I got back Saturday afternoon from what was to be a 1 ½ day trip to Astana. I flew up on Air Astana Thursday morning taking about 1 hour and 40 minutes. It was a great flight, with my getting to read the whole local Almaty English language paper from cover to cover (8-page weekly). Of note was the doubling of the Almaty city budget from 2004 to 2006. Oil revenues will do that for you.
This was my first time in Astana. It is the new capital of Kazakhstan with all kinds of new glamorous buildings going up especially along the chick “Left Bank” – a little French cache in the Land of Kaz. The new Romanesque Presidential Palace, stern looking Defense Ministry, another Roman-like facade for the Foreign Ministry. The National Library is a very striking building but I didn’t see anyone reading any books. Are there really books in the National Library?
I just can’t figure out where they are putting the cars. They hired really big name international architects but these guys don’t understand parking. Already with the construction on the new capitol less than 40% complete those bureaucrats who are trying to make their way to work find snarled roads and no particular place to park. They are not into car pooling (what motorized nation is?) and this of course makes it all the worse. The businesses located near by are faced with the same situation. I can only see a “no drive zone” being set up with shuttles made available from outlying parking lots.
My colleagues in the Astana office are an interesting lot. George, our local manager is a Bulgarian national age 35. He is having a whole lot of adventure in a variety of venues around the world. He is a great organizer particularly in the electronic realm. Medina and the other ladies in the office are into leasing sales in a big way and are very smooth considering how young most of them are (all early 20’s). I went up to meet various investors and to start the process of setting up a pool of suitable maintenance providers for our property management venture.
Astana is a village that has awakened to find itself a capital of a fairly important oil country. The skyline looks like Dubai which is a scary thought. Dubai has all the glitz of Vegas but with massive humidity. Astana will be Dubai with wind 365 days a year. Remember this little outpost is in the steppe country. You get blowing icy winds across the snow in winter and blowing dust the rest of the year – sounding more like Dubai all the time. President Neserbyev is trying to make a world class capitol. If his lieutenants can figure out the car situation they will have a great new city. Astana has literally gone from 400,000 people 5 years ago to over 1.5 million. A lot of illegal construction workers (sounds like the USA, right?) mostly from China and the other less fortunate “stans” like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc.
My return trip to Almaty was problematic with the airport in Almaty being closed because of heavy fog; I never thought it was anything but an all weather airport but they cancelled all flights on Friday and Saturday, so I took the 20 hour train trip and got home today about 4 pm. Nadia and Sophie came out to the train station to meet me and welcome me home. Train crews don’t get it that spring has come early and they won’t turn the heat down in the train cars. It was absolutely stifling for the whole 20 hour trip; plus we had the joys of cigarette smokers out on the back of our coach. The smoke all filtered back into the main train compartment.
I hope to have pictures up later in the week of some of the buildings in Astana and my visit.