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Tag: Seriously quality beer choices


Kazan is gorgeous, even in winter when it’s fairly empty. Moscow and St Petesburg are big, international cities, so they’ve got tourists and crowds even now in the way-off season. Kazan, not so much. Once again, the chorus rang, ‘it’s so nice here in the summer, why are you here NOW?’

Still no regrets. The frozen Volga river is a thing to behold. You roll across it as you come into Kazan’s central station, and it was mid-morning when I arrived so I could see snow-covered everything. There were people out there straight up walking on it. (I don’t know what they were doing particularly, maybe ice fishing?)

I found the right tram and got off at the right stop despite them only announcing about every 3rd one. Then my fantastic host Maria let me take a shower while she made me breakfast. (Everyone is making me breakfast! Delicious, delicious, hot breakfast. It’s amazing! I freaking love breakfast! This country is INTO it.)

There isn’t a whole lot to do in Kazan in winter. I managed to see the Kremlin, where the mosque and the cathedral sit happily next to each other, and the Soviet Lifestyle museum within a few hours, then sat in a cafe with a pot of tea and a massive piece of poppyseed cake wondering what I’d do for two more days.

The Soviet Lifestyle museum is a private collection I’d really been looking forward to seeing because you’re allowed to play with about 50% of the stuff in there. There’s clothes and hats you can try on and lots of toys and old books and magazines and things to look through and tinker with. It’s basically a bunch of cool old stuff, which wouldn’t be nearly as remarkable if you weren’t able to interact with it. It was a fun way to spend an hour. Definitely one of the times I wish I’d had someone with me for more goofing off potential.

The first night, I bought some snacks and wine in the quietest, most awkward grocery store I’ve ever been in. this was my usual adventures in foreign grocery shopping where I just pick up a bunch of stuff that looks like it might be good and hope it all goes together. Unfortunately, because I can’t read Russian, I didn’t realise I’d picked semi-sweet red wine (boooo) so I failed there. Maria and I drank it anyway, after she impressively used a stiletto heel to open it, having lost her corkscrew. I promised to make dinner on my last night and buy actual good wine to go with it. She promised to take me to two Russian craft beer bars in town the next night. Hooray!

The second day I walked around the Tartar quarter for a bit before seeking out a Tartar food restaurant Maria had recommended for lunch. It’s mostly different sorts of pies and meat. I had some triangular meat pies with clear broth and a sweet rice, cheese and fruit pie, which was all right, a bit greasy. I later tried the national Tartar dessert, Chak Chak, which reminded me of a giant rice-krispie treat.

Before I met Maria for dinner and beer, I went to the Soviet Arcade museum. They have a branch on St Petersburg and Moscow as well, but I saved it for Kazan, which was good because I had nothing else to do. No one was in there so they turned on all the machines for me, and I tried most of them but got a bit hooked on the pinball and another one where you fling spinning rods at patterns to knock them out. Again, a good way to spend an hour, but would have been more fun with a buddy to play some of the two-player games.

After killing some more time out of the cold gandering around a less-awkward grocery store, I began my foray into Russian craft beer. Being very into my strong porters and imperial stouts, I didn’t waste time and went straight for the strong stuff. I haven’t had much vodka in Russia (more on which later), but I have had many beers over 10% abv!

Maria seems to know everyone in Kazan, including the guy who owned the first bar we were in, and he gave me some personal recommendations. I even took a bottle of triple IPA away to drink on Christmas, continuing my tradition of drinking some kind of super strong fancy beer every December 25th. We met a guy there with his English language group who wanted to got to the other craft bar we were headed to as well, so he joined us. His name was Sasha and he was a medical student trying to improve his English in order to improve his medical studies.

More very strong stuff in the next bar, which was the polar opposite of the first in terms of style, but had equally amazing beer. I also had some smoked cheese bar snacks and was allowed to choose the music from the big record collection. (When trying to explain to me that this bar had records and a record player, when he couldn’t think of the word ‘vinyl’, Sasha described records as ‘big black CDs’. Soetimes working across languages provides some excellent descriptions.) So I got to listen to Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday while sipping some 13% Russian deliciousness.

Maria told me about how Kazan is quite a tolerant place being half Russian half Tartar. Everyone pretty much gets along. Her parents celebrate Muslim holidays with their friends, despite not being Muslim, and she said that kind of thing is pretty normal. Lots of international students come to university in Kazan because it’s easier for people of all different cultures to get along here than it is in Moscow or St Petersburg (as well as being less expensive).

The next night when I made dinner and bought decent wine, we talked about how Russia is never what Westerners expect or are told to expect. I was saying how I was shocked I’d had more wine and beer and barely any vodka after having read everywhere that wine in Russia is terrible and everyone will be trying to get you to drink their vodka. the reality is, most Russians I’ve met don’t like or drink vodka, and prefer wine or beer. Maria showed me this awesome website called Bears and Vodka, which expands on these subjects and I can’t believe I never found on my own.

I had to get up at 4am to catch my train to Yekaterinburg so we couldn’t stay up and continue solving the world’s differences. Maria was good enough to wake up at 4.30 and call me a taxi to the station so I wouldn’t have to work it out in Russian. Just another amazing display of Couchsurfing hospitality.

Check out the full Kazan flickr album

US May 2015

I didn’t do a lot of writing about this trip while I was on it, because I was SO TIRED the whole time. You’d think I’d learn by now that I shouldn’t try to cram so much into a short trip because of the burnout it causes, but it’s really hard to do that when I go to the US because there are so many people I never get to see and I just want to see as many of them as I possibly can when I get the small chances I do.

I had grand plans to do a lot of travel planning for the big trip, a lot of writing (blog related and not), and a lot of reading, particularly on my two 6 hour train trips, but I spent most of those hours listening to music, dozing, and staring into space thinking about stuff because I couldn’t handle much else at the time. And that’s ok. But it does mean I have a lot of writing down of those thoughts to be getting on with.

Here’s all the awesome stuff I did that tired me out so much:

A day of wandering around Georgetown with Liam and Bobby. A ridiculous brownie at Baked and Wired. Happy Hour Mexican food and a mojito. A brilliant, brilliant Ben Folds and yMusic gig at the Lincoln Theatre.

Driving out of the middle of DC in a rental car, fairly terrified and mostly lost the entire time. Steak for lunch at Kelsey’s house, watching the chickens and talking about life. Dinner with most of her family (who are pretty much my second family) in downtown Frederick. Sharing the couch with Miss Betty.

Buying lots of random stuff in Target while I waited for the rest of the wedding party to arrive in York. Sampling the hotel pool experience. A rehearsal dinner while flanked by some kind of optometrists’ party in one ballroom and a high school prom in another (high entertainment value). The nicest hotel beds. An amazing wedding on a gorgeous day.

Driving back into DC again, terrified and lost again, this time with added Hellish Nation’s Capital Traffic and nearly hitting a pedestrian. Lunch at ShopHouse to recover (very good). A 6 hour train ride on which I did very little aside from think too much.

A dark beer called Duck Rabbit (how could I resist THAT NAME) with Josh. Breakfast with Rachel and their two awesome kids. A trip to the Raleigh farmers’ market. Really good salsa (god I miss really good salsa). Fast food, North Carolina style. Sitting in on a high school creative writing magazine meeting, which was so great and so bizarre and so the same as I remember it. Real North Carolina barbecue including hush puppies, which are one of my favourite things. Wyatt Cenac at a local comedy club (very funny, recommended). Lunch and local beers in Fuquay-Varina. And a super chilled out night of dinner, chat and whisky.

Another 6 hour train ride, not bad considering it was right after a pretty awful day for Amtrak. Again, didn’t do much but doze and think. A mojito sorbet while killing time waiting for happy hour with all the DC Washington College Dramalumni at the District ChopHouse. More beer than I should have drank, which is easy when it’s only $3.50 a pint. A Trader Joe’s dinner back at Liam and Bobby’s while watching a whole lot of Daily Show.

Lunch with my parents at Farmers Fishers Bakers and a walk along the river on a lovely day before my long trip home.

It was a lot, but it was worth the exhaustion. I’m lucky I got to see so many people in such a short space of time.

I was also incredibly homesick on this trip considering how short it was. I feel more like a foreigner than ever when I’m in the US, and I was probably realising that’s going to be standard now. I’m ok with that – I love the UK – I guess I just didn’t expect it to hit me so hard. I was VERY happy to see Edinburgh when I got back (and my fantastic friends who I spent the rest of the day with at the Summerhall FestiveALE – a lovely way to force myself to stay awake and fight the jet lag).


I was under budget again (£1500), which hooray! But as usual with trips to the US, I didn’t have to pay for much accommodation, and lots of people bought me food and drinks and things, so most of the cost was transportation.

Trip total: £1334.47

That’s an average of £121.32 per day.

£899.75 on transport. SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS of transport. This was Planes, trains and automobiles for real.

£144.77 on food. And I finally got my airport sushi in Dulles on the way home.

£36.28 on entertainment. Ben Folds!

£72.56 on accommodation. Two nights in a shared hotel room in York PA. Pool view. John Oliver on HBO. Beds to die for.

£55.05 on gifts. Stuff for people I was staying with. Chocolate and whisky mostly.

£65.49 on drinks. At least half of this was for other people. I drank relatively little on this trip.

£60.57 on miscellaneous. A bunch of random stuff at Target and a bunch of cold and heartburn related medicine. FUN.


In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Another reason to be excited about DC

Delayed (again)


In the headphones


Ray Charles

Lucy Schwartz

On the Kindle

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman

Keeper: A Book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordsworth and cake… by Andrea Gillies

In-flight films

Shaun the Sheep Movie (SO MUCH FUN)

Wild (more on which later)