Exploring northern Kazakhstan

Merry Christmas you lovely lot :) I hope your December has been fuelled with mince pies and laced with egg nog!

I recently made the semi-permanent move back to one of my favourite places in the world, Koh Phangan in Thailand. So instead my Christmas was fuelled by fish on a BBQ and malibu laced coconuts. It's quite strange to spend the festive period in 30 degree heat but I can't say I am complaining!

In my effort to get back on the blogging wagon, I thought I would share with you some photos from my recent trip to Kazakhstan this September. Kazakhstan I hear you ask? This was definitely the most remote country I have travelled to and I must admit was never on my bucket list. However when my brother moved there a few years ago, I was became more interested in visited the country. Last year, my other brother was offered a job teaching in the international school there so over our birthday week (mine, one of my brothers, my sister in law, my dad and my nephew), I decided why not and jumped on a plane via Budapest to this huge country.

Most people won't be able to place Kazakhstan on a map and have only heard references of this vast place from the film Borat. I was intrigued to see what if that was just Hollywood propaganda or if there was some truth to it.

Kazakhstan is a landlocked country situated south of Russia in a cluster of the other 'Stan' countries like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. It is so big that you can fit all of western Europe in it! The country was heavy effected by the Soviet War. Many routes of the Silk Road led through the steppe (flat countryside) and the apple originates from the Almaty region, the former capital.

I flew into Astana, the new capital and blown away to see the sheer scale and ingenuity of the buildings. It was like walking into an episode of Futurama. The temperature in Kazakhstan fluctuates massively from up to 40c in the summer to -40c in the winter.

I spent a few weeks with my family; exploring the city and cafe culture scene, visiting the Ritz for a crazy night out, singing karaoke, enjoying the cheap beauty salons and checking out the local Hamman (sauna).

Towards the end of my trip, I took off on my own for 5 days on a train into the north of the country to spend some time walking in the incredible national park called Burabay. A number of lakes surrounded by autumnal nature and post soviet influence. The Kazakh people speak the Kazakh language and Russian. As my knowledge of both languages was very limited, it was the first time in a VERY long time I went without having an English conversation. Even the menu's were not translated so I had to take semi-calculated semi-blind guesses at ordering meals.

Like I mentioned, the effects of the Soviet War were still apparent however the people were lovely, accommodating and wanted to talk to me in whatever broken language we could manage.

It was an incredible trip and I only wish I saw more of the country. I fully recommend to anyone interested to take the plunge and visit this wonderful country. I found myself out of my comfort zone many times but that just added to the thrill of the adventure!

Enjoy the photos!

Lots of love

Nicki :)

The sports series ;)

This day I had walked for 10km and hitch hiked back in a lorry. Sorry mum!

Taking a trip on a Harry Potter train through the wilderness. Before the Soviet War, tribes of nomads would move through the steppe hunting and living off mainly a diet of meat and dairy. Horse milk is one of the Kazakh's national dishes.

The Baiterek tower in Astana is a national monument and observatory, you can take a lift right to the top. There are rumours that the Illuminati HQ is in Astana due to a number of symbolic features on the buildings in the new city.

One day, I spent the afternoon walking around the lake and climbed one of the stone hills to reach a viewpoint. It was only after I came back down to the bottom I noticed this sign warning of BEARS (!).