Main process today has been travelling from Helsinki to Astana, arriving and travelling around Astana.
The flight was uneventful. The plane, a Finnair one, was half empty. Whew, I was worried it might be half full. It left right on time at 9.25pm Helsinki time. As soon as we boarded, I set my watch to Astana time, 3 hrs ahead, to 12.25am the next day. I do this to acclimate myself to the new timezone. The journey took 3 and a half hours and try as I might, I couldn't fall asleep. I nodded off for about 20 mins but something woke up. I couldn't get back again.
We arrived at Astana at 4:45am and I was expecting a long wait at passport control and emigration but not a bit of it. I was through in a jiffy. The only fly in the ointment really was that they stamped the last page in my passport and not the next blank page. A first world problem! The airport itself was amazing; all marble and glitz but I was too tired to really appreciate it properly. I pushed my way past taxi touts in the airport and went outside to find an official taxi. The guy, he told me he was 23, was Uzbek and had driven a taxi for a few years so knew the city well. He didn't really speak English but when I told him he was Irlandski he delightedly mimicked Conor McGregor. He's our national symbol? WTF. How about our poets, musicians etc. But, hey, that's the way it is. Barbarians rock, apparently.
I got to the hostel at around 5:30 am, I think, checked in and went straight to bed. I slept like a log until around noon today. I had a coffee and went out to find breakfast. The only place I could find was a McDonald's, ugh. But, I was hungry and needed some protein so McDonald's it was. Some tasteless chicken sandwich thing. Cheap but filling.
I went for a ramble along the main areas of Astana to get a sense of the place and also to take my foot out for a spin. I went almost 6 km without pain; a bit but manageable. I definitely think it's on the mend again but I need to be mindful lest I damage it again.
It's a strange place, Astana. Not very people friendly. I couldn't find any shops anywhere but there was a downtown area with all the usual international dollar magnets. I spotted a Costa and went in for my caffeine fix and a piece of apple pie. It was OK.
This afternoon, the weather was very warm but chilly and lashing down rain in the early evening. According to Wikipedia, Astana is the second-coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a position formerly held by Canada's capital, Ottawa, until Astana attained capital city status in 1997. Astana has an extreme continental climate with warm summers (featuring occasional brief rain showers) and long, very cold, dry winters. Summer temperatures occasionally reach +35 °C while −30 to −35 °C is not unusual between mid-December and early March. Typically, the city's river is frozen over between the second week of November and the beginning of April.
Astana has a well-deserved reputation among Kazakhs for its frequent high winds, the effects of which are felt particularly strongly on the fast-developing but relatively exposed Left Bank area of the city. This evening, the wind was very strong and made a loud howling noise. It was exciting but I was glad I wasn't out in it.
I decided tonight to leave Astana earlier that originally intended. I was going to stay until Monday and then head down to Almaty, the previous capital of Kazakhstan. I went onto the Kazakh railway site to book a ticket for tomorrow, Saturday. Gulp, there were no trains left. There was one en route from Moscow to Bishkek but this cost 17,000 roubles, an insane amount I wouldn't pay unless there was absolutely no other choice. The only ticket remaining was on Monday! Departing at 10am and arriving in Almaty 25hrs later. I booked the last available berth. 64000 Tenge, less that 9€. Whew.
Saturday 25th November - Astana
I couldn't get to sleep until 3am or so this morning. I was tired enough from all the walking but my body clock was still on Dublin time, 5 hrs behind, and thought it was early evening. One I did drop off, I slept soundly until around 9am. Up for a shave and a shower and the other one and then out to McDonald's again for more pap.
I noticed a guy beside me with his daughter; she was about 9 or 10. He was ordinary but looked into the his daughter's eyes with an extraordinary look, to my eyes, a look of complete attention and love. She seemed very soothed by this look and there was a serenity about her. All normal stuff and the birthright of every child but so rare in this sad old world of ours that I noticed it. Or maybe it's something I'm noticing more and more. Or maybe it was something in the McDonald's air.