Hello from Kazan, Russia‏

Hello from Kazan – the home of the wedding meringue.  I swear I’ve seen over 20 brides today and you should see the wedding cars.  They are all covered in flowers and unfortunately they often look like funeral hearses.  It appears that summer is wedding season in Russia and a day doesn’t go past without at least seeing one or two brides.

Kazan is the capital of the Tararstan republic.  Surprisingly the area seems to have quite a bit of autonomy from the Russian federation.  Tartar seems to be the main language, and many people are muslims.  It is on the banks of the volga and Kazanka rivers, and so far I think it’s my second favourite place after St Petersburg.  It’s a bit off the tourist route.  It gets many Russian tourists, but not many English speakers.

St Petersburg has definitely been the highlight so far.  Anyone who loves culture and art should start planning a trip.  The Hermitage was amazing.  Before leaving Sofia from the Blakes Sydney office was telling me how often she visited the Hermitage.  I now understand what she means.  I spent 2 days there and I still don’t feel like I saw everything.  I think you need 1 day to be blown away by the building, and then you need to go back and look at the art.  There are surprises in every room.  I was like “mmm that painting looks familiar – ahh yes that would be because it’s a Rembrandt.”  “Oh and there’s a Picasso, van gogh, Renoir, Monet, etc…”  Then there was the collection of Roman and Greek statues, not to mention the Egyptian collection, etc.  I was blown away by the wealth Russia (or the Tsars) must have had to accumulate such a collection.

Dad/Janice:  You would have loved St Petersburg.

The other amazing thing was the security or lack of security.  There were little old ladies in every room, but you could take pictures of everything, and you get so close to the valuable pieces.  Our guide was telling us a story about someone who as a protest against Russia threw acid on one of the paintings and I can see how easy that would be.

The long evenings in St Petersburg were lovely.  It wasn’t getting dark until about 11.30.  One night we stayed up and went to see the lifting of the bridges.  I was like “so what I’ve seen bridges lift before”, but what is funny is that they all lift up at 1.25am and then stay up until the morning to allow the cargo ships passage along the river.  So you can be in one part of St Petersburg and not be able to get back to the main city until the bridges go back down.  They light the bridges and the lifting seems to be a real event.  The amount of boats and tourists watching the lifting of the bridges was crazy.  On another day we went to Pushkin to see the Catherine Palace.  To be honest there was so much to do in St Petersburg and I could have done with another couple of days.

From there we went to Suzdal – a city of churches and monastries.  We stayed in a Russian guesthouse and the cold war was almost reignited when one of the girls decided to wash some clothes in the bathroom sink.  The Russian lady of the house went off yelling at her and rest of the group in Russian.  The problem was we didn’t realise the city was experiencing electricity blackouts and water to the house was scarce because the pumps weren’t working.

The group is mainly Australians, with 2 people from the US and 2 from Quebec.  One of the US guys is a car worker from Detroit.  He is one of the those annoying US tourists who doesn’t think anything can beat what’s at home, and who likes to go to McDonalds for lunch.  I am determined to find one thing in Russia he likes before the end of this trip.  The other person from the US is a chick who is a teacher, who loves politics and sports.  Perfect you say – sounds like me.  She’s good value and we often spend time discussing politics, taxation systems, black Americans, indigenous Australians, education, the environment, etc.  Luckily we get along because she’s ending up being my room mate for most of the trip.

Now for the weather update.  It’s hot – damn hot!  Russia is having it’s worst heat wave in over 130 years.  Temperatures are in the mid to high 30’s.  Now that doesn’t sound bad, but these building are built for maintaining heat, not for keeping cool.  I will never take air con for granted again.  Check out some of these stories:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10646106

http://english.pravda.ru/russia/economics/20-07-2010/114300-heat_wave-0

We’ve slowly been cracking – first the Candians, then the US and even the Australians are not coping.  My room mate and I have an unwritten rule about being naked.  Sometimes it’s the only way to cope with the night.  I usually try to start in my PJs, as I usually like to have somewhere to go.  If you just sleep in your underwear there’s less to strip off.  It’s also okay to take 2 am cold showers.  Other methods for dealing with the heat include wetting a towel and sleeping on that.  Personally that’s not a favourite of mine because it feels like you’ve had an accident in the middle of the night.

Anyway, that’s it from me at the moment.

I hope all’s going well at home and that you are enjoying the election campaign.

Best wishes and lots of love

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