KZ to MN_2: Astana, the steppe, Semey

People in Kazakhstan seemed very happy and content with their life. They also seemed friendly and helpful. The prices seemed low and, contrary to urban legends, I had plenty of vegetables in ultra-modern Astana. Then and the following morning, when I enjoyed one of the best meals of our Altai trip at Coffee Boom, strawberries included. Plus, the chak chak (=deep-fried honey cake) of that first night in the capital was not the only sweet savoured. I had a huge slice of cake for breakfast.
Khalif, Astana

Khalif, Astana

Coffee Boom, Astana
The streets of the city that looked like a spaceship after dark, with its many lights, were enormous, with many lanes, and seemed empty. Distances were also great, especially by foot. You would walk for tens of minutes to reach a place that seemed right around the corner. Apparently, Google Maps was not working well in this part of the world and our kind host at Hostelland Astana recommended us to install 2GIS on our phones.
We liked the hostel. It was clean, cosy, and centrally-located. Marcel and I had become friends with three guys from Almaty and they helped us a lot, by using their phones to call and book a shared taxi for us to get to Semey. That’s one of the things I love while travelling: the kindness of perfect strangers.
You can read all the details here.    

The steppe
Our 700+ km that day started with some interesting views over the Kazakh steppe. After the first hour, it all became flat and repetitive, but still nice. The regular roads had points when the asphalt ended and we would be forced to take side roads, at quite challenging angles.
The steppe
Of course, we stopped for lunch, in the middle of nowhere. It seemed unusually warm outside (17°C) and a playful wind was all around us. We passed Semipalatinsk Polygon, a former testing ground of nuclear weapons, but I wasn’t really interested in its gloomy vibes.
Only a little bit after sunset – which was beautiful –, we arrived in Semey. Our hotel was nothing out of the ordinary, but the restaurant downstairs, Grill House, was. In the fashion of the last two days, the salad was followed by a delicious dessert: this time, triple-chocolate cake.
Grill House, Semey

To me, the name of the city seemed very funny because the way in which the locals pronounce it resembles the Romanian word ‘zmei’ [several fairy tale dragons]. So, it was easy for me to actually speak it.
We were staying downtown; after some sour-cream pancakes I had craved for, we went for a walk along Irtysh River, the chief tributary of the great Ob River. Cormorants were resting on the sand banks, school girls were running through the park, and the bridge over water was crowded with people going about their daily chores, in spite of the rain. Fall was in full swing.
Irtysh River, Semey

Fall in Semey

One of the bridges in Semey
Semey was grey and foggy that day, but the colourful and delicate window frames kept fascinating me all through the taxi ride to the bus station. We were leaving Kazakhstan.

/Russia and Mongolia followed./

The steppe
It seemed windier and wetter. It was surely much colder.
From Mongolia to Kazakhstan
What I loved was that we stopped for brunch at a кафе – which did not look inviting from the outside –, but again, the food was excellent. We had some rubles left and we could use them to pay.
Lunch in Kazakhstan

Well after 10pm, we were back to Astana and a piercing cold. We had witnessed snow on the way and were tired. We went back to Khalif, because it was conveniently located next to Hostelland Astana, where we returned. The tea served that evening was a miracle.
Tea at Khalif, Astana
A snow storm hit us the following morning. After a decadent breakfast at Le Dessert, we realised that we were close to Bayterek Tower, so we started walking and fighting the wind and the snow. I felt that I had too many clothes on me, but they helped. Luckily, during the time spent at the top of the tower, the crazy weather miraculously took a break and we were able to see Astana from above.
Bayterek Tower, Astana
 Bayterek Tower, Astana
 Bayterek Tower, Astana
We then continued towards Nur-Astana Mosque, where I loved the turquoise all around, a true symbol of Central Asia, in my mind. Marcel found a small store near the mosque. We entered and, at the end of our trip, finally got to taste mare milk. Aaaaam… I didn’t like it. It was a taste too poignant to me, but I did enjoy the camel milk.
Nur-Astana Mosque, Astana

Nur-Astana Mosque, Astana

Camel milk
Next: Khan Shatyr – the gigantic yurt hosting a rich entertainment centre. It was snowing so hard and we were so wet that we were both thinking to call it a day at the mall – something we never do. Marcel found a cable for his phone, I found a nice lady to print our boarding passes for free, the last souvenirs were bought, we listened to a wonderful live orchestra, and we had late lunch/early dinner at Jolly & Joker. At the end, we witnessed another kind act, when our waitress accompanied us three floors down, to get to the taxi. Rides to the hostel and the airport followed.
Veggie burger @ Jolly & Joker, Astana

Someday we’ll be back to explore the south, go snowboarding, and pass the border into Kyrgyzstan.

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