Kazan Russia

Kazan – The Third Capital of Russia

I had the fortune of travelling to Kazan.  It’s been branded at Russia’s 3rd capital and also as the sporting capital of the nation. The city is famous for the peaceful co-existence of Muslim and Christian population. I for one really wanted to see what that was about and explore the serene streets of city.

Kazan is the city of Tatars, but it’s filled with people from all over Russia. Every woman is drop dead gorgeous and the men look sharp.

Getting In

Kazan is about 800 km from Moscow and can be reached by an overnight train, a series of buses or flights. I had taken the overnight train and it was probably the best decision I made. You really get to see the expanse of Russia with literally endless fields.

Alternatively you can also get in via flight from Moscow. These usually cost between $100- $120 and reduce travel time to an hour.

Places to see

Bauman Street

Chai Dom Kazan

This is Kazan’s very own walking street in the heart of the city. It plays host to some of the most best food spots, tourist merchandise and boutiques. Don’t forget to visit ‘Chai Doma’ on Bauman Street. It’s the best place to have authentic Tatar food.

Kremlin

Horse Carriage

The Kremlin is a vast piece of land on top of a hill, looking below at the Kazanka river.  The walls  are whitewashed with tombs of blue and gold. Most of the constructions inside the Kremlin were built out of wood. You’ve got to take a walk around the Kremlin! If you’re in the mood to splurge, you could also hire a horse drawn carriage for a tour around the Kremlin.

Söyembikä Tower

soyembika tower

Within the Kazan Kremlin you will find the Söyembikä Tower. Also known as the Khan’s Tomb, this monument was built in the 16th century.  It is said that this tower was built by Ivan the Terrible’s artisans in just over a week!  The site of the offers a stunning view of the Kazanka river and city’s skyline.

Kul- Sharif

Kul Sharif

The Kul Sharif is by far the most amazing mosque I have seen in my entire life! Its white walls and blue tops create a stunning image from any angle. This monument can be called as the definitive icon of Kazan.  A trip to Kazan would be incomplete without a trip to Kazan.

Kazan University

Kazan Federal University

Kazan is an important centre of education in Russia. It is home to the Kazan Federal University a premier institute of education in the Volga region of Russia.  The university has a lot of diversity in the field of studies it offers to students. There is a significant population of foreign students at the Kazan Federal University.

Kazan is really off the tourist map and so it makes it even more special. The city has a unique culture and cuisine that cannot be missed. You are sure to have a unique experience of Russia if you visit Kazan. I’d go further to say that it may even change the perception you have about all Russian! 😉

Moscow Russia

WTF, I’m in Moscow

What the F*@#k ! I am in Moscow.  These were my words when I slowly walked up and entered into the Red Square.  There are some moments in life when you just want to take in all that your senses are telling you. This was one of those moments for me.

Russia is the first foreign country I visited and just for that it will always have a special place in my heart. As I made my way to a clear view of the Red Square, I was left in awe. The St. Basil’s Cathedral in front of me, the G.U.M market to the left and Putin’s lovely home to the right, the Kremlin. I sucked up some air and walked slowly on the cobbled road, mesmerised. This was the centre of the former USSR. Wow.

Moscow is gorgeous, huge and a bustling city. I fell in love it completely. The Moscow metro network drove me nuts, the architecture left me with a gaping mouth and of course, the sports car and bikes made me believe that Moscow was the best place in this world. This would be the place where people work hard, earn money and spend it on a life style that’s grand.

Of course, there other sides to Moscow but I was lucky enough to have been completely ignorant about them.  If you happen to visit here are the five places CANNOT miss in Moscow.

Red Square & Kremlin

Red Square Moscow Russia
This is the centre piece of Russia. You simply cannot afford to miss this one if you are in Moscow. It’s something like going to Agra and not seeing the Taj Mahal. It’s a great place to take in the fact that you have arrived in Russia and also the place where you can come at close range to the burial grounds of the former USSR Presidents. This place is sure to move you.

Bolshoi Theatre
Opened to public in 1825, the marvellous building has some of the plushest interiors you can ever see. The grand balconies give you the ultimate theatre feel. While backpacking on a budget, I highly recommend saving up for this experience.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour Moscow Russia

When I entered this Cathedral, I was spelled bound by the detailed frescos and the dome. The environment is surreal and the devotion worth admiring. I spent a lot f time just walking around watching pious Orthodox Christians placing candle in front of pictures of Virgin Mary. It was a moving experience!

Gorky Park
Does ‘Winds of Change’ by the Scorpions strike a chord? Yup, they were talking about this very park. It’s an interesting space in the city and I’d say you could afford to visit this place as it’s very cheap.

Pushkin Museum
Designed by Roman Klein and Vladimir Shukhov and financed primarily by Yury Nechaev-Maltsov this museum doesn’t have any direct co-relation with Alexander Pushkin the Russian Author. Opened to public in 1912, the museum houses some of the best fine art collections in Russia.

I really enjoyed Moscow but, my journey didn’t end there. I was going to Kazan next.

Russia

How I Got into Russia

Russia has been in the news lately for Ukraine and the Sochi Olympics. This mysterious country has always been on my travel bucket list. I’ve heard the western stories about oppressive lives that people in Russia lead and I’ve heard about stories of Russian magnanimity during India’s wars with Pakistan.

I’ve read George Orwell’s 1984 and while it made for a dramatic read I wasn’t completely sold.  I was more inclined to believe in the stories I heard from my family.  I was very keen on seeing the country myself and when I got a chance, I grabbed it both hands.

Heading towards Moscow

The Visa

I was told that getting a Tourist visa for Russia involved a lot of red tape and hardship. I checked out the Russian embassy’s website and figured out all the things I needed. Surprisingly it wasn’t too long, albeit I had to incur some unnecessary expenses. As an Indian passport holder I was required to submit a copy of return flight tickets, hostel reservations and an official ‘Invite’ from an approved tourism company in Russia.

As per the laws, I had to call for ‘Invite Card’ from Russia and submit the original copy along with my application.  This cost me an extra Rs.5000, which really pinched my wallet.

The rest was as easy as a breeze.  Three days later I had my Russian Tourist visa in my hands!

The flight & food

Aeroflot In-flight food

I had chosen to board from the New Delhi airport partly so that I could spend a few hours in Delhi to catch up with some friends and partly because I wanted to see the world class T3 Delhi terminal. It was totally worth it.

I was on an Aeroflot flight and I must say that as the national carrier of Russia, I was disappointed to know that they didn’t serve alcohol on board. I was expecting a river of vodka flowing in the aisle and all I would have to do is dip my glass and get some delicious Vodka.  Oh I hate when bubbles burst.

I was given my subscribed Veg. Meal and I did in fact enjoy it. Well, what a let down, I can’t complain about the airline food. All in all, it was a comfortable 6 hours on my way to Moscow.

Landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport

On landing at Sheremetyevo airport, I was a bit lost. Here I am in Russia, at an international airport, BUT there’s hardly anyone around. I was a bit scared as I was so used to having mobs of people around me. I was in a bit of a shock.

The gorgeous smiles of the Russian air hostesses passing by were helpful in easing my nerves! The Russian journey had begun well 😉