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'Today Siberia is a vast region of bustling metropolises and magnificent landscapes'

The most perfect summer I have known

By 0 and 0 and 0
09 August 2013


'Where Russians prefer to use brute force to plough through people, Kiwi players use their brains; and with a Kiwi couch we couldn’t lose'. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

This summer began a little late; the weather was unsure whether it would install summer at all; it began in stops and starts with intermittent rain showers.

As the summer has been in limbo for a while, the mosquitos also got confused and forgot to be born. Hooray! This is now my third Siberian summer; with the perfect temperature and lack of miniature vampires sucking on my neck it is without doubt one of the best. 

Who would have thought the perfect summer would in fact exist in Siberia, of all places? It all started when I invested in a new pair of trousers: creamy white slacks, the kind that Michael Palin used to use when he was travelling the globe for those famous BBC documentaries.

I reasoned that if I bought a pair of Michael Palin trousers my life would become even more interesting; and guess what, it worked! (So I bought an extra pair a week later).

Since I started wearing the magic Palin trousers I have loosed up a bit. Where I was once afraid to try new things I’m now fearlessly having a bash at everything. For instance, though I am a born and bred Welshman I had in fact never seen a live rugby match.

It was something to do with my inhibitions I think; that and not wanting to get involved with commercial enjoyment type events. Bit immature of me, and horribly foolish. After a lesson in one of my new schools recently, I was approached by a native Siberian teacher, who I shall refer to as Miss R (R for rugby/Russia). 

When she invited me to a local rugby match I was in two minds about going, having always shunned that kind of experience, but my magic Palin trousers just wouldn’t let me refuse. So just a few days later, Miss R led me to a rugby stadium where one of our local teams Krasniy Yar were going to play Fili of Moscow. Although the stadium wasn’t quite packed out, the air was charged. The crowd were electric. 

rugby Krasnoyarsk summer 2013

rugby Krasnoyarsk summer 2013

'Shame really that I wasted so many years in Wales avoiding the rugby, and all the fun it brings'. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Before coming to Siberia I wouldn’t have imagined Siberian folk getting all charged-up for a game of rugby, but there we were, or there I was even, surrounded by chanting Siberians who couldn’t wait for the game to begin. It was great. 

In our team there were a handful of New Zealanders, one of which I recognised because he sometimes brought his kid to the Kindie where I work. I was a little worried for him as he’s not a big guy, and from my seat he looked even smaller, like a little match stick man. The Moscow team however looked gigantic up close and from afar. Still, Moscow’s Fili were no match for Krasniy Yar. Miss R told me that she knew the Kiwi players quite well and was reasonably informed about the difference in play in Russia.

Where Russians prefer to use brute force to plough through people, Kiwi players use their brains; and with a Kiwi couch we couldn’t lose. She was right. The score was something like ten million zillion to 3. Krasniy Yar were victorious, and to be honest, I felt good about it. I have now committed myself to more games in future.

Shame really that I wasted so many years in Wales avoiding the rugby, and all the fun it brings. Still, I have taken the first step to fixing my stupidity. Onwards and upwards as they say.

Following my exciting and enlightening loss of rugby match virginity, my magic Palin trousers led me to a meeting with one of my wife’s colleagues. Mr K, an internet engineer and quiet genius was planning a day trip up river with his wife to the hydroelectric city of Divnogorsk. This was a trip I had also been planning to take with my wife on my recent birthday; however, as I was drunk as a fish and full of cake (shaped like a tortoise) on that day we had to abandon our original plans.

Mr K didn’t mind us tagging along, and my magic Palin trousers refused to let me miss an opportunity to travel, so we joined them. At first I was a little sceptical. At the dock a shiny new speed boat pulled up five minutes before ours was due. I hoped it was ours, but it sped off again.

Five minutes later a flat, old, Soviet cruiser pulled up with décor and paintwork from the 60’s. Not only that but we had somehow managed to get the only seats without a window. The previous boat didn’t have that problem; it was all brand new glass walls with an open top platform offering a 360 degree view of the luscious Siberian landscape. Regardless of our old boat, the magic Palin trousers drove me onwards. We cruised up river to Divnogorsk.

With an absence of boarding platform the boat rammed itself halfway up a stone bank for us to disembark. That bit was actually quite cool. I’ve never been on a boat that did that before, and you can guarantee the new speed boat wouldn’t have driven half way up a bank.

Our old Soviet boat was actually quite cool, and incredibly well built. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov summer 2013

river Yenisei  summer 2013

'With an absence of boarding platform the boat rammed itself halfway up a stone bank for us to disembark. That bit was actually quite cool!'. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Divnogorsk itself was quite uneventful because there is absolutely nothing to see there - but the scenery is world class. As we sat on a bench with a hastily made picnic thrown together from bit-n-bobs from the local shop, giant eaglehawkfalcon birds swooped down to eat fish from the river.

We were in the wild, only we weren’t. Stupidly, I had forgotten to bring the spork my wife had gifted to me for my birthday, and as there wasn’t any plastic cutlery available in the shop we were forced into buying some barbeque prongs and eating with those.

Still, it added to the sense of adventure. At 5:30 sharp we had to run to the train station, having taken too long feeding ourselves with BBQ prongs.

Our train was already there waiting for us, about to depart. We made it with a few seconds to spare. The train journey was probably the best part of our adventure. As it weaved along the river we caught sight of some amazing views - Eagleharkfalcons circling, people’s crops beautifully lined up behind their dachas, people walking along other railway lines to destinations far away.

I felt free and alive and when I got home I wanted more. Thankfully Krasnoyarsk has a lot more to offer. 

During the summertime Krasnoyarsk has a lot going on. It seems every other day there is some sort of event worth attending.

For a culture vulture like myself, it’s a very real paradise. Take the Green Festival - I’m not sure why it’s called this, possibly because it’s located on Tatysheva Island, otherwise known as the island of rest. As Mr K was also going he offered to take the wife and I along in his car.

When we got there the place was heaving, though thankfully not so busy that we couldn’t park-up. After walking a little way we found ourselves in a huge field full of people in costume, plus belly dancers, air balloons, shashlik makers and huge games. The queue for the giant Angry Birds game with a 20ft slingshot was a bit too long for my liking so I played the hoopla instead and won a ticket to claim a pizza in my favourite Siberian pizza place! Rock on! 

summer in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk 2013

summer in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk 2013

summer in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk 2013

summer in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk 2013

summer in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk 2013

'I think is that Siberia is so alive in summer, so full of energy, that the air is charged with excitement which just makes people want to create, do stuff - and live.' Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

After playing a few other games and mooching round we walked over to another field full of people attempting to walk on stilts. Also in this field was a row of men with giant woks cooking some sort of rice and pork dish. I had my spork in my pocket as well as a wad of roubles, and I was ready to eat.

A large bowl of the pork stuff was only 100 roubles (£2) and was tasty-as. I wanted another bowl but I had to leave room for shashliks, which by the way were just as good. I can’t remember if I followed it with ice-cream or not. Anyway, after meandering our way through clowns, belly dancers and people on stilts we got back to the car and drove to an Indian fair, because my wife wanted to buy spices and Indian scarfs.

This is normal. My wife lived in India for a bit and developed an obsession with Indian food and clothes. Whenever the fair is in town I’m forced by my obligations as a husband to lose a couple of hours smelling spices and looking at scarfs while saying ‘yes that looks nice on you too’.

After a short while of repeating this phrase Mr K offered to take us to a party where there would be even more shashliks and probably a large amount of doubleplusgood Siberian beer; but my wife had to work that night, so even though I could have accepted and gone alone, I didn’t, because I’m nice like that.

As far as days out go it was definitely in the top ten. But then there are a lot of days like this in Krasnoyarsk.

I’m having so many top ten days that it isn’t really a top ten anymore. Anyway, what was the point of writing this again? Ah yes, to dispel the myth that Siberia is a land of permanent snow where bears overlords rule over people. As you can probably see from the above Siberia is like its mythical reputation in that it is a bit magic, but quite different in that it’s also a very modern and vibrant place, with a hundred and one things to see and do.

I can’t remember having this much fun when I lived in Cardiff, and I’m not sure whether that’s because I was a hermit or whether there just wasn’t that much on. Perhaps a bit of both.

Maybe it’s my magic Palin trousers drawing me to adventure, but to be honest I think that’s just an excuse, or some weird culture crutch I’ve developed. 

The answer I think is that Siberia is so alive in summer, so full of energy, that the air is charged with excitement which just makes people want to create, do stuff - and live. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov is a professional poet and writer from Wales - the small but stoic country parked next to England.

After serving as the first poet in residence for Blown, the British magazine for cultural intelligence, Michael emigrated to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to live with his wife and translator Anastasia Semenova.

When he is not growing vegetables at their family dacha in summer, or avoiding the wild Siberian hounds of winter, Michael is a freelance English teacher, editor and contributor to The Siberian Times.

His forthcoming expose on Siberian life ‘Sunbathing in Siberia:'A marriage of east and west in Post-Soviet Russia’ is due for release in spring 2014 and will be available online and in all book stores worth anything.

Comments (3)

ANDY DEAN - thank you man. Cheers! I had no idea it was what you say it is. And now you've said it, I'm gonna ride it again.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
23/08/2013 22:08
Is that... is that a real Zarya type hydrojet airboat?! And you call it "a flat, old Soviet cruiser"? Man, this ship is a legend! It was revolution back in the day, transport that reached to the furthest corners of the Soviet Union where there were bad or no roads but lots of shallow rivers. Before Zarya locals had to use rowboats to get anywhere, since traditional ships couldn't operate in areas without piers. Small towns, villages were cut off from civilization.

But this boat changed everything. As an airboat, it needs no depth, no prepared shore, it just flies anywhere with a draft of just 50 cm, carrying 60-80 passengers at 45 kph. It was a Soviet miracle. First serial craft in the world to use a score of inventions like massive use of fiberglass to lighten the ship, combined keel form, special one-stage hydrojet engine, air grease of its bottom, ability to land anywhere which you've experienced.

Man, you're lucky to ride one.
Andy Dean, Moscow
23/08/2013 07:44
Another fantastic article boy :-)
Lindsey Oliver, Cardiff
20/08/2013 17:00

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