I talked to several Russians while planning my trip and several more while in Russia. When I mentioned Kazan was part of my itinerary their faces lit up. Kazan has a slightly different feel than the rest of Russia. It's a place Russians visit to get away from Russia without actually leaving Russia.
Kazan's train station was a short walk to the hostel, which was located in Kazan's pedestrian promenade. After trying to catch some extra sleep that the 3am sunrise interrupted I headed to Dom Chaya for breakfast. Kazan is the former capital of Tatarstan, which was captured by Ivan the Terrible in the late 1500s. It's been a part of Russia ever since and today Tatars represent around 4% of Russia's total population. The Tatars have attempted to preserve some of the cultural heritage, however, when it comes to fashion everyone around the world seems to dress the same. The primary culture holdover has been Tatar cuisine and Dom Chaya is one of the best places to go. I had a chicken sausage sort of thing and mashed potatoes for breakfast. I'm not sure if that was suppose to be a breakfast or not but that's what the guy in front of me went with so it seemed like a logical choice.
Kazan is a beautiful, well planned city.
Just like Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan's Kremlin is located at the end of its pedestrian promenade on an embankment above the Volga River. The Kazan Kremlin is notably different for several reasons. First, the exterior is white.
Second, since the Tatars are Muslim there's a mosque instead of a church. A mosque, with a beautiful blue roof. You need to wear pants to enter the mosque and fortunately I was...because the temperature was below 60 and there was high winds.
From any angle the mosque looks amazing.
There's also a leaning tower and the standard Kremlin requisites of a church and government building.
The best part? Everything was free.
The best part? Everything was free.
From the mosque I caught a bus to another religious site...The Temple of All Religions. The Temple is a bit of an oddity and a recent attraction to the city.
The Church has rooms dedicated to all religions or at least Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The Church remains a work in progress.
The bus back to the city passed Kazan's Central Market. If there's any doubt that Kazan has a Muslim influence it's fully removed after walking through the market. There's a dried fruit section reminiscent of markets I saw in Dubai. If you need dates, this is the place to go.
For lunch I went to a high-end Tatar cuisine place called Tatarskaya Usadba. I ordered a chicken and veal sausage appetizer and horse, yes that's H-O-R-S-E, as the main course. The horse meat was tender and had the texture of beef in a beef stew. I'd definitely order horse again although I think it's safe to say I'm no Jay Reimenschneider.
For desert I went to the Chak Chak Museum and had the Museum's namesake pastry and tea. Chak Chak is a Tatar pastry with a light honey coating. I then made a quick stop in the Soviet Lifestyle Museum which is basically a person's attic of Soviet Union memorabilia.
I then caught a metro across the river to check out Kazan's Family Center Monument. In each city I visited I had to navigate around some fan zone setup for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Kazan was the first time I flat out couldn't reach a site. The Family Center had a fence extended 100 yards or so all around the complex...and there were guards.
I did get a few good photos of the Kazan Kremlin from across the river so the trip wasn't a total failure.
Back on the promenade I had a final Jaws Brewing beer and cups of coffee at two of the city's coffee roasters. I liked Kazan. It seemed like it was a right-sized city. There also seemed to be development and growth, particularly compared to Nizhny Novgorod and to some extent St. Petersburg. There were several midrise apartments across the landscape that gave a sense that something must be happening hear, just not something I could figure out in a day.
The next morning I caught a plane back to JFK. The only real excitement of the trip happened at Kazan's airport. There was an ordered evacuation of the airport for a bomb threat. Everyone spent an hour outside before being let back into the airport. That was about the most "Russian" experience I had. The country takes security seriously. I saw armed security throughout the country. The guards never appeared intimidating or confrontational. Kazan has a modern restaurant with a Wild West American Bar and Grill. Obviously.