Astana’s best feature August 25, 2017

Astana’s best feature


By Paulina Knoblock

The student ambassadors at the USA Pavilion are often asked about what we like best in Astana, whether we are most impressed by the food, the locals, or the Expo itself, and people seem surprised when I answer that my favorite activity in Astana is going on evening runs. The reasoning behind this requires some explanation.

Two months before starting work in Kazakhstan, I tore a ligament in my knee playing rugby (poorly). I was prescribed crutches and had to be driven to and from my university, my range of mobility comparable to that of a legless toddler. In some divinely ironic twist of fate, the injury occurred during final exams week, so all of my time had to be spent in one of three exceedingly familiar places: the library, an exam hall, or my home. During my recovery period, even after I stopped requiring crutches, I was very limited in where I could easily get to and what I could see. I hated not having full control over my body.

Now that I finally am healed, I go running in Astana as often as I can, usually after work, 5 days a week. Running here is excellent: the terrain is very flat and smooth, roads around EXPO grounds are empty of people and even cars in the evening, the air is fresh, and sunsets fill the whole sky with brilliant golden light, pink clouds, and sapphire shadows: I have never seen more consistently beautiful sunsets than in Kazakhstan.

There are not many people who run near Expo grounds, but all it takes is a visit to the riverside Triathlon park to see that a culture of athleticism is booming in Astana. The paths along the Ishim river are populated with a constant procession of bikers, runners, and couples with strollers that they grudgingly lug over their shoulders when a staircase gets in the way. Besides biking and running, other popular types of physical activity in Astana seem to be martial arts – judo, karate, taekwondo, and others. Obviously, boxing is popular here, with Gennady Golovkin in position as the national symbol of the sport (there is never a day at Expo where I don’t see visitor sporting his trademark GGG on their baseball caps). There are a few specifically Kazakh sports as well – like Kazakh wrestling and, my favorite, Kokpar, a type of polo played with a decapitated goat.

Soccer is also, unsurprisingly, very popular – there are popular teams both in Astana and Almaty. I love to play soccer but have abstained so far during my time at Expo out of fear of reinjuring myself. I’ll keep running, though, until I leave Kazakhstan or I break my legs – whatever comes first.


This post reflects the opinion of the author and not the USA Pavilion and its sponsors