Archives for July 2014

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Russia Part One

14th July 2014 Entered Russia at the Koidula check point with no queues but took two hours to pass through both Estonian and Russian border posts with no trouble. The officers of both countries were polite, cheerful and helpful. We were able to get car insurance ($100 for two months) at a petrol station at the border. A further fee of 150 roubles ($5) road toll, so have some roubles or go to the nearby shop and change Euros or US dollars as I did.

So far the roads aren’t bad nor the Russian’s driving, as we had heard, and there were no more bread queues as we shopped at probably the biggest supermarket we have ever seen, in Pskov, a provincial city, fully stocked. Judy was able to get beauty products that she hasn’t been able to get since Sydney. This supermarket was like Woollies, Big W, Bunning’s and Super Cheap Auto all in one. I wonder what they will be like in a big city?

Our first night in Russia and we are wild camped (bush camped) just off the highway, on our way to Saint Petersburg, should get there tomorrow.

15th July 2014 Driving into Saint Petersburg we see a huge, grand city, the size of Sydney, with wide streets, some with eight lanes surrounded by six storey centuries old buildings, golden spires and domes adorn palaces and churches.

The Olgino Hotel has a camping area, which is past its former glory but has pleasant parkland, the Wi-Fi works and Visa card is accepted. The reception staff is friendly but I’m slightly miffed that no one is paying the slightest attention to my excellent Russian speech.

We thought we had the place to ourselves but the German contingent from Estonia has just arrived, thirteen mobile homes, and, unbeknown to ourselves we have made camp right in the middle of their “booked” area. However they seem to have accepted us. One of their number had a bad crash here in Russia, a write off and unknown injuries.

I later found out that his injuries were not serious.

18th July 2014 Wow! The Hermitage, which is Peter the Great’s palace, is a museum/art gallery, indescribable. More Rembrandt’s than the Louvre, sculpture, period clothing, Egyptian section, Da Vinci’s, Michael Angelo’s, what can I say. As a bonus you walk around these beautiful rooms in which the nobility lived.

Getting around is easy by public transport. The Metro runs at double speed with a train every one to three minutes depending on time of day and cheap. It is day here till midnight so you can fit a lot in.

People are helpful. We got talking to an old Babushka (Grandmother) as we got off the bus, and the next thing you know she is volunteering to be our tour guide to Pushkin, which is meant to have an even more glorious palace than The Hermitage.

We visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral in which all of the Tsars are interred and the Spilled Blood Cathedral (built on the spot where a Tsar was assassinated? Alexander) then took a Neva (river) and canal boat ride. A lot of these buildings have golden spires and when you see them in the flesh they are very impressive.

The Babushka was right, Ekaterina’s palace and grounds, in Pushkin was even more impressive than the Hermitage. The Russian nobility’s wealth must have been huge, too bad about the peasants.

It took us four hours to get out of Saint Petersburg due to traffic jams.

Apparently Vladimir Putin regularly frequents a local eatery in Pushkin.

Russia is pretty well right up to date now. Plenty of Landcruisers, Mercs, Range Rovers, good roads, huge hypermarkets, no drunks and plenty of ATM’S. I believe they put a man into space once.

Now camping on a small lake on the road to Moscow.

Judy wrote her first Russian word today, in Russian, it was Pushkin, and what a word to start with. One of Russia’s greatest literary masters.

Just heard about the Malasian airline plane that was shot down over the Ukraine killing many including some twenty eight Australians.

19th July 2014 Popped into Novgorod to see their Kremlin, fortress and church, impressive as usual and finished the day wild camping on one of the most beautiful spots yet. A halcyon day on the small Tvertsa river just out of Torzhok (and if you can say that you must be a Russian).

We met another overlander couple at a road stop, Hauke and Ragnhild aka Rags (of Max Hunt website), they are professional hunter/ travellers on their way to Kamchatkaand are just ripping their way through Russia to get to the remote wildernesses.

This trip seems to get better and better by the day, and I’m saying this ten months into the trip.

Tomorrow we enter Moscow.

20th July 2014 Saint Petersburg is a village by comparison to Moscow. Massive buildings, sixteen lane roads in the middle of town and twelve million people in residence. It took us all day to find a hotel to stay at and even though it was a Sunday and traffic relatively light I found it very difficult to get from A to B as there are many through roads and one way roads. Very hard to pick from a map.

Subways are very expensive here, not the train but the fast food franchise, however our hotel room is only $80/night. It is central, clean with good facilities provided such as kitchen, gym, cinema and bar. Not bad value as we had heard that Moscow is THE most expensive tourist city.

We have had perfect weather in the high 20’s by day and cool nights.

21st July 2014 We started off the day slowly trying to sort out the parking. There are no parking stations, which will take the height of our car, but you can park in the street and pay an astronomical fee, the problem is that their system doesn’t recognise our number plates (or is it a problem?). Anyway we didn’t get going until midday. From here the day really happened. We got to the Mongolian embassy by metro (the stations are like art galleries) and got our visas that afternoon, paying express US$320 total. In fact the Metro trains are like a conveyor belt, a train coming as little as thirty seconds apart and costing two thirds of bugger all for a ticket.

Had a most delicious lunch of Khinkali, a Georgian dumpling and walking it off along Arbatskaya a shopping and tourist precinct before arriving at Red Square. It looks so drab when you see it on all of those old Red Army parades but drab it aint, being surrounded by not only the Kremlin but an astounding Saint Basils cathedral and other monumental buildings. The scale of Moscow is incomprehensible but if you want BIG forget Red Square, just go to your local shopping mall. You see we used to get stories like this: Moscow has a butcher but sometimes the meat doesn’t come in and there are shortages, also bread lines, look again buddy!

I’m hoping to get a peek into Lenin’s tomb tomorrow ghoul that I am.

23rd July 2014 Yesterday we visited the Kolomneskaya gardens after sorting out our Sony camera, which had a problem with its viewfinder, we found a repairer but also bought a new Canon as a back up.

Today another huge day starting with poached egg on spinach, eggs benedict and two coffee’s = $50, yes these guys have got the gist of capitalism. Next, Lenin’s tomb, he’s is in there alright, for how much longer we do not know. It was a strange sensation, the crypt was very dark and there must be many accidents on the steps leading down to the body, which is bathed in an eerie glow. As I walked past him he gave me a wink but I don’t think anyone else saw.

Next, went on a tourist bus ride followed by a visit to TSUM, a David Jones +++, but not before stopping at the Kamchatka, opposite for some piroshky almost as good as Mum’s.

On the way back to the Kremlin, in a subway, was a three piece, string quartet. Yes that’s right, a three piece that sounded like four or rather forty musicians. The sound was just great.

The Kremlin, again words escape, many cathedrals, the biggest cannon never fired in anger and a huge Tsars bell.

 

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North Eastern Europe

10th July 2014 Entered a rainy Poland yesterday, slept at a truck stop and headed for Bialowieza, close to the Belarus border, the last fragment of primeval growth forest left in Europe once owned by the Russian Tsar . It was used for hunting purposes and some of his remaining buildings are still intact.

We will have to make a beeline for Russia now due to time and insurance purposes (The Green Card Insurance runs out on the 14th).

11th July 2014 Entered a rainy Lithuania driving through mostly flat farm lands until stopping for the night at the Maria Angelu camping area right next to a hill of crosses well known in Lithuania as a symbol of freedom against communism.

Lithuanians have been waving to us and giving us the thumbs up all along the way and everyone seems to know that New South Wales (on our plates) is in Australia, or maybe it’s the kangaroo transfers on our car.

12th July 2014 Lovely old town of Riga known as the Paris of Northern Europe. Lane side restaurants and bars with many bands playing and balmy temperatures. Spent the day there just taking it all in.

13th July 2014 On entering the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, a roadside temperature gauge told us it was 27c. This is 11c hotter than when we entered Nairobi, surprising, bearing in mind that Tallinn is well above Scotland in latitude and Nairobi is on the equator.

A member of the Estonian chapter of the Hell’s Angels just rode past us, wearing full colours (still allowed here) making this a truly first world country, but seriously the city looks modern and Nordic with the countryside full of fir trees, just what you would expect really.

We are in an urban camping area complete with NO grass and surrounding warehouses. That’s camping! With WiFi.

Our proposed entry point into Russia has a minimum 11 hour queue , due to road works, so we will travel to another entry point further south, this should be easier.

It’s still twilight at midnight.

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Czech Republic

30th June 2014 I have arrived at my spiritual home. Pilsen (Plzen in Czech), in the Czech Republic, where Pilsener (German spelling) beer was invented. Apparently Czechs drink more beer per capita than Germans or Australians, and this means that they are the champion beer drinkers of the world. Tomorrow we will do the Pilsner (not a spelling mistake) Urguell Brewery tour. So if you don’t hear from me for a couple of days you will know why.

They tell me that it is impossible to get a hangover after drinking Pilsner that is brewed here, so I will conduct a scientific experiment.

6th July 2014 I half expected to be greeted by St Peter at the gates of the Brewery, but no. He was inside, roasting barley, creating nectar of the gods. I’m getting a little over the top here, aren’t I. Nonetheless, good brew bro! The brewery reminded me of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory with huge, polished, copper vats and Oompa Loompas running around. The end of the tour climaxed with a sampling ceremony straight out of the wooden barrel, have I used the word ambrosia yet?

Judy and I ended the afternoon at a typical Czech brassiere scoffing pork knees with dumpling and quaffing still more amber liquids. I think I am putting on a little weight.

I can declare the hangover experiment to be a huge success too,     no pain.

I know it’s a few days since our last blog entry but we have been so busy. We caught up with people we met in Nairobi, part of our, so called, Wildebeest Club.

 

Pavel and Petra have been so kind to us, allowing us to stay with them while the Troopy gets reshod with new tyres (see travel notes) and has a service in readiness for Russia/ Mongolia. They have been our guides through their beautiful Prague and taken us to Liberec, my Father’s hometown, where a Cessna was hired to do an aerial tour. This was a lot of fun. The plane had dual controls, I sat next to the pilot while Judy and Pavel sat behind (Petra opted to stay on land as it is only a four seater) and at one point I held the joy stick/wheel taking a picture of this action with my other hand. This was when the pilot asked do you want to fly it. This was the start of my flying career. What a thrill and I was able to do turns and go up and down, these are technical terms us pilots use, but when I asked if I could land the plane it took a small second for the pilot to say NO.

Climbed Jeschken, the Liberec mountain that my father used to ski/toboggan and had lunch at the top in the award winning tower/restaurant completed in 1973. Mid summer in Liberec is like mid winter in Sydney.

In the evening we went to Marcella and Marek’s home (friends of Pavel and Petra) where they put on a barbecue in our honour. We had a wonderful night and we thank them.

This is what we have done over the last two days or so but today we travelled into Prague by ourselves by train (about a one hour trip) to give Pavel and Petra a break from us as we are still waiting on the Troopy. It is a public holiday weekend here and hopefully it will be ready on Monday.

We wandered the streets of Prague to the Music Museum but decided it was too heavy for us on such a beautiful day so, as we had an all day transport pass, we took a tram to it’s terminus and back just to get a feel for the city. We finished the day at a free concert but misjudged our location and time and then had to run about two kilometres to catch the last train back. We made it by five minutes.

7th July 2014   Car ready.

The Czech mechanics did a great job on the car service and tyres (see travel notes).

9th July 2014 Having spent the previous day cleaning the car in readiness for part 2 of our journey we say farewell to Pavel and Petra who could not have been more welcoming and generous had they been family. Friends like these you find once in a lifetime. If they ever come to Australia we hope to return the favour.

During our last evening we watched Germany demolish Brazil 7/1 in the World Cup semi final and one of the comestibles (eaties) that we had was a Czech delicacy called Nakladani Utopenci, which is a type of pickled sausage. Translated it means something like Dead Man Drowning, and a tasty morsel it is.

Petra saw us off with a home made wholemeal loaf baked in her oven with love.

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