Enjoying my breakfast, deck side, with caviar and all, I had gotten myself a bottle of mineral water. The bottle read: The mineral water you taste is bottled at facilities, developed by joint efforts of the ministry of economic affairs of the Netherlands and the Nizhni Novgorod regional administration, within the technical assistance program. At the same time, music already playing through the boat its speakers, Tarkan was singing in Russian. The train might have been a much faster method, doing the trip by boat was certainly a much more relaxed way of moving from one place to the next.
So I had arrived in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan. The port turned out to be quite a long way from the city center and that, in its turn, turned out to be quite a long way from the place I had decided I wanted to spend the night.
Spending the first couple of hours trying to get train tickets and a place to stay, one of the first things I noticed was that the city was so very well kept. The buildings where all in good shape, the streets very clean and, surprise, the people very friendly. However, the Lonely Planet turned out to be dead wrong in almost all it said. Train tickets and plain tickets where almost impossible to get and several of the hotels the Planet suggested had been closed over time.
One very big, western style, hotel (the Safar) had just sprung up on the outskirts of town, next to where a youth hostel used to be. A big sign outside celebrated ten years of Braunschweig – Kazan. Their prices where a little bit above my budget though, but they forwarded me to the one hotel that was still alive and mentioned by the planet, the hotel Tatarstan. Being almost in the center of town, its location wasn't very inconvenient either. Not in the best of shapes, it did have a good view of Kazan's main street.
All over the lobby of the hotel, stickers where advertising them accepting all sorts of credit cards. When I waved my AmEx in front of the receptionist, however, she friendly refused to accept it. Maybe a picture then, to keep for posterity the typical 70s interior of the hotel? As I grabbed my camera, a guard came over, making it very clear I was NOT allowed to take pictures.
I had to get the key to my room from the 'floorlady' upstairs. My room, I had been told by reception, was on the 7th floor, but when I pushed the appropriate button in the elevator, the thing wouldn't move. I then tried my luck with the other elevator, but there too, the thing just didn't take off. After some careful studying the buttons available, it turned out I first had to push my floor and then had to push the 'up' button. The button for the 7th floor, however, didn't work. So I went up to six and walked the last part. On the 7th, I found out I had to go to the 8th.
My floorlady was busy cleaning rooms, and she made it clear she had ample time to supply me with my keys. Her face lit up a bit when she saw my name. First asking whether I was 'Islam?' then noticing I was alone. A sort of 'wink wink, notch notch' scene was the result, where she seemed to be certain in what I was going to do that very night. But although I had color television and a shower with hot water in my room, the bed, basically a mattress with one big hole in the middle, wasn't inviting to share.
The city apparently has been renovated over the past couple of years and the main shopping street is a very nice place to walk through. Besides that street though, there's nothing much to do in Kazan, so the shopping street is where I spent most of the day. There are no significant museums and the only historically interesting part of town is the city Kremlin, but even that isn't very interesting.
Mid-afternoon, the center started to get more and more crowded, the sunny weather probably helping a lot, and several small groups of people started showing themselves off. Making music, break dancing, flame throwing or doing other kinds of remarkable stuff. I sat down close to a group of people making typical Russian music and, as these things go, after some time, we started to chat.
That didn't go without any trouble at first, since the group really only spoke Russian, until one guy showed up, after some time, who had spent a couple of years in Germany. Him speaking perfect German made our conversations much easier, resulting in me spending the rest of the day (and the night) with 'Nemets' (as he was called by his friends, which means something like 'German boy' in Russian) and a select group of his pals.
At some point, even, one of his friends invited me into singing a song by Metallica together with them. Of course I joined, although it didn't come very easy. I thought singing was much easier than it turned out to be!
Anyhow, Nemets had to stress, a number of times, that I had to experience Russian hospitality and that he just had to arrange a woman for me for the night. Having seen quite a couple of good looking Russian women, but an equal number of bad looking women, I wasn't sure what it meant. Any which way, it seemed the night was going to be an interesting one.
Nemets had spent several years in Germany but was now living in Kazan again. The group of friends studied music at the Kazan university and enjoyed the summer by hanging out, making good music on the streets and earning small cash in doing so.
Already, the evening had given away to the night, and Nemets was getting more and more worried that, still, he hadn't arranged a group of women for him, myself and the three friends that where still left. Several small groups of ladies he kept on asking to join us for the night, in order for everyone to have a good time. Somehow, it seemed he actually knew all the girls he asked out, although I'm not really sure about that.
After some time trying, he finally did convince three girls to join us. The main guitar player was still with us and Nemets had convinced the girls to go skinny dipping in 'mother Volga' (as Nemets called it) with us, so it was going to be an interesting night after all.
All three girls where quite nice. Only one, Lilian, spoke something besides Russian though, and she was destined to be 'mine' for the evening. One major drawback, though, there was. Not that she was ugly or something, since she wasn't (actually, she was very nice looking, dark curly hair, firm breasts, quite long legs, a nice smile and a heavenly ass!), but she just couldn't believe I had come to Russia, of all places, to spent my vacation. I must have been looking for a woman to take back with me, or working on some other ungodly scheme! She just couldn't get it through her mind that I was traveling through Russia (six weeks, gasp!) for pleasure.
The night became older and older and the day started to creep up on us again. Already at 3am the sky was becoming pretty bright and I, although having a very good time, felt like going of to bed. My train was leaving the next day, somewhere in the morning, and I did feel like getting something of sleep before leaving Kazan again.
Some time later, the sun was already shining again, we headed back to town. Nemets, having scored one of the girls, was constantly lagging behind, them stealing kisses from each other, and it took us quite some time to actually get to the center, where my hotel was. Finally getting back to the hotel, I kissed my 'date' goodbye and, some minutes later, slept (by myself) for the remainder of my stay in the hotel. In effect, the people I met in Kazan proved me that Russians can be very hospitable indeed, without necessarily asking money for it at the same time. Then again, the people from Tatarstan are among the most non-Russians in Russia and act like it too. The license plates on the cars in Tatarstan are among the few in Russia that don't show the Russian flag.