Frank Campbell - Around the World in 80 Days - A Trip Log - Western Russia and Europe

Day 44 Irbit.

Located at 57 degrees N latitude (about the same as Juneau, AK) this is as far North as I'll get on my trip. My bike has water in the crankcase, but otherwise runs fine. I watch the reservoir and keep filling it from my canteens.

The URAL motorcycle factory is about 200 kilometers off the main road, but I've come this far and don't want to miss it. I get a warm reception at the factory. Workers gather around my 650, amazed that BMW could make a water-cooled single, and with a drive chain! I was hoping to look around the factory, but they seem more interesting in looking at my bike.

They want to know why someone from America would take the trouble to come all the way to the URAL factory. I offer some platitudes about "classic bikes" and the staying power of air-cooled twins. "But you have Harley Davidson" someone comments. I reply that Harleys are a little out of my price range, and well, not quite suitable for my kind of riding.

Throughout Siberia I have seen countless sidecar equipped URALs bouncing across rough roads and ploughed fields, hauling anything from families to farm products. Clearly they are durable. "Could I see the assembly line?" Regretfully nyet. Today it is closed, but they can show me some new models.

Out on the parking lot they roll out a Volk (wolf) chopper that looks mean enough for Daytona Main Street, and a sidecar model in military colors equipped with third wheel traction. Looks tough enough to go around the world, or plough your farm. They explain to me that export bikes are shipped unassembled to the US, where they get a serious face-lift to comply with DOT/EPA regulations. I am impressed, and make mental note to talk the dealer when I get home.

Ekaterinburg.

I assume Boris Yeltsin's hometown must have a BMW dealer. The city was until recently known as Sverdlovsk, in honor of the revolutionary who ordered the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Today his name has become somewhat politically incorrect, but his monument still stands in front of the Opera House. Just down the street stands a de rigueur, much larger (of course) Lenin's statue.

Czar Nicholas: Monument marking killing site of Czar Nicholas III and his family in Ekaterinburg.

Czar Nicholas: Monument marking killing site of Czar Nicholas III and his family in Ekaterinburg.

The next day with the help of a Russian friend I make a few calls. There are no motorcycle shops in town, but a BMW car-only dealer is willing to help. At the shop I pull my grubby Funduro in a stall between a 750iL and an M3. These guys have never seen my kind of bike in their lives, let alone worked on one.

Gas Station: Typical Siberian gas station. Best grade is 76 octanes. Ubiquitous URAL hack.

Gas Station: Typical Siberian gas station. Best grade is 76 octanes. Ubiquitous URAL hack.

But the next day I get the diagnosis, along with a list of necessary parts. Excessive wear of the water pump shaft seals has caused coolant to contaminate the oil, or so I gather from my rather primitive Russian. The parts are unavailable in Russia and must be ordered from Germany.

Can we get them shipped straight to Ekaterinburg? Nyet, they must clear Customs in Moscow. And how long it takes? About two weeks, maybe longer.

I am in a dilemma. My Russian visa expires in two weeks and I still have another 2,000 kilometers to cover before exiting to Ukraine. I broadcast urgent faxes and emails to various BMW dealers I personally know. All of them are willing to help, but shipping things to Russia is intricate. My friend Larry Cann, owner of BMW of Orlando is undaunted. Within hours, he orders the parts and arranges to have them sent via FedEx.

While I wait, I settle into a comfortable hotel facing a park with beautiful gardens. The place used to be a hangout for loyal Party members, but now caters to an international clientele. The weather has just a tinge of autumn and is very pleasant. I walk about the city, visit parks, ride the trams and just hang out.

One of my Russian friends tells me the local TV station wants to have me in their talk morning show. We arrive at the station early, get touched up by the makeup artist and at 8 AM sharp we walk into the studio. The setup looks like any talk show in America. There is a background of kitchen décor with all the right utensils. The coffee pot smells real and makes my mouth water. I am particularly averse to early mornings, and a cup or two would hit the spot.

On camera, we exchange some banalities. "How do you like Ekaterinburg?" "I love it," I say truthfully. "What do you think of Russian roads?" "They are long" I reply, dodging the answer.

She asks me what kind of motorcycle I am riding. I reply a BMW, of course thinking some people actually get paid for saying that on TV. I keep ogling the coffee pot that smells lip smacking.

They wish me well and ask the viewers if they happen to see a lone American riding a bike to show him some Russian hospitality. I comment if folks were any more hospitable I'd apply for a resident's visa. After twenty or so minutes we sign off.

As if reading my mind the hostess walks over to the counter and pours me a cup of steaming coffee. I ask her if we could watch and edit the tape before it is broadcast. She replies that it was a live show, and that 4 million Russians watch it every morning. According to Andy Warhol everyone should be famous for 15 minutes. I just had my turn.

The days go by, and I am getting to like this city. The specter of my visa about to expire gives me cause for worry, but doesn't keep me from enjoying my unplanned stay. Then one morning, a man from FedEx-Russia calls at my hotel and delivers me a small package. I sign off some papers and pay a stiff import duty. If the package had contained a gold ingot I wouldn't have been happier.

I rush over to the BMW dealer and deliver the parts. The next day my bike is up and running perfect. I say farewell to my friends, and on a very cold and rainy morning, I hitch the GiVis on my bike and leave.

Winter comes early at these latitudes. A few kilometers out of town I pass a road sign indicating I have officially left Asia and entered Europe.

Day 60. Ufa.

The traffic cop greets me with a "salaam" and then continues in Russian. Ufa is the capital of Bashkortostan, a semi-autonomous region. The people are ethnically Turkic and most speak a language closely related to Turkish, and of course Russian.

My friend Ilyas is a true motorcycle pioneer. A pleasant thirty - something man, he has always been obsessed with motorcycles. He left the police force and went into business for himself. He has owned and sold several bikes, and presently rides a nice Yamaha FZ1200.

Single-handedly he has introduced motorcycling as a sport in this region of 3 million people. A small cadre of enthusiastic riders has formed, and serves as a nucleus to promote further interest. While in Ufa I stay in his home, we work on our bikes and take long rides around the area. The area is singularly attractive. I would love to stay longer but my visa is rapidly waning.

Dachas: Russian suburbia. Country homes with small gardens where Russians grow their veggies.

Dachas: Russian suburbia. Country homes with small gardens where Russians grow their veggies.

Day 63. Saratov.

This lively city on the river Volga is truly beautiful. There is a downtown pedestrian mall that would rival anything in Milan or Munich. I'd stay longer on a heartbeat, but I am racing against time. Overstaying your visa is a serious offence in Russia. I stroll around humming the Song of the Volga Boatmen.

Donau Canal: Major project from Stalinist era, connecting the Volga and Donau Rivers.

Donau Canal: Major project from Stalinist era, connecting the Volga and Donau Rivers.

Day 65. Anapa.

A resort town on the shores of the Black Sea, Anapa is a choice vacation spot. The Ukrainian border lies just a few kilometers west. My Russian visa expires tomorrow. Until recently foreigners were banned from this region because of the many military installations around the Black Sea. This is no longer the case, but some local folks still haven't got the word. The woman at the hotel office scrutinizes my papers and tells me I need "special permission" to stay here. "Pray, from whom?" I ask. "From me" she replies. "How long do you wish to stay?" Hasn't she noticed my visa has almost lapsed? By some obscure authority she has the power to extend my visa "for as long as I wish". It sounds too good to be true. I am taking no chances and depart the next day.

Day 56. Yalta, Ukraine.

The setting is truly spectacular; rivaling the Monaco Corniche in beauty. Earlier in the day I exited Russia, crossed the Straits of Kerch, which connect the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Kerch: Ferry across the Straits of Kerch, between Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea.

Kerch: Ferry across the Straits of Kerch, between Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea.

Checking out of Russia and into Ukraine was anticlimactic. Now I have just parked my grimy bike at the door of a 5-star hotel, sharing the parking lot with many a Mercedes, BMWs (cars, that is), and a few Porsches. The beautiful people mill around the outdoors bar. In a dry tone the doorman informs me I shouldn't park there. I get ready to complain but he invites me to park the bike next to the bar tables, where he can keep an eye on it.

Hotel Park: Lviv Ukraine. Bikes safely parked in hotel lobby just like another fine piece of furniture. Cleaning woman gave it a good shine.

Hotel Park: Lviv Ukraine. Bikes safely parked in hotel lobby just like another fine piece of furniture. Cleaning woman gave it a good shine.

People stare at my license plate in disbelief, some asking if it is a joke. Florida? Yes, and I came the long way around too.

Yalta2: Superb view of Yalta, arguably the Monaco of Eastern Europe.Superb view of Yalta, arguably the Monaco of Eastern Europe.

Besides being an extremely scenic area, Yalta is full of history. Situated at the crossroads of civilizations ranging from the Greeks to the Ottoman Empire, Yalta has seen it all. Its narrow, winding alleys and open-air markets are reminiscent of an Italian Riviera town, except all signs are in Cyrillic.

This city is where the principal world leaders during WWII, including President Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin sealed the fate of Eastern Europe for the next half-century. The palace where they met was formerly a summer residence for Tsar Nicholas and his family. Curiously, Tsarist memorabilia seems to attract more visitors than items relating to the meeting of WWII victors.

Yalta1: Palace belonging to Czar Nicholas III. Treaty carving up Europe after WWII was signed here by the major powers.

Palace belonging to Czar Nicholas III. Treaty carving up Europe after WWII was signed here by the major powers.

Day 60. Odessa.

I approach the city with great anticipation. It is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, now long deceased. But there will no tearful family reunion. The area was ethnically cleansed thoroughly of almost all traces of Jewish people.

On the way over I pass several huge military installations, most of them seemingly inactive. A collection of perhaps a hundred enormous helicopters sits in an open field gathering dust. After the fall of the Soviet system, Ukraine become an independent nation and promptly appropriated the massive Russian Black Sea Fleet. After much dickering, both countries decided to divvy up the ships, but soon found out they were far too costly to operate. Presently, they don't seem to get much use.

L'viv Rally: Rapid Westernization of Ukraine. Car rally held downtown.

L'viv Rally: Rapid Westernization of Ukraine. Car rally held downtown.

Poland: Just across the Ukraine border. Private enterprise at work by the roadside.

Poland: Just across the Ukraine border. Private enterprise at work by the roadside.

Day 65. 50N 019E. Krakow, Poland.

I am about three quarters of the way around the planet. Poland is a delightful, energetic country; where people seem far happier than their neighbors to the East. Krakow is full of history that would take a lifetime of study to get to know. I have only a few days but make the most of them. Poland is firmly on my list of "must come back to" countries.

Krakau: Poland at its best. Drabness of Eastern Europe all but erased.

Krakau: Poland at its best. Drabness of Eastern Europe all but erased.

Day 70. Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic.

This city is sometimes called by its German name: Budweiss. Guess what they make here! And since the 13th century they've had plenty of time to perfect the golden brew. Crossing borders in Eastern Europe has become as ho-hum as crossing State lines in America.

Day 72. Chiemsee, Germany.

The Chiemsee is of the most scenic and affluent regions in Germany, and justly so. King Ludwig built his summer mansion on an island in the lake, and the world-renowned Neuschweinstein castle not far away. Uncle Sam still holds on to a patch of real estate on the shores of the lake. My retired military ID gets me a room with a view.

MacFruhstuck: In Germany near the Czech border: The ups and downs of globalization. A treat or an eyesore, depending upon your point of view.

MacFruhstuck: In Germany near the Czech border: The ups and downs of globalization. A treat or an eyesore, depending upon your point of view..

Day 73. Munich.

I arrive just as the Oktoberfest festivities start. I am road-weary, but who can miss the biggest party in the world? I take my F650 to the BMW Motorradzentrum for a complete physical. Many Deustchmarks later the verdict is "in perfect health". They do an Inspection II plus a few touch ups and I take a long test ride in the Bavarian Alps. Back on the Autobahn, the oil pressure switch gives out and the underside of my bike is bathed in oil. Back to the Motorradzentrum, this time for free. Maybe the bike is not made to run at 100 miles per hour.

Day 79 Newark, NJ.

The SAS captain's voice comes over the cabin speaker introducing himself and reminding us to fasten our seat belts, and that it has been nice having us aboard, etcetera. It is comforting to have someone named Olaf Olafsson at the controls: centuries of experience plying the North Atlantic. It is too late to get a connecting flight and I spend the night at a motel near the airport. They think I am nuts when I order Oktoberfest beer at the bar.

Day 80. Tampa, FL. 82W, 28N.

I have come full circle around the globe, about half of it aboard airplanes, but I don't hold that against myself. If anyone knows of a way to ride across the ocean, let me know and I'll pass it on to the National Enquirer. The other half of the trip was on a 650 cc BMW thumper, a wise choice of motorcycle. Exactly eighty days, like a latter-day Phileas Fogg. Had it taken me longer or shorter, I would have titled this story something else.

With special acknowledgements to some special friends:

  • Eric Haws, Jim Rogers and John Logdson for providing the inspiration;
  • Helge Pedersen and Chris Poland for giving me the final shove;
  • Erwin Thoma for correctly predicting I would have fun doing it;
  • Werner Bausenhart for being in the right place at the right time;
  • Larry Cann for exemplifying all that a BMW motorcycle dealer should be;
  • Russian people for their superb hospitality.


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