Monday, 11 August 2014

Aug. 7-11: Vladimir-Nizhny Novgorod-Cheboksary-Kazan

From Vladimir we took a 4-hour marshrutka, through an intense thunder storm, to Nizhny Novgorod. Nizhny Novgorod's one of the several cities that claims to be Russia's "third capital", and while it's much smaller than Moscow or Petersburg, it's still a real metropolis with a population of 1.25 million.  The most alluring thing about the city is it's dramatic setting on a hillside with views over the Oka river (a tributary of the Volga).

After spending a night in Nizhny we got a marshrutka another 4 hours eastwards to Cheboksary. We had a warm welcome from our hosts, who immediately invited us to use their banya (Russian sauna). Cheboksary is the capital of the Republic of Chuvashia, the official homeland of the Chuvash ethnic group. The Chuvash have a slightly Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appearance, with black hair, dark eyes and tanned skin, and their language is Turkic, but unlike Turks or Tatars the Chuvash are predominantly Orthodox Christians. Although Cheboksary's population is about 60% Chuvash, 30% Russian, very few of the city's population actually know the Chuvash language. Our host - himself a Chuvash who can understand but not speak the language - explained that there's a negative stereotype that only uneducated people from rural areas speak Chuvash, so the educated, urban population prefer Russian. We didn't once hear anyone speak Chuvash in the streets - though our hosts' parents did sometimes speak it at home - and only some signs around the city were bilingual. Aside from being the Chuvash capital, the city's other claim to fame is beer production: Cheboksary is perhaps the only town in Russia famous for its beer. We went to the beer museum - housed in a building shaped like a giant beer barrel - and afterwards tasted some of the produce and it was indeed the best Russian beer I've tasted yet.

After an enjoyable two days in Cheboksary we took a 3-hour marshrutka to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan and another candidate for the title of Russia's third city. As we'd already spent a month studying in Kazan two years ago, we'd intended to only spend a couple of hours there before hopping on a night bus to Ufa. However, by the time we arrived that day's buses to Ufa had all sold out, so we had to wait until the bus leaving at 07.40 the next morning. We decided not to bother finding accommodation in Kazan, and instead just had lunch at our old favourite restaurant Dom Chaia, then wandered around town until 22.40, when we killed a couple of hours by watching Cherepashki-nindzya, i.e. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dubbed into Russian. When the film ended we found a 24-hour kebab house, where we sat, watching crowds of teenagers drinking in the streets outside, until it started to get light outside. We then returned to the bus station and could finally get the sweet relief of sleep when we sat on the air-conditioned coach to Ufa.

No comments:

Post a Comment