|(written in November 2006 )
Flight hours, a theme which is always causing heated discussions at our home due to the conflict of interest between my significant other from her professional perspective and myself as a frequent customer of airlines. But here I am : in Astana International Airport at 3 am local time waiting for my 4:20 flight to Frankfurt and then connecting to Copenhagen… 4:20 am in the morning. In Brussels International airport this is probably not longer possible with the recent environment laws. To set the picture, 4:20 means be in the airport around 2:20, leave the hotel around 2:00, get out of bed around 1:30 local time, which is actually 8:30 Belgian time. So I took the decision not to go to sleep at all and hope my developed air plane coach seat sleeping skills over the Atlantic to pay off in the other direction as well.
But hey, I am in Kazakhstan! I was in Astana, the new capital, for the last 3 days, visiting some customers and partners of my employer. Quite similar to Moscow, where I was 1 month ago, this is clearly a country of old and new : and old capital and a new capital, old structures and new structures, old habits and new habits,…
The most significant project is clearly building the new capital south of Astana, it must be the most impressive building site I have ever seen. Think about Las Vegas without the neon and with civil servants in suits instead of tourists with Hawaii shirts . Most buildings, if finished, are to be compared to the average US skyscraper. They are not building one or two of these. There are at least 20-30 buildings I could identify, most will host ministries and other government companies. On the border I could also notice some signs of famous international companies, mainly banks. Central to the new city I noticed some “constructions”, a sphere on a metal skeleton and 2 gold coloured cylinders, each about 30-40 meters high. Nobody knew of what the purpose was. The site is symbolically surrounded by 4 major buildings : the presidents white house (with Kazakh-turquoise cupola), the ministry of defence, the ministry of interior and the headquarters of the Kazakh Oil & Gas companies.
There are very little hotels in Astana. Looking at the fact there are very little foreign visitors explains this, after all this is a national capital, not an international oriented city. People also speak very little English, as they are already suffering from bi-linguity as we Belgians are very used to : Kazakh and Russian are spoken here by almost everyone. And I have not met a lot of other non-Russian speaking people, so there is very little incentive to pick up English, I had to negotiate taxi fare with the driver using our fingers, strangely enough before we agreed on the currency.
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