to believe by a certain Borat Sagdiyev disappointingly appeared to be a fallacy.
In the end our stay in this oil/coal/mineral-rich Stan encompassed 4 cities, 3 overnight train journeys, 2 bus journeys, and 1 bottle of vile-tasting fermented horse-milk.
On crossing the border from Uzbekistan we headed by cramped minibus to Shymkent, home to…well, nothing special at all. We stayed for a few hours, changed some money, drank some tea, and booked a couple of bunk-beds on the overnight train to the country’s biggest city, Almaty.
Almaty is Kazakh for ‘apple’, for it was from here that this now global fruit originated. The fruit trees, though still prominent, have now been replaced by a modernised albeit Soviet-like city, with all the usual Western establishments, such as Zara and Gap, now scattered throughout the city.
There really wasn’t much to do. But we liked this city. And I think a lot came down to our lodgings here.
Our accommodation was more of a homestay, where a few rooms were being offered by a couple and their 3 year old baby in their apartment. We gratuitously welcomed the good internet connection, use of kitchen facilities and, most importantly, unlimited access to nice toilet paper.
We stayed a few days to relax before deciding to head up to the capital, Astana, on our second overnight train journey. During the trip a mother got off the train and didn’t get back on in time. An 8 year old boy was left by himself. Other than this, the journey was fairly uneventful.
Our entry into the world of couchsurfing continued in Astana and we were extremely fortunate enough to stay with 4 expats teaching English in the city. They were the perfect hosts, offering us a bed for several nights, fantastic company and use of their full size table tennis table. Diana lost J
Astana itself was a whacky, peculiar and futuristic city, almost reminiscent of Dubai in some ways. It has literally sprouted up over the last 10 years, a result of the never-ending supply of money that has emanated from the country’s substantial oil and gas fields, some of the largest in the world, and the huge swaths of every known mineral that lie within its borders. This is not the poor country that popular media (i.e. Borat) has led us to believe it is.
And so we walked through the streets amazed at the unusual, perhaps even inexplicable, structures, designed by some of the most renowned worldwide architects, and resembling anything from Dr. Who-like Daleks to the football world cup. Shopping malls were plentiful, including one situated inside the largest tent in the world, occupied with any Western store we would ordinarily find in Central London.
To top it all our stay in the capital was made complete by being able to watch a classic grudge match in the tennis Davis Cup; Kazakhstan vs Uzbekistan. Support for the local team was boisterous and we were fortunate enough to see some top-ranked tennis players (top 30 in the world) in what turned out to be an enthralling day out.
4 days in Astana turned out to be enough, after which we headed to Semey, better known as the location of Russia’s nuclear weapon tests over the last century. We did not drink the tap water. We hung around for a few days, taking in the Lenin statue graveyard (the Kazakhs had to put them somewhere) and the old home of Dostoyevsky.
What followed after was a 30 hour bumpy (and subsequently sleepless) bus journey into our next country, the powerhouse that is becoming Capitalist China.