Monday, 21 July 2014

Bang! Bang! WTF!! Someone shooting at us????

Friday 17 to sunday 20 of July - 154 miles - Staraya Russa

We left the holiday camp with no rush, as we are well ahead of schedule. We continued using the back   roads, riding north west and aiming for the southern border of Estonia. The roads were sometimes in a very bad state, or ended up as a sandy track, but nothing our little bikes could not handle. 

Alistair's bike was playing up more and more, going slower and slower. That was a big concern as we   cannot leave a bike in Russia. If we leave a bike behind we would get in big trouble with customs. The bikes only have a temporary import permit and must leave within 3 months! 

With the difficulty of finding hotels or places to stay in this part of Russia, we decided to stop at Staraya Russa, as it is the main town around and had 2 or 3 hotels. We came across one that looked very nice and stopped to make enquiries. It had space for one night and was reasonably priced, so we   took a room. 

As the town was pleasant we decided to stay another day, although we had to change hotel, and for the same price than our nice first hotel, use the old soviet block style hotel. Never mind. 

We spent saturday exploring the huge park and the town.  

Then the sunday morning, we loaded the bikes and rode out of town. We stopped at a fuel pump on the edge of town to get fuel, then rode off..... Suddenly, I heard three huge Bang! My simultaneous thoughts were:

- WTF!!!
- OMG, someone is shooting at us!!? No way!? 
- OMG, my bike exploded!? 

I stopped, looked around, no one with a gun (!) and stared at the front of my bike and at my engine...
Alistair had stopped too..... He asked me what the problem was. I told him "what was THAT?" 
He told me his bike had died. Again! 
Apparently I did look shaken..... But those three explosions were terrifying! 

We decided to go back to the hotel and look for a motorcycle mechanic or find a solution. 

So, as so many times before, Alistair pushed his bike out of sight, away from the main road, and we rode my bike two-up. 

I explained our predicament at the reception desk of the hotel and the security guard draw a map to show me were I may find a workshop. While Alistair went to get his bike and push it back to the hotel ( a good three or four miles!) I walked to the location of the workshops. It was a row of few garages, on a back road, with no sign of life.

 When Alistair came back we decided to walk back to a shop we had noticed the previous day. We had walked in at the time, as it had a big Yamaha sign outside. Unfortunately, it was not a motorcycle shop but a boat and fishing shop, but it also had on show a quad bike for sale.

So our thinking was, if this shop sell quad bikes, they must know a mechanic! So we walked there and with my little bit of russian managed to explain what had happened and what we needed. They phoned someone and told us someone would come to our hotel an hour later. Result! 

So we went back to our soviet style hotel and, true to word, reception called us very soon.

A mechanic was there, with his wife and 15 months old daughter in tow! His wife spoke a bit of english, so between her small english and my small russian we were able to talk. 

After a while, between Alistair and the mechanic they managed to revive the bike. A short test ride showed that the bike would be able to continue, hopefully all the 300km to the border! As they were leaving, we asked how much we  owed, but the mechanic and his wife refused any money from us! How kind is that? The poor people, being disturbed on their sunday afternoon and the whole family came to help us ! 

Monday 21st July - about 150 miles.... Pskov (70km from Estonia!)

We finally managed to leave town! Riding slowly through the back roads, we decided to stop at Pskov, which is the administrative centre of the Pskovkaya region, so fairly big town! It also has a few hotels and a nice Kremlin. And motorcycle mechanics if we need! 

We got there early afternoon, Alistair's bike keeps going slowly and surely we should be able to make it into Estonia tomorrow! Surely! What could possibly go wrong?! 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Where is Mr Spock when you need him?

Wednesday 15 July - Moscow 

At 9 am we were back to the depot to pick up our bikes. In the train , 5 others bikes had been travelling with ours, although the owners were not in the train. Some of their bikes were still in the wagon, waiting to be moved to the depot. The train wagons were just on the side of the depot, which was elevated to be level with the wagons. 

The guys there took us to the wagon. One of the Finnish bike had fallen from its crate onto the next bike. The windshield was broken. As it had nothing to do with us we went back to our bikes. No one spoke english so there was no point explaining. 

After some paper work in an office, Alistair got his screw driver out, in order to undo the crate.
A blond woman who seemed to boss people around shouted at us "Nyelza! Nyelza!" Which means not possible, forbidden. Then she said something about the street. So we could only remove the crate once the bikes were in the street. Okayyyy. How she planned to do that? When I asked, she said " nye znayo" I don't know. 
I thought first she meant she did not understand me. So we sat round round and waited see how the bikes would be moved. The guys were working taking bags and boxes out of the trains and into the depot.
After a while, as the woman was round again, I asked again. Same answer. So we started getting the bike out of its crate, as  it was obvious  no one would help us. maybe she expected us to lift the bikes with our barehands and   get them out? Or some sort of teleportation? Shame i don't have Mr Spock phone number, for some bit of teleportation, would be a  great trick! 

The blond woman came back, shouting again, i shouted louder "how we get the bikes out? " with same answer "i don't know" so we ignored her and worked on the crate. No one stopped us. I decided that this woman was suffering from what we call in french the Complex of the under Manager. Someone who got promoted just above the bottom hierarchy level, and it goes to their head and they turn into unpleasant mini dictators! 

Meanwhile the guys were getting the other bikes out. As Alistair wheeled his bike out to the street level, the fallen bike fell further as the guys were getting it out. One guy screamed in pain, maybe got a finger worker came shouting at me and showing the bike. 
I know, the temerity of paying to get my bike on a train. how dare I? 
As it had nothing to do with me, i ignored him and continued with the screw driver! The crates are awful and unsafe but this has nothing to do with me! 

After that we rode to the hotel and the manager got the bikes inside the hotel, in the service entrance. 

So with this done, we went to visit a bit of town! 

Thursday 16 July - 219 miles - holiday camp by a lake! 

We left Moscow early. Getting out of town was the usual scary ride, trying to avoid crazy drivers.

After  few hours off on the motorway, riding west, which soon turns into a dual carriage way, we decided we could not continue on that road, as it was too dangerous. Alistair's bike was still playing up and could not go beyond 40 or 45mph. Trucks with double trailers were overtaking us with just inches to spare! Way too close for comfort, and closing down on us before they had passed us completely. It was very dangerous. So we stopped and looked at the map. We decided to take the quite back roads west toward Estonia.

After further investigation while in Moscow, it seems there are very few ferries going from st Petersburg  to Stokholm...Looking at   various ferry options, Tallinn was the most convenient. So we  had decided to ride to Estonia. if only Alistair's bike can make it! 

The back roads were passing near rivers and lakes. As the day advanced, we  looked for hotels. We found only one in a  small town but it had no rooms for us. We continued and came across a holiday resort very soviet style, on the edge of a lake! 

It had very shabby wood cabins , the showers were in a shower block only, the beds were sort  of interesting... But at least they had space for us. So we rode to our cabin and found the local store and bar. The locals stay there on full board but we were not sure how things worked so we only took the room and had dinner at the bar with some shashliks. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Into Siberia!

Tuesday 8th of July - 206 miles - sukhbataar

The weather was less wild and we decided to finally leave Ulaanbataar! I was sick of pot noddles and could not wait to get back into Russia for a decent meal. 
Two nights before, we tried a local restaurant, not far from our hotel, chinese food, so it would be easy  to order as each meal had a picture.  It looked popular with the locals. It was vile! Trust me, it was. Even the chicken had that texture of chicken that has been standing around for a very long time. Like all meat in Mongolia, it was well past its sell buy date. 

So we  went back to pot noodles and sardines to survive. To be fair the russian sardines in tomato sauce were actually very tasty. 

Anyhow, we  packed and rode to the border. The road was paved all the way, sort off, unless it was closed and we would end up in random tracks, trying to figure out which way to go, as usual. 

By late afternoon we arrived at the border town of sukhbataar. We spent the night there, as the border is not 24/7. They rarely are in these regions. 
For dinner as you may guess we had more sardines with bread! 

Wednesday 9th of July - Ulan Ude - 171 miles

The border was only 25 km away, so we  got there on good time. There was already a queue. Getting out of Mongolia was a muddled affaire as it looked like they could not find my motorbike number plate in their computer records! Alistair blamed my very bad writing! I blamed incompetent officials! 

After that we rode to the russian side. It took nearly 2 & 1/2 hours as they were thoroughly searching every car and minibus! I was expecting the same when it was our turn, but except the usual question "do you carry narcotics or weapons?" Which we always said no ( does anyone ever say  yes for the fun of it???) they waved us through. Mind you, with our minimalist luggage I really don't know where we could hide any smuggling! 

By then it was lunchtime so we  munched on ozone peanuts and apples. We pressed on to Ulan Ude through storms and hail, as it was quite a  long way. When we  got there, we found out we had lost another hour! I made a mistake in a previous post, in UB we were 7 hours ahead of the Uk, now we were 8h ahead! 

After turning a bit we finally found a hotel. They even did a registration for two days, although we  were only staying one night! So registration was now out of the way! In Russia, foreigners must register with the authorities within 7 days. Some hotels can do it, else it is complicated. And no registration means problems at the border when leaving! 

Then we went for a meal. We found some chinese / Japanese restaurant ( lots of those around!) and we had a great meal! Food that was tasty, edible and no dodgy meat! Result! 

Thursday 10th of July - 206 miles - Utulik , by lake Baikal.

Alistair had found a nice guesthouse on and booked a room. Unfortunately, they could only give us a room for one night only! The weather was better, the road beautiful, up and down big hills, twisty roads, nice views of the lake.... Utulik was a holiday resort with lots of chalets for tourist. Ours was already fully booked. It was nice as we had full use of the kitchen and a huge bedroom and bathroom. 

The owners told us that Utulik was a ski resort in the winter, and we   could take the ski lift for nice views of the lake. The added bonus was that the bottom of the ski lift was being taken over by bikers for a large international bikers meeting that weekend.

So we rode there and were greeted by the bikers meeting organisers. It was not busy yet as it was only thursday and most people would come Friday evening only. The greetings entailed a small plastic glass containing a tiny bit of Russian brandy, that we had to drink with our helmets on ( not easy!) and eating a  small piece of pickle! Again with gloves on, not an easy task! 

We managed then to get up the ski lift, although it was closed already, but with the help of the chalet owner who appeared suddenly there, we  got in and up! Russia is a bit like Brazil... There is always a way! 

So we got on the ski lift but had to stay on  and down immediately as we were not allowed out at the top. Had few pictures though! 

Greetings committee! 

Lake Baikal:

After that we rode back to the chalet and had a walk to the edge of the lake. 

We then got back to the chalet for a simple dinner of ... Sardines and bread, as there was nowhere to have food! 

Friday 11th of July - about 100 miles - Irkutsk

We left early. We had found a home stay in Irkutsk, via It was a retired lady, who was also ready to help us to organise the transport of the bikes on the train to Moscow, i.e. Do some translation for us! 

When we got there early afternoon, in intense heat, we  found the street, the block of flats, the entry 6D, flat 7. Easy enough. Except that no one answered our calls at the street door. Strange, she knew we would be there early afternoon.

 I tried other flats in that block asking if they know Tamara Home stay? Nope, neighbours said no one of that name was at 6D. Alistair went off trying to find wifi to send an email... And failed . I went to all other stairs trying all flats 7 with no luck... We gave up. Alistair went toward the station to look for a hotel and found one in front of the station. 

So we rode there and walked straight away to the station. By then it was 4pm . We knew, through Tamara, that there was a train the next day ( the Saturday 12th) that could take the bikes. The next train would be the 18th only! We did not fancy spending a full week either in Irkutsk or Moscow waiting for the bikes! 

I had details of Irkutsk station by a fellow biker, who transported his bike to Novosibirk the year before, and his instructions were spot on. We found the correct desk and organised the bikes quickly. We were told to bring them at 5pm to get them crated and they would be boarding the train the next day with us! So we  brought the bikes. There were  already 3 huge Finnish motorbikes being "crated"... Well sort of, some sort of nasty frame that would be useless as we would find out later on! 

Anyhow, we were told to go back to the office the next day at 8 am to do the paper work, so we left the bikes and went back to the hotel.

As for Tamara? She lived at block 6G, flat 1! Not block 6D, flat 7 as she emailed us! Go figure! 

Saturday 12th July  to Tuesday 15th -  transiberian

At 8am we were at the office and all paper work and tickets were done quickly. 

The bikes were ... Encased rather than crated... 

Then the guy in the warehouse told us we had to drain the fuel tank as there was too much fuel left! We did both bikes! We had half fuel tank and had to remove a lot.... 

As we left the office, two german guys on two bikes turned up! It seems the train is an established route for motorcycle travellers now! 

The train was leaving at 4pm... We asked the hotel if we could stay until two pm, but they asked another 1000 roubles for it, so we just went to a local restaurant, with air conditioning (it was very hot) and spent a long time there. 

We then got on the train at 4pm. The train was scheduled at 11am... Moscow time! All trains are set to Moscow time, very strange  at first but it makes sense when you realise that Russia spans across 11 time zones! 

We  saw no trace of either the three Finnish guys and the Germans, although we saw all 7 bikes being loaded into the train.

As the train was full, we had the two top bunk beds, not convenient as in this case you can not sit on the lower bed/ seat! So if you want to sit, you must go up to your bunk bed all the time. Not great! 

That was our world for 3 1/2 days! And the usual views for that period! 

Then we found the restaurant! No one seemed to use it so we spent a lot of time sitting there! 

They even had beer, until they ran out. Mind you they ran out of lots of stuff over the three days! They do not seems to reload on stuff! 

But at least the blond girl, Marina, working there was friendly and had a lovely smile (  on the right). And she even let us charge our iPads on the plugs behind the bar! 

The train would stop every so often, and people would get off and some other would get on. On Monday evening, three guys got on next to our cabin. They were already a bit drunk. They joined us at the restaurant for a beer, then at the next stop got off to buy drinks and insisted on giving us vodka. I did not drink as I was not too well and don't like spirits. Anyway, we spent few  entertaining hours with those guys.

Apparently they drive buses that go from Moscow to Vladivostok! 9000 km of it! They don't go all the way but part of it, two drivers/ mechanics per coach, doing 12 hours each! Tough job. And who would travel in a  coach? Insane! But if you fancy it... More adventurous than the train! I think it takes 15 days but not sure! 

On Tuesday,after 78 hours on the train, we arrived at Moscow early afternoon. 
We had planned to stay at a guesthouse but when we turned up it was full. After a lot of search, involving finding wifi to find local hotels, we found a hotel after 5pm. 

After a quick change, as  we were on our motorcycle gears and carrying bags etc...we  got to the station. Finding the warehouse where the bikes were was a bit of a treasure hunt. Anyway, found it, but we were told to come back the next day! 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The ride to Ulaanbaatar!

Thursday 3rd July - Tsetserleg, 127miles

We woke up very early in  our Gers! Mainly because it was so cold! Alistair got the wooden  stove going, which involved using some fuel to start the fire! 

After a breakfast of coffee bread and spread, we went for a walk. Across the river, there were some herders' gers. They had motorbikes and I had observed that they were crossing the river at a different spot that the one used by cars, and us, the previous day. For crossing rivers in Mongolia, it is useful to observe where the locals on their little chinese bikes do the crossing. It is rarely the spot used by trucks and cars. 

The previous day we used the crossing for cars and trucks, and it was rather deep. This morning I was not keen on getting water inside my goretex boots! We found a much shallower crossing.

So we  packed up and  used that crossing. It had big round river bed peddles but it was no worries with our little bikes. 

This time we were seriously expecting the road to get better. Tsetserleg,our destination for the day , is a very touristy town! 

We got back to Tariat, and found the correct direction toward Tsetserleg. We followed the usual nasty trails, across steppes  and more steppes. The valleys were littered with garbage, a very  depressing sight, as  the locals seem to discard about anything on the ground, anywhere. Picnic? Just leave the tins and empty cans and bottles! Drinking vodka? Just smash them. There are smashed bottles of vodka and beer littered all over, as well as plastic bottles, not only along the tracks, but all over the steppes. The amount of empty vodka bottles is worrying! Drink driving seems to be a big problem here. Once the roads are paved and they can  drive fast, the fatality rate of road accidents will rocket I guess. 

After a while we stopped. We met a biker on a rented chinese bike, from Ulaanbaatar. He told us the road would get better... And it did! Tarmac at last! 

We finally got to Tsetserleg by mid afternoon. Obviously, as you may suspect, not all the way was nice smooth tarmac. We crossed plenty of road works. Now in Mongolia,  Roadworks mean that trucks and cars randomly create tracks in the sand, by the side of the road. You end  up with deep sand tracks as a result!

We finally got a place with hot shower! 

Friday 4th of July - Tsetserleg, 0 miles

We decided to spend a day rest in town. We were incredibly tired and I felt all my muscles ached from the intense riding involved in the last few days. We did not do any visiting, but we found a place owned by a British guy, which served really decent food, although the meat still  tasted disgusting.

The problem with meat here is that they don't seem to use fridges. We crossed the local market, which was next to the meat market / abattoir, but in a separate building. The smell of rotting meat was overpowering! It was vile. So we try to avoid meat in Mongolia.....

Saturday 5th of July - Ulaanbaatar (UB) -  300 miles

We left town mid morning, due to late serving of breakfast. People don't seem to work early in this country. Ever! 

We were told the road was paved all the way. It was, except when it wasn't, usually due to the tarmac being so  damaged that it was impossible to ride through, or the many road works! 

We finally got to UB rather late and found a hotel in the west part of town. The traffic was insane, aggressive, dangerous, and we did not fancy to cross all the town, so we picked  a  place near our arrival into the town. As we need to use  the same way to pick up the northern road, it avoids too much riding around UB. 

Sunday 6th of July - UB

We took a taxi to take us to the colossal statue of Ghengis ( Chiinggis as they spell it here!) Khan. 

It took almost two hours to get there. We crossed plenty of road works. As usual the traffic was diverted to the sides. As the traffic was very dense, with many trucks, the tracks got deeper and deeper Into sand. As a result we  saw several trucks completely stuck in the sand, the drivers using shovels and tools to dig the wheels off the sand! Insane. We were glad not to be on the bikes! 

In the evening we quiet fancied some food. Alistair founda  chinese restaurant around. We thought food would be ok in the capital city, but it was vile.a nd the chicken was anything there!urgh. I think I will stick to  poot noodles and tins of sardines until Russia! 

Monday 7th of July - UB

We were planning to leave town and ride to the border with Russia, but huge overnight storms and rain and continuous rain over the morning made us reconsider. We don't mind rain, but there was a lot of flooding. Now, road works, sand, deep sand, horrible tracks and flooding, are never a  good combination on two wheels. Add intense traffic and crazy drivers, and we decided to  stay put for the day! 

For those interest on this sort of things, we completed nearly 10,000 miles with our bikes, since London, not including ferry rides and miles done on the back of a truck! 

Now we will not ride as much to get back home, as we plan to take the trans-Siberian train, with the bikes, from Irkutsk to Moscow! Keep reading to see how we get on!