We’ve been living a week of fairytales and fiction; exploring Tatar literature, visiting a storybook town and immersing ourselves in one of Pushkin’s greatest tales.
3rd December: A Surprise from Tuqay
After Saturday lessons, I’m always keen to break out of the faculty and see something interesting in Kazan to refresh my love for Russia (which is often forgotten when I’m sitting for three hours at the same desk on a Saturday morning!).I met up with Amir for lunch and I suggested visiting the gallery hall where I had seen the modern art exhibition all those weeks ago. Knowing that the hall hosts temporary exhibits, I had been hoping for some more modern art; but what we found was much better, and certainly more relevant to Kazan. There was an exhibition dedicated to Ğabdulla Tuqay, a Tatar poet and writer, who spent a fair period of his short life living in Kazan. I was initially very glad to be their with a Tatar speaker as all the signs were also written in Tatar; however, after battling through a translation of the first few signs, we realised that they were already translated into Russian on the other side!
4th December: Yoshkar-Ola
Having decided to break the tradition of our Sunday lie-in, the whole room woke up early in order to catch a bus to Yoshkar-Ola. After wandering around the ‘bus station’ and eventually finding the counter to buy tickets (behind a row of shops which looked like shipping containers, obviously.), we hopped onto a crowded mini-bus and begun our two hour journey there. The mini-bus had completely frosted over, so we spent most of the trip in darkness; when we arrived we were dazzled by all the sunlight reflecting off the piles and piles of snow! Yoshkar-Ola is the capital city of the Mari El Republic, and we had heard from others that it was a very pretty city to walk about. Following Issy’s confident sense of direction (who needs Google Maps?) we began to explore. We soon walked past lots of European style buildings, before reaching the river. There we found the most beautiful view: the already-setting sun was casting a soft light over the frozen and snow-covered lake, which was lined by a combination of Amsterdam-style houses and christmassy coloured traditional buildings.
We truly felt that we were in a magical place, a feeling that was only intensified by the ghost-town like nature of the place We paced around, before noticing that some people in the distance were bold enough to walk on the lake. So, finding a very snowy staircase, we slid down and took a few tentative steps. We soon realised that the ice was incredibly thick already, and so we walked along the river in order to get some views of the main cathedral.
We bustled about some more, visiting some churches before falling in to a café for lunch.
Just before we left we had time to pop into a museum about the history of Yoshkar-Ola. The two ladies running the museum kindly turned on the lights for us, and not having much else to do, they gave us a full tour of the small museum. We hurried through the dark streets to grab our bus home, encountering a very enthusiastic Russian babushka who was overwhelmed that we were from England. However, we were lucky enough to catch the town hall clock chiming the hour; it lit up, played a little tune and a figurine of Mary on a donkey went round. It was a magical end to the day.
8th December: Opera Darlings
On Thursday, after meeting up with Gulnaz (one of our dearest Russian pals), we hurried up a slippery hill to attend an opera! We were very excited, as it was based on “Evgenii Onegin” by Pushkin (also available in the form of a very-watchable film with Ralph Fiennes as the eponymous character). In spite of the brats sitting behind us who spoke throughout the whole of the first act (‘brat’ may seem strong, but they were laughing and making snide comments throughout the whole thing -we were very glad when they were moved, since our English disgust in the form of tutting and pointed looks very much went over their heads), we thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
13th December: Not quite so magical, but still surreal
Our teachers had invited (read: forced) us to attend a concert after lessons. All we had been told was that it was a celebration of international students. We arrived to much chaos in the lobby, and we were eventually told to just enter without tickets and find a seat where we could. We were weary from the day by this point and had little hope for this mysterious concert. Yet when it started we were treated to some classic Russian OTT performances. The concert showcased students from different nations, who introduced themselves with a short video-clip before their performances by telling us about their country and what they though friendship meant. So yes, it was like a Eurovision for Kazan Federal University. I particularly enjoyed a dance featuring partners representing different regions in Russia – the costumes were all so detailed, and I couldn’t help but admire the boy cossack-dancing in a fur hat under intense stage lights. The show, however, was quite a sensory overload, so we snuck out after an hour for a glass of wine…