Jeonghee and I have been doing a tolerably good job of exploring Russia, but we’ve not done a great job of exploring our own backyard. So, last week we picked up the handy, more or less well-translated Kazan Tourism Board guidebook and decided to try out one of its walking tours.
This particular one took us down Kremlyovskaya Street, once the principal thoroughfare of the city. It begins at the First of May Square, right in front of the Kremlin with its large statue of Tartar poet and World War II martyr Musa Jalil.
Right across the square is the National Museum of Tartarstan, which we’ll revisit in the winter when the cold limits our options. However, the outside of the building is beautiful in and of itself. In fact, the whole street is full of turn of the century architecture and small trees that give a very European, almost Parisian boulevard feel. The Alexandrovsky Passage, once a prominent mall, may be the prettiest building on the street, but there’s certainly competition.
This is Russia, though, so an onion dome or bright church roof is never far from sight. The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral claims this place here, and for my money is one of the most architecturally unique churches I’ve seen in the country. I can spot its uppermost level from the second floor of the school I work at, and on a clear blue day it’s utterly beautiful. Inside the church feels different as well, as its smaller, more cramped chapel and age-blackened icons are a far cry from the touristic sheen of churches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It feels like an actual place people go to pray, and have for centuries.
After stopping at the Church, we descended from the other side of Kremlyovskaya to Black Lake Park- a small park with more of the pond really, and full of berry-laden trees that must have been inedible because the birds were steering clear. It is a pretty park, nicely framed by the white Lover’s Arch at its head.
Surrounding the park is Kazan Federal University, one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in Russia. It’s a more sprawling place than most Western universities, with campus buildings scattered all around that part of town and less than clear borders, but there are some standouts, like the National Library of Tartarstan, housed in the former Z.N. Ushkov Mansion, which is one of the more eccentric buildings in town.
After a quick dinner of noodles at a suitably Asian-esque fast food joint, we headed to the ferry terminal and joined up with our buddy Harry and some of his friends for a “booze cruise” down the Volga (basically a ferry you can buy beer on). A cold beer, good conversation, and the slow twilight crawl of the ferry down the Volga provided the perfect punctuation mark on a long week.