We sailed into Tallin 23rd August, on a lovely sunny morning. We were both looking forward to another new country.
We went straight to the tourist information on the quayside looking for a campsite close to the town. We end up camping on a boatyard which was the yachting venue of the 1980 olympic games. The facilities are adequate, but basic.
We catch a bus into the lovely medieval town of Tallin, which is now very touristy.
The next day it is raining, so we decide to stay another day and spend another day wandering the twisty streets. We visit the excellent Tallin Museum, which covers the history from the towns' medieval roots right up tp the 20th century history. Evenings are always a problem in a tent in the rain so we go to see a film, which is in English but with two diffferent subtitles, Russian and Estonian.
We move on the next day to Saaremaa one of the small islands off the west coast of Estonia. The weather is still not good so we stay overnight in a deserted hotel at Kaali. Next to the hotel is a huge meteor crater, beleived to be one of the last meteor strikes. We are served a breakfast of Estonian porridge, which I believe comprises four different grains and is delicious. This sets us up for a good day's riding to Kuressare. The countryside is flat and a little swampy, some tourist signs claim this is a special wild life area but we see very few wild animals.
Again we go to the Tourist information in the centre of the town. This is staffed by two of the most helpful ladies we have ever come across, and the internet is free in the library!!
We stay at some slightly tired lodges close to the sea, again these are deserted as it is the end of the tourist season. It is quite spooky staying here but we find that the local 10% beer helps calm us nicely.
Wednesday we take the GS and explore some of the island. The main roads have received E.U funding, and are good, but the back roads are mainly packed earth\limestone rubble. We find some picturesque churches and visit the north of the island. Here I atempt to take a nice photo of the bike with the island behind it but manage to get two wet feet despite wearing Doc Martins, much to Nick's delight
Thursday 28th August we move back onto the mainland heading for Tartu. We get a lovely guesthouse in the town of Viljandi. Whilst checking out a hotel in the centre of town we return to our bikes where a waiting taxi driver sends us to his guest house saying the magic words "motorcycle garaging". Not only is there parking but there is a shared kitchen and a cafe is attached so we spend a relaxed evening enjoying the facilities.
On Friday 29th August we get to Tartu and head for the tourist info. Again we fall lucky and the lovely landlady takes one look at us and opens the garage where her son's bikes are garaged.
Tartu is another interesting town, a little like Tallin, but much less touristy and with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. We stay here for two days, one of which there is a free open air music festival. It is so much easier packing when we have been in a B&B, we have a name for packing the bike called "Pannier Wrestling"
Tartu to Narva, not a good day, a cold and wet ride. The highlight (in my opinion) are the amazing stork nests balanced on top of telephone poles, about 1 meter across with the birds standing casually on top.
We arrive in Narva and search for a cheap hotel. We settle for a hotel close to the border. Narva has very little to recommend it and we spend a restless night, apprehensive about our first border crossing, taking us into Russia the next day
We awake and check our documents, we are horrified to find they are all damp, including the St Petersburg maps which are illegible. Luckily the hotel has a heated floor in the bathroom where we spread them out to dry whilst we eat breakfast. The hotel receptionist explains we need to book a slot to cross the border at a special office. We cannot find the office so again we go to the tourist information office.
The helpful ladies explain that we are not counted as pedestrians or traffic (both of which need to book in) so we should just go directly to the border, we ride around the long queue of cars and straight to the front. The border crossing is tedious, with good opportunities for people watching and goes without hitch, we buy motorcycle insurance here and ride into Russia.
The road is very badly potholed and we are sure that it will improve when we get away from the border crossing. Nick is leading as we pass through a road block. This resembles a workmans hut and sign and the STOP sign is easy to miss, but the young policeman nips out waving his black and white baton, he catches me and asks for my papers. As we have only just entered the country Nick has the lot even all of our money. The look on the policeman's face as I point to a rapidly disappearing BMW is a picture, I am releived when Nick turns back!
The Policeman takes us into his hut and produces a book saying we must pay a fine for our misdemeanor, which comes to a nice round figure of 1,000 Roubles (and no receipt).
We ride steadily from then on, 45 MPH max, the road does not improve and the holes are surrounded by ridges and bumps, the hard shoulder is the smoothest area but is very narrow. There are more police cars everywhere at a ratio of 1 per 10 miles, some of which eye us as we pass.
The Hotel in St Petersburg is pre-paid/booked and we have been communicating with the landlord via text message. We ride into the city, the holes are now joined by raised tramilines and some challenging driving. We know the hotel is next to a main canal, but after many hours searching and some really helpful locals it remains elusive. My mobile coverage is nil, the maps are illegible, it turns dark and starts to rain so we cut our losses and find another hotel feeling deeply deeply frustrated.
We check on the hotels' internet the exact location of our original hotel and set out the next morning to find it. In Russia hotels can be anywhere, after parking the bikes and walking, examining any doors or openings Nick finds the hotel. We find our rooms are in a small courtyard on the second floor with no signs, we bring the bikes in the courtyard and take off to see St Petersburg on foot. The Landlord takes our documents and registers us, this is a legal requirement in Russia and could lead to a steep fine if not done.
We earmark the Hermitage for a visit the next day and enjoy the many sights of St Petersburg, there is just so much to see. An Australian family is staying at the hotel and we discuss where to visit with them, they are backpacking around Europe with two young daughters and have some tales to tell of Poland and other countries they have visited.
The Hermitage is an amazing museum with whole rooms dedicated to single artists, but really needs at least two days to do it justice. There is a smaller museum nearby explaining the Seige of Leningrad which gives an interesting background to St Petersburg.
Nick also wants to ride on the underground, which was an experience. At the bottom of the stairway there is a wide corridor with metal doors at regular intervals in the walls, people are standing at the doorways and suddenly we hear a train stopping. The doors open revealing the interior of the train, which the passengers step directly into, there are no platfroms and it is a bit surreal.
We spend the next few days exploring St Petersburg, and it would be easy to spend a lot longer looking at the attractions on outskirts of the city, but Russia becons!!
Saturday 6th September
Leaving St Petersburg we were heading south for Moscow, via Novgorod. Trying to find the correct road out of St Petersburg proved to be a trial due to lack of road signs.
So, we headed roughly south, picked up a motorway with signs and sorted ourselves out that way. This was to prove the same for the whole of the Russian part of the trip. Plenty of signs showing the main roads into and through cities/ towns but they became confused in the centres, leading to a slightly hit-or-miss approach to navigation! having a very large scale map did not help.
We found the M10 St Petersburg/Moscow road and stuck to it for three days. It had good bits and very bad bits surface wise. We stay in the Motels on the sides of the road which are basic, serving good solid tasty food.
The worst aspect of this road was sharing it with 85% lorry traffic. Every day we saw at least one serious accident and the remains of more, very sobering. The standard of driving approached lunatic standards. On dual carriageways it is not unusual for a third, faster, horn-blowing vehicle to bully its way between the two lanes-yes through the middle of the lorries, cars and occasional British motorcyclists. Just when you have become accustomed to the third lane an even faster 4X4 will tear along the hard shoulder, so the dual carriageway has 4 lanes of traffic!!
Throughout Russia all along the sides of the road are small stalls selling local produce, older ladies in colourful house coats are sitting behind their home made stalls chatting, totally oblivious to the smoking, heaving traffic thrashing past them. In the country side and in forests cars are parked with the stalls selling woodland mushrooms, and tractors with huge mounds of watermelons on trailers. Some stalls are selling rows and rows of 2 litre bottles, all different colours but without labels, we assume they are fruit juices. We stop at a stall selling tea, a tea urn which resembles a football trophy has a chimney on top and a tap on the side. The owner pokes small pieces of burning wood into a central chamber, heating the water around the outside. I would love one of these for barbecues but there is no way I could carry it!!
On the plus side Russian bikers are very friendly, always acknowledging us. A car will pull alongside, wind its window down then lots of tooting and waving and thumbs up signs, then carry on its way. The Russian people are also very friendly every time we stop someone will came over and ask questions, many are amazed that we have ridden from England.
Velikiy Novgorod has an ancient Kremlin with a huge curtain wall and a beautiful domed church and a boat trip along the wide Volkhov River was a real treat. The smart-looking hotel on the opposite bank was the worst we stayed in so far, with grubby rooms. The staff were rude and unhelpful, we shared the hotel with a wedding party and hope that they were better looked after than we were!!
Onto Moscow where we arrive on a cold afternoon, the first hotel we find is fully booked. Whilst searching for another hotel we are accosted by a drunk, drinking in the streets is a normal feature but this is the first time we have any problems. As he staggers from me and my bike towards Nick we make a hurried exit somehow obtaining his (empty) lunch bag which he tucked under Nick's luggage strap!
We stop again, this time keeping a wary eye on the passers by when a large American pickup truck stops, a guy jumps put and offers to help us find somewhere to stay, he has just come back from a road trip of his own on a hand built Harley in America.
We are both a little concerned but decide to see what happens. He rings around and finds us some cheap accommodation, and attempts to lead us to it. The heavy traffic foils his attempts to lead us there so he offers to let us stay in his flat. We go out with him and his friends that night and a good time is had by all. A BIG thank you Vlad.
Nick's bike has a split in the rear tyre and he even sources a bike shop which has the correct tyre. He arranges for Andrei, a friend to lead us to the shop BikeLand, as it is difficult to find, being on the second floor of a newly built office block. Here we meet Ruslan and Nikolai who change Nick's tyre and give the bikes a service. The ride back was amazing, it was pouring with rain and the traffic was very heavy, Andrei showed us the Russian Bikers Riding Technique which involved revving loudly and pushing a way through the traffic. Very similar to London dispatch riders but a bit more aggressive.
We went sight seeing in Moscow, Red Square, The Underground, but it was cold and wet. The bikers we had met told us that there was warmer, drier weather on the Black Sea coast so we soon decided to turn south.
Load up and away early with Vlad waving us off in the heavy rain, we do not get far in the bad weather so find a warm Motel and stop early, ready for an early start the next day. We are travelling along and are overtaken by Nikolai Kate, his wife and Ruslan, who are making their way down to the coast, they are doing it in one day, almost 1,000 miles, absolute heroes.
We get to the coast on the 16th and find a hotel, with sea views and a swimming pool. The coastline is mountainous and very beautiful, with the backdrop of the deep blue sea. The hotel receptionist explains that they can only register us for two days as they will be fully booked after this date, the manageress takes us to a local town to register us. This is done is a little tiny office which is very busy, there is no way we would have been able to find this on our own and it takes all morning. It would be nice to stay for a week, relaxing and enjoying the warm weather. As we cannot get a longer registration we decide to move further around the coast and into the Ukraine where there will be less paperwork, we wonder what the Ukraine will be like, but first we have to exit Russia.
We leave Russia via Kerc, the road to the border is along a narrow peninsula with a railway track along the centre, but we manage to go to the "into Russia" crossing, we should have crossed the rail tracks and ridden down the other side of the peninsula, which we do and join the queue for the ferry. Ferry tickets bought we move onto the next office for the border crossing, a Ukrainian biker helps us with the paperwork and after more queueing at different offices we board the small ferry. The bikes are not tied down and as the ferry turns sharply into the quay my bike falls onto the wall of the engine room, no damage to the bike but there is a good quantity of paint missing from the ferry!!
There are other bikers on the ferry who help us with more paper work, they quickly push to the front of the ferry and get to the Ukrainian border offices first. The officers come along the queue and collect everyone's paperwork and disappear into their offices. The other bikes are processed quickly and speed away, we take longer as our papers go onto another office, we are luckier than the cars as they are asked to open boots and doors. The officers come to us return our papers and wave us past, we are suddenly in another country.
The roads are in a similar state to Russia and we drive around our first cow which is lying in the road relaxing. One difference is the amount of stray dogs everywhere, and sadly their corpses litter the road. As we are chasing the sunshine we head down the the southern coast on the Crimean Peninsula. Neither of us have done any research into the area so the high mountains and blue sea are a nice surprise.
We ride most of the day and find a hotel in a run-down touristy town. Kebabs are the usual fare which we enjoy and return to the hotel. Next day we head towards Yalta, stopping for lunch at a roadside cafe, the Turkish lady owner speaks very good English and serves tasty soup, we stay and learn a lot about the locality before moving on and finding a good, clean campsite close to a town near Alushta.
I am in the tent when Nick calls to say there is a lion cub walking towards him, I scoff but go out to find "Holita" strolling towards the tent. The campsite owner is walking the cub through the site, we secretly wonder what the cub's future is. The campsite has outside tables and serves Shashlik kebabs, we realise after visiting the local town that we are in quite an up-market restaurant so sit back to enjoy a few days off the bikes. It rains heavily in the night and we decide to move on and find a hotel.
Neither of us are happy to be leaving the Crimea, and the day takes a turn for the worse as my charge light comes on, luckily it is a simple broken wire which can be temporarily fixed in a lay-by. The days ride is further spoilt by a squabble, only to find out that we are both frustrated as each of us wanted to visit Sevastopol via the coast road. The lesson is to communicate better, but as neither of us want to turn back we head north.
Nick spots a mechanic fixing a small motorbike near a petrol station, we stop and the mechanic mends my bike whilst I hold the smaller bike for his friend to work on. I watch in gruesome fascination, he is struggling to put some bolts back on the bike as he has no finger ends.
It turns dark and there is no where to stay we are tired and grumpy. The only accommodation is a very expensive, awful "hotel" situated next to a lorry park and I think it may be the type of place that is rented for by the hour for the drivers to entertain some female company. Up early the next day we head for the border with Moldova, most of the time in the Ukraine we are ill at ease and miss the easy friendliness of the Russian people.
Looking back this was the worst time of the whole journey.
After a rough nights sleep we are eager to be up and away, looking forward to Moldova, another country!!
The ride to the border was uneventful, we are stopped at the border and taken into the border office as there is some difficulty with our insurance documents. This border is run-down and does not run as efficiently as previous border crossings. The officer in charge explains to us that we are not insured as we do not have a Green Card. Despite long explanations that we are not issued with Green Cards but with a normal document it becomes obvious that we will be required to buy extra insurance or we will not be allowed to proceed further, nor return to the Ukraine.
The bill comes to a suspiciously convenient figure of 100 Euros, cash only. This causes some difficulty as we have little cash on us of any kind, as we try to spend up when leaving a country. We manage to scrape the money together in many different denominations and are issued with official-looking documents. The Head Guard also offers to change some money for us, trying to sell us Romanian Lei for the next leg of our journey.
The whole situation leaves a bad taste in our mouths but we have no other option, just before we ride away we are given a small ticket each which resembles cloak-room tickets. We cross Moldova in less than an hour and are asked for the small tickets at the next border. This is a completely different experience, the guard grabs my throttle, gives the engine a good rev smiles and waves us through.
We ride late into the night trying to find somewhere to stay. Stopping at a roadside cafe/kiosk to ask for directions to an hotel, we are told there are none, but two locals (Andre and Eugene) offer to lead us to somewhere to sleep, we are taken into the town centre to a hostel type building. The area seems quite run down and there are few street lights, our new-found friends are drunk and Nick is concerned as to their motives.
They see that we are settled in and the bikes are securely parked, they then take us to a small bar introducing us to their friends. A guitar is produced along with a bottle of Ukrainian Vodka, a good night is had by all and we arrange to meet them the next day so that they can show us the road we need.
Next morning we are completely loaded before they arrive as they are all nursing hangovers! After a photo opportunity with Lenin's statue we are lead from Sarata onto the road to Izmail.
Later that day we pass through another border into Romania, I am looking forward to high mountains and gothic castles......
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