Being so close to the capital of Kazakhstan, we asked early on if it would be possible to line up a day trip to do some sight seeing. Today we got to visit Astana and take in some of the more kid friendly sights.
We spent two and half hours in the car (thank God for portable DVD players) and went to a local restaurant. They had English translations on the menus or at least they were pretty close. We enjoyed the description of veggie pizza which included "pepper pod, corn, green-stuff." Unfortunately they weren't serving pizza, but the boys got by on the yummy fried dough balls that we ordered.
The first place we went to was the aquarium. It had multiple fish tanks and took a good 30 minutes to walk through - not bad for being the world's furthest aquarium from an ocean (or so the sign said). They had a large walk through glass tunnel tank that housed numerous sharks and fish of all sizes.
They also have a captive mermaid that was feeding all the smaller fish. The kids tried to convince me that she was just a woman dressed as a mermaid, but I'm sure she was real. I mean she had a real nice mask and snorkel, but she did show less cleavage than what I expected from maidens of the deep.
Outside the aquarium, there were small kid sized paddleboats that looked way fun. I was too big, but Ben seemed to be the right size so I let him have my ticket. Lucky.
Next we went to the tower that symbolizes the capital of Kazakhstan, Baiterek Tower. It's 97 meters tall because Astana became the capital in 1997. There's a glass windowed elevator that takes you inside the clear ball at the top. From the top of the tower you can see all the construction that is still shaping this city. Sam kept talking about how this would be a great place for a criminal to hijack a crane because there were so many around. Yes, we share in your worry for what is clearly a criminal mastermind in training. Crane-napping will be the next hot crime wave for sure.
There seems to be a battle raging between different architects to see who can build the most outlandish building. None of them looked silly by themselves, but they didn't really fit together all that well. One was a complex of buildings that together made a slanted line, right next to a mosque that looked like it had a very large egg growing in the side of it.
Also in the sphere there is a hand print casting of the President of Kazakhstan. You are supposed to put your hand in and make a wish. Sorry, no Millennium Falcons landed to take us into outer space. And I know that three of us guys were wishing for it.
The last place that we visited was the pyramid that is known as the Palace of Peace. The pictures don't really do it justice - a lot of the building is underground, so it's really a lot bigger inside than this picture makes it look. It's a gathering place for all the leaders of the different world religions to come together and discuss things. What things, I'm not really sure. I know that peace is one of them.
The building was highly unique. The basement floor, where you enter, is decorated in all black. It's so black, it's like how much more black could this be and the answer is, none. None more black. There is a large concert hall that can seat a few thousand people. At the top, there are small windows that let in the daylight from the room above. Going up the elevator, you arrive in a room that is all white. Blindingly so, after your time spent in the other rooms. On the floor of this hall there is a raised bubble that is the direct center of the pyramid. There are also little triangular windows that show the concert hall below. Standing in the center is supposed to imbue you with a special energy or aura or something mystical. Sam stood there and said "Well, I don't feel anything."
The last floor takes you to the top of the pyramid which is colored blue and has doves painted on the outside. The doves are a little eerie, all staring down at you in their dovey-giantness, but I'm thinking that the designers were going for "peaceful". There is a large round table where meetings with important people take place. The tour guide didn't even have to tell me that. You could almost feel the importance of the room. Great, now I'm starting to sound mystical.
One day is clearly not enough to take in all of Astana, but we were sure glad we had a chance to see it!