(Note: I wrote this on the day it took place but didn’t post it for the sake of keeping things in order)
Today I set out to explore the city on my own, with the primary goal of visiting the National Museum. I set off in the early afternoon so traffic would be mild and the buses not so crowded, since standing while taking a bus across the city is a pain in the butt. Both of my bus ride hopes were fulfilled when I got on, and everything went well until the bus made an unexpected detour in the opposite direction of where I was going because of some surprise construction work. I managed to get off at a bus stop well beyond the US Embassy and slowly made my way back toward the museum, and what was supposed to be a quick walk across the park to the entrance became a mile and a half of walking – but hey, what better way to get more acquainted with the city?
Since I had to take the long way around, I figured I may as well take my time and photograph the stunning Hazret Sultan Mosque, since I had all my camera gear with me and nowhere to be in a hurry. There were more flowers and greenery there since my previous visit a few weeks ago, and there were families walking around the park and taking photos of themselves with the mosque. If you look closely, you can see the elements of Kazakh traditional design within the architectural elements of the building. I find it fascinating how religious architecture in this city manages to incorporate local art into the designs on and within their walls.
I made my way toward the museum by walking across Independence Square, a giant plaza with a huge pillar in the center called the Kazakh Eli monument, a symbol of Kazakh independence and progress (information I found out while writing this post as I came across an infographic about the plaza when trying to figure out what the place was called). The plaza is so big and there are so few people in it at any given time that it almost feels almost eerie. The only other people who were there were other tourists who seemed to be on break from some kind of conference.
Eventually I made it to the brand new National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which was opened in 2014 and has an impressive 4 floors of exhibits with eleven giant halls for exhibits. The museum employees speak English and there is even a student discount on the already low ticket prices (I paid less than $2 to see everything). It does cost an extra $1.50 to take photos in the museum, but when the ticket is only $2-4.50 total, it really isn’t that much extra for those who want to use a camera. I spent probably 3 hours in the museum, wandering through the exhibits which range from the Hall of Gold (which holds the famous Golden Man artifacts), History of Kazakhstan, and even modern Kazakh art. The collections are very well rounded for being only 2 years old, and I’ll probably return to see everything again in the near future.
After leaving the museum and realizing my immense hunger, I took the bus to Keruen Mall and grabbed a döner meal for $4 before wandering into the park which marks the center of Astana’s Left Bank. Since the Artfest entries were still up, I decided to wander around the park and see the newest pieces. As I was wandering around Bayterek, the grey cloudy skies opened up to a vibrant blue – which led me to make an impromptu visit to the observation tower in Bayterek. As I walked toward the entrance, I randomly heard the sound of Single Ladies by Beyonce playing in the park ahead of me, and when I looked up I saw a woman dressed as a Mongol Warrior dancing to the music, in what is so far the most bizarre thing I’ve witnessed in Astana.
After that confusing experience, I entered the tower and paid the 500 tenge ($1.50) entry fee and took the elevator to the top. The viewing area looks otherworldly, like a mix between a spaceship and a greenhouse. There are three floors inside the giant gold bar, the first with a small cafe in which you can enjoy a great, albeit gold tinted, view of the city. The second floor has more viewing space, while the third holds a gold cast of President Nazarbayev’s hand which you can touch and take photos with. It wasn’t too crowded for being a Saturday afternoon, which was great because that space was not all that big.
Once I headed back down from the tower, I wandered through the park toward Khan Shatyr mall, taking photos and enjoying the warm weather before winter descends on the steppe. After briefly entering the mall, I headed toward the bus stop back to the university, but stopping along the way at Nur Astana Mosque, a place I’ve seen every day (it is visible from the university) but had never actually walked up to and photographed. The lighting was perfect and made for great pictures with the gold of the dome being accented by the sunset. It made for a wonderful end to a nice summer day in the city.