A trip to Kazakhstan
I used the website Travelocity to identify the cheapest flights to Kazakhstan. Through the information provide on the website, I learned that American Airlines fly to two major cities in Kazakhstan on daily basis, namely Almaty and Astana. Although there were other flight companies such as British Airways and Emirates that fly from the North American region to the country, I preferred using American Airlines because of their personalized and exclusive experience for someone traveling for long distance as in my case. Moreover, this company offers direct flights to Kazakhstan, which was advantageous to me since it helped me avoid any long layovers in the Middle East or Europe. Eventually, I saved a lot of time and energy for the trip.
I booked the flight one week in advance. When I arrived at the airport in New York, the weather was fogy and there were fears that if the situation was going to get worse, all flights would be cancelled for unknown duration. The thought of being stranded at the airport for hours made me afraid that I would have to spend some of the money I had planned to use in Kazakhstan paying for accommodation in New York. Luckily, by the time the immigration officials finished checking our travel documents, the sky had cleared. Soon after, we boarded a plane. Our non-stop flight from New York to Astana, Kazakhstan, took approximately 12 hours and 30 minutes. During this time, I covered approximately 10,000 kilometers. The distance between the two cities is so long that I watched two movies and slept for some hours before eventually landing in Astana. Since I was in the first class, I was served with in-flight food that consisted of beverages and snacks. Upon landing in Astana International Airport, I passed through the immigration officials and later collected my luggage. Immediately after, I hurried out of the international terminal and headed to the M36 motorway where I took a cab to the center of the capital. I learnt that the airport is located to the south of Astana. It took me approximately 25 minutes to reach Astana, having covered a distance of 16 kilometers. I had booked for accommodation in the city.
A trip to Kazakhstan
Photo: Airplane food that I was served with at lunch
Photo: Evening meal in the plane
Google Earth: View of Astana, Kazakhistan
Before taking the flight to Astana, I used the website booking.com to identify the best places where I could obtain accommodation. During my search, I had discovered that the hotel industry is well-established in Astana. There are thousands of hotels that were available. Most of them were charging affordable prices. They also complied with the standards set in the country to identify 4-star and 5-star grading. I learnt that most of them cater for the needs of tourists and business travellers. I instructed my driver to take me to Astana Marriott Hotel where I had done my booking prior to taking the flight. By now it was around 12 midnight local time. Upon arrival, I realized that the staff had been waiting for me the whole day. I was served with “shashlik”. I learnt that this was one of the most popular Kazakh foods that consisted of foods that had been prepared over charcoal fire. It was made from a mixture of chicken and fish and was extremely delicious. I also ate manti and laghman. The manti consisted of dumplings that had been made from ground meat. They were served with sour cream. The hotel did not have any campsite. However, since I was tired, I went to sleep at twelve midnight in preparation for the activities of the following day.
Food served at Astana Marriott Hotel
A trip to Kazakhstan
On the first day of the trip, I woke up at 6 in the morning. After taking a shower, I ate breakfast. It consisted of a cup of tea and baursaki, Central Asia’s most popular baked dish. Afterwards, I was ready to begin my tour of specific sites in Astana. On the first day, I toured the national museum of Kazakhstan. I used a taxi to reach the facility. On arrival, I learnt that the museum had just been renovated and was extremely impressive. The museum contains a rich history of the country. I arrived at the museum at 9 in the morning and spent several hours analyzing different exhibits that tell the pre-historic story of the nation. The exhibit that stood out among the rest was a small lamp of bread. It was about a Kazakh woman that endured and survived the 1930-33 famine. It is estimated that the famine resulted in the loss of more than 1.5 million people. A trip to Kazakhstan
The facility was huge and was made of marble, both white and blue glass. It contains the history of Kazakhstan covering both modern times and ancient times as well. At the entrance, I was welcomed by a large eagle that soared over an expansive map of this nation. The guide that took me around the museum told me that it consists of several halls. Some of those that I could remember include the Halls of History, Astana, Gold, Modern Art, Independent Kazakhstan, and Ethnography Hall.
The Hall of Ethnography contained a rich collection of objects that tell the story of the nomadic culture of Kazakhstan. On the other hand, the Golden Hall contained a collection of the jewelry worn by Kazakhs. The guide informed me that some of the jewelry had been collected from Scythian burial mounds that are located at Berel and Issyk. Although I was hearing about these places for the first time, I could tell they were important historical sites from the description provided by my guide. I had finished visiting all the halls in the museum by three o’clock. At that time, I took another cab to the hotel where I was staying. On arrival, I took lunch. I ordered for shashlik. It was simply pieces of meat that had been skewed with a certain amount of vegetables and prepared over burning coals.
Photo: Breakfast in Astana consisting of baursaki and tea
Photo: Entrance to the National Museum of Kazakhstan
Google Earth: National Museum of Kazakhstan
Google Map: The Journey from Astana to the Museum
A trip to Kazakhstan
The following day was Friday. During my visit to the museum the previous day, I learnt that Hazrat Sultan, which is the largest mosque in Central Asia is located just a few miters from the museum. Since I had all the travel documents and no travel advisory had been issued against people from North America visiting Kazakhstan, I decided it was safe enough for me just to walk to the mosque. Apart saving the money that I would have spent on hiring a cab, I considered the physical activity of walking important for me especially after spending almost 12 hours seated in the plane. Moreover, I still recalled the rout from my hostel to the national museum and I was confident that I would not get lost along the way.
Unfortunately, I got lost on my way to the mosque. Luckily for me, I encountered the driver that took to the national museum the previous day. On learning that I was heading to the mosque and that I had come to visit his nation as a tourist, he offered to take me there for small feel. More importantly, he became my guide for the rest of the day. First, he drove me to Bayterel Tower. It was an amazing architectural design that I have never see anywhere else. From its design attributes alone, I could tell that it had been designed with the aim of imparting a certain message to both citizens and visitors. My driver told me that its height was 97 meters that denotes the year 1997. This was the year when Astana was made the capital city of Kazakhstan. A look at it was enough to recognize its unusual construction. It had numerous pointed spires on top of which a golden sphere had been placed. I later learnt that it symbolized an egg that was huddled among tree limbs. It told an ancient local folktale about a bird that built its nest on top of the tree of life. The tower combines both the old and the new in an amazing way. I had the opportunity to be taken to the top of the tower and into an observation deck that is located inside the golden done. It gave visitors a clear view of the city of Astana. The tour of Bayterek Tower concluded at exactly 4 pm. By this time, I thought it would be too late to go to the mosque. I requested my driver to take me back to the hostel where I was staying since I felt extremely tired. On the way, he let me know that his name is Gerri, and was born and raised in Almaty, another city in Kazakhstan. He later attended driving school and then moved to Astana where he works presently. We also exchanged our phone numbers for easier communication
A trip to Kazakhstan
Photo: Bayterek Tower
Google Earth: Bayterek Tower
On this day, I woke up at six in the morning and took a shower. Later on I went and took breakfast. I decided to eat Kazakh breakfast. It consisted of friend eggs and porridge. Additionally, I took some bread and jam. Afterwards, I drank some milk. After taking a thirty minutes rest, I called Gerri, the driver that would take me around and my newly acquired friend. On this particular day, we were heading to the Hazrat Sulatn Mosque. The journey took us approximately 10minutes. From the hotel premises, we drove through Dostyq Street for about two minutes before branching into Sarayshyq Street. We followed its entire course, having taking two right turns and one left turn. The mosque is located at the intersection of Sarayshyq Street and Tauelsizdik Avenue. Gerri informed me that he usually attends the Nur Astana Mosque that was very close to the hotel where I was staying. During the festive seasons, however, members of his mosque together with Muslims from other parts of the country come to Hazrat Mosque due to its size. He was familiar with it to take me around every corner.A trip to Kazakhstan
I learnt that the construction of Hazrat Sulatn Mosque began in 2009 and was completed three years later. More than 1,500 workers were involved. These builders and masters worked together to create the most outstanding landmark in in Astana. It is the largest mosque not only in Kazakhstan but in the whole of Central Asia. From outside, it resembled a place. Gerri informed me that the mosque name implies “Apostolic Sultan”. It was named after Khoja Ahmed Yassawi a poet and a Muslim saint whose is well known in the entire Central Asian region. It rests on a piece of land measuring 11 ha. Best on my approximations, it was big enough to house more than ten thousand people. wWe visited the rooms set aside for Koran reading and spent some time reading the holy book. Afterwards, Gerri took me outside the mosque. It was then that I learnt that its premises area is more than 17.8 ha. It had tabernacles, halls for weddings and seminaries, and cloakrooms. It was the most modern mosque that I have ever seen that meets all the modern requirements.
Google Earth: Hazrat Sultan Mosque
Photo: Hazrat Sultan Mosque
This was going to be my last day in Astana. I had prepared to visit four different places on this particular day. Therefore, I woke up early at 5 O’clock and took a hot shower. On this particular day, I decided to try western food choices. My breakfast consisted of two eggs, several pancakes that contained no syrup, French Fires, lettuce, and several pieces of tomato. The food tasted delicious even through it fell short of its American or Canadian equivalent. After the breakfast, I decided it was time to start my last day of Astana tour. This time round, I decided not to rely on Gerri. First, I had been around this city for three days now and I did not consider his presence very important. I had already identified the places that I wanted to visit. First, I had to visit the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Later on, I would go to the City Park. I had also planned to spend my evening at the State Theater of Opera after learning that UB 40, one of my favorite bands from England, would be entertaining their fans at this facility.
I used the goggle maps to find the direction from Astana Marriott Hotel to the city park. On arrival I realized that it was popular place where most local people like to gather. It was also surrounded by notable monuments and buildings. The boulevard provided a pleasant walk. Unfortunately, there was little time left for walking around due to the tight schedule for this particular day.
My next destination would be Khan Shatyr. Before visiting Kazakhstan, I had heard the fame of this architecture and made a decision that I would have visit it. From the city park, I took a cab and paid nearly $100 to building. It was the most extraordinary building I have ever seen in Astana and the entire Kazakhstan. It stood at 150 meters high. It was translucent and resembled a big tent. It also contained world-class shopping. I took my lunch at this shopping center. Afterwards, I took another cab to the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. It took approximately 13 minutes to cover the distance of 6.3 kilometers through Syghanag Street. I first came across this building during one of my history classes. On arrival I learnt that it represents all the religious faiths of the world. It contains several sections. For instance, one section housed a national center that contains information about all ethnic groups and geographical regions in Kazakhstan. It also contained the Opera Theater that could accommodate a total of 1,500 people. It is in this theater that the concert was to take place. Having paid for the ticket, I went and sat down at the very front waiting for the concert to take place. The band finished playing music at approximately 12 midnight. I took a cab and returned to the hotel.
A trip to Kazakhstan
Google Earth: Astana Opera
Google Earth: Khan Shatyr
Google Earth: Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
Photo: City Park
Day 5: Friday, 11th May, 2018: Medeu , Amaty
On this day, I woke up very early given that I had to travel from Astana to Almaty, a distance of more than 1,200 kilometers. By road, the journey would take me 18 hours. I therefore resorted to travelling to that city by plane since this would only take me less than 2 hours. I booked a one way flight since I understood that only a few passengers were flying to Almaty during this season and it would, therefore, not be difficult buying the return flight ticket. Before leaving my hotel, I used the sky scanner website to locate identify the cheapest flights to my destination. I settled for Air Astana because apart from offering cheap flights, it was one of the few carriers providing direct flights between Astana and Almaty.
I learnt that Almaty is located a region of Kazakhstan that borders Kyrgyzstan and China. The city has numerous skyscrapers and the Tien Shan mountains towered over it. Before coming to the city, I had read about the 1911 earthquake that almost completely destroyed it. When the plane touched down at 9 am local time, I took a cab to Almaty town, and specifically to European Backpackers Hotel, where I had intended to spend the reaming three days. After I has secured my room, I requested the driver to take me to Medeu, an outdoor ices scatting facility. Scatting is one of my favorite activities to pass time. I had come across the information that Medeu is the highest ice scatting ring throughout the whole world. It is located in a mounting gorge and overlooks Almaty. It is approximately 15 kilometers from the city. I earned that despite the high altitude, the ice there is not always naturally frozen. Because of the changing climate, artificial refrigeration had to be introduced. I spent several hours scatting. Afterwards, I took lunch before resuming the activity. By six in the evening, however, it was getting old and I had to catch a bus back to Almaty and to my hotel room.
Google Earth: Medeu
A trip to Kazakhstan
On this day, I woke up at 8 am because I was tired after spending almost the entire of the previous day travelling by both road and air and scatting. After taking breakfast, I decided to visit the Kazakhstan Museum of Arts that is located in Almaty. Finding my way to the museum was not difficult since the Google maps provided me with all the details that I needed.
The professional staff and the guides that worked at the museum conducted excursions on exhibitions in different languages including English and Arab. This helped me to collect most of the information that I needed about the facility. I learnt that the Kazakhstan Museum of Arts is the largest museum in this central Asian country. It also acts as a center of education and research in the art of history. Though it was established in 1976, it contains a rich collection of art from Shevchenko Kazakh State Gallery that was founded nearly eight decades ago. Moreover, it contains additional collections from other museums such as the Republic Museum of Decorative and Applied Art.
I learnt that over the years, the museum has become a center of attraction fro for new cultural initiatives. It has established wide contacts over the last three decades that have enabled it to organize solo exhibitions involving both foreign and local artists. Moreover, it organizes other events that benefit art connoisseurs. I learnt that Kazakhstan Museum contains more than 24,000 pieces of artistic treasure, which include the Kazakhstan artwork from both ancient and modern periods. There is also the work artwork from both the Russian and Soviet period. It also included Western European art that dated from 16th to 20th century. The guides also showed me art from Korea, India, and other Far East countries including Japan and China. On that day, I ate prawns for lunch and supper. I returned to bed at about 8 in the evening.
A trip to Kazakhstan
Google Earth: Kazakhstan Museum of Arts
Photo: Some of the art from Korea
Photo: Russian art
Photo: Chinese art
Photo: Art depicting the marriage culture of China
A trip to Kazakhstan
This was going to be my second last day to visit any place in Almaty. I woke up at seven in the morning and took breakfast at the hotel where I was staying. It was too cold to get out that morning. This forced me to stay in my room until ten o’clock. I then took cab from the hotel where I was staying as I headed to Ascension Cathedral. I learned that the cathedral was approximately 6.5 miles from the hotel. Before travelling to Kazakhstan, I had read in a book written about religion in central Asia that the cathedral was constructed entirely of wood and not even a single nail was used. Additionally, the book claimed that it was the second tallest structure made of wood in the entire world, having a height of approximately 56 meters.
The area surround the church is known as Panfilov Park. The cathedral represents a unique religious structure. I was informed that it was built in 1907. Following the Communist revolution, the structure began to serve as a museum. In 1997, however, its original use was restored by the Orthodox Church in Russia. It was also public opened in the same year. During the visit to the church, I had the opportunity to explore its lavish interior that was designed by carpenters and artists that had been drawn from Kiev and Moscow. The sacred relics and frescoes, in particular, interested me. Furthermore, there was an elaborate painting of Mary in gold and pearl.A trip to Kazakhstan
At about 12 noon, I returned to Almaty city where I took lunch. It consisted of simple fish stew and roasted sea bass with honey and lentils. I also took a one hour rest before catching another cab and headed to Zailiysky Alteau Mountain Range. My main purpose was to reach the Big Almaty Lake. I realized that it measured approximately 1.6 kilometers in length. The water in the lake had a blue color. The presence of dense forest around the lake made it a good place to catch some clean air after a whole busy week. After spending several hours doing hiking, I caught bus 28 that serves the region.A trip to Kazakhstan
When I arrived back in Almaty, I visit Greem Market, one of the local markets in the city. It had different kinds of fresh fruits, meat, and nuts. Moreover, there were some household and clothing items. My interest, however, was in the fresh fruits and nuts. They were all delicious. I also realized that the vendors were not all from Kazakhstan. Instead, they came from different parts of Central Asia. Around sunset, I wandered around the pedestrian street that leads to the hotel where I was staying.
Google Earth: Ascension Cathedral
Photo: Panfilov Park
A trip to Kazakhstan
Photo: simple fish stew
Photo: Roasted sea bass with honey and lentils
Day 8: Sunday, 13th May, 2018: Attending a Wedding at Hazrat Sulatn Mosque
The day started at 8.00 am when I woke up. This was going to be my last day in Almaty. I remembered that four days ago, Gerri had invited me to attend a wedding of his brother that was to take place in Hazrat Sulatn Mosque in Astana. To be there on time, I knew I had to catch an early flight to Astana where I still had my room reserved for me. I took my breakfast quickly, paid all the bills, and headed to the street outside to catch a cab to the airport. Luckily, I arrived at the airport just on time to catch an Air Astana plane that was due to leave by 10 o’clock in the morning. It took just one hour and twenty minutes to arrive in Astana. Immediately after, I took a cab that would take me to Astana Marriott Hotel. On arrival, I took a quick bath and dressed properly for the occasion. Gerri had called me moments before to confirm whether I would be attending the wedding just as I had promised him. I learned that the bride’s name was Aisha and the groom was Alikhan, Gerri’s brother. By the time I got to meet Gerri for the first time since coming back to Astana, the weather looked perfect for the occasion. It was warm and sunny without any clouds at all.A trip to Kazakhstan
When we arrived at the mosque, we were directed to one of halls were the wedding was to take place. The seats were arranged in rows. Not many people were seated by now and we managed to obtain from seats. We took several photos with some of Gerri’s friends that he had introduced to me. For all this time, the brie had not arrived. After a day of more than one hour, however, the bride arrived and the ceremony started. The light-hearted ceremony was directed by one of the local Imams. Musical interludes together with several professional dancers provided a lot of entertainment to those in attendance. A trip to Kazakhstan
Soon after, it was time for Alikhan and his bride Aisha to exchange their vows. Soon after, we moved to gardens that were outside the hall for the photo session and giving of gifts. This particular activity took more than 2 hours and I found it to be extremely boring. Soon after, however, Gerri invested me to join his brother and Aisha for the reception diner. Salads were served on 5 separate platters as the first course. There were red yellow, white, green, and orange salads. I found both to be very delicious. The main course however was roasted meat, fish, vegetables and some bitter herbs. Songs were performed by a local musician by the name of Natalie. There were several instruments that were played at the ceremony. Outside, a bonfire was light and seemed to attract many of the guests that required a short break from the partying. Unfortunately, I could not be part of this activity since I had to catch my plane back to my county. After exchanging contacts and bidding my friends goodbye, I took a cab to my hotel. Shortly after, I collected my belonging and headed to the airport to board an American Airlines plane.
Google Earth: Hazrat Sulatn Mosque