Dostoevsky and Nuclear bombs
Semey Travel Blog› entry 342 of 658 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.