It’s been a long time, and Astana has become significantly colder since I last published. It’s never nice to leave for work having just seen a number close to the negative twenties. In spite of this, it doesn’t actually feel particularly cold unless the wind picks up.
The atmosphere and landscape of the city are changing. Literally. That river, the one that we took a beautiful boat ride on in September? That can’t be done for a few months. It’s now frozen. Frozen solid.
Kazakh fun fact: Apparently in winter the Ishim River plays hosts to car rallying, and cars skid along a specially laid track running from the footbridge to the Kobanbay Batyr bridge.
One night, after a cheeky piva or three, we were walking back along the side of the river. All of a sudden we were walking…on the river. It’s a weird sensation, knowing that each unstable step you take could be your last before slipping through a crack to a watery grave. Don’t worry – the ice is incredibly thick. People were walking on it the following day, and we have since seen people skiing, skating and even fishing on the solid watercourse.
This happened whilst I was hosting my first couchsurfers. I have used CouchSurfing in India, and really enjoyed the experience, so am more than happy to host travellers who are adventurous enough to visit Kazakhstan. We were accommodating a Canadian couple called Milan and Lindsey, who were friendly, very relaxed and happy to explore independently.
When we do venture out, it is generally to attend something interesting and important. We visited a concert of classical music hosted by the Spanish Embassy. I was quite tired before the show, so was struggling to stay awake unless the woman unleashed the full venom of her voluptuous voice. I had expected salsa dancing and the like, so I have to say I was a little disappointed with the content of the show.
This wasn’t the only concert we saw. There was a show in the pyramid as part of the build-up to the 20th Year of Independence. We were expecting a classical concert which would culture us. We got cultured. But in ways which we could not have dreamt of.
It certainly was a musical event. It was opened by an 81-year-old who sang a very loud song. She was a great entertainer, and had a rather playful demeanour. She was also one of the few people to actually sing. Even one of the violinists was miming. Badly.
Music wasn’t the only talent being showcased at this celebration of Kazakh culture. Comedy was also on show, and I was thankful to my friend Zhussup for translating. It was actually very funny. One of the sketches involved a boyfriend who wants to break up with his girlfriend…until he hears her Dad on phone getting a promotion in the government. His response? ‘I love you’.
We also witnessed a ‘robot taxi’ in a traffic jam, a man singing in French who we described as a ‘castrato’ due to the high pitch of his voice, and the Kazakh version of the Backstreet Boys. Well, three of the quartet. The other one – an older, balder man – didn’t seem to fit in. Some of our group didn’t appreciate the concert, but I really enjoyed it. It was yet another unique experience in Kazakhstan, a country that is proving full of endless surprises. Just like walking on water…
Love you all