Sunday Spotlight – Semey (Kazakhstan)
Today’s Spotlight is shone on the northern city in Kazakhstan of Semey. I ventured there a few years ago now (really I can’t believe it’s been SIX years! Time is going too fast I tells ya!) as the first city I went to bar Almaty. I took the overnight train, which was quite a cool journey, to a town that is as much Russian as it is Kazakh.
What’s the main attraction then in this town? Well actually, it’s not in town but out of town, if you’re talking about the most famous thing about the region. The Semipalatinsk Test Site is perhaps the most famous, and definitely the most INfamous thing about the region. What were they testing there? Nuclear bombs.
Yep, it used to be a Soviet Nuclear test site back in the day, and it’s one reason sometimes the Kazakhs don’t get along perfectly with their neighbours to the north today, although they are still on reasonable terms as Kazakhstan’s whole economy is reliant on Russia to by it’s gas and minerals.
So, I believe it takes a bit of organising and could be considered a little contensious whether you should visit the site, but trips can be organised. However, this was one thing I decided against.
Instead I busied myself around the town for a few days. And I found there were a few things worth seeing. And also – I met a group of uni students who drove me around for a bit too. Which was really nice. I got to see the new bridge there which was a decent view, and without my new friends I probably wouldn’t have seen that.
There was a small but interesting park behind my hotel which had a number of busts and heads from statues of Soviet leaders, in particular and with more than the rest put together was Lenin. Free and worth a look for sure.
The Dostoyevsky Museum was his house when exiled to Semey, and has been presented as it was (to some degree) when he lived there. The staff are very friendly and helpful, but didn’t speak any English.
There was a very nice orthodox church too that wasn’t so close to the centre I thought worth visiting – my new friends took me there.
The other place they took me was to the Poet Abay’s museum. This was really interesting, and we even got to wear special blue booties over our shoes to keep the floor clean! Inside there were examples of his work and more. I was excited about the yurt inside and the man dressed in some sort of traditional armour/dress.
The Nevzorov Fine Arts Museum was also worth a visit I found. They didn’t seem to be seeing many visitors at the time and I had a wonderful guide who I chatted to for ages. There really was a surprising amount of classical art (and Kazakh) to see in there!
So Semey. It’s not a town many people have heard of, but I was glad I went there. I saw some interesting things and I met a number of interesting people, and at the same time I don’t recall seeing another western tourist there the whole time I visited. So, if you’re interested in Kazakhstan, this city might also interest you!
Thanks for reading, and…. May the Journey Never End!!