Dostoevsky and Nuclear bombs

Semey Travel Blog

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Statue at the train station

People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

I awoke at 04.00, as our train was due to arrive into Semey shortly afterwards, but it was nearer to 05.00 when we finally trundled into the station. Most hotels wouldn't be admitting guests so early, so we went into the 24 hour cafeteria located on the top floor of the station, to eat some food and play some yahtzee. The dice game had become our number one past time in recent days, and i always find it necessary to have something like this to help pass away the countless hours that you find yourself sitting around whilst travelling.

It was nearly 07.00 when we started checking the hotels around the station to see whether they had a room available, but none of them wanted to check us in until midday at the earliest.

Dostoevsky's House
The station wasn't ideally located anyway, as it was on the Northern edge of the City, so our next idea was to catch a bus into the centre and scout around for somewhere to stay.

A ten minute bus ride dropped us near the Hotel Semey, where they rented rooms by the 24 hours. We didn't fancy checking out so early the following day, so they agreed to put our check in time as 09.00, which suited us far better. 2000 Tenge ($16.65) got us a clean twin room, although the toilet was outside and it cost 100 Tenge ($0.80) per shower. Also, hot water was only available in the morning and evening, but that didn't really cause too much of a problem for us.

Semey had been set up as a frontier town of the Russian Empire in the 19th Century, where convicts had been sent to exile.
Huge Lenin Statue
With hot summers and harsh winters, this outpost was believed to be just about the worst place that the government could think of sending its criminals. In more recent times the city had become notorious due to its location right next door to the Polygon, the Soviet Unions Nuclear testing site. Incredibly just 100km's away, over 460 Nuclear Bombs had been dropped and unsurprisingly this has led to health problems in the region, due to Nuclear fallout.

It would be an easy mistake to therefore think that this must be a pretty dire place to visit, but my first impressions were positive. To begin with the people seemed friendly, as everyone that we asked for directions or assistance, not only helped, but did so with a smile on their face. The weather was pleasantly bright and warm and it was a perfect day for walking around, which also helps in ones opinion of a place.
Wooden Mosque


The streets were lined with beautifully constructed wooden houses and it felt like we were back in the Siberian town of Tomsk, which we passed through on our trip across Russia. There were also plenty of parks and gardens, and the first one that we passed through was Victory Park, which contained a War Memorial and a T34 Soviet tank. A block over there was a fascinating wooden Mosque and old fire station, which we passed on the way to a small restaurant that we had lunch in.

The following day we hoped to go and visit the Polygon at Kurchatov, although we understood that we would require radiation suits, a Geiger counter and a guide to go there. Therefore after lunch we set about finding out the relevant information from the government office. After 90 minutes of been passed from office to office, we had still come no further to receiving any useful information, so ended up giving in.
Mosque


Although i was disappointed at not having the chance to visit the Polygon, there was another major reason to come to Semey and that was to do with the convicts that had been sent there, well, one in particular. During this trip I've managed to read a few excellent books and none more so than the Brothers Karamozov, which was written by Doestoevsky, whilst he was in exile in Semey. I'd also read a couple of his other books and both Julia and I are both fans of is work, so it was a nice treat to visit the house that he had lived and worked in.

The house itself is a beautiful wooden building, which had now been turned into a Museum. We were given a guided tour around by a nice old lady, who seemed to have a real passion for the man and it was quite infectious.
Interesting old architecture
We saw the table and chair where he worked, and also looked at a lot of memorabilia that they had gathered together. It was a nice way to spend a few hours, before heading back onto the streets to have a general look around the town.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped off for a thoroughly revolting hot dog and chips and then managed to get lost and took twice the time to get home that it should have done. After freshening up, we went out to a bar to watch Russia get thrashed 4-1 against Spain, in the European Championships. Thankfully the beer was better than the performance and we also got to eat some tasty shashlik. Back at the hotel we watched the first half of Greece against Sweden in the lobby, with the hotel security guards joining us. However, we didn't manage to stay up for the second half as we were both exhausted, so called it a night around 01.
Wall collage
30.

The next day we checked out and the kind cleaning lady located on our floor let us store our bags in her room, which saved us from having to take them up to the train station and store them there. From the hotel we went to look at some statues of Lenin, Marx and some people i didn't recognise. One statue of Lenin dominated the skyline and really was a sight to behold!

We spent the morning wandering around and looking at the absorbing architecture, including two ornate Mosques. There was also a large statue of Abay in a park near the river, and after seeing this, we walked along the embankment for some time. Eventually we ended up crossing to the Southern side of the City, so as we could go and see the Nuclear Memorial, located at the perimeter of some woodland.
Mosque
The sculpture depicted a large mushroom cloud rising above a woman who was protecting her baby. It was quite sombre to sit there and wonder what families in this region had been put through, and all for what???

Back in the centre of town, we got some lunch from a bakery and sat on a wall listening to some music that was coming from a department store. Julia began to translate the words of one song, which was all about Semey, something about the singers love of the City. I found this quite amusing and sweet at the same time!

After wandering through Victory Park again, we went back to the hotel, collected our bags and headed for the train station. Thankfully we had secured two lower berths for the trip, which was a grueling 21 hours and took us back to Almaty. A talkative woman called Valentina befriended us on the train, and combined with the book i was reading, this helped to pass the time.

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Statue at the train station
Statue at the train station
Dostoevskys House
Dostoevsky's House
Huge Lenin Statue
Huge Lenin Statue
Wooden Mosque
Wooden Mosque
Mosque
Mosque
Interesting old architecture
Interesting old architecture
Wall collage
Wall collage
Mosque
Mosque
Nuclear memorial, symbolising a mu…
Nuclear memorial, symbolising a m…
Fire station
Fire station
Dostoevskys writing table and cha…
Dostoevsky's writing table and ch…
T34 Soviet tank, a reminder of the…
T34 Soviet tank, a reminder of th…
Monument in Victory Park
Monument in Victory Park
Huge Lenin Statue
Huge Lenin Statue
Lenin and Marx sculptures
Lenin and Marx sculptures
Lenin presides over a lot of littl…
Lenin presides over a lot of litt…
Growing canabis under Lenins nose?…
Growing canabis under Lenins nose…
Wooden House
Wooden House
Statue of Abay
Statue of Abay
Fisherman on the Irtysh River
Fisherman on the Irtysh River
Wooden restaurant in the South of …
Wooden restaurant in the South of…
Nuclear Memorial
Nuclear Memorial
Small bird on the roadside
Small bird on the roadside
View down the Irtysh River
View down the Irtysh River
Semey
photo by: Deats