Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Four days in Samara

Not sure where to start...........
The past four days have been a whirlwind of events, people and good times. If it wasn't for the photos I wouldn't be able to remember half the moments. So I dont think I will try to put anything in to much order but will tell of the experiences and leave you to look at the photos, which by the way are in dated order.
Alex arranged for one of his friends to give a us a guided tour of Samara the day after we arrived. We got to ride parts of the city tourists will never see and many that they do. We meet people from student artists to computer programmers, enjoyed pancakes and icecreams, iced tea, chinese tea, coffee and chocolates. Saw real rocket ships, monuments of revolution heros from days gone by and tributes to current sporting stars.

So much to see, so much to do and yet we took a day off to rest and sit in the sun. Late in the afternoon, Friday, Zhenya tells us to pack some things including the tents and put it in the car, we are going to the music festival this night. Both of us being under the impression we were going to the festival Saturday.
The festival is set in a forest and there are cars, tents, fires and people everywhere. The night was a fabulous mix of food, drink, laughing and new music (to us).
Not content with inviting us to stay with them and join in their weekend at the festival, Alex and Zhenya organise to take us to the military museum in Togliatti on Saturday morning. If you are looking at the pics, No, I could not get on board the submarine but had a great time looking at machinery from an era gone by. Also joined by Zahar and Kate we leave and head for another one of those rearaties here, good coffee. There are times when things are not entirely within ones control and these are often not bad times. Another couple joined us for coffee, more friends of our hosts, and between this group they organised and took us to some places few tourists will ever go. Arriving back at the camp of the festival (8.30pm) dinner was already being prepared and another night of fun began.
Our plans of leaving on Sunday got altered and the leaving is postponed until Monday. I wish I could say this gave me time to catch up on some writing and photo editing but I think even if I had another week this wouldn't happen, not here anyway.
Monday morning has us in very high spirits, amazing how a few days off can work wonders for the mind and body. Loading up the bikes is a leisurely affair interupted only by a large breakfast of pancakes and honey. Saying goodbye feels strange, we have known these wonderful people for only a few days and yet I feel like we have been friends for years.
........ I mentioned Alex is a policeman?
Remember the six thousand ruble fine I got?
Well, just before leaving a car arrives and a guy comes to the gate, the same guy (policeman) that I got the fine from. He walks up to me shakes my hand and appologies, in my hand is six thousand rubles.
'Nuff said!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chelyabinsk to Samara

28 June Monday Chelyabinsk

Rules here it seems can be bent and broken to suit the needs of those who inforce them.
Waiting in the lobby, in front of reception, for a taxi to take us to 78 Karla Marksa so we can sort out our registration problem, the receptionist calls us over to take a phone call. The caller is 'the Specialist' who we are to meet this morning to sort things out. She informs me they have decided to wave the fine, there is no need to come and meet with her and to have a nice day.
You could have knocked me over with a feather, this is not what I or J'ean expected because there is always a fuss about being registered. Not being one to argue the reason, we just saved one hundred dollars, I inform J'ean its all sorted and head for the door before someone changes their mind.
J'ean wants a hair cut and its the first thing we look for before going to much further. With a little help from people on the street we find a hairdresser. For most guys getting a haircut is a 10 minute affair and 10 bucks, end of story. For the first ten minutes I found it hard to contain the laughter as I watch the hairdresser get J'ean ready for a haircut. After having his hair washed, upstairs, it takes another 45 mins to cut and trim his hair, one hair at a time I am thinking. Its only when the hairdresser produces a cut throat razor that my brain snaps to attention, trimming the sides and back of his neck with this lethal tool. So much time, so much entertainment and a haircut all for less than 10 bucks!
Chelyabinsk has a casual aura about it, like nothing is to much problem and time is of no real concern. It could be compared to island life in the pacific. Checking out some of the local attractions in the city centre like the life sized bronze statues and souvenir stalls we find our selves at the the other end one of the main streets (ul. Kirova) in front of a large green topped church. I have never really felt comfortable in churches but it is while standing in front of the main doors that an elderly woman motions for us to enter. The interior is collection of paintings on the walls and ceiling, we would have liked to take photos but it just didnt seem right somehow, so we are content to just look and wander around in silence.
Leaving the church and entering the open market next to it is the complete opposite. No solitude here, laughter, loud conversations, the clatter of merchants moving things and smells that sometimes make the nose wrinkle up in distaste. It is amazing the things you find in these markets, alot tools, untensils and things that for me are from a bygone era.
Walking back in the afternoon sun and enjoying the surroundings we notice something not quite in character for a Russian city - Subway. Need I say more......yum, yum, yum!

29 June Tuesday Chelyabinsk to Ufa
This morning is another great day for riding but for some reason the ride is a real drag. I have heard that this happens to riders and travellers who move constantly for extended periods of time. For me, I thought the time we spend in the places we stop was enough, obviously I am wrong.
The road to Ufa is scattered with road side souvenir stalls and small stands with jars of honey for sale. Not even the shiny strange looking thnigs at these places can encourage us to stop. There would be an exception if we had the room and that is for the fresh fruits stalls of summer fruits.
As we ride over the lower end of the Ural Mountains, more like foot hills if compared to New Zealand, the scenery is green and lush and easy to compare to the some of the roads back home. As we creast one of the hills and look ahead to the up and coming road, my only thought is....Shit!
There is bumper to bumper traffic and most of it trucks.....stopped. It would not be an exaggeration to say a couple of hundred vehicles queued and waiting, for what we dont know. Creeping past this line we notice a cafe off to out left and decide if we must wait for something we may as well do it while enjoying a cold drink. We loose the hot sweaty jackets, gloves and helmets and replace them with an ice cold beers and a cool place to sit in the shade while we watch we the other drivers cook in their vehicles.
The reason for the que soon becomes apparent as we ride down to the front of the line..... Traffic lights, put up for the control of traffic to cross a bridge on one side while repairs are made to the other. Being at the front now gave us a clear run all the way to Ufa, the moment the light turned green that is!
Turkish food is another thing I never expected to find here, but next to the Hotel Agidel where we are staying is a splendid turkish restuarant. I am sure we got a lot more than what was ordered.

30 June Wednesday Ufa to Samara (Merniy)

Vladimir, the guy we meet on the Transalp, had emailed some friends of his in Samara, consequently we recieved and email from them inviting us to come and stay. Strange thing to be invited to come and stay with someone you have never meet or even know. We accept the invitation and our original destination of Kazan is replaced with Samara.
About 100km out of Samara we get pulled up by the police, not entirely sure for what, but as we know there does not have to be a reason. In this case however it turns out there is. I had crossed a solid white line while passing a line of trucks and they it on video. It must have been a bit of surprise to them to see two of us stop when all they had seen was me. J'ean had passed but used the shoulder on the other side as we had got used to doing. Dont ask about the legalities of this, its not uncommon here. Anyway, what I had done was wrong and a fine had to be paid.... six thousand rubles..... it started out at three hundred US, then changed to nine hundred rubles and with a protest of shock from me ended at six, after all I did want my passport back.
As we arrived in Samara it starts raining so taking a shelter under some trees, we contact Alexey for directions to his place.
As it turns out it is easier for him to meet us and us to follow him and it is soon apparent why. Alexey and his family live about 50km out of the city in another area called Merniy.
We have both had a banya before but nothing like the the experience we got from our hosts here. After a delicious meal had out doors, to hot to sit inside, we are invited to have a banya and clean up. How to describe......hmmmmm...... lets just say to be cooked within an inch of your life then cooled, enjoying exotic herbal teas, recooked and then beaten with leafy branches from a tree is an experience not for all. Sleep came easy tonight :)))

Friday, July 9, 2010

Novokuznetsk to Chelyabinsk

23 June Wednesday Novokuznetsk to Novosibirsk

Well, its a day for a mission, we are up early and Irina had breakfast made, then its on to the tram followed by a short walk to Alexanders place to pick up the bikes. I give my baby a quick wash so she looks abit more respectable for her new tyres :)))
The temperature dropped as we ride to Novosibirsk and before we get 100k on the clock its change of gloves time and not forgetting a quick bite to eat. Our only other unplanned stop is for wet weather gear, I think it rained hardest as we put it on.
On the outskirts of Novosibirsk we stop to make a call to our contact, Stanislav, for the tyres and get directions. Our goal ul. Lenina - Shock me! - Now to find it. Following the flow of traffic is generally a good start and the closer we get to the centre the busy it gets. It's while stopped at one point to get street names look at the surrounding buildings to get an idea of where we are that a guy walks up and asks "Do you need tyres?" Stanislav, who else would know? We had stopped not 500 meters around a bend from the Lenin statue on ul. Lenina. We follow him to a tyre shop to get the tyres fitted ( Had to give the shop guys a bit of guidence on how to fit motorcycle tyres, it didn't make the bill any cheaper) For me its a small load off my mind to have new rubber on the road. J'ean opted to only have a front tyre fitted and carry my old rear as a spare.
To make for even a better deal, when asked if he knew of a cheap motel, Stanislav offers us to stay at his place. Smiles all round from us. It's no wonder that Stanislav's number is in the posts on Horizons Unlimited. If you are riding in Russia and are in the Siberian area of Novosibirsk, requiring parts for your bike, it's likely Stanislav can help, just call +7 9139172953.
The front tyres lasted 7500km, the rears have more life in them and would probably do 10,000km. Would we use these tyres again? Yes, at half the price of Continental TKC80's (the benchmark tyre for adventure riding) they are great value, work well on gravel roads and perform better than we thought on tar seal.

24 June Thursday Novosibirsk to Road Motel

The view from Stanislavs central city apartment gives you a good idea how spread out and how big Novosibirsk is. To be honest I was a little apprehensive to come this city, nothing I had read about the place said anything very nice, however contrary to this Novosibirsk is a city under development and upgrade. The streets are clean (Russian standards) and are well maintained in the city area. It may not be every sightseers dream but there is still plenty to see and do. There is no shortage of choice for bars and restaurants and most are easy to find.
So...... our leaving Novosibirsk was a slow affair, 1.00pm saw us riding out. It took about an hour to clear the city and once on the open road we just cruise along enjoying the afternoon sun.
Bikes and planes...... must be a thing with us two, about 100k out of Novosibirsk we spot a huge helicopter, no guards, no fences, no dogs, just sitting off to one side of the main road. Damn it's big! Cant for the life of me think of its model or name.... good job for Google later. The 6 rotor blades are 29 feet long. No I didnt measure them they have the measurement on them.
Have I mentioned straight roads are boring...... cant even test the new tyres out. Why we stop where we do is never a plan, its usaully because the bums need a rest or the body needs food and drink. On one such stop late in the afternoon another motorcyclist rides by tooting his horn, we wave back, he hits the brakes does a U turn and pulls in beside us.
Meet Vladimir, Russian adventure rider, on his way to Vladivostok and over to Japan on a Honda Transalp. One thing we have noticed when we meet other motorcyclists on the road most can speak some english. For Vladimir to reach his destination in time he puts in 1000km a day..... I dont envy his backside. After exchanging contact information and wishing all safe travels we head in our respective directions. I know we are going the right way even without the use of a map because overhead are the jet stream trails from the aircraft going to and from Mosco.

25 June Friday Road Motel to Camp 9

It was by chance and good luck that we pulled off the road into a gas station that had a motel behind it the previous night. These motels mostly cater for the truck drivers and have restaurants attached to them to. The room we are given is the biggest room we have had and a double bonus, it has hot water.
It seems we have fallen in the routine of starting late and finishing late something that is completely opposite to what both of us are used to back home..... what ever works I say! With a breakfast of pancakes and coffee to start the day right we load up the bikes and continue in the direction of Omsk.
We do have one important job to do today other than make a destination on a map. Change the oil and filters in the bikes, they a little overdue. I know we got oil in Novokuznetsk but just had not made the time to change it. Roadside servicing is never much fun but with new oil and filters fitted, air filters cleaned and chain oilers topped up we are good for another few thousand kilometers.
An afternoon wind made riding a little more interesting, even the local crows had a job of it, if they stopped flapping their wings for a second they got blown back to where they came from. I think other drivers on the road found us a bit humerous as the cross winds had us leaning into them just to stay upright and on the road. The smiles and waves we get you have to see the funny side from there point of view.
Omsk - one word to describe it - YUK!
It is not an unattractive city but if you are on a motorcycle this is not a good place to be. It is very busy and not easy to navigate around because of this. Stopping only for fuel we leave Omsk behind and head up the M51 in search of a place to camp. The nights camp site would the best to date, the mosquitos more or less left us alone, maybe we need a shower.

26 June Saturday Camp 9 to Camp 10

During the night the temperature dropped and it got cold enough to make me put socks on. The morning however is warm and sunny and it is with no problem we sit around drinking coffee and tea waiting for the dew to dry off the tents and plan the route to our destination of Chelyabinsk.
The road is quiet and a complete contrast to the previous days from Novosibirsk to Omsk where it was almost bumper to bumper trucks. The reason for this soon becomes obvious, the road up ahead is closed by a gate with the un mistakeable sign of 'STOP' on it. As we approach a soldier steps out to meet us and asks where we are going and where we have come from. We inform him we are going to Chelyabinsk via Petropavlovsk. What we failed to notice on the map is Petropavlovsk is in Kazakhstan - Duh! Our boarder soldier is a friendly guy and shows us the road to take, detouring around Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk.
With the road being so quiet as we head back away from the boader its time for a little fun and testing the top speed of the bikes fully loaded, without the worry of the traffic police, is a perfect idea. Result.... 148km/h, with a tail wind we might get 150.
The detour through Nazivaevsk and onto Krutinka puts us back on the E30 . We know we are on the right road, the trucks are back! Ishim was our pick of places to stop for the night but as it would seem, this is not to be.We can not find a motel even after getting directions. Being found by the local police is a bit of a relief (in this case). We follow them to the local motel but there is no safe parking for the bikes, so taking there advice, we head on down the road to a place that is good for camping.

27 June Sunday Camp 10 to Chelyabinsk

The Ishim police are right the camping is great. No mosquitos at all, just a few ants and a couple of mole holes. Another leisurely departure, waiting for the dew to dry off the tents. Its going to be a cracker of a day, the breeze is already warm and the sun is bright and glarey.
As we ride I notice something with the roading crews, they are not working. Maybe the western side of Russia has Sundays off, pity the truck drivers dont have the same point of view. Yes I will moan and moan and moan about the trucks - Why? 'cause I can!
With an hour to go to get to Chelyabinsk our bums and brains needs rest. The road is monotonous, the temperature is well into the mid 30's and even the breeze feels like a fan bake oven. Chocolate bars dont stand a show, anywhere you pack them they melt and we have more hot water in our drink bottles than some of the hotels we have stayed at.
Chelyabinsk is a pleasant place to ride into and maybe because its Sunday the traffic is light. Having some more of that good luck we get, the motel we are looking for is not more than 200 meters from the place we stop :)))
There is loud, very loud, music playing from the central square beside our friend Lenin across from our motel. We can feel the thump of the bass through the 600+ mm thick walls and double glazing. Actually we dont mind the music it gives the place a feel of being alive and alot of the songs being played are chart toppers in the US. Yes they are in english.
The Yuzhny Ural motel, as stated in the Lonely Planet book, is a Soviet dinasaur, with is super wide corridors, worn concrete stairs and sloping uneven floors, well worth the stay.
We do have a small problem, again. We have not registered for over a week. After a bit of discussion and a few phone calls this can be fixed by paying a fine and visiting a 'specialist' who can take care of it all - but on Monday.