Lot’s of rain while on the road across to Bashkordostan and Tatarstan. Another sign of coming closer to “home”. The hitchhiking was slow, though we got a lot of short but interesting rides. Like a Gazel marshrutka driver that was picking up everyone from the side of the road and refusing to take any money from the passengers; or a tatar man on the old Zhiguli telling stories from his army service time in GDR; or a man from Naberezhnye Chelny giving us a tour of the city and showing all factories of the famous Kamaz.
We were still 100km away from Kazan, it was getting dark and I went to the closest gas station to interview the drivers. After a 5 min discussion we were getting a ride from a young entrepreneur Zhenya in his new Toyota Prado jeep. We rolled into Kazan in darkness and Zhenya decided to give us a quick sightseeing tour around the city center. We were just amazed. Felt like we were back in Europe. Beautiful buildings, perfect roads, wide side walks and plenty of people outside enjoying the nice weather. No rain at all and summer warm. Zhenya and us stopped for a bite at the best Döner (Shawerma) place in the city. Such a nice welcome!
We stayed with a couchsurfer in Kazan, I must say Russia has a very active community and across the country we did not find a couch only once in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The next 2 days we spent outside exploring Tatarstan’s capital, Roma the host is a great ambassador of his city and he showed us nice hidden corners and food spots off the tourist route. We were truly amazed how Tatarstan and Kazan are different from the rest of Russia (at least the East of it). Roads are the same as in Germany :), a lot of nice well-maintained parks, wide sidewalks, no uncovered manholes, organized public transport with announcements in 3 languages (Tatar, RU, EN), clean city with the renovated buildings and even contemporary architecture looks nice (no grey paneláky); polite drivers and a lot of smiling happy people. I guess, when the basic problems are solved and there is no need to worry about dying on the street, people can smile and start using their energy in a different way, like promoting culture and communicating with each other rather than complaining.
We liked Kazan a lot and its friendly people, I guess if ever get to buy a property in Russia, I would have Kazan on my list 🙂 Plus it is a Muslim republic, which brings a nice diversification to the dough-potato cuisine of Russia.