Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan, is a city of 1.2 million, four hundred miles east of Moscow. It was a persistent thorn in Russia’s side until 1552 when the famous Czar, Ivan the Terrible, put this irritant to rest with his massive invasion. Ivan expertly laid siege to the fortress walls. The great story is told in the epic Sergei Eisenstein film which is still a classic today. Kazan’s walls were considered impregnable but Ivan’s engineers and gunsmiths only built bigger cannons, the biggest the world had seen at the time and the Kremlin walls of Kazan came tumbling down.
Throughout history this city has maintained its own degree of autonomy. My guide was a Muslim who claimed that her family practiced their faith all through the Soviet era, praying five times a day. Contrast that to my Christian interpreter, whose mother dared not mention the word Easter or even cook a dessert on that day for fear of reprisals. School teachers would bait the little children by asking the next morning, “Who had a special cake or desert yesterday?”
The city boasts the Lenin Ulyanov Kazan State University, named after its most famous student. It is a great research center. Among other things, mother’s can thank the place for developing ultrasound technology. As your faithful contrarian, I found the place interesting because of the many statues outside to the students it expelled. Lenin himself and Leo Tolstoy, to name a couple. Not many universities build statues to the ones they kick out. Makes me want to enroll because I could surely provoke something like that for myself.
I stayed at the Riviera, a modern 24 story hotel, overlooking the Kazanka river and a manmade beach, water park, and theatre complex with multiple IMAX screens. There were plenty of restaurants and some of the best eating in Russia, and I have been all over the country. The Panorama restaurant had several delicious plates to match the view of the Kremlin and exquisite desserts as complex as any French restaurant. In fact, the food was so good at the Amore, the hotel restaurant, that I didn’t get out very often.
Oh, there was a restaurant downtown whose menu claimed that the caprice salad was 1000 years old. Hmmm. Very interesting. Columbus first brought tomatoes to the old world four hundred years later. Oh well.
They call Kazan the third capital of Russia and it is another “Putin miracle.” Some big international university event is scheduled and so they are remaking the city. Step by step, Russia is prospering and more rapidly than most in the west would ever guess.