Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ostrovto, Russia to Vilnius, Lithuania

30SEP - Out of Russia today via Karsava, Latvia, forty miles Southwest of Ostrov. Dealing with Russian Customs wasn't too bad. The Latvia Customs folks wanted to see the original title for the bike. I have certified copies, that have worked all over the world but they demanded the 'original'. Must have been a senior moment, for the life of me I couldn't remember where I'd hidden my original documents. The thought of being stuck in Russia while trying to get a duplicate title issued and sent to me was chilling. We arrived in Vladivostok on 25 August and I was allowed to bring the bike into Russia with out showing them the original title. The Russians let me ride out of the country by showing them the import documents. 38 days later and 6,616 miles from Vladivostok I can't get cleared for entry into Latvia.

I'd gone through all the paperwork the night before after reading that Russian Customs could be tough. Then I remembered where I'd hidden the original title. Relief doesn't explain it. The entire border crossing, both countries took ninety minutes.  Wow!  In Central  America we've spent five hours crossing a border. (Central America is one part of the world I have no intetest in ever visiting again. Mexico anytime.)

When we left Ostrov it was 56 degrees and by the time we reached Vilnius, 241 Sunny miles later it was 61.

Just to recap, we left Reno on 6August and 7,981 miles later we're in Vilnius, Lithuania and will head for Warsaw, Poland in the morning.

Monday, September 29, 2014

St. Petersburg to Ostrov

29SEP - On the road at 09:15. Some rush hour traffic, plus getting use to riding two-up.

Had to include a photo of one of the former checkpoints. When I spent a month in Leningrad (now again St. Petersburg) in 1972 they had checkpoints like these everywhere. People had to get permits to go to the next town. All a part of the workers paradise program. Brought back memories.

We arrived in Ostrov at 14:00 after 193 rain-free miles along a pretty fair two lane highway. Not much truck traffic.

The Ostriv Park Hotel is a small facility with about fifteen rooms and a restaurant. Its an old two story building that has been made into a hotel, thus each room is different.

We took a walk through the village taking in our last day in a Russian village.

Tonight we'll have dinner in the hotel restaurant and celebrate our 36 days in Russia and the fact that we'll cross over to Lithuania on Tuesday, our 38th day in country.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

St. Petersburg - Last Rest Day

28SEP - Our last day in St. Petersburg. I took a ride to the BMW dealer to try and get cruise control fixed. No parts. That said, what a greeting by Dema, the service manager. Treated me to coffee in their cafe while they washed the bike. Eventually, with enough washings, the Siberia grime will be off the bike.

Tomorrow we're off to Ostrov, then the next day we'll be out of Russia, after 37 days, when we enter Vilnius, Lithuania.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

St. Petersburg - Sightseeing

27SEP - Another day in this great city. Tried to take the hydrofoil boat to Peterhof but the Bay of Finland was too rough. So we took the Metro (subway) two different lines, then a bus to Peterhof.

It reminded me of Versailles, in France. Seeing it made it easy to understand why the people revolted and killed the entire family.

The wind died down in the afternoon and we were able to take the hydrofoil boat back to St. Petersburg - a fifty minute trip.

To Russia With Camera

The Trans Siberian Highway runs almost 10,000 kms from Vladivostok in the east to Moscow in the west and so have we. In spite of some challenges along the way, we reached Moscow on Tuesday, albeit one bike short. What a thrill to ride up to Red Square on our way to the hotel and take pictures of the bikes in front of the iconic St. Basil's Cathedral! No matter how many pictures you've seen of these places, nothing compares to seeing them in front of you and the awe that is inspired by their history.
Russia has provided us with some incredible scenery from the silver birch forests of the east, to the vast grass lands of the central steppe, past beautiful Lake Baikal, through the soft, rolling Ural Mountains all dressed in their Fall foliage, to the historic cities of Kazan and now Moscow. Like any big city, it's bustling with traffic and people but unlike many, it's history is alive in beautifully maintained or restored buildings and churches. Our hotel is in the center of the city, blocks from Red Square and the Kremlin so we get settled in and prepare for our assault on anything tourist the next day.
The Hop On Hop Off Bus is a great way to get a good overview of most big cities and this one includes a river cruise! After a four hour narrated tour, we spend the next two days doing all the tourist things: a tour of the interior of St. Basil's where we have the good fortune to hear an acapella quartet singing hymns; window shopping at the famous GUM Department store that supplied the polititions' wives during the dark days of Communism; walking along the Kremlin wall where heads of state and other dignitaries are interred; visiting Lenin's tomb where he is resting peacefully under glass almost 100 years after his death and looking better than a lot of people in the line! Red Square and the Kremlin are lined with numerous museums and churches and require more time than we have on this trip so the rest will have to wait till another time because we have one other place of interest to visit.
The Novodevichy Cemetery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the final resting place for the past and present elite of Moscow from actors and actresses to politicians and poets to military, athletes, explorers, writers, scientists, artists and even a clown! Many names we recognize: Andrei Gromiko, Raisa Gorbacheva, Nikita Khrushchev, and Boris Yeltsin. One we don't is Nadezhda Allilueva, better known as the wife of Stalin. But the real attraction here is the magnificence of the monuments! Almost every plot contains a beautiful sculpture of its occupant, most larger than life. Yeltsin's is a giant marble flag of the new Federation he led as its first President. Writers have marble copies of their books while the military heros have planes, tanks, or other armaments to show their strength. The abundance of fresh flowers and wreaths show they have not been forgotten.
And we will not forget Moscow! What a happening city! Full of young, 'beautiful' people, expensive cars, and great restaurants. And great people-today as we came up out of the Metro looking lost, two people offered to take us to our destination. One, a young student, went out of his way so he could practice his English. When I gave him a Canada pin, he dug in his wallet and handed me an Olympic coin from Sochi encased in plastic. You cannot help but be touched by these people who have endured so much over the years but are so generous to strangers.
Tomorrow, we're off to the final frontier-St. Petersberg. Just can't wait to snuggle two up on that KLR for another 500 miles!

Beautiful architectural detail

Bolshoi Theatre

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Nikita Khrushchev

Antarctic Explorer

Friday, September 26, 2014

St. Petersburg - Sightseeing

26SEP - A perfect blue sky day here. Frost on the bikes this morning but we're not riding today. Signs of what is to come.

Sara arrived today from Helsinki, Finland via the Allegra, the high speed train. She flew in the day before from Reno.

Two more days here to explore this fine city, then back on the road to depart Russia, after all the weeks since arriving in Vladivostok from S. Korea.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Moscow to Kresttsy

24SEP - Rain was predicted for the first half of the ride to Valday today.  We departed Moscow at 08:15 and as we pulled out of the parking lot it started. We thought we'd be on a reverse of the traffic but it took us half an hour to really get moving. The folks coming in to Moscow we backed up for thirty miles on a major freeway. Reminded me of Los Angeles.

The first three hours of the ride it poured. The worst rain of the entire trip. And the temperature held at 39 degrees. In a pouring rain such a ride is really not fun. I like to tell myself that such days build character.

We got to Valday, where we had reservations at Valdsiskie Zori Hotel. When the GPS told us to turn off the M-10 I looked at the msp on the GPS and saw that the hotel was about 22 miles from town. But of course the hotel has a Valday address. Anyhow, we figured why not and headed down a series of country roads following the GPS to the hotel. The roads got worse and worse and when sections were under water we decided enough was enough. So it was back to the M-10 with the thought that we'd find a motel. Sixty miles later we came upon a truckstop motel and decided the day was long enough at 18:00. For 1,500 rubles ($45) we have a room, and bath and toilet down the hall.

Screwing around with the hotel issue in Valday a 248 mile day turned in to a 309 mile day. Part of the Adventure and the plus is tomorrow, in about 162 miles, we'll be in St. Petersburg.

No pictures from the road today. Just too damn cold to get the camera out. The picture I did include is of a great chocolate cream soda they sell in Russia. Soooo good.

Kresttsy to St. Petersburg

To Russia With One Bike

The saga continues:

We have a phone number for the Kawi dealer here. We call ADAC insurance to arrange a tow to the shop. We call Germany. They call Russia. Russia calls the dealer for the address. Russia calls us. That's how it works. A flatbed truck shows up. We load the bike and he ties it down. I suggest a better way. Nyet. Off we go. Jean and I are riding along. After about a mile we stop. The bike has fallen over. No damage as it hasn't fallen off the truck. We pick it up and retie it. After much hand waving, we do it my way. We offload it at the dealer and have coffee.

A couple of so called mechanics manage to change the spark plug. Is better??? No. Mechanic tomorrow.

They give us a ride to the hotel. We will know by 10 am what the problem is. We call at 9:30 to see if there is any progress. Come at 11 am. You will have a new motor. Have I mentioned that language is an issue? We show up at 1:00 pm to find yesterday's driver sitting in his Lada with the bike on a trailer behind it. Don't know if he has been waiting for 5 minutes or two hours. Off we go to the mechanic. It's back downtown where we have just come from. A private m/c shop. The mechanic is Uncle Sacha who seems to know what he is doing. He does a few checks and then digs right in. Everybody is very pleasant and we are offered a ride back to the hotel. I think our driver was chosen because he spoke English. Very pleasant and well spoken.

About an hour after he dropped us off, he was back with the bad news. There is a broken part in the counterbalancer and parts could be had in about 4 weeks. So now it's decision time. Both for us and for ADAC Insurance. We will have to decide what we want to do and the insurance company will have to decide what they are willing to do. Stay tuned. We should know tomorrow??? Although things don't seem to happen very quickly here. The weekend gets in the way, so we are here until Monday. Lots of phone calls with no result.

Monday morning we decide to move on. After a trip to the shop, we pack up and head out. No result from the insurance and time is passing by. It's a sunny day so we get back on plan and go halfway to Moscow. It's a full load for the Kawi-2 up with luggage, but we chug along, bottoming out over any major bump. Another good day and we are in Moscow.


Standing at "Mile 0" Marker in Moscow

Footnote: Turns out 'Uncle Sasha' and company are Hells Angels! This is their club house and full patch riders come and go with other bikers and 'civilians'. We had heard from a friend of "Meaford Sue" how he had been helped by another Chapter of the Club in Vladistock and how great they were and we had the same experience. They are storing our bike while ADAC decides it's fate. Before leaving, we exchanged stickers and ours now proudly resides among those of a number of European and Russia Angels!



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Moscow - Rest Day Two

23SEP - Spent the day sightseeing and thus learning the Moscow Metro. Reminds me of Paris but here they have Wi-Fi. Moscow has more billionaires than any city in the world and it shows with the shops and under-ground malls. Just plain amazing. Our 'Mall of America' in the Twin Cities is Walmart compared to what they have here. They are already building giant football (to soccer to U.S. folks) stadiums getting ready for the World Cup in 2018.

Stopped at a Starbuck's two blocks from Red Square to use a gift card Linda Kelly gave me. The Russians really like their coffee as there are coffee shops everywhere.

Picked up the bike at 17:00 and rode to the hotel through Moscow rush-hour traffic. Took me twenty minutes to get there yesterday at 14:00. Getting to the hotel today took one hour. It would have taken another hour if I hadn't gone 'native' as Sam Bexon would say after riding with me in Mexico. Put another way, take advantage of being on a moto, lane-split, make illegal U-turns on eight to ten lane local streets to avoid left turns, and so on.

Tomorrow, after yet another Hilton breakfast buffet, (And I'd thought I might shed a few pounds on this trip) we're back on the road, heading for St. Petersburg (and Sara on Friday) with a stop about halfway at Valday.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Moscow - Rest Day

22SEP - We sure hit it right for the weather here. Spent more time at the Kremlin. Amazing all the different folks from around the world visiting.

Got the 30,000 mile service done on the bike at the local BMW dealer. The fork seals are 'seeping' from the Siberian construction zones so am having them replace as the bike is in the shop anyway. With another 7,000 miles to go before I get home I don't want to push it.

The toggle switch on cruise cobtrol failed at 29,000 miles. They don't have the part in Russia and it would take ten days to get it from Germany because of Russian Customs so will get it somewhere in Germany.

The car is an electric BMW. The other photo is the 'free' cafe at the BMW shop (cars and bikes). The staff speaks English and are friendly.

Another day of sightseeing in Moscow tomorrow then on Wednesday we head for St. Petersburg. Will get there on Thursday. Sara comes in on Friday by train from Helsinki. She overnights there after flying in from Reno.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Noginsk to Moscow

21SEP - Left Noginsk at 09:15 and with a gas stop leaving town we were at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Moscow at 10:45. Guess Sunday is the time to enter the city.

Maxim, an aviation business colleague took us on a tour of the city. Wow, things here are really booming. Building everywhere.

We had him drop us at the Kremlin and walked back to our hotel with a dinner stop on the way. A perfect Fall day with the streets crowded with folks walking.

I get the 30,000 mile service on the moto tomorrow at the Moscow Motorrad dealer and then sightsee all day Tuesday. Wednesday we start for St. Petersburg, will be there Thursday. Sara arrives on Friday from Helsinki, taking the high-speed train.

To Russia With Truck

We've been passing big trucks for a couple of weeks now. We are faster than all of the trucks and slower than 95% of the cars. Lots of trucks, and more trucks. Almost all two lane roads, bumpy roads and lots of oncoming traffic. Although we are never very far from the railroad, the trucks are a constant. Scania, Kamaz, Freightliner, Mercedes, DAF, etc. So now it's my turn to see the traffic from the other side.
The bike has started to shake like I'm riding on a corduroy road. I can't see an obvious problem although I can feel it. After about 20 km we park at a gas station, restaurant in the middle of nowhere to regroup. ADAC towing insurance is in effect as we are west of the Ural Mountains, but is only good for 130 km. It's 340 km to Kazan and the next Kawi dealer so the tow truck wants another $360 on top of the insurance. We call Stefan, our Euro advisor and bike storage depot. Find someone with a pickup going your way! Easier said than done.
Lots of big trucks, but no pickup trucks. I see an empty car hauler pull in and walk over. No English. I point east, then west. He's going west. Good. Kazan?? Yes. Sign language, moto, broken, Kazan??? Nyet. Back to the restaurant. No other possibles. About 30 minutes later, the same driver waves me over and nods yes. So it's grab my stuff and get the bike to the truck. He raises the top racks out of the way and we all push and on goes the bike.
We tie it down and Jean and RuthAnn hand me my gear plus phone, gps, etc. In ten minutes or less we are off. I speak no Russian and he speaks no English. We manage Peter and Ross. That's about it. What an opportunity missed, but it is what is. It's a fairly cushy ride although you know the bumps are there. It's a Hyundai truck that delivers new Hyundai cars. 80 km is the speed at best and often less.
Driving is a serious business here and he does pay attention. Cars are always passing, sometimes dangerously close, but there is no comment or road rage. The driver takes about a dozen phone calls but always seems to be in control. Good road or bad, he just plods along, usually in a long line of trucks, dodging potholes and cars passing him. The CB is on, but not a lot of chatter. A wave to the oncoming car haulers and not much else. About one cigarette an hour with the window cracked open. It's a cab over so I'm stuck in my little corner with some of his gear. Not moving and not complaining.
At one point, Steve, RuthAnn and Jean pass us, but soon after they pull over for gas. I wonder how we will hook up again? It's dusk and we are approaching Kazan. I need to go into the city and he is taking the bypass and heading on to Moscow. I think about staying with it, but decide to get off here. The bike still runs so I can limp into the city and on to our hotel. We unload the bike and just as I'm collecting my gear the other three ride up. Couldn't have arranged that any better. I give the driver a Round the World decal and 4000 Rubles. I'm happy. I hope he is. I have a lot more respect for the truck drivers than I had earlier in the day. Now to see if I can get the bike fixed?