Driving to China (ish) - Day 17

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May 17th 2015
Published: May 20th 2015
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Day 17 - Astana sights

The morning after the night before. We had asked for breakfast at 8am, but sheepishly slunk into the Americana lounge at 1pm, still feeling the effects. After scoffing some sausage and eggs we walked a short way to the Hazrat Sultan mosque and the start of what John called The Zone of Awesomeness.

Shortly after seeing the nation into a new era of independence from Russia, the Republic of Kazakhstan's first president - Nursultan Nazarbayev - decided to move the capital and administrative centre from Almaty in the south to the town of Akmola in the north central steppes. Renamed 'Astana' and funded by Kazakhstan's substantial natural resources, the city has been planned and built almost from scratch. It is home to some of the most extraordinary futuristic architecture to be seen anywhere in the world, has grown to have a pop of over 800k and is gearing up to host the World Expo 2017.

I've attached a lot of photos, by day and by night, but they don't really do the city justice.

We read that the reasons for the move - Alamaty is a brilliant city in its own right - was that Nazarbayev wanted a capital that was centrally located. Without knowing for sure, we thought the deeper reasons could be threefold: To move the capital away from the southern border so close to the other potentially more volatile 'Stans', to consolidate the area in the north of the country (containing many Russian speakers) from encroachment or annexation, and finally to mark independence with a blank slate.

This really is some city, and it will only get better. It is modern, inclusive, cosmopolitan, and the Kazakh people are justly proud of it. We are already discussing a return visit for the expo in 2017.

Having traversed the Zone by evening, we ate in the Khan Satyr tent, the largest tent in the world. A permanent structure, it contains amongst other things a full shopping centre and waterpark.

Back at the Americana, we watched the Man Utd v Arsenal game on their 50 inch flatscreen and we ended the day chewing the cud with our wonderful hosts.

I ventured out late on my own to get some nightshots and was stopped by police outside the presidential palace. I have this stuff down now, and got a handshake and salute as before. No roubles this time.

We were in bed early in prep for our long haul south.


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