Calendar Home
Previous Day

September 27, 2002

Next Day
We must travel from Kazan to Astrakhan, a journey approaching 2000 kms long, before our visa expires on September 30th. The obvious approach is to sail down the Volga, but the passenger boats take at least 4 days and they've stopped running for the season. As for railway journeys, the tracks all lead to Moscow, literally. This means that a journey between Volga cities relatively close on the map involves a backhaul journey halfway back to Moscow; Kazan to Astrakhan takes a few days by rail. Buses use more direct routes but they're infrequent and slow. It seems Russians have to modes of travel - stay at home or go to Moscow. No one is interested in visiting neighboring towns and the lack of infrastructure shows it. Without a reasonable train or bus option, we hired a taxi and started before dawn because we had so far to go over hardscrabble roads. At 2:30 AM we left the gleaming white Kremlin walls of Kazan, passed through a police checkpoint at the town's edge, and drove into the empty countryside. We passed depressed, tin shack villages always guarded by a half-sleeping guard at a roadblock. At each one of these our driver stopped, jumped out of the car, explained his purpose for being out at night, and then we continued on our way. In mid-morning we reached Lenin's hometown, Ulyanovsk, and we could see why he became a revolutionary - he was bored out of his mind. Ulyanovsk is a charm less, concrete forest of run-down apartments. Wishing to leave as quickly as Lenin did, we hired another cab to take us onwards. Like our first driver, this one followed the speed limit meticulously. Police checkpoints sat at the entrance and exit of each town along the way. The road to Saratov, the next major city, tested our car's health and the road's poor condition - unpaved, potholes, one lane - surprised us because the map shows this as a 'main highway' between two major cities along the Volga. Our cabdriver hasn't ever come this way so he took a wrong turn towards Siberia. In mid-afternoon, our car bruised from the trip, we arrived in Saratov, a pleasant place for a walk along the Volga. We're back on train routes that lead to/from Moscow and with still a long way to the mouth of the Volga, we caught an overnight train to Volgograd.
Each city has a monumental sign and police roadblock.
Sprouting colorful onions - the Utoli Moya Pechali Church.
In these towns that don't see many tourists, people smile at our attempts to speak Russian and often want to sit with us and practice speaking English.