One of the nicer things about living in Kuwait last year was being by the sea again. I had a lovely view from my balcony – when I stretched my neck and stood on tiptoes. So coming back to landlocked Kazakhstan, it was a pleasant surprise, on the first morning (well more like afternoon after getting in at 3am in the morning), to wake and discover that our new apartment was on the banks of a river.
The River Ishim runs straight through Astana and has had to be managed in order to keep the level of water high enough for a wide river. It has been dammed and made deeper but doesn’t give that impression.
It is the focal point of the city and even when you are describing where you live the first thing you are asked is if it is ”on the left or right bank”. We live on the “right” bank apparently, which isn’t as exclusive, but as it turns out, is far more lively. Large blocks of luxury apartments and expensive restaurants line the sides of the river and the dated Soviet, central park runs along the other side. Further down the river new housing estates for the nouveau riche are springing up and then the river bends down past the sparkly, new governmental buildings.
My new flatmate (who I had dragged out of Kuwait with me) decided to take a walk down the river, joining all the Kazakhs on their Sunday afternoon promenade.
The banks of the river have been neatly landscaped, with colourful, scented flower beds and hexagonal paving stones (pretty unusual here, where it is normally a case of dodging the pothole).
During our first few weeks in Kazakhstan, Astana was experiencing an Indian summer with temperatures in the mid 30s, so on Sunday street sellers were still standing along the banks of the river selling popcorn, corn on the cob and even mojitos!
We decided the best thing to do on this hot, sunny afternoon was to take a boat ride down the river. Fortunately, the landing platform was five minutes from our flat. The 700 KZT ride took us down to the presidential palace and back. Although the pumping, Russian techno blasting from the tired speakers in the cabin slightly detracted from our quiet afternoon cruise, it was useful to get a different perspective of the city. (As well as to realise that the distance between our flat and school was really not walkable.)
After the party boat, we wandered around the central park. We could hear and see the various fairground rides from our bank of the river and we discovered that there was even a ‘zoo’ with two snakes and a crocodile in residence. Though you don’t need to go to the zoo, as in the park it is possible to have your photo taken with an eagle or ride a horse. Also, if you need to know your weight an old Kazakh women will weigh you and another will even read your fortune from a handful of beans. This was not really tempting and we were also not tempted to ride the fairground attractions, after seeing the build up of rust and the carriages from the old ferris wheels strewn around the undergrowth.
We grabbed a soda and strolled around the park eventually ending up back at the bridge where we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon, lying on the man-made beach and attempting a dip in the man-made river.