The first weekend of October was our group trip to the city of Kazan. It’s a city situated next to the Volga River, with a population of about 1 million people. Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and has a lot of history to it. We boarded the train around 10:30 pm and arrived in Kazan nearly 12 hours later. Since it was an overnight train the seats are converted into small beds, and they are bunked so there are four people to a compartment. It’s a tight space but we all were able to get some sleep. It’s nice to look out the window at the small towns that pass by because it is so different from the sights in Moscow.
We met our tour guide at the hotel who took us to the Kazan Kremlin. It’s a white stone fortress that includes the Kul Sharif Mosque and the Annunciation Cathedral. We visited both of these and walked around the Kremlin grounds. In the tour van, we drove around the city and saw some of the other sights like the universities and sports stadiums. With our free time in the evening we went to the Soviet Lifestyle Museum. It’s a few rooms in this brick building with a random assortment of cultural items from the 1970s and ’80s, like clothing, toys, and guitars from famous bands.
On our second day, our guide took us to the island of Sviyazhsk (Свияжск), about an hour outside of Kazan. It was originally a fortress from the 16th century and is known for its monastery and churches, with a small population of permanent residents. The weather was amazing today so being outside most of the day was refreshing. On our way there we stopped by the Temple of All Religions, which is not an active church but designed to represent the religions of the area. On the island we visited the churches and had some free time to walk around. (Definitely try out the Khachapuri that is sold in this tiny building there, it was amazing.) In the afternoon we headed back to Kazan where we did some souvenir shopping and tried out some Tatar food.
On our last day in Kazan we had a lot of free time, so we spent most of it exploring the city on our own. We checked out an indoor market and a couple of the parks. I recommend going to the top of the Epiphany Cathedral Bell Tower on Bauman Street where you can get a good view from above the city. In the afternoon we had a class to learn to make Chak Chak at the Chak Chak Museum. Chak Chak is a traditional Tatar dessert made from small pieces of fried dough mixed with honey and formed into a shape. It’s pretty tasty and simple to make, and is sold almost anywhere in Kazan. By the time the evening came around we were ready to head back to Moscow on another overnight train.
Our whole group really liked Kazan and it has been one of my favorite parts of the semester so far. It’s a beautiful city and was different from the fast pace of a huge city like Moscow. It’s very vibrant with plenty to do, but less touristy than Saint Petersburg which I liked. It’s a long trip but well worth it.