Arriving in Astana

So Astana was…. ummm…. interesting.  We arrived at 5.30am after an overnight flight with both of us too excited to sleep and stumbled out into the airport to find no car from the hotel waiting.  I had carefully booked a hotel and car in advance knowing that a 12 hour stopover after a night flight would probably require a base where we could alternately snooze and explore.  I talked to the helpful lady at Information who then called the hotel – apparently they hadn’t booked the room as they hadn’t received a confirmation.  I looked puzzled at the confirmation I had clutched in my hand.  Apparently there was a big conference in town and I strongly suspect that they had had a better offer.  The lady at information found us another hotel and booked it for the day for the grand sum of £14.  I wasn’t expecting the Hilton.

What’s the best way to get there? I asked

The bus is quite easy – she said.

What was I thinking?  “It’ll be an adventure” was what I was thinking.  Adventure plus jet lagged 10 year old who had slept not one jot = what WAS I thinking!

The first problem was that the bus stop wwas about 20 metres from the front door of the terminal but not, however, in the direction that the sign pointed.  So it only took us about 20 minutes and much stumbling rusty Russian to find it.  On the upside, I practised my Russian for the first time in about 10 years.

The bus journey itself was indeed fine, there was a very kind conductress who was about 200 yrs old who had carefully applied her immaculate make up every day of those 200  yrs and rather than take it off, just took the time saving measure of adding another layer until eventually there was more make-up than face.  I shouldn’t be rude because she very kindly pointed out the right bus-stop for our hotel and we gaily hopped off the bus full of optimism.

I subsequently discovered that the hotel was about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop.  If you head in the right direction.  If however you head off in the wrong direction and ask lots of people where you are, you discover that:

a) not many people in Astana know where they are (or at least what road you’re on) and;

b) not many roads in Astana have obvious road signs.

So finally I spotted a landmark (the Khan Shatyr if you’re interested – reputed to be the largest tent in the world and realised that we were heading in the wrong direction so we turned around and shlepped back the way we’d come.  Remarkably Daniel was good natured about the whole thing.  After wandering for a while and looking for someone who did actually know where they were (and therefore by extension where we were), we finally stopped a lady who looked the the name of the hotel, thought for a minute, smiled and pointed at the giant block next to us (I mean REALLY next to us – about 10 metres away) which had a huge sign with the hotel name on it.

We didn’t actually kiss her.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t, but it is all a bit hazy now.

The “hotel” turned out to be one floor in an office block of the same name with entirely internal bedrooms and an industrial style cafeteria for the whole building.  But the room was clean and the sheets were cool and crisp and we dozed for an hour before ordering a taxi to take us around town.

The exchange rate works in our favour at the moment and it cost £4 an hour to rent a taxi with a good driver and much to D’s relief – seatbelts!  So we hired him for a couple of hours whilst I took photos and the boy semi-dozed in the back.

How to describe Astana?  Watch the Hunger games – it is the Capitol.

“How do you feel?” I asked

“I feel British!” he wailed, “I didn’t think it would be like this”

Was this going to be the worst decision I’d had in a long while?  Bringing him back to “his” country when he’d consciously known nothing except the UK was always going to be a high risk strategy and I had stressed about it many times over the previous year in the planning of the trip.

Pasting on a smile and with a “It will get better, you feel tired and jet-lagged”, we headed back to the airport (in a taxi this time – I’m not a fool!) and I kept my fingers crossed all the way to Ust Kamenogorsk.


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