June 18, 2008 GMT
Moscow

Moscow!

Moscow! What can we say?

Well, quite a lot actually, starting with our stop at the town of Velikiy Novgorod on the way there from St Pete.

This ancient Russian town was an important part of the formation of the Russian nation and culture and it wears its heritage with considerable pride and style. Located on the Volkhov River, we loved the way that they had created a little beach culture right below the wall of the kremlin (kremlin is a general term referring to the fortified central administrative district in an old city).

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This huge Millennium of Russia Monument in the centre of the old city was also of interest...

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...unveiled in 1862, it has all of the important characters of Russian history in three llevels of statues and base relief. In 1944 the visiting Germans cut it up and were ready to ship it back home. No wonder they are suspicious of tourists here!

We also liked this “leaning” bell tower...

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...but the best for Jo was this tiny 1406 Church of Peter and Paul.

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Our great find in V Nov was this little cafe...

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...obviously named after our friend and neighbor back on the Gold Coast, Gioia Berry.

The run down to Moscow was also notable for our first encounter with the notorious Russian constabularies (there are many). The first was a show and tell with a radar gun which resulted in a stern warning, a big grin and best wishes for our visit.

The second ran closer to the script and resulted in me purchasing a ticket to the Policeman's Ball in exchange (fair of course) for return of my documents. The Elephant, honest soul that it is, disapproved of all of this, grumbled a bit, and spent the afternoon being naughty and splitting lanes in the city traffic.

The Moscow traffic was almost a pleasure after the run down, and that is certainly saying something as this is a huge city (more than 10 mil) with world class traffic congestion! It is also monumental and beautiful, clean, safe and well organised.

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We only had a few days in Moscow and we had a lot of administration to get done in addition to seeing the sites. This proved to be less of a task than we had anticipated thanks mainly to the efficiency of the Moscow metro. This masterpiece of organisation moves 9 million Moscovites each day with admirable speed and no real fuss at all. At 75 cents a ride it is also affordable to all.

We stayed at a hostel, that was cheap in Moscow but dear anywhere else in the world. Its best feature was its helpful staff, Ana...

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..., known to us as Madame Cinq Dihrum, after swapping great stories about travels in Morocco, and Dimitri, who avoided the camera, but finally explained the Russian visa registration requirements.

We rode the subway and walked, and walked and walked. By the time we had our Mongolian visas and done the main sites, we had covered 30 km around inner Moscow. Another city we know pretty well!

Interestingly, the Russians had told us that we would have a terrible time with the Mongolians as they are “so bureaucratic”. On the basis that it takes one to know one, we expected the worst. What we encountered was a friendly and helpful consul who sorted the papers, separated us from $90 each, and had us out the door with our visas in record time. You may recall that our Russian visas took months and cost us about $1500 all up. There was nothing for it but to go sightseeing.

The Kremlin, including the Assumption Cathedral shown here...

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...was spectacular without being ostentatious. They had this great old gun called the Tsar Cannon, which I have included in honour of Burkey, who used to be a devotee of St Barbara, and who remembers a time when gunners really did have big balls!

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Red Square wasn't red at all. In fact, they were setting up the stage for an Independence Day celebration which seemed decidedly un-Red to me.

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St Basil's, at the end of the square, looked better in real life than it had in the glossy travel shows. Inside, however, we were surprised at how small and pokey it is.

Jo reckons that Moscow strays are a little spare on it after those in Athens...

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...but this lot seemed content with life on a warm Sunday afternoon.

The best thing by far about our visit to Moscow was our chance meeting with Ksenia and Andrey, a Moscow biker couple we met through a chance Internet contact. Hearing that we were having difficulty finding affordable accommodation, they kindly offered us a billet at their flat. Unfortunately, timing and location combined to stop us taking advantage of their offer. We did, however, catch up with them on a warm Sunday afternoon for a ride around Moscow.

With Andey setting the pace on a Yammy FJ 1300, that looked like it had more “blues” than hot dinners, and Ksenia as Tail-end-Charlie on her pristine GSX 600 (Suzuki, way of life), we charged around some of the important Moscow sites.

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Although our hosts were modern, sophisticated young professionals, we were delighted to find that they were proud of their country and its heritage and that they knew all of the foundational stories and told them well. We visited the memorial complex at Victory Park ...

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...and had a reminder of the still raw trauma of WWII in this country. The complex includes monuments to all of the armies and fleets that fought in the conflict and a public reference database to help family trace the history of those who served.

On Sparrow Hill...

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...we had a great view of the city, including the football stadium where two English teams recently played the European Cup final. When I asked if the English fans had been a problem, Andrey just laughed and said that compared with Russian fans they were nothing to worry about and that the police had plenty of practice at dealing with stroppy crowds!

In an inner-city park we found a jazz band...

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and an exhibition of underwater photography...

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...including this Leafy Sea Dragon from south eastern Australia. Since I had seen Dragons similar to this diving in southern NSW, I enjoyed telling Andrey something about the GSL.

We rode past...

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...the famous White House, and...

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...visited the site of Moscow's new Multi-Function Center. All of this was very impressive, but the highlight of the day was a visit to the Moscow Bike Center.
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This amazing complex is the home of the Night Wolves, Russia's oldest bike club. It is inside a secure complex and includes a coffee shop and restaurant, stage area, bike servicing facilities and the clubroom (off limits to non-members)

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The complex looks like a set from Mad Max 2...

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...amazing in the daylight, it must be eerie at night.

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The facility provides a drop-in place for all bikers, not just Night Wolf members...

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..., but the big glasses in the photo of Andrey telling Mike why the Ural was such a good bike they named a mountain range after it, contain tea! The new drink-driving rules here are so draconian that any alcohol on the breath and its shanks pony for a half a year! What makes it worse is that if you decide that you would like to purchase a ticket to the policeman's ball, the cost would be astronomical. Bikers' Tea it is then!

We were lucky enough to meet the President and Secretary of the Night Wolves. They were interested in our journey and offered to provide contacts along the way in case we get into a jam. We were quick to accept. It seemed to us that they would be handy blokes to have around in a crisis.

By Tuesday evening 9 June, we had all of our administration done and we were ready to go. This included the purchase of a new set of knobby tyres for the Elephant. We will take these forward to Irkutsk and fit them before the roads turn to mud or dust (depending on the weather). Moscow is the last place to get them. We had our route planning done and, apart from breakdown, nothing good co wrang.

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Two extra tyres!

Posted by Mike Hannan at June 18, 2008 04:29 AM GMT
 


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