Saturday, June 1, 2013

June 1 2013: Kazan to the Volga River

We awoke refreshed for our second day in Kazan, the best night of sleep so far this trip. We quickly hit a few sights: Bauman pedestrian Street - good for cafes and local Chak-Chak (sort of fried dough) - Olga's parents' architecture software was used to design the street. We took a bus to Gorky Park and accidentally got off at the wrong Gorky-related stop - walked to the beginning of the park but quickly became bored and went looking for a ride. Russia has an eternal storage of taxicabs, so there's an understood system that is somewhere between gypsy cab and hitchhiking - stick out your arm and try to negotiate a fee with whomever stops.

Ferris Wheel we almost rode!

Trying to get a ride (it worked!)
Kostya promised to get us to "the Attractions", which I was nominally enthused about, until I found out that translates to Amusement park - then my level of excitement went way up! It being a Saturday in June, there were hundreds (thousands?) of sweating kids with facepaint, crying exhausted girls, tired boys on little go-karts. We waited in line for the ferris wheel, taking turns to get ice cream or go to the bathroom, eventually losing all interest before we got to the front of the line. It was still a fun experience though, seeing how the locals of Kazan spend their downtime - and sampling their ice cream :)

Before Coffee -- After Coffee. Notice the difference?

Spice market
After picking up our bags at the hotel, we walked through the city. Kazan is in good shape - and getting better. In addition to rolling hills, blue skies, and the Eastern flare of its mosques, the city seems to be amidst a big of a reconstruction boom to fix streets, remodel very old buildings, and repurpose space for people's use. A lot of this may be due to the upcoming Universiade (student olympics) next month.

Our cabin on the Volga River cruise

Stocking up on dried fruit for the boat trip

Eventually we made it to the Central Market, a Middle Eastern type bazaar where we picked up a great selection of spices for home - and veggies, dried fruits, nuts, smoked cheese for the boat trip. The salesmen hadn't seen an American in a very long time, and they enjoyed quizzing and teasing us. They seemed pretty sure Kostya was foreign too, and Dania was not only foreign but possibly a boy (she is neither). The guys seemed playful, although a bit confused about the ways of the world.

View from the lobby of our boat.
To/From Shore on Right. To/From next boat on left.

A short bus ride later and we were at the dock, ready to board the ship for a 20-hour overnight journey along the Volga River to Samara. There are more ships than they have dock space, so several boats line up in a way that you board one, disembark into the next one, and so on. Once everybody was loaded into their cabins, we were off! The boat is charming in its way. It must be 50 years old, at least that's the last time they refreshed the furnishings. Meals are provided, but we threw them for a loop with our last-minute dinnertime declaration of our various dietary restrictions. I'm not generalizing here - I'm repeating somebody else's generalization - but it seems that Russians will eat anything placed in front of them. Kostya and Dania are two of the few picky Russian eaters with their close-to-vegan diet. The things assembled for Kostya and Dania looked good to me to, as opposed to all of the fish courses they quickly assembled for me, so maybe next time I'll say I'm vegetarian or vegan too.

She's hugging. He's checking email :)

Since leaving Moscow, we have not seen a single foreign-speaking tourist. All of the tourists we have met have been local Russian/Tatar tourists. Western (or Eastern) tourists don't seem to make it out here, which is fine as far as I'm concerned. The prices are super affordable, the experiences more authentic, the people super excited to see meet foreigners and try out their rusty English!

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