Astana - An Architect’s Dream (Day 268)
We only had a few hours this morning in Astana - an architect;s dream with a plethora of incredible buildings.
Around the city of Astana are signs with “20 Astana”. We knew little about this city, the second coldest in the world, with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees in winter; luckily a balmy 23 degrees today. It turns out that this city is celebrating its 20th Birthday.
In the middle of hundreds of miles of barren grassland, a small unknown town called Akmola on the Yessil River changed its identity on 10th December 1997 to the capital city of Kazakhstan. It was renamed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Astana meaning “capital”, who then employed Japanese architect Kisho Jurikawa to redesign the town to this incredible futuristic city He personally controlled the project plan of transformation, even sketching some of the buildings himself.
We left our apartment to discover that the Hazrat Sultan Mosque was literally across the road. In the early hours of the morning when we arrived, I hadn’t realised how near it was to us. Melodic tones of the Koran being read filled the air making it clear that we were in an Islamic country and showing it’s religious dedication after Soviet rule.
We also realised that around the corner was the President Park with Norman Foster’s “Palace of Peace and Reconciliation” Pyramid placed on the top of a hill, overlooking the main centre. We wandered around the 77m high building made up of five levels of huge 12m triangles. From a distance, the building looks very impressive, yet as we got closer we could see that it was starting to look rather tatty despite being built just 11 years ago. On one side of the triangle, parts of the cladding had been removed, showing the metal skeleton of the building. A large crane platform had two men perched high above making necessary repairs. It was nice that they waved at us.
We strolled down the hill towards the river, with the blue domed Presidential Palace taking centre stage on the other side with the two golden towers known as Beers Can looking as if they were guarding the Palace. Just behind was the Bayterek Observation Tower, aimed to look like a mythical tree with a huge golden egg nestling on to and to the left a massive turquoise low coiled building which turned out to be the Central Concert Hall known as The Blue Rose. This incredible view is an Architect’s dream.
Sadly we only had another 90 minutes before our taxi arrived to take us back to the airport. I would have liked to see the high-tech circus mall, another Norman Foster design, as well as visit the Expo 17 complex. Never mind, perhaps another time. If you ever find yourself coming to this city, we highly suggest spending a few days here, especially if you enjoy seeing architectural delights.
We strolled back through the park to cross the wide six-lane road. The whole place is rather weirdly deserted, especially coming from the hustle and bustle of Seoul. Our next architectural delight was the National Museum of Kazakhstan with big stone layers of white trapeziums with slivers of blue glass to the side of the main building, a huge expanse of blue squares of glass and a reversed “r” shape built in the same white stone. We dashed in, no time to see the 200,000 exhibits, but we did see a massive white map of the country decorating one wall and an enormous golden eagle soaring from the ceiling.
Just along the road, the next building was the Dog Bowl, a concave glass structure which, it turns out to be, the Astana Palace of the Arts. I thought it was a sports stadium! Passed the Mosque and crossed the road we were back at our apartment. What a great location we stayed in for our one night with all these superb man-made creations surrounding us.
Within the next hour, we had arrived at the airport for our flight back to the UK. As our two flights from yesterday had been so good, we had high expectations. It was comfortable with nice food, however no individual TV screens! What?! Over six hours with no entertainment?
Actually, it was a blessing. Amongst reading and having an overload of Sudoku, resulting in me uninstalling the App, I wrote another Glows blog – this time on “Insights”. Also yesterday I’d come up with the idea of running a one day workshop on 14th September, and it was lovely to create and write about this day, which I hope will be profound for many people.
During our 268 days of travel, I have had time and the space to reflect and learn at a deeper level about life. I thought it would be so rewarding to run a one-off workshop. I love connecting and sharing learnings with people this way. It’s wonderful to see the insights and transformations of many and hearing the results afterwards for them, often to a life lighter with more joy and peace of mind. If you are interested in joining me, please do let me know.
And here we are now in Surrey, staying with Tim’s brother Mike and Tim having lots of fun playing X-box with our nephew Alex. A quick respite before the whirlwind of seeing family and friends for the next 6 weeks. As we have no proper home now and will be staying with family, friends and Airbnb, we’ve decided to make this trip part of our #grownuptravellers. I will be continuing to write my daily muses and Tim taking photos. It’s interesting to see our home country from a traveller’s point of view.