|Day 4. Nizhni Novgorod - Kazan|
The highway is still very good. Wild forests along the road, occasional roadside vendors, gas stations with a variety of beverages - no, not Vodka! - just sodas and hot tea or coffee. Toilets at gas stations closer to Kazan dramatically change from Western bowl style to Muslim squatting type WC - not an improvement at all, in my book. Hence, as seasoned travelers, we made certain habit adjustments.
Kazan, the capital of Tatar Republic, is spectacular. As soon as you cross the bridge over the Volga River and enter the city, you see that this is a prosperous place. The streets are perfectly clean, the buildings facades are renovated, flowers bloom on the road sides and in squares.
But here our luck ran out. The accommodations I booked turned out to be not even close to what their web site showed, and we had to look for another hotel. There are plenty of hotels in Kazan, but our arrival coincided with some big international event, so practically everything was sold out. Only due to Joon's special hotel status we found accommodation at Hilton, alas for one night only. So we did our best to explore Kazan in the afternoon and at night, and left in the morning to spend the next night at Ufa, capital of Bashkir Republic.
Yet, let's talk about Kazan. What you notice immediately, is lots of churches and mosques standing side by side. A good example of peaceful religious coexistence.
A couple miles down the main street is a large cathedral with ominously black domes. Very unusual. It turned out to be a Russian Orthodox Church of Old Ritual (Staroobryad). In the 19th century, the building was badly damaged and the priests persecuted for their schism. After the Soviet revolution in early 20th century the bolsheviks turned it an archive. A few years ago, it was given back to the Old Ritual followers, and now is being renovated. It is going to house a museum of Old Ritual.
It was a Sunday, and the downtown was quite crowded. Nicely dressed people, very friendly, I have not noticed a single drunk or beggar. Supermarkets carry full range of food are immaculate. Joon is saying that they are better than in the USA.
As for restaurants, they offer all kinds of food. Naturally, we did not go to KFC or McDonald, and tried some Tatar-Russian fusion. Not bad at all. Since their Tatar ancestors were nomads, theyused their mounts both for battle and food. The tradition of serving horse meat products is well alive nowadays. We bought some horse salami - many Russians, including me, have eaten horse meat before at least once. So, I made a big horse sandwich and it tasted great. Joon gingerly tried a slice, politely nodded for approval, but refrained from more.
Nice city, it is a pity we could not stay there longer.
NEXT LEG : Kazan - Ufa >