We arrived in Astana, Kazakhstan, early in the morning and encountered -10 degree F. wind and frozen over sidewalks. We were on foot and could not find our hotel.
Karen slipped on the ice and went down hard. She could not get up. Her shoulder was injured.
She wanted to stand up so I helped her onto her feet. She held her arm immobile. I watched her move her fingers and arm. Her forearm and upper arm seemed okay but she said her shoulder hurt. Her collarbone seemed okay. She was able to walk — but she was in severe pain.
The wind was intense. We could not last long in that type of weather without being able to walk vigorously.
It was not good but I knew we were very close to our hotel. We walked one block and I tried to enter a place that had a Red Cross painted on the door. It was closed. We walked another half a block and I found a hotel where we could go into the lobby and get out of the cold.
Karen said she wanted to go to our hotel. She said she did not want to go to a hospital.
I asked the receptionist which direction I should walk to find our hotel.
The receptionist did not know. I asked another man and he indicated up the street. I had Karen sit in the lobby while I searched on my own. I asked a man outside and he said to walk the opposite direction.
I was fairly sure that Karen and I had walked past our hotel so I walked back toward the train station. The wind was hard and the sidewalk was very icy. Would I also fall? After walking a few blocks, I turned around. It was too icy and cold. I decided to call a cab — then we could continue our search.
I went back to the hotel and asked the receptionist to call a cab. She seemed unwilling or unable to do this. I asked a man in the lobby (asking in a very basic manner). He pulled out his cell phone out and searched through the reception desk info to get a number. I sat beside Karen and waited. We waited ten minutes. The guy motioned for me to keep waiting. We waited another ten minutes. Karen was in pain. The guy was concerned but stopped me from going outside to flag down a taxi. Karen was still in pain — it seemed like an emergency but what could I do?
The man and I waited outside for another ten minutes (I sm not exaggerating). Finally, a cab arrived. I got our backpacks in the trunk. Karen and I got in.
Then the game began. The driver could see that Karen was in pain but drove off in the wrong direction. I wondered if he knew where our place was. I showed him my map. He expressed surprise. He was trying to run up the bill. He turned around and would have driven forever in the other direction but I continually pointed to the place on the map. He turned around.
We found the hotel! It was not labeled in any way. it had an unmarked door on a side street — inside was the lobby with a reception desk. The cab guy wanted 1000 tenge for the two block ride (I think the actual price should have been about 400 tenge so the difference was only about $3.00). I complained but I didn’t put much effort into it because I wanted to get Karen situated in the room.
So that’s the way it is in this post-Soviet society. Everyone tries to get money to support their families. The President was been most successful at this game — other people less so.
Here is the view from the room. Karen and I checked her bones again. Nothing seemed broken. She took some ibuprofen. She took a shower, holding her arm in place. She had a severe bruise on her shoulder.
The next day she said she was ready to go. She was not okay but she wanted to go out to see what there was to see. According to CNN, Astana is “the world’s weirdest capital city.” President Nazarbayen moved Kazakhstan’s capital to the place where Astana was to be built in 1997.
Karen’s blog tells it all: “Taking Our Time — Astana, Kazakhstan.”
The first place we visited was the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. When we arrived, we found it locked and they told us it was closed until March. Then they said we could look around. There was a large staff of people running the place. They said the elevator was shut down. We started walking around, walking up stairs. Two young ladies, dressed in red, came to tell us that we could not walk by ourselves but we could walk around as long as they were with us. They were guides, they said.
The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was built for meetings of the Congress of World and Traditional Religions — who meet there every three years. Very few tourists come, as far as I can tell. I had read a book by a guy who had visited the palace last summer. He said he had been the only tourist there. Apparently, tourism has not caught on in Astana.
Here is a photo of a previous meeting of religious leaders. The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation has a 1500 seat auditorium, a library, and exhibits.
The place is filled with illuminati-type objects, Egyptian reliefs and artifacts, stained glass windows, folk costumes, and much glitter in hallways and conference rooms.
Stained glass windows with doves
There is a place to stand, beneath the central dome, where you are supposed to make a wish.
Most of the Egyptian artifacts were replicas.
There was a room with folk costumes of the many ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. Some of the people following this blog are really into this type of thing — so I made a video. Sorry about the poor quality but my heart was not in it. I was worried about Karen.
Here are folk costumes: Armenian, Tajik, Azerbeijan, Greek, German, Lithuanian, Russian, Korean, Jewish, many other ones. Karen talked with the young guides. I was thinking about what a strange job it must be to work as a guide in a place that has so few visitors.
The guides said that we should walk to the Bayterek, a tower designed to fit in with the local folklore. The tower represents a poplar tree holding an egg laid by the bird of happiness.
Karen was against the idea of walking on ice in -20 degree F. weather with a bruised shoulder — so we took a cab.
The Bayterek, built in 1997, is 105 meters high. From the top you get a panoramic view of all the strange monumental buildings constructed during the short time that Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan.
There is a special podium with a hand print of President Nazarbayen — allowing visitors to photograph each other putting their hands on the hand print.
It was an amazing place — like Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.
There is a commemorative object celebrating the world and traditional religions.
The featured image at the top of this blog shows the view from the top of the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (we did get to go there — the elevator was not working). In the view, the Bayterek is in the center. The Orda Presidential Palace has the round dome and is between the Twin Towers (known as the Beer Cans). In the distance is a huge cone tent, the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center. Inside it is a boating river, beach resort (with sandy beach and tropical environment), supermarket, shopping mall, family park, cafes and restaurants, mini golf.
We took pictures of other buildings during our cab ride back to our hotel.
The Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall, built in 2009.
The a Temple of Creativity — also known as the Dog Bowl.
The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center
We has a very unusual day — Karen returned home safely and she is recovering. We visited “Emerald City” (my label) but we did not see the wizard. No one, except for President Nazarbayen, had thought that the capital should be moved to this place. Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world — the coldest is in Mongolia.
We were amazed at the egotism involved — but there is also irony — Astana was funded by corruption and oil wealth yet it advocates world peace and reconciliation.
Next — we will take the train to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and then into China. We might not be able to blog from China — they try to block Chinese people from having outside Internet connections. If you don’t hear from us, be patient. We must leave China in one month in order to return. Don’t ask me why the visa system there works the way that it does.