Saturday, 16 July 2016

Into Siberia

Day 29- Sunday 10th of July - Perm, 0kms

Perm hasn't got the touristic charm of Petrozavodsk, with its bohemian bars and Parisian cafes, it hasn't got the faded beauty of Velikyi Ustyug, with its many crumbling churches and monasteries, Perm is a business town. 

If we had any doubts, it's very wide avenues, with tall business buildings, its luxury designer shops, its many business hotels and the few Porsche Cayenne speeding past would put you right. If still in any doubt, the big signs of Gazprom, Luk Oil as well as the  small office of StatOil ( Norway Oil company) over massive offices, confirm what this is all about: oil! 

Perm has two lines painted on the ground, for tourists to follow. Unfortunately there is not that much a great interest to see. Even the Monastery is under hiding, with its tower under massive restoration work. 
In the afternoon the weather turns to storm. We take refugue in the hotel, catching up on laundry. We even manage to wash our riding jackets, they were starting to look embarrassingly dirty! 

The forecast for the next day is not great. 

Alistair visits the Bear that is the symbol of the town. If you rub its nose and make a wish, it may be granted. He wished for good weather. 

His wish is realised. 

Day 30 to 35-  federal highway to Novosibirsk - about 2,100 kms

 We bypass Yekaterinburg, Tyumen and Omsk. We have one mission, get to Novosibirsk, where we are expected. Usually we prefer to avoid large towns and their crazy dangerous traffic and traffic jams. We live in a very big town, we prefer small communities and countryside, when we get out of London. 

Ekaterinburg, and the Urals Mountains, mark the separation between Europe and Asia. We are finally in Asia! 

Each day follows the same routine. We get up, pack up and ride. The ride is interrupted by stops in petrol stations and cafes, to buy petrol, water, food. Each night, I use Yandex App, to plan the next day ahead, calculate distances, and find our next hotel ( usually truckers stops!) , on the way. 

The forest, that has dominated the landscape since East Germany, starts to give way, occasionally, to fields. None of those fields are as we would see in Europe. The forest is still present everywhere, sometime in the middle of a field, crops surrounding it....

For days on end this will continue... The dense forest conceding temporary defeat, but always omnipresent, as if to say, "I dominate this land!". 

It speaks of ancients times, where giant bears or mammoths walked unchallenged, when men were just beasts among beats. It was here long before men, it will be here long after we are gone. The forest, that has been so intense for nearly a month, remains. It owns this land, all the way to Kamchatka. It is the heart of Russia. Somehow, during those long rides, a name comes to mind for it: Pangea. It seems to suit the forest.

Mile after Mile we keep riding, cafes are all cafeteria, often 24/7, with food on trays left there until it is gone, unrefrigerated,  with flies around and no glass to keep the food away from them. LukOil Petrol stations' Cafes  are a bit better as they offer pastries, in glass cabinets. Not great for my poor stomach but less chance of rotten food!

 It is slow going, as the highway is only a dual carriage way, and it can often turn into single track with the many road works! With its contestant stream of trucks, we are always behind a truck. 

On a couple of occasion we buy a bottle of beer that seems to have gone off! How can beer goes off? Eventually, when we reach Novosibirsk, Andrey tells us that lots of food and drinks are counterfeit, so the beer may have been done with who knows what. 

People on the federal highway are very different from the Russians we know. Most are sulky, with sullen faces, unfriendly staff, indifferent, even aggressive. When someone smiles, it feels like a miracle! I come to hate that road. I understand now why some bikers, who cross Russia and stay all the way on this federal highway, have such a  negative view of Russia. Had I done this road before anything else, I would have never returned either! However, to make some progress, we have to use it. It's mood sips on me and I become myself grumpy and sullen.... Time to get out! 

By Friday evening, after dreadful traffic jams across Novosibirsk, we finally arrive at Andrey's flat, in the Scientific City. The day was wet and we are covered in mud. A bit embarrassing arriving at his immaculate flat with all our bags, rain gear, boots, helmets and us covered in mud and grime. Such are the roads. 

We had been in contact with Andrey since we rode to Mongolia, two years ago. At the time we  did not ride past Novosibirsk.

 Andrey spent two years working with my brother in his physics lab, in Angers. Andrey  is a theoretical physicist. Funny enough, him, my brother, and Andrey's father, all share the same birth day (27th of August!) and funny enough, all three are physicists in the same narrow field of Optronic ( whatever that may be, to do with lasers and optic fibres is as far as I understand !).

We have never met before but he is close friend of my brother and always insisted we should stop. So done. We are welcome into his flat. The bikes packed to the underground carpark at his dad's flat , a mile away. 

Then we are offered dinner and then Andrey leaves us and go to sleep at his parents' flat, leaving his flat all to ourselves! 

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