Rolling down the highway …

27 May 2016
Mogocha – Chita 617 kms travelled = Total 3759 kms

Another long day.

The road is surprisingly good. Yes, they are some stretches with potholes or recently repaired humps, but slalom riding is the norm and taking off some speed, for me down to 80 kmh.

The other obstacles are waves or dips in the road. They come in a package, so at least half a dozen or more. In most cases there is a warning sign, so I can react by standing in the pegs to counter-act the bouncing bike. On a bike this is relatively easy, for a truck it is hard work. I can see them serving to minimise the bouncing impact on their trailer, sometimes even driving ride into the opposite lane. Cars, here in Russia, seem to fly-over them with high speed. Shock-absorbers must have a short life in Russia.

 

Today I am ‘toast’ – all is good.

I re-sign my memory repertoire of songs to keep me entertained.

The journey now leads through Tundra. The trees may be a tad taller and a little thicker, but otherwise small.

The elevation is between 500 and 1000 meters, this seems to be the ‘high-road’, a constant grey band snaking through the landscape.

Now we see, I presume, ‘typical Russian villages. All small wooden houses, darkened from the harsh environment. Russian village 2Most have a patch of field behind them, some people work it. I see some cattle, horses and goats. We pull off the road into one. Russian village 1I do indeed feel being transformed into a different century. All appears very basic, harsh done by the weather, ducking low into the ground. Roads are dirt and we look for a ‘gastinitza’ for some food. Naturally we stick out like dogs’ balls, people are curious. Finally we find a place, and it is close by the main-road, we had left only a couple of kms before. We get our usual for next to nix.

Riding along the landscape is now bar of any vegetation. All barren covered in grass. Some parts are fields freshly ploughed, rather large ones. I reckon Mongolia must look like this, I’d better start thinking more layers, as the wind rushes across without any barrier. How much top-soil must be blown away and where to? Travelling almost due west, to my right I can see a mountain range running parallel to the road, to my left the same but farther away. I estimate this valley to be about 50 kms wide. Later it turns out it has been almost 160 kms long. At the end of the valley we are back into the stunned forest of birch and pine.

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happy man blinking into the sun …

At another spot right out of no-where a church with ist shiny golden onion-shape top gleams in the sun-light. To make it more dramatic, it is positioned on top of a mountain, close to a gap the road has cut through this mountain. Breath-taking but I am tired, like to arrive and take this picture with my minds camera.

Chita awaits and we search for a hotel. I am buggered and don’t feel like cruising the city, in rush-hour traffic, cold and tired. So I book the first Hotel available with safe parking space for the bikes. Meanwhile we get support from the local bikers, all three of them. They guide us to our Hotel and later we are invited to their bike room in a bar ‘Black Duck”.

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special helmet@bike-clubroom in Chita

A rest day tomorrow to catch up with stuff, relax before the last leg to Ulan Ude, another 600 plus

wet, wet, wet …. wasserdicht? Cold, cold, cold …. after all we ARE in Siberia

25 May 2016
Blagoveshchensk – Magdagochi 516 kms travelled = Total 2568 kms
&
26 May 2016
Magdagochi – Mogocha 574 kms travelled = Total 3142 kms

The day started with a photo-shoot in the rain and it didn’t get much better, actually rain-wise worse.

All day rain, not too strong but certainly constant and cold.

This is the time for pondering …

In the lead-up to this trip I uhhmed, ahhed, considered, researched, debated, explored, weighted-up and finally decided what to take and what to leave home. There is ALWAYS more you like to take than space on the bike. So, when riding in the rain and the water is slowly creeping up your arms, slashing in your left shoe (the right one remained almost dry) you re-visit your decisions. Was it the right piece of equipment to take or should I have … Did I give way my inner-liner for my jacket too soon?

The rain will put one’s gear to a test. My gear, the one I decided to take failed.

My Caterpillar work boots were never designed to be rain proof. I knew this before, but now I had regrets entering my thoughts. They are light, comfortable to walk in even longer distances, have a steel cap for added protection and good ankle protection. But waterproof they ain’t.

My off-road trousers, with the Bavarian-coded suspenders (thanks Vanessa) worked better in this day-long test. They remained dry, albeit a little wind crept through, so tomorrow I’ll go for the long-Johns.

My jacket had a design-fault, as I found out today. The short-ish zip on each sleeve end is located on top of the arm …. Should be at the bottom, to avoid at all or at least delay water entering and creeping up.

My helmet, was great, especially with the chin-protector down and visor just a tad open to minimise fogging.

Finally my gloves let the water through but it all was counter-balanced by my heated grips working overtime to compensate: wet but warm.

So, should I have taken the rain-gear?? No! too much bulk and the season I am travelling in shouldn’t bring too much rain. Fortunately I packed a ‘normal’ raincoat (thanks Gaby, es ist der Blaue von dir) and ended up wearing it under the bike jacket the next day. This day I was paying ‘Lehrgeld’ or for making the experience.

Perhaps, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing, and ought to be made ‘fore-sight’, I should have taken my trusty Aero Stitch one-piece suit. Plenty of protection, waterproof, and despite I certainly would look like a space-man, I could wear street clothes underneath, hence reduce my packing bulk ,,,, next time ….

The fix I planned for tomorrow will come in terms of two plastic bags from the supermarket = 20 Rubels.

At the end of the day we turned into a small town of Magdagochi and – as almost expected – were saved by the one-and-only bike club member Mikhail. He guided us through the bumpy village streets to the only hotel in town – (rip-off and may she suffocate! – I really do despise when people take advantage on foreigners, in Russia or anywhere else, it is foul). Later we took our bikes to be locked up safely in his garage, drank some beer and, yes you guesses it vodka, met some of his bikie-friends and were taxied-home.

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safe-keeping Magdachu@Mikail’s shed

The next morning, we aimed for an early start to cover the distance, Mikail and his son Ivan, guided us out of town back to the main road. Thank you very much Mikhail and fellow BlagBike members!

The day was dry but coooooold! Brrrrr. 4 degrees Celsius, overcast with no sun to warm our mind – never the body as the wind keeps you cold.
More contemplating, which of course is all useless. I have to make use of what I have. So layers are en vogue.

Here are mine (this may be a bit personal):

  • Thick & long motorcycle socks, slipped around with a plastic bags each and then on go the still moist Caterpillar boots. Tomorrow I shall try a second pair of socks = 3 layers
  • short Undies (won’t tell you for how many days I have been wearing this), ¾ quartes long stretchy under-trouser, full-length Merino long-John, Motorbike trouser= 4 layers
  • Singlet, long-arm Merino roll neck light weight, long-arm Merino heavy-weight, T-Shirt, Rain-coat, jacket = 6 layers. Don’t smirk at me, as I remember Geoff Bransbury telling me that on one stretch in this area he wore ALL his clothes and was till cold!
  • Sock under helmet and helmet full-face mode.

Now you can call me ‘toast’ – that’s exactly how I feel, right next to the Michelin Man.

Yesterday, when riding I am doing a multitude of exercises to increase my blood flow and make me think I am warm. I wished for having a heated vest … but wait even better: a heated one-cie!

With the heated grips on full = stage two I am good for most of the 574 kilometres we ultimately cover. At our lunch-stop I do the ‘onion-trick’ – slowly un-peeling until a human emerges.

We travel in about 6 degrees and meet a couple from Khabarovsk, Ivan and Lena who travel on their push-bikes from Khabarovsk to the Crimea. Five month, covering about 100 kms/day, camping mostly by the roadside and despite the exercise AND being locals they still feel the cold. Guess my isometric exercises are more designed to trick my brain.

Lunch-stop at another roadside café: 2 coffees, two Borscht with cream, bread, 2 sugary donut type all for 270 Rubels ~ 6 bucks. Food is inexpensive in Russia.

I see snow beside the road, ice on water puddles and have decided to re-pack my gear after singing through my entire music memory. Alte Schlager mit Conny Frobes: “Ist das nicht ein wunderschoenes Leben Herr Schmitt, ich am Steuer und sie sind daneben, Herr Schmitt …” It is amazing what cold and monotony does to my mind.

We arrive in Mogocha and can’t wait to have a hot shower. Lock-up bikes for 200 Rubels in our Landlord’s garage. a bit of the side income I presume. Happy to pay, and good luck to Nikolaij.

Some food from the store close by and we even share a bottle of dark, local brew.

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Russian beer – not bad

 

My longest day ….

23 May 2016
Birobidzhan – Blagoveshchensk 520 kms travelled = Total 2052 kms

This was the longest distance covered thus far. I am certain even longer days await. All a bit made more bearable by braking the journey after every 100kms or thereabouts. Lunch-spotted in a small roadside café enjoying Borscht https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borscht

You most certainly have hear-say knowledge, but here’s a little more. Every Borscht is different, today’s was yummy and a much welcome warm-up.

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Roadside stop

The landscape is slowly changing. Leaving Vladivostok – all along the road it is swamp- or marsh land. Some still visible under water caused by over-topping of the Armur river. Other parts look like a perfect spot to get heating material ‘torf’ – don’t know the English term. Now we start to see more Taiga-like landscape. The trees are mainly birch and a type of pine. None of them grows very tall, max about 5-6 meters and all have a very slim trunk. In-between are patches of low scrub and it looks like Blue-berries. Hard to stop and see as the road is elevated and often a small stream divides it from the surrounding land.

I also see evidence of recent bush-fires. Yes, indeed, bushfires in Siberia! As much an issues as in Oz, just under-reported. Hardly any soul lives out there, but I do see destroyed/burnt-out buildings, which in the first place are very basic, often wooden huts. On a few patches the fire is still going. So despite the cold, around 8-10 degrees C. the fire finds sufficient material to continue, but soon burn out as the road forms a man-made barrier and the fire is not strong enough to jump. Otherwise a patch of swamp stops it progress.

Industry here appears to be mining of soil in open-cut or timber. Somewhere close is Russia’s newest answer to Cape Canaveral, a launching spot for space rockets, with the initial one sending up a satellite just a few weeks ago. Foreigners cannot go there L.

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Dimi, our host making our stay such a pleasure

Arriving at the town of Blagoveshchensk we are waved down by Dimi, who will be our host including tomorrow’s rest day. Dimi (Dimon) has organised a flat in a Russian Block of flats for us to use. He and Sergje, the owner of the flat, show us around Blagoveshchensk and hospitality is once again fantastic!

Again we are made most welcome by the local bike club BlagBike. A 21st birthday party is going on for Timofey – kneeling row middle, and we dig into the food on the table, birthday cake included.

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BlagBike clubhouse in Blagoveshchensk

Above you see Andrian, Nickname: Cap -for captain with his passion: Honda Goldwing. After having served for 8 years in the Russian Military in East-german he returned to his home town, as all fell apart with Perestroika.  Later he established a good business distributing cold or hot coffee in small cans. You can buy this for a few rubles at every tank-stop. We might meet again at the bikers’ meeting in Ulan Bataar June 11 and 12, who knows. Andrian is a really nice fellow.

Later we are interviewed by Dimi’s wife, Yana who is a journalist at Armur Pravda, the city newspaper. Next morning, in the rain, a photo-shoot from the newspaper’s top photograph just returned from Syria. Stay put for the link to the “Blagoveshchensk Truth’ newspaper.

HOME

“When jemand eine Reise tut so kann er was erzåhlen …..” a poems from way back sticks in my mind. It is topical as this blog is about ‘eine Reise’ – doing a trip.

It will be a long one. It had simmered in my mind for a long time and now, many years later, it is finally realised. Or should I say “about to be realised”.

So this blog is really an account. Admittingly first and foremost for myself, so I won’t forget anything about this trip. Forgetting these days has become a strength of mine … This blog is trying to hold the upcoming journey tight in my mind’s hand, so once I am so old that I hardly can move, I can go back and relive some of the highlights of this event; make myself ‘little moments of brightness’

This blog also ought to satisfy the need for information for others: loved ones, family and friends, fellow motorcycle riders who hold similar dreams and seek info for realisation, and last but not least others mildly or intensively interested to come along.

All of above to ride and experience with me what is about to unfold: a solo motorcycle journey from cost-to-cost. To be a little more precise: from Asia’s east cost (Vladivostok, Russia) to Europe’s west cost (Cape Finisterre, Spain).
Come and ride along with me!
Let’s traverse 20 or so countries. But be prepared o ride without a ‘firm’ plan, as I only have a ‘plan-plan or vague plan’ for the route.

I trust you get a flavour of my trip, as well as of my style of narrative. The latter perhaps is a little rambling, but for me just a most natural way expressing myself. I sincerely hope you’ll stay with it, or ‘with me’.

Aahh, almost forgotten, but an important -final- thought: I always invite your comments, encouragement, tips & tricks, names of places to see, people to greet and other recommendations or criticism as long as the latter is constructive. …. and have I mentioned money or care-parcels yet ;-))

Go West! … together

22 May 2016
Khabarovsk – Birobidzhan 199 kms travelled = Total 1531 kms

A few new thinks happened on this leg

  • I now have a travel partner.
  • I now am “in the circle” of Russian motorcycle clubs.

This morning I got a call from Mario, the fellow motorcycle traveller more-or-less on the same route until Mongolia. He had arrived the previous evening and was taken care of by a local bikie club. So here’s is the rub: From Vladivostok til possibly Moscow cities have their bike club, sometimes more than one club. Remember, motorcycling in this area of Russia is restricted to 3 month a year, therefore considered a luxury. Nevertheless motorcycle clubs exist and are active!

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Iron Tigers President, “Hans” and his bike

All have a clubhouse (Mr Prez!!). Thus far the club houses we experienced are among a garage township. Well imagine you own a car in Siberia. Wintertime gets down to -40 degrees Celsius. If you park your cark outside, well it’s life shall be short. So quite commonly there are areas in town with side-by-side little garages, sometime with another space on top or even a cellar. All are heated and secured with a solid steel door. That’s where most bike clubs created their own space, their club rooms and where they store their and our bikes. Add to this hospitality a la Russia = much Vodka and laughter and you get the picture!

Once you have been hosted by a club, they’ll call up-road and inform other clubs about your appearance and the whole hosting goes on and on. I almost need to keep away from a club once in a while to get a refresh and some ‘me-time’.

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Marco de la Luz et moi!

My travel partner Mario has been ‘clubbing’ since Vladivostok and by travelling with him I have been automatically included as well. I get a little reprieve from the Vodka whenever I disclose my age. Mario has to suffer, but figured out how to have water in his glass – same colour.

Mario hails from Cairns. he’s been there eight years, is a car mechanic Master-level and travels on a 650 Suzuki, well organised. his German heritage is clearly obvious by looking at his organised gear; mine pails into insignificance or disorder 😉

So today we had a relatively short distance to ride. The distance feels even shorter when travelling with another bike. Upon arrival we sms-ed our Khabarovsk bike contact our location and soon a member, Alexej, of the local ‘Midnight Wanderers” picked us up, guiding us to their (garage-land) club house.
Soon other members arrived and the hierarchy in these clubs is obvious and respected. President, Vice President, Sergeant of Arms etc. are all clearly patched on their leather vests.

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Nick name, rank, name of club and chapter

Now, this may sound almost criminal, but let me assure you that these clubs with their patches are almost the opposite what we know about the major patch-clubs in Australia. Here, in Russia, members are working at the military, police, customs, as architects, importer of cars, distributor of coffee-drinks … you name it – it will be represented. All share a common passion for riding bikes, despite the shitty road-conditions especially in towns and villages.

Tonight we were treated to freshly caught fish straight of the Amur river, vodka, beer and heaps of laughter and newly found and shared camaraderie. Later we drove to a members half-finished house to spend the night and even got a cooked breakfast from our host.

Finally, the bikers we’ve met are all adamant not to drink even one drop when riding!

 

Turning Point

21 May 2016
Khabarovsk – Restday

Tomorrow I shall point the bike into a western direction. Thus far I have been travelling NNE in Russia. Khabarovsk marks literally a turning-point in my journey: For the first time I’ll go west. Basically from now on until the endpoint I shall be riding westwards. Of course, there shall be some derivations when looking here or there, however ‘Go West’ will be it!

In the morning, after my Salami & cheese breakfast (has become a routine diet) I received an sms from Victor. Purchasing a SIM with a Russian mobile number is something I strongly recommend!

Victor tells me that he couldn’t come to my location. Instead he asks me to come to his place. A look on mapsme shows me it is a relatively short walk, so why not …

I take the walk and look around. Houses are mostly about 3 – 5 storeys high, have an ageing, sometimes run-down façade.

I see no shop windows as we know them in Oz. Later I realise that this is the norm in Khabarovsk, perhaps in all/most of Russia? There are some signs, none of which I can read, but once you walk through an unsuspecting door, often a large wooden one, you’ll find yourself in a shop, even a little shopping centre.

Arriving at Victor’s nominated spot, the same applies. To make it easy for me Victor is outside to greet me in his most-enthusiastic way. You must love the Russians! The building we enter looks rather like a block of flats. But after passing through one of these ‘normal looking/heavy wood’ doors, I find myself in a large hall!

I just walked in the Russian Roulette District Championship (only one survived 😉 ….
just kidding. It is indeed the Russian Billiard District Championship as I am standing in a Billiard Hall. A large one with nine tables, the large or ‘American’ ones.

Russian Billiard is different to what we know as Snooker, or American Billiards. In common is this: 15 white Balls, one red. The red is the ball to play off. The aim is to sink more balls into one of the six pockets then your opponent. So far just as ‘we’ know it, however, the pockets are much more narrow than in a Snooker or American Billiard table. A ball just fits through, so your aim needs to be super-exact. Moreover, you can play to sink a white ball or the red playing-ball into a pocket. No penalty then, rather a reward. After ‘potting’ the red, you can pick any white ball and remove from the table, adding it to your score. Victor’s young son, Sergje competes and henis only 14 years old. He has won all of his three rounds. A round consists of best-out-of-three-games.

I was made much welcome by everybody. I can tell you now thatRussian Billiard players have very strong handshakes, so I was conscious to ensure mine was of similar strength. One wouldn’t want to appear as a wimpy Aussie-tourist. I was asked many questions about my journey. A moment ago previously completely strange Russian men, showed me pictures of their families, fishing and hunting adventures. In turn I showed some of my own. I thoroughly enjoyed being in such a venue,what a difference to sight-seeing! I even had a go at Russian Billiard, but … it is very difficult to sink a ball. Potted two out of twenty. Later Victor was scheduled to be a judge at the competition, so I wandered back to my ‘hotel’ taking a circuitous route. I walked through a market, past nice-looking building, streets with names of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Pushkin, Tolstoy … I was walking among Russia’s Greats.

Back, I checked over the bike, re-tightened some nuts&bolts, topped up the oil and felt ready for tomorrow’s journey.

In the evening I went for a walk down Karla Marxia Avenue to the Amur River.

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The mighty Amur river

There I meet Victor & Sergje for a promenade along the river.

I also got introduced to a number of other Khabarovsk bikers, as a place at the Armur is a bikers’ meeting point – all welcoming despite my language shortcomings. Google Translate is the app to use, at least I was able to hold some kind of ‘conversation’.

The Amur is huge! Winding its way through Khabarovsk with numerous side-arms. I was impressed. It also seem to carry plenty of fish (Mark F – this was a comment for you ;-), but to me most of them looked like a variety of Karp.

Less people on the road, but I still felt safe to walk home the ~ 3kms.

 

 

go north!

20 May 2016
Lesozavosk – Khabarovsk 447 kms travelled = Total 1332kms

I had a lazy start, thinking I am already half-way there and therefore only a short-ish trip would await.

But first, asked two gold-tooth women to cook me a breakfast: eggs, bread, Blinz/Blintz, black coffee – $A 2.20. Originally I had booked inclusive breakfast, but since the price had already halved, I didn’t want to be a pain.

Easy out of Lesozavosk and back onto the main artery ‘M60’.
‘Normal’ rod conditions but soon I hit a massive roadwork building site. Just imagine dirt, gravel, dust and traffic in both direction, on undulating ground, with extra big potholes, no markings whatsoever and all that for about 8 kms. Well, always telling myself to think positive it therefore offered a great opportunity to stand-up on the pegs and get going. Eventually I found my mojo and even overtook some trucks in all this mess, as it was easier for me to pick a track (single line) avoiding the worst. But I was happy when finally I hit tarmac again. Probably a taste of what to come further inland and in Mongolia.

The country now had changed, but only a little. Still swampy ground to the left and right, swollen rivers running fast, in the distance to the west and ahead of me a few hills, but seemingly not too high. I travelled at about 60mtr above sea-level. I presume this was all about main and side-arms of the Amur River. It is soo large that Khabarovsk is considered a port-city, despite being inland.
The traffic now carried a lot of Russian Army trucks. No wonder, as the Chinese border was close. When I looked over my left shoulder – to the west – I could see China! There was the road I was travelling northwards, to my left a railway-track, a river and then the border.

Today was another –unseasonably? – hot day. High twenties and hard to find a shady spot. Often the newer part of this major (and sole) road was build on raised banks. This made it almost impossible to veer off, rather one had to wait when an occasional opportunity presented itself, but then it had no shade.
You may smile about this, however when riding this are the priorities right after one’s own safety on the road and where to get the next petrol.

Once I found a spot and jumped over to the raised kerb, leaving the bike parked right beside the road I enjoyed ‘my’ shade, being able to stretch and relax a while. I sampled my Vladivostok Farmer Market’s Salami and congratulated myself on this good purchase! Shall probably have it – must buy some hard cheese – for the next days. It dos remind my motorcycle-travelling through Europe, especially on Corsica and Sardinia. Then, mounted on my magnificent XS1100 Yamaha, these were my staple food items. A deja-vu after four decades.

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a break & a stretch roadside

 

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hearty lunch

Riding on, now feeling more confident on the bad stretches, having been able to avoid any major pot-hole-acquaintance, I started calculating how many kms I could do on average on travelling days? Yesterdays 350 kms felt ‘just enough’ and included the unpleasant getting-out-of-a-big-city-in-rush-hour-traffic bit. Today I would need to do about 100 more than that, still arriving in a big city on a Friday early evening. My moaning about the road conditions will certainly fade into insignificance, meaning I expect the roads to get worse. That in turn means lower speed, hence less distance travelled. AND I am certain I will have the wish to stop and look at stuff. Right now, on this stretch from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude, besides landscape there is not much ‘special stuff’ to see. Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal shall be my next more-than-one-overnight stopping point, but still about kms away
So, back to my calculations: I shall set a value of 300km per travel-day. This will not include ‘rest-days’. So let me just go away and apply this to the past travel days including South Korea ……

The remainder of the journey today was without any incident until Khabarovsk. I joined in the rush-hour traffic and managed to go with the flow. I had the coordinates punched-into my Navigator and followed its instructions. But upon arrival there was no Hotel Imago in sight?? So I parked the bike, found a shady spot nearby and queried my maps.

It appeared as if the hotel was in the middle of a large – well-frequented park: Gorodskoy Park, hemmed in by Karl Marx and Pushkina streets. I circled and weaved, all through dense traffic, was shoo-ed away twice by young, pimple-faced uniformed youth when stopping in restricted areas to orientate myself. “Niet!” is indeed a very harsh sounding word, but so is ‘Da!”. In the end, after more than one hour I finally found what looked like a street entrance to this large, centre of the city park. Two attendants – one in uniform, the one appearing more senior wasn’t – were sceptical about me entering with a motorcycle, however there was a parking area close but one needed some permit thingo to get passed their barrier. Stammering “Hotelski Imago, Hotelski Imago” he (non-uniformed one) finally cottoned-on and pointed me right into the park. I slowly rode in, but still no sign of a hotel. Assistance offered impromptu by yet another Alexandr, must be a very common name in Russia, did still not turn out a hotel. Nobody answered the hotel phone. So before booking somewhere else, I gave it one last shot and finally found it. Judge for yourself if this looks like a Hotel, or if you can see ‘Hotel Imago’ anywhere.

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Gorodosky Park

Anyway, I was, was pleased to finally having arrived. I badly needed a shower. After I had a walk, bought some basic supplies and a packet of ciggies for the helpful attendant. I rewarded myself with a Russian ice cream and liked how all these people in this park enjoying themselves despite the now later hour.

I’ve decided to use tomorrow to check over the bike. It has done more than 1000 kms on ‘challenging’ roads and I feel better to check it over before continuing. So I shall make it a rest-day in Khabarovsk, check out this city, my most eastern point in my entire journey. I also shall call ‘my buddy’ Victor.

Still feels only like the start ….

19 May 2016
Vladivostok – Lesozavosk 347 kms travelled = Total 885 kms

 

(I took out the sea travel again – adjusted above)

Off I went this morning. Packed the bike – all fitted on and I wasn’t looking like an overloaded Ocean Steamer J. Took a 200Rubel ($A 4.00) breakfast at my hostel, so I would feel fine during the day with no real need to eat before tonight. I must have oozed a Garlic-Cloud around me; mozzies fell to their death …

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Bettgenosse

Getting out of Vladivostok was no fun. It has so many one-way streets, so to cover a distance of 500mtrs, it feels as if you travel 2kms in a round-about way. I lost my way once, but soon enough found myself on the way out. Traffic was busy for the first 100 kms. I guess this is because two other larger cities are en route. first Artyom and then Ussuriysk. The road … well it was just as I had imagined a ‘Russian’ road to be: some good stretches and some rather very pot-holed ones. As a result, and to not wanting to have a dented rim one the first BIG travel day, I had to be permanently on the lookout, eyes focussed ahead onto the tarmac, trying to spot the damaged street bits. Swerving trucks in front of me gave me a hint as to where I could expect a bad spot, but all the same other cars flew past – not giving a hoot, or having super-perfect suspension (the latter I doubt). One of Vladivostok’s big business is to import used cars from Japan. By far the largest contingent is sold deep into Russia, up to Moscow. So I deduce that these made up more than ‘some’ of the cars rushing past. I did not see a single truck carrying a number of cars in transit.

The landscape looks flat. Lots of small and slim birch trees, grass in different height and all shines light green, a green I remember from Germany. The land does not appear to be worked on, like being farmed. Is it too permafrost-y or too wet? I saw a lot of swampy-landscape. I travel on about 50mtr elevation, but still the land on either side of the road is under-water or swampy. Not sheep, cattle or other animals, I spotted only one single cow. More often I passed a black-belching-smoke chimneys. What type of industry? I don’t know.

On my first tank-stop I figured-out the system: First you have to guesstimate the amount of petrol you’ll need or how much might fit it. Translate this into Rubels – then go and pay this amount at a cashier-window (women with gold-teeth) indicating what quality you desire. The woman then – remotely – sets this price on the actual bowser. Now you can tank, stopping at the pre-determined amount. Petrol quality comes in some Cyrillic stuff, perhaps diesel, 80, 92 and 95 RON. Sometimes I can see even 98 RON –I’ll take it every time it is available – cheaper as in downunder! Whilst I had a break Russian truckies come over for a talk, using hand & feet, we all smile and I see ore gold. They take pictures and ask to sit on the bike – “be my guest!”! All in the name of the Australian-Russian friendship! Here I was given a tetra-pak with a Strawberry drink. Such a nice and welcome gesture. I must have looked thirsty.

On the next tank stop I ‘talked’ to a van full of Russian soldiers. Again, lots of laughter, offering of a smoke (many smoke here). But since it wasn’t an original Pappirossi I rejected ;-). However, at this stage I was boiling despite only riding with a singlet and my wax-jacket with liner. So, to more advance my druschba project, I unzipped the liner and presented my tank-attendant with the liner. Keep in mind that it gets minus-25 regularly in winter, so I was sure he could use it.
My side of this ‘win’ was that now, if I got cold, I had to do the layer approach, hence actually using the stuff I had packed.

The next tank stop – now I liked to get petrol ‘cause I knew how – a 650 beemer zoomed along-side me. Off it hopped my next new friend: Victor or Vitaly. But first he had to un-peel himself and greeted me with an overwhelming and contagious enthusiasm! Vitaly was on his way to Khabarovsk, still about 400kms to go. Nevertheless he gestured me to have a coffee and an apple as well, We looked over each others bike and were able to have a talk as well. Vitaly tells me he is a pilot, thus his good English. He had ridden from Vladivostok today to see his son competing in a billiard competition tomorrow. He urged me to travel with him to Khabarovsk right this moment, but I needed a break, a shower and wanted to stick to this my plan overnighting in Lesozavosk.

We took off together, as it was another 70kms to my turn off. Vitally lead the way and, almost predictable show-off a little. Clearly confident on his bike, knowing the road and the behaviour of fellow travellers, he clowned around and almost raced ahead to show me how well he can ride. ‘Paul” (remember my bike) was easily capable to keep up with him, but at that first day, for my liking it was a little too fast. I pulled back and Vitaly understood. We parted ways with the promise to call him tomorrow – which I likely will do. Perhaps I may even arrive in time to see his son compete.

A left-hand turn brought me within 30kms to my destination. The one-and-only hotel I could find on all my accommodation apps in this (half-way) vicinity. Now the road deteriorated even further: maaany pot holes, bigger ones, making it necessary to ride in the opposite lane. Fortunately traffic was light.

Going about 80kmh I soon arrived in this small town very close along the Chinese border and a railway mid-point – Trans Siberian Express – between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, the two major centres in this region. Lesozavosk looks a little like a forgotten place, very Russian Communist-style square blocks of flats, small wooden, often dilapidated Dachas here and there. I have no idea how people get sufficient work here, other than the railway.
My Zumo showed me the way, along a road not far from the end-point now, BUT a railway track with no obvious crossing made it impossible to pass!? Bugger! The road to the right soon ended up in a housing estate – so go back old man! I stopped to get my bearings and was just about to say “Bugger it!!” or similar when a moto-cross bike pulled up. Alexandr to the rescue! A young man, local to this town, understood about me being lost and knew where I needed to go. Without hesitation he offered to guide me there. Brining me not only right in front of the hotel (hard to find)], but also booking me in and getting a half-price deal 800 Rubels ($A17) for my own room with toilet and shower and stuff to become clean.

But Aelxandr didn’t stop here. He insisted to take me to his parents’ home, only a few clicks away. After a short ride, I had gotten rid of my luggage, we arrived at the outskirts of this little town and I met his mother, sister (now Facebook friends), father and 4-year old daughter – she’s a sweetie! No sooner had I sat down on the veranda food arrived: pickled gurkens, pickled tomatoes, eggs, fish (from the nearby river) and a cool drink. I had to eat and I certainly didn’t mind.
This is such a positive things when travelling alone in a strange country: people ‘arrive’ and offer help and hospitality to a complete stranger! I felt so humbled. Best I attempted to reciprocate was to present Alexandr’s young daughter with a little kangaroo key-ring. Later Alexandr safely brought me back to my Hotel, he had to hurry to attend a birthday party with his wife. I felt humbled, saved and content and believed the world is a good place!

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Hotel Lesozavosk

Usual re-packing the re-packed to better pack and I guess this still will go on until I have developed a routine and a maximum-effective packing approach … to be continued, definitely the packing!

 

 

Endearing Vladivostok

18 May 2016
Vladivostok 742 kms travelled = Total 550 kms

Well, today was the Vladivostok sight-seeing day on the agenda. Olga, a multi-talented receptionist, street-musician, marketing proof-writer let herself to be talked around by me to be my tour-guide.

No tours otherwise seem to be available, Vladivostok is not necessarily tourism-focussed.
I got my hands on a little brochure to get some idea what to see, so off we went. Walked I guess at least 10 kms. saw a Farmers’ market – bought some Russian Salami (Contingency Survival food).

Walked into a Naval Headquarters of the Siberian Flotilla – just because the building looked interesting. The Concierge waved us through and I watched a rehearsal of some Russian play, saw one-hundred very moustached-men in Golden Picture frames, all with plenty of gold&silver on their shoulders.
Took a bus to the Chinese Market (thanks for the recommendation Geoff B), took the Funicular – Zahnradbahn, aber ohne Zahnraeder, sondern mit einem Stahlseil und an jedem Ende ein Gefaehrt) up a super-steep hill to the ‘Eagle’s nest’ overlooking Vlad.

Posted some postcards to the family (cheap!) and finally visited the Fortress build in the 1900 century as a defence in the Russian-Japanese war.

I still liked Vladivostok, so remote, busy traffic with lots of one-way streets, but not really hectic. There is a nice pace and people are friendly.

Concluding the day with a meal (my shout) at Druschba (Freundschaft) with a large variety of typical Russian food. The waiter spoke excellent English and I gave him some info regarding a masters in Hospitality (W. Angliss – not RMIT – sorry). Foodwise I tried:

Bortsch – really good! Will seek it out again, which shouldn’t be hard as it is Russian stable food. This one came with side dishes: sour cream, minced tomato with Garlic, a full Garlic clove to be rubbed onto some black bread dipped into the Tomato/Garlic mix. A stick of spring-onion, this one was hot. A red-hot peperoni, and something else – right now forgotten – must have been the Vodka afterwards, or two ….?

I also tried a herring-dish, almost like a cold-cake… I know, doesn’t sound nice and I represent it here very poorly, but again I liked it!

Finally I had some smoked salmon rolled into a noodle-like pastry, there IS a specific name to it. I am certain I will have it again and then add.

So a good day was to be had, I had my fill on Russian food and confirmed my like for so far-away Vladivostok!

Mother Russia

17 May 2016
Vladivostok 742 kms travelled = Total 550 kms

After a real long sleep, aided by the rolls of the ship, I have decided to indeed count the kms travelled on this sea-leg. After all, the bike and I are in one space, albeit we are more or less stationary. And since the journey began in South Korea when reunited with the bike, this ought to be part of the count.

Perhaps it is also to make me feel a little better of having started to put a dent into the remaining approx. 25.000 kms to be ridden. Voila – it is counted!

Russian men love their Gold! Doesn’t matter if young or middle-aged, and I haven’t seen any really old Russians yet, they love it and they show it. Golden teeth wherever I look! And not subtle like for one tooth, so you pick it only if the person smiles, no way! Quite the front row, top or bottom or even both. They do glow in the dark! “Gold im Mund – Zahnarzt gesund!” So that feeds my (mis-)conception of baddies fed by especially James Bond movies. I have to be careful not to stare …

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Ship docked right on time and the journey into Vladivostok port was a picturesque one, as Vlad. is located at the southern tip of the Murayyov-Amursky Peninsula, which is about 30 km long and 12 km wide. I passed under two huge bridges, Vladivostok versions of the Golden Gate, crossing The Golden Horn bay. A local, fellow traveller told me about the US comparison! Indeed the first one, the Russky Bridge from the mainland to Russky Island is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.

 

For embarking I was called to the front and got off second, ahead of all Russians. I must have done something right, although unbeknown to me. Felt a little like celebrity. It wouldn’t have to do with a slightly illegal act of passing on one of my meal tickets to a non-ticket holder fellow traveller so he could eat lunch for free. Fortunately the three meal tickets all looked the same 😉 The man later caught up with me and pressed a little present – gift-wrapped – into my hands. I desisted but soon gave up not wanting to insult this presumably Korean national. Whilst we shared no common words with each other, we parted as pals.

I had no expectations of Vladivostok other than it being pretty far away from everywhere. and being the birthplace of Yul Brunner (only few will remember him). Apparently the city furthest away of Moscow and this appears to allow a certain out-of-sight ambiance. Vlad has a great vibe! I can feel it, it’s good and the sun was shining. Should I cause a stir and walk bare-breasted down the Admiral Fokina Ave, a mall running toward Vlad’s beach promenade?

Better not up-set Putin with my biceps, so I stayed clothed – reluctantly.

My accommodation is also a good-vibrations place: Galleria and more is right off Admiral F street. And like all houses in this precinct, it was built around late 19th century with bricks burnt in a nearby factory. I am in the loft, very pleasant.

Today, Tuesday was getting-the-bike-out-of-Customs-Day. I was in really good hands with my widely recommended ‘Fixers’ and have no hesitation to recommend them onwards. Yuri and Svetlana run Links Ltd and do that in a most friendly manner, fair fees, efficient and assisting with other stuff to make travelling easier. Yesterday Yuri helped me to get a Russian SIM card. It took 25 mins and I now have a Russian mobile number +7 914 693 6374 Call me and send money 😉 If I had attempted to do this on my own, with my little hand book of Russian, well it would have taken much more time and I still wouldn’t quite understand what I’ve got. To be honest, that’s the case now. 😉 One learns to live with uncertainty, it doesn’t matter too much.

Then Yuri walked me to my accommodation, about 1km away. These little things make travelling easier. I invited him for coffee & cake (leant that from our Prez John E.) and Yuri had a lemon meringue cake for the first time – he liked it!
Later I had walk along the promenade, watched the fisher men – same Shakespeare-Stickaway-WOG-Poles as in Melbourne, but fish caught are decisively smaller.

My Korean friends and I met for a beer and then I turned into my loft.

But once again: I digress …

Got the bike out just before the one-hour lunch break – nothing goes then! then a complicated ride back to my accommodation. Re-packing all my stuff and almost all fits in! I surprised myself. Only one or three pieces I shall leave here. Now then next worry is to ensure the bike stays safe in Vlad. Hope my sense of vibe won’t betray me …

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Marco de la Luz et moi!

Finally caught up with another motorcycle traveller, Marco, a German residing in Cairns, Australia. Marco has been waiting for quite a few days to join his bike in Vlad. He shipped from Brisbane, via Singapore, Busan to Vlad. I guess with so many ‘stations’ delays are quite possible. However, he has good news and is likely to see his bike tomorrow or the day after.

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aaaaAAAHHHH – Weizen!

We went for a bite to eat in the ‘Paulaner” …..Yes, indeed, the German-Bavarian brewery is strongly represented here in Vlad. Several Paulaner beer-types are brewed on-site and undergo regular quality-assurance testing from a Bavarian brewer. A dark Hefeweizen was exactly what the doctor ordered ;-))

Marco and I thinking of travelling together, or at least try it out and see how we go. In Ulan-Ude I will have to stay back awaiting my Mongolia visa, whilst a German passport doesn’t need one. What is the logic with all that visa-stuff??

 

Tomorrow a Vlad sight-seeing and the day after, Thursday off on the Ussuri Highway towards Khabarovsk a <800 kms trip, and I shall split it into two days riding. Well, that’s the plan.