On Friday evening I met up with Issy and Emma, two other students from my university who would also be studying at Kazan Federal University. The next morning we met in the lobby of the hostel and headed up to the International Office for 8am sharp; after sorting a few more things I was told to ‘come back tomorrow’ as per usual and went back to the hostel for a refreshing 4 hour nap (it had been a tiring few days). I wandered into the centre to get a new SIM card only to bump into Issy and Emma there. We then went for dinner at an Italian restaurant (truly embracing the local culture). There was a beautiful Cossack band playing as we ate our risotto, and after ordering some mystery desserts, (‘Melvina’s Dream’ and ‘Zebra’) we headed home.
The next day we thankfully had a break from the bureaucracy and went to explore the Kremlin. We were amazed by the beautiful mosque standing proud in the centre of the Kremlin but unfortunately we couldn’t enter as were only wearing shorts and t-shirts! We continued on our walk to see the Palace of Agriculture (a building more elaborate than you would have expected) and the sadly desolate gardens in the centre of town, before crashing in a Western style cafe for some noodles and frapuccinos (we were tired, forgive us for being #basic). Our afternoon finished with a walk by the lake, where we admired the rainbows in the fountains, the swan boat on the river and found a vegan shop where I could buy tofu (very exciting news).
On Monday, whilst the rest of England was enjoying a bank holiday weekend, our day of bureaucratic hell began. Again, we set off for the office at 8am, only to be told that we already had a document which we clearly did. not. have. All three of us went in after each other to the same infuriating response. Exasperated, we decided to move in to our accommodation and return later in the day. We precariously shoved our suitcases into a tiny taxi and took another swerving taxi ride to the Universiade Village (the name of our accommodation blocks) where we passed through Checkpoint Charlie (how we refer to the tight security at the gates) to be welcomed in by a student helper. He was very friendly and in the brief two minute walk to our accommodation block added us on VKontakte (the Russian Facebook). After all, the more Russian friends the better! However, our next encounter was a slightly less friendly figure; another student led us to an office, and despite Issy’s best attempts, he was not up for conversation.
“So where do you live?”
“Whereabouts in Siberia?”
“It is very big”
“Siberia is very big. There is….North Siberia….East Siberia…West Siberia”
After this thrilling encounter, we eventually moved in to our room. There are four of us sharing one room, which is…cosy. We hadn’t yet met our mystery fourth roommate, but we were obliged to head back to the dreaded international office. We arrived at 2:30pm and queued until 5pm, only to receive an agreement I’d signed the day before. I cannot even described how frustrating this experience was, on top of the fact that none of us have had eaten lunch which lead to some serious hanger. In fact, the office technically closed before we reached the front of the queue but sheer determination propelled Issy through the doors past other weaker members of the queue. We then snuck in after her, collected our documents and joyfully sprinted to a stolovaya for dinner (a stolovaya is a Russian canteen serving food for cheap cheap prices, including a selection of delicious and dubious dishes). Even better, we had stumbled on a vegetarian stolovaya!
When we got back to our room we discovered our new roommate, a German girl called Inessa who looked a bit intimidated by our delirious gang. We settled in our rooms and tried to have an early night. Until, the most terrifying moment of our day.
A loud metallic voice started shouting in muffled Russian into our room at 11pm, and had us all sitting bolt upright. We flicked on the lights and realised that our room had a mysterious speaker installed in our room. We stared in bewilderment at the speaker. When it was over we couldn’t help but feel like we were living in a Big Brother Reality. However, it clearly didn’t disturb us too much as we were soon all fast asleep.
Today we had a more touristy day, as we wanted to celebrate the National Day Of Tatarstan and the Day of the City. After the metallic voice shouted into our room again at 11am we grabbed a bus and headed straight for the centre to see what we could find. We met up with another student from Cambridge, Anna, and walked along to the Kremlin and were delighted to find a traditional tribute to this great city; I had expected traditional dancing, national costume and musical tributes, maybe a parade if we were lucky. What we found was a race track with trick motorcyclists and drift racers speeding around.
Once we had had our fill of fast cars and radical tricks, we wandered into the Kremlin where we had a lovely conversation with a random Tatar man and his wife, who took a photo with us!
We walked around the Kremlin, with Issy searching for the ‘fanfare’ that had been promised on several posters. We eventually stumbled upon some military bands playing and enjoyed such classic Russian melodies such as Moon River and the YMCA. I couldn’t resist and put on a fine performance of the YMCA dance before running away further into the Kremlin.
As today was more cloudy, we were dressed more appropriately to enter the mosque. It was an incredible building and Issy was thrilled to find a babushka who wanted a photo with her as well. Issy was sad to leave her new grandma, but we explored the gallery and a small art gallery of Islamic artworks.
We finished the day with dinner at a Tatar restaurant, where I stoically ate my the Borscht around the huge lump of beef chucked in the bowl (I didn’t read the menu properly…). We returned with our stomachs full, our culture-vulture needs satiated and with a sense of dread for the (hopefully) final hurdle of bureaucracy to come tomorrow.