While living in Moscow, it is easy to forget that Russia is in many ways a developing country. We even have a Nobu here! However, once you leave the city you begin to understand another side of Russia. This past weekend, Michael and I took an overnight train to Kazan. It is about 500 miles east of Moscow. The train ride was enjoyable as we had beds, our Kindles, and I brought more chocolate and snacks than we could possibly eat.
First, the bad. We ended up at the Kazan Zoo, and it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. For those of you who know me well, you know I am not an animal person. But my heart was broken. We went because there was supposed to be a festival for Maslenitsa (Pancake Week), and we read that you could make your own blinis (Russian pancakes) and partake in other celebrations. We arrived and started walking around. The infrastructure was crumbling, and there was at least three feet of snow. We did not expect to see any animals, but lo and behold there were lots of animals. Each animal looked sadder than the next. We saw a camel whose humps looked like they were falling off, probably due to malnutrition. In another cage was a lion, with meat sitting there that looked as if it had been there for days. After walking in and out of different sections of animals, we finally decided we had had enough and went on a quest for the festival. Sadly, it didn’t exist or apparently just ended. We saw a scarecrow that was about 2 feet tall and a snowman of the same size. I don’t think this zoo should be in existence. See below for very sad videos of a lion and bear at the zoo.
Another sad thing was the state of many of the buildings. You could see at one point in time there were beautiful buildings in the city with interesting details. However, many are now dilapidated and without roofs, sides, or windows. Our tour guide said that during the Soviet era money was not invested to maintain the buildings and they fell into disrepair. Some have been renovated, others are in the midst of renovations, but many are in a terrible state. You can see a slide show below of some of the buildings.
Despite the above, there were some good things about the weekend. Kazan is said to be where European and Asian Russia meet. It is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The most famous site is the Kremlin. Inside the Kremlin walls are the largest mosque in Russia, Kul Sharif, as well as the 1561 Annunciation Cathedral and a leaning tower from which legend says the reluctant Tatar bride of Ivan the Terrible threw herself to her death. In the city, Moslems and Christians appear to coexist peacefully and have done so for generations.