A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

The heart of Tatarstan


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large_5550_1166127591426.jpgThe mosque in the Kremlin in Kazan.
Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan Republic within the Russian Federation ... perhaps like Tibet within China, rather than an indpendent country like Kazakhstan.

Kazan which is outside Siberia, and is quite different from Irkutsk [Irkutsk-travel-guide-696435] and Ekaterinburg ... i has a different ethnic mix and we haven't seen anyone drinking on the street in the socially-acceptable manner.

Kazan and the republic of Tatarstan is about 60% non-Russian. But being about 40% Russian it doesn't look like it will get independence. They seem to be proud of their somewhat autonomous status ... the Republic flag is every where and McDonald's even puts the Republic colours into their "restaurant" signage!

The majority are Turk-Mongol Muslim people who are descended from Chinggis Khan ... it does appear than many people are somewhat mixed in ethnicity just by looking at the mix of features in one face at times.

Kazan has a famous Kremlin (fortress) which contains the Presidential Palace, a church and mosque. There are many other nice churches and mosques but many are currently scaffolded for restoration. The city was founded in 1005 and is celebrating its millennium this year.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Where the last Tsar was killed


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large_5550_11661309196222.jpgThe monument of the Komsomol pair striding forward, with the Ascension Church behind.
Ekaterinburg is another pretty Russian-Siberian city. Saw the site where the Tsar and family were killed ... their bodies are now in St Petersburg under fake marble plaques. Quite shocked at how tackily done when we visited there 3 years ago.

For our homestay here, we were driven up another muddy road but this time flankaed by very rundown Soviet-style apartments.

Our hearts sank even further as we walked through the heavy iron security door into a musty hallway ... then into a simple but delightful living room where we spent two nights on a small sofa bed in the company of a nice family.

Both husband and wife are engineers but they rent this apartment from the Government. Not the best existence for highly skilled people. Homestays supplement their income ... and they hit the jackpot when their elder daughter married one of the homestayers and is now happily married in Epsom, London!

The weather turned on us in Ekaterinburg [Ekaterinburg-travel-guide-1308289] and it has been scorching all the way since.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Train from Irkutsk to Ekaterinburg


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We continued our journey to Ekaterinburg [Ekaterinburg-travel-guide-1308289] where the last Tsar and family were exterminated. The journey took 2 nights in 1st Class (2 people). But we ran into Liz and Sarah who were in 3rd class (dormitory style ... oh, the humanity!)

We had them over for a cabin party (the ones you dread your neighbours having) along with 2 Japanese guys who are engineers on an ice-breaker in the Antarctic. They fish for tunas, other fish and whale ... there was pin-drop silence (apart from the clickety-clak of the train) when they said "whale" and held up his hands as if riding a bicyle (ie. operating a harpoon).

For the sake of good company, we all continued with our beer, peanuts and dried squid as if nothing had been mentioned.

We're glad we had a mix of 1st and 2nd class as it offered both privacy and company. And we managed to see all the smuggling first hand!

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Pretty Irkutsk


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Irkust itself was a typical Siberian city or smaller Russian city. Nice old buildings with more pretty intricate windows but always people walking around smoking and drinking beer ... regardless of when, where or what doing, eg. waiting for a bus first thing in the morning. And you'd never think you're in the heart of Asia because nearly everyone is European-Russian.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

20% of the world's fresh water


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large_5550_11661276729293.jpgThere was still ice on the less exposed portions of Lake Baikal.
We spent a night at Lake Baikal [Lake-Baikal-travel-guide-1313451] which contains 20% of the world's fresh water reserve. It harbours more endemic species of plants and animals than any other lake in the world. It is big and beautiful. We stayed at the little quiet mountain town of Listvyanka [Listvyanka-travel-guide-1323523] on the lakeside.

At Listvyanka we were first taken to our homestay up up a litter-strewn muddy street flanked by junkyards and beautiful Siberian wooden houses with intricately-dressed windows. We cringed. But all worked out well as we had a beautiful room (5 times the size of the one in Osaka) over looking the valley and lake.

Russia has a bit of catching up in terms of respect for the environment. Littering in the lake is bad in parts (but the water is still very clear). The freshwater seals in the aquarium-museum appeared over-fed ... they were nearly spherical!

Worst of all were the dancing bears in their cages ... rocking back and forth as they go mad from boredom (but Kim thinks they are just practicing their dance routines).

The weather in here was cold and crisp ... the sun played peek-a-boo with us through the clouds for parts of the day but it always turns fine. We were just in time to catch the last of the icy-slush in the lake.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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