I’m not sure when was the first time I heard of Kazakhstan (except geography class) but definitely one of the most memorable time was in Borat’s movie. At that time I was in high school thinking about regular stuff and just starting to develop my photography skills. For sure, Kazakhstan interested me a lot in Borat’s movie, but I couldn’t imagine that I will ever visit Kazakhstan, or even better, to live there for a year and three months.

Baiterek Tower and Khan Shatyr shopping mall in distance

First weeks in Kazakhstan

After finishing college, I got a rare opportunity to go to work in Kazakhstan. It all happened very quickly and very fast I was sitting on the plane on the way to a very cold place (it was January). I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t think too much either, just go with the flow.

First weeks were very strange, everything was a way, way different than in Europe. People, culture, food, roads, car absolutely everything. A few weeks later I started to like this “different” scenario, and I really enjoyed working and living there.

March winter storm in Karaganda (loud sound!)

The winter was long, or very long as locals told me, and I remember it was snowing in May one time on the way to the airport. Because of the weather, unfamiliar language and culture, I wasn’t too interested in exploring the cities or photographing anything. So I spent my free time, mostly learning Russian in a hotel or watching movies. And then spring came and it blew my mind. Everything started to look much better and I started to crave for exploration.

Kazakhstan is 9th largest country in the world

Astana or Nur-Sultan?

I was living in Karaganda which is located in the middle of Kazakhstan. The city is big, a lot of industry, but there is not a lot to photograph. Even if you go a little bit outside of the city there in nothing interesting for a landscape photographer. Everywhere you look, you can only see steppe and the closes mountains were a 1000km away (literally). Because of the working hours, my only option then was to go to Astana during weekends and to try to photograph the city. Just a little disclaimer, Astana changed its name a few months after I came back to Croatia and it is now called “Nur-Sultanhonoring the president who was on the power from Kazakhstan separated from to SSSR.

Sunset over lake in Karaganda. The lake is main location for activities during summer and winter

During the next summer, autumn and winter I went to Nur-Sultan a few times and got the opportunity to see a city in different seasons. Although mostly I like to photograph nature I was surprised how easy it was to adapt to the urban environment. Since I consider myself an introvert, I wasn’t drawn to the big cities before because of the crowds and thinking of photographing in big cities just make me nervous. But this was not a scenario with the Nur-Sultan. I really enjoyed lone walks around the city early in the morning and evening. There was some difference with it, the whole city was built 20ish years ago and everything looks nice, big and clean. But there were no people, no tourist and that was amazing for me. I visited almost all popular places and almost everywhere I was alone or with a few more people around. That freed me up, and I started to bring a camera with me on every trip to Nur-Sultan.

Nurzhol Boulevard is a pedestrian zone with Baiterek Tower in the middle
The Presidential place – This is just a show off, president is actually living out side of the Nur-sultan

The main street in Nur-Sultan is Nurzhol Boulevard, which stretches from the Presidential palace on the East to the Khan Shatyr shopping mall and the largest tent in the world on the west. This is a very nice pedestrian zone with a lot of new buildings, shopping malls, restaurants, and Baiterek Tower. If you only have limited time to visit Nur-sultan this would be the main spot to visit.

The view from the Presidential park to the Presidential palace and Nurzhol Boulevard
Palace of peace in the Presidential park

Just across of Nurzhol Boulevard on the east is Presidential park and “Palace of peace” aka the pyramid. The park is nice and mostly empty, so it is good for a lonely walk in the “nature”. From the pyramid, there is a good view of Nur-sultan.

The view from the bottom of Palace of peace

Furthermore to the east, you will come across a Kazakh Eli monument, Hazrat Sultan Mosque, National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Palace of Independence. This square is dominated by a Kazakh Eli monument and everything else is almost 100m away.

Kazakh Eli monument and National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the back
Hazrat Sultan Mosque with Palace of peace

The good thing about Kazakhstan, everything is cheaper than in Europe. Especially public services like a taxi. Competition is tough and there are a lot of applications to use for “calling” the taxi. I used Yandex, which is great because you can arrange everything in application and driver pick you up at the chosen place without calling you. For example, the distance of 5km in Osijek I would pay 2.70 euro, but in Kazakhstan, it is 0.90 euro which is exactly 3 times cheaper. So there is no point of walking around like an idiot, just call the taxi and enjoy the drive in 25 years old Lada.

Peace Wall monument honoring Kazakhstan’s nuclear history

During the summer, there is a great bicycle sharing platform available. It is necessary to register via phone number and then with the PIN received by SMS for accessing the bikes. Don’t ask me about paying the service, I didn’t understand how it works and the company tried to call me about paying few times but since they didn’t speak English I couldn’t help them. The trick is to change bike every 30 minutes, that way you don’t need to pay anything, and there are a lot bike stations around the city so it is possible to ride whole day for free.

Symbol of a bird in Presidential park. The bird is Kazakhstan symbol

Where are you from?

As I mentioned before about not speaking English, that is a very common thing almost everywhere in Kazakhstan, but the good thing is that the locals are trying to learn and they are very interested in tourist and foreigners. Locals will approach you on the street and start asking a random question in Russian and then the linguistic battle of ex Slavic nations begins. I was surprised by how many locals know about Croatia. In Karaganda, most of the people know Croatia because of Mirko FIlipović (MMA fighter) since Gennady Golovkin (GGG) is from Karagandy and they are very proud of him. The third most popular Croatian thing in Kazakhstan is our president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović. Every time when I confirmed that I am from Croatia and Kolinda is president of Croatia my interlocutor would start to smile from ear to ear showing big boobs with his hands. Some things are universal everywhere. And yes, the first thing is football and Mario Mandžukić, but there is nothing interesting or funny about that.

Hazrat Sultan Mosque and Shabyt Palace of Creativity (right)

Since I spent a lot of time in Kazakhstan and experienced even greater and nicer things, there is no sense to put everything in just one blog. In the next ones, I will be writing about specific locations to visit in Nur-sultan, some not so nice things about Kazakhstan and a “little” bit about cuisine.


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