The Muezzin’s call to prayer rang out from the loud speakers of the local mosque over the wooden roof tops as the sun rose in Astrakhan. I was back in non-slavic Russia.
Astrakhan sits on the Volga River near its discharge point into the Caspian Sea. It’s famous for sturgeon caviar (now banned as this fish is in danger of extinction) and having been a trading post on the Silk Route between East and West – the town was once populated with multi-ethnic traders from Persia, Armenia, Khiva, and India, amongst others.
There is a beautiful white 16th century Russian Kremlin (fortified town), old churches, mosques and a Tatar Market. The river promenade has been revamped with parks, floating restaurants and statues. Just blocks from grand public spaces, suburbs of traditional wooden homes stand, just, lived in and in varying states of repair.
Unfortunately the river boats from Volgograd had finished for the summer so I arrived again by over-night train. It was headed ultimately for Grozny in Chechnya and a bunch of soldiers partied into the night as we rattled along.
I then had an adventure getting to my hotel which was about 7k out of town. I’d rung to get the local bus number I needed but when I asked the drivers of those buses they said they didn’t know the road. After asking in a nearby kiosk I was told a different bus number and yes, that driver knew the place. I was dumped on an unexpectedly quiet corner and after checking my map found I was miles on the wrong side of town! I had either pronounced the street name wrong or it was known by some other name!
A receptionist in a hotel nearby checked online and found me a bus back across town to my proper destination. This time I discovered the amazing benefits of following myself by GPS on Google Maps!
On finally arriving at the right part of right long road where my hotel was meant to be, the hotel was not there. A slightly grumpy call to the receptionist there had me traipsing back up the road and her coming out to meet me!
Thankfully I had all day so all this was just an extra bit of sightseeing! Afterwards, I felt like a local catching the crowded minibus “mashrutka” in and out of the town centre each day!
My prize for all this dashing around was having a room to myself for dorm prices. The hotel was a huge purpose built motel but was strangely designed and now mouldy and cracking. That combined with being out of town meant I was one of few guests.
The sun shone, black seabirds cross-crossed the sky and I met the call to prayer with a happy and grateful stretch!