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Senior Correspondent

Just when you’re almost convinced that your five-star hotel could be in any major U.S. city, you return from lunch (and a city tour), to find that the electricity is out. So, OK, this could happen in the U.S., but here, there is no apology from the front desk (“We are so sorry, Madame, the electricity is out and you will have to take the stairs.”) and no emergency lighting in the stairwell. You grope up the stairs with one hand on the rail. Now, will your electronic door key work? Yup, it does, however, fortunately you did carry a flashlight which is now essential to use the bathroom. (One of the travel things we did bring. Next time a cork screw as well). The room is still mostly cool from the morning A.C. How long will that last? Welcome to Russia!

Seriously, we have really enjoyed our time in Russia.

The roads are still mostly lousy with rough surface but hotels and food are much better than China or Kazakhstan. The wealth here is evident. Shopping centers abound.

Religion is thriving as well. The Russian Orthodox Church in Izhevsk (last stop) was just built within the last two years. I don’t know of any denomination in the U.S. that could afford to put up an edifice like this. Now if they would just spend money on the roads. China gets first prize in road and bridge construction.

Last evening we had a surprise. Well, two surprises, really. First, when we arrived, Clay and Blake and their 32 Ford were already here. They have had long days of driving and were stopped 12 times by traffic police from Astana to Kazan. If their car repairs and catch up weren’t enough, they were first responders to a fatal accident that happened about 100 feet ahead of them. The similarities between our trip and 1908 are getting spooky. There was a fatal accident then that was caused when the Italian car spooked a horse, overturned a cart and killed a child. That one ended up with the Italians spending a few days in jail until it was all sorted out. At least Clay and Blake did not go to jail.

Secondly, we met up with a Russian vintage car club! They had four Russian cars and a Model T.

A big group of people came out to admire the cars and the head of the club invited us all to their restoration shop tomorrow on our way to Nizhny Novgorod. Not only will we see old Russian cars, but when they discovered our broken headlight, they assured us that they will locate a headlight for us and will also install it! Then we won’t have to hold our breath each time we pass the Russian traffic police.  We still may get stopped, but not for an obvious violation.

The media interviewed us, me in particular. They followed us, filming the cars as we drove from our hotel to the square where we met the Russian car club. I was driving Stewball. They were really taken with a woman driving a vintage car. Lots of the questions were about how this affected me as a woman on this long trip. I admitted I shared the driving with Ed. I think they hadn’t spotted Mary and thought I was the only woman on the trip. 

Today we are in the Republic of Tatarstan. Kazan is made up mostly of Turkish Muslims, referred to as Tatars but with an ethnic makeup of the early Bulgars and not the Mongol Tatars who ruled the area in the 14th-century. There are two languages and two cultures. Road signs are in both languages. We toured Kazan with its kremlin and Qol Sharif Mosque.

We had done this tour in 2009 when we were here on our train trip from Vladivostok to Moscow but it was a great day to walk around. We will see what the evening brings with no electricity. The lights are out throughout the neighborhood, which Mary and I discovered when we walked to the supermarket. 

So tomorrow we drive to Nizhny Novgorod with a stop at the restoration shop. It will be a long day, 249 miles of the Trans-Siberian highway. Pray for no more detours and only semi-rough roads — and of course a new headlight.

Jan

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