We milked our expensive hotel stay for all it was worth, working in the lobby on their wireless internet connection for most of the morning. After we published a few entries, we struck up conversation with an Indonesian journalist. She was here reporting on Ramadan, as Kazan has the highest Muslim population of any city in Europe.
When we were done with work and finished chatting, we carried our backpacks downstairs to the parking garage. While I arranged everything in the backseat, Tyler ran back up to the lobby to get some money from the ATM, and also to top up our Megafon pay-as-you-go internet (you can do that on ATMs here, who knew it would be so easy to get connected in Russia!?). He was gone an awfully long time.
Tyler returned at last and proceeded to launch, wincing, into an unfortunate tale. He had successfully withdrawn some money and topped up our cellular internet. Then, he had grabbed his receipt and ran to the bathroom. All seemed normal so far, but he continued, and the pained look on his face became more pronounced.
ATMs the world over spit out your card when the transaction is complete. The one our hotel? It has a button you press to confirm you're done using the machine, and thus, want your card back. So trained in the normal, almost automatic motions of ATM use, he'd forgotten about this niggling little detail. It didn't dawn on him until he was done in the bathroom. By this time, his card was officially confiscated by the machine.
Now, since having our wallet stolen, we have about six debit/credit cards, all separated throughout our belongings. The loss of one wasn't a huge deal, but of course we wanted to get it back. The woman at reception called the bank on Tyler's behalf, and was informed that a specialist would phone soon to let her know when they could come.
We've grown accustomed to crushingly slow bureaucracy any time something important needs to be accomplished on our trip – our hopes weren't exactly high as we waited in the lobby to learn our fate. However, after about twenty minutes, by some miracle, the "specialist" turned up! She opened the ATM, grabbed our card from the belly of the beast, and then asked for some ID before handing it back.
We breathed a sigh of relief and reminded each other of my new favorite admonishment:
This is what I say when we're locking doors, when I'm making sure we have our headlights on, when we open our elderly tent zippers with cautious care instead of reckless abandon, and when I ask for the umpteenth time if we have the "walletkeysphonecamerapassportscase." After this experience, Tyler stopped chuckling at my new favorite word, instead adopting the important reminder along with me.
"VIGILANCE!", he shouted in the parking garage while shaking his head.
Disaster averted, we left to do what our Trans-Siberian guidebook said was a must while visiting Kazan—trying some authentic Tatar food. The recommended restaurant was a quiet, hole-in-the-wall type of place. It wasn't far away, and we found it without too much trouble. We were the only patrons, perhaps because of Ramadan? The family who ran the establishment were glued to the TV, watching zebras and gazelles leaping across the savanna on the National Geographic channel.
A young man got up from his spot in front of the TV to graciously seat us at a low table by the window. It was surrounded with bright orange pillows and felt a bit exotic like something from A Thousand and One Nights. We made a place in the plush cushions and sat down cross-legged while the man brought us bottled bubbly water. The menu was a picture book, which was convenient for us; we just pointed at whatever looked good. It was all inexpensive, so we treated ourselves to a nice big meal.
I got a big plate of dumplings, Tyler got a different sort of dumpling soup, and the two of us shared a large round bread stamped in the middle with a flower shape. It was delicious! For dessert, we got a baklava wrapped up to go.
Back in the car, we pulled into a shady parking spot to get our maps in order. In the space next to us, a young man was also sitting in his vehicle, smiling broadly and talking loudly on his cell phone. After making eye contact with us, he abruptly lowered the phone and held it face-down on his chest. He then leaned out of the window, grinning, to ask us a question. "Sorry we don't speak Russian!" Tyler responded. The man laughed and got on his phone again, this time saying something about "Amerikanski."
The man soon flipped his phone shut, hanging up on whomever he was speaking with, and began a great miming conversation with us. He was a really gregarious guy, but we were confused about who he was and what he was doing there. It seemed he was waiting to meet someone (not us, obviously)? Based on his car and the clothes he was wearing, we decided he could have been anyone from a drug dealer to a chauffeur for foreign heads of state. We gave him our card, and he left us with a goofy grin and a power fist, as we drove out of town.
As soon as we left the city we began looking for a free-camp, as it was getting late already. It wasn't hard—we trundled down a well-worn dirt path towards the muddy banks of the mighty Kama river on the first try. We pulled off into the grass and parked the car. No sooner than the Emergency brake had been pulled, Tyler leaped out, camera and extra lens in hand, to climb some sort of nearby tower.
My distant shouts of "VIGILAAAAANCE!" were acknowledged with nod and a wave as he carefully made his ascent.
After a few minutes spent surveying the area with his bird's eye view, Tyler made it safely back down, and we watched the fat pink sun set before retiring to our tent.