Privet KazaniApril 5, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C
The last few days have been busy! From an 11 hour train journey to walking 14.6 miles in one day (yes you read that right). Let's get caught up.
Overnight train (Moscow - Kazan)
Well overnight trains in foreign countries seem to be a bit like riding a bike for me. I haven't been on one in almost four years but as soon as I stepped on board it all felt very familiar. Let's rewind a little first. I bought all of my train tickets online before I left the U.K. In the past I have bought tickets at the station but with the language barrier and strict schedule I have to keep to with regards to my visa I thought it would be easier to prebook this time, especially since I discovered that the Russian Railways website is now in English and does not appear to charge a commission fee (unlike some tourist websites). Anyway, even though I had bought them from the official website and followed the instructions to print my tickets at home (much like in the U.K. really) I was a little nervous before I got on the train, hoping that I hadn't somehow booked a wrong train or needed to exchange my printed boarding pass for an official ticket at the station. I needn't have worried though as the train conductor checked my ticket, kindly pointed to my seat number and then the train, and let me board. The trains in Eastern Europe all seem to be very similar. I decided to travel third class throughout my time in Russia as this seemed to be the cheapest and safest option. Third class carriages are all open plan with subsections of two bunk beds coming off an isle with an additional bunk bed on the opposite side running along the length of the train. I didn't take a picture of the set up so you can google "platzcart" to get a better idea. This might not be everyone's cup of tea for a 11 hour train journey but I have found that I would rather be in an open plan carriage than in second class when its a room with four bunks, which means you could potentially be confined to a room with some undesirable people. Anyway, onto the train journey itself. The train was about half full, and in my little section of six beds there was only me and one other older Russian gentleman. He tried to start a conversation but I had to tell him using my google translate app (seriously the best travel app, along with Maps.Me that's been invented) that I couldn't speak Russian (I have since learnt hour to actually say this phrase as I need it practically every hour) and that I was sorry. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say "oh well". Russian trains are very sociable experiences so I am actually sorry to that man for being allocated the seat/bed next to me as he then had no one to talk to for the next few hours. We did actually help each other out with getting accustomed to the train, with bedding and blankets etc., hand gestures and pointing is a universal language! As it was an overnight train I slept most of the way, waking up only two hours before we were due to arrive to see miles and miles of snowy fields and forests, just what you picture when you imagine Russian countryside. I even spied some people ice fishing as we got closer to Kazan. The train arrived bang on schedule (not like back home!) and I then made the short journey on foot to my hostel.
Day 1 in Kazan (a.k.a the day I walked 32,000 steps)
When I got to the hostel I found a map of the city and had a look at what there was to do. I asked the guy working how to get to the Temple of All Religions (one of the main reasons I chose to stop at Kazan) and he looked at me apologetically and said that it was quite far out of the city and that you could maybe get a bus there but he wasn't sure. He also said that it wasn't finished and the guy who built it has since died so its just falling apart. I was too tired after my journey to contemplate public transport to a building that may not even look like the picture I had seen. So what now? I looked at the map of the city and saw that there were a few self guided walking tours marked out on the map that covered much of the city. So I got myself together, picked the closest rout on the map and off I went. I got slightly lost on the first route as I missed a turning, after which point I realised I needed to use my Maps.Me app as well as the tour map as it wasn't the most accurate. The first route took me to a suburb of the city up on a hill. The only thing of note was Lenin's House museum, which I decided against visiting. The first route only took about 40 minutes, so I decided to start the next one. The second route took me around some of the university buildings in the city and through some really peaceful parks. Speaking of universities. Kazan is definitely a student city. You could be walking around any university city at home. All the students are so fashionable here I felt like I was walking through multiple Instagram fashion posts. Funnily enough at one point I did actually stumble across a very hipster looking photoshoot involving a girl walking across a road pretending to be on the phone. Back to route 2. This route took me to the north of the city to the river bank, where I once again saw people ice fishing! This route also nicely ran into Route 3 and so I decided to push on. It was so nice just walking around. It is very peaceful here, none of the hustle and bustle and masses of people and traffic of Moscow. I walked along the riverbank to the edge of Kazan's Kremlin and looped back to the city. I was now quite hungry and tired so stopped at a vegan street food bar that I had found on the happycow.net and had a falafel burger and fruit smoothie. Definitely got my five a day there! As there were five walking routes in the city, and I had already done three, I decided to soldier on and do the final two. The penultimate route took me back to the kremlin, which is actually a UNESCO world heritage site, where you can walk around inside for free (unlike in Moscow). The main sites in here are the Annunciation Cathedral and Kul Sharif Mosque, which highlight the fact that Kazan is the most diverse cities in Russia. The final walking route took my to the south of city centre to the old Tatar district of the city. Kazan is actually the capital of the Tatarstan region or Russia. This small area of the city is made up of very colourfully painted wooden buildings along a pedestrian street with two mosques, one at either end, and was probably one of my favourite places in the city. By this point I have walked 14 miles (how I do not know) so decided to stop for an early dinner at a conveniently located vegan café (it's almost like I planned that!). The café was occupied and run by yet more students and had a really nice atmosphere, and delicious food. After my dinner I headed back to the hostel for a much needed shower and an early night (after catching up with this weeks episode of Marcella).
Today I decided to make the trip out to see the unfinished temple. After all I had come all this way to see it! After speaking to the girl working at the hostel she said I could get bus number 2 from the central square and it would take me right there. I located the bus, got on and showed the stern looking ticket lady the name of the temple on my phone, she nodded and I paid her 25 rubles (about 30p) and got comfortable. I tracked my journey on my phone and after 20 minutes arrived at the temple which was conveniently located at the side of the road next to the bus stop. Well it was definitely colourful, but also definitely unfinished. Imagine the Sagarda Familai in Barcelona, but if it was coloured in using the paint function of al old PC. I walked around the outside of the building for 20 minutes taking pictures from every possible angle (I had to get my 30p worth!). I even managed to ask a lady who was walking around with her daughter to take a picture of me too. After exhausting all my photo options I walked back to the bus stop, waited for about 3 minutes and got on the trusted number 2 bus back to the city. As I got on I spied stern ticket lady (I had literally caught the same bus the whole way!) and was greeted by a smile this time, as if to say "oh hello random foreign girl, you made it ok". Back in the city centre I decided to visit a little mock Tatar village that the girl at the hostel had recommended. Unfortunately it wasn't much to look at, like a really naff looking version of any Christmas market back home, except instead of stalls its little buildings filled with restaurants. After that I walked across to the street to the Ekiyat Puppet Theatre, one of the oldest in Russia, and took some pictures outside (unfortunately I had just missed todays performance). I then headed back to the city and went to the Museum of Happy Childhood, a kitsch museum filled with all Soviet era toys, games and clothing. Quite an eclectic mix of objects. I even spied a sega mega drive and the Apple 2 PC. To finish off my day I went back to my trusted vegan street café and had a delicious Tofu salad wrap and a green smoothie. Then it was back to the hostel to pack up and get ready to head to the station again, for my second overnight train.
So there you have my 48hours in the lovely Kazan. Next stop Yekaterinburg!
Until next time