Day 55 – 13/7/16
Petropavlovsk to Kurgan, Russia

Today we were driving to Kurgan from Petropavlovsk and had to exit Kazakhstan border and enter Russian border. We arrived by 9.30 to the Kazakh border, arranged for the insurance for our car and then waited for being allowed to enter the gates. Our papers were checked and we were allowed inside. Our documents were checked and the passport was stamped with the exit stamp. Car was checked and then allowed to pass out of the gate. After driving a few metres, there was a barrier. A lady officer let us in after giving a token. We walked to the immigration officer at the immigration office, leaving the car behind. There was a small queue. We filled up the immigration form and handed it over. She verified it, had a few questions, scanned the documents and then stamped our entry into Russia. Louis got the car inspected and there we were in Russia!

All excited for such a smooth sailing through the officials at the border, we headed straight to the hotel before stopping for lunch at the roadside restaurant.

We drove for more than 200 kms to arrive at the Family Hotel. It was a small, nice cosy hotel. The room was quite big, neat and clean. After relaxing for sometime, we went to a bank to arrange for Russian Rubles. Then we went to a mall to pick up a SIM Card.

We came back to the hotel with an intention to have dinner, but they could not arrange anything for us, so we took a cab and went to a restaurant. Had nice dinner, came back by cab as it was raining and also quite windy. We had to readjust our watches as this place was one hour behind.

Day 56 -14/7/16
Kurgan to Yekaterinburg

Before entering Yekaterinburg city, we decided to visit Ganina Yama, a Monastery. We were following Michael, but somewhere we lost him as he had sped up and we got stuck in between other vehicles overtaking us. We then had to follow the GPS and we missed the first turn. The GPS recalculated the route and guided us through the next turn, which was through the town. We got caught in traffic, however the GPS said we were still in the shortest route and we followed it. We drove almost 23 kms extra, but we reached the site, almost 45 minutes later.

It was supposed to be a 9′ deep pit in the Four Brothers mine near the village of Koptyaki, 15 km north from Yekaterinburg. On the night of 17 July 1918, after the shooting of the Romanov family, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family (who had been executed at the Ipatiev House) were secretly transported to Ganina Yama and thrown into the pit. The royal family and their retinue had been canonized in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The grounds were therefore dedicated to honor the family’s humility during capture and their status as political martyrs. Thus came up this Monastery – Ganina Yama – a worthy place to visit. You cannot enter this site with shorts, etc. Ladies require to wear long skirts and scarves which are provided at the entrance.

We then drove to Yekaterinburg city, the fourth-largest city in Russia and the administrative center.

Day 57 -15/7/16
Yekaterinburg

We had a late breakfast and then walked along the red line drawn for the tourists so they can walk around the small city and visit all the interesting places without any ones help.

Yekaterinburg is situated on the border of Europe and Asia, 1,667 kilometers east of Moscow, on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains on the Iset River. It is surrounded by wooded hills, partially cultivated for agricultural purposes and small lakes.

We left the hotel to explore the city. As advised we started following the red line drawn to assist the tourist to visit all he important places in town. We quite liked this idea!

Day 58 – 16/7/16
Yekaterinburg to Ufa

We left early today as we had about 520 kms drive. The drive was so beautiful. The road for about 45 – 50 kms was scrapped off and rough, but the scenic beauty made the drive a pleasure.

We checked in at Atola Hotel.

Day 59 – 17/7/16
Ufa to Kazan

Today we had to drive about 520 kms to Kazan from Ufa.

Kazan (meaning a cooking pot in Tatar) is the Istanbul of the Volga, a place where Europe and Asia curiously inspect each other from the tops of church belfries and minarets. It is about 150 years older than Moscow and the capital of the Tatarstan Republic – the land of the Volga Tatars, a Turkic people commonly associated with Chinggis Khaan’s hordes. Tatar autonomy is strong here and is not just about bilingual street signs. Moscow has pumped vast sums into the republic to persuade it to remain a loyal part of Russia.

After reaching the hotel, we checked in at Suleiman Palace Hotel and then took a cab to Kremlin Kazan. The Kazan Kremlin is the chief historic citadel of Tatarstan, situated in the city of Kazan. It was built at the behest of Ivan the Terrible on the ruins of the former castle of Kazan khans. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Kazan Kremlin includes many old buildings, the oldest of which is the Annunciation Cathedral (1554-62), the only 16th-century Russian church to have six piers and five apses. It is constructed of local pale sandstone rather than of brick. The cathedral bell tower is erected in five tiers at the urging of Ivan the Terrible and was scored to resemble the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in Moscow, but was pulled down by the Soviets in 1930.

Another recognizable architectural feature is the Spasskaya Tower, which anchors the southern end of the Kremlin and serves as the main entrance to the Kremlin. It is named after the Spassky Monastery, which used to be located nearby.

Among the monastery’s buildings were the Church of St. Nicholas (1560s, four piers) and the Cathedral of the Saviour’s Transfiguration (1590s, six piers). They were destroyed by the Communists during Joseph Stalin’s rule.

Also of interest are snow-white towers and walls, erected in the 16th and 17th centuries but later renovated; the Qol-Şärif mosque, recently rebuilt inside the citadel. Tucked between Presidential Palace and Söyembikä Tower is the palace church built on the foundation of medieval mosque.

Northern wall of the Kremlin contains another gated tower – Secret Tower, so named because it used to house a secret water supply well. This tower allows pedestrian access to Kremlin, but vehicle access is restricted to emergencies only.

The most conspicuous landmark of the Kazan Kremlin is the leaning Söyembikä Tower, which probably goes back to the reign of Peter the Great. A well-known legend connects the tower with the last queen of Kazan.

We had to take a taxi and go back to the hotel as Susanne tripped her leg and fell and had a sprain. She had to be taken in an ambulance to the hospital where they had an x-ray done and confirmed that it was only a sprain. That was the end of a beautiful city Kazan for us. We went to a Tartar restaurant and had lovely Kebabs, Salad, Local bread with some Beer. Lovely evening spent at Kazan.

Day 60 – 18/7/16
Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod

Left for NizhnyNovgorod by 9.25 in the morning, the fifth-largest city in Russia. From 1932 to 1990, it was known as Gorky after the writer Maxim Gorky, who was born there. It is located about 400 km east of Moscow, where the Oka river empties into the Volga river.

The city was renamed to Nizhny Novgorod after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990.

The Kremlin – the main center of the city – contains the main government agencies of the city and the Volga Federal District.

Day 61 – 19/7/16
Nizhny Novgorod

Today we went to Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, a fortress in the historic city center.

The Kremlin contained many churches, but the only survivor is the Michael the Archangel Cathedral built no later than the middle of the 16th century and rebuilt in 1628-1631. It is the oldest surviving building in the Kremlin. The cathedral contains the tomb of Kuzma Minin. In 1828, an obelisk in honor of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky was constructed in front of the Archangel Cathedral.

Eternal Flame – a memorial complex built in 1965 in honor of Nizhny Novgorod citizens who died in World War II was created, near the obelisk of Minin and Pozharsky.

Finally we visited Rukavishnikov’s Mansion which is now converted into a Museum of Local Lore, now the Nizhny Novgorod State History and Architecture Museum Preserve, so that generations of visitors could find a permanent display devoted entirely to the history of the city of Nizhny Novgorod and learn fascinating facts about Russian and foreign cultural heritage.

After lunch we took a cab to the cable car line of Nizhny Novgorod gondola lift cable car link across the Volga River in Russia connecting the city of Nizhny Novgorod with the town of Boris, used by locals. It is a 3660 metres long gondola lift across the Volga River, which takes about 15 minutes one way. We had an excellent ride over the Volga getting great views over the city, the Volga and the surrounding countryside and it just cost us Rub 90 each way per person.

Day 62 -20/7/16
Nizhny Novgorod to Vladimir via Suzdal

Suzdal

We parked our car in the parking lot near the Suzdal Kremlin, the oldest part of the Russian city of Suzdal dating from the 10th century. Like other Russian Kremlins, it was originally a fortress or citadel and was the religious and administrative center of the city. It is the site of the Cathedral of the Nativity.

We visited several monasteries and churches including the Cathedral of the Nativity, the Convent of the Intercession, and the

We had lunch before we left for Vladimir.

Vladimir

We reached Vladimir around 4.15 pm and checked into the hotel when it started raining. It rained heavily for about half an hour. From our room window I saw an electric bus who snapped it’s wires due to the wind. The driver had to get drenched while he climbed on the bus and got the wires repaired himself before he could move the bus.

Around 5.30, Mrs. Elena Potapova, the Charter President came to meet us at the hotel. We had a good chat for about half an hour and then she walked us around a few important places in the city centre, before heading to the Rotarians meeting at Monomah Hotel.

 

On the way we saw a Romance Catholic Church after a long time and as per our practice decided to peep in. There was mass in progress with only 3 people attending it besides the 2 priests saying the mass. We decided to stay on for the mass, received Holy Communion. The priest was happy to see us, he did not speak English, but our Rotarian friend translated for us. We then took his leave and went for the meeting which was just next doors.

We met Galina Lavrova – Past President and Governor-Elect (for the year 2017-2018), Elena Baklava, Vladimir Musatov-Club Secretary, Vladimir Borodulin, Olga Espaeva and of course, Elena Potapova – Charter President of Vladimir Rotary Club at the meeting. Other than the Secretary, Mr. Vladimir Musatov & Elena no one spoke English. Mrs. Elena Potapova was our translator for the evening. In spite of the communication, it was a lovely interacting & meeting such nice people. We exchanged the Rotary Flags and then Olga drove us to our Hotel along with Elena.

We were informed that the multi-storied apartment buildings built during the Soviet period made it possible for a large number of people to live relatively close to the city’s historic centre. This also gives an impression that Vladimir is a much smaller city than is in fact the case.

We then joined Michael & Susanne at a nice restaurant for dinner. We had some house wine and grilled veggies, while Louis tried some steak and whiskey. The food was very good. The next day we were leaving for Moscow which was a long drive, so we decided to leave early.

Day 63 -21/7/16
Vladimir to Moscow

We left from Vladimir around 9.30 am to Moscow. We lost Michael and his car in the way so we followed our GPS. Around lunch when we stopped, suddenly we saw Michael around. It was such a coincidence that they too had stopped around the same place. We then left together and followed Michael for the remaining way.

We reached the hotel around 2.00 pm. The hotel was attached to a shopping mall. We had to park our cars in the basement of the shopping mall and walk through the shopping mall to the hotel with our bags.

After relaxing we went for dinner in a restaurant at the mall after which we decided to relax that day. Louis and I went around the shopping complex for some window shopping.