First let’s start with our geography lessons for Americans. (In case you aren’t following every post: the Russian stereo type of Americans includes being fat, eating hamburgers and french fries, farting and burping in public, and not knowing geography.)
Kazan is Russia’s third largest city. Our guide, Marcel, was Tartan and told us the Tartan language is derived from Turkish and they are an autonomous region inside of Russia, half educated (Suni) Muslims and half Russian.
Putin recently made them quit calling their president a president and instead call him a governor, but basically they make their own decisions. Russia gave them a lot of money to rebuild their city into the sports center of Russia so they would stay a part of Russia. They got a good deal because they are 200 years older than Moscow and their city looks beautiful with all sorts of restored historic buildings, including the original white Kremlin. Kremlin is Russian for fort.
The title was not just a teaser for the geography lesson. The Russian secret comes in a form of a document Geoff and I were told to sign, with our names printed, before we got on the train. If we did not, they would not give us our first class cabin upgrade for free. “I mean it, Dale, do not post it in your Blog.” Of course, he whispered this to me while on the bus with the other tour group members.
If I could say only one thing about the Trans-Siberian Railway, all 7 time zones and 4400 miles of it, I would say don’t go unless you can afford a first class cabin, complete with private bath and shower. Just save up your money and wait if you can’t afford it now. The 12 day train is a great way to arrive in Moscow having rolled across the entire country, stopping at four Russian towns along the way. But it you have to share a potty with a group of strangers, it is not worth it.
Our marriage would not have lasted without this upgrade. Forget the Ithaca poem. I picked up a contagious train illness half-way through the trip, while Geoff got along fabulously with all 18 in the group.
Here is another Russian secret, there are trains loaded with tanks headed in the direction of Mongolia even as I type. I counted 4 in 6 days and I wasn’t spending that much time looking out the window. Geoff and I are working on a thesis comparing China, Mongolia, and Russia in 250 words of less for the blog but not sure we will get it finished. I will say that Mongolia does not have a chance if the tanks are headed their way.
To give a good impression of Americans,I have been trying my best not to fart or burp in public but it’s hard work. There are very few American tourists in Russia. They’ve been told there is a propaganda campaign put out against them so people aren’t visiting Russia. I told one person, “Americans aren’t coming to Russia because a commercial airline was shot out of the sky by a Russian rocket.” The economic pain felt by just plain ole people is real here. They have no more control over Putin than we have over Congress. So come visit Russia! Just don’t fly over Ukraine- try a first class cabin on the train from Beijing.
Unfortunately, most of what the Russians think about us, is true. Therefore, we as Americans should go out and travel as much as possible in Russia and show them our good side. One of our positives is our friendliness. Russians are also very friendly when they meet us on their soil. We Americans are getting a lot of bad press here. They are using the Europeans and Americans as the cause of all their problems. Kind of like how we use immigrants and poor people for a lot of our problems.
Kazan’s White Kremlin, with Geoff on the wall surrounding the Kremlin and pink group friends.
Mosque, completed in 2007, inside Kazan’s Kremlin.
Two guards protecting the “Governor’s” office. This would be the White House in America.
Geoff being held captive by our coach managers. They made up our bed and cleaned the room twice a day.
Two good-looking Russian waiters.
Train stations along the route were all beautifully restored buildings.
Car 2, Cabin 6, the sanity saving personal shower, and the Pink group getting rowdy in the dining car after a vodka tasting.