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Rob and Dafne de Jong,

Ride-on in Russia

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Rob en Dafne de Jong July 27, 2001 Ride-on... Russia and Siberia

"Dobre Djen (Russian). There are really only two big things in this world," Rob said while the aged Russian cruise ship 'Antonya Nezhdanova' slowly moved away from the Japanese Port of Fushiki to start her voyage towards Vladivostok in Russia. "First there are the oceans." I look up. "And then there is Russia!"


On board we unexpectedly already plunge into the world that is called Russia. Big white-skinned people with blond hair and light eyes. Relations are very open and direct, very much unlike the way things go in Japan. The ship is being loaded with used cars. All decks are full and even on top of what was once the swimming pool cars are hanging on, with the wheels reaching far over the edge but that's no problem: Put a pile of tires underneath and strapped down they will also reach Russia. The loading is supervised by Japanese who, according the rules is dressed in quality overalls, sturdy gloves and a safety helmet. Sweat is rolling down his forehead while he signs the crane driver to lift up the next car. The Russians dealing with the loading grin. They wear sandals and shorts. T-shirts taken off in the hot afternoon. The gangways are full of mopeds, scooters and bicycles, piled up tires everywhere. In the toilets washing machines, ovens and refrigerators. Our sidecar and the two motorcycles of Lorenz and Patrick, the Austrians who are also going to Vladivostok, are put on a nice spot on the deck. We plan to travel together the coming three weeks.

Our sidecar is loaded onto the Nezhdanova - Japan. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for the pics.

Our sidecar is loaded onto the Nezhdanova - Japan
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for the pics

The crossing:

The days of glory have long gone for this ship, but the colors and smells, the monotonous sound of the old engines have a good atmosphere and we enjoy the few days at sea to the fullest. The food on board of the ship is good, at least for our taste, as we are treated to "Borsht", typical Russian soup with a blob of mayonnaise in it. The Russian bread is really yummy, heavy and whole wheat, like my mother used to bake it. "Finally people who know how to make bread" we say to each other.

Victor, the engineer on board of the Nezhdanova, invites us to see the engine room. Two 8-cylinder 2-stroke diesels and two enormous generators are working hard. Rob is thrilled as he used to work inside engine-rooms of sea going vessels. At night we meet the rest of the passengers, most of them car-dealers in the bar, dressed up to dance and sing to the 2 musicians who entertain the passengers during the crossing. There's also a "ship-doctor", a real big blond Russian woman who, after a couple of vodkas, declares her love to us and insists on dancing with Rob and Lorenz. Fortunately not at the same time. The next day we find out there are several ship-doctors on board.


Vladivostok's motorcycle-club the "Iron Tigers" had sent two of their members to welcome us to the port. They provide us with a place to sleep in their clubhouse and help us going around Vladivostok while our motorcycles are kept in customs. What a great welcome. Vladivostok itself is a pleasant city, built on several hills around a natural harbor. It takes us 2 days to get our Yammie out of customs. One to cover the problems of a national holiday "President day" the other to cover the formalities. Although the Iron Tigers stay with us all the time to be there if we need help, we found out that it is better to deal with Customs yourself. Why? A translator can explain a problem and then it will be your problem. No translator means no problems.

Vladivostok has a real rollercoaster. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics.

Vladivostok has a real rollercoaster
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics


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de Jong's Home

Travel Stories, English:

January 2002,
Ride on 2002...
October 2001,
Ride on Home
July 2001,
Russia and
April 2001,
Jan 2001,
Dec 2000,
Oct 2000, L.A
to Fresno via
Sep 2000,
New Zealand
July 2000,
Australia part 2
April 2000 India
and Australia,
part 1
Dec 1999,
to Kathmandu
Nov 1999,
Shoeshine boy
of Gondar

Sept 1999,
Uganda to
May 1999,
Zimbabwe to
Dec 1998,
South Africa
and Namibia
Sept 1998,
Swaziland &

June 1998,
S. Africa 1
April 1998,
W.Africa 2
March 1998,
W. Africa 1

Travel Stories, In het Nederlands:

July 2001,
Rusland en
April 2001,
Jan 2001,

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The World on a Children's Drawing:

In Russia all schools are closed for the holidays and we ask around for another place where we can do our project. One of the Iron Tigers in Vladivostok knows an artist, who works with children during the summer and we fill the hallway outside the little room with drawings from all around the world. The kids are thrilled to find out where they come from and when we go around with the beautiful color pencils that were donated in Japan by Holbein the feast is complete and everyone is working. "Can we really make friends all around the world," we are asked and we explain that every drawing we exchange has an address on it. Just outside Irkutsk we get another chance when we meet Vasili, who speaks English. "Russian children mostly go to summer camps," we had already heard and together we pay one a visit.

Sergej and Dimitri in Vladivostok. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics.

Sergej and Dimitri in Vladivostok
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics

On the road again:

The roads are pretty good in Russia and traffic is almost non-existing as soon you leave the city. Rolling hills covered with trees and meadows full of wild flowers: Lilies and Irises and much more. Now and then small villages where the wooden houses, which mostly date back to before the revolution have very nicely decorated windowpanes and doors. Some of these houses are painted in bright colors, blue and white or yellow. There's no running water as everywhere we see wells or pumps, from which something like big steel milk canisters on 2-wheeled trolleys are filled and pulled back home. As we also fill up our jerrycan at these pumps, a few times we still see the ice from last winter. Not everywhere the scene is so romantic as in the bigger villages and in the towns big ugly gray apartment buildings take over the scenery. It is a busy time of the year in July for the Russians in the villages, who are almost all working on their little plots of land to grow potatoes and veggies. Hay is being put on big stacks to be collected later and it seems that winter, which lasts about 5 months with temperatures dropping as low as -70 Celsius (-90F) is controlling life in Siberia even in mid-summer. It is the land of sidecars too but not for fun though. Our greetings towards other sidecar riders are only seldom returned, as a sidecar is just a mode of transport while the mostly poor owner is dreaming of a car.

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End of the road:

Although the Trans Siberia Railway is complete the road is not. In winter the missing link is passable because of the frozen rivers and rock-hard mud. This year there is a lot of water so the rivers are high and the mud is deep. Like everybody else here (dealers of used Japanese cars), we also had to decide to cover the stretch of almost 1000 km (app. 600 miles) by train. So in Shimanovsk we set off to find the train station (woksal), but before we could, again we were stopped by police for "dokument kontrol". The officers turned out to be quite nice this time, as they made us follow them at first to an office (a lot of Russian was spoken) and then to the place where every car driver was waiting for his place on the train. Horror stories of people who had already been waiting for a week tempered our enthusiasm to do this ride. After some negotiating however we were able to secure a place on a "postal train" which was a little bit more expensive but at least we were going to leave the same night. Our Yammie and the BMW of Lorenz were easily driven into the cargo area, but then all the space was taken and for Patrick the situation looked grim. "We shovel it under the truck," the Russians suggested after we had profoundly turned down the option to put her on top of our sidecar. Finally we managed to squeeze her into a small corridor behind the entry of the small personnel compartment, situated at the end of the carriage. All the car owners on the train have to eat sleep and live inside their cars during the journey that takes up to two/three days. We are so lucky to have been given the use of the only available cabin, in which we even can go horizontal.

Ulan Ude and Baikal:

We traveled together until Ulan Ude, the capital of Siberia, where we arrive in the middle of the 335-years jubilee celebrations and have the pleasure to see Kosacs dancing with bayonets and native Buryat people sing their anthem coming straight from their hearts. Time to say goodbye to Lorenz and Patrick, who are heading for Mongolia. We go to the huge Lake Baikal, where we find a lovely camping spot between shady trees. We stay a couple of days, rest and walk along the beach, visit a nearby village and drown ourselves in beautiful sunsets. The water of the lake is crystal clear and very drinkable, so is said. It's also extremely cold as this is known to be the world's deepest lake (1637 meters or over a mile). Not too cold though not to let us (however shortly) plunge into the water.

Hot coffee, cool water. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics.

Hot coffee, cool water
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics

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Banya Siberia

Russia, it means new impressions every day. Most of the Russians live simple lives and more people tell us that things are getting better as they were during Communist times. On the markets trade in foreign products is very much alive. The Russians don't like 'the rubbish' that reminds them of old times except for one thing: the traditional Russian sauna called 'banya'. Although there are not many houses left without a bathroom, and many Russians have built private banyas, about every bigger village has a public banya.

It was near Blagoveshensk that we first were introduced to this Russian tradition. The sauna is wet and really hot and one beats himself with a bundle of leafy twigs from a local tree. Off course there's a social side to this bathing as well and in the banya in Abakan (Kakasian Republic south of Krasnojarsk) it's my turn to beat another lady's back. In the republic Bashkortostan north of Ufa, so called 'black banyas' are common. These banyas, which are heated by a wood fire, do not have a chimney. Only after the fire has burned out, the smoke has come out of the banya and the floor and benches have been cleaned you can go in for a sweat and a wash. "Do not touch the walls, for they are like those of a chimney," we were warned and that's exactly why this is called a black banya.

Yuri's Dasha near Blagoveshensk with a great view and a greater Banya. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for the pics.

Yuri's Dasha near Blagoveshensk with a great view and a greater Banya
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for the pics


We already mentioned seeing sidecars everywhere in Russia. Irbit not far from Yekaterineburg is home of the Ural factory and off course has some kind of magnetic effect on us. As if they knew we were coming we are warmly welcomed and offered a tour through the factory and the museum. First we have to eat however and drink tea, for which water is kept warm in a beautiful samovar. We speak some English with Marina, who is dressed in a long green gown and ready to participate in a fashion show. Natasha speaks German and takes us around the factory. The museum is filled with motorcycles, sidecars and interesting engines, like a star-4 engine and a so called 'flying brick'. It's really a paradise for Rob, who does not know where to look first. In the second room foreign motorcycles, among which a Dutch built EML sidecar, a Guzzi Hidro Convert, a Honda Goldwing from 1973 and an original CB 750 from 1971. The manager of the museum who visibly loves motorcycles is immediately turned on by Rob's enthusiasm and, as motorcyclists understand each other even if they do not speak the same language, to translate is not necessary any more. The handshake at the end turns into an warm embrace.

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At the moment we are in Ufa in the Southern Ural, which is more like a group of hills than mountains. Driving through the Ural is a joy to do, as there are many nicely asphalted small winding roads with little traffic and great views. Also the fact that there are few mosquitoes here is very enjoyable. In Siberia we very quickly found out that there is a huge variety in this kind of species. And, as we did not mind so much any more being bitten by a 'mozzy' as the threat of getting malaria was not there any more, we now have regained our hatred for these ever irritating little bastards. There are small ones, big ones, striped ones, spotted ones, some active during daylight, others come out at sunset. Conclusion of our investigation: All of them bite and are literally a 'pain in the arse' if you need to go. Pants down and cover your bud as quickly as possible in repellent.

Patrick and Rob found the place with the least mosquitoes. With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics.

Patrick and Rob found the place with the least mosquitoes
With thanks to Lorenz Kerer for pics

"Europe is getting close now," Rob already had said when crossing the Japanese Sea on board the Nezhdanova. Indeed, a few days ago just outside Yekaterineburg we passed a statue marking the borderline of the European territory. Holland is getting very close too, but we try to forget that the days are passing so quickly, to live in the present and enjoy the moment. The coming months are still full of unknown kilometers to explore. We will write about them.

A greeting and a smile, Riding on... Rob and Dafne

Story and photos copyright © Rob and Dafne de Jong 1998-2002.
All Rights Reserved.

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

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