And why do they always bring biting pests? 

 

In my defense, it had spent two days living in the hostel, so I foolishly assumed it was a hostel cat. It wasn’t so.

 

In other news, Kazan’ is an awesome city, and everyone should go. It hosted the Universiades, the college Olympics, this year, which everyone here thinks is important, and we have never heard of. Probably as a result of this, the city is virtually spotless, with strategic spotlights placed on the many beautiful historic buildings.

 

The city is comprised of basically two parts; the one where we stayed contains the kremlin (fortified city center thing that is different from a fortress because of the spelling), music conservatory, and lots of mysteriously European-looking buildings. That, combined with our Scandinavian-style hostel (aka first-world Spartan), caused me to repeatedly forget I was in Russia. We took one day to venture across the river, and there it would have been impossible to forget we were in Russia. We hung out in a garden and had shashlyk, contemplated riding a giant Ferris wheel (fortunately we didn’t get past the contemplation stage), visited the mosque downtown.

 

Because my body has decided it wants to do nothing but sleep, and Nathan’s ankle has something wrong with it, we spent a lot of time sitting around the hotel. I was fine with this, since when I’m asleep I’m fine with basically everything, but Nathan started to get frustrated that we’d traveled all this way to eat sandwiches and talk to German tourists (pretty sure that even if I had been awake, I would have been fine with this arrangement). 

So on our last day, we hit what me maintain are the best two museums in town: the geology museum (affiliated with the Institute of Geology and Petroleum Studies), which had, according to Nathan, one of the better mineral collections in the world (in addition to a Real Live Mammoth), and the National Museum of Tatarstan. Guess who chose which? 

 

We had tried to go to both of these museums the day before, but were prevented from doing so. The Tatar museum is closed on Wednesdays; it also turns out that they have a “special living history” exhibit on Thursdays, which means that the price of our tickets was magically doubled. But the living history folks turned out to have lots of interesting things to say, so by the end of the visit I was fine with the extra $4. The geology museum used another extortion tactic that is common in Russian museums: they quote you an admission price and say that a guided tour can be added for a fee and tell you opening hours, but then when you come it turns out that the tour is mandatory. This was also the case at the Pushkin and Dostoevsky museums and is annoying not only for financial reasons, but also because 
a) it requires me to act as interpreter, a job made much worse by the fact that our tour guides here didn’t speak enough English to give their tours in English, but they spoke enough to know when I was wrong or not translating fully
b) we never move at the pace that we want to

Although Nathan was familiar with most of the minerals, there were a few that are specific to small areas of Siberia that he hadn’t heard of, and also they had a pretty sizable collection of what Nathan calls meteorites and I call space rocks. Space rocks are pretty awesome, and are often made of iron. The more you know…

[what follows is a lengthy account of bureaucratic nonsense, recorded here for my own use because I find Russian bureaucracy endlessly amusing. You can skip everything in italics if you wish–I’ll never even know.]

Continuing the trend of Russia trying to make sure we don’t miss it too much, we had a shockingly hard time getting our registrations at the hostel, which is funny since all hostels and hotels are required by law to register every foreign visitor (disclaimer: it is possible that Kazan’, being in Tatarstan, one of the few places in Russia that has relative legislative autonomy, has written itself a nifty little exception to this outdated law, but it seems unlikely). 

Usually you don’t use the registration for anything, but since it’s hypothetically possible that a policeman or border guard could require it, it’s best to have all your documents in order. According to some folks I met in Petersburg, being detained at the border is no fun. As of about last year, you don’t need to register until you’ve been in a city for 7 days. So if you don’t have a registration, but you keep all your ticket stubs from trains/buses, you could hypothetically stay in Russia indefinitely without registering. Since we were in a different city every day on the boat ride, we obviously didn’t register. 

 

When we checked in at the hostel, we had to argue a bit to get them to register us; they said they didn’t do it for anyone that was staying less than 7 days, but we insisted on getting it done, per Russian law. The administrator finally consented and took our documents. The next day we asked about it, and the (new) administrator once again argued that we don’t need registrations. At 22:00 of our last night, the owner of the hostel called me over to once again double-check that we really do need to register. He implied that they weren’t going to do it, and I implied that we weren’t going to pay. He said he’d work it out.

 

The next afternoon we went to check out. As promised, I refused to pay until we had the registrations in our hands. After riffling through the stack of existing registrations, the representative told me that because my old registration (from the hostel in Petersburg, which we left July 30) was more than 7 days old, they couldn’t register us. I suggested that she take a look at any other document, where she would see that we’d entered the country on August 15th, just five days before we arrived in Kazan’. She furrowed her brow, then asked what kind of visa we had. I told her that I was on an intern visa and Nathan on a work visa. She said that it wasn’t a problem, that in fact with those kinds of visas you don’t need a registration anyway. I asked why they were making such a fuss over our prior registrations, if they were superfluous after all.  Her answer was to call the boss and see if he could go to the immigration office to ask them to take a second look at our paperwork. This time we gave them everything: the boat itinerary, our train tickets to Cherepovets, our migration cards from Germany. She promised to call when she knew something. I turned my phone on. At 8:00 that night, not having heard anything, Nathan went over to see what was up. I don’t know if more difficulties were had, but when he came back we had two lovely registration cards. It’s the small victories that really count…

 

In spite of its frustrating bureaucratic qualities (how often have we said that over the year?), the hostel was pretty nice. In fact, it was so nice that it was almost uncomfortable–more like a hotel than a hostel at times, albeit a weird Scandinavian one. They did, however, maintain one of my favorite hostel trends: the making of silly signs. Unfortunately, nothing there quite matched Cuba Hostel’s bathrooms (including a sign on the bathroom door that advises you to “express yourself” and a set of “bathroom” translated into lots of languages on the front, which seems practical until you see that people have added on their own dysphemisms). But there was a little sign on the sink that advised you not to drink the water, lest you turn into a goat. 

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

After a fairly uncomfortable overnight train, we find ourselves back in Nizhnij Novgorod (forgive my inconsistent transliterations), which this time is covered in some places with a foot of water and under constant bombardment by lightning. We rethought our plan to take a bus to Vladimir, where we’ll be spending the final three days of the Grand Russian Adventure, opting instead for the train that costs several times more, but is significantly less likely to kill us. We’ll see.

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