Friday, June 15, 2007

Vladimir 14 July 2007

We arrived in Kazan late yesterday after a 600km drive from Perm. So much
for shorter days, but Lang is a concerned about our temporary fix on the
car and wants to get to Poland where they have Niki parts and a better
understanding of Fiats. We should cross the border into Latvia on
I am trying to type this on my knee as we drive along as so far today the
roads are a little better. From Ekaterinaburg you get sections of road
where you think things are going to improve and then it all turns to worms
yet again.
We have now left the Urals and have come into the Volga region which
extends from the Urals to Moscow. Just out of Ekaterinaburg we crossed
from the continent of Asia into Europe. This is identified by an
impressive roadside border marker, as well as the ancient league marker on
a black and white striped pole.
Kazan, where we were last night, is situated on the Volga and we drove
over this majestic river going into the city and out again this morning.
Kazan has quite a different atmosphere to the other Russian cities we have
already traveled through. It has a more European look, and sadly the first
McDonalds we have encountered, but also a strong Asian link because of the
Tartar heritage.
The Tartars were Mongolian invaders dating back to the days of Genghis
Khan, and even today they have their own language and flag, which flies
beside the Russian flag on most buildings. The town is famous for the
historic kremlin situated on the banks of the Volga with spectacular blue
and white painted churches with gold domes all surrounded by a high white
wall. Throughout the town there are also many beautiful mosques.

It was a cold rainy afternoon when we got to the hotel in Perm. While Lang
was unpacking the car a young girl who could speak English was asking
about our trip and offered to come back in the evening to show us around.
The whole town was in party mode as not only was it a holiday for Russian
Independence Day but also the town's birthday.

Perm is known as an industrial town that not many foreigners visit.
Svetlana, Mikhail, and their friend Rosa showed us the river Kama and
some lovely buildings and parks and the inevitable imposing Lenin statue.
Later they took us to a Tartar restaurant where we reclined on cushions
under silk drapes. They explained the town was only very young, a few
centuries old, which makes you laugh when you come from Australia. Perm,
along with other Eastern Russian cities, was a closed city during
communism as most had sensitive military installations and were kept

While in Perm we caught up with Kip and Carmen, Annabelle and Sebastian
the English people who are doing the Peking Paris route in their Austin
7's. We envied their "huge" 750cc engines but not their exposed driving
positions. They had had a miserable few days in their open vehicles but as
we left them in our wake the weather has improved.

Lang has been doing most of the driving while we are on these terrible
roads. He prefers to drive and I am a happy passenger. I believe, after
years of experience, it is better to be sympathetic rather than guilty if
something happens to Malysh while we are so isolated. Actually the
passenger does have the job of indicating if we can pass and yes, we do
really pass many vehicles. Driving a right-hand-drive car has its
drawbacks, although it is not uncommon here in Russia with so many
imported cars from Japan.

We are an obvious target for the police at the regular roadside stations,
and get pulled up many times a day. Sometimes they go through all our
paperwork minutely or just read the explanation of our trip we have
written in Russian and wave us on. Twice Lang has been stopped and a radar
gun waved in his face with animated Russian accusations. Each time after
politely saying we do not speak Russian they have got frustrated and told
us to go.

We have only had one attempt at police extortion when, at one of the many
checkpoints Lang was taken from the car for the first time into the police
building. He was told he had a headlight out (they actually were both out
as they were not turned on!) and there was a "serious" offence. When asked
if he wanted money the policeman wrote down 50 rubles ($2.50). Lang told him – in
front of 3 of his mates – that he was a crook and shyster and came out to
the car to get the money. Soon the cop also came out laughing and back slapping
saying he had just read the Russian translation of our trip details and it
was all just a joke (and please don't put it in the book).