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Izhevsk - Russia
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Kazan (Russian: Каза́нь) is the capital of the republic of Tatarstan and the center of the world Tatar culture in Russia. With a population of about 1.3 million, according to a 2011 census, a rich history, vibrant culture and strong economic influence, Kazan holds the title of The Third Capital of Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. By many measures, Kazan has the one of the highest standards of living in Russia, again only after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Kazan has just recently earned the reputation of a sports city, due to its recent investments in this area. Kazan will organize the Universiade 2013, and will be a host city in the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Both the World Cup and Universiade events are enhancing the city's booming construction development. In the last couple of years, sport venues have popped up in the Tatar capital, together with residential buildings and offices. Many of Kazan's professional teams, such as Rubin (football) or Ak Bars (hockey), have been recent Russian champions.

Kazan has long been a focal point of higher education in Russia. It remains a university city, with some of the top universities in Russia including Kazan Federal University, TGGPU and the Kazan Finance Institute, Kazan State Technological University (KGTU), Kazan State Technical University (KAI), and "Energa" University. Many foreign students study in Kazan, adding diversity to the city's tolerant and unique population. The schools in Kazan and in wider Tatarstan tend to be some of best educational institutes in Russia. Located between Europe and Asia, having both Russian and Tatar populations, Kazan successfully blends Muslim and Christian cultures. This special city with over 1000 years of history is an excellent travel destination, and the number of tourists visiting is rapidly increasing every year.

The airport in Kazan is the headquarters for Tatarstan Airlines, which serves several cities in Russia and flies a number of charter flights to destinations like Turkey and Egypt. In addition to Tatarstan Airlines, Aeroflot, S7, SkyExpress, and UTAir fly between Kazan and Moscow, and Rossiya Airlines also flies to Kazan from Saint Petersburg. Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines are the two international carriers which currently have scheduled flights to Kazan. The international airport is southeast of the city and far from the city center with a taxi from the train station to the airport taking about 90 minutes with a cost of 1000 Rubles or more. Public transportation to and from the airport is complicated, as there is no direct bus service between the airport and the city. Bus 97 runs from the airport via MEGA Shopping Mall to the 39 Kvartal bus station in the Aviastroitelniy Rayon north of the city center and across the Kazanka River. From the 39 Kvartal, change to bus 15 or 35a to reach the Kremlin.

Kazan is more easily reached by train, as it is a major station stop for several west-east trains. Depending on the train, travel from Moscow's Kazan Station can be as short as 11 hours. A direct train from St. Petersburg's Moscow Station takes 25 hours. Kazan's train station is located close to the city center, with several hotels, restaurants, and the Kremlin within walking distance of the train station. The ticketing office is not in the main (historic red brick) building, but in the more modern building with a clock tower next to it as one faces the main building from the street - the ticket office is on the left. Kazan has a riverboat terminal on the Volga River and can be reached by river cruise as well. River cruises down the Volga operate during the summer months from early May to the end of September. Dozens of boats operated by different companies run from Moscow to Astrakhan. One way or return cruises may be reserved to and from practically any city along the Volga. and are among several companies that offer these Volga tours.

Much of the city center is walkable with the main attractions for tourists - the Kremlin and Bauman Street being closed to all but pedestrian traffic. Public buses are abundant and cheap, but one must have some knowledge of Russian to read the signs or ask where the buses are headed. Bus system maps are apparently hard to come by. Taxis are available and operate mostly on an on-call basis, rather than plying the streets for fares. They also congregate at a few taxi stands in predictable places such as the train station. A Metro system is being developed, with four stations on the red line in operation as of early 2008, running between Tukai Square and Gorkiy Station a few kilometers to the south east. Later, a fifth station was built close to the Kremlin. A commercial company publishes a free map that is distributed at the reception of several hotels, and the Mirage Hotel also publishes their own free map. Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary in 2005 and the city got a major facelift. Visitors today will be able to enjoy many of the reconstructed or newly-constructed sites from this anniversary celebration.

The Kazan Kremlin was once a Tatar fortress but was largely destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Russia reconstructed the Kremlin with new fortifications and Russian institutions such as the Annunciation Cathedral. Many of the features of the Kremlin reflect Russian influence of that era, and the construction of the parapets and watchtowers is particularly reminiscent of other dominant Russian cities of the time, such as Pskov and Novgorod. Entry to the Kremlin is through the white clock tower - the Spasskaya Tower at the end of Bauman Street. Entry costs 300 Rubles with a guided tour, or 20 Rubles to explore the grounds without a guide. There are several interesting things to see inside the Kremlin including Suyumbike Tower. The legend of the Suyumbike Tower is that the Tatar Princess Suyumbike was betrothed to Ivan the Terrible, but she consented to marry him only if he could build the highest tower in Kazan in seven days. Ivan accomplished the task, but Suyumbike, rather than subjugating herself and the Tatar people to the Russian ruler, climbed to the top of the tower and jumped to her death. Locals do not seem to believe that the legend is true, but they appreciate the romanticism of it. At present, the tower is not open for visitors to climb the stairs of the tower.

Kul-Sharif Mosque was named after the 16th century Tatar Imam who died defending Kazan from Ivan the Terrible's army. the Kul-Sharif Mosque was completed in 2005 after ten years of construction. It is located within the Kremlin walls, making the Kremlin facility now a symbol of multicultural harmony in multi-ethnic Tatarstan. Entry to the mosque is free, although visitors must pay 3 Rubles for plastic slip-covers for their shoes in order to keep the floors clean. Visitors who climb the stairs to the third floor observation balcony do not need to remove their shoes. The prayer hall on the ground floor is open only to men going to pray and the second floor balcony is for Muslim women to pray. All women, though, should cover their hair in all parts of the mosque. From the observation balcony, visitors can appreciate the beauty of the mosque, which is built in a modern design not unlike modern Turkish mosques. The dome in the shape of a lotus flower and the many windows give the prayer hall a bright and airy atmosphere. One uniquely local feature in the mosque is the malachite columns on the minbar - the free-standing pulpit. Some of the 99 names of God are inscribed on the inside of the upper dome and on the window glass, and the name Mohammed is written in a blue disk at the front of the prayer hall. Verses from the Koran, including an incantation against envy, are written on tile in the four corners of the hall, and the names on disks suspended lower in the hall are those of the four rightly-guided caliphs and some of the early prophets.

An interesting Museum of Islam is located below the ground floor of the mosque. Entrance is free, and a tour in English may be available if the English-speaking docent is on duty. The museum also has a booklet in English that explains the exhibits that can be helpful. Some of the exhibits include displays regarding the status of Tatar language in the Soviet era, some history of the building of the mosque and on the lower sublevel is a history of Islam in Tatarstan, which mentions Empress Elizabeth's attempt to convert Tatars to Christianity and Catherine the Great's edict allowing mosques to be constructed. Since the 1970's, Kazan has long had the reputation of being one of the least safe cities of Russia. The "Kazan phenomenon" of street gangs even became a journalistic and sociological concept. However, since the late 90's, the security situation as considerably improved.

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