I'm in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan. For years I've wanted to visit this city, in part to see whether famously independent minded Tatarstan really feels 'different'. And secondly to compare its marvellous UNESCO recognised kremlin with those of Tobolsk and of Astrakhan (which was the first city in Russia I ever visited). Best of all this is not 'my' territory - ie I don't have to research the place for the guide. I'm simply on my way home and seeing it as a tourist. Wow. It's inexpressibly thrilling to be able to walk past a hotel and NOT check out the rooms. In fact I'm even more relieved that I don't have to research the place when I realise that the city is gearing up for its thousand-year anniversary and so almost everything is closed. The museums, even the kremlin itself. For a tourist, however, the closures hardly matter. Walking around the kremlin gives one a perfectly good impression. The view from the river is quite astounding - the kremlin wall dipping politely to reveal its contents splendidly laid out including a massive new multi-spired great mosque. The bazaar does have pigs heads and pineapples exactly as the LP guide describes, although the Central Asian ambience is mostly confined to the pyramids of dried apricots - the market itself is very modern and almost too clean. I toyed with the notion of buying some caviar. The real stuff costs R390 for 57g - not vastly more than in duty free at the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan and way cheaper than in Europe. Still - how would I keep it cool? Instead I plump for a slice of the wonderful local 'pirog' bread filled with anything from cabbage to rice to fruit. I pick one filled with a tangy apricot mulch - delicious. Nosing through the CDs which are as plentiful as cheeses, I buy Kuka's superbly manic accordion-punk song "Zhu Zhu" as a musical souvenir before soothing the intense heat and my equally intense hayfever with an ice cold local beer. Great to be on holiday.