From Home to Kasachstan
After a lovely farewell party a day of cleaning up and a few hectic hours of getting last minute things sorted we manage to get on the road with only half an hour delay – which is a miracle really and it was really nice that so many people came to finally see us off. Our neighbor Klaus got his jukebox going and played ACDC and some villagers had tied a string with cans to our bike and the lot of them waved us goodbye – quite a few tears were shed on every side and we were on our way. Ken, Vinny, Lenny, Cyril, Sharon and Reiner (Plong) were still with us.
First stop is Dresden where we have a lovely campsite ( Mockritz) with an unusually good restaurant. We all visit the museum of hygiene because Reiner wants to go and we think: “ ok, why not?” It’s unexpectedly good and really fascinating – a lot of learning by doing experiences not at all as boring as it’s name suggests. The next day we have a good look at the city, it’s sights and the famous Green Vaults with all the treasures from August the strong. We are duly impressed. Dresden ist quite a relaxed city and you do not really feel as it is big. Most of the interesting sites congregate in the center easy to reach on foot and you can see they are doing a lot for tourists like special guided tours with guides in period costumes
Here we have to say our next farewells – to Ken, Vinny and Lenny and it’s not easy. We start realizing very slowly that this is it …. We are on the road now but the time in-between is the difficult one – the letting go of all the stress in those last six month, of our home and friends, all the unfinished business, our families, the things we know and getting ready to explore the new and unknown. But still we have a few more days with Sharon, Cyril and Reiner so it’s off to Prague now and push those thoughts on one side and enjoy the time left with them.
Prague is another breathtaking place – it must be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It’s well worth a visit and we are walking exploring until we are absolutely done in. We do the tourist program; have a ride on the tourist bus and a river cruise and try all that Czech beer and sausages. Before all this we say good bye to Plong who just wanted to make sure we get this far and then turns back to get ready for when he will come to meet us in Spain.
On our last day with Cyril and Sharon we do some much needed washing and repacking and sort out a load of stuff that we do not really need to send back with them before we will be heading off for good.
On the first of July the day has come to cut the last cords, get the bike packed and ourselves on the road East while Cyril and Sharon head of like the lonesome rider into the sunset – well West that is.
For the next two days we do nothing but riding getting through Czech Republic and Slovakia we are having sore bums and creaky knees at night we get the tent up just before falling off the bike and on the 3rd we are at the Ukrainian border – the first country we have never before visited. It is a country that brings things to mind things like the Tschernobyl disaster and I remember that it has been on the news that Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas from the pipelines that go through this country to transport the Russian gas to the rich Europe. I think about the Orange revolution and corrupt politicians – an imprisoned prime minister who is supposed to be in with the mafia a country that does not know whether it should be turning East or West, a corrupt police force that stops every foreign car to collect bribes and at last naked women come to mind protesting against whatever (as seen on the news).
Now is the time to find out more about this country that has only recently opened up to the west and has even abolished the need for visa for Europeans.
We get to the border and at first we wait for ages on the Slovakian side where the customs seem to have a problem with our two tanks and the amount of petrol they can hold – well there are visa in our passports that will take us to Mongolia – I don’t think petrol smuggling is on our cards…
The next problem are the Ukrainian customs – they have found a pill box which I have labeled correctly with: Tramadol… how stupid. After some discussions I get the tablets taken off me and a form to fill in. Now a nice guy from Belarus steps in and talks to the customs officer – the result : He grabs the form and gives the pills back, the man from Belarus (a biker as well) peels off the label in front of the customs guy and tells me to declare them as Vit. C’s in future.
Now we have finally entered the country and are immediately in a lovely hilly region but with no money. We try to find a bank but there is none to be found for ages and for the first time we experience how hard it is to get understood when you have no language.
We find the route to Kiev and keep going for a long time – the road gets worse and all over a sudden the traffic in front of us starts swerving all over the place and there are huge potholes.
We stop fairly late at a motel in the middle of nowhere. We can pay in Euro and get a nice meal, can have a shower even if it is a communal one and the landlady is very talkative and gets through to us even if we do not understand a single word. We have a lovely meal with a nourishing soup, and some shashlik from the BBQ. Lovely!
We sit outside and the kitchen helper – a lady with very few teeth, black feet and a lot of vodka inside tries to make us understand something – at first we do not understand then it dawns on us that she is offering services of a special kind and it is the first time that we are glad that we don’t understand much.
We meet a guy who brings fresh Cray fish (alive) and invites us for a taste. We have a good time that evening and Andrej invites us to stop over at his place when we are on the way to Russia – he lives in Krasnodon which is right at the Russian border and on our route.
First though we travel to Kiev and we have a couchsurfing contact there but the problem is that we can’t get into contact – we have internet only at very few occasions and so we get into the big city without knowing where to go and we cruise around a bit. In the end I just walk into an outdoor shop. People are nice and helpful but we can’t get into contact with our couch surfer so we ask for a camp site to be told there are none but they give us directions to go wild camping on an island in the middle of the river Dnjepr but we just never find a way to that bridge and so someone writes the name of a campsite in Russian for us but we just can’t find it and in the end we just find a taxi driver, give him the note and tell him to take us there. It’s dark, the guy races in front of us and finally stop’s at the entrance of something, demands 5 € and is gone. We ride into what ends up a car park and luckily a young man with no language but a big heart takes pity on us and we follow him through the darkness and mad traffic of Kiev we do find said campsite but it’s not for tents and so we are taken to a cheap (affordable) hotel, where we and our bike are taken in and we have to drink the obligatory Vodka which goes with sausages, smoked fish and other local delicacies and get to learn an important Ukrainian, Russian and later Kazakh word..: “ Schass !” which is most definitely spelled wrong but means something like soon / in a minute. We will hear it quite a lot from now on.
The hotel room gets prepared for us and we wait outside with a lot of people gathered around Liza – admiring. Here we also meet Rusian who is looking for a room for his friend Svetlana and speaks a few words of English. Spontaneously he invites us for the next day which is Ukraine day to come with him and his family to the city to show us some of the sights and festivities and gladly we take his offer.
Kiev turns out to be a lovely place and everywhere there are things going on. We get taken to a park and try lots of national food, see traditional dresses, hear traditional music and meet a lot of nice people who all want to know what we think about the country – we get even interviewed for television and have a generally great day with Rusian and his family. We have a look at the sights and the center of Kiev and take loads of pictures and get some interesting views on things and places of Rusian – for example on the mother of Ukraine, a massive monument of a stern and manly looking woman which is so big that you can see it almost from everywhere in the city and is made from stainless steel with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other behind which a gas flame can be lit but they only do it once a year because it uses too much gas and it very expensive. Rusian thinks it is supposed to equal the liberty statue and face her. While we do all this sightseeing little Andrej (Rusian’s son) can’t wait to see our bike. In the end he gets his wish and even a little ride on it and now his carrier as footballer will be changed to biker!
The next day we press on towards Russia. We have forgotten to get a postcard in Kiev but think it will not be a problem to get one in Donietsk. It’s a long way through Russia’s former bread basket and wherever we stop we are surrounded by admirers. People usually speak Russian or Russian but with hands and feet and a lot of imagination we get by. We find campsites along the road and food is usually good – especially Ukrainian soups are really something else. On one campsite near a popular bathing lake our bike gets a bit vandalized by drunks in the night. They try to move it, pull off a fuel hose and switch the top on – but only halve so the petrol is still in there. We have trouble starting the bike but get it to the next petrol station where we fill up but can’t get the bike started again. We soon get help and tools from bystanders one of which is a mechanic and after taking off the tank we soon find the problem: they had pulled on the ht-lead and ripped it off the plug on the starter coil end. It’s soon repaired and she runs as sweet as ever. Also we get stopped at least once a day by the police and thanks to understanding problems get sent on every time without further problems. After 2 days of good riding we reach Donietsk – snob city of Ukraine. Compared with the rest of the country is visibly rich and even though we meet a few helpful people on our search for postcards, and pharmacy and post office we also get unfriendly people who just ignore my questions for directions and walk straight past me as if I am nonexistent. We do get the things we need and also post our card but on our search for the way out we get stopped by the police who get an English speaker on the phone to us who tells us that motorbikes are not allowed in this city – well I never liked it anyway! We get shown the way to our next destination and off we are.
We make it to Krasnodon where we meet Andrej. He finds a safe garage for us and leaves us his own flat while he sleeps at his mother’s for the time we are at his place. We have quite some trouble with communication but he keeps finding friends with some English and so we get each other understood.
We have 2 ½ brilliant days with Andrej. He sees to our needs and shows us a lot of his way of life and the sights of his town. Krasnodon is not really nice – it has a lot of dirty backyards, unfinished Buildings which look like falling apart in the building process, unpaved sideroads and potholes in the main street. It has some monuments - all dedicated to the same event that took place during the second world war when the faschists killed a lot of people in town working with the partisans and threw them in a mine shaft. The local museum also lives of this event but the experience of having to put on blue plastic bag slippers is novel. Outside the museum is another monument of the same people – it looks a bit as if they have used one cast for the faces and then gave them different hairstyles and clothes so you can see it’s men and women.
We get to meet Andrejs friends and he specially calls some who speak English so we can ask eachother the questions we want, have a BBQ in the ruins of the old heating station, a swim in the lake, get a trad. Soup dish at the restaurant of one of his friends, find an internet café to catch up on mail and fb correspondence and get some invaluable insight into Ukrainian everyday life which seems to be a lot about organizing things – like firewood for the BBQ or cheap fuel or any kind of bargain some of which have a shady alley feel to them . We are quite blown away with Andrej’s friendliness resourcefulness and hospitality. We are not allowed to pay anything and soon we feel like taking advantage so we decide that we need to treat him to some German specialties and cook for him. I make a shopping list of the ingredients I need and we go shopping in the basar next door. We don’t get everything but I can work around that and it feels good to be able to give something back. Especially my recipe for my homemade olive and basil oil – it makes it feel like I’ve left something unique and lasting.
We walk off the meal and have a look at the stadium of Krasnodon in the pitch black dark which is a bit of a shame as it is huge and has facilities for all kinds of team sports you can imagine as well as exercise machines which are simple and sturdy build but efficient. I get shown the shop where Kev and Andrej have fetched the beer and am amazed – there is a whole wall full of different taps where you can choose different beers. You choose whichever size of plastic bottle (from 1 to 5 liters)and they fill it for you. Then there is a counter of all sorts of dried fish (not my favorite) and a freezer with ice creams.
The next morning it’s time to move on. We fetch the bike to Andrej’s place and have another sort out of things we do not really need to lighten the load. It’s not as much as we would have liked but we end up with a bit more space.
We’re off to Russia and Andrej takes us there – making sure we get special treatment at the Ukranian side of the border. We can jump the queue and they let us through a barrier past all the waiting cars and trucks. It’s time to say goodbye to Andrej and the Ukraine.
We have not seen any naked women protesting here – in fact they were mostly well dressed and very fashion conscious.
The police was everywhere and we got stopped at least once a day but never had to pay a fine – in most cases they just wanted a good look at the bike.
People were friendly and went out of their way to help us and/or make us feel welcome and we did have a lovely time.
Before getting into Russia Man put the Ukrainian Border. The customs man is after something for the takings so he makes me open as much as possible. There is no schnaps no nothing. He keeps playing with our wind-up torch-radio but I’m definitely not offering it to him. He walks across to Kev who is sorting the paperwork and askes if we have chocolate! Kev laughs – in these temperatures chocolate on a motorbike!!?? In the end he finds my Riccola boxes so I give him one of them and he finally is content.
It’s the Russian Border I’m scared off. It’s a relic of my childhood days when we used to travel to the old east of Germany. This border holds scary memories for me right up to these days and somehow I always connected the experiences made there with Russia. Thinking about it now it was probably German ways of putting orders into place.
Anyway this border proves much more relaxed as I had anticipated. The customs just take a look at the kitchen box but seem as unwilling to have us undo all the straps of the back-box as we are and sent us on to do the paperwork. For this we get a nice guy to help – he speaks some English and tells us which boxes to tick and what to write where and when we finally get sent off he gives us a big grin and thumbs up.
Off we are and quite surprised too – we find ourselves on good roads and the villages and machinery are in good shape too. Soon we figure out which road goes to Volgograd and when it’s time to make a camp for the night we have soon found a good place and get our heads down.
The next day we arrive in the big City and land right in traffic chaos without knowing how to make it to the center. There is a huge monument to be seen towering over the city on a hill and we decide to go there and have a look if we can figure out what is where. There is a big car park and it’s full of wedding cars and freshly wedded couples with their guests. We want to take a stroll to the monument and spy a bike at one corner of the car park. It looks well worn and the front wheel is missing. We decide to have a look at it and discover an Italian number plate. A young Russian guy sits next to it and he speaks quite some good English. We learn that the bike belongs to Andrew who is on the last legs of his two year trip around the world. Another biker has taken him and the wheel into the city for repair. As soon as we mention that we are on a motorbike too and at the start of our world trip we get invited to get taken to the local bike club who will take us in and help us if we need it and we gladly take the invitation. We fetch our bike across and wait for the others to return. While we do that we get told that the monument is (another) mother of the homeland and that this hill is a memorial to the battle of Stalingrad where a lot of soldiers have lost their lives by preventing the German army from crossing the Volga and that it is a custom for the newlyweds to come here and have their pictures taken as a sign of honor to their forefathers.
While we wait a lot of people come across to have a look and take pictures of the bikes – if we had a Euro for every picture taken of Liza so far we could live of that for a moth easily. She’s an attraction everywhere we go and an icebreaker making it easy to get into contact with people even ig language fails us. She earns us lots of smiles and thumbs ups.
Finally Andrea (that’s the Italians name really – ha just changed it to Andrew for foreigners taking it as a woman’s name) and his friend come with the tyre and it is only a matter of half an hour till his bike is back to fighting form. Andrea has taken it in his head that he really needs a picture of him with his dirty clothes and oily hand and a beautiful Russian bride. The first two say no but eventually his Italian charm wins and he gets his wish. Now a load of young people arrive and beg for all sorts of pictures to be taken with the bikes and it takes another while until all of them have their photos taken and we make it into the city and eventually find the bike clubs place as well.
There are quite a few bikes in the yard, a swimming pool where Andrea and his two friends take a dip before they get back on their bikes as they want to get closer to the Georgian border today – Andrea’s next destination. We get the bosses’ bedroom and a cold Kwas ( a Russian drink made from wheat which is non alcoholic and very refreshing and becomes Kevin’s favorite drink for the next weeks. We get to take a shower and have a nosy round the place. It used to be a shop as we can still make out by an old sign at the front of the building. There are several rooms with bunk beds and most of them are taken for the night by bikers from all over the country, some are from Moscow one from Omsk and other places. We learn that bikers in Russia stick together and help each other out with all needs (be it a bed or repairs)
In the evening we get taken to a rock concert with a fire show at a place near the river where we meet even more bikers and also tre Indians on their way from India to London on two Enfields. They tell us about their trip and we learn that our first two hundred kilometers in Kazakhstan will be difficult roads – one needs something to look forward to…..
The world is full of crazy bikers !!
Back at the clubs place we have a few beers and “chut chut” (little) vodkas and the next morning we are not really ready to get back on the road. We take our time until midday to get into the spirit and then we give Igor from Omsk his wish – he has a ride on Liza with Kev in the sidecar to coach him – I take the pictures and promise Igor to send them by mail as soon as I can.
We say our farewells to most of the Volgograd bikers and then get escorted to the city center where we can finally purchase a new cooker and the promised postcard for my nieces little ones (they have put up a world map at their house and stick a postcard from every country to it we get to). Writing postcards does not seem to be a common thing in the eastern countries as we do have a lot of trouble finding them.
Now we just have to find some light bulbs for the backlight and the way out of Volgograd with the help of our new friends who also supply us with some contacts along our planned route and then we have a last Kwas on the roadside with them and it’s time to say goodbye and spasiba bolschoi ( I know this is spelled wrongly!!)
Our next goal is Astrakhan on the Russian/Kazakh border.
So the first part of our Russian adventure is brief but very enjoyable.
We are a bit stressed as the first part of our adventure is on a tight time schedule. We have to cross all of Kazakhstan and Russia and be in Mongolia by the 10th of August.
So we mostly drive from morning till night and then it’s put the tent up and hit the sack. Hopefully things will calm down a bit then and we have a bit more time.