Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia
Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
92Trip End Aug 10, 2007
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Within the Russian Federation there are numerous semi-autonomous republics largely populated by the many non-Russian ethnic groups in the country. Nowadays, the best known example of these republics is Chechnya because of the region's attempts to gain independence and the iron fist Russia used against it. We're not anywhere near Chechnya but did pass through two such republics east of Nizhniy Novgorod named Chuvashia and Tatarstan, both populated mostly by two Turkic-language-speaking ethnic groups, the Chuvash and the Tatars
Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan but has a mixed Russian and Tatar population. The city has an attractive old Russian center, a big university Lenin studied at, and a large UNESCO World Heritage Site Kremlin with a spectacular new mosque. If after seeing Nizhni Novgorod I was inclined to make a generalization about second-tier Russian cities languishing while all the nation's new oil wealth in concentrated in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Kazan proved me wrong. Kazan is a city of expressways clogged with SUVs, shopping malls, a new Metro system, North American style suburban housing developments, and lots of new construction. The city looks as prosperous as Nizhni looks depressed, attributable to one main factor - there's plenty of oil in Tatarstan. Kazan is clean and litter free and empty beer bottle free, even the Soviet-era housing blocks aren't pretty but appear better maintained, and I didn't see anyone who was very drunk the entire day we spent there. I'm not sure how much of this difference from other Russian cities is due to wealth, or how much of a role the Tatar's different ethnicity and Moslem religion plays.
An exploratory Dragoman trip seems like perfect practice for participating in The Amazing Race