22nd ? 28th November 2004
St Petersburg - Moscow
Hello and welcome to all those that I have missed off the list! Sorry! Hello to all new additions to the email list. If you don?t want to receive our updates or are too jealous to hear about our exploits then please tell me and I will take you off the list.
We are still in Russia and we are presently in Moscow. After leaving the stunning city of St Petersburg behind with the canals just starting to freeze we headed for Moscow. The roads were treacherous with brown sludge covering black ice compacted by speeding drivers. We stopped off at Novogorad, a favourite stop over for Catherine the Great and recommended by Alice Gadney as fab place to see. Novogorad has grown up around a 12.5 hectare Kremlin (which actually means fortress) and has some stunning buildings dating from the 1400s overlooking a frozen lake. We were warmed up from the -10oC temperature outside by the Sbetin served in the restaurant (lemon, cinnamon, cloves, honey and brandy).
On the road again we stopped over in Terev? not worth mentioning? and then onto Moscow. We stopped off along the way to grab some lunch at a roadside cafe and whilst standing in the queue noticed the army officers with AK47s draped across their laps. Always nice to look up from your soup to see at that pointing at you!
We discovered that the Beast has a tendency in the freezing temperatures to not warm to more than +5oC inside and our toes, even with three pairs of socks take a battering from the insignificant insulation, at the front of the vehicle. The reason for this is because the heater has broken! If you lift the engine cover you can the temperature up to +20 oC but your toes will still freeze if sitting in the front.
We have never been in a city like Moscow where people drive so fast on such slippery and dangerous roads. There is no lane discipline to the extent that on a three lane section of the road into Moscow we counted seven lanes with people weaving between lanes and leaning on their horns. We arrived in Moscow worn out and intimidated by our environment. The apartment we had arranged had fallen through and so we found a hotel that could have easily reached the heady heights of the 5 star cockroach hell with its beautiful brown carpets, peeling wallpaper and 1960s television and radio.
Unfortunately Alexis and Greg couldn?t visit the sights of Moscow immediately as they had to pay a visit to the airport to go and pick up what should have been a fairly easy task of picking up their spare tyre very kindly sent from the UK (see previous blogs for information on the exploits for a 101 tyres!) by Alexis?s father, Andrew. Due to the number of holes on the hub and their unavailability anywhere in the world except in Yorkshire, we couldn?t get hold of one whilst on the road. We are heading off into the unknown and Kazahkstan so it is generally considered unwise to leave home with less than two spare tyres. So we arrived at the airport and after a merry dance chasing paperwork around the offices we arrived at the desk of a lady who was to help us translate our documents? a jobsworth who knew the rules. Apparently you cannot bring a tyre into Russia as an individual as a wheel is considered a spare part and therefore must be imported by a specialist car import company. We were informed that the cost of shipping the wheel to such a company, if indeed any company would accept the job, could exceed US$500 and take up to a month. The cost would be for the transport of the wheel to the specialist company and their bureaucratic fees. It turned out that no one would accept the job as the shipment was too small. We were stuck. After the managers of the freight company frantically rang around for us we were thinking about deserting the tyre altogether or having it further shipped on to China.
Disheartened and annoyed at the bureaucracy surrounding something as simple as a tyre, we headed back into the nightmare Moscow traffic. Our annoyance was further compounded by an idiot crashing into the Beast in a petrol station. As is the nature of the Beast, he came off a lot worse, scraping all the way down the side of his car! That evening we ate in the hotel and discussed Adrian and Tom getting stopped by the police and talked to a very interesting human rights activist. After telling Alexis?s Dad about the events of the day he gave us a fantastic contact in Alec Khramov at IMS Holdings, a large valve manufacturer in Russia. He said that 2 of his people would pick us up the following day and help us out!
The following day we traipsed back out to the airport and we were taken to the freight section by Aleco and Svetlana. After some well placed phone calls, we waited, our paperwork was filled in and some special Russian magic was worked as we retrieved our tyre from the depths of the warehouse (without paying the US$500) 8 hours later. Thanks to the Russian tyre angels!
A few days of sightseeing and we have seen the Kremlin, Red Square and Gorky Park for a spot of ice skating. This is one of the warmer times of winter to see Moscow as in later December the temperatures drop to a chilling -30oC.
Note to any visitors: NEVER look a policeman in the eye and if you don?t get your passport stamped in the hotel you will have to pay a little visit to the police station where they will search you and try to swindle you out of some of your hard earned cash. Alexis and Greg had this privilege and were subjected to sitting in the police interrogation room inspecting the posters of the different kinds of guns available to the police. We should be presently sitting in a court room?.but had to hand over a 500 rouble note into a little book which was snapped shut quickly and inevitably vanished into the pocket of a corrupt policeman. It is sad that the lasting impression of Russians that most foreigners will receive is that of the police ? corrupt, malicious and untrustworthy. We have encountered so many wonderful Russians along our way that their police do their country a great injustice.