The weather was closing in. My visa problems at the hotel in Krasnoyarsk, made me concerned about my date with the russian border guards.
Without my merino thermals, I was already numb with cold.
God bless these roadside cafes and the cute waitstaff.
After 400 miles of freezing rain and terrifyingly slick roads, I reached Kemerov.
With my steering compromised by a nasty pothole, my fingers numb with cold and my extended visa due to expire (again), I thought I'd catch the train through the Russian Steppes.
Not so easy. With Nikolai translating on my cell phone, it was established that I needed a train that carried cargo AND passengers leaving from a town called Taiga - 120 clicks north. The very nice station master (strong babushka type) gave me a beautiful old map of the area and directions to Taiga. The train was leaving the next morning at 10.15.
I had the choice of staying in Kemerov for the night or risk the 120 km journey to Taiga.
Chose the latter and paid a taxi driver to show me the route out of town. It was beginning to get dark, still raining and I had 120 kms to ride with suspect steering and poor lights.
I stopped for gas, but when I tried to restart...the battery was too weak. I started pushing my bike down a side road behind the gas station but the further I went, the grimmer it became...then a flash of genius...my spare Russian battery connected to the main weak battery by jumper cables gave me just enough juice to start up.
By now it was dark and still raining. I started back to Kemerov to find a hotel, but instead opted to set up camp just off the main road behind this (I hoped) abandoned building.
I set up camp...English agent....deep behind enemy lines
In the morning, still raining and I had to reach Taiga for the 10.15 to Moscow. The bike wouldn't start again but I used the old spare battery trick to get her fired up.
Freezing cold again, pouring and a map written in Russian! I was never so glad to see this sign (Taiga!)
The ethereal mist around the sign is my exhaust condensing in the cold.
I wasn't home yet. I still needed to find the train station. Seconds after I took this shot, the rain turned to heavy snow. I flagged down some cops and they led me to the train station.
With only seconds left on my simcard, I had to get my bike and myself on the train.
Sergei, the station cargo master helped me out.
He was smiling because he just made a quick 1,200 roubles 'helping' me out with some currency exchange...only gave me 4/5's the rate...but at this point was glad to be out of the snow and the train beckoned.
Wot's the plank for?
Four burly Russian train men muscled her up the final push onto the train.
and lightened my wallet by another 500 roubles for 'uncrated cargo' fees.
All aboard for Moscow!
The bike fare - 3690.00 roubles ($140.00)
Personal train fare - 1670.00 roubles ($ 65.00)
currency 'exchange' fee - 1200.00 roubles ($ 46.00)
'uncrated cargo' fee - 500.00 roubles ($ 20.00)
total fare to Moscow - 7060.00 roubles ($271.00)
Third class on the TranSiberian Express!
Oh yes, my friends...those sweatstains are real!
but sure was nice to have a bunk to call my own
This is my 'glad to be out of the cold, still moving at 50 m.p.h and ready to crash for the night' cheese-eating grin.
Not so fast...remember the two guys who helped load my bike onto the train?
Sergei (on the right) and Nikolai invited me to their private cargo cabin...
for dinner...very nice
and of course....
one for you...
one for you...
one for you...
Hey Kirsten....recognize the ol' vodka eyes???!!!
Not to mention the spagetti sauce.
When I tried to explain the battery charger had 6 amp for faster charging or 4 amp charge for more of a trickle charge, Sergei expounded his battery charger knowledge by pointing to the 4 amp charge and making slow lewd motions toward his lady friend. With the 6 amp, he did the same - just twice as fast!!! Ah, the universal language of love!!!
I have no idea how I returned to my bunk that night....eight coaches away. It was a relief to know all my valuables were exactly where they should be. I had developed on unconscious knowledge of the whereabouts of valuables by this time because I had been using the same pockets for the same items for over three months....serious security system!
Next morning...with me a tad hungover, I took this snapshot of Marina - our coach matron - one thing I learnt quickly was that no-one messed with the coach matrons! But she was very helpful and sweet.
Each coach was equipped with it's own hot water heater. What a blessing this was. With instant coffee (bought from Marina or bring you own) tea, soup, pot noodles etc...this water heater was the social center of each coach
It was fueled by coal and trash from the passengers....brilliant!!!!
Then there's the potty.
That's the daylight of the tracks underneath... a foot operated pedal released the flotsam and jetsom straight onto the tracks....no holding tanks on the TranSiberianiski!
The ends of each coach was reserved for smokers.
The very nice dining room never had any business
Maybe the food was crap?
This cute Ukranian clothes seller tried to sell me a sweater
But my Russian travelling neighbours soon took up the transaction on my behalf led by this lady opposite me,
who demand the Ukranian burn a tuft of the sweater to prove it was indeed real animal hair...it was. She then negotiated me a better deal...about $14.00....and had the deal wrapped up in no time!
These two scamps spoke very loud Russian for three days and nights
After three delightful days and nights we pull up in Moscow.
A fond farewell to my cargo trainmen friends
and welcome to Moscow
One of the great things travelling alone by motorcycle...you simply flag down any biker and a world of generousity and hospitality will open to you
Sacha pulls up on his CBR and the biker network starts to hum.
Moscow traffic (and Sacha's riding through it) are scary.
But he leads me to Oleg...an English speaking, bike crazy Moscovite...who generously offers me a place to crash for the night. When I tell Oleg I took the train from Taiga to Moscow and when he sees my GPS holder is plastic he says with deep disdain, 'Richard, you are not a REEL biker!'
Oleg refuses to let me pay for anything. I meet a gang of his biker buddies in a nearby Lybian restautant. First time I've tried an apple hookah. Moscow is a little overwhelming with its cosmopolitan glitz and sophistication. After the simplicity of the rest of Russia, coming back to 'civilization' was a culture shock I didn't expect nor indeed want.
After a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast cooked up by Oleg, I headed out of Moscow towards Latvia where I hoped to cross the border.
Stopped in here at the Russian equivalent of Home Depot (B&Q for you Angles) to buy an adjustable spanner/wrench to tighten my chain.
Thanks Scottoiler for 12,000 miles of faithful service!
The road to Latvia was interesting. The heavy trucks had created track-like ruts in the road. This was fine if you were cruising in the rut...no problems. The difficulty arose when you overtook vehicles. Crossing these ruts in the roads was like being on a waterskis crossing the wake of the pull boat....a little hairy!!!
I had great satisfaction at avoiding the numerous speed cops. Laughing at their bumbling efforts with my Escort 8500 picking up the signals miles before.
As I approached the border, I decided to remove it. Radar detectors are illegal in Russia.
The first set of cops hit me 5km from the border.
I persuaded them to exchange the 500 rouble ($20.00) fine for a photo oppotunity!
Curly and Mo fleecing tourists near the border!
Another cop nails me just 1 km from the border, but he only charged me 100 roubles ($4.00)
Here's an illegal shot of the border.
Sure enough, depite my pleas for extra time, the obvious accident damage to the bike, offers of money, the rather officious captain of the crossing tells me I have to go back to the town of Sebesh (20km back) and get a border crossing visa from the local police station.
Insult to injury I picked up this nail in my rear tyre at the border...'oh bother!' I said.
and set about the repair
pumped up again!
At the police station, I was told the immigration people had left for the day and come back tomorrow. After a night in a motel, I returned at the appointed hour only to be told the immigration people don't work weekends and come back Monday! Welcome to Russian bureaucracy!
As it was a sunny Saturday, I decided to explore the countryside. I was interested if there was a more remote border crossing I could slip by.
Following my GPS, the road turned into a muddy track, but by now I was an expert with the Russian mud
Luckily Ofren turned up as my efforts to lever the bike out of the swamp proved fruitless
With Ofren's help and advice to turn back (he made a handcuff charade that left no room for ambiguity) I was once again forced to bend out my fairing brackett.
Back on the road again!
Back at the motel, I paid Nikolai (I know, a lot of Nikolai's in Russia) 300 roubles ($12.00) to tighten up my head bearing. No more speed wobble at 90 m.p.h!
Cruised around Sebesh...pretty little town
Decided to get a Russian haircut. Mmmmm....yummy!!!
Back at the hotel met Julia
and her jealous boyfriend Yuri.
Julia turned out to be an insurance agent and for about $10.00 wrote me European greencard insurance for a month to get me home. One of her dinner companions - Andrei - was a bigwig with the Granitsa - border crossing station. He wrote something in my diary in Russian and told me to show it to the police at the border crossing on Monday. How lucky was that!
Next morning, photo oppotunity with Julia and Yuri
and off to the Granitsa!!!
I'm not going to bore you with all the details, but it took me six hours and cost me 3,300 roubles in fines (about $135.00) to cross the border. If I had known this beforehand, I wouldn't have stressed so much about the border crossing. It was only a matter of time and $135.00...Oh well, now I know....and for those faced with the same situation, don't stress....just be prepared to spend a couple of days and flash some cash and you'll get through just fine.
Finally, on Latvian soil and back in the E.U.!!!
Stayed in this rather odd Latvian roadside inn my first night of freedom!!!
Next night in Poland found this great Inn.
Crossing into Germany, battery weak again...no prob. just hooked up the spare battery and got her going in minutes...love this self sufficiency!
Also loved the simplicity of border crossing with a British passport...just a formality.
I also loved the Autobahn. Those German cats really know how to drive. Fast and furious as you like. My fuel costs were now doubled but home was just off my GPS screen.
Decided to treat myself to a couple of nights in Amersterdam.
But I found in Amersterdam that I was the loneliest I had been on my entire trip. As a single male tourist, I felt it a little seedy and was glad to head south ready to cross the English Channel.
Back on the road, I couldn't believe the only place I ran out of gas was on this Belgium Highway
You Plonker Rodney!
I flagged down Sven, who took my collapsible fuel container and a 20 Euro note to a gas station. Sure enough, within twenty minutes he returned with the gas and some change...honesty is next to Godliness. And thanks Sven!
On the ferry from Calais to Dover in no time. Met English biker Terry in the queue. Looking at his teeth, I knew I was nearly home!
A few hours on the British motorway, with the last twenty in darkness on country lanes with no lights! I finally arrived home.
Next morning had a photo opportunity with my parents outside their house
And Yoyo the cat gave the bike a once over
'You need a new chain and sprocketts', he sniffed.
'OK', I said and took her to the nearest Triumph dealership
to treat her after all her hard work
Bikey....a true road warrior!!!
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