Our Trailblazers series sees Lonely Planet's guidebook writers reflect on past adventures, reminisce a little, and compare their experiences past and present. Here, our Melbourne-based writer Steve Waters recalls his time researching in China, when the country was starting to emerge from isolationism.
Among Kazakhstan’s endless grasslands on the windswept northern steppes, the forward-looking modern city of Astana has sprouted. With a skyline punctuated by gleaming new skyscrapers that seem to defy the laws of physics, the capital is an eye-catching showcase of international, 21st-century architecture and a glimpse into a city of the future.
A pleasant, leafy city that would seem more at home in central Europe than Central Asia, Almaty is stocked with museums, cafes and nightlife. But Kazakhstan's second city (and its former capital) is also a great base from which to explore the country's wild southern landscapes. The city itself is a manageable size, and on its doorstep are numerous natural attractions.