December 29, 2008 GMT
Into Russia

September 1st
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!!

Posted by Gill Roger at 12:36 PM GMT
December 30, 2008 GMT

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.
12th September
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.

Posted by Gill Roger at 12:06 PM GMT
 
 

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