Have you ever been on a trip thinking you were getting great photos, and then gotten home only to be mildly disappointed? I took a trip to Kazan earlier this year, excited by the chance to get out of Moscow and to visit other parts of Russia, especially one I hadn't been before.  Not only was this going to be a trip to a new place, but also a chance to try out "Platzkart" class, which is effectively translated as something like 3rd Class Sleeper cars.  Given everyone's focus on austerity of late, for $30 or so it made total sense at the time, and I was kind of interested in how the overnight (12hr) journey would go.  As it turns out the trip was ok, one essentially gets a tiny fold-down bed with about 50 other people in the car, with no doors, privacy, etc.  So one finds oneself sleeping in a bed built into the aisle for example, hanging down as people pass by you all night long.  Not great to actually get any sleep, and difficult to secure valuables, such as camera equipment while trying to catch some shuteye.  Still, I have to say that the people encountered were pretty friendly, with none of the overly aggressive drunks often encountered on Russian trains.  Mostly it seemed to be filled with normal people visiting relatives and the like, but it very clearly wasn't "Oligarch" class either!  Useful in a pinch in my view... 

  Kazan itself was reasonably interesting, but perhaps not as much as I had expected.  The capital of the Russian Republic of Tartarstan, the city is made of over 50% Tartars and around 40% ethnic Russians, with the remainder being a mix of other minorities.  Complete with its own Kremlin, the city lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers, and boasts a variety of interesting buildings, including many mosques.  What I found was a city very much in transition.  It very much reminded me of the state of Moscow back in the mid-1990s, when seemingly every building was under renovation or reconstruction.  Facades were falling off of nearly every structure (save the repainted Kremlin, and its brand new mosque), and huge swaths of the city had been leveled and not yet rebuilt.  While pleasantly cheaper than Moscow, upwards of 40% in many cases, it was hard to get much of a feel for the Tartar culture.  While there was clearly a chunk of the population that appeared more let's say "Central Asian", Russian seemed in full use nearly everywhere and probably it was the influence of Islam that was most apparent.

  In any case, here are a few pics to give you a view of current life in Russia's sixth largest city....I think the black and white ones in particular really show the grittiness of the cityscape.  So on one hand perhaps I didn't get as many photographic winners as I had wanted, but I do think I came away with a few that show things in their true state.