Thursday, September 29, 2011

Map Park!

Map Park is fantastic! I completely recommend it to any and all visitors to Astana. I'm just upset that I never visited it sooner.

We took the entire elementary school on a field trip to Map Park this past Friday, 23rd September, as part of their units on Kazakhstan. (Every grade has a Social Studies unit on "Host Country" and we chose to all study Kazakhstan at the same time.)

Map Park is located behind Duman, the place with the aquarium. Duman is across from Mega (the big mall) so it's easy to find; everyone knows where Mega is.

I'd passed by Map Park many times without knowing what it is; it's also not on a main road. So if you go looking for it, find Duman, and go behind it.

We walked there from the school and took a short-cut through Duman's parking lot, and we ended up going through a fence. This happens a lot in Astana, you end up trekking through dirt or trenches or construction or holes in fences.

The ticket price is 200 Tenge ($1.35) for children, 400 Tenge for adults, so really cheap. And most signs are in Russian, English, and Kazakh.

Map Park is basically what it sounds like it is - a park that's also a map. It's like a large map of Kazakhstan. You enter in the southwest, near the Caspian Sea. There were wooden ducks floating on the water.

In southwestern Kazakhstan, there are apparently some white mountain-like structures. In the park, they appeared as large white rocks, with steps on one, quite fun to climb on and several meters tall.

My Lonely Planet book does not mention these; however, a quick search through all sections on the south and west show that there are some huge chalk rock structures (one is 323 meters high), so I'm guessing that's what those white mountains were.

The southwest is where there are necropolises and other surreal things, according to my Lonely Planet, and I need to find the time to read more about this. Map Park made it look so fascinating--white mountains, caves, etc.

We wandered around the Caspian Sea, seeing fake flamingos (and some people saw fake seals). Map Park contains miniatures of dozens of Kazakh cities, with dollhouse-sized buildings that are quite fascinating. We saw mosques, Russian Orthodox churches, Russian-style architecture, government buildings, cottages, train stations, etc. We also saw lots of sites for drilling oil, as oil is a big business in Kazakhstan, especially near the Caspian.

The Left Bank of Astana was on a raised platform; underneath it were drawings of different parts of Kazakhstan, plus "Barbie dolls" dressed in different national clothings; plus exhibits showing different parts of Kazakh history.

The Left Bank is the new part of Astana, the part that has been planned in great detail and rivals Dubai, some say. A miniature version of it is quite impressive. Keep in mind that these mini buildings were the size of enormous dollhouses, so still small compared to the real thing but impressive and awesome nonetheless.

We saw the Right Bank of Astana, the older part, with Republic Street. Children excitedly pointed out where they lived or where their parents worked. And they were quite disappointed that our school wasn't there. (Our school's on the Left Bank.)

We then went to Almaty, and the fake snow-capped mountains looked rather real. I recognized the amazing Orthodox Church that can be found in Panfilov Park.

Overall, it was a very fun experience, and the children very much loved it. Most everyone was chattering excitedly, despite the chilly weather.

Some people found an area where other countries were represented; I never saw this and now I need to go back! I also need to go back without children, so I can take the time to read the signs. Every building was numbered, and signs explained what each building was, in Russian, Kazakh, and English, but the children wouldn't let me stop long enough to read these.

And I'm having trouble right now uploading pictures; hopefully I'll get that fixed soon, since the pictures make it look fantastic!

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