Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Kazan You See Me?

September 29, 2008
by Stuart
12 Comments
3,702 views

The kremlin viewed from the bridge over the Kazanka River.

The kremlin viewed from the bridge over the Kazanka River.

We just spent four days in Kazan – which was about three to many. You can easily see the main sights in one day but since we needed to relax somewhere for a bit – and wait for space on the train – we decided to make Kazan a rest stop. The train from Nizhny Novgorod dropped us off at 6am. It was around 42 degrees.

To get to the hostel, we had to take a bus from the train station then follow cryptic directions like “From that bus stop you have to pass the road, walk aside 3 high houses, then go between them, and you will find a small marketplace.” We actually had to cross the road, walk by a few stores, then turn left down a old road, then make about four more turns to get to the marketplace. The only way we found the hostel was because some people saw us walking around with suitcases and guidebooks and figured we weren’t from around here and offered to help. The first person passed us on to someone else who lived in the same building as the hostel. She led us back through a park, and dirt path and opened a fence leading us to the right apartment complex. It was Soviet housing at it’s finest.

The hostel turned out to be some rooms in someone’s apartment. Now, I give the girl mad props for starting a hostel – she wanted more people to visit Kazan and knew that lots of travelers look to stay in hostels. She also likes talking with travelers because they are interesting. But I think there might also be a vicarious reason for this – an overnight train to Moscow is the longest trip she has ever taken. Anyway, the place was a mess. The kind of place where you take a shower then want to take a shower somewhere else to get clean from that last shower. But we stayed. It’s funny what you’ll put up with for internet access in your room.

SS Peter & Paul Cathedral

SS Peter & Paul Cathedral

I love all the little cars over here.

Kazan turned out to be a pretty big city – we could see all the apartment complexes around the outskirts of town during our bus rides from the hostel to the city and back. But even on Friday and Saturday nights the promenade downtown was vacant. We did see lots of people at the mall and the market, but when we were just wandering the streets… no one.

Tinas favorite restaurant.

Tina's favorite restaurant.

People saw us, however, and couldn’t stop staring. Everywhere we went people watched us. We went to a pizza place and while we ate the people behind the counter just sat there watching us. I would stare back at them until they turned away. One woman was looking our reflection in the mirror behind the counter!

Maybe because no tourists come here, they find us “interesting” or suspect. When we would go into a store someone would holler and then either the security guard or another employee would come near us and follow us around. We went to a small grocery store by the hostel every night and it was the same thing. People hollered and the guard came over to watch us.

An asle from the Central Market.

An aisle from the Central Market.

Dried fruit. We didnt try any - some vendors had birds playing in the fruit.

Dried fruit. We didn't try any - some vendors had birds playing in the fruit.

This of course provided hours of fun. They would watch me much more then Tina so when we entered the store we would split up. I would walk across the store and wait for the person watching me to walk over. Then I would smile at them and proceed to walk back across the store. After doing this a few more times and they got an annoyed look, I’d go find Tina and we’d buy our stuff and leave. Sometimes the person watching us would walk us out. This is really ironic because something like 1 in 10 Russians have a record, so we should be the least of their worries.

National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan

National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan

When we would go into different sections in the museum, the guards would talk and then someone was assigned to follow me. One person watched me for most of the second floor. It was really quite so I could hear her foot steps. And when she had lost me she would speed up, and when she found me, she would slow down pretend like she was just looking at something. So I would get lost on purpose, or walk back and forth between different parts until what seemed like a manager yelled at me from across two sections! Um, buy the way, this cat-and-mouse game was the only interesting thing in the museum.

The Annunciation Cathedral inside the kremlin.

The Annunciation Cathedral inside the kremlin.

Main drag of the kremlin; Syuyumbike Tower on the right.

Main drag of the kremlin; Syuyumbike Tower on the right.

The Kul Sharif Mosque in the kremlin.

The Kul Sharif Mosque in the kremlin.

Tonight we take the train – on which we cross the Ural Mountains officially entering Siberia and the Asian side of Russia – for a couple days to Novosibrisk. We have some instant noodles (each car has hot water) and lots of snacks for food. Most stations have vendors on the platforms selling all kinds of goodies. But depending on the length of stop, you might not have enough time to get stuff, so it’s best to come prepared.

Tina and Stuart also viewed from the bridge over the Kazanka River.

Tina and Stuart also viewed from the bridge over the Kazanka River.

Photos and Comments

September 28, 2008
by Stuart
2 Comments
2,364 views

We finally had a chance to add photos to some previous posts, so check ’em out. Sorry it took so long. And thank you so much for all the comments – they make us feel like our friends haven’t forgot about us. We do our best to respond, so if you leave a comment, check back within a few days – hopefully we will have responded by then.

Nizhny Novgorod

September 28, 2008
by Stuart
1 Comment
2,089 views

Our first stop on the Trans-Mongolia was Nizhny Novgorod. It was a six hour train ride from Moscow and one of the few Golden Ring cities accessible by the Trans-Mongolian.

Our hotel was right above a casino. We loved it. Not for the gambling, tho – it was the first real bed and private shower we’d had since arriving in Russia. We even got a free breakfast which was unexpected because this is a country where restaurants charge you for sugar packets.

The next morning was really foggy – we couldn’t see much outside the hotel – but we caught a minibus across the river to the kremlin and downtown. In Russia, most older towns have a “kremlin”, which is a walled compound built when the town started that usually housed the local government, wealthy citizens and churches, keeping them safe and protected. And not surprisingly, the poorer citizens lived outside the walls – unsafe and unprotected. Suckers!

High fashion on the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ul

High fashion on the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ul

The kremlin was up on a hill with a cool walkway around it, but not much to offer on the inside. After walking part way around the kremlin, we walked along the promenade downtown looking at the stores and various street vendors before eating lunch, which was followed by more walking then sitting in an internet cafe. The the fog cleared giving us some great views and we started our journey back to the hotel to get our bags.

Walkway around the kremlin

Walkway around the kremlin.

This is when my least chivalrous moment happened. Let me first explain what a minibus is. Take a bus and cut it in half, then double the stink and let it age in your backyard for a good 30 years. Oh, and don’t clean it. Ever. That is a minibus.

Overlooking the Volga from the kremlin

Overlooking the Volga.

So, when aforementioned minibus pulled up to our stop, it was already packed. Tina and I crammed our way in the door and just fit. Then these two older ladies got in behind us blocking the door from shutting. They started pushing us further into the bus and the people already in the bus started pushing us back. Tina began saying she couldn’t breath and was gasping. So I turned around and starting pushing on the old ladies behind us saying and motioning that Tina couldn’t breath. The lady closest to us just shrugged. Oh, it’s on grandma. It’s on. Then somehow the lady behind her fell out the bus. But I’m innocent on that one.

Looking across the Oka River towards our hotel

Looking across the Oka River towards our hotel.

Maybe 20 minutes later it was our stop and the minibus was still packed. It stopped and started letting people out. And we motion that we are trying to get off but the old lady shrugged again and kept texting on her phone. So I started pushing her off the bus until she got the picture (I should mention here, too, that when a minibus stops you have about ten seconds to get off before it shuts the door and starts moving). She gets off and as I step off the minibus she had some words for me which I like to think was some form of apology.

I deserve it, right?

Lost All Over

September 27, 2008
by Stuart
1 Comment
1,918 views

St. Petersburg and Moscow have more outdoor advertising than anywhere in the States. The buildings and the Metro are covered with ads. Along some sidewalks there are smaller rotating billboards – one intersection in Moscow had at least 12. When we combined the rotating billboards with the larger billboards and timed it right, we saw Jack in as many as eight spots at once. And that was just at that one intersection – seemed like he was all over Moscow. This was my favorite one, tho. It was huge and right across from the Red Square. Gotta love all the streetcar power lines.

I thought the stubble was just for the show...

I thought the stubble was just for the show...

Last Days In Moscow

September 27, 2008
by Stuart
2 Comments
2,669 views

Our last few days before in Moscow were a mad dash to see a few more things before we left. Advice to possible Moscow-goers: there is lots to see here. The books and other travelers said the opposite, but I disagree. Moscow is awesome – two weeks would be perfect. Just walking to places you end up passing little churches or little streets with markets that aren’t mentioned in books. You need time to just wander. Plus you can take some day trips to a few of the Golden Ring cities.

We went to the Izmaylovo Market which has to be the biggest market ever. It was packed with people and went on forever. Each aisle went for as long as you could see, then that aisle would have a few more branching off from it. Then there was another market within that market that you had to pay to get in. It was more touristy – but then the back of that market turned into a flee market. After getting lunch at the market, we went to the Contemporary History Museum which focused on Russia’s history for most of the 20th century.

The next day we spent most the morning/early afternoon getting train tickets for the Trans-Mongolian. Later that afternoon the sun finally came out so we went back to Red Square to take some photos and hang out. Even though Red Square conjures up images of tanks and communism, it’s really a beautiful place where people come to enjoy the weather and socialize.

State History Museum and part of the Kremlin wall.

State History Museum and part of the Kremlin wall.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

That's what I'm talking about!

That's what I'm talkin' about!

Spungebob "Red" Squarepantsky

Spongebob Squarepantsky

On our final day we went back to the Kremlin to visit the Armory. The Armory has all kinds of relics from churches and past royalty. Even a room with knights’ armor, swords, lances, battle gear for horses and other Medieval weapons. The last room had old carriages from back in the day. They looked like something from a Tim Burton film. Then we hit up the Tretyakov Gallery and a few random churches we stumbled upon walking to the museum.

On the way home we stopped in an upscale grocery store that used to be a rich merchant’s mansion. It had chandeliers, stained glass windows and marble everywhere. I wonder if it makes the food taste better? It was really dark and crowded inside, so the photos aren’t great. But you get the idea.

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

We also got some Russian chocolate for some people who worked at the hostel who were increadably helpful. We’ve been told that chocolate is the perfect bribe in Russia. It’s also a good thank you gift. They were really excited and ate most of it that night.