Transsiberian Part 5 - Kazan
Despite sounding like something a comic book character would say, Kazan is also a town! It is one of the major towns of Tatarstan which has had an interesting relationship with Russia over the years. Despite their bid for independence they are still part of the Russian Federation. It's allegedly a Muslim part of Russia, with crescent moons replacing slanty triple crosses (Yo dawg! I heard you like praying, so I put a cross on your cross...)
The sleeper train from Moscow is a little easier this time. I've got my eye mask and ear plugs, so things go a little smoother. We share our cabin with a Russian man who seems pleasant enough but we make no conversation, as is the custom it seems. The carriage has a few more of the things you'd expect: a samovar (hot water boiler), a large provodnitsa cabin and some brutal looking toilets.
In the morning, we finally get to see some real snow! In St Petersburg and Moscow there were a few mounds of snow lying about here and there but finally, we get to see the real deal! We've both packed thermal boots which make your feet sweat a lot if it's too warm. I was beginning to think they'd be a constant pain. Not now though. I'm glad to the extra warmth as we depart the train for the hotel. Fortunately, it's really nearby.
We've begun to develop a bit of a routine. Dump the bags, unpack the electrical gadgets with one person setting up the charging whilst the other goes for a shower, then a swap. I suspect this is the curse of the modern tourist; power and internet. Even on the train, we spotted plenty of locals leaving their phones on charge in the corridors. Time enough to change clothes and head back out.
Kazan is a smaller city than either Moscow or St Petersburg but it's certainly not tiny! There are quite a few new buildings on the outskirts of the town, with an ancient Kremlin nestled on a hill in the historic heart. The lakes are frozen over, and people appear to be walking about on it, fishing I suspect. Perched on top of the hill, inside the Kremlin is an impressive mosque; the first we've seen on this trip and the only clue so far to Kazan's slightly different culture.
The Kremlin itself offers some wonderful views of the town. Wandering around Kazan, you get the feeling that it's small enough to take it all in easily, but a big enough place to have a lot going on. It's a welcome change to the faster pace of Moscow. Kazan doesn't seem short of money either. I'm told it's in prime oil territory so perhaps thats why the station looks new and impressive, the roads well kept, etc. There are large, man-made lakes and canals in Kazan, all frozen over, no doubt causing concern for the local ducks!
We visit the Museum of Soviet Life, which is essentially a couple of rooms housing a mad-man's collection of Soviet era tat! It's glorious! There is a gaggle of teenagers taking photos, wearing hats and generally messing around in that way teenagers all over the world do! I end up buying tons of Soviet Space pin badges; things I've been after for most of the trip! I'm pushed towards buying one of the many 1980's Olympic badges. I'm not surprised really! I get the feeling an awful lot were made and now they can't be gotten rid of!
It's beginning to get knackering, this tourist lark! This trip is like backpacking in the sense that we have large backpacks and we are staying in budget places (mostly) and trying not to eat in the most expensive places but unlike backpacking, we tend to be either in prebooked hotels that still cost more than a hostel, or on the train so there is less need to hang around, therefore we end up doing more. It's one of these differences that being older and having a job brings. There is a need to stop and de-compress, and Kazan seems a good place for that.
I have my first concerns over the internet whilst we recuperate in the hotel. My VPN isn't working anymore. After bouncing through the London Hackspace's public machine, I manage t find out that my server is fine. Something is clearly wrong with the wifi here. Can't tell if I've been blacklisted but the routing to my box is sorted out by Jump, who I'm told aren't great at routing so perhaps it's that? Hard to say. Never-mind though. Thanks to Putty and a little SOCKS Proxy, I can still have a reasonably secure connection to upload photos and such.
We go for a fancy dinner in town, and I do my best to get all the cliches in. Caviar (a small amount of the red kind) with other fish treats, beef stroganoff and Georgian wine (very cheeky and almost port like)! I'm big into trying all the new foods when I'm away somewhere and so far I've been quite happy with the things we've tried. Im told tipping it not something that is done in Russia (though I tend to do it everywhere else), but we do the usual British thing and try and be polite.
Kazan is not so different in terms of it's cultural makeup. The keen eyed tourist will notice that all the signs are bilingual - Tatar being the second one you'll see. Aside from that, just like Moscow and St Petersburg, it's a very white and single race place. You begin to see a few more people from central asia around but basically, Kazan seems to be a typical, mid-size Russian city.
We leave Kazan at 5am on the train to Yekaterinburg. Its blummin' early but I'm excited as this is the first daytime train we've taken and it's a long ride!