Permanent Vacasian

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

Kazan You See Me?


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.


  1. Great shots and interesting comments. Not surprised they followed you… (just kidding!)

  2. This post is particularly interesting. What I don’t get is how they know you’re not Russian by looking at you – it’s not like the people in the first photo look much different. So how can they tell?

    Also – if you think people watching you is bad in Russia, wait until China. Not that I’ve been there, but I’ve heard stories. My friends Gregg and Linda and their two kids were sitting on benches in a park, eating lunch, and a crowd of people gathered, WITH LAWN CHAIRS, and sat around them watching them eat. Didn’t say a thing, just watched them eat.

    I still want to know how the Russians know you’re not Russian though.

    Also – love the beard!

  3. Oh, Robert… everyone around the world knows Americans as soon as they see us! We’re the ones making lots of gestures with our hands. 😉

    Lovin’ the photos, kids — that shot of the Meat House is cracking me up. Mmmm… meat! Heh.

  4. Yay! Photos! It’s great to “see” both of you. I’m really enjoying your blog.
    What’s wrong with a little bird hanging out in the fruit? You got your shots, right?

  5. I love this post, and the pics are so good. That green car pic rocks. The guard thing is so bizarre. Man, makes me wonder how the shopkeepers would react to me!

  6. I’m still laughing at the mental video playing in my head — the one of you guys playing cat and mouse. That’s brilliant.

    I second what Kelly says about recognizing Americans. Plus, we’re really loud when we open our mouths. Even if we’re trying to be quiet. And then there’s the whole clothing thing … American clothing may not look out of place to us, but somehow everyone else can spot the differences. Weird, since most of it comes from overseas anyway.

  7. It’s the beard. They know you’re not Russian, but they’ve met that beard before…and it does have a record.

    Yay, pictures!

  8. I’m gonna disagree about American travelers. My experience has been Australians and the British are worse. Whenever I hear loud people, they are usually from one of those countries. They are also the countries that make up most travelers – other than the tame New Zealanders – so it might just be a numbers thing.

    Other than the first day of our trip, we have not met any other Americans. Europeans and New Zealanders are by far the most common. Maybe followed by Germans.

    And I’m not sure people recognize true “Americans”. They just see someone different and assume it’s an American since we are all supposedly rich and travel all the time. Both false. So far people have guessed about five or six other countries before guessing we are American. We quickly add that we are from San Francisco – so we don’t get blamed for stuff.

  9. Hi Stu and Tina,
    Greetings from Alameda. Albert forwarded the URL to me (Stuart forgot to before he left but from reading this I know he had plenty of other things on his mind ;.).

    I’m having a blast reading of your travels…and “Kazan you see me” is my favorite entry. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I think they might think Stuart is an assassin. Or a spy. Does he carry around a large flower box, or violin case? It’s true though, people really do follow you around and stare at you. When we were resting in a park in Sicily, we turned around and there was a group of people sitting right behind us just staring at us. Wouldn’t speak, only stared with this crazy grin on their face. Soo creepy. Good luck. I bet China is going to be ridiculous. You better put on your yellow face. does that sound racisit?

  11. Also that Jozz charecter is brilliant.

  12. Is there something in the water there that prevents Stuart from shaving or was he bitten by a werewolf in that creepy museum?