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Tarting up Tatarstan

semi-overcast 13 °C

We’ve slipped off the rails and onto the northern arm of the Silk Road to take a peek at the Tartar capital, Kazan, and are beginning to worry that some of you may have the wrong idea about travelling the Trans Siberia to China.
The super deluxe, (hence hyper-expensive), Trans-Siberian wraps its passengers in mink, feeds them caviar and champagne, and gently floats them from one side of this country to the other in two-berth carriages fit for a czar. And then there are the regular Trans-Siberian trains. These affordable boneshakers sardine four people into each compartment and jolt noisily along like clapped out rollercoasters.
Guess which trains we are taking?
But the trains and stations are immaculately clean; the staff helpful and friendly. Each carriage has its own stewardess who keeps the sheets spotless, the samovar boiling and the toilets daisy fresh. And the great thing about travelling on these trains is that we are not cooped up with a load of snobby tourists being spoon fed Beef Stroganoff made with genuine USDA “AAA” beef. We spend our time with locals like Irina, a thirty something mother, on the train for 5 days straight with her 4yr old daughter Mena. Neither spoke English but we soon discovered that “Peek-a-boo” and gurning, (Canadians will need to Google that), are fun in any language.
And then there was Ivan!
But first the good news – Kazan…
We are a long way from Istanbul but when we arrived and saw the size of the Turkish Airlines office and the adverts for Turkish Efes beer we thought we had taken a wrong turn. No - it seems that we had simply crossed into Tatarstan. Kazan is the capital of the Tatar republic that was captured by Ivan the Terrible in 1554. This conquest was celebrated by the building of St. Basil's cathedral in Moscow and the establishment of the Russian state. Tatarstan is now a semi-autonomous Muslim region whose population are Turkic from Bulgaria. They were once called Bulgars. Too much information? Enough to say that just like the Turks, their southern cousins, they are happy, friendly people who love their Turkish beer and doner kebabs, and speak their own language. We were just getting a handle on all things Russian and now we’ve got to start all over. For instance this is the Russian word for MacDonald’s…
But this is Tatarstani…
Translate that? No need, there are plenty of youngsters here who speak some English and if we get stuck we just turn to ‘Google translate.’ Communicating is easy in this Google world and it has served us well whenever we have been stumped.
The Tatars are tarting up Tatarstan in a big way. Kazan’s central street is a shopaholic’s Mecca - bright shiny stores filled with happy smiley people – and the city’s boulevards are lined with elegant mansions and beautiful theatres…

This elaborate 19th century storefront is being carefully preserved while a new mall is tacked onto the back....
And this is the magnificent new mosque inside the 16th century kremlin, (the Russian word for fortress). This is the biggest mosque in Europe and was consecrated in 2005…
Now back to our Ivan, or, as we came to call him, Ivan the Terrible. We were happy on our overnight train from Nishny Novgorod when our young travelling companion introduced himself as a policeman. No trouble there we thought, until he joined his mates for a raucous vodka session in the adjoining cabin!! At midnight he came noisily to bed and spent most of the night answering his cellphone, checking his emails and going to the loo – a great time was had by Ivan.

And this is our new friend, Oksana ...
...joining us to wish all our Canadian friends a happy pumpkin day from Kazan...
Happy Pumpkins y'all!

Posted by Hawkson 20:27 Archived in Russia

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For once I think our Gabriola weather beats yours--sunny and warm here. Oksana seems to be shivering and someone looks ready for the ski slopes.
Boneshaker sounds okay to me. Neutralizes that nausea-producing swaying motion.

by R and B

are those candied Apples in Oksana"s stall? and what its the other package..it looks like the all day suckers that we had when I was a kid. they actually lasted all day and I think they cost a nickel...enjoying your journey...Jean

by Jean

Your travels underline what is most intriguing about going to new, undiscovered places....they will surprise you! Glad to be along for the ride..

by Sharron

Very impressive mosque well captured by your photo

by David Henderson

Giving thanks for good friends, far and near, such as yourselves.

by Janet

Very thankful on this day and everyday for your friendship, Sheila and Jim. I love your blog and am enthralled by your travels. Ottawa is looking picture perfect for Thanksgiving week-end. Just like in the picture books. The world is full of wonder and wonderful people. Thanks for sharing your travels with all of us. Trudy

by Trudy

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