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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