My second weekend in Astana involved a lot more exploration of the city. After a successful first week of classes, I went out for an evening to walk through the central park at night to see the lights on the buildings and fountains. I managed to catch a dancing lights and fountain show in the park that I had no idea was going to take place, which was a nice surprise (this is really only worth mentioning because I took cool pictures). The most interesting part of the weekend, however, was spending an afternoon with a 2nd year student from my program who took me and another friend to see most sites on the right bank of the city.
After taking the bus from campus, we got off across the river from a small orthodox church. Not too far away was a rather plain looking Catholic church with a nice flower garden in front. As we continued walking, we went by a synagogue which was painted light blue and white and had a unique architectural style. We kept walking and talking as we made our way across the campus of Eurasian National University before taking a bus toward our next stop.
We got off the bus near the Eurasia shopping center and made out way to the brand new Assumption Orthodox Cathedral. This church was opened in 2010 and is currently under construction/renovation in it’s courtyard. The inside of this church is incredibly painted with icons and murals of church history. As we were admiring the church, we were approached by a man who was dressed as a church official who asked us in English if we were visiting with the U.S. Embassy. Apparently he was waiting for a group from the embassy so he could conduct a tour of the church, but since they were already twenty minutes late he decided to give us a tour instead. He explained in detail the ceremonies that take place during a normal service, as well as on special occasions like the Astana city holiday, Christmas, and Easter. He also took us to the balcony where the choir sings, which had an incredible view of the domes of the roof, as well as the basement level where services take place during the winter because of the cold. We talked about everything in the church for about an hour before we had to leave to find food. It was incredibly interesting to hear about how the Orthodox church functions here in Kazakhstan.
Since we were all really hungry, we hopped on a bus to Respublika Street and went to a cafe which served Georgian food. Since I had never even thought about Georgian cuisine before that moment, I was eager to try everything on the menu. At first I was overwhelmed by how high the prices were, until I put the numbers into my currency converter and realized all the main dishes were between $3-5 USD. Since the prices were low and I was starving, I ordered two main dishes. First was khachapuri, which is a cheese filled and topped flatbread that is like something between breadsticks and cheese pizza. The second was khinkhali, which are meat and broth filled dumplings that are apparently the most famous food from Georgia. I ordered the restaurant special version which was a combination of beef and horse meat. Everything was absolutely delicious but I was completely stuffed afterward.
Because we gorged ourselves on lunch, we took a walk along the riverbank and across the river to burn off some of the food. We crossed the river on a very modern looking bridge which brought us to the UFO shaped building that houses the city circus. Outside of this building is a series of statues that represent different stories from Kazakh folklore, which were really interesting. There was also a giant fountain and shrubbery carved into the shapes of animals, two of which were alpacas! Both my friend and I were unintentionally wearing alpaca shirts that day so encountering alpaca shrubs was really amusing. Our walk back took us once again to the central park in the centre of the left bank, where we picked up the bus back to campus, thus ending our weekend exploration.