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Gaining Our Balance in Astana

We woke up on the bus just as it was landing at the Astana bus terminal, which unlike in many cities, is conveniently located right next to the train station.

From there, our friend offered to walk us over to find a hotel. It had not been a good night of sleep for him, and he was eager to get to sleep, so we were extra grateful for his assistance.

The first hotel we wandered into was none too fancy, offered no internet, and was nearly 80 dollars per night, so we moved on. “This is one of the cheapest hotels in town,” our friend advised, “maybe you two should look into getting an apartment.” This sounded like a decent idea, so we headed back to the train station where crowds of old women in headscarves were calling out “apartment for rent” and wandering around.

We selected an especially sweet lady, who took us back to her grubby but very spacious soviet style 3rd floor walk up. It was sort of a gross place, even by asiawheeling standards, but we decided we could do it, and the price was less a third of the cheap hotel, so we pulled the trigger.

We locked the bikes in the apartment and headed out with the old woman to make a copy of the key and to visit and ATM so that we could pay her.

Scott headed off to find money, and I wandered into a bustling and very Russian feeling market with the woman. She made a copy of the key and came back grinning. “I can tell already. You two boys will be like my own two sons.” I thanked her for the compliment. She then began to tell me about all the dangers of Astana. “Astana is not safe like in the soviet times”, she cautioned. “Kazakhs like to fight and some like to steal. Be careful. If anyone comes up to you, don’t let them know you speak Russian. Don’t speak to them. Don’t look at anyone. Don’t do drugs here, the police will find you and beat you. Lock the door to the apartment when you sleep, or else homeless people will come in at night.”

Fair Enough and duly noted, ma’am.

We met back up with Scott, paid the woman, and headed back to grab the cycles. It was high time now for a little Astana wheeling.

Our first stop was another one of those Kvas wagons, where we had got another frosty glass of the good stuff, served up for the people by a yellow aproned lady.

We headed from there in search of some breakfast, which was perhaps even harder in this new town than it had been in Almaty. We did eventually find a place, though, and it was a weird one, something like a cross between a traditional Russian Traktir, a Bob Marley themed joint, and a luau. We ordered some small and somewhat tasty Russian salads, a plate of four very tasty Manty, and a very oily and bizarre cup of turkey soup.

So with a little food in our stomachs at least, we headed further into the city. We noticed a heavily decaled Ford Fiesta, and stopped to investigate it. From what we could tell, it looked like it belonged to some Scottish guys, doing the Mongol Rally, a race from London to Ulaanbaatar for Charity. Good on ya, mates.

We stopped into a medieval themed restaurant, where we confirmed that they did indeed have wifi, but that we would need to buy both food or drinks from them, and a 3 dollar per hour internet access card to use it. So the place ws noted and we wheeled on.

We pedaled from there to a large river that bisects the city of Astana, and rode along it until we spotted a pedestrian bridge. We wheeled up and over that bridge and into the park on the other side. The park was full of people and rides, all hidden amidst a sea of trees. It was a very mysterious place to wheel through, feeling simultaneously like a forest and a twisted carnival.

We paused in the middle of the forest carnival area to buy a couple of cups of sticky black Nescafe from a kiosk. The woman inside seemed put off that we had arrived to do business with her. But we fought threw the negative energy and bout a couple rounds of joe.

A little more caffeinated, we wheeled on, finding ourselves soon at the foot of a large shopping complex called Mega.

So we locked the bikes outside and headed in, figuring we had an apartment now, we might as well grocery shop. We spent quite some time in the grocery store, looking at all the brands, choosing the appropriate canned coffee and buying things to make cereal in the morning.

On our way back to the room, we rolled by this giant gaudy Radisson, which also advertized wifi. We filed that place as well as another possible means of connectivity while in this city.

As we wheeled back by the Mongol Rally Ford Fiasta, we caught the owners just as they were climbing in the car. They turned out to be one Scot and one Pole, and the two asked us to leave our mark on their many times autographed vehicle.

They were leaving that day to head up to Russia. You see, they had run into similar registration problems in Kazakhstan, and were thinking that rather than deal with the massively corrupt officials and the mind numbing bureaucracy of this place, they would just nip back up to Russia where things were sane. Fair Enough.

As a parting gift, they gave us this bottle of Polish Ketchup. They also shared some of their tools with us, which allowed us to tighten Scott’s handle bar post back up, which had been rattling around like mad as of late.

That evening, we utilized a particularly interesting kind of business that we have hitherto only seen in the post soviet world. It is a made to order beer bottling operation. One enters, looks at the giant list of kegs that are on tap, and then the attendant will fill, pressurize, and seal, a plastic bottle for you, from a half liter to two full liters.

It’s a great way to try weird local brews, so we chose one of the brands at random and purchased a liter to bring back with us.


  1. Alex | December 29th, 2010 | 2:35 pm

    Ah the beer stores. All you need is a dried out fish to much on and you’re good to go.

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