I’ve earned a full two months of vacation and I have to use them before September of this year. That means one thing and one thing only – major summer vacation plans. I’m happy to say that, while I love my job, I’m looking forward to getting away and visiting an exotic location.
Here is a strange and wonderful statement that most people have probably never heard before: I’m excited to visit Kazakhstan. Central Asia is not a traditional tourist destination, but it is a part of the world I have more than a little fascination with. Between the news that Kazakhstan is building a democracy and the fact that I have distant relatives who emigrated to the USA from Afghanistan, I decided a long time ago that I would visit Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, at least once before I died. That’s right, the old bucket list.
So why have I picked now as the time for my big vacation? Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev recently announced a major construction project, and a bizarre one at that. He plans to have a pyramid-shaped miniature city built in the capital city, with plans and some construction apparently already underway.
The structure will house between ten and fifteen thousand residents and is at least partially intended as a shelter for the less-fortunate. No, I’m not planning on being a part of the construction crew . . . I just think that news like this is enough of a sign that the country is really moving towards democracy for me to feel safe traveling there. Maybe I’m paranoid, but all of those formerly-Soviet countries give me the willies a little bit.
Not anymore! It’s time to finally fulfill my dream of visiting Central Asia, eating their unique foods, meeting people who may be distantly related to me, and having some cool stories of a trip to a foreign country that most people I know have never heard of, much less traveled to. Perhaps I’ll head over to the construction area for the new city-within-a-city that I’m so (strangely) fascinated by, maybe I won’t.
But I know a few things I will definitely see and do while in the region. Here’s a brief rundown of my plans for my big Kazakhstani summer vacation.
Since I’ll be in Astana anyway, and I’m interested in the changes coming to the country, I can’t skip out a visit to the newly-finished Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. It was purpose-built for an interfaith summit in 2007 and has since served as the location for a semi-annual conference of world religious leaders. It’s also probably THE architectural icon of Central Asia.
I’m Going to Be Brave and Try Kumys
Kumys, to those unfamiliar, is fermented horse milk. Along with fermented camel’s milk, this drink is one of the staples of Kazakh (and Turkish) cuisine. I’m not always an adventurous eater, but it would be impolite to turn down a drink offered to me by a native, and I’ll have something cool to tell my friends and family.
A Sahara of Sorts in Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Preserve
Again, I’m not exactly Mr. Wilderness, but a contact I’ve made in the country pointed me in the direction of a safari service operating in a nature preserve in the very corner of Kazakhstan. The terrain is mountainous, vast, freezing cold at times, and probably dangerous. My guide assures me that everything is safe and there’s nothing to be concerned about. We’ll see . . .
Wish me luck!