Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Kostanay, Northern Kazakhstan

The parents of my husband live in the town called Kostanay, which is in the North of Kazakhstan. The town is not well-known, and I cannot say it has something special about it, but this is a travel blog, and I believe all destinations are interesting, if explored and presented in the right way.

I visited the town for the first time 10 years ago, when my boyfriend and I decided to get married and I had to meet his parents. (Note: We got married, and we are still happy together). That time I visited the town in summer, but there was hardly any time for the sightseeing; I had to present myself instead. It was somehow impossible for me to visit my parents-in-law and Kostanay until this winter, when we had all opportunities to do it. Fortunately for us, the weather was quite good all the time, which is big luck, as Kostanay lies in the steppe, and it can be very windy and very frosty there, and the other destinations we had to make stops in lie in Siberia, where it can be very cold.
Anyway, in the evening on the 31st of December we arrived. It is impossible to describe how happy the parents of my husband were, and what fun the New Year celebration was. Our kids were very happy to see the grandpa and grandma, too, so the most of the time me and my husband had plenty of time for ourselves, and we explored the town very well. Though my husband was born there, he did not know much about his native town and had even never even visited the local history museum! We did that together, besides, we took a normal bus and rode from the first to the last stop, and we rode several lines like this. We visited several cafes, we had a swim in the swimming pool called ‘Aqua Park’, and we walked and walked. We did not have to walk that much, because the town is not especially big, but it was interesting all the same.
Kostanay was founded in 1879. In the beginning it was a trading settlement. Peasants from the nearby villages came there to sell the harvest, and soon some industrial enterprises were opened, which mainly produced dairy, cereals and other agricultural products. But the town had its biggest and fastest growth during the Soviet era, when they started to develop the lands never developed before. At the same time many Germans came to live there. They were the Germans whose ancestors came to Russia together with Tsarin Katharina the Great, and who lived in along the Volga, but who were sent away from there by Stalin. My mother-in-law has German origin.
The town became the regional center, and life was quite good there until perestroika started. Kazakhstan became a separate state after that and, like in everywhere in Russia and former republics of the USSR, life was very hard. Many people, especially of Russian and German origin. Russians went to the nearby Russian cities and towns (Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg), and Germans went back to Germany. The town experienced very bad stagnation and decay until the beginning of 2000-ies. After that the government of Kazakhstan started to do really well, and life in the whole country, including Kostanay, changed a lot. The town started to develop again, and now it is a small, but cozy and clean town with the population slightly more than 200 000 people, very well taken care of, and really nice to visit. All signs and all announcements are made in two languages, Russian and Kazakh.

There is an international airport, which is small but makes flights to some big cities including Moscow and Hannover. There are several hotels, restaurants, small cafes, nice green parks, which is not so easy for a town lying in the steppe. It is clean and it is very convenient and comfortable to use buses there. The lines are well organized and there are even double-decker buses not unlike those in London (sorry for not having taken a photo, but I’m not lying)! There is a railway station and a station for long-distance buses. You can take a bus to Astana (the capital of Kazakhstan) and other Kazakh cities and towns, and to Russian cities of Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Magnitogorsk and Kurgan. There are several universities and numerous professional schools. There are two drama theatres: one Russian and one Kazakh. There are some very nice old buildings, and I liked the nature and history museum very much. It tells its visitors about the history of this region since the ancient times and it has some very valuable objects dating back to the period of Chingis-Khan!
Here is some information about Kostanay in English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kostanay
As to the climate, it can be very severe for Europeans and even Russians. Winters can be very cold, windy and poor in snow. Summers can be very hot and windy, and your eyes and hair gets full of sand and dust very quickly. But people obtain good yield of vegetables and fruit there, and cattle breeding has always been a big business there.
Like everywhere, Kostanay and Kazakhstan in general has some peculiarities. For me it was strange to pay 10% of the bill for the service, doesn’t matter if you liked the service or not. It is just included into the bill. But in general the prices in cafes and restaurants are about 1.5-2 times lower than in Russia, so it was OK. It was even stranger to pay as much for coffee-to-go plus the 10% for the service as for a coffee you drink sitting inside. It was unusual to pay 4 times less compared to Novosibirsk for a visit to the swimming pool, but the low price was well explained by very cold water in the pool and the Jacuzzi, which did not work and had green stinking water. It was pleasant to pay less for a child up to 14 in the bus. And it was sad to know that my mother-in-law has the pension which can be compared to what I earn for 3-4 business days, and that she has to survive for a month on this amount.
Anyway, I realized that Kazakhstan is worth a separate travel. It is an interesting destination, and they say that Astana, the current capital, is an extremely modern town with skyscrapers, and Almaty, the former capital, is situated in the mountains and has beautiful gardens. Welcome to Kazakhstan!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this blog site. I hope you don't mind me getting copy of your first hand pictures. Anyway, i'm not taking anything from here until you reply in this comment, I'd gladly use it for my case study report on Kazakhstan. By the way, I'm an Asian :D