Monday, June 18, 2007

Russian Border 18 June 2007

Our Malysh has given sterling service to get us a third of our way across
the world. We left Russia after 23 days. Crossing the border into the EU
frees us up from a lot of constraints with visas and car insurance, both
of which will expire after one month and would not be renewed easily. This
was our own doing but longer is always more costly.

We have found Russia is a country bound by rules and regulations leaving
no room for any initiative or flexibility. On the other hand it is a
country of very friendly, generous people, and we leave it having had
some very wonderful experiences.

During our drive east to west we have crossed 7 time zones so I guess that
in itself shows the distance traveled. The changes in time have worked to
our advantage, as at the end of a long day you suddenly realise you can
put your watch back an hour. Also the long daylight hours are great when
you are travelling. During summer in St Petersburg the White Night Arts
Festival lasts the whole of June.

It has been very worthwhile taking the time to learn the Cyrillic
alphabet. There are six letters that are the same as ours, others that are
familiar, for example r is g, h is n, p is r and then they use symbols
that are unfamiliar to us, rather like the Greek alphabet.

The food is great at the truck stops along the roadside, and again to
learn how to say a few of the basic dishes means you are not faced with an
unpleasant surprise.

Since being here two years ago inflation is very noticeable, as everything
seems to have doubled in price. Even across Siberia the prices of hotels
were more expensive than we would pay at home. Everywhere we have been has
been clean even if it has been pretty dilapidated. Not the same can be
said for the toilets, which are basic to say the least, but as you dare not touch anything are probably more hygienic than our western style. A few tips are to wear enclosed
shoes, not to take anything loose in your hand and wet wipes are
definitely a travel necessity.

From Kazan we did a 500+ day and spent the night in Vladimir. Here we
started to see for the first time tour buses. From there it was only 170
kms to the outskirts of Moscow on a four lane divided road. We had
decided to not visit Moscow but drive around the ring road. The 43 kms
took one and half hours on a clogged twelve lane divided road.

That night we stayed in Velikye Luki a town 162kms before the border.
Driving off the highway we thought it was just going into a small village
but it was quite large town and they had just hosted a hot air balloon
festival with entrants from all over Europe.

On Saturday we arrived at the border at 10am in pouring rain and proceeded
from one booth to the next. I have no idea what takes the time but it was
two and a half hours later that we found ourselves in Latvia. I don't
know how the truck drivers cope as on the Latvian side we drove for at
least four kms past a line of stationary trucks waiting to be processed,
and then we turned and still did not see the end of the line.

The road surface improves immediately, and the whole countryside takes on
a more European look. We drove to the next border with Lithuania in two
and three quarter hours and although at each crossing you are required to
show your passports and the car's papers there was no hold up. All these
Baltic countries have been members of the EU since 2004 but they still
operate with their own currency.

On Saturday night we stayed in Kaunus the second largest city in Lithuania
and from there did a short run into Poland. We made a beeline for a resort
town, Gizycko that we stayed in two years ago. It is on large lake and has
a real holiday atmosphere. It was a beautiful sunny day so we bought the
makings of a picnic and sat on the side of the canal to eat lunch and
watch the locals sail by in their yachts.

From here we are definitely going to take things a little easier. Lang
spent a few hours replacing spark plugs, fan belts etc on the car but we
now must look for somewhere to do the major work of repairing the
temporary fix on the axle.