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Day 23: Saturday, June 25
Almaty is the largest city in Central Asia's richest country, Kazakhstan. Its name means "the place with apples," and may have been the place where apples were first domesticated. Today the city is thriving on the considerable foreign investment it has attracted, primarily in the oil and gas industries.
A city tour includes Panfilov Park with its Zenkov Cathedral, and a visit to the local bazaar. Visit the State Central Museum to view its collection of applied art, and the delightful Museum of Musical Instruments, located in a 1907 Russian-style wooden building formerly called the House of Officers.
Day 24: Sunday, June 26
Almaty / Balqash
(647 km / 404 miles)
Get an early start today on one of your longest days, driving to the town of Balqash, an industrial and fishing town with a working copper smelter, located on the north side of Lake Balqash.
Day 25: Monday, June 27
Balqash / Karaganda
(402 km / 251 miles)
Depart overland for Karaganda, Kazakhstan's second largest city, founded in 1856 near an enormous coal basin. Mining became the town's biggest industry, along with copper smelting, iron and steel works and the manufacture of coal-mining equipment. In the 1940s, many of the coal workers were exiled Volga Germans interned in labor camps.
Days 26-27: Tuesday, June 28 - Wednesday, June 29
Karaganda / Astana
(270 km / 169 miles)
Astana has been Kazakhstan's capital only since 1997, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree moving the capital from Almaty. Located in north central Kazakhstan on the Ishim River and surrounded by windy steppe, Astana's continental climate is hot in summer and cold in winter. En route make a special stop at Astana Reservoir to enjoy an arranged BBQ lunch and optional swimming there.
Embark on a city tour of Astana. Visit the old town on the right bank of the Ishim River with its soaring Pyramid of Peace, the modern governmental quarter across the river, the Nur-Astana Mosque, Baiterek Tower and the Oceanarium.
Day 28: Thursday, June 30
Astana / Petropavlovsk
(589 km / 368 miles)
Depart Astana, driving today to Petropavlovsk and arriving late this afternoon. Lying on the Ishim River on the vast steppe, Petropavlovsk is a border town with Russia, and the capital of the North Kazakhstan oblast. Its main street is a pedestrian zone lined with shops and parks
Day 29: Friday, July 1
Petropavlovsk / Kurgan
(268 km / 168 miles)
From Petropavlovsk, cross the Kazakhstan/Russia border at Beloe check-point, and drive on to Kurgan. A lot of time and much patience is required at this and all border crossings in general. Do not expect things to move quickly, and be ready to "hurry up and wait." Packed lunch is provided today. Most of the support vehicles will be changed at the border crossing; the rest at the city of Kurgan.
Founded in 1553, Kurgan is one of the oldest settlements in Siberia. Its name comes from the Russian word for the mounds found all over Siberia, thought to be burial sites from a pre-Scythian civilization. Enjoy a special "Welcome to Russia" dinner at the hotel.