Astana: pack smart

Astana is the second coldest capital in the world (after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), so you can imagine that visiting it in the winter months will require heavy duty warmers. Winter is extremely harsh, with temperatures dropping down to as low as -40 degrees Celcius (which is where it meets Farenheit!) so if you are planning to go to Astana anywhere from November till April - don't! If you absolutely have to go make sure to invest into a great coat - and i mean INVEST.  A great one is Canada Goose, it will set you back around $800 but it will surely keep you alive in that cold. I have tried North West jackets before - and though it is half of the price of Canada Goose it is not nearly as warm and basically won't be of any use. A great pair of Timberland fur lined boots is a must as well - it will keep you warm as well as help stay balanced on the icy roads that are typical for this time of the year (the cars need winter tires, why won't you, right?)
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  Spring (mid April to late May) and Fall (September to mid November) are considerably short and warm - as in leather boots and less puffy jackets - but don't be fooled - you will still need sweaters and hats, and it will still be windy.
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  Summer is of course the best time to visit. June to August the weather is great - it gets the hottest late July to early August - but for the most part it is quite pleasant - with temperatures going up to 26 C (80 F) and down to 12 C (55 F). Make sure to pack a sweater - the nights get chilly.
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Astana: what to eat

1. Breakfast - Cafe Rafe Bokeikhanova St 14, Astana (7 7172 391 500) Great little cafe next to Bayterek. Most staff speaks or at least understands English, the food is constantly good and prices are reasonable. The location is certainly the best feature of this cafe - also good for lunches and dinners. There is no alcohol on the menu though - which makes it perfect for breakfast.
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  2. Lunch - Rabiya Baitursynova St, 5, Astana (7 775 617 36-82) Little cozy restaurant in Highvill residential area. Traditional Kazkah and Uzbek cuisine at a very reasonable price with -wait for it -50% off the entire menu for lunch. It has nay been opened recently so they are trying to attract customers - but hey, great food, cozy surroundings and amazing prices - who is complaining?
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  3. Dinner - Ali Baba Bukeikhana St, 3 , Astana (7 7172 32 18 99) Very popular with locals, especially in summer time, this restaurant features great menu of traditional dishes with constant quality, at a reasonable price. It is located close to the river and in summer opens its outside seating - traditional style "yurts" sitting - when you have to take off your shoes and show your flexibility skills. Hookah is offered here (as well as many other places) so if thats your thing - this is definitely your place.
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Astana: fun facts

1. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world by the land size
Kazakhstan map
  2. Astana has only been the capital since 1997 - so it is less than 20 years old.
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  3. Previously called Akmolinsk, it had long been famous for its fairs. Merchants from all regions of Kazakhstan, Russia and the Central Asian countries traveled here.
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  4.In 1999 by decision of UNESCO, Astana was awarded the title of World City.
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  5. One of Astana's biggest malls - Khan Shatyr hold Guinness record for the world's tallest tent.
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  6. Astana and Kazakhstan in general is bi-linguag, most of the population here speaks and understand both Kazakh and Russian. English is spoken and understood by almost all the young people here
Kazakhstan flag
  7. The border between Russia and Kazakhstan is the longest continuous land border in the world - it stretches 7512.8 kilometers (approx. 4700 miles)
Kazakhstan Political Map 2000
Kazakhstan Political Map
  8. Kazakhstan has the second largest uranium reserves in the world.
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  9. Horses were first domesticated on the territory of modern Kazakhstan
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  10. Borat was filmed in Romania and has nothing to do with Kazakhstan - however, it has helped the country's recognition in US greatly, with people Googling it three times as much after the movie.
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Astana: getting around

Astana is a new city, and the only two means of traveling around the city except for walking are buses and taxis. Buses are not an easy means of traveling for anyone that does not speak Kazakh or Russian, although for most part Bus route number 21 gets you to places: it goes through the entire downtown of Astana (info in Russian can be found here). Taxis are mostly unregistered and private - most of the drivers in Astana would pick you up if you are going the same direction as they are and the process vary from 500 tenge ($2.5) in the city to 2000 tenge ($12) to the airport. There are also few taxi companies that would get a car to you within 30 minutes to an hour  - they are a tiny it more expensive, but mostly due to longer waiting times are less preferable, especially during the day time. For safety reasons this is the best option during the night time though - the companies work with trusted drivers and do a background check on them. Here are few taxi services and numbers but be prepared to speak Russian or Kazakh - although a simple English explanation might work as well. And finally, the best way to travel Astana if you are on a tight schedule is a Double Decker Bus. It is a bus for visitors, that goes around main attractions in Astana. It will set you back 2400 tenge ($12), but you can get on and off of it any time and when the weather is nice it is a great way to see the city fast and easy.
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Astana: what to see

Located in the Northern part of Kazakhstan, Astana is a new and developing city. The newness of the city might be its most unique feature - many compare it to Disneyland in how it is perfectly laid out and symmetrical - since it was literally  built on a practically empty land. The entire city is divided into two parts - left bank of river Ishim and right bank. Left bank is home to most political and administrative buildings, as well as biggest shopping malls, corporate headquarters and diplomatic buildings. Right bank is the old city center, so it is considerably cheaper and older.
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  1. First stop for anyone visiting Astana is a huge monument in the shape of a poplar tree holding a golden egg - Baiterek.  It represents the tree of life, and according to Turkic mythology, Samruk the magical bird of happiness, said to have laid its egg between the branches of a poplar tree. The 105 m (almost 350 ft) tall structure rises from a wide flat base within a raised plaza. The observation deck is 97 m (almost 320 ft) above ground level, corresponding to 1997, the year that Astana became the nation's capital. It consists of two levels, one with 360 degree views of Astana and beyond, with a second, higher level, reached by a flight of stairs. The top level features a gilded hand print of the right hand of Nursultan Nazarbayev (popular place to make a wish!), as well as a wooden sculpture of a globe and 16 radiating segments, commemorating the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held several times in Astana. It symbolizes the friendship between religions and cultures and world piece. It is open every day from 10 am to 10 pm, and at 500 tenge per ticket ($2.5) is a must for anyone who wants to see the city.
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  2. Second on my list is a site that is 40 minutes away form the city center and is called Algeria ([alzhir]). It used to be a prison camp for the wives of so called "Motherland traitors"during the Soviet Union rule. The name comes from abbreviating "Camp for wives of motherland traitors of Akmolinsk", and used to be ironically used by the prisoners to add exoticness to it. Obviously, Algeria camp was everything but that. It has seen some 18 thousand women in its walls, some just for a period of time, while others stayed here for years. Today it is a museum and an attraction for tourists and visitors, and is quite a gloomy site. It did give me goose bumps the first time I went - the stories and fates of women that lived in those walls are chilling, but the experience of visiting it is undoubtedly one of the most unique and awakening and it is definitely worth a visit. It is open from 9 am to 6 pm and has hourly tours in Kazakh, Russian and English. The tickets are 200 tenge ($1.5) for adults, and getting there and back will cost you anywhere between 3000 - 5000 tenge ($20-30).
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  3. Another stop on your way around Astana is National Museum of Kazakhstan. Opened on July 2, 2014, it is a very new addition to the city - so do not expect rich historical content just yet. However at a free admission and hourly tours in Kazakh, Russian and (appointment only) English, it is a great way to get a glimpse of the history of Kazakhstan. The main attraction of the museum is the "Golden Man" - remains of what is believed to have been a Saka prince or a warrior. Found in 1969 South of Kazakhstan, a burial mound contained a skeleton, warrior's equipment as well as gold and silver jewelry. It will take you anywhere between 1 to 2 hours to be done wight the museum (there is a great canteen downstairs for a quick bite of a cup of hot tea), and the surrounding area is full of beautiful sites for a great walk  - Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (pyramid shaped building that hosts a lot of political as well as show business events) and a Presidential Park are just a 2 minute walk away.
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