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Published: October 6th 2018
I have been getting messages all week to get to the airport early as the Eid holiday starts today. So, I got up an hour earlier than I would have and headed to the airport, it is Friday morning so there was hardly a car in sight, 20 minutes from my door to Gate 7 and a 2 and a half hour wait till boarding. Better safe than sorry I suppose.
Every seat on the flight is full - more Australians than I have seen since I was last in Oz which means every drop of booze was gone before we reached Russian airspace. I must admit they are a bit annoying constantly wandering around - the lads across from me were roaring drunk by the time we landed.
Immigration was mayhem I couldn't believe how slow it was getting through, I picked the wrong line it seems but eventually I was through and lining up again this time for a SIM card.
I jolly taxi driver then brought me to my hotel which is fine, the staff have gone out of their way to help me also. First impressions of Kazan are that is a pleasant city
the Kremlin is stunning I plan to go back there in a few days. This evening I am going to chill in my room and watch the football.
After a passable breakfast I Uberred my way down to the Kazan Kremlin which was cool seen a few of these in other Russian cities and this one rates highly, the Kul Sharif Mosque was particularly beautiful. I visited an off shoot of the Hermitage while there, but it wasn't a shadow of the one in Saint Petersburg. The Annunciation Cathedral was pretty but that is to be expected considering it was designed by the same architect that was responsible for Saint Basil's in Moscow. The 59 metre leaning tower Syuyumbike was built by Ivan the Terrible at the urging of his Tartar princess who on its completion threw herself of the top - do men ever learn.
I had planned to go to the Fan Fest, but I got on a packed bus and ended up near the stadium, the facilities outside the stadium are sparse no bars, no food, nothing. The stadium is well designed, and the cheap seats were in a great spot right behind
the goal I was happy with that. You got to love Aussie fans they just take it to a new level, singing and adding all the atmosphere, the French on the other hand are boring gits, the Russians love us.
The first half was entertaining although we had few scoring opportunities our defence was excellent at the break I tried to get to the toilet and bar but there was a sea of people in the way, so I found a spot out of the way and waited for everyone to return to their seats. I grabbed a couple of beers had a slash and didn't go back to my seat, a dodgy European dive penalty probably cost us a draw in the end. I grabbed an Uber back to my hotel - the only TV channel in English is a surfing channel yes very dull. It is 5pm and I must decide whether to go down to the old town and hit the pubs with the 20,000 Aussies or chill out.
Planning a day trip to Bolger tomorrow not sure what it will cost yet but it should be a good day trip. The Mexicans are starting
to arrive in town now, but they don't play here so they must be lost.
Kazan is certainly a beautiful city by Russian standards and I am glad I got to come here this time.
The hotel is located on the ground floor of a Soviet era apartment building which means people are living on the floors above, unfortunately for me the people living upstairs are stompers, and I mean poltergeist level so earplugs it is.
Breakfast today was almost the same as yesterday a boiled egg, a banana, a fruit yogurt, a cheese triangle and a cup of tea with one tasty exception Russian black bread. Uber to the pedestrian mall on Bauman Street in the city centre, not surprised at all to see a few young Aussies and Russia girls looking a bit drawn at 830am. I took the time to look at a few of the onion dome churches as I searched for the place my day trip originated from, how times change once it would have been me pulling an all nighter.
I couldn't find a trip with an English-speaking guide so off I went with a bus load of Russians, the
guide talked for literally ten straight hours, on the way there he lulled me to sleep on multiple occasions. The countryside is heavily farmed, so I didn't miss much, after two hours we arrived at the "ancient" UNESCO listed ruins of Bulgar. The people of Tatarstan consider the Bulgar their ancestors it seems the tribe split some time in antiquity with half migrating to the Balkans and extinction while those that remained were supplanted by the Mongol Golden Horde who introduced Islam to the region.
The Tartar Khanate dominated the region for centuries before being conquered by the Russians and left behind some poignant ruins including a number of mausoleums, mosques and the Khan's palace perched above a stunningly beautiful section of the Volga. Five hours that guide rambled on, sometimes I had a jist of what he was saying, but for the most part I just avoided them as most sights had English descriptions anyway, I just needed to keep them insight, so I didn't get left behind. The Russians have done a great job here the sights have been nicely preserved and the museums are excellent.
At 4pm I thought we were going back to Kazan
but instead we went to a restaurant I didn't realise lunch was included, vegetable and beef soup, chicken and mash potato and crusty bread, of course I left the meat which raised a few big bushy Russian eyebrows. The trip back was long, traffic was a huge problem but eventually I was back in Bauman Street. The place was humming Aussies everywhere so I thought a beer or two would be nice before I Uberred home.
Tomorrow I have arranged a day trip to another world heritage site I must have done a hundred or more by now, before moving on to Samara and game 2
I woke early but chilled in my room till checkout time. I found a guide on the internet and am heading out to the world heritage site at Sviyazhsk Island today, Ramis is a pleasant and thoughtful guide who gave me running history of Kazan and it's districts as we made a quick stop at the kitsch Temple of All Faiths built by some eccentric supposed faith healer it really wasn't worth the visit but then in Russia eccentricity is unusual in itself.
As we made our way out
of town Ramis explained that he was employed by the Green and Gold army the day before and had been out at Big Bolger when I was there. The island originally could only be reached by boat but is now also connected by road, Ivan the Terrible had a prebuilt fort disassembled and boated 700 km down river and reassembled on the island prior to his destruction of the Kazan Khanate in the 1500's.
The island is home to several Monasteries including the John the Baptist Monastery, where the wonderful wooden Trinity Church is a highlight. The island in summer is a pleasure to walk around, people live there, and the oligarchs build houses that don't fit the historic vibe of the island (corruption is strong in Putin's new Russia) which is disappointing. We stopped at a traditional restaurant and with a Russian speaker to help me order I had my best meal since arriving here, pike covered in mushrooms and melted cheese, and a little frying pan full, of baked mushrooms, onion and cheese.
Ramis took me for a drive around the historic centre explaining what some of the buildings were and just doing a first-rate job
as he delivered me to a mall where I would meet the share vehicle that would take me to my next destination. If I had not had him call the driver I would never have found the vehicle, at 545pm two Aussie lads turned up which was cool and we all boarded the Hyundai mini bus for the six hour sometimes bumpy ride. At midnight we found ourselves on the side of the road in the city we ordered a Uber and 10 minutes later I was at my hostel banging on the door to be let in.
This hostel is really rough my $150 a night room is the width of a toilet and about twice as long and includes nothing. I don't even have a fan to circulate air in this overly hot box, so I must leave the door open which defeats the purpose of getting a single especially as the air-conditioned dorm is empty. I was knackered when I arrived, so it didn’t matter so much but laying here now sweating is an annoyance there is an Australian doctor staying here in an airconditioned room the cheapskate.
No food here so I walked around
the corner to McDonald's, but breakfast was over way earlier than it should have been, so I ended up with a fillet of fish. I then spent the next seven hours wandering around town, starting at the promenade near my accommodation. The river bank is nicely landscaped and has a beach where lots of people were bathing under the watchful eye of the lifeguards. I walked until I reached the power station near the statue of the large metal man in Glory Park before diving into the bar at the Zhiguli brewery for a couple of beers and bumped into a guy I met at the airport in Dubai. From there I headed to Stalin's bunker, it was built secretly during world War 2, 60 metres or so below a government building. There is no evidence he ever entered the place but his family were living in Samara at the time.
I was busting for the loo I even considered sneaking back into his office to use his, so I climbed back up the stairs and headed to a Pectopah across the road to empty my bladder, the place looked chilled so I stayed and ordered a salad and
some kind of mushroom dish which turned out to be the same one I had yesterday, a very tasty lunch. Next, I went to the Fan Fest, security was incredible, streets blocked off for at least a hundred metres in every direction. In Samara the Fan Fest is in the centre of the city in Kuibyshev Square unfortunately it is pretty hot here today and there is little shade and not many places to sit, not a bad spot to watch Japan bury Colombia.
I walked back to my accommodation stopping briefly at a coffee shop for a cold drink they have a great breakfast menu so heading there for breakfast tomorrow.
I washed my clothes before heading back to that coffee shop for a reasonably enjoyable breakfast, I then headed along the river in the opposite direction coming across another beach, people are laying on the sand, taking selfies and some brave kids were in the water.
A little further along is some type of boat monument and a pretty church undergoing restoration, I set of inland here looking for the Space Museum, the city was closed for 50 years and during that time
played a big part in the space race. The museum was marked by a huge Soyuz rocket and was worth a quick look around. I then got an Uber to the old town and spent a few hours wandering around taking pictures of old buildings, some of the more dilapidated have been covered by cloth to hide them.
Not long later I hit the edge of the Fan Zone, the streets around the Fan Fest are blocked off, large areas of the city are pedestrian only. I popped into an empty bar around 2pm I was planning to have a snack and watch the days first match, within half an hour the bar was packed with Aussies. I left after the match was over and headed to the same restaurant as yesterday where I ordered the same excellent meal before trudging the two or three kilometres back to the hostel, arriving around 7pm.
I had an early night tomorrow is game day, so I plan to go out to Samara Arena around midday by Yanex the local cheaper Uber substitute. Hopefully I will be able to get an official t-shirt or cap as there haven't been many opportunities
The day dawned clear I headed to Mcdonalds for breakfast quite early as it only lasts till 9am. I then returned to hostel to shower etc. A guy named Alexey from Sydney turned up this morning and we will share an Uber out to the stadium. He is meeting an Aussie guy about a ticket so when we arrived we just joined them, drank a few beers then walked to the stadium.
Samara Arena is brand new and was quite pleasant, much better facilities outside then at Kazan I bought a t-shirt and a scarf, but I later gave it to a little girl. I enjoyed the game immensely, Australia played well, and the crowd was raucous. I met Alexey on the ground level after the game and we made our way to the trolley buses that would take us back to the city. It was fun chatting to the friendly Russians through Alexey, somewhere between the stadium and getting off the bus I lost my last pair of glasses may be hard to see the last game in Socchi.
Headed back to the hostel and chilled for a while then walked towards
the Fan Fest stopping at a restaurant for a meal, I left him on the street corner outside he is keen to pick up and I was knackered, so I made my way home I have a train to catch for Volgograd tomorrow.
No real need to do anything this morning, I have seen everything there is to see, so I just packed and chilled out in my tiny room till the boredom became unbearable and I headed off to McDonald's for breakfast/lunch. I called an Uber and after a time I found the guy, language differences make finding these guys difficult at times.
Samara's modern new train station was about 20 minutes away and I was soon passing through security and looking for my platform. Lots of helpers here to translate for the information ladies so it was smooth sailing the train board and announcements were in English and I was soon in my cabin on my train. The train is an old one, not uncomfortable but basic, I have two young English speakers in my cabin, so they translate when the provitsnitsa tells me off for breaking some obscure Russian train rule.
I popped into
the restaurant car but it is full of Aussies, so I had my salad and a warm beer and left, when I returned about four hours later they had polished off all but a handful of bottles of bud, I assume they will drink vodka the rest of the way to Sochi. The journey was dull, there is nothing to see just miles of flat farm land, I slept poorly people come and go and make a lot of noise and it was hot on the train, I awoke to a beautiful sunrise around 3am and again at five. Just before 7am we chugged into the Volograd 1 station and I was soon looking for the exit, I had to re-enter the grand Soviet era vozkal to check my pack into the cloakroom as I didn’t want to carry it around all day.
Volgograd was originally known as Tsaritsyn before being renamed in honour of that lunatic Stalin in 1925. WW2 destroyed more than 90% of the city during one of the bloodiest battles of all time, millions died, and the city was rebuilt in Soviet style with a very impressive Panorama museum and the Mamaev Kurgan. It is
a very warm morning in Volgograd, renamed such after Stalin's death in 1961, the streets are empty except for police ensuring the terrorist attacks of a few years ago aren't duplicated during the World cup. I walked down to the very empty Fan Fest site past a group of very drunk Russian's singing sad songs, seeking a shady spot, but every time I found one hordes of annoying little flies would descend on me. Those flies made my day in the city miserable I am so glad the Socceroos didn't play here. After about three hours traipsing around in the sun swearing at flies I reached the museum around 1030am. After initial reluctance I hired an audio device and began viewing an exceptional collection which included the rifle used by Vasily Zaytsev the sniper immortalised by Jude Law in Enemy at the gates. Behind the museum are the remains of Panov's house which was held by Sergeant Panov and compatriots for 58 days and has been preserved in its original 1943 condition.
I was only half surprised to see Aussies wandering around the museum and out at the Mamaev Kurgen they keep turning up all over the place. The
stadium is located across the road from the huge 72 metre high statue of Mother Russia, sword defiantly held aloft, perched on top of hill 102 which switched hands 8 times during the battle. The memorial is quite remarkable, and I am really glad I visited the city despite 35 degree heat and the flies. I found a cafe near the train station to kill a little time before re-entering the 1950 era train station with its soviet imagery. My train is a local one originating in Volgograd and terminating in Astrakhan so there shouldn't be many disturbances on the five hour journey, I spent the whole time Google translating with a former a Russian politician and his wife who invited me to dinner for a few nights later. On arrival in Astrakhan I walked the 50 metres from the station to the very comfortable hotel ordered a fish burger and watched Germany drag itself out of the Swedish fire before having a nice shower and cleaning myself up.
I slept in then went down for a very underwhelming breakfast, I returned to my room had long shower, shave and just did nothing until late in the
day. I did this because the I thought I had three days here and the tour companies I tried to engage with seemed reticent to take one non-Russian traveller, it was only when my airline check in email arrived that I realised I had mixed things up.
I decided to turn off GOT (It was in Russian anyway) and go get some food, across the road is a large mall so I went there first, the supermarket looked a likely starting point and I bought some World cup paraphernalia but no food. I then decided to check out the Subway I had a mushroom and cream cheese foot long and a beer for $6 - awesome.
I have been going now for eleven days on three shirts (one for the football), one I managed to get washed, the other has a stain on it which I couldn't get out so been wearing it till it smelled so bad I had to chuck it. I bought an XXL World cup shirt which is way too big on me so will get a smaller one in Sochi.
Next morning, I did a bit of planning before consigning my bag
to the luggage room and hitting the streets, over 40 degrees out there today so I laid on some sunscreen and headed for the very impressive opera house and theatre, no nasty flies here. Once that was ticked off I headed toward the river where I crossed into the old town near the city's famous Kremlin. Astrakhan has an extensive core of beautifully built, very old wooden houses, I stopped briefly to sit in a park near the Philharmonic theatre to just watch the world go by, I am in no hurry today.
Continuing to the Museum of Military Glory which borders the very pretty well-maintained Fraternal Garden and it's memorial to the Cossacks who the Bolsheviks just about wiped out when they considered their shock troops a threat. The museum had no English labelling, so it didn't take up much time, then to a nearby restaurant for a risotto and carrot cake before entering the Kremlin. The walls are extensive and the enclosed churches including the Assumption Cathedral picture perfect, but it was pretty quiet being a Monday, no guards etcetera so I found the Red gate and continued down to the Volga and the Embankment area.
The big river tourist ships berth here, and the esplanade is attractive if sleepy, on such a hot day only a few local teenagers are swimming, so I continued down to the Statue of Peter the Great and ordered an Uber, the first few didn't even bother turning up but finally one did and the English speaking drive took me past Swan Lake, supposedly the Swan Lake, on the way back to the hotel. It seems there is a time difference to Moscow here which meant I was cutting it fine, so off I went to the airport, the driver was a happy guy who was trying so hard to come up with English conversation that he was driving like a loon. Eventually I arrived in one piece at a very quiet airport and checked in, Aeroflot are a terrible airline, they charge full price and offer nothing, minimal leg room, poor often rude service, no nonmeat options, no booze and no entertainment package, despite all this the first two hour flight was ok.
On arrival I had to go from the pleasant new terminal, by train no less, the journey was quiet long to the chaos of the
old D Terminal, anyone who has travelled through Sheremetyevo would remember the confusing crowded departure area, my gate changed three times while I waited. This flight is full of Peruvian who are idiots, putting their seats back, trays down during take off, using laptops and other devices when told not to, one even pulled the door of the overhead storage locker. Again, rude service meat filled food with no alternative and an overall unpleasant flight, at least I was at the front of the plane and could escape the airport quickly, locating my transfer and commencing the 45 minute trip to Sochi was all painless, it seems I should have stayed in Adler where the airport and stadium are located, I was crawling into bed at 3am. My room is a suite and very comfortably I just have no idea where I am yet.
I have seen very little of Sochi as I arrived in the dark but after sticking my head out the balcony door in my rooftop suite I could see an attractive green city spread out around me. An Uber ride to the centre and I was searching for an Atm as I walked
up an attractive mall stopping briefly for a toasted sandwich the food is the worst at the stadium I don't understand what they are thinking when they selected that rubbish. I then continued to the train station where ticket ladies were handing out free train tickets, when I saw the departure time I avoided all the chanting idiots and made for the train getting a seat although I had two woman's arses in my face for the next 45 minutes.
It was a relief to finally arrive in the Winter Olympics village where the stadium is located and meet up with a couple of guys I met in Sochi we then drank for most of the day and into the evening. I seem to be next to the same blokes at every venue they must have booked their tickets the same time I did. I had one drunk little turd throw a tantrum and his beer on me, everyone turned on him, so he scampered off never to be seen again.
After the match we stopped at a place full of Peruvians to let the crowds dissipate a bit, great atmosphere, which meant we got a train seat
back to Sochi it was then onto McDonald's for crumbled prawns and wedges before I Uberred home, I would have liked to have continued but I have to leave for the airport just after 8am.
Traffic was slow, and it took an hour to get to the airport, another 20 minutes to get though security, thirty more to check in (I was a bit concerned as I booked my flight on an unknown airline in Russian so wasn't sure if it was ridgy didge) and then another 15 minute wait for my fish wrap. This unknown airline shit all over Aeroflot, heaps of leg room (there were eleven less rows), a pleasant meal and it was not only a faster flight with pleasant staff but cost half the price.
After going through immigration in Moscow I went into a cafe were the sourest faced bitch was serving like one person every 10 minutes, and I thought now that is the kind of Russian I remember. I was standing at the gate waiting to board when I realised they had switched gates again, from one to 17 so I trudged down there and took a seat, people were boarding,
lots of Peruvians for some reason and then there was a announcement that the gate had changed, bloody Russians.
The seat on the Air Moldova flight was hard but everything else about it was great, a very yummy vegetarian roll washed down with tomato juice, heaven. I went through immigration quickly although the immigration guy seemed suspicious wanting to know why I wasn't transiting and was outside the airport in no time. The arguing with dirt bag taxi drivers began immediately, as they tried to charge me triple the normal price. I walked down and found one with a metre and the guy actually turned it on so it cost me 85 rather than the 250 those bastard wanted. You should have seen the last one scowl at me as I drove away grinning.
My hotel is quaint but adequate and my hostess bought me plate of pastries and a glass of famous Moldovan red, which wasn't bad I am going to bed as I have an early start tomorrow.
I woke early as I must go catch a minibus to the "Republic of Transnistria" a predominantly ethnic Russian enclave along the Dniester River and
technically part of the Republic of Moldova by 8am. After a breakfast of salad, cheese, bread and what seemed to be cottage cheese pancakes I walked the few streets to the Central bus station where after some confusion I located my bus and purchased a ticket, the ticket seller, the bus driver and the first lady I met on the bus all spoke English. There was even Wi-Fi on the bus which worked I was amazed.
The bus took about 45 minutes to reach the "border" where I had to get a "visa" to enter the country, a short time later I arrived at the train station and waited for by guide to arrive and waited and waited it seems the bloody German girl who was supposed to join us hadn’t turn up. I was far from amused, so the guide took me to another guide who showed me the few highlights of Tiraspol town centre, it was mostly Soviet era statues and architecture, but it kept me busy till the silly frau turned up, seems she slept in.
We then looked at various memorials to various wars including Transnistria's war of independence with Moldova, a monastery, a
cool Lenin bust and the 15th century Ottoman fortress at Bender. We finished the day in an excellent local restaurant where I enjoyed potato dumplings baked in mushrooms and cheese. We then headed back to the bus station for the return trip. When we crossed back into Moldova we were hit with a down poor and the roads were covered in deep puddles, eventually I arrived back in town and returned to my lodgings.
It was a interesting place, that is in some ways lost in time, Russian troops still guard the border, costs are incredibly low, and the place is cleaner and more relaxed then Chisinau.
I am coming down with something so am going to bed, I head to the airport at noon tomorrow for my flight to Bucharest, so I may have time to visit a museum in the morning.
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