Saturday, December 27, 2008

-21 and frostnip

The end of the year is always hectic. It's Christmas, New Year's, end of the year deadlines and hectic travel. I was again traveling for most of the month, splitting my time between airplanes and airports. I now know the menus of Air France, Lufthansa, and Turkish Air by heart - Do&Co is my savior.

The plane finally landed in Astana international airport at 3.30AM on Thursday. By this point I must have been traveling for over 24 hours; you could tell by the way I looked and by how I smelled. I started the trip in New York. My flight to Frankfurt was more then interesting. Sitting on a packed flight and on what felt like a smaller seat from the rest, I had the pleasure of sharing an 8h flight with three brothers from Georgia. The older one told me they were in the alcohol business. Judging by his size and the fact that he was sitting on his and my chair at once, I though he was in the food industry.

They each ordered two shots of whiskey the minute the drinks were out, and as soon as that was done one of them pulled out a whiskey bottle fresh from the duty free. They finished that too, before dinner was served. So I soon became the main source of their entertainment. They somehow convinced themselves I could speak Russian and off we went for hours talking - it must have been important. It felt important. How else could it last for hours. But I can't really tell you what it was about, I don't think I ever knew.

Once in Istanbul, I decided it was a good idea to go into the city for lunch. I figured I better get some air and walking in before another long flight to Astana, and I didn't really feel like sitting at the airport. I got some cash from the ATM and took a cab to Galata. There was not much going on. It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon.

Astana was cold and the roads were white. Once we approached the city, the buildings started to appear. It all looked modern, tall and grand. Everything was lit up, giant Christmas treas all over the city. The roads in Astana are wide and the traffic is easy. Buses function and things run quite efficiently. The air is cold but the air quality doesn't seem all too bad. This is a very big contrast to the other capitals of the CIS where you feel your lungs sweat as you're breathing the air&particles mix.

Having spent all this time traveling, and my internal clock on some funky time, I wasn't sleepy. The white Astana looked appealing so I packed on my running clothing, as much as I could find in my suitcase, put on my running shoes and off I went into the cold early morning. I don't know where I ran, but I ended up on the steps of the Presidential place. From there I went in the direction of the Radison hotel, which took me over the Astana river. Everything was frozen, everything was white, streets, buildings, parks, monuments, sky, everything. I felt like I was in a fairy tale.

I finally started to lose feeling in my fingers. I was cold and getting tiered. I knew I had to run in the direction of the Baiterek Tower, the 97m high international symbol of modern Astana, to get back to the hotel. Astana is not too big, and it's set-up in a grid-like format. So even for someone like me, getting lost is difficult.

Once back at the hotel, I couldn't feel any of my fingers. All 10 of them frozen. The hot air made them hurt, really hurt. Then it passed. Except one became swollen, maybe a frostnip. So much for running in Astana in -21C; but a city all in white was breathtakingly beautiful.


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