Jul 24 2013

Mum Arriving Soon & I Can Drive In A Straight Line

Category: Kazakh Driving,PersonalChrisM @ 4:06 pm

As you probably guessed from the title to this post, Mum is coming to visit us here in Astana, in just under two weeks. We’re all really looking forward to seeing her, and Anna is now asking several times a day just how long she has to wait. Last time Mum was here (20072010, 2007 was the visit before that; I somehow combined the two visits in one… in my head, Anna was present the evening John proposed to Mum, which would have made Anna -2 years old!), we didn’t have a car, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to show Mum a bit more of Astana. Having said that, there is a lot more of Astana to be shown now, I’m trying to remember which buildings existed six years ago!
I wanted to do a dry run for Mum’s arrival, so drove to the airport for the first time ever an hour ago.
I’ve only ever been a passenger for the journey in the past, and wanted to note where speed cameras, narrow lanes, dodgy junctions etc were. The speed limit, even away from people and buildings is 45mph, so you need to keep an eye on the GPS readout for your speed, especially around the horrid little yellow boxes.
It was a good thing I went all the way (rather pulling a U-turn once I could see the airport), as it looks like they have introduced charges for parking there! Or… you can park an extra 3/400m away for free 🙂
This meant my route back home started from a slightly different point, so I had to wait for another car – to follow them “out”, as the way I know to return to Astana involved driving through the (then free) car park. I couldn’t initially tell if the road I came in on was one-way or not, but someone else drove up it without horns sounding, so I assumed it was two way and followed close behind. You get to the end of the little stretch of lane, and there is a turn one-way only sign (luckily in the right direction), but the dual carriageway has unbroken lines on it, and you’re joining straight into the fast lane. Anyway, no problems, just glad I scoped it out first!

The Long And Winding Road

The Long And Winding Road

Now yes, I admit that the route is just about as simple as it could possibly be, but I wanted to ensure that when driving to the airport in earnest, that no WTF moments occurred with sudden new roads, roundabouts, or indeed new barriers and a list of charges for the car park. I could be wrong, perhaps it is a security thing, or you get a certain amount of time free, but I now feel prepared.

Mar 01 2013

Videos To Make You Roll Your Eyes

Category: Kazakh Driving,VideosChrisM @ 2:04 pm

OK, so there are some Russian driving incidents in here as well, but I’ve not got a separate category for that!

Compilation of dashcam videos (titled as Russian, though I think a few are from other countries) –

Almaty (Kazakhstan’s old capital city) lane abuse (drivers deciding they are in too much of a rush to stay on their side of the road) –

Stopping Almaty lane abuse 🙂 (I’m impressed with the guy’s attitude, but unless he has a lot of money to pay for repairs, and a weapon in the car to scare off any nutters not wanting to return to their side of the road, I can’t help fearing for his safety) –

Aktau road rage (The bibib page seems to apportion blame a little one-sidedly in this one) –

Mar 01 2013

Kazakh Driving Updated

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 9:42 am

A few weeks ago, somebody e-mailed me asking questions about driving in Kazakhstan, having read some of my older posts. I decided to take my reply to him and publish it here, so if others have questions, they may find the information they need, without waiting for me to reply to their messages 🙂
The cost of second hand cars over here in Kazakhstan – they seem to retain a lot more of their value than back in the UK. Great news if you bought a new car and want to sell it, pain in the arse when trying to buy one for yourself.

Insurance – there is a nationwide scheme that provides the minimum cover required by law. It is basically what we would call third party insurance in Britain… if you crash into someone, the insurance company is supposed to cover the cost of any damage to someone else’s car, but your car is not covered. The first couple of years, we elected to pay (quite a lot, something like 10% of the value of the car!) for full-on comprehensive insurance, but won’t renew the policy this year. If you can afford it, I’d recommend maybe getting comprehensive insurance the first year you drive here – peace of mind as you adjust to the nutters on the road, and if you do end up pranging someone, it is more likely to be at the beginning.
Road Tax – not 100%, but we think if we did have to pay for it, cops don’t ask for the document at least. Irina checked and discovered there is indeed a road tax payable each year. Whilst traffic police don’t seem to check your documents for this, if you forget to pay, there is a penalty to pay.

MOT – with a new car, like in the UK, first year or so, MOT check is not required, after that, keep it up to date.

Registration plates – new cars obviously get new plates, but with second hand cars, I’m not sure whether the plate “belongs” to the car, or the owner. Yellow number plates (starting with a D normally) are for diplomats and their families.

Registering in someone else’s name… Yes, this is possible, is the short version. You will need to always carry an official (stamped etc) letter from them stating you have permission to drive it, but the procedures for locals are simpler, compared to a foreigner, owning the car. The only thing to consider is if you pay for the car, but they legally owns it, don’t annoy them greatly, as they could legally sell it!

Driving license, make sure you have the UK pink card and paper part with you. International driving licences… I have heard of some ex-pats who got one the first year they drove, but didn’t bother again afterwards. Local traffic police don’t seem to know the rules or care that much if you drive on your home country’s licence. If they question the legality, friends have bluffed them with confidence that you have looked into it, and don’t require one. I think the rule might be related to how long you’ve lived/been driving here already? Anyway, _ALWAYS_ carry all your car docs with you, you will get stopped and have the car checked out by police, and it is a legal requirement to carry your driving licence(s), car registration documents, MOT certificate and permission to drive (if not registered in your name).

One tip in dealing with traffic police is to invest in at least a car video recorder (video registrator (or similar) in Russian). You want one with a wide angle lens, continuous recording, and decent enough image quality in the dark.

Here in Astana, I’ve heard that if the police are stopping cars for reasons of their own financial hardship, rather than genuine offences, they don’t bother with cars where they can see a camera lens in the windscreen – proof obviously exists that you’ve been driving OK. You will get stopped, and sometimes you may well need to smooth things over with a donation to the local police tea and biscuits fund, but don’t let them demand too high a donation (check with local friends, then add a good 40-60% on top as you’re a foreigner).

Some people have asked if they can just play dumb/or pretend they can’t speak Russian, this is nearly always not worth trying, in Astana at least, they’ll just demand you get your translator (makes me laugh how they assume I have that sort of cash to spend!) to meet you there and then at the side of the road. You’re better off explaining you understand a little Russian, please speak slowly for me. I tend to downplay the extent of my vocabulary, that way if they are just looking for some cash, and want to pretend I’ve broken the law, I pretend I don’t understand a key word in their sentence, so please do explain again. Eventually, they give up and wave you away. All I’d say is that (apparently) unofficial fines are normally a lot less than official ones, and the amount of time you’ll waste sorting paperwork, retrieving your licence from them etc, makes the local approach to quick unofficial fines a tempting offer.

Feb 01 2013

Typical example of “parking”. There is room for it…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 5:03 pm

Typical example of “parking”. There is room for it park normally, he just rammed it up the pavement and got out! twitpic.com/bzzdkm

Kazakh Parking

Just realized that it wasn’t even a legal parking space! Everyone blocks them, but you’re supposed to leave the entrance to the walkway in the middle accessible!

Feb 01 2013

Sorry for blurred image, but if you’re driving tow…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 12:16 pm

Sorry for blurred image, but if you’re driving towards Left Bank down Sary Arka, two buses clipped, heavy traffic. twitpic.com/bzxme9

Buses Collide

Jul 30 2012

I see this VIP sign everyday. …

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 7:19 pm

I see this VIP sign everyday. Still makes me laugh… http://t.co/EwGvElHF

Spray Painted "VIP" Sign In Our Garage

Tags: ,

Jul 26 2012

Borovoe Burabay

Category: Eating Out,Friends,Kazakh Driving,PicturesChrisM @ 10:48 am

Once again, here is a post that compiles a few tweets sent out recently. Justin (soon to return to Britain), DanS and I all decided on Saturday lunchtime that our last weekend together in Astana should be spent doing something other than the usual bar and club visits within the city. Dan and I had previously mulled over the idea of getting up to Borovoe, but never quite organized ourselves and committing to a date. I had hoped to visit the area since about 2007, but attempting to coordinate with Ira’s in-laws, friends, and all the planning that would have had to be in place for others to be happy meant it just has not occurred.
As this was to be a sort of farewell celebration for Justin, Dan and I decided we should probably check he would actually be interested in going before getting too excited. Luckily, he was definitely interested in seeing what life was like near, but outside of, Astana. So, after throwing together supplies (beer, snacks, sun screen, tunes for the journey and transferring my GPS and car video recorder to Dan’s car, we were ready. Dan had volunteered to drive, which was good for two reasons 1) His car is bigger, so more leg room for the passengers and 2) I could have a few drinks on the way to get into the swing of things!
A couple of friends were already at Borovoe (Burabay if you transliterate the Kazakh, instead of Russian name for the town), so we made sure we knew where they were roughly, and also remembered seeing an online flyer for an open air music night. Although the web page that had details of the bar/club had been taken down, I eventually tracked down another site that still had the details, and popped the address into the GPS. It turned out that there was a village with the same name as the area of Borovoe we were headed to, so we wasted an hour or so at the beginning of the journey heading in the wrong direction. Rather than get too annoyed, we just saw it as discovering a bit more of Kazakhstan we had not seen before!

After the police checkpoint had been passed (I know that neither I, nor any of my friends ever break the law, so I’ll frame this story as happening to the car next to us), during which we saw the car next to us have to pay a fine for not coming to a complete stop (there are normally two types of fine here in Kazakhstan, the official one normally based upon trumped versions of events, and the slightly cheaper amount which involves no paperwork and a local official suddenly having more money in his pocket that at the start of his shift), we settled down into a nice routine of driving along the superb road (probably the best condition I’ve ever come across here, 140km/hr was possible and safe!), stopping for an occasional cigarette and drink at picnic spots on the route.
Once we arrived, we attempted to meet up with our friends, but discovered they were in a different area, and heading to bed soon. We decided to head towards the open air music event, and soon found ourselves in a semi-orderly queue, with the tunes putting us in the right frame of mind for a good night out. Once inside the perimeter, we found a big bar in the middle (podium dancers making a pleasant visual distraction whilst waiting to be served), with a stage (one MC, one DJ and another dancer I think?), and a lot of people enjoying the music, the drink and ambience. This continued into Sunday, so I’ll save that for another post.

Jul 19 2012

Car Videos Coming Soon! Maybe?

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 2:26 pm

In case you are not the sort of blog reader who notices when a tag cloud changes, this site has had a few hundred old posts properly tagged recently. That means I only have a few thousand left to trawl through! Why make this effort? I hope that when Google (other search engines are apparently available 😉 ) next crawls this site, and comes across the tags pages via the sitemap, it will lead to me picking up a few more visitors who are interested in the same topics I write about. Traffic has dipped a little bit recently, from around 10,000 unique visitors a month to just 6 or 7,000.
Also on the To Do list for this site are the Anna and Tim photos that are always piling up waiting to be published (I was reminded just how far behind I am when tagging some of the older Anna posts). There is also a huge pile of car videos (from our in-car recorder) that I would like to go through and either delete (most of them), or edit and upload to YouTube for embedding here. I don’t know how well some of the recent WTF! moments were caught, but there should be a few.
Recently we have seen a lot more Suzuki SX4s (the same as our Kazakh car) here in Astana, and we occasionally exchange thumbs up or waves. It is good to finally see a little diversity in the cars on the road, as although all the Toyotas mean that should you buy one yourself, spare parts and expertise with repairs will be in abundance, it does get a little monotonous. We do see nicer cars around, like Mercedes SLs, various AMG tuned cars and 4x4s and full on super cars, but our budget didn’t run that far when we bought the car!
On Tuesday we saw a bumper sticker that read “Astana Street Racing” on a car in front of us, which didn’t seem like a great idea, should they get stopped by an English language reading traffic cop during an illegal street race…

Hello officer, why did you stop me?

You were racing your friend

Me? No, I am just on the way to pick up my granny from hospital

Points at the bumper sticker

Oh… Yes… Umm…

Ignoring the issue of self-labelling oneself as a street racer, we know some people use the local car park to impress their friends with high powered engines and much squealing of tyres, but I hadn’t realized that Astana does actually seem to have a real established street racing scene, as a friend was invited to attend such an event in a suped up Scooby.

I would be interested to see if any local drivers (cars and golf clubs) would be up for trying to beat that record, though I’m guessing it would need to be at the airport, not one of the golf range/courses outside of Astana in the Steppe somewhere!
Right, I am going to go away for now, I need to drag my body to the gym and try not to collapse or break anything 🙂

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jun 05 2012

Have You Been Flashed Recently?

Category: Kazakh Driving,PersonalChrisM @ 2:11 pm

I have heard stories (from other less careful drivers who may occasionally marginally drift slightly over the speed limit) of people being flashed by a speed camera here in Astana, and them then waiting for a few weeks to see if they will get pulled over randomly and fined. I previously had a link that allowed you to check the system to see if you had been caught or not. However the result was displayed in Kazakh, and so I didn’t want to post it. This link – now here, however is in English, and the results are as well. I’d not recommend choosing the All Cities option (Bce), as this seems to time out too often. Also, allow at least a few days between a flash on the road, and checking the system. Finally, when entering your Technical Passport Number, you may need to remove the first 0 in your documentation to fit in with their expected number.

May 31 2012

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Category: Kazakh Driving,Kazakhstan,Personal,WeatherChrisM @ 9:15 pm

OK, so that was really just me crowbarring a Bare Naked Ladies & Rita Mcneil cover track into this post’s title, but I wanted to write about a few things that hit you when you spend some time in Kazakhstan. As you may have noticed from recent tweets, the style of driving can really leave you shell shocked if you are actually driving yourself. Even as a passenger, it is noticeable, but once you are responsible for other people’s sanity and safety, you really tend to pick up just how different people approach road journeys and safety here. Lane discipline is virtually absent, and if you are not moving forward before the green light appears, more often than not you will be honked at for slowing everyone down. Combine that with the fact that the traffic that had previously been on green at the lights will regularly drive through red lights, and you can start to understand why accidents are so frequent here. Hence the GPS device (I really must dig out that website address I promised a while back) and video camera to continuously record what is going on around our car.
Moving on swiftly before my blood pressure spikes, the weather here really does spend most of the year at one extreme or other. My YouTube upload from years ago (YT removed it due to copyright issues) mentions one of the common misconceptions about the climate here in Astana – it doesn’t snow 9 months of the year. Sure, temperatures do occasionally drop to -35/-40 degrees celsius with biting winds and snow drifts, but by March-April the snow has usually melted, and up until August/September, hot days can get very close to 35/40 degrees in the shade. This means that well designed & built houses have to include thicker walls (for insulation from the heat or cold, depending on the season), external doors open up onto normal room doors wherever the outside elements come into contact with the building, and air conditioners are not just found in offices (back in Britain, it is relatively rare, given our drizzly, not too cold, definitely not often very warm weather).

Double door in the background
OK, I searched for quite a long time to find this particular picture, from 2006. For some reason, I was sure that you could clearly see the external door (you can), with the internal door also visible (not really). However, having found it, seen Irina in her red hat, and Karra as a kitten, I couldn’t resist re-posting it, sorry.

Back to transport for a moment, one of the best differences, for me at least, is should you not have your car with you (drinking alcohol, your partner needs it etc.) getting from point A to point B is as simple as sticking your hand out by the side of the road, and waiting for a normal citizen to stop and agreeing on a price for the journey. Certainly, you will need to know the name of the road where you want to go, foreigners will often have a higher price originally quoted, and knowing a smattering of Russian is usually required, but compared to phoning a taxi company, waiting for it to arrive, and paying (in Britain at least) silly prices, it is worth the little effort involved. By the way, learning a handful of Kazakh words/phrases will sometimes ensure a more reasonable price, and occasionally even a smile.
Speaking of smiling, whilst friends over here are more often than not true and reliable, meeting strangers at random on the street can easily lead to incorrect conclusions about locals’ mentality. If you look like a local, then you’ll just not get eye contact or happy faces very often. Look like a foreigner, and people’ll have no qualms with pointing and discussing you with their friends. Look like a little unusual, even for a foreigner (if you can’t figure out why I’d write this, I’ll assume we’ve never met 😉 ), then expect occasional instances of people simply stopping their conversation, their direction and speed of travel to stare, point and loudly discuss what a strange object has appeared in front of them. Once you grow accustomed to it, then you realise that there is normally no malice involved, and over the years, more foreign people have come to Astana, and so most locals have grown accustomed to seeing something beyond the shiny-suited businessman.
OK, I’ll stop for now, as this post has veered dangerously away from the positive vibe I was attempting to employ earlier on today.

Next Page »