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Thread: 10.2016 Russia

  1. #1
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    10.2016 Russia

    At some point I had seriously thought of riding to Magadan. The GS would have been up to the challenge, but Suzuki probably not, and in the view of decreasing air temperatures we decided not to do it. Therefore, as we’d crossed the Mongolia-Russia border and had arrived in Ulan-Ude, we made a turn to the west. Our first „destination“ in Russia was Lake Baikal.








    It took almost three days to ride from Ulaanbaatar to Lake Baikal, but as we got closer we realised that the shore was hidden behind a thick strip of forest and a railroad track. By the way, train traffic is really dense up and down that track, with cargo trains running every five to ten minutes. We were determined tos et up camp by the lake, so we rode we kept scanning for some tracks heading into the forest on the way to the lake. There weren’t many, actually, so we almost started losing hope when we finally came across one that took us through the forest, and while at points it became rather technical with some loose rocks and pools of water, it ended up right on the beautiful lake shore. In fact, there already was a spot set up for camping probably by local fishermen, complete with a fire pit.



    Lake Baikal - not only it makes 80% of fresh water in Russia, it is the oldest and one of the cleanest lakes in the world.










    The shores of Baikal do not give you a clue it's also the deepest lake in the world. A mile deep!













    As we sat there, making fire undermeath the pine trees, we almost felt like on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. Strangely, even though we were thousands and thousands of kilometers away from home, it didn’t feel like that. And the lake… it looked pretty amazing, with super clear water. I couldn’t resist a dip in its icy water.





    At around chilly 50F (or 10C) the water was decent enough for a proper swim in the world's deepest lake, the icy water is unbelieavably clear once you dive in!




    Although we aren’t huge fans of cities, we decided to stay one night in Irkutsk – mainly because we needed to top up on methanol that we use in our cooking burner. We had looked for it in Ulan-Ude, both in pharmacies and construction stores, but found none. Probably it is due to the fact that many people in Russia choose all sorts of dubious alternatives to vodka in order to get drunk, and it has happened before and will happen again that every now and then someone becomes blind or dies because of having mistaken methanol for ethanol. We hoped that we would come upon methanol somewhere in Irkutsk, but it didn’t happen. Luckily, we found tablets of “solid fuel” tablets that did the job. Irkutsk itself has a rather pleasant atmosphere. Even though it is one of the largest cities in Siberia, it only has a population of a little more than half a million.


    Irkutsk.



    Like mostly in the history of Russia, everybody who has at least half a brain and can think independently and just happens to be not a particular fan of the governing body or their way of doing things will be just "removed" or thrown to gulag or in the milder times just sent to exile far away - Siberia. Irkutsk was one of those places where those people could at least live on - there used to be a time when around two thirds of population were made up of artists and scholars which surely had a positive effect on local development and which shows even today judging by the city’s architecture, of example. But what makes this city pleasant is of course the river. The River Angara (Irkutsk got its name from River Irkut which is one of Angara’s tributaries) cuts the city in half, and because the river is some 500 meters wide, the vapor rising from the water makes the other side look like a ghost town. By the way, Irkutsk is known for being the location of construction of Sukhoi destroyer planes carrying the latest technology.



    Russian cities are mostly very dull, living in the past only, with endless series of glorified communism and war memorials, but not Irkutsk, there's plenty of character, freedom of expression and art going on! And it's clean, Russia is mostly full of rubbish with people having an odd mentality to throw their rubbish where they like to, but not in Irkutsk!







    Irkutsk has some very inspiring architecture too.





    It wasn't long till we released how large Russia really is. Multiple days we did 600 kilometer distances and when we checked the map, it looked like we hadn't moved at all!







    Day after day we rode in the same rhythm, woke up on the cold sunrise, boiled some coffee on our stove, with a quick sandwich eaten we quickly hit the road, passing endless row of trucks in black diesel fumes, most Russian trucks look like they don't even meet the EURO 0 standards. With our noses pitch black and irritating from the inside from the inhaled toxic gases we keep resisting them, we don't have much choice really, it's the fastest way to escape the Siberian cold following us so rapidly. Like that we ride till the lunch time and the small roadside eatery places all seemed to have the same usual menu, then continue the same way till the sunset to find a wild camping spot.






    Russia is a strange and very illusory country in many ways - the main Trans-Siberian road looks like the developed Europe - the road is in excellent quality, well lined and all the signposts properly done, all the necessary infrastructure is also top notch: roadside restaurants and fuel stations are all there at frequent intervals. Yet, when you turn off from that main road, it's literally after just hundred meters you're back to mud roads, even when there's a large signpost showing a supposedly big town nearby. It feels like Russian government likes the tourist to see their country like a highly developed and cultural superpower element, but deep inside it's heart it's still a third world country. Russian government seems like doesn't give a slightest what's happening outside their big cities. Poor locals have to use the treacherous mud roads to get to work to the nearby cities since finding work at the countryside is very hard after the communist-time farming community system collapsed.



    Going too fast on those mud roads tends to end not well.








    But we found it to be a very nice feature that the Russia isn't actually that developed - there's lots of bush and free untouched nature! With just occasional bears, elks, foxes or roes roaming around, it's always a good feeling to be one with the nature.








    Trans-Siberian views.








    Russia is vast, literally. There's so many nice places to camp.









    The only problem is - it gets bloody cold!









    -4C night. Brr...










    A very decent morning to start a new riding day, filling your lungs with a fresh cold breeze... You just have to make sure you don't crash on those icy roads.








    Siberia.









    There're some very nice orthodox churches in eastern Russia.

























    Strangely every day many cars if not most the trucks were in a meat muncher mode behind Kariina (who was riding behind me). They kept really small, imminently dangerous distance and rapid moves just like they wanted to kill her, you could literally put a football standing between the bike's rear fender and the truck front grille. One evening we figured it could be the "EST" sign, meaning Estonia. It finally clicked to us the Russians do hate us because we are very vocal about the communist occupation (they still call it a "liberation" and fail to see both the communists and the nazis were occupants for us) from our recent history and finally gaining freedom despite they're being much bigger and more powerful than our tiny 1.2M country they could re-occupy with just a couple of hours if they really wanted to. Hence not particularly positive political relationship. Politics is politics, but what we didn't know the regular normal people could treat us this way...

    Once we ate at the roadside restaurant, there was a very normal looking family of three, a father, wife and a daughter. They kept staring at us and we started to feel a bit uncomfortable. When they moved out the father said "Why don't those fascist Estonians stay in Estonia" at the door (we can speak and understand the russian language). It was a weird situation, I mean why tell this cowardly on the way out - if you really want to say something bad to me, just say it directly into my face. I'll take it and respect anyone's opinion, even if it's wrong. But don't say it on the way out of the door without looking at us while you kept silently looking angrily at us all the time we tried to ate our food...

    At one of the fuel stations while tanking up some men got interested in our bikes, asking where we're coming from. We said from Mongolia. They got a bit more interested, asking where are we from, we said from Estonia. "Idiots" (дебил) said one of them and just walked away.





    Safety was our concern - once we removed that big "EST" sign it got much better, trucks and cars weren't doing any killer maneuvers that frequently anymore, there was a noticeable difference. In this sense we found it's much safer to travel in an "anonymous mode" in Russia.





    Our home in the Siberian wild. The nature is fantastic in Siberia, we have a deep respect to it and never leave any rubbish behind like the locals tend to do.


    Once past the Ural mountains, that after fresh from the Pamirs looked more like a small hills, we entered from Asia to Europe, we got into Bashkortostan where Kariina's grandmother lives, in a village near Ufa, the capital of this region.




    With granny.








    The village. Despite the decaying looks it's actually lovely here - people still keep their own animals. Cows, chicken, goats, goose roam freely around - it's a nice balance and I'm sure they live much happier here and providing also healthier, better tasting food than in the cramped confined indoor spaces constantly injected with antibiotics in those industrial agriculture facilities in the Western World.















    Tour around the village Kariina's known since childhood.









    Public toilet at the railroad station.









    Railroad is an important part in the Russian infrastructure. The villages are built aside the railroads, stations often are marked as kilometer numbers. And there's no off-hopping spots in small stations, hence it's a big climb to get to the train or a long jump to get off accordingly. But the Russian people always find the way to cope with the situation.




































    Every village in Russia has it's own Lenin. The sign says:
    "All the Power to the communist party,
    peace to the nations,
    land to the farmers"



    On to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. Wow, what a change in mentality - as you cross over into their territory you immediately notice it's not Russia anymore - the drivers and people are suddenly civilized to the core! When there's 60 kph speed limit, everybody do 60 (elsewhere they do 100 or 120 kph and don't give a slightest crap about the limits). The roads are in excellent state, clean, no rubbish or dirt on the village streets. People are calm and intelligent in Tatarstan. We really didn't even believe we are in Russia anymore, but it was all in front of our own eyes.

    Later it all started to make sense - Tatarstan is among the highest bidders of independence from Russia from all of their federated states. Russia invests alot into Tatarstan to keep them in their federation, yet Tatarstan has it's own massive oil income, hence they're now better off with two massive incomes (their oil PLUS the russian support money). It really shows. It's calm in Tatarstan for now, but they do have historically a bad blood with Russia.


    Farmer's palace in Kazan is awesome.









    One of the main churches in Kazan.










    Testing out some local craft brew - excellent stuff!









    Gates of the Kazan kremlin. Yes, there are kremlins in many big cities of Russia, not just Moscow.




    On to the Moscow. A busy metropolis. We made it all the way to the 'zero point' of all the road distance markings in the vast mother Russia.


    Right smack in the center of Moscow's Red Square. The funny thing is when approaching the Moscow often distance signs increase in distance! So not sure if they got the zero point marking right afterall... Or it's another KGB's cold-war era "smoke and mirrors" trick, LOL.







    In the central metro station there's a war memorial, a soldier with a dog - the common myth among the russians is that if you touch the dog's nose it will bring you luck. Hence the bronze nose is touched a lot.








    Red Square Kremlin. An iconic place!









    And the Red Square from not that known angle. I think this is where it gets it's name from, not the Kremlin on the opposite side.









    Probably from things the most impressed we were was the metro - Moscow has a very nice and functional metro with original station interior designs.




    And it's just a days ride to home from Moscow. A bloody cold ride! We were blue from our faces and no wonder when we crossed the border the Russian side officials asked if we're Ded Moroz (the russian Father Christmas) and Snegurochka (the helper of Ded Moroz). We all laughed!

    It was great to be back at warm home - we both fell sick immediately since the adrenaline rush was finally off and our bodies acted according to the normal conditions again.

    Here's our Eastern-Europe, Caucasus, Central-Asia and Mongolia loop:



    Distance: 23 100 km (14 400 miles)
    Countries: 13+1 (Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, (Transnistria), Georgia, Armenia, (Nagorno-Karabakh), Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Mongolia)
    Days: 95
    Nights in tent: 43
    Nights on the ships: 4
    Highest point: 4655 meters (15 272 ft) above sealevel (Ak Baital, Tajikistan)
    Highest swim: 2080 meters (6824 ft) above sealevel (Tolbo Nuur, Mongolia)
    Lowest temperature: -3C (+26,6F) near Novosibirsk
    Highest tempereature: +40C (+104F) in Northern Uzbekistan desert
    The longest in one spot: 7 nights (Ulanbaator, Mongolia)
    Crashes: Suzuki 6, GS 5
    Punctures: 4



    Hope you enjoyed the report,
    Margus
    "From Estonia With Love" book - get your copy for a UKGSer special!

  2. #2
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    Wow am going to re read this tonight great report


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    Another great report! I see that Vern's panniers are holding up. Ride safe!!

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    wow! really enjoyed that..thanks for taking the time to post, great adventure

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    Cracking report, I stayed in Estonia a few days on the way to St Petersburg and the arctic circle, loved Tartu, really interesting place with a history I did not expect (loved St Petersburg as well). Hope to get back to Estonia (and Lithuania and Latvia) this year and do some more exploring. I found with GB stickers Russian drivers are crazy too.

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    Excellent report and photos, Margus..... thanks again!

  7. #7
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    Cheers guys, glad you enjoyed it.

    Quote Originally Posted by grez View Post
    Cracking report, I stayed in Estonia a few days on the way to St Petersburg and the arctic circle, loved Tartu, really interesting place with a history I did not expect (loved St Petersburg as well). Hope to get back to Estonia (and Lithuania and Latvia) this year and do some more exploring.
    It's my home turf - I was born in Tartu, live and work there.

    Cheers,
    Margus
    "From Estonia With Love" book - get your copy for a UKGSer special!

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