How do you even start writing a blog post about something so big as the three years of one’s life spent living in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in the middle of the Kazakh Steppe (by the way, The Kazakh Steppe is the biggest of its kind in the world, occupying a third of the country)?! I guess you start with writing that first sentence, as everything else in life the most difficult is making that first step and everything after that somehow gets easier. So here you go, my first sentence was the question that I don’t really have an answer to but the first step is done so I’ll just keep writing…
Me and my (now) ex husband have lived in Kazakhstan for three years (because of his work in hotel industry) before moving to Turkey in 2014 and it has been such an incredible, beautiful, exciting, unexpected, difficult, challenging, life-changing experience that from the moment I started this little blog of mine I knew that sooner or later I want to share at least some of that experience with all of you! So now, nearly 2 years later here it goes, I am FINALLY posting this! 🙂
You may wonder why it took me so long? Well, the main reason was because I had to find the time to organize all the photos because there were sooooo many and I obviously had to make the cut and choose those that I think will give you a feeling of the country and its capital Astana. By the way, Astana is the country’s capital since 1997 (it was previously Almaty) and it means “capital city” in Kazakh language.
This will still be a photo-heavy blog post because I’ll rather leave the photos to do most of the “talking” and tell a story of my time spent in this beautiful and fascinating Central Asian country.
Let’s start with Astana, modern capital city located in the North of Kazakhstan on the Ishim river that has the most beautiful blue colour in summer and turns to ice in those cold winter months…
This giant tent is Khan Shatyr Entertainment and shopping centre, a place where you spend A LOT of time in those long and extremely cold winter months! I’ll talk more about that later but in short, it just gets way too cold to spend any time outside so you basically go by car from one shopping centre to another and there you meet your friends for a lunch or a coffee, walk, use spa, go to the cinema, anything just to avoid being outside on those freezing temperatures!
This Pyramid is called the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and was built to express the spirit of Kazakhstan, where cultures, traditions and representatives of various nationalities coexist in peace and harmony. It contains accommodations for different religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism and other faiths. It also houses a 1,500-seat opera house, a national museum of culture, a new “university of civilization”, a library and a research center for Kazakhstan’s ethnic and geographical groups.
Talking about this idea, I have to mention that I personally never had even one negative experience when somebody would discriminate me on the basis of my religion, nationality or anything else! Kazakhstan is the country with majority of its population (more than 70%) being Muslims and while there are numerous mosques, there are also churches of other religions and everybody is free to express and practice their religion freely and that means a lot today in this messed up world of ours!
These are the buildings of parliament and the one below is Ak Orda, the Presidential Palace.
This is Bayterek Tower, a monument and observation tower 105 m tall. The monument is meant to embody a folktale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness: the bird, named Samruk, had laid its egg in between two branches of a poplar tree. Yes, I went up a couple of times and there is a beautiful view from up there! 🙂
One thing that is so typical about Astana is that there are huge buildings, monuments and skyscrapers being built all the time! And I really mean all the time, like day and night, 24/7! If you go away for few weeks, you can be sure that there will be a huge new building somewhere once you come back! 😀
I’ve already mentioned that Astana is located in the Kazakh steppe and steppe is a large area of flat unforested grassland, meaning there are no forests, mountains, hills but just flat land stretching for thousands of kilometres. They did plant some trees and greens in the city but you hardly notice that and for me personally that was one of the most difficult things to get used to, not having any nature anywhere in the city or its surroundings where you could walk, see the trees, listen to the birds and the sound of leaves in the wind. It’s a thing we mostly take for granted while we have it but once you live somewhere where it’s all just flat, you really start to miss the nature!
Saying that, there was one place in the city which was basically the only place with a bit of natural environment where you could have a walk (but not really in those coldest months!) and that was near the Ishim river. I was so grateful for that little piece of blue water and green land and was spending many hours there walking and chatting with my friends… And I have to say that the best thing I took with me and that will stay with me forever are those friendships made there in the Kazakh steppe. Friendships with people from all over the world, from Kazakhstan and Russia to Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, UK, Croatia… Friendships where because of difficult circumstances you connect much quicker than you would in the “real world” and everything gets so much easier, even those long extremely cold winters suddenly are not so scary anymore when you have friends to spend countless hours together over hot cups of coffee and tea talking, laughing, sharing the good and the bad. When you live as an expat and I did in few countries already, the best part of it are all the wonderful people you meet and connect with and at the same time, the most difficult thing is to say goodbye to those people at the end…
Before we moved there I must admit that I didn’t know much about this country but I knew that it’s “somewhere there” in Central Asia and I knew that it’s big but I definitely didn’t know how big it is or anything else about it to be honest. Wait, I did know that it was a part of Soviet Union before it fell apart but that’s about it. Well, I won’t bother you with writing novels about it but here are some interesting facts that you maybe didn’t know:
- Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, at 2,724,900 km2, larger than all of Western Europe.
- Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world and the largest country that doesn’t have access to the ocean.
- Horses were first domesticated on the territory of the present Kazakhstan.
- Half of Lake Balkhash, one of the largest lakes in the world, consists of fresh water, the other half of the salt water.
- Kazakhstan has a space launch facility, in fact the world’s first and largest, Baikonur Cosmodrome.
- Kazakhstan’s national drink is fermented horse (mare’s) milk.
- The apple originates from Kazakhstan.
- A number of routes that comprise the ancient Silk Road, a trade network linking east and west, ran through Kazakhstan.
There are still so many interesting facts about this country but I promised you this post will be more about the photos! 🙂
Kazakhstan is also a land of contrasts!
Here are some photos from entirely other part of the country, southeast where it’s located the biggest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty, that was actually a capital until 1997. The nature there is just amazing, lakes, rivers, mountains, so so beautiful and completely different from the steppe. We rented a car there (with the driver because it was the only way to do it and not get lost in the wilderness with no civilisations nearby) and went on trips that would take hours and hours of driving on horrible bumpy roads but it was so worth it! Being there under that huge blue sky is what freedom feels like to me…
Talking about beautiful nature, about 3 hours drive from Astana you can enjoy Borovoe Nature Park that consist of few lakes and forest, there are also some hills believe or not! 😀 It was nice place to go for a weekend or a day trip from time to time but it is a bit too far away to go very often, specially when the roads freeze, it gets so cold and freezing winter winds start to blow…
Yep, that’s me holding a huge bird! 😀 The tradition of hunting with hawks and falcons is still going strong in Kazakhstan!
Talking about cold, let me say a word or two about the winters in Astana! Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world right after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and yes I always say that we survived three winters there with a certain dose of pride and accomplishment, because it’s kind of a big deal!
Not every winter is the same and there are some that are worst (read: colder!) than others and of course our first two were the coldest in a loooong time so I’m still surprised sometimes how we managed to survive. Ok, that’s maybe an exaggeration as we had a warm apartment and a car that would bring us from doors to doors but still, there were times when it would get so cold, like -44 C with freezing wind, that I would start having panic attacks if I was outside for longer that few minutes. I also experienced what it’s like to not cover your mouth properly and inhale that freezing air just once or twice, enough to ‘burn’ your throat and give you the most terrible sore throat ever! I also on quite a few occasions set at my desk with a ski trousers, 5 layers of clothes and boots because I just couldn’t get warm enough even with all the heating on maximum. And not to mention what that cold and dry air does to one’s skin and hair, let me just say that some brands of lotions and oils made a fortune on me! 😀
Oh I have to mention one more thing that was my absolutely worst! You know, when you have a city built with shiny stone and marble and for at least 5 months you have a thick layer of ice covering all its streets, pavement and stairs, than you just keep paying that expensive health insurance and say a prayer with each step you take outside in those winter months! So many expats ended up with broken legs, arms and all kinds of bones fractures, luckily me and my husband, besides ending up on our behinds for few times, didn’t suffer any injuries. I did, however, take with me a a terrible fear of slippery surfaces so now whenever I am somewhere where the ground freeze ever so slightly in winter, I start walking like a 80-year old grandma. Actually worst as on many occasions I had those brave grandmas walking faster than me on the street and well, that’s kind of embarrassing.
This is that beautiful blue river by the way…
This was the view from our window and your typical -40 C winter day. 😀
I hope you are enjoying this little photo story and maybe learning something new about the country you knew it’s “somewhere there in central Asia”. I could go on and on forever as It’s really difficult to put those three years into words and photos, there is just so much that I wanted to share! But I hope you got an idea about Kazakhstan and its capital Astana, about this beautiful part of the world and the one thing that is left is actually the most important part of it all and that’s why I wanted to conclude this photo-story with it, the people. What is country without its people!?
I will always carry those people and their beautiful souls I met in my heart. Even when we speak different languages, belong to different cultures and religions, have different shape of our eyes or colour of our skin, we are all just people living on this little planet of ours and we can communicate with warm smiles and kindness in our eyes, that is the universal language everybody understand…
*Thank you so much for being here, that makes me so happy! You can also follow my Travelling oven on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as subscribe to receive new blog posts via email.
Enjoyed your story with a nice cup of hot coffee, Lili 🙂
Beautiful, thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience with us! <3
Thank you Miriam, it makes me so happy to know you liked the photos and enjoyed this blog post!
Aysegul Sanford says
These photos and your words are so SO special. I have never been, but have a cousin who lived for a few years so I know just a little bit about it. Thank you so much for sharing such a sacred part of your story.
Thank you dear Aysegul for your kind words and for taking the time to read my story! I know there are a lot of Turkish people living and working there, not so many Croatians! 🙂 It’s a fascinating country and I could have written so much more but had to limit myself, otherwise would become too long. Sending love to you back… xx
Wow I’m actually doing some homework and tried to not get distracted by my phone but just happened to open your website and was immediately fascinated du your post! The pictures are truly amazing 😳. And I did learn a lot. All I knew was that Kazakhstan is some country out there on the Asian continent but I had no idea that it looked so prosperous with all the shining buildings nor did I know about the freezing winters! How warm did it get in the summer? And did you work there too, or how did you manage to meet new people? And what language do they speak? Could you meet people by just speaking English? Sorry for all the questions but your post got me really interested 👌🏼 😏. And now you’re not there anymore right?
Hello Anouk! Thank you so much for your comment, I am really happy you liked the post and have learnt something new about this fascinating country! 🙂 I’m also glad you are curious to find out more, I was thinking that maybe the blog post is too long but honestly I could write a book about the whole experience! 😀 So to answer your questions, summers were something like spring in Europe with temperatures around 20 C and cool breeze but there were some days that would also get quite hot! I was planning to work there too but when we got there, very quickly we realized that I will not be able to get work permit and also that everybody (well, majority) speaks just Russian and Kazakh language so after few months I started to study Russian and after about a year I also enrolled into British online photography school so all that kept me quiet busy! There are many many expats living there because there are so many embassies and also people working in oil & gas industry so it was quite easy to meet people. Of course, once I learned Russian I started meeting local people as well… And no, I’m not there anymore, after Kazakhstan we moved to Turkey, Switzerland and now in Croatia (all within 2 years)! 🙂 Thanks again for your interest Anouk!
Fenomenalno!!! Draga tvoja priča me oduševila a slike su više nego odlične..Jako je teško 3 godine života i toliko iskustva staviti u jednu priču ali tako si to super napravila da mi dođe da sada otputujem. Hvala ti što si nas upoznala sa još jednim dijelom naše prelijepe Zemlje ❤
Hvala ti draga Franica! Bas sam sretna da sam to sve uspjela nekako stavit na jedno mjesto iako materijala ima i za knjigu haha! 😀
RATKO MARTINOVIC says
pREDIVNE FOTOGRAFIJE i divan TEKST!Veliki pozdrav iz istocnog Susedstva.Really enjoed seeing and watching amazing pics.
Hvala puno na tako lijepom komentaru! Veliki pozdrav i vama! 🙂
Love this post so much, Lili! Thank you for sharing these lovely photos <3
Thank you so much Linda! <3 I almost didn't post this as I shot all those photos when I still didn't know anything about photography and I'm my own worst critic! But I decided that it could still be interesting for people to see and read even if the photos are not the best they can be... Your support always means so much to me, thank you! xx
Divne slike i divan članak! Baš sam ga s guštom pročitala!
Hvala puno Julija, bas mi je drago da ti se svidja clanak i fotke! 🙂
i wanted to ask a few question, hope you don’t mind!!
Do you know if it’s possible to travel without airplane in all kazakhstan? I would be arriving from the Caspian Sea and i could have a bike with me. But i was thinking to do it at horse or bus, train??
What is the best idea?
Thanks for your help!!
Hi Lea, well,railway in Kazakhstan is pretty good and you can travel all across the country with a train.I would definitely go for a train rather than a bus or other, hope this helps! Take care, Lili
I read your blog with keen interest and I really enjoyed it because it was so informative and educative.
On February I went to Ukraine because someone invited me,unfortunately their immigration refused me entry for no reason but I felt it was due to my color and race.
After reading your blog I have began to have interest in visiting Kazakhstan even though I don’t know much about the country.
Do you think I can enter there from Nigeria if I have the travel documents complete? And what month or period of the year is best to visit the country?
My name is chika.
Hi, my name is Lili, not Linda! 😀 Sorry but I cannot help you with that question. As for the best time visit, that would be definitely summer as winters are extremely cold there.
I loved your story of your time in KAZAKHSTAN. I’m not sure I have ever seen City photos of the populated areas of the country. And then you ended with the most beautiful photos of the people! Very nice.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment dear Darlene! I am so glad you liked my Kazakhstan story, it was definitely a very special time in my life. Challenging too but also so rewarding! All the best to you, Lili
Hi Lili, such an amazing blog and pictures here. I came to this blog after searching stories about Kazakhstan, and google lead me here. I’ve read some of your other post too.
As someone who lived in Indonesia, and haven’t visit places you have visited. I found difficulties, and keep puzzling me, to recognize the description of your pictures. Perhaps, below your pictures could be added captions or descriptions to help reader like me.
Anyway, I can’t wait to read more of your journey.
Hello dear Darma, thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your kind comment, I’m so happy you like it! I always try to describe in the text what is on the photos but I’ll definitely look into it how I can make it more clear to my readers so thank you for your suggestion. Have a beautiful day, Lili
thank You so much for sharing. I had an opprtunity to work in Kazakhstan and so many of my french friends had negative things to say about the country without ever stepping outside their own bubble. this just makes me want to pack my bags and leave today!!!
Thank you so much for reading my blog post and for your comment! I lived in quite a few totally different countries and in every one of them there were things that I loved and things I didn’t like so much but what I really cannot stand is when people have prejudice and have negative opinions about countries they haven’t even visited!
great pictures and post. I was trying to get an idea of what kazakhstan is like (scenery and daily life). 99.99% of people where I live (Utah, USA) have never heard of kazakhstan let alone been there. Now when I look at it on the map, it will be more than an empty figure. Thanks for you post!
Thank you so much Shawn for reading my blog post and taking the time to comment! I’m so glad you found it interested!
Anum Rizvi says
Hello. Your post was of a lot ir help as we will be moving to astana in a few mOnths. I Wanted to know if there are aNy live-in helpers Available or part time helpers in almaTy/astana and for how much. We’re moving from hong kong and here we have HelperS quite reAdily availAble for about $600 usd a month with SUNDAYS off. I would appreciate if you could guide me on this matter pleAse. Thank you.
Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed my blog post! Unfortunately I can’t help you with that information but I’m sure you’ll find out everything you need once you are there, good luck!
Anum Rizvi can contact me for more info. i am in astana and will send the latest info about housekeepers and cleaners
Desi robinson says
Thank you, Lily. It is so interesting to read. I discovered an singer, Dimash Kudaibergen and felt in love with his music and singing abilities . So now i am interested in Kazakhstan, whole country, the way of life, people, everything. I hope after the pandemic is over, i could start thinking of visiting Kazakhstan. Thank you so much! Greetings : Desi
Hi Desi, thank you very much for your kind comment and for visiting my blog! I hope your wish will come true and you get to visit Kazakhstan, it’s an incredible country! All the best to you, Lili:-)
Nice article with useful details !!! For info about MBBS in Kazakhstan, visit : https://www.pacificeducation.in/mbbs-fees-in-kazakhstan/
I really enjoyed reading your story of living in Kazakhstan as well as looking at your beautiful photos. I am a self-Russian language learner and soon to be studying it in a college setting and was considering Kazakhstan as a place for language immersion. All the best on your new adventure!
Thank you for reading my story, I’m glad to hear you found it interesting! Good luck to you too on your new life chapter! 🙂