September 13, 2004 GMT

The "Rossiya", the M10 from St.Petersburg the 450 miles to Moscow, is the flagship route of Russia. It took me 12 hours.

It ranges from billiard-table to dire. Having found it (by dint of guessing that if I turned south on to Nevsky Propekt that would probably be it) I was pleasantly surprised for the first 10km or so - dual carriageway, decent surface. Then at the Novgorod turning it went to the other end of the scale. Narrow single carriageway, appalling surface, frequent suspension service establishments. And it started raining.

There were occasional good bits, but speed couldn't pick up as these were still in roadworks. New bits had absolutely no road markings (but as everyone drives where they bloody well want to that wasn't too much of an issue). Slightly older bits had three lanes - remember the old Left Side, Right Side, Suicide?

The bits in between - well, they'd tried but it wasn't quite right. The intention was clearly to have a crawler lane on the uphill sections (hurrah, no longer flatter than Norfolk), but the line painters hadn't been told this so they simply alternated on the basis that each direction should have an overtaking opportunity from time to time. This resulted in more or less slipping the clutch on uphill bits behind belching Kamaz trucks, and trying to overtake as many as possible downhill. After about 30 miles they got it right and normal progress was possible for a while, until a new painting crew took over who didn't know the score.

Crossed the Volga for the first time at Tver.

Stopped by the DPS (traffic cops) again. This time it was one for their normal checkpoints (every 30-40km) where they pull randomly (but all decrepit Kamaz trucks). The nice young man waved his baton at the road and talked a lot. "Anglyiski" I said. "Ah". "Deutsch?" I enquired. He indicated 'small' with his fingers. So we looked at one another for a moment. Then he waved his baton at the road. "Do svedanya". "Spassiba. Do svedanya" I said and rode carefully away.

Russian isn't really all that difficult once you get the hang of transliteration, as a lot of the words are quite recognisable. For instance, PECTOPAH = RESTORAN, MAPKET = MARKET, MOCKBA = MOSKVA and so on.

Doing the sightseeing today a bit. Staying at the Rossiya 50m from Red Square (fairly cheap hotel although pretty decent - only 3000 rooms). Interesting to see the changes since I was here in 1979 and 1986. No red flags on the Kremlin, for a start. They still don't have the hang of soft loo paper in the hotels, though.

From tomorrow I have to ride pretty well every day, but luckily not as far as yesterday, and emails may become a little rarer.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at September 13, 2004 04:04 PM GMT

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