Our first stop on the Silk Road was Astana, there are now direct flights from London but they hadn’t quite started when we left so we have to change in Frankfurt and due to weather issues we had the pleasure of spending a whole 24 hours there! For tips for Frankfurt Airport, see this post!
I’m not sure what I was expecting for Astana but it certainly wasn’t what we found. I know what you’re thinking… Is it like Borat?? Well it couldn’t be further from that film!
Astana is incredibly modern, even if a little rough around the edges when you get close up. Still looks impressive though. Huge skyscrapers, shopping centres and statues everywhere and a great pedestrian area along the centre joining all of these fabulous buildings together. Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan for about 10 years and currently has a population of about 1 million people. It’s extremely flat so you can see for miles when at any height which is easy with all of the high rise buildings around.
Accommodation & Transport
We stayed in an apartment in the city centre, on the 40th floor so an amazing view of the city and the Bayterek Tower. The room was quite basic, en suite with kettle and microwave, but sufficient for us to sleep off some jet lag and see all of the sights. We walked to most places, but taxis were very cheap too. The local bus system is fantastic but without data on my phone I couldn’t use the handy app. Luckily locals are very willing to help out looking up bus numbers for you if stuck.]
As it is so modern there is tons for kids and families. Most shopping centres have an amusement area with the standard video games machines but also small rides and soft play. You can buy a card which can be topped up with money, a small car ride was about 40p.
The best shopping centre for entertainment is Khan Shatyr, well you could also go shopping crazy but we have a full backpack so avoided all of that. The top floor is all rides including a monorail around the outside and a dinosaur world with moving creatures. Additionally there is a beach, yes a beach inside the top floor of a shopping centre, with multiple pools and slides. The kids pool even has a wave machine. It felt like being on a totally different holiday.
The city also has numerous museums and galleries to visit, in state of the art architected buildings. All only a pound or two to visit. We saw lots of local art and history, some with high tech interactive displays. Sadly the Palace of Peace was closed so we couldn’t visit that, but we walked/scooted around the grounds. The Bayterek tower has a great view of the city but there is nothing to actually do at the top so Betty lost interest quite quickly and we came back down. Luckily she was free to enter and there were no queues so it was still value for time and money.
The food along the silk road is very bread and rice based which was great for us as that is pretty much all Betty likes to eat. I have become an expert in requesting ‘white pizzas’. The restaurants are willing to cater for fussy children if you can find a waiter who speaks English to understand your off piste requests, or there are famous fast food chains if you get very desperate. We managed to get cheese only pizza quite successfully, the glass of milk was less so, I think it might have been from a yak and possibly fermented so needless to say, was not drunk by Betty! Also most big restaurants have highchairs and baby changing. Not what I was expecting at all.
I got to try lots of great food, plov being the local dish. It varies slightly across the ‘Stans’ but is mainly a rice and meat dish with some delicious roasted garlic on top, the whole bulb not just a clove or two!
The best part for a long back packing trip is that you rarely pay for small children in Kazakhstan, so the museums and Bayterek tower were both free for Betty and even the pool/beach afternoon.