Friday, May 27, 2011

Staying in Semey

During Soviet times, the town of Semeypalatinsk was close to a place called the Polygon, where the USSR tested some 460 nuclear bombs. Today as I write to you from the town now known as Semey, nuclear weapons are banned from Kazakhstan. The town is an interesting little place. I am staying in a Soviet style hotel, cheap but nice.  I have BBC World which is always a good thing, although I don't really care so much that Barack Obama met the Queen and Miss Kate, which they talked about for two days.
Semey-ites are proud of the above bridge, calling it their answer to the golden gate bridge. I am noticing a very annoying smudge on my lens now that started in Vietnam but appears to be getting worse. Maybe it's a crack. Not too happy about that! Semey is full of parks, and is a pretty quiet place all told. 

Kazakh in chain mail, Abay Museum.
Today I visited the Museum of Fine Arts. My guidebook does not do it justice! It is a large museum with 21 rooms of paintings from Russia, Kazakhstan, Semey and elsewhere. It also proudly displays a Rembrandt etching. It costs a dollar to get in, and a couple more for a tour in English. Bravo!
Then there was the Abay museum - Abay is Kazakhstan's greatest poet, and pretty much their number one cultural hero. The museum was interesting but lacked any information in English, and I followed the tour in Russian but understood little. There were some sections on life in 19th century and other people such as Abay's biographers, and in one room they set up a tradition Kazakh tent - a yurt.

Park in Central Semey.
Yesterday I visited a home where one of my favourite writers, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, lived for a two and a half years 1857-1859. It was small, but interesting. Another guide was really helpful - I made some new friends here who have really helped me by translating at times and showing me round a bit!

Statues of Lenin in another Semey Park.
Also behind my hotel is a park full of Soviet statues - Stalin, Marx, but mostly Lenin. Maybe ten Lenins in total. Something about Eastern Europe dictates that grass is rarely cut, and with the long grass and the old apartment buildings it made for an eerie scene, especially as some of Lenin's statues were minuses their noses! The wind today was seriously fierce! It's Spring with a vengeance at the moment, dust and spores are floating around everywhere. 
Tomorrow a brief stop in Pavlodar to break my journey to the Kazakh capital, Astana. Watch this space!

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