A Travellerspoint blog

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Tartars V Ivan the Terrible

July 20th and 21st

overcast 24 °C

Kazan is a lovely city, much more playful and relaxed than Yekaterinburg. Our Hotel window looks down on the main mall that runs through the centre of the city. It has a lovely atmosphere with buskers and other attractions with a real festive feel. Heard "Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven's door" in Russian . Enjoyed sampling the delights and strolling along. And of course the first thing you do in Kazan is have your picture taken with a giant Babooshka (actually a Matryoshka as it is almost impossible to find an original Babooshka doll) or try on a ridiculous hat (not happy Jan).
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Kazan was originally settled by Tartars who emerged from northern Turkey and ancient Bulgaria about 1,000 years ago.
They came with Islam and ethnic and cultural markers reflective of their origins. In the 1500's Ivan the Terrible attacked and subdued the Tartars, absorbing them into the Russian territories. This history is still present in the make-up of the community, ethnically and religiously and there is still acknowledgement of the Tartar tradition within the composition of local government and in the even distribution of mosques and Orthodox churches. P1010313.JPGP1010368.JPGP1010357.JPG

We spent a couple of days visiting the Kazan Kremlin (a fortified citadel within a Russian city) an intriguing collection of buildings brought together over hundreds of years, from foundations believed to be nearly 1,000 years to the medieval era around the time of Ivan the Terrible right up to the present day to a very significant mosque built very recently on the original site where it had been destroyed in the 1500's.
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We found street bikes for hire and tried logging on to the website to pay . It was very confusing and although we managed to get one bike we were not able to get a second so we had limited access around the city (guess who got the bike). On the second day we were able to get 2 bikes so we had greater access around the city.
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Checked out an ancient bell tower in a church where John was moved by the spirit of Quasi Modo P1010389.JPG

Currently listening to the buskers outside our Hotel window who are obviously gearing up for a wild Saturday night.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 00:03 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Vladimir Lenin

July 22nd

sunny 28 °C

More bike riding and exploring the city this morning and then in the afternoon we went on a search through some of the less up-market parts of Kazan to find Lenin's house and museum. We had not realised but Kazan was truly the foundation of the formation of Lenin's revolutionary thinking and action.
IMG_20180722_150826.jpg Gillian can't pass up a photo opportunity with someone famous.

He stayed in many houses as he was kept on the move by the authorities but this is a house where he stayed with his family (mother & siblings) for a descent time. It is filled with all the paraphernalia of daily life of a middle class family including things like his chess set, writing desk and books. The museum also covers the lives of both his grandfather a doctor and his father a leading educator and that of his 5 other siblings, An older brother was executed for revolutionary activity whilst his sister was imprisoned for 5 years when Lenin was 17. The museum was really well set out and definitely worth the walk to discover it.
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Off to the railway station to get on our train for the penultimate leg of the trans- Siberian to Moscow. After compartments which had been less than luxurious we found ourselves being treated almost like royalty in our self contained luxury compartment we were like little kids in a 'lolly shop'.
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Time for breakfast.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 21:38 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow Moscow (so good they named it twice)

July 23rd - 26th

overcast 24 °C

We arrived at Leningrad Station, Moscow early on Monday morning with all the workers heading off to their jobs and had to hang around for a bit as we were too early to check into our Air B&B. Not a lot to see around the station, the day was pretty overcast and I was pretty wiped out, (holidaying can be exhausting) so we crawled from cafe to coffee shop. Got to our Air B&B to discover that; ooops it had been booked for the dates in August, not July as we had wanted, and unfortunately it was booked already. BUT our hosts had another, more expensive apartment which was available and which he was happy to lease to us. It was quite delightful, 8th floor looking out onto the city and right beside the Moscow River with ferries travelling up and down. It looks amazing at night and is very comfortable.
IMG_20180723_154929.jpg We were the second unit from the top with the open windows.
The view from our room...
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We have seen some iconic places, places we had heard of all our lives but never imagined visiting, we spent a fascinating time at the Kremlin with a
guide, John was excited to see the cannons which fired on Napoleon's approaching army and was "gently corrected" for crossing the road into to a area he was not supposed to be.
Inside the Kremilin
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From the Kremlin we headed out to Red Square with St Basil's at one end and Lenin's mausoleum in the centre. Workers were busily setting up for the coming celebration on the 28th of July of the Baptism of Moscow, which first occurred sometime in the 1100's but it is still a significant religious event. We ate Borsch and John had Russian beer in a cafe on the edge of Red Square!!
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I visited St Basil's a church built by Ivan the Terrible as gracious thanks for his victory against the Tartars in Kazan. John did a Gaudi on me again and stayed outside. St Basil after whom the chapel was dedicated was honored as a 'fool-for-God.. He and those of his persuasion would behave in a publicly humiliating manner to curb their pride, this they and others believed would bring them much closer to a deep spiritual state. Despite the outward appearance of size once inside it is cluster of tiny little chapels all leading off each other in a seemingly disorganised manner, many describe it as a rabbit warren.
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We had a quieter day following but made the trip to visit the Museum of History which also boarders Red Square, I have said it before but Russians do museums really well. This was laid out superbly although there could have been a lot more English explanations. It began with flint axe heads and moved through human development with a stunning collection of artefacts, we both came away feeling we had been on comprehensive journey.

The following day we headed off for a bit of station spotting armed with our Metro card and a map of the metro we went hunting out the stations which are renowned for their opulence. Apparently Stalin decreed that they were to be, 'palaces for the people', and they would rival many palaces.
They also carry an unsubtle message of heroism, patriotism and wholesomeness. Why is it that totalitarian regimes celebrate wholesomeness, reverence for family life and the importance of tradition?
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Gorky Park and a ferry trip along the Moscow River rounded out our experience of Moscow, a city which takes itself seriously and is a constant surprise with golden cupolas suddenly appearing on the skyline between crumbling 19th century buildings and dour soviet period apartments.

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Posted by Seniorcitizens 11:56 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

St Petersburg - Art and History

July 27th-29th

sunny 30 °C

The final leg of the trans-siberian, a bullet train from Moscow to St Petersburg. The famous city built by Peter the Great at the beginning of the 1700's from a reclaimed swamp. He sort to engage Russia in what he saw as the fashionable European manner so St Peters-burg was modelled on cities like Amsterdam with its wide canals and on the cities like Paris with its very distinct style and decoration. In establishing St Petersburg he moved the capital from Moscow and tried to distance himself from the more parochial elements of Russian culture. Every where you look St Petersburg is a confident, expansive city with generous parks and gardens and wide streets and malls, all overflowing with amazing 18th century architecture and design, much of it very flamboyant.

We hit St Petersburg in the midst of this heatwave that Northern Europe is experiencing and struggled to cope with it especially in the unair-conditioned hotel unit we had booked, so much so that after two of our 5 nights there John went off in pursuit of a hotel with air-con. I don't know of too many travellers who can claim to have two different address simultaneously while in St Petersburg!!! BUT he was happy!
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1. The Hermitage
Not that spectacular from the outside but this is the winter palace where, first Peter the Great and particularly Catherine the Great (bit of a theme!) displayed their highly-refined sensibilities. The palace itself is beyond belief, you stand in awe, torn between the amazing excesses of the opulent extravagances, and craftsmanship of the designers and artisans leaving literally no expense spared and the tragedy of the brutally harsh lives of the peasants . The Hermitage is also famously home to one of the most amazing collections of art held collectively anywhere in the world. At any one time only a small percentage can be on display and there is more than enough to easily take three days of hard slog to absorb. Much of the art work we managed to see was truly breathtaking. There were so many other treasures mixed in amongst a confusing arrangement of rooms that everywhere you went there were tourists wandering through this iconic gallery with their attention held closely to their map, as it was so easy to become disorientated.
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2 Defence of Leningrad
The last Sunday of July is a special celebration in St Petersburg, it is called Navy Day and it celebrates the liberation of the then Leningrad from the almost 900 days of block-aid by the German Army. The Peter and Paul fort, one of Peter the Great's first building projects in 1700 was closed to the public for all the dignitaries to attend, there was heavy air presence and an impressive fly past of Russian aircraft. It was an amazing sunny day and crowds of people were out celebrating, many wearing symbolic recognition of the day; sailor hats, collars, horizontally stripped shirts and carrying the Russian flag or, strangely the St Andrew's flag ( there was historically a Robert the Bruce, grandson maybe, who fought with great distinction alongside the Russian navy in the 1700's) there was a real festive air out on the streets.
We hunted out a little museum which housed memorabilia from the period of the block aid and information about the naval struggle. Everything was in Russian but a young guy was very happy to translate the reminiscences of an older gentleman who wanted to explain every detail that was on display, he also shared a little of the experience of his parents and grandparents during the siege. He was a beautiful old gentleman and his young friend was equally passionate to share the history.
That evening we ate out at an Irish Pub, food not so good but we met a young couple, Natalia and Mischa, who were so keen to talk with us and tell us all about St Petersburg and to find out about what we thought about their hometown and what things were like in Australia. People in Russia are very interested to meet Australians, I don't think they come across too many in their daily lives. We talked on for ages and had a lovely time.
That evening we watched the fireworks from our hotel window.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 10:53 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

St Petersburg The Fort and the demise of Rasputin

July 30th -31st

sunny 32 °C

After having experienced the celebrations of Sunday including fireworks we headed off to Peter the Great's Fort, St Peter and St Paul, built in the early 1700's. It was really where St Petersburg began. It was built in anticipation of attack from Sweden who were at their strongest historically. Viewed from above is is very strategic, as the outer wall has many sections that point out, increasing the effectiveness and versatility of the defenders. The Fort has many interesting parts which have had many uses over its lifetime. Right in the centre is the massive Peter and Paul Orthodox Cathedral which is the burial place for all Russian Tars from Peter the first up until Tsar Nicholas II and his family who were re-interred in a moving ceremony after the discovery of their remains.
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One of the highlights was the old prison which had over the years been the site of detention prior to execution or deportation to Siberia of insurgents and rebels (referred to as terrorists-those opposing the rule of the Tsars) from the early 1800's until 1917, where upon it's use was modified to imprison those considered 'enemies of the people'. The stories of the imprisoned and the accounts of their inhumane treatment were detailed as you went along. Cells were also marked as having been the site where prominent leaders had been held, such as Anton Chekov. Rebels, knowing that they had a high risk of being imprisoned learned a code that would allow them to communicate with other prisoners via tapping once they had been captured.

There is a "beach" at the fort and being such a hot day many Russians were out sunning themselves on the bank.
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We wandered back through the Summer Gardens being able to fully appreciate their effectiveness in the heat.

John has always held a deep interest in the story of Rasputin, the 'mad monk' and confidant of the last royal family. Many Russians resented him, his rustic, unrefined manners and the power he had being so close to the Romanov's, so they decided that it was time to 'get rid of him' . Our Russian friends from a couple of nights ago had told us that Rasputin had been murdered about 100 metres from where we were sitting ( John went into apoplexy). We were able to locate Yusupov Palace to which he had been lured whilst a group of nobles plotted his demise. Legend goes that he was almost impossible to kill, this was a part of the mystery that had built up around him. He was fed a sumptuous meal (poisoned) to end his life, this apparently had little effect, but he may have realised that there was another agenda to this invite. Next they tried to shoot him, and he was hit several times, again this too was unsuccessful so they threw him in the Moika River that ran outside the palace, leaving him to drown . We were able to locate the Palace and go and explore it, it was truly a magnificent example of 19th century design but more appealing to me than something like the Winter Palace as I could imagine people living in these spaces. We also identified spaces where we believed Rasputin may have been entertained in his final hours. Unfortunately we missed the exhibition they have on Rasputin's sorry end as it was not on at that time.
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Check out the most amazing theatre room they had in the palace too!!

We popped in to St Issac's, a powerfully significant Orthodox Cathedral, and climbed the 200+ steps to the bell tower to get an amazing view all over the city, the height of its spire made it one of the tallest structures in Leningrad during the siege and many precious artworks and historical items were stored here during that time as the Russians discovered that the German artillery used the tower to sight their big guns on so they were not going to destroy it.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 09:38 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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