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Beastly Blog
Sunday, 28 November 2004
Moscow motoring
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.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Baltics to Beluga
Since we last wrote to you we have travelled a further 1000 km up through the Baltic states and into Russia where the snow has started to fall and the temperature has dropped to -7 oC (quite warm really!).


Poland is a beautiful country that is desperately in need of investment on their roads that are pockmarked and dented. In Gdansk we tried to find a place that would supply a new tyre, rim and inner tubes? to no avail!! We headed down to Malbork, the castle town of the Teutonic Knights. They relocated their headquarters from Venice in order to have more control over the region. From Malbork we staggered out of bed at 5am to try and make it into Lithuania before sundown. On the way towards the border we were clipped by a fire engine that smashed the wing mirror? so now we were hunting for a mirror as well! We were warned about Lithuania and told that if we stopped anywhere we would be robbed and our vehicle stripped and stolen from us. Unfortunately we didn?t make it over the border before sundown so we stayed on the border and found some inner tubes, but no tyres!

The Baltic States

All of the Baltic states have received European Union money to finance the construction of the Baltic Highway. Our journey into Lithuania was a smooth ride in comparison to the Polish roads. The Baltic States are covered in forests with over 60% of the land sprouting trees.


We survived the trip into Lithuania with robbery or stripping?Our first impression of Lithuania was one of a country that respects the dead; the cemeteries were bursting to the brim with flowers and solar powered candle pots that lit up at night. We had arrived in the country a few days after the Day of the Dead. Not a horror movie but the Eastern European All Hallows Eve (Hallow?een), a festival of worship of the dead?

We arrived in Vilnius and went to the E-Guesthouse (free internet access). Vilnius is a city in the waiting ? to all you Ryanairers, get over there ( ? they also do it!!)

Vilnius is a practically unpopulated city (600,000) without the tourists of other Baltic states. It is a hyper trendy city in the waiting. We went to a bar with grass lining the wall, with red chandeliers dangling from the ceiling and gnomes hiding in every corner. Even the Lithuanian traditional food restaurant had a tree growing up through the bar, spiky clubs to hit your enemy with as well as the all essential snake pit and cockerels wandering around along with pig knuckles and pig hand gracing the menu!


After a few days in Vilnius we travelled into Latvia and up to the coast into Riga. The city is full of one ways signs and crazy divers. After and hour or two of driving the wrong way around the city we managed to crawl into our hotel room ? one between the four of us! We went for an Estonian (a pay per weight meal of cabbage, beef and potatoes), an Irish pub visit and then a visit to the hotel recommended nightclub. Roxys appeared to be a reputable place with the exception of the older single business men and lone women dancing provocatively on the dance floor. A young man?s paradise one would think.

Riga is a den of iniquity?as well as a beautiful city of history devastated by the Germans and the Russians. We visited castellated buildings, cat houses (see the photos), the presidential palace and the markets.


A further journey north up into Estonia. Tallinn is a small capital (population 415,000) that has exploded in popularity (some suspect due to the Eurovision song contest as well as the inundation of stag dos (as well as the stunning women (as in the other Baltic States)).

It is almost Disney in its cleanliness and pristine organisation. Cobbled streets, stunning buildings lining tiny roads leading to castles perched on top of hills staring down onto the city.

We definitely recommend that you visit the Baltic states? summer is probably the best time to visit and the people are so friendly (especially the ladies!).


We are presently in St Petersburg, the Venice of Russia, with waterways criss crossing the city. The towering buildings line the canals in a very Italian way! An it has just started snowing

Russia has been eventful already. We spent three hours at the border gesticulating and trying to sort out insurance (which we could only obtain for Greg as we could only get insurance for one person per vehicle!). The guy that helped us was Greg?s doppelganger and gave Greg a Russian Custom?s hat. We were so elated that when we travelled over the border we didn?t notice the STOP sign until the last minute, 50m from the border. We pulled in and Greg then spent the next half an hour negotiating with the police. They went through all of our documentation finding things that they could pull to bits until they just sat there. Greg sat there and went ?What can we do?????????. The POLICEMAN then typed into his phone (in order to not write anything down incriminating him) 500 rubles (#10). After a 500 ruble note was handed over and then hidden under the table, we were on our way, disgusted with the way that the Russian bureaucracy works. We staggered into St Petersburg at 6pm (not a nice thing driving on roads where you think you are going to be accosted by the police at every corner and potholes jump up at Greg (blind as a bat) in the dark!

We have graced the Borgas nightclub that lurks beneath our nightclub and were slightly perplexed by the nightly new year celebrations accompanied with sparklers and president on the tv announcing the new year?? then Father Christmas bounded accompanied by a bride and groom?.

St Petersburg is a very European city with stunning buildings and now it is snowing picture postcard sceneries. Gone are the days of bread queues, in are the days of Gucci, capitalism and an inundation of foreign investment, although the historical politics of the city are still ongoing with divisions between Moscow and St Petersburg creating large rifts in the country.

Posted by Alexis at 6:00 PM GMT
Updated: Friday, 3 June 2005 6:07 PM BST
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Saturday, 6 November 2004
Hamburg (Germany) to Vilnius (Lithuania)
We are presently in Lithuania as some of you may know from updates from us.

We were lucky enough to be included in the Cambridge Evening News again (all thanks to Rebecca Attwood) - if you would like to search for the article please go to this webpage and look up Beastly

So here is the weekly update to get you all salivating at our epic monster of a journey!


After our update last where I told you about the visit to the red light district, we ventured into Hamburg ( a surprisingly pretty city) and then ended up in an underground Brauhaus where they served beer in 10 litre kegs and meat slabs on a wooden platter.

From Hamburg we moved up on to the Baltic Coast (Stahlbude and the Insel Rugen area) where Tom and Greg went to a local nightclub with the local men in the know and returned at 4am with Greg incapable of climbing the ladder to get into the Maggiolina on the roof. The following day brought more than just a hangover. The starter motor had cracked and wouldn't crank us to get started and on the road. We had so much help from the local guys who came and bashed things and towed us but were unable to supply us with a new starter motor on a Sunday. So we had to wait until Monday to get to a garage that was open and then wait until Tuesday for the new part to be shipped in. Meanwhile we were standed in Stralsund, a UNESCO World Heritage site, located on an island, with stunning buildings dating from the 12th Century.

So back on the road again and heading for Poland. Unfortunately the maps omitted to tell us that the border to the north of Germany is closed to every kind of traffic except for pedestrians... grrr! So we had to stay over so close to the border, yet unable to cross it! The owner of the hotel we stayed in told us of a lady who had arrived last year and was walking from York (UK) to New York at the age of 65... so we were slightly humbled by that (at least we have some comfort albeit travelling at 50mph and feeling every bump!)


We managed to make it to Poland eventually by travelling to the next border open 130km south of where we were! We stayed in Gdansk after having to resolve another puncture. Gdansk was almost obliterated during the war with over 60% of the buildings being destroyed. The Polish nation reconstructed the buildings and the town is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Gdansk consists of cobbled roads, tall multi coloured pastel buildings that look like those seen in Copenhagen and is a city waiting to be discovered by the likes of cheap airlines across Europe. Well worth a visit!

From Gdansk we set off across the potholed and cobbled motorways of Poland to the Lithuanian border and hunting for a replacement tyre, inner tube and hub. We managed to make it to Malbork where the Teutonic Knights that ruled most of the Germanic and Polish area moved their head quarters from Venice to an enormous 12th Century fortified castle in the town.

From Malbork we have staggered into Lithuania were we are currently staying in an e hotel in Vilnius, the capital. A capital with only 600,000 people!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Tuesday, 26 October 2004
Leeds to Hamburg
We left old Blighty on the eve of 26th October 2004 by reversing onto the boat and being squidged in between 2 very large lorries on the freight deck!

After a slightly inebriated depressing evening of saying fond farewells to family and friends as we left British phone reception and 3 hours sleep (Tom snores!!) we headed up through the Netherlands upto Hengelo where one of Tom's friends, Mareike, very kindly put us up for the evening.

We then set off up to Hamburg on what should have been a fairly innocous route and uneventful day... but we are in the Beast who likes to play clever tricks with us to brighten our day! We ran out of petrol on the A30 road to Hamburg. We luckily managed to stagger into a parking spot where we pestered several truck drivers for petrol but they informed us there was a petrol station 10km away.... would we make it? We thought it would be better to chug at least half way there and walk, so we set out at 2 mph along the busy German highway and just managed to splutter into the petrol station!

Next stop we noticed that we had a punctured tyre...

So tyre changed, here we are in Hamburg in a red Beast in the middle of the city parked up in a mobile home park. A visit to the red light district last night found us in a gay bar singing Karaoke!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
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Monday, 18 October 2004
We have a date!
Mood:  not sure
Our departure date (subject to engine changes) has been confirmed as the 26th October 2004...

Here we come world!

Posted by Alexis at 12:37 AM BST
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Thursday, 14 October 2004
Beastly work
Work is still prgressing on the beast with the electrics being expertly put in by my Dad, wood being strapped on to cold surfaces, 10,000 mile service processes learnt and visa applications being carried out.

Posted by Alexis at 1:15 AM BST
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Saturday, 2 October 2004
Beat over the world
Mood:  happy
Bernhard Suhr created this fantastic bit of artwork, which is now sported on our front page!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Monday, 18 October 2004 12:20 AM BST
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Friday, 1 October 2004
Getting closer to the off....
We are getting ready for the off after selling my car, moving out and renting of our house and moving everything back to my parents house... Incredibly stressful!

There are a few things that we still to get - the visas, the carnet de passage (our vehicle passport for everywhere we are going) and a ferry ticket from Hull to Rotterdam!

We have acquired new travelling partner - Tom and there are a variety of young ladies that wish to join us on various stretches of our journey.

This is the point where the nerves start!!

Posted by Alexis at 8:05 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 1 October 2004 8:06 PM BST
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Sunday, 11 July 2004
Welcome to our trip
We will be posting information on our trip here, in this blog.

Posted by Alexis at 12:23 PM BST
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