Kazan to Moscow
17 June 2019
Saturday 15 June
No rush to get up this morning, particularly, as the train would not reach our next stop, Kazan, until 11.30 am. So we began to plan packing, as the train would arrive in Moscow at 7.15am tomorrow, Sunday, and after a long day in Kazan we wouldn't want to have to pack before going to bed! We were just so happy to have baggage to pack, after the fright of losing it for the first week. The net result of that was lots of clothes not worn at all, and the few that we had in our backpacks or on our backs worn to death. Our fellow passengers had commented favourably when we had finally got hold of our cases again and managed to appear in something different!
Our guide for Kazan was a local woman, who took us straight to the old part of the city, apologising on the way for the disruption to travel caused by every road crew in th region doing road repairs in the city prior to some big upcoming event. We left the bus, in bright pleasant sunshine, which carried on all day, and walked past first a Jewish school where pupils were in the playground rehearsing moves for a musical. Then she told us about how muslims in the city at first did not have a mosque, and had to be a bit inventive, so they got a small house with a four- sided roof and cut the top slice off it, raised it up with a table underneath so the muezzin could stand up high and call the faithful to prayer. When mosques were subsequently built in Kazan for the large Muslim population, the design echoed that early experience, in that the minaret rises from the middle of the building, rather than at the side as in other countries. As we walked by the muezzin's call took us both back to memories of sailing holidays in Turkey.
She then took us to see a neighbouring orthodox church, and pointed out the catholic church. Kazan is a city where all faiths and none cohabit in harmony.
Back in the bus we headed for a sort of mini disneyland complex, or tourist trap, where in a large marquee a local folk group played sang and danced for us, and taught us some words of the local Tatar language. Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan, one of Russia's many component parts, or 'local districts', first won by Ivan the Terrible only at the third attempt!
After the music we had a nerve-wracking game of musical chairs where if the music stopped you had to say a Tatar word. I managed to repeat 'thankyou' when it was my turn, but don't ask me to tell you what that was, I've forgotten it now!
We had been aware of the sounds of small aircraft all morning, and our guide explained that it was due to the Red Bull Air Races which were being held in the city that very day. Wow, said I and all the other nerds on the bus, as we headed for our lunch stop on a converted boat in the lake, a journey which took us past the harbour, in which pairs of large red and white bollards were the course the small fast planes had to dive through, waggling their wings and roaring their engines, while chucking out loads of smoke. I couldn't imagine anything more fun to watch, and we tried to sneak glimpses as the bus drove along, taking blurry photos which didn't come out.
Lunch on the converted boat restaurant consisted of the obligatory salad starter, chicken noodle soup, then little triangular pastries containing potatoes and vegetables and meat. A cornish pasty, really. The chef appeared and demonstrated how to make your own noodles, then how to maake your own triangular pasties. Volunteers wre asked for and Louise and Stephen, two of our group, volunteered and made a reasonable job of copying the chef.
Then we were off to the kremlin. This threw us a bit, as we associate that only with Moscow. We were told that it means fortress in Russian, so that expalins it. The fortress in Kazan was impressive, strong walls and important buildings inside, relating to the time of Ivan the Terrible and before. But from its ramparts there was a great view of the air race, so we took some time out for that. Our guide explained that as it was the weekend people would usually get out of the city for their leisure time, but this was different, there were crowds everywhere, enjoying the show, enjoying the sunshine, having a good time. Lots of young people, young families with babies and toddlers, a real good day out. The atmosphere in this city is very positive, and it is no surprise at the end of our trip when we were asked which was your favourite city that we visitd, we all replied Kazan.
Back to the train for our last dinner on board.
Sunday 16th June
Up early for breakfast at six, left the train at 7.15, and piled into our bus with Irina, our Moscow guide. We left our big bags on the train, assured that they would be taken to our hotel and placed in our rooms, no problem. We could be forgiven for being doubtful, but hey ho, no choice. We took our backpacks and other stuff with us as we had our tour bus to park them on for the day. A fond farewell to Yelizaveta, our great cabin attndant, who had kept us going with tea and coffee and laundry and tlc for two weeks.
Our guide told us we would start with a drive around the city, of a mere 12 and a half million people, and off we went, roaring around the kind of empty streets you would find in sny city st 7.30 in the morning on a Sunday!
First stop was for a washroom. This was Irinaspeak for the loo. Then another stop for a walk in the park to a strange little string of sculptures of ducks, gifted by Barbara Bush to the children of Russia, around the time that the soviet era ended.
Back in the bus, off to Moscow University and a panoramic viewpoint. At this point we realised that we were not alone. Hundreds of Chinese tourists had also got up early and were milling around the same area. We dutifully took photos of the enormous Stalin-era building, but the highlight of that stop was spotting our first foreign vehicle, an Italian round the world landrover campervan number. How did he get a visa for that, Ju wanted to know. You have to have an invitation from someone in Russia before a visa can be issued. Who knows?
Our next item was a tour of the underground, so we left the bus and did a long tour, stopping at many stations to admire the art. Irina explained that the best architects were invited to design each station, and they are all different. I noticed a big difference since I was here in 2006. All the signage is now in English as well as Russian, so it is easier for tourists to navigate. This was a spinoff effect of the World Cup last year.
Out of the metro and into a Ukrainian restaurant for lunch.
In the afternoon we went to the Kremlin, and that involved the usual metal detector security routine now just about everywhere, so there was a queue with very loud Chinese people jostling us as though we weren't there. I got quite annoyed and jostled back. Not good.
The kremlin is full of churches and cathedrals, tombs of czars and the odd building like the headquarters of the communist party, the home of the president, although he actually lives in the country and helicopters in to work. We saw his helipad.
Then on to Red Square, and we finally made it to the hotel, where we had been upgraded to a bigger room. Lovely.
Strange dinner at a restaurant and the end of the tour marked by a big hug to Vera, the tour organiser, for all she had done for us, our upgrade, the rescue of our luggage, and for making the whole experience so pleasurable and hassle-free.
The image is the fantastic sculpture beside the Moscow river in honour of Peter the Great.