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Postcard from... Astana


Among the futuristic structures that sprout from the billiard-table flat steppes of Astana, Kazakhstan’s readymade capital, stands Norman Foster’s glass and steel Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre – otherwise known as the world’s largest tent.

Starting from the tapered 500ft summit, the so-called Royal Marquee houses an artificial beach and heated pool – a welcome refuge for the Astana bourgeoisie when the winter temperature outside plummets to minus 40C.

On lower floors, among plastic dinosaurs and artificial palms, shoppers can stock up on the usual upmarket brands that are must-haves for the globalised new rich. It’s a mall you could find anywhere – from Shanghai to Albuquerque.

For more of a Kazakh experience, head to the basement. The supermarket there is geared overwhelmingly to local tastes. Horsemeat sausage heads the limited butchery range, while shelves of local vodka, brandy and other assorted hooch extend as far as the eye can see. Reflecting a local cuisine in which crisps appear to be classed as a vegetable, pickles predominate.

One resident expat recently got excited when he spotted a solitary avocado pear. But he baulked at a price tag that worked out at the equivalent of £12.