A visit to the republic of Kazakhstan. Exploring the weird capital of Nur-Sultan to the beautiful nature surrounding the Almaty!
Day 1 – Introduction to Nur-Sultan
After a very smooth and friendly border crossing from Russia we were in Kazakhstan! We arrived early morning into the “old” train station in Nur-Sultan. We headed straight into the city to find some breakfast and start exploring Kazakhstan’s capital! But we were in for a quick reality check when we looked at the map, realizing that the walk would take us more than an hour and a bus ride would take 30 minutes. This city was much bigger than it appeared on the map.
So we found a quick breakfast and bought a sim card and took the 30 minute bus into the main center of Nur-Sultan. Our first stop was the big mall, shaped like a tepee – I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
The mall was, of course, huge. It featured all major stores and an amusement park, equipped with dinosaurs. On the top floor was a beach, with water and sand. So inside the mall there were people in their bathing suits ready to go onto the beach – in the middle of Kazakhstan..
This city was designed and built very recently, so everything has a purpose and that purpose is to be as grand and as show-offy as possible. Then we made our way towards the Baiterek tower, the one that looks like a golf ball in a golden nest and went up to experience great views of the city. The city is designed to have a very pretty view from above, so this trip was definitely worth it. Also, on the top there is a sculpture of the hand of the president. We then continued the path towards the presidential palace. This place was covered in grand gold buildings, granite and fountains. Very noticeable was the lack of the people. There was no one else there except us.
We then headed a bit outside the city to meet our hosts we met through couchsurfing – Askhat and Nargiza. They took us in with open arms and we spent a wonderful evening eating delicious food and talking.
Day 2 – Expo 2017
From the advice from our hosts, we went to the expo building. The building itself looks like something from a Star Wars set. Inside it is very impressive as we headed up to the 7th floor to start our exploration. Each floor features an exhibition of different energies such as solar, kinetic and wind. The exhibition was very interesting and definitely is something to check out in Nur-Sultan. Again, it was strangely empty, especially the surrounding area, even though it was a university campus. It was time for lunch and we went back into the city center (an hour long bus ride) and ate delicious Kazakh food. Our hosts then proposed to meet in the park for a few beers. The place was a cozy, outdoor type of place with beers and hamburgers.
Day 3 – Mini Kazakhstan
This morning we went to the miniature version of Kazakhstan. Yes, that exists. It is literally a giant park where you can walk through whole Kazakhstan, with plastic mountains and mini buildings and rivers. Good, we don’t need to see the rest of Kazakhstan! We’d already been there.
After exploring mini Kazakhstan – we met Askhat and Nargiza in a skyscraper restaurant where they introduced us to traditional Kazakhstan dinner. First, we were served a tall glass of fermented horse milk. This is horse milk that has been fermented for a few days, making it a bit bubbly and slightly alcoholic. It is, to say the least, sour and has an interesting taste. Happily, our friends dragged us into land and finished it for us. Then the waiter brought out dishes of Bishparmak, which is boiled horse meat on a bed of noodles and soup. We had several other delicious dishes and experienced the best of Kazakhstan food.
Time for the train to Almaty! The train was a night train, departing from the “new” train station. This station was a stark contrast from the “old” one, almost looked like an airport. The train ride was smooth and in no time, we had arrived in beautiful, green Almaty.
Day 1 – A nice introduction
The arrival into Almaty already gave us a nice feeling about the city. It is a green, tree filled city with a nice friendly vibe. We found our Hostel, Alma Cinema hostel and decided to go for a walk around the city to get a feel for it. The most beautiful attraction in the city was the brightly colored Orthodox church. In that same park was the biggest public bath house in Almaty. I ventured in there and quickly decided that I had to return another day and see what the bath house had to offer.
A bit further up the street was the big Bazaar, filled of whatever your mind could desire – everything from electronics to fresh veggies and meat. We’ve been going to these types of markets since we started our trip in Belarus. They simply never stop to bore us, the smell of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat is so nice. Buying fresh products straight from the farmers. We filled our bellies with deep fried bread and bought some fresh food for the evening.
Day 2 – Medeu
This morning we slowly took a bus to Medeu and the Shymbulak ski resort. Medeu – Shymbulak is a ski resort and a skating rink. It is only an hour bus ride from the city and offers beautiful views of the city, a giant soviet style skating rink and a gondola up to the skies (or almost).
We explored the giant skating rink and took the long gondola up to the highest point of 3700 meters. The views were amazing and the people were so friendly, at every stop people talked to us and curious about where we’re from which made the ride up there even more pleasant. Once all the way up we got out and immediately felt the altitude. We looked at each other and felt very lightheaded. We just continued walking and very fast our body was used to this new height and we were able to explore a bit more. From there you can start other hikes into the mountains. Marc decided to climb the Shymbulak peak while I waited and enjoyed the views.
Day 3 – Spa day
This morning we met up with our Brazilian friend Haig to discuss our plans the Pamir Highway over some beers and hamburgers. As Haig and Marc set off to find a water filter and some more beers. I went for a spa, Remember that public bathhouse we found, well I decided that this was the day that I would treat myself to a spa day.
As soon as I walked in, I was approached by a very helpful lady that worked there and she guided me through the whole process. I was really grateful for this as everything was in Russian and none of the other employees there worked there spoke English. Inside there were no less than 4 different saunas. A Moroccan one, a Russian one, a Finnish one and a hot stone sauna. Once inside I could enjoy the saunas and then get whatever spa treatment you can imagine. It was, for the lack of a better word, absolutely amazing.
After the replenishing time there I met up with Marc and Haig for some beers and wandered back to the Hostel where we did absolutely nothing.
Day 4 – Hike to Furmanov peak
We got up early since we wanted to climb the Furmanov Peak. We caught the early bus back to Medeu and started a hike up to the peak. The start of the hike is beautiful, lots of cows and horses grazing among the trees. We decided to walk an alternative route up to the peak, which turned out to be much much steeper than we thought. So, in combination with the steepness and the altitude we were quite exhausted when we made it to the half way point to the peak. Also like we tend to do is rush things leaving us out of energy. The last stop before the peak is a giant swing overlooking the beautiful scenery. This swing is made out of the old remains of a former soviet Ski lift.
Remember the big skating rink I mentioned earlier, well in the summer it is turned into a go kart track. To make up for the fact we didn’t make it to the peak and the need for some extra adrenaline we decided to race around the track before heading back down to the city. So I could show Marc how it is done, without crashing (hmmmm).
Day 5 – Kok Tobe
This morning we took the time make our plans for the upcoming weeks (The big Pamir Highway Adventure) and applied for our Tajikistan visa. Right before sunset we took the city gondola up to Kok-Tobe, which is a tourist attraction on a hill above Almaty. Up there is a semi amusement park with a mini zoo, a ferris wheel and bobsled track. What drew us there was watching the sunset slowly above the city – what more can you ask for? Sun, smog, weird amusement park and some cold beers!
Day 6 – Big Almaty Lake
Through a mutual friend we found a ride to big Almaty lake, which is just outside the city. The ride there was beautiful and to our surprise our driver spoke perfect English and was currently reading one of the Icelandic Sagas. Once we arrived a big blue lake opened up for us. It is tucked in between the mountains and holds a deep blue color. The blue color and the location of the lake make up for a beautiful scenery. We enjoyed the lake and had our lunch next to this amazing view.
That evening we went down to the Bazaar and stocked up on fresh veggies and berries to make a salad for dinner. Later, the hostel we were in hosted a movie night which made up for a cozy relaxed evening.
Day 7 – Charyn Canyon
Usually we try to avoid organized tours since they are expensive and don’t allow you to venture further off, but it turned out to be the easiest way to get to the Charyn Canyon, the little sister of the US, Grand Canyon. So despite not understanding a word of what the guide was saying, the scenery was beautiful. We arrived at a big desert looking landscape and after a bit of walking before us opened a great, red canyon. We Climbed down into the canyon and followed the path into the canyon until we found the river. The contrast between this blue clear water and the red and brownish color of the canyon is amazing. Time for a quick nap and some lunch, we enjoyed the coolness of the water before making our way back up to the bus.
This was our last day in Kazakhstan, it was beautiful. People are so friendly, sceneries are beautiful, we´ll definitely be coming back =)
As you know we have been a bit lazy with the blog! So we are gonna catch up this week, check out our route page to see where we currently are!