*This is a guest post written for OM by my lovely English husband.
If you told the average Brit that you had just come back from a trip to Tatarstan, they would probably say they have never heard of such a country. That’s because the Republic of Tatarstan isn’t a country but rather a Republic of the Russian Federation. I was lucky enough to spend some time in the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan.
How I visited Kazan, the heart of Tatarstan
When people consider visiting Russia, they will likely plan a trip to world-famous Moscow or to the Venice of the north, St. Petersburg. However, Kazan is only an hour flight from Moscow, and on my first trip to Russia, I decided to take a small detour and fly to Kazan for a long weekend.
On landing in Kazan, I encountered my first challenge. Getting myself a taxi from the airport to my hotel. So, I confidently went up to the official taxi booth and attempted to order my taxi. Thankfully, the young girl operating the official taxi booth understood my poor Russian and arranged a taxi to take me to my hotel. Though the process taught me one important thing about Russia. If you started a conversation in Russian, you will find it hard to get your interlocutor to switch to English. This has happened to me multiple times in Russian!
On the taxi ride to the centre of the city, I thought I had landed in a different world. While Kazan is a modern city, it still has a very different vibe to that of Moscow. It was all a lot to take in for someone travelling on their own for the first time. You can definitely feel the Islamic influence in some of the city’s more modern architecture, with Kazan’s new skyscrapers having a very distinct Tatar feel. When I got to my hotel the ‘Bilyar Palace’, the Tatar influence was clear throughout. The hotel’s architecture and the decor has a strong Tatar feel and was a great experience for someone more used to clean and bland European style chain hotels.
Just after I checked-in, there was another moment of cultural confusion. The receptionist had written my room number down for me. But I managed to get the ‘seven’ and ‘one’ confused, which lead me to try to open the door to another guest’s room. This didn’t go unnoticed when I came down to the lobby to explore the city, a fellow guest began shouting at me due to the incident. Rather than engaging with the irate guest, I rushed out of the hotel’s entrance.
Thankfully, after this I was met by a friend who was able to give me a tour of the main sights of the city. I was visiting in the dead of winter which meant that streets at the time felt rather eerily empty. However, the city’s old town area is very pretty and is strongly reminiscent of other Eastern European cities such as Tallinn.
Our first stop was a short visit to the city’s Federal University, which boasts some great historic architecture as well as a rather large statue of Lenin. Lenin himself had studied for a while in Kazan before dropping out. We then went onto the city’s most famous sight the Kazan Kremlin.
The Kremlin boasts several historic buildings, as well as the less historic but no less impressive Kul-Sharif mosque. The mosque was the largest in Europe until an even larger mosque was built in Grozny, Chechnya. Entry to the mosque is free, but you will be required to purchase some plastic slippers to put over your shoes, which cost me 10 roubles at the time. The mosque is worth seeing and you won’t be the only tourist visiting!
Overall, Kazan is a very pretty city with a number of historic sights to visit. It was only a shame that I visited the city in the dead of winter, which meant I missed out on much of the cities grandeur. With the city being one of the host city’s of the 2018 World Cup, many people will have found out about the jewel which is Kazan. And I am hoping to get another chance to visit the city. This time with stronger Russian skills!