On a chilly Friday night in Moscow our group boarded a Russian sleeper car for the second time. Our destination? Kazan, Russia's sixth-largest city, and the capital of Tatarstan. We left Казанский Вокзал (Kazan Train Station) around 7pm and arrived in Kazan 12 hours later, where we stopped over at a cafe before meeting our city guide. We began our tour near Kazan Federal University, the main university in the city whose famous former students include Vladimir Lenin and Leo Tolstoy.
Our next stop on the tour was the Kazan Kremlin. In Russian, the word "kremlin" means fortress, so while the most famous Kremlin is in Moscow, many cities and towns throughout the country have their own kremlin. Kazan has beautiful former fortess built out of white stone. Inside the Kremlin are different sites of worship, including the beautiful Kul Sharif Mosque and the Annunciation Cathedral. We first visited the Mosque, which was completed in 2005 after a push in the city to reestablish houses of religion, before heading over to the Annunciation Cathedral. The Cathedral has a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, an important historical icon in Russia, whose original was unfortunately stolen in 1904. After visiting the two sites of worship our group spent a little time outside in the Kremlin, enjoying the beautiful weather, before heading to see some of the city's other sites. Kazan was one of the host cities during the World Cup and has lots of important sites for sporting events, including an aquatic center and a giant stadium (for the soccer games), and we saw all of these places on our tour.
The next day we spent the morning at the Temple of All Religions, a unique building which combines design features from many world religions. It includes symbols from all different religions and is a massive structure. It is technically not yet completed, but may be finished in the coming years and officially opened to tourists.
Our next destination was the island of Sviyazhsk, located a couple hours away from Kazan. The island is famous for its monasteries, in particular its own Annunciation Cathedral, as well as a 16th century church built entirely out of wood. We had an awesome time visiting the different churches on the island when our director, Nancy, pointed out a small building where we could get khachapuri. Khachapuri is a Georgian bread dish which also has cheese and eggs. Ubiquituous in Moscow, it's also the favorite food of many American students in Russia. Everyone in our group has had plenty of khachapuri in the past, but it was a pleasant surprise to find it on the island! We finished up our time on the island by visiting other churches and got back to city in time for our evening train back to Moscow. When we got back to Moscow on Monday morning we were exhausted, but it was definitely worth it for such a wonderful weekend in Kazan.