Our first experience with the night train from Moscow to Kazan was a positive one. Since the kind receptionists at GoodMood hostel had given us some valuable inside info on riding the Russian trains and finding the right carriage, we made sure to be early at the train station to avoid stress. After much speculation and anticipation, we finally could have a look at the Kupe that would be our room for the night. Efficiency is the keyword when it comes to these rooms with four berths occupying each compartment. This means we had the company of a friendly young Russian couple that was very helpful to translate between the Provodnika and us. With a decent amount of sleep, we arrived in Kazan.
We decided that taking a taxi to our hostel would not be necessary. It was “only” 1.8 km from the train station. With our (over)full backpacks, this was a spicy morning training. When we arrived at the Kazanskoye Podvorye Hostel, we got a warm welcome and had some very nice breakfast. The weather forecast predicted some rain, so we took our raincoats and went for an exploration of the area. The hostel was situated right in the old city center, so a short walk brought us to the Kazan Kremlin. Kazan is a melting pot of cultures and has a rich history as the capital of Tatarstan. The mix of the orthodox Annunciation cathedral, a leaning tower and the Kul-Sharif mosque within the Kremlin illustrates this. The rain started falling at the end of our tour of the Kremlin and made us decide to go rest a little after our train journey. In the evening we decided to go for Indian food, instead of the Georgian cuisine that we enjoyed thus far. Malabar didn’t disappoint with a nice curry and some garlic naan bread. Certainly worth a visit!
The next day we had our train to Yekaterinburg at 2 p.m. so we took the chance to sleep in a bit and stroll around the area a bit more. Despite the rain, Kazan proved to be a very nice experience!
In contrast to the first night train we took, the train to Yekaterinburg left in the afternoon and would arrive early. This meant that we would be having the chance to see the Russian countryside between Kazan and Yekaterinburg pass by the window of our Kupe. During this route we would cross our first time zone in Russia. Since all times for the trains are written down in Moscow time, it is very important to be aware of these time differences.
When our train rolled into the station, it immediately became clear that it was not as modern as the previous one. After installing ourselves, we could also say this about the company in our compartment, because this time it was an elderly couple which didn’t speak a word of English. The Provodnik and his assistant on the other hand were young guys that were clearly excited to have English-speaking travelers. His drawings of a chicken and a pig were very helpful to choose our meal!
After a beautiful sunset and a very short night, we arrived in Yekaterinburg rather tired. Our hostel proved to be a very nice accommodation with good showers and clean rooms. Despite this, we felt a lot of indifference by some of the staff, which didn’t do too much for the general vibe.
Tired but curious, we went for a first exploration of the city. Our Lonely Planet suggested a walk along the red line, which is drawn on the street and connects all the ‘highlights’ of the city center. Since we planned on doing this the next day, it seemed nice to already get a more detailed map from the tourist information center. The walk towards this center already showed us a lot about Yekaterinburg. First and foremost that it is not an architecturally exciting city and second of all that it’s not that well kept after as Moscow and the (main) streets of Kazan.
After we got our map we really needed to grab some good coffee because we were almost falling asleep. A look on our downloaded Maps.Me map taught us that there was a coffee bar called Coffee Project around the corner. This bar happened to be decorated very cozy, with enthusiastic and friendly waiters. Despite that they were a bit insecure about their English, we chatted with them about things to see and they pointed out some good restaurants. After we sat down in the bar, it started raining hard. After two well needed coffees we started to be ready to go again. Before we left, the awesome staff even gave us a free cappuccino-to-go (maybe they just saw that we really needed one more). We decided to look for lunch and headed for Stolle, famous for its filled pastries. Our chicken, spinach and mushroom pastry was excellent!
For dinner we went to an Ukrainian place and I had my first Borsch. Delicious and hearty! We also learned an important lesson about drinking wine in Russia. First, always check the quantity for which the price is displayed for (prices per 50 ml and not per glass are not uncommon and present a surprise when the check arrives) and secondly, a budget wine in Russia is barely drinkable.
The next day, we did the tour of the red line. Maybe we are already a little spoiled by Moscow and Kazan, but the sights were not really impressive. The most interesting part was the ‘Church on the blood‘, the site where the last tsar and his family executed. We therefore decided to just enjoy the weather and watch some people. Suus didn’t have to hand out too many red cards yet, since apparently the majority of (young) Russian women have a decent taste for fashion. The men on the other hand…
The following morning we slept in and prepared for 21 hours in the train to Novosibirsk, our first town in Siberia!