The Eco Trail – Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

(Just a little advanced warning.  There are photos of insects in this post.  There are NO spiders, just insects.  So if you’re afraid of strange and exotic insects, then this post may not be the best place for you.)

Most people I know would probably describe me as a city girl.  After all, I’ve just spent the past 10+ years living in Moscow, Russia, which has an official population of just under 13 million.  And every day people commute from the Moscow outer region for work, which can increase the daily, work day, population by a lot more.

I loved living in Moscow!  I loved the 24 hour life there.  Being able to go to the supermarket on your way home at any time of the night or day made life so easy.  Life in a big city can be hard for some, but for me it was a huge pleasure. 

Even the crowded Moscow metro was a thrill to ride (maybe because I wasn’t travelling in it every day to work and back at peak hour).

My early years

But, did you know that I spent some of my formative years growing up in the Australian bush?  At the age of 11 and 12 we lived on some land (50 acres if my memory serves me well) in the middle of the bush.  Our nearest neighbours were a couple of kilometres away.  I took the school bus to get to the nearest town, Gingin, to go to school (about a 20-30 minutes ride, picking up more kids along the way).

We rode horses, made cubby houses in the bush, tried not to get bitten by snakes or red-back spiders, collected and chopped wood for heating, cooking, and hot water making.  It was a kind of adventure playground for me and my brothers and sisters.

At 13 we moved to the city, but not for long.

When I was 15-16 we moved back again to the same place in the bush, after having spent the previous 2 years living in Perth (the capital city of the state of Western Australia).  Living in the isolated bush was a lot less fun at the age of 15 than it was at 11!

And, some years later, at the age of 20-22, I lived in a country town, Albany, in the south of Western Australia.  Although I lived in the town and not in the middle of the bush, as I had done as a teenager, I still had a small vegetable garden, and I had to chop wood for the only source of heat in the house – the open fire in the living room.

While I lived in Albany I often visited my grandparents, who lived in a nearby town, about 50 kms away.  They had a lot of land, with gardens, vegetables, and fruit trees, and they lived a life very conscious and respectful of nature and the world around us.

So, you can see, I have had some experience of country life, although the last 30 years of my life have more or less been city dwelling ones.

Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria

I told you in my last post that we’d arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, in order to start a new life, after our lives were disrupted by the dramas of 2020.  So here we are in a reasonably small town (compared to Moscow!) with a population of just under 70 000. 

The centre of Veliko Tarnovo

In VT (as it’s known as) there are shops, restaurants and cafes, bars, estate agents, mobile phone shops, and all the other kinds of businesses that you’d imagine to be in a town of this size.  So living here is pretty convenient, even if it’s not a 24 hour big city we can get what we need most of the time – just not at 3am.

And I’m happy to be living so close to so much nature!  All around us are tree covered hills and it’s amazing to see this when we’re standing on a piece of high ground somewhere in the town.

View of the hills from near our street

But I wasn’t ready for my reaction the other day when we took a walk down a path just a few minutes from our home.

The Eco Trail

We’ve made a couple of new friends here (they’re Bulgarian), and they live in our street, so they know all about the local area. Last week they told us about a nearby trail that leads to a waterfall. 

This week Olivier and I decided to find it.  So off we went down the street until we found a rocky trail leading into bushes and trees.

At first it started out as gardens. No houses, just gardens with wire fences around them.  There were about 5 or 6 gardens and they were all different.  Some of them were well looked after, others not so well.

garden
Tomatoes and peppers growing in one of the gardens

In one garden was an old man sitting by himself on a chair under a tree, with a bottle of beer on the small table next to him, listening to very loud opera.  His bicycle was leaning against the fence, waiting for him to finish in his garden and head home again. 

We didn’t disturb him but I’d really love to find out what his story is.

gate
A gate leading to one of the gardens

As we continued along the trail, nature changed a bit.  In some places it was quite dry, in others it was wet and almost muddy.

trail 2
This part of the trail was cool and the air was humid
desert
And then it turned into this, almost like a desert in comparison

We crossed a small stream at one point.  And we also came across this water ‘trough’ – I don’t know what else to call it.  The water coming from the pipe was so cold and had no smell, so I guess it’s really pure.

water trough
water pipe

There was a picnic table right next to this water supply.

picnic area

The smell in the air was amazing!  It reminded me of the smells at my grandparents’ place.  Just nature – earth, leaves, water, wood.  I couldn’t stop taking in deep breaths just to get it into my lungs, I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to leave.

Just keep walking

We walked and walked, and along the way we came across so many wonderful living things!   Not only plants (berries, roses, and other wonderful green things) but animals, like insects I’ve never seen before, and many different coloured butterflies. 

I was really like a child in wonder at the world.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so good, I really felt emotional looking around me at everything and breathing in the fresh air. 

After walking for about an hour, we came across some guys on motorbikes.  We had heard them earlier, and we finally saw them as they came towards us on the trail.

view
See the hills through the trees

At that point the trail had started going down the hill, so we decided that we should turn around and go back the way we came, because going down always means going up again (and I’d prefer not to walk up the hill!).

So we let the motorbikes pass us, and we turned around and headed back towards home. 

cliff
A cliff in the distance

The waterfall

On the way we’d noticed a small path that deviated to the left, and we decided to take it on the way back.  And it was a good idea, because here was the waterfall we’d been told about.

It was a lot smaller than we expected, but it was beautiful.

water fall

There was a small wooden bridge that looked like it might have been strong enough to walk across, but we didn’t take the risk.  Maybe next time.

bridge

And the other beautiful thing was that there’s a picnic table right there near the waterfall, and there were two young girls (teenagers) sitting there, with a lot of food, with two dogs, just talking to each other, enjoying the weather and the beautiful location.

And not a mobile phone in sight.

The critters

Here’s a sample of the wildlife we came across during our walk on the eco trail. 

This snail was huge!  I’ve never seen a snail this big in real life before.  I put my pen down next to him to show you his size.  I looked around but I didn’t see any of his family or friends, he was completely alone.  We left him on the trail, and I hope that the motorbikes didn’t run over him.

snail

I don’t know what this insect is, but he was very intimidating!  Estimated length including the head (not including the antennae) is about 4cm. 

bug

Then there was this beautiful creature on the trail, which I think is a ‘mint beetle’ (someone please tell me if I’m wrong!).

green beetle
A mint beetle digging on the trail

And these two look like ladybirds without spots. It looks like they’re reproducing, which is a very good sign for the future of the world!

ladybirds

And some other random insects, who coincidentally are both black and orange.

black orange bug
Black and orange stripes
orange bug
An orange and black insect with strange markings

And some lizards enjoying life on a rock.

lizard
Lizards sunning on a rock

The plants

I’m not really an expert with names of plants, especially when I’m in a country that has plants that I’ve never seen before.  So I’ll just leave these here for you to enjoy.  If anyone wants to let me know what they’re called I’ll update the photo with their names.

red flower
An unusual plant
white flowers
Beautiful white and grey flowers
blackberry
Wild blackberries
orange cape gooseberry
An orange Cape Gooseberry growing in the wild

And some orange/yellow lichen for you.

lichen
Brightly coloured lichen

So that was our two hour walk on the eco trail this week.  As you can see, I really enjoyed it!

Actually, it was more than enjoyment.  It was like nature touched my soul again for the first time in a long time.

I’m sure we’ll be taking this trail again and again in the future, as long as we live in this street.

Do you have any beautiful walking trails where you live?  What emotions do you get when you’re surrounded by nature? 

~ Cheryl

On the Road Again – from Romania to Bulgaria

Last time you heard from me, we were still stuck in Romania after our departure from Russia in March.  We had visited the castles, do you remember?

Still in Bucharest

Since then I’ve been rather quiet.  It wasn’t a question of having nothing to write about.  Romania, and Bucharest in particular, is a beautiful place to be and we loved every minute of it.  We’d extended our Airbnb stay a couple of times because we just weren’t able to go anywhere else in the world.  The borders were either closed to both of us, or just closed to me due to my Australian passport. 

palace of parliament bucharest
The Palace of the Parliament – Bucharest

In July we had to change our Airbnb location because we left it too long to extend our stay and the host had already booked it to someone else. So, mid-July we moved into another apartment in the centre of Bucharest. It was more expensive, but really well located for exploring the city.

building bucharest
A beautiful facade in Bucharest

I’m not sure you can imagine our situation unless you’ve lived something similar yourself.  I know that most of you are in your home countries with your families and friends and can’t imagine being ‘stuck’ in a country you had no plans to go to.  I also know that some of you have been stuck in a country that’s not yours, either by choice or not.  It’s hard. It’s expensive. And it’s very stressful.

What about our future?

During our time in Bucharest, during lock down and after, Olivier and I spent a lot of time trying to decide our future.  What now?  Our time in Russia was finished.  We couldn’t take our Asian/Australian holiday as planned.  We were stuck in Romania not knowing what to do.

So, I did some research and I found that a lot of people ‘retire’ to Bulgaria.  Not necessarily full-time, but sometimes just for the summer, or for 6 months of the year.  The rest of the year they’re back home with their extended families, or jobs.  They move to Bulgaria for the weather, for economic reasons (it’s less expensive than ‘western’ countries), for the ‘back to nature’ aspect of life there.

Why would we want to move to Bulgaria?  We’re not old enough for retirement. 

Back to nature

A couple of years ago I started to wish for a house, with some land for a garden.  I wanted to grow vegetables.  I wanted chickens.  And maybe a dog. 

I’d been living in apartments for more than 15 years, and I wanted to have some nature around me.  Nature that I could call my own.

garden bulgaria
I want a garden like this one!

But we didn’t really think it was the right time to move to the country and live with chickens.  We’re still young!  We still have lots of living and travelling to do!

But then as you know 2020 put a stop to everything.  And while we were sitting in Bucharest waiting for borders to open, realising that we wouldn’t be going anywhere near Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, we decided that maybe we weren’t too young after all.  Maybe we could enjoy a bit of a quiet life after the 24 hour life we had lived in Moscow.

And Bulgaria was just over the border from Bucharest.  All we had to do was wait until the border opened and we’d be there in a few hours.

The border eventually opened, but not for me and my Australian passport.  Olivier would have been able to go without me, but we’re a team so we stayed together and watched the border reports every day to see any changes.

Why not Bulgaria?

And while we were waiting, we researched Bulgaria.  We discovered that it’s not so expensive to buy a house here, depending on the condition of it and the village it’s located in.  And it’s not too difficult to get residency for an EU national and his Australian wife.

We decided that when the borders opened, we were going to a town called Veliko Tarnovo.  It’s the closest big town to the border near Bucharest, and it looked lovely in the Youtube videos we watched.

Mid-July, just after we’d moved to the new Airbnb (which we booked for a month) we had news that the border was now open for Australians, with no quarantine or testing required.  We had to make a decision, do we go as soon as possible, or do we stay in the Airbnb which we’d paid for until 12th August.  If we wait until 12th August, could the border close again before that and we miss our chance?  If we go as soon as possible, we will lose our Airbnb rent that we paid.

We made the decision to go as soon as we could, and say goodbye to the Airbnb rent.  It’s only money!

veliko tarnovo
One part of Veliko Tarnovo

So, with no international trains currently running between the two countries, the only option was to take a taxi.  Yes, a taxi!

For my Australian friends, it’s probably impossible for you to imagine taking a taxi from one country to another.  But here, it’s absolutely possible.

I found a taxi company that travels from Romania to Bulgaria and booked them for 27th July.  We would lose money from our accommodation by leaving early but that was the decision we made.

Getting the right information

I’d contacted the Bulgarian Embassy in Romania to be 100% sure that we both had the right to cross the border into Bulgaria without a 14 day quarantine, and received a reply confirming that.  

veliko tarnovo night
Veliko Tarnovo by night

I’d also got a copy of the official law allowing all foreigners an extension on their visas in Romania due to the pandemic.  I usually have 90 day visa free in EU countries.  I’d been there 129 days because of lock down, so I didn’t want to get a fine for overstaying.  All foreigners who arrived before or after lock down (23rd March) could stay until 12th August without penalty.  (And then it was actually even extended longer, so currently they’re ok to stay until October without worrying about overstaying.)

The taxi arrived at 11am on the day, and we bundled in our suitcases and ourselves.  It was a really nice car, with 6 seats for passengers in the back, although there was just Olivier and I taking the trip.  The driver wasn’t very talkative and we passed the next hour quietly, looking at the countryside, seeing the last of Romania.

Then we arrived at the border.  Friendship Bridge, also known as Danube Bridge.  We crossed the bridge, and then we arrived at border control.  The Romanian border police and the Bulgarian border police sit side by side.  In a little box with a window.

The Romanian guy stamps you out of Romania and slides your passport over to the Bulgarian guy, who stamps you into Bulgaria.

Unless you’re me.

Just a small drama

If you’re me, there’s a delay after the Romanian guy stamps you out. 

We waited for a while in the car, not knowing what was happening.

Two Romanian border police eventually came to our car door and asked to speak to us.  One of them decided to challenge me for over-staying in Romania.  He told me I could only stay 90 days, and I’d stayed 129 days.  According to him I’d overstayed.  He asked me why I overstayed.  I tried to tell him about the law for foreigners, that all visas were extended, but his English wasn’t really good enough.  Or he just didn’t want to understand me.

I showed him a copy of the law on my tablet, which was in Romanian.  He didn’t look happy.  After reading it he dismissed me and walked away.   I don’t know if he thought he could get a fine out of me for ‘overstaying’ or not, but it shows that it pays to know your rights at the border.  It also pays to be polite and respectful.

Then, the Bulgarian border police said that I’ve come from Russia so I can’t cross the border because at that point in time (and maybe still now, I’m not sure) people from Russia were forbidden to come into Bulgaria.  So, even though he had my passport in his possession, with all the stamps and dates right in front of him, I had to explain that it had been 4 months since I left Russia and that I’d been in Romania since 21st March.

That seemed to be enough for him, and he stamped me into Bulgaria and let us on our way.  We were at the border control window for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was a lot longer than the cars that had been in front of us.

In these uncertain times, regardless of the laws, I think we were lucky that we got through so easily.

And then, we were in Bulgaria!   Another 2 hours in the taxi, driving through beautiful countryside, and we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo – our new home!

main street veliko tarnovo
Part of the main street – Veliko Tarnovo

That was 2 weeks ago, and already we’ve done so much to get settled here, but I’ll leave that for another post.

By the way, 3 hours in the taxi, just under 200km, cost us only 82 euros (AUD$134, USD$97). 

Let me know if there’s anything you want to know about our new life here in Bulgaria. We’re slowly learning about the culture and the language, and making new friends.  Never a dull moment at Born in a Car!

~ Cheryl

A Visit to Bran and Peles Castles, Romania

You can’t go to Romania without visiting castles.  Or that’s what I’ve been told. 

So, after finding ourselves randomly in Romania, as you do, we came across a sign for a bicycle and tour company in Bucharest.  I took this photo so I’d have the link for the company to ask them about a tour to the castles. 

tour sign

I wasn’t sure if the castles would be open yet, as most things were still closed at the beginning of June, but we were lucky.  Bran Castle, located in the Romanian region of Transylvania, opened on 5th June, and after contacting the tour company, we decided to go there on 10th June.

Apparently, usually they pick you up at about 7.30am, to get to the castles at a reasonable time.  It’s a full day excursion and the drive to the castles is a couple of hours, or longer, depending on the traffic. 

And here we were lucky again.  Due to the fact that life was still ‘on hold’ for most people, there would be a lot less cars on the road so we were able to leave later than they usually did.

The trip

At 9am our guide picked us up from home and we started the drive out of Bucharest.

Our guide was a very friendly guy, who was extremely happy to have tourists again.  He hadn’t worked since March, as you can imagine with everything closed, and lock down.  He said it was so unusual that there were almost no cars on the road.

The car was really comfortable, and while it seemed that he wanted to chat, I told him not to be offended if we dozed off (we’re not used to getting up so ‘early’ now that we’re out of work and we were a bit tired).

So we shared info about ourselves with our guide. He told us to call him ‘The Highlander’ because his real name is hard for foreigners to pronounce.  It’s true, and I’ve forgotten his real name anyway, so The Highlander it is.

We stopped once for coffee/tea at a service station and then continued on our way.  We passed villages, a small aerodrome, beautiful old houses lined the streets in some places, and the amazing Carpathian Mountains loomed in the distance. 

The Highlander told us about an enormous cross which stands at the top of one of the mountains.  It’s a monument to the railway heroes who died in World War I.  It’s at an elevation of more than 2000m and stands 36m high.  I caught a glimpse of it on the way back to Bucharest – amazing!  It’s the tallest summit cross in the world at this altitude. 

The trip there seemed quite long.  I don’t remember how long it took us, 2 or 3 hours. 

Bran Castle

bran castle

Our first stop would be Bran Castle, a medieval castle which dates back to 1211. It’s often referred to as Dracula’s Castle.

Finally we arrived.  The car park was almost empty.  The Highlander couldn’t believe his eyes.  He’d never seen such an empty car park at the castle before!

Then we walked a short distance to a souvenir market which was at the start of the path up to the castle.  There weren’t any tourists except for us, but the market was open.  The castle was just there, up a sloping walkway.  We were there!

souvenir market
The empty souvenir market
Bran castle
Walking up to Bran Castle

After buying tickets for us, The Highlander proceeded to give us a short history on the residents of Bran Castle and then we started to move through the rooms.

What can I say?  It was incredible to be in such a wonderful and historical building! 

queen marie's room
Queen Marie’s bedroom

You know, I’m Australian, and we don’t have castles in Australia.  At least I don’t think we do.  Castles are what little Australian girls’ fairy tales are made of!

As we walked through the rooms of the castle, we learned more about the history, the owners, the dramas and the beauty of this place.

room in the castle 1
room in the castle 2
room in the castle 3

There are many interesting artefacts in the castle, and most of the rooms we went through were decorated with authentic furniture and decorations.

room in the castle 4
The King’s bed
room in the castle 5
room in the castle 6

There were ‘attendants’ in each room, women mostly, who are on duty to make sure that everything’s going ok and that tourists aren’t misbehaving or playing with the exhibits.  Or something.  I’m not really sure what their exact job title is (please let me know if you know).

They heard our guide talking to us in English about the history of the castle and they said that they were so shocked that there was actually a guided tour so soon after opening!  We were the first guided tour since March! 

And there were only a few other people visiting the castle at the same time as us – less than 10.

The Highlander told us that he was so surprised about the wooden floors in the castle, he’d never seen them so clean!  I guess it was one of the best times to go there – no groups of tourists to get in the way of photos.  We had the castle almost to ourselves.

The history is really interesting but indepth, so I’m not going to tell you all about the history of Bran Castle here.  If you’re interested, you can read about the history here. 

oliver with vlad the impaler
Olivier with Vlad the Impaler

The only thing that you need to remember is that Count Dracula didn’t live here.

I loved all the different light fixtures!

light 1
light 2
light 3
light 4

There’s even a small secret staircase leading from Queen Marie’s bedroom which we used to get to another part of the castle, feeling like we were stepping back in time.

secret staircase
The Queen’s secret staircase

The view from the top of the castle was lovely, partly due to the very beautiful weather we had that day.

view from the castle
well
A well in the courtyard

We were also treated to some armour, weapons, and clothes, as well as photos and original doors with ornate designs.

photos
armour
weapons
dress
old door

A quick walk through the very small Torture Chamber (some of the objects we saw are below) and we were back outside the castle. 

torture 1
torture 2
torture 3

Our visit to Bran Castle was over.

Then the obligatory photo with the castle as a backdrop, and we’re on our way to Peles Castle for the second part of the excursion.

cheryl bran castle

Peles Castle

peles castle
Peles Castle

Peles Castle is more like a Palace.  It’s incredibly beautiful inside and out. 

Peles Castle is in the Carpathian Mountains. It’s inauguration was in 1883, which makes it a lot newer than Bran Castle, but it’s definitely just as impressive, if not more.

We arrived once again to an almost empty carpark.  Which meant that we had this castle almost to ourselves, too. 

The Highlander bought our tickets, and I paid some extra to buy a pass which allowed me to take photos there.

While doing a little research at home before going, I saw on their website that it’s strictly prohibited to publish photos from the inside of the castle online and on any social media – punishable by law. 

It says that I need written permission to publish any photos I take.  So I wrote to them asking for permission to post my photos here on my blog and they approved for me only to share photos of the exterior of the castle.  I’m not allowed to share any photos from inside, and I’m really sorry about that because it’s absolutely incredible.

grapes floweres
A sculpture in the courtyard
old tree
An old tree in the courtyard

It was so beautiful inside!  So many delicate wood carvings, statues, chandeliers, paintings, windows, furniture, ceilings, carpets, and much, much more.  There’s a very small selection of artefacts on their website, but nothing compared to what you can see if you visit the castle yourself.

While Bran Castle is also very beautiful, Peles Castle is unbelievably rich and majestic. 

The outside of Peles Castle, which I’m allowed to show you, consisted of a small garden with some statues, including this lion with strange eyes.

lion statue
Lion statue

Here are some views of the exterior of the castle and grounds.

view from the grounds
queen marie
mountain view
statue
statues
outside
Part of the garden, which contains many statues and sculptures
castle
courtyard
Beautiful details on the exterior walls
wall
entrance

Back home

Then we went back to the car for a pleasant drive back to Bucharest, during which The Highlander told us many interesting stories about the life of Vlad the Impaler. We arrived home at 7pm, so a 10 hour day, and very much worth the effort.

The whole tour, including entry into the castles (but not the photo pass I bought at Peles Castle) cost us 85 euro each, which doesn’t correspond to any prices on the tour company’s website but that’s what we paid.

I have to agree, now that I’ve been to these two castles, that you can’t go to Romania without visiting castles.

Have you been to Bran or Peles Castles?  Or maybe you’ve been to some other castles in different countries.  Tell me about your castle experiences in the comments.

~ Cheryl

5 Minute Guide to Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia

Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia

From the airport

I’ve only arrived in Kazan by train, which is conveniently located in the centre of town, so I can’t be 100% sure of the airport arrival information I’m about to give you.

kazan railway station
Kazan Railway Station

Kazan International Airport (KZN) is 30km to the southeast of the city centre.  There are flights to Kazan from Moscow and St Petersburg, and from other cities outside of Russia.  There are reports that there are less waiting times at passport control compared to Moscow, so it could be a good point of arrival into Russia just for that reason alone.

You can take a taxi from the airport – it’s about 25 minutes to the city centre.  Prices vary, especially since the World Cup Football championships in 2018, but they should start at around 500 roubles.  It’s recommended to order a taxi by phone, or use an app (Yandex, Gett etc).  Or there’s a Tourist Information Office near the domestic flight arrival zone – they can order a taxi for you.

There is a train, Aeroexpress, which you can take from the airport to the train station in the centre of town, however it only goes every 2 hours.  But it’s only about 40 roubles, and takes only 30 minutes, so if you can wait, or you’re there when it’s leaving, I suggest you get on it!

zilant symbol of kazan
The Zilant (in Russian Зилант) has been the official symbol of Kazan since 1730

Hotels

There are hotels to suit all budgets in Kazan – from hostels to the luxurious Mirage Hotel, which is just across from the Kremlin.  Whatever your budget and needs, you’ll find something.  We stayed at Ibis, which is pretty much the same in any city in the world – standard, basic accommodation. 

kazan
Kazan, a view over the river

Getting around

You’ll be able to walk almost everywhere in Kazan.  It’s quite flat and the footpaths are good.  There are buses, but without knowledge of the Russian language it might be a little difficult to negotiate where you want to go/get off.  There’s also a metro system underground, which is quite simple to use and signs are also in English.  Take a ride and get out somewhere random for a look around!

kazan metro entrance
The entrance to the Kremlin metro station
metro signs in kazan
Metro signs in Kazan are in Tartar, Russian, and English

Food

A large selection of cafes and restaurants are in and around Bauman Street.  You’ll find all varieties of cuisine and price.  Don’t be afraid to try something which seems unusual to you, it will almost certainly be delicious.  One restaurant chain (they have 3 locations) comes highly recommended – Bilyar, where you can try traditional Tartar food, or if you prefer there’s a selection of western dishes.  Make sure you try the traditional Tartar dessert called chak chak.  Chak chak is a dough which is deep fried and then soaked in a honey based syrup.  Very tasty!

kazan horses
Eating horse meat is a tradition in Kazan

Traditional horse meat sausages are also a specialty here, called ‘kazylyk’ (in Russian – Казылык).  Another traditional dish is the soup ‘solyanka’ (in Russia – солянка), which is a soup made with spices, meat, cucumbers, pickles, onions and various herbs.  The Kazan style of solyanka is known to contain horse meat, so if you want to avoid eating horse then don’t order solyanka (but I do recommend you try it, it’s delicious!).  Read some more about Tartar food in this article. 

pushkin in kazan
Statue of Alexander Pushkin, the Russian writer

Shopping

If you’re looking for shopping, there are several big shopping malls for you to choose from.  Including Tsum, Yuzhny Mall, Suvar Plaza and more.  You’ll find all the usual brands here, pretty much like any big city mall.  Tsum and Suvar are luxury malls and the prices reflect that.  If you want something a little cheaper, you could go to MEGA Kazan shopping mall, which caters for all budgets.

For souvenirs, you can go to the Kazan Tourist Information Centre on Bauman Street, or small shops inside and around the Kremlin.

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Sightseeing

Well, let’s start with the Kremlin.  Part of the Kremlin dates back to the 10th century, and is UNESCO listed.  It’s truly beautiful and is a wonderful example of 2 religions living in harmony together – Christianity and Islam.  You’ll see the beautiful church, ‘Cathedral of the Annunciation’, and the ‘Kul Sharif Mosque’.  They’re every bit as beautiful in real life as you see in photos – even more so.  The Kremlin is quite small, so you won’t need to spend a lot of time there unless you’re there for worship and/or reflection.

kremlin kazan
The entrance to the Kremlin
mosque in kazan
The Kul Sharif Mosque in the Kremlin

Another must visit is Bauman Street, which is a pedestrian zone which starts at the Kremlin and ends at Tukay Square metro station.  Alongside the cafés and restaurants, you’ll find the beautiful Chapel of the Church of the Epiphany, and behind it the Church of the Epiphany.

church kazan
The Chapel of the Church of the Epiphany, and behind it the Church of the Epiphany

Also on this street is the Carriage of Catherine II, and the Zero Kilometre of Kazan, showing the precise geographical centre of Kazan.

state university kazan
The Kazan State University
lenin in kazan
Statue of Vladimir Lenin, the famous Russian leader, stands opposite the Kazan State University, which he attended

Other places of interest in Kazan include the Old Tartar Quarter, the Kazan State University, and the old and seemingly falling apart Mergasovsky’s House, also known as Writers’ House, in reference to the famous Tatar writers Kavi Najmi and Abdulla Alish, who lived there in the middle of the 20th Century.

Writers' house kazan
‘Writer’s House’

Quirky

The quirkiest thing in Kazan is definitely the wax museum.  It’s really small, and when we were there in 2014 there were only about 25 figures in the museum.  It’s off the pedestrian zone, behind MacDonalds in a strange little yard (if it hasn’t moved since we were there in 2014).  The address is Bauman St, 70, Kazan.  I can’t find a website for it, but here’s the link to Trip Advisor.    It’s quite expensive to get in, 250 roubles, however you can take photos – and you’ll want to because you’ll definitely want some photographic evidence of this rather quirky museum.  It’s all a bit of fun, don’t expect the quality of a Madame Tussaud’s museum, and don’t expect to spend more than 10-15 minutes there!

wax museum kazan
Me with Gerard Depardieu in the wax museum

Recommended for

Kazan is a great place to visit for most people, young and old, couples, families.  Might not be interesting for really young children.

building
Look around you and you’ll see many different styles of architecture

Top tip

Spend some time just walking around the town, looking at buildings from different eras, and look up – you’ll see some lovely architecture and sculptures on some of the buildings.

balcony kazan
A balcony in Kazan
beautiful building kazan
An example of the beautiful architecture in Kazan

For a more intensive look at Kazan – the town’s website.

Do you have any plans to visit Kazan?  Or maybe you’ve already been there.  Tell us all about it in the comment section below!

~ Cheryl

If you like travelling, you’ll enjoy my other 5 Minute Guides – Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Moscow part 1, Moscow part 2, Hue, Hanoi, Paris, and Vilnius.

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Delayed Flight – Our Quest for Compensation

Back in January (2019), we went to Germany for a little holiday.  We left Moscow on 1st January, and came back on 6th January.  The reason for going to Germany?  To see friends and attend a couple of their concerts. 

We often travel to their concerts.  It’s always great to see them, and we get to visit new places at the same time!

We had a wonderful time in Munich and Stuttgart.  I even created my 5 Minute Guide to Munich from that trip.  Two great concerts, good friends, good food, and we discovered two new cities we hadn’t been to before.

We were super tired on the day we left Munich.  We’d had only a couple of hours sleep before we had to get up at 5am to go to the airport in Munich.  We then had a 5 hour stopover in Warsaw.  We had planned to spend that time in the city, but we were exhausted so eventually decided to stay in the airport at Warsaw, find somewhere quiet, and settle in for a long nap.

Which we did, with moderate success – as is normal in an airport.

Flight delayed

However, as the time approached for our flight, we noticed that it was delayed.  It wasn’t really a problem for us.  The only thing it affected was that we would have to wait a bit longer to reach the comfort of our bed.

The delay kept getting longer.  And longer.  And again, longer.

Our plane was due to leave Warsaw at 16.25, and arrive in Moscow at 20.35.  Time passed, an hour, then two.  I heard an announcement about our flight, and something about 250 euros.  It wasn’t really clear and I didn’t understand everything, but my ears pricked upon hearing the amount (who wouldn’t want 250 euros if it was on offer?).

I went over to the counter at the gate.  As you can imagine, it was packed.  As a native English speaker I could understand what was being said.  Most of the other passengers were Russian, and were having a difficult time dealing with the woman because of the language barrier.

I asked her what our options were.  She said, if we change planes and take the plane after ours instead of the one we booked (the later plane was scheduled to leave about 3 hours after ours), we would get 250 euros compensation.  It seemed that not only was our flight delayed, it was also over-booked.

I quickly checked with Olivier.  Of course, we’ll do it!

What happened next

After telling her we were happy to change flights, she took our boarding passes and told me that we had to go to the information desk not too far away to see about the compensation.  She gave us some kind of voucher, and told us that the vouchers would be exchanged for new boarding passes for the later flight at the information desk.

So, we went to the information desk.  The woman there said that she didn’t have new boarding passes for us, and that she didn’t really know what we wanted.  She called the woman at the gate who had given us the vouchers.  They finally decided that we would get the new boarding passes later at the gate, from the same woman who gave us the vouchers.

I asked about the compensation.  She explained that we would have to apply for compensation through their website.

Ok, so at that point we had no boarding passes, no flight, and no real concrete evidence that we would get any compensation.

The waiting begins

We then settled in to wait for the later flight and to get our boarding passes.

water bottles
No refreshments for us – not even bottled water

I asked at the gate about getting a coffee or snack from them, but they said that there was nothing available for us.  I’ve since found out, that for flights up to 1500km, delayed for more than 2 hours, they’re obliged to provide free food and drinks while we’re waiting for the plane.  (NB. This is EU regulations only, Based on the European Regulation No. 261/2004 )

sandwich
We were entitled to a snack – but were denied this simple request

About three hours after the departure time of our original flight, they told us that we would take our original flight, after all, and not the later flight.  They’d managed to squeeze us into the business class section, although we wouldn’t be sitting together (and we wouldn’t be getting business class service).

inside plane
We were squashed, the plane was FULL

She printed off new boarding passes for us, and half an hour later we were squashed into our seats and heading to Moscow.

plane
We were headed home, finally

It was after midnight when we got to Moscow.  After collecting our luggage we found a taxi – which became a story in its own right! – and finally arrived home.  Very, very tired.

The next day, I decided to check if we were eligible for compensation for the delayed flight.  I didn’t know if we would still be eligible because we hadn’t been put on the later flight, but had travelled home on our original flight, even though it had been delayed by 3.5 hours.

After reading as much as I could, I decided that with what information I had, we could still be compensated for the delay.  I went to the airline’s website (which, in case you’ve been wondering, was LOT, Polish airlines), and completed all the information about the delay and pressed ‘send’.  A notice on the page said I should hear from them within 30 days.

Waiting for a response

So, I waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

On 26th February, I looked for some way to contact them, and found that their customer service department used Facebook Messenger.  So, I contacted them and asked them for an update.

I got the standard answer – apologising for the delay, passenger claims department is still working on it, we don’t know how long it will take.  And – if you have any other questions please feel free to contact us again.

Not a very satisfactory exchange, but what can you do?  I thanked them kindly and started waiting again.

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I tried again

On 10th March I tried again and sent a message on Messenger.  On 11th March they replied and apologised and said that the passenger claims department haven’t made a decision, they were working on it, and would contact me when they had reached a decision.

I told her (Karol) that I would like this finalised within 14 days, and could she please tell me how I can contact the passenger claims department directly.  She gave me two options – 1. Use their online contact form (the same one I had used to lodge the claim more than 2 months before with no answer), or 2. Write to this address.  Snail mail.

So, I asked Karol to arrange for a manager from the passenger claims department to contact me directly.  She’s sorry, but she can’t do this.

OK.

I asked her to pass me to her manager, she ignored this and told me to contact the passenger claims department directly.

So, I explained that I’ve had no reply from that department, and could she please pass me to her manager.  She told me it’s not possible to talk to her manager.

I asked her how much time I’d have to wait for a decision on our claims.  She doesn’t know.  I can’t talk to her manager.  And she can’t get someone from passenger claims department to contact me.

I wondered what functions their customer service department has – it’s clearly not customer service.

customer service
No customer service from their customer service

More waiting

So, I waited.  And waited.  I was becoming quite good at it.

Finally, on 11th April, I received a reply.  Not eligible for compensation due to the delay being outside the carrier’s control blah blah blah.  And of course, at the bottom of the letter, in case I was thinking of replying to this person who had rejected me, is this:

“This message has been sent from an e-mail address that does not accept incoming mail . In order to contact LOT Polish Airlines, please complete the customer feedback form on www.lot.com.”

So, I can’t even contact them by email.

delay flight
Pin me!

The facts

During the time I’d been waiting for this email, that is, 3 months, I’d done some research about compensation for delayed flights.

I was sure of a couple of things:

1 – Our flight was delayed by more than 3 hours.

2 – Our flight was less than 1500km

Based on those two things, we should get compensated 250 euros each for this delay.

The only information that I was missing was the reason for the delay.  I only had LOT’s word for it that it was something beyond their control, and that because of this they automatically excluded us from being eligible for the compensation.  If it’s true, and we’re not eligible, no problem.  But, should I believe them?  No, no, no!

Getting help

I’d found a company which assists people in getting their rightful compensation for flight delays, cancellations etc.  So I contacted them by email and they said I’d have to provide them with more details before they could be sure we were eligible for compensation.

So, I completed their form, and they gave me two interesting pieces of information.

1 –  They had already obtained compensation for other passengers on that flight, and

2 –  We were eligible for compensation.

Well, well, well.  What’s going on here?  Are we eligible or aren’t we?  Who’s telling the truth?

So, for a fee of 63 euros each, this company will make an application to LOT on our behalf.  Like many of these kinds of services, we only pay the fee if we get the compensation.  Nothing to lose – except the 63 euros each they charge.  But, it’s either that, or accept LOT’s decision and get nothing.

We gave them authority to apply on our behalf.  They told us to expect an answer in about 40 days, but possibly longer.  (Update: today we got an email stating that LOT refuses to co-operate, so they requested our e-tickets and some other information and will get back to us when they have exhausted the legal route.  At this point we have a 95% chance of being compensated).

The waiting continues

Let’s see what happens.  I just wonder, if we really are entitled to this compensation, and if we get it, should I claim the 63 euro fee back from LOT?  After all, if they had accepted our claim in the first place, we wouldn’t have to pay this company to fight for us.

I’ll let you all know what happens.  Stay tuned.

~ Cheryl

Have you ever had to claim compensation for a delayed flight?  Did the airline co-operate or did they give you a hard time?  Let us know in the comments about your experience!

Here are some travel-related posts that you also might enjoy:

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