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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.