As soon as I read about the ice town of Astana, I decided I wanted to go there when I had the opportunity. The town is built in December, so when my train pulled in on the early morning of January 2, I was convinced it should be there. The location of the ice town differs from one year to the next, so I asked around at the station to find out. The women at the information counter had me worried: they shook their heads when someone helped me ask them; it turned out that the city was not as big as it used to be. I was, however, directed to the southwestern corner of the City Park. It was still pitch dark outside, and since I had plenty of time on my hands, I decided to walk. As soon as I stepped out of the railway station, I noticed that the temperature was noticeably colder than in Almaty, just as people had told me. The only people outside were those waiting for a bus; otherwise, I was walking the streets alone. I liked the cold, even though after a while it started to prickle my face. When I reached the river Ishim, a modern, arched bridge with coloured lights reminded me of the fact that I was entering the new part of Astana that I had come to see. I saw two people crossing the river itself instead of taking the bridge, and I decided to follow suit. It was amazing to walk on what seemed solid ground, knowing this was not a small river - there was not even a hint I was walking on frozen water. Further ahead, I went to a modern building looking like a tent; not only to get warm, but also to ask for final directions. Two friendly young Kazakh girls turned out to speak English fluently, and we had a nice conversation before I moved on, all warmed up. They shocked me by describing the weather as "warm", where the -17C felt very cold, particularly in combination with the wind blowing through the streets. But yes, it had been close to -40C just ten days before...
I walked to the other mall the girls had indicated me, noticed that many people were actually walking with their jackets open and without gloves on their hands (I was happy that I still had some sensations in my hands, indicating they hadn't died yet); and when I reached a busy intersection, I saw ice sculptures on the other side of the road. After reading about the ice town, I had expected enormous copies of famous buildings in ice, but there was nothing of the kind. Instead, the corner of the park turned out to be a collection of ice sculptures, and mostly geared towards kids. I saw Kazakh families everywhere; especially in the lower area which probably was a small frozen lake, and where kids and their parents were catapulted onto racing down the ice slides or getting lost in the ice labyrinth. I watched the kids having lots of fun, before exploring the terrain where most of the sculptures were exposed. Some were animals: I recognized snow leopards, camels, horses, and bears; then, there were what looked like mythical figures, and a big arch.
At the far end of the Ice Town, I saw an ice rink where Kazakhs were skating, yet another ice slide, and more sculptures. I touched several of the sculptures, the very low temperatures assured that even the winter sun could not make them look fragile; it was hard to believe that these would ever melt - they looked as eternal as a normal sculpture. I marvelled at the beauty of the sunlight shining through the solid ice blocks and the patterns of frozen water inside. After exploring the modern part of Astana, I returned to the Ice Town in the evening, and was not disappointed. The spotlights directed towards the ice sculptures changed colour frequently from yellow to blue, to purple and white. The night was black, and made the ice sculptures stand out even better than during the day. Even though the Ice Town was not as impressive as it once must have been, it had definitely been worth the trip to Astana.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Astana Ice Sculptures (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Astana Ice Sculptures.
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