Frank Albo is known to many as "The Dan Brown of Canada". He gained this informal title through his many decades of research, interviews and investigations into the secrets of the Manitoba Legislature. Through his work, he claims that Winnipeg was meant to have a much larger role in Canada – going so far to say that it was to be the "Jerusalem of the New World".
It may sound odd, but there are a lot of strange motifs within the Manitoba Legislature that otherwise wouldn't make sense. These include being the exact dimensions of King Solomon's Temple, having medusas and demons guarding the entrances, and a "black star" of sacrifice beneath the rotunda. Stranger still is that none of these symbols are in the visually similar Saskatchewan Legislature which was constructed about the same time and for the same purpose. For some reason, the Manitoba Legislature was uniquely created in this manner.
Albo's research has not only gotten a lot of attention in Canada, but international attention too. One of these people was His Excellency Konstantin Zhigalov, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan. While visiting Winnipeg in 2014, Zhigalov attended Albo's tour. After it concluded, Zhigalov pulled Albo aside and invited him to the capital of Kazakhstan. The request was peculiar, but the moment Albo arrived, he knew exactly why he was chosen.
Before I go any further, I want to be honest with you. Prior to reading Albo's book Astana: Architecture, Myth and Destiny, I couldn't place Kazakhstan on a map. The only thing I knew about the country is that Borat originated from there, and that it was somewhere near Afghanistan.
For those like me who can't place the country, Kazakhstan is directly south of Russia. Its western border is close to Ukraine, and its eastern border touches Mongolia. The south part of Kazakhstan is bordered by the Caspian Sea, the remains of the Aral Sea, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.
Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1998, with the previous capital being Almaty, a city on the other side of the country. Moving the capital to Astana would be comparable to moving the capital of Canada from Ottawa to Regina. The change shook the nation, but also started it on a path it was always destined to go.
For a hundred millennium Kazakhstan was the cross-roads of the world. It was a mix of both European philosophy, Islamic mythology and East Asian tradition. Many religions, cultures, beliefs and languages mixed in Kazakhstan. Some of these religions, like Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam the West knows well; others like Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Tengrianism are very foreign. Each belief, each stanza, each scripture, each lesson and each blessing fed themselves into a sea of cultures, making Kazakhstan one of the first multicultural countries in the world.
Kazakhstan has also always stayed a secret, even in today's world of mass tourism and global transportation. Ancient Greeks believed Kazakhstan was protected by fierce Amazon warriors, while others believed the hinterlands were guarded by centaurs and one-eyed tribesman. Some even believed the rivers of Kazakhstan flowed with gold, not water. The country wasn't explored by Alexander the Great or Marco Polo, and for centuries it was a mystery.
Kazakh culture is best described as a mix between Mongolian and Cree First Nations. They worshipped the Eternal Blue Sky, or Tengri, and have yurts that were built very similar to Cree tipis. Their respect for the land, soil and nature is foreign in the West, but something paramount to their very existence. The Kazakhstani also believe that their country, and The Great Steppe, is the closest point on the planet between Earth and Heaven. The beauty of the country, from the vast forests, the waterfalls, the canyons and gorges, are all too ethereal to be of this world.
But all this changed with the rise of the Soviet Union.
Much like how the Soviets captured, conquered and desecrated Eastern European culture, they trampled on and destroyed Kazakh culture too. Kazakhstan was also the site of over 450 Soviet nuclear tests, which irradiated and burned large swaths of the pristine country. With what areas weren't being nuked, they were being used for the gulags – Soviet concentration camps where people frequently "disappeared". Many Kazakhstani people watched loved ones fall into the jaws of the gulags, only to never see them again. A country that once thrived on diversity, mysticism, religion, nature and life was lost, burned, tortured, and murdered. Even the great Aral Sea, which once nourished much of the country, was dried up by the Soviets. The drying of the Aral Sea is considered "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters", and still plagues the region to this day. If there was an ultimate Soviet sin to the people of Kazakhstan, this was it.
But mysticism transcends all these problems, and the shadow of the Soviet Union allowed many Kazakh prophecies to take shape.
One of these is the legend of Korkyt Ata, a ninth-century lyricist and composer. Ata spent his life searching for the Earth's axis mundi, also known as the pillar or gateway that connects Earth to Heaven. He travelled the known world for decades to find it but was fruitless. He settled down by the Syr Darya River in Kazakhstan where he would eventually die from a snakebite. He never found the axis mundi, but he knew he was close.
A millennium later, the Soviets moved into the country and established the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world's first and largest operational space facility. It was here that Sputnik was launched in 1957, and where rockets are still launched today. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is only a few kilometres away from the final resting place of Korkyt Ata.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a void appeared throughout the former Soviet states. Some of these countries fell into war, others fell into poverty and some fell into extremist religion. What was left of Kazakhstan refused to crumble.
This decision was made by "the hero" of Kazakhstan, former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He believed Kazakhstan could shape the new world, and to do so was to cast all Soviet shackles aside. His first order of business was to move the capital city from Almaty to the city of Akmola, a patch of land that was once used as the gulags for Soviet traitors. He then renamed Akmola to Astana, and a new era began.
Nazarbayev had a vision for Astana, and that was to create a utopia – something that is, by the definition of the word, an impossible task. Astana was to be created with three purposes in mind: religious tolerance, nuclear disbarment and planetary sustainability. These were all three things Astana, and Kazakhstan, knew far too well.
But Astana is known for something else too – and that's why Zhigalov invited Albo to Astana to begin with. Nazarbayev had a vision when he created Astana, and the architectural layout of the city is something very peculiar. With inspiration drawn from the late Nineteenth Century's "City Beautiful Movement", Nazarbayev went to great lengths to make Astana a mix of all the major cities of the world – while keeping it Kazakhstani. Plazas are laid out like Washington DC, domes were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, trees were constructed like Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, skyscrapers like Dubai were completed and in the middle of it all was a giant pyramid, just like in Giza.
The pyramid, called the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, hosts the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions every three years. This congress discusses how all religions can live in harmony. To most people this would seem like a great idea, especially after the rise of radical Islam in recent years. To others, this is very concerning, as it leans too close to comfort for the beginning of a one-world religion and the New World Order.
But Albo knew all this the moment he arrived in Astana. The city is covered in Freemason symbols. From arches and columns, streets angles and skyline symmetry, even the way buildings are laid out have the touch of Freemasonry on them. Freemasons believe that architecture is the language of the divine, and that shapes are their letters. Thankfully, Albo can speak this language fluently.
Astana's purpose is to become a utopia unlike what the world has ever seen, and its influence is already being felt across the globe. In a planet gripped with fear of terrorism, nuclear holocaust and climate change, Astana provides that answers that have always been waiting for us to discover.
… and you can discover it too.
Albo's book, Astana: Architecture, Myth and Destiny, holds the key to a $30,000 all-inclusive trip to Astana. If you can solve "The Astana Challenge", you can travel to this utopian city yourself, and see the future of mankind in the making.
I wish I could give you a hint on how to solve the puzzle, but Albo hasn't told me anything. All he said was that right before printing the book, they had to make some major layout changes. Since all the pages have an inscription on them – in a language that I don't know, and I think Albo created – I will assume that that is part of the key. I also think the Greek inscription at the beginning has something to do with it too.
I enjoyed reading Albo's book, but for anybody interested in taking on the challenge, just keep in mind that Albo is a genius, and this book is the zenith of his work. It dives deep into philosophy, mythology, mysticism and architecture. Albo has a vast knowledge of this subject, and it shows. You will want to bring a companion dictionary with you since Albo is not afraid to remind you he has a PhD in history of architecture and is a professor of history. His lexicon may be vast, but then again, so are the ideas of a perfect world.
Do you think you could solve the challenge? Or would you just be interested in going to Astana yourself? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank-you to Frank Albo for letting me use his photos from his trip to Astana.
For anybody who researches Astana and is confused, the city was renamed to Nur-Sultan in 2019 after Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down. The name "Nur-Sultan" was chosen in his honour.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
The past few weeks have been really busy for me, with a lot more time at the office and a lot less time travelling. Thankfully, the weekend is just around the corner and with it comes the possibility of a two day vacation. Having traveled to Lac La Ronge earlier this month, I've been thinking more and more about these short trips and how rejuvenating they can be.
Unfortunately, I haven't done as much travelling around Saskatchewan as I'd like, so I wasn't sure what the best places to visit were. There were of course the obvious choices such as Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, but I wanted someplace remote, yet somewhat close. For this project I approached some of my fellow travel bloggers and I got some ideas of what to go do and see for a weekend. I went through their ideas and came up with this short list of 5 weekend destinations in Saskatchewan.
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They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.