Monday, August 4, 2014

Astana City Day

6 July is Astana City Day, or Capital Day, and it also happens to be the President's birthday.  Usually I am out of the country by this date, but this year I was not only in the country but also in the city.

In the early 1990s, the capital of the newly independent Kazakhstan was Almaty, which had also been the capital when it was a Soviet Republic.  Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president, wanted to move the capital to another city for a variety of reasons, one of which was his desire for a fresh start - new country, new capital.  He had the small northern city of Akmola in his mind for quite some time, but he also considered a few other cities.

The move to the frozen and small Akmola (renamed Astana) in the north from the the mountainous, booming, and European Almaty in the south was not a popular one.  I'm sure when Astana was initially presented to the world as Kazakhstan's capital (10 June 1998), it wasn't nearly as awesome as it is now.  So much of 2014 Astana is relatively new -- so many buildings have cropped up since my arrival in 2009 -- and Astana is still growing.  It's an exciting city to live in.

Every year, the city starts preparing for City Day in June, while I'm still there.  There seem to be a lot of celebrations planned for the area near Khan Shatyr (the giant mall in the shape of a tent), with lots of yurts (Kazakh tents) and super-sized yurts going up.

At first I thought I wouldn't do anything for City Day.  I don't like crowds - although a crowd in Astana is nothing compared to a crowd in Paris or London (which, in turn, I'm sure is nothing compared to a crowd in India).

But the US Embassy's unofficial newsletter listed a bunch of the events for City Day, and some sounded quite exciting.  I decided to go to a concert on the river on Sunday, 6 July.  (There were events all weekend, and Monday as well.)

Sophia and I met up with one of my co-workers and a friend of hers who was visiting.  The weather was beautiful - bright sun, blue sky, warm yet not hot.

We walked down Turan Street (from Mega mall, in the direction of the river) and entered Central Park through its new opening.  In my five years in Astana, Central Park seems to always be under construction.  This time, though, I think the construction was completely worth it.  The entrance was amazing -- curved walls of bright mosaics, a light waterfall coming down against the walls, water fountains on the ground to play in, a tiny stream going through the middle of the main sidewalk.  It was beautiful, and a great place to play in the summertime!
The wall with a waterfall

There were artists set up with their art to sell, crazily dressed people on stilts, music playing through loudspeakers.  We took a bit too much time walking through the park and soon realized we might be late for the concert!

They had a built a stadium on the water for this event - it was amazing.  And there was limited seating.  It was free, but most of the seats were taken or reserved.
Stadium on the river

We found seats near the front and watched the two events.  It wasn't a concert of live music, as I had thought, but actually two ballets.

The first ballet was "Carmen Suite," a ballet based on the opera by Bizet, based on the book by Prosper Merimee.  My favorite opera turned into a modern ballet.  In the fall, I had gone to a concert that played the music from this ballet.

The ballet was amazing - modern, though, with one dancer portraying fate.  It took the complex story of Don Jose's fall and turned it into a simple love triangle story in which Carmen grapples with her destiny.  So maybe not too simple...
Don Jose lifting Carmen

The next ballet was Rimsky-Korsakov's ballet "Scheherazade," which was based on the introduction to "1001 Arabian Nights."
Towards the end of "Scheherazade" - notice the fire on the sides

After the ballets, we started to leave, but the "3-D Light Show" started.  It was mostly fireworks, and they were insanely loud.  I climbed a tree to get a better view (since the sidewalk on the river embankment was full of people) and I did get a good view.  Two teenage boys saw me and quickly snapped a picture of me before running away.

It was so loud that we didn't last the whole show and made our way to Respublika Street to catch a cab.

The next day there was a "4-D Light Show" at the Opera Theatre.  I was interested in what that meant; however, Sophia's head hurt from the loud fireworks the night before and so we didn't go.  I learned from my co-worker that it was amazing; they had lights and patterns going up and down the opera theatre's columns.

Sophia and I went back to the park and bought a painting for 1500 tenge (under $10).  We also wandered and explored the newly done grounds - it is quite pretty now.

Maybe next year we'll get to celebrate City Day again...
Astana at sunset

Central Park

People on stilts



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