One thing I feel that I am quite good at is keeping in touch with people after leaving a country I have worked in, and I try my best to return to see friends and pupils. Being next door in Russia, I never would have had a better chance to visit Astana once again.
|Wales reunited in Astana!|
|Astana has many happy memories for me|
I have already gone back to Prague and Korea, being able to return to them very soon after leaving those respective places. Kazakhstan was a bit trickier; it’s been five years since I left and wasn’t a part of the world I had been close to since.
My main reason for returning to Astana, Kazakhstan’s fascinating capital and my home for two years between 2011 and 2013, was to visit friends. At the same time, I thought it would be interesting to see how much this city, which has transformed since it became capital in 1998, has changed in my absence.
|There is a push to change the spelling of the country's name, as|
you can see from the TV channel name in the top right corner
|A new bridge has been added across the Esil River|
That change is noticeable as soon as you land at the airport, which now has a fancy, modern international section. Added to this are the official taxis – it used to be a group of men who spoke no English hounding you.
|The domestic terminal is still under the blue dome and|
very much the same as before
|Many, including me after this initial trip, use apps such as Yandex Taxi|
The strange skyline rising from the steppe had stirred memories on the flight in from Yekaterinburg but there were many new buildings to see on the drive north to the city.
|Astana now has a 'Space Centre', which makes sense as many|
space missions use the Baikonur Cosmodrome based in Kazakhstan
|Many new buildings show off the creative architecture|
which the city is known for
The familiar sights of the Bayterek and Khan Shatyr still dominate the centre of the city’s ‘left bank’. One which was in the planning phase when I left, the Abu Dhabi Tower, is under construction and will soar high above when finished. I was told it’s looked like the picture below for quite a while, however…
|The Bayterek shows a myth about a tree which|
connects the upper, middle and lower worlds
|The Abu Dhabi Tower|
Other buildings which have cropped up include the opera theatre (which was finished a week or two before I left) and some rather fancy hotels around the Bayterek, arguably Astana's main monument.
|Astana's gleaming white opera theatre|
|The tall building in the middle is the Ritz-Carlton hotel|
One fascinating addition to the city is a network of cycle lanes, which were being laid out whilst I was in Astana. A fantastic idea in summer but I’m not sure about their practicality in the -40°C in winter…
|Perhaps they will become cross-country|
skiing lanes from November to March?
|Astana also now has a bike rental scheme|
They are part of a drive to help the city become ‘greener’. Solar panels are now omnipresent. The main driver of this change in a country which is alleged to sit on the world’s third-largest oil and gas reserves is an event which happened in 2017.
|Solar panels on top of a bus stop|
|Critics have described the EXPO building as the 'Death Star'|
Last year Astana hosted the World EXPO, a global event which involves vast swathes of the world. The theme for Astana’s event was sustainable energy, a notion which many saw as ironic (and still do when you witness the light displays which adorn Astana’s wacky buildings each night). Though the international pavilions have long left the steppe, the main EXPO site is still present in the south of the city. Its major structure is in the shape of a massive orb.
|Between 5 and 6 million people are said to have visited the EXPO|
whilst it ran in its full glory last year
|The 'Nur Alem' sphere is 100 metres tall|
The exhibition itself was great, if a little above my level of intellect at times. Most floors focus on one form of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biomass.
|Part of the biomass section, which contains seeds in the floor|
|You can walk through different levels of wind -|
this is my hair in gale force 7
It’s probably not above the intelligence of the children I used to teach here. My first Year 6 class have now just finished Year 12 and are 17 years old. I had the pleasure of catching up with some of them even though the school year at Haileybury Astana has finished.
|The inside of the quad - a running track has been added|
but otherwise it is the same
School itself doesn’t seem to have changed much – they even have photos of some of the original teachers in one section of the quad! The main changes have occurred simply because the school has grown to cater for secondary students.
|Hannah still looms large in Haileybury Astana|
|The IB Lounge for the older students|
Astana itself seems to be becoming more international and cosmopolitan. The city now has many signs in English (I found it intriguing that many people seem to speak Kazakh as a first language now more than Russian). Hilariously, there is a hop-on, hop-off bus. World-renowned fast food chains have arrived (I can no longer say that Kazakhstan doesn’t have a single McDonald’s). Interestingly, it’s become cheaper to visit now as the government devalued the currency in 2015, meaning items and services are essentially half the price of what they were when I lived in Astana.
|The hop-on, hop-off bus - not many passengers|
|When I lived here, it was about 240T to £1|
It was lovely to see and catch up with so many great friends which I made during my two years living in Astana. I was particularly touched that the children who I taught in that first year who still live in the capital (most have moved on) were keen to see me and catch up. They’re young adults now and it made me proud to see them grown up.
|Gulshat is one of many friends I made at Haileybury|
Astana who I have kept in touch with
|I also met up with Alisher in Almaty|
As for Astana, it is still dominated by the same things as when I lived there: same president, same wild weather, same wacky architecture. But things are changing quickly in very different ways, with the introduction of more international brands and renewable technologies. I have no doubt this city will continue to transform. I wonder what it will look like in another five years…
Love you all,