Kazan – Sviyazhsk – Train to Moscow (Days 2-4)
A special thank you to Anastasia Prokofyeva for letting me use her shot as the feature. Better fit for the likes of Reuter’s or AP, instead of my humble blog, but more of her incredible photography to come with the next post.
After a tremendous first day in Russia topped with enough Vodka to permanently pickle the livers of a small nation, Day Two ups the ante in celebratory debauchery with Paul and Nastya’s wedding reception. Already married in Columbus, this trip serves as an officializing of their union among Nastya’s family members who were unable to make it to the US From Russia, With Love (Yes! Finally! Too obvious? Overdone? I don’t care!).
Out of respect for the privacy of the festivities, and people involved, I’m leaving the wedding pictures out of the blogosphere, but will give a detailed breakdown to you, dear reader, with a bullet point rendition of fourteen plus hours of glorious revelry.
- Dancing to Euro-House pop/traditional Russian songs, rinse with Vodka, wash with white wine. Repeat.
- Mounds of food including chicken and meat Shashlyk (Kebabs) and traditional Tatar wedding fare like a Goose stuffed with dates.
- A Russian/American alliance sealed through the words of Ambassador to the Queen, Mr. Freddie Mercury.
- Said alliance tested as Russians persistently attempt to sabotage the day by getting the groom, Paul, and by association, me, as drunk as humanly possible.
- Marti ‘times out’ for four hours.
- One-on-one basketball against Nastya’s grandfather, who was a point guard for a USSR national team. He still has some decent moves.
- Everyone piles in the Banya.
- Nastya gets thrown in the cold pool in her dress.
- I can understand Russian!
- No I can’t. They were speaking English.
- Things get blurry.
Kazan, affected by the White Nights, never gets completely dark during this time (June). It looks like daybreak…
I don’t have pictures of the event, but do have a compilation video of the night (fair warning, it’s HIGHLY addictive, and Paul has since shaved his beard).
I wake up with David Byrne lyrics ricocheted through my throbbing head in one of those, ‘my god, what have I done’ moments. Marti is still out cold. I let her sleep and sheepishly stumble to a very late breakfast. Everyone kind of looks the same; bleary-eyed, full of side-glancing regret, with audible groans. Breakfast, lunch, whatever, replenish the soul. I never thought I would survive the onslaught of a Russian wedding booze-athon without dying. Nastya says something about how impressed her family was with our (me and Paul’s) booze magnanimity. A sense of pride arises from within, then, I find a small note in my pocket that reads:
I f*cking hate you
Holy Dormition Monastery of Sviyazhsk
Per Nastya (with additions from her wonderful Mom), the ‘island’, located an hour or so south of the city, sits between the Sviyaga and Volga rivers, and served as a launching point for Ivan the Terrible in his siege/final victory over the Kazan Khanate. The area existed as a very prosperous monastery/subsequent (but not so successful) village from the mid-1500’s to the time of Bolshevik rule, when the reservoir was purposefully flooded, and Sviyzazhsk became an actual island labor camp. The Soviets destroyed most the monastery, stripping all religiousness, marring iconic images – leaving it to further ruin when it became a psych ward in the 1990’s.
An ominous past contrasted to a stunning present – through dense pine forests, passed clusters of bright, ornate, summer homes, or dashas, it’s like driving through a Russian fairy tale. The forest opens up into a hilly valley divided by the two rivers.
Arrival is kind of convenient; the waters have been purposefully receded so you can drive up down a dusty road that’s halfway paved (under construction), park the car, walk up steep stairs to where everything situated. You can just walk around to each building and go right in. No signage, or direction.
We’re not alone on Sviyazhsk – walking through an old gate is walking onto the set of Indiana Jones, there are bishops walking by, and workers everywhere, hammering, sawing, erecting scaffolding. I expect a uni-browed worker to yell “Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones!” excitedly leading us to some discovery that may or may not melt our faces off when opened.
Cathedrals, and their art, are being painstakingly refurbished to original condition with the ‘island’ on the way to becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s an honor to visit/experience such hallowed grounds before the droves of tourists get the green light; it’s like a behind backstage at Unesco.
The downside is every cathedral, dormitory, inside and out have scaffolding. We get a private tour of most of them; learn a bit about the meticulous process of restoration. The historic progression of religious art is clear with folksier murals in the oldest cathedrals, moving to Byzantine influenced depictions, and on to the Renaissance movement.
The rest of the afternoon is at Nastya’s grandparent’s apartment back in Kazan. There’s likely a universality to grandparents, but certain paintings, the furniture in the apartment, Nastya’s grandfather proudly showing Paul and I his book collection, the smell of home cooking, stewed/pickled tomatoes from the garden, smoked salmon, and my new favorite thing ever, a meat-stuffed breaded triangle called Pirozhkis; all remind me of my own departed grandparents. It’s a comforting, relaxing moment.
We eat, while poor Nastya spends most of her lunch translating (again).
I’ve picked up some very important Russian phrases like: Da – Yes, Pivo – Beer, Spasiba – Thanks.
Spasiba, Rosetta Stone! Pivo? Da!
Today is a prep day for our evening departure to Moscow, spent running around town grabbing various provisions like salted fishes, calamari, ‘smoky cheese rope’ (real name indecipherable), and essentials like Russian standard vodka.
We head back to Baumana Street to eat at a Tea House for lunch. The décor is rather simple, somewhat tacky, but they bring out blinis, and pirozhkis, and I could give a crap what the place looks like. I could seriously eat a billion these flaky, samosa-esque pirozhkis. Lunch is the first time I try borscht on the trip, and I intend to eat it with every meal from here on out, including breakfast. I’ve found my death row meal, Pirozhkis and borscht, which sounds like a Russian comedy duo, or attorneyskys at law.
Here are some random pictures taken around Kazan.
The rest of the trip is a relaxed hang-out session with Nastya’s family, friends. It’s great to just converse, bond, enjoy the company of such generous and amazing people. Without them, Kazan is not the same. A difficult goodbye to Nastya’s mother, and step-father , while Olga and Igor grab a flight to St. Petersburg, where they await our arrival. But first, the train to Moscow
To be continued, again. – Mike