Author Topic: Beeline to Russia (his version)  (Read 8628 times)

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Beeline to Russia (his version)
« on: 21 September, 2013, 07:04:17 pm »
Swarm_catcher is working on her version of events in her inimitable style. Here's mine

Part 1

For swarm_catcher, this was a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to a place she had heard of years ago, a journey she had dreamt of and which had been in the planning for several years. For me it was a bike ride starting on familiar ground through some familiar countries, and then through other countries I'd never visited, ending up further east and north than I'd ever been before. And then back. But the main thing was to do anything I could to help Els reach her goal.

After all the months of planning (>99% by Els), discussions,  filling in visa forms, exchange of documents under the station clock at Waterloo, a forum send-off in Hanwell, and a cramped trip in Els’ car,  we got to her parents' place in Belgium where the ride was to begin.

The evening before the start involved a considerable amount of time putting bikes together.


last-minute fettling help from Dad


until finally everything was ready


A test ride ended after less than 100 metres with Els' first and last puncture of the trip. A second test ride ended in success


The following morning, on the dot at 8 am, after a quick topup and farewells from Mum, Dad, Sis Kris and nephew Edward, we were on our way.


The route to the Solovetsky Islands had been intricately planned, with daily distances of 150-180 km. That struck me as a pretty tall order, considering we were carrying full camping gear, and would have to find campsites and food every day, set up tents every evening and dismantle them and pack everything up every morning, and deal with any unforeseen emergencies as they arose. And there was no slack in the plan, no chance to catch up, so we _had_ to do our daily distances or risk not getting to the Islands. There was also accommodation booked in Stockholm and Helsinki on specific dates, so the schedule was sacrosanct, no matter what.  Any time lost would reduce time on the Islands, because we had to get back to St Petersburg for Els to get home and back to work. It wasn’t the way I normally tour, but I’d have a free route on my lone ride back to blighty

The amazing thing was that everything went pretty much according to schedule until we got to Russia. But when we left t'Oveke, Russia was a very long way off.

Although things went smoothly, the first few days weren't entirely without incident.

After about 5 km we met this chap, de Izegemse Belleman. Town criers aren't a particularly Belgian thing, apparently, and he seemed to have visited a lot of the UK by going to town criers' piss-ups conventions.

 
available for parties, advertising campaigns, markets, barmitzvahs ...


Everything was going swimmingly with a tailwind, so we stopped at a cafe at Steenhuffel next to the Aalst-Londerzeel bike path. It was the 4th year in a row I've found myself on that bike path, and only once has it been deliberately.


A quick bite later, Els went to unlock her bike


only to find that the combination she thought she'd used used to lock it didn't seem to work in unlocking it. Disaster!

Some 25 minutes later, after us both trying the number, trying the same digits in a different order, ringing home to check the number with the lock's owner, a feeble attempt to cut through the cable and a discussion about where to find more destructive tools than those immediately available to us, we managed to work out that the number had been changed inadvertently, guessed the number to which it had probably been changed, and got the lock undone. Huge relief all round. It was thrown into the depths of a pannier and never used again.


The rest of the day was largely uneventful, except for bagging this rail/road/bikepath combo near Mechelen for the Bridges for CrinklyLion thread


Our first campsite was at Noordewijk, a campsite I'd used before, so there was no problem finding the site and checking in.
Happy campers at Noordewijk (I'd had a no 1 haircut just before I left)


Improvised bike shed at Noordewijk


It was the last night in Belgium, so it had to be frits that evening


The following day was going to be a long one - a bit of Belgium, through the Netherlands, into Germany and across the Rhine, so there wouldn't be that much time to stop and snap, but we did see:
canals and bridges in Belgium,


Napoleonsmolen in Hamont, a Belgian town near the Dutch border,


some fine Belgian postmen's bikes. The fine Belgian postmen can be seen in the background. They can deliver all the post without dismounting, so have time to enjoy a coffee after their rounds.


dutch alpacas



and an amusing (to some) sign in Germany. I don't find foreign names which are rude words in English particularly funny, but those who do will no doubt appreciate fact that the citizens of Wankum held a Pumpenfest this year.


We crossed the Rhine by ferry


Our route took us near some very heavily industrialised area, but we hardly noticed them


View over the hedge from our 2nd campsite near Hünxe, just north of Duisburg.


Our next two days through Germany also went exactly to schedule, and brought us to a campsite just south of Hamburg.
On the way we had lots of cyclepaths


and bridges


The tiny community of Börsenviertel, where the residents are particularly proud of their little corner of the world, considering it has a population of only 53.


sunset at a lakeside campsite


In one town Els went into a bike shop and bought a new lock and a pair of shorts. She didn't notice the writing on them, or its significance.
(click to show/hide)


Near the town of Verden, south of Bremen, we stopped for an impromptu snack of strawberries at a roadside stall.

Strawberry stall by John Spooner, on Flickr

When she saw our loaded bikes, the proprietress bombarded us with questions about our trip. Where we were going, why were we going there, where did we sleep, what did we eat, how would we get back. When I told her that I would be riding back, she promised me a free punnet if I called in to tell her how we had got on.

By now were developing a daily routine, which was, with a few variations
  • wake & get up at 6
  • pack up tents, brew and drink coffee, and be ready to go by 7
  • ride 15km or so, until we find a cafe, or find a supermarket for a picnic breakfast
  • stop at lunchtime for a picnic lunch
  • ride to the day’s  destination
  • find campsite
  • put up tents
  • eat
  • sleep

The following day we got up and were on the road earlier than usual, because we had a lunch appointment at Neumünster with Simon, my chum from uni days, and his family who were holidaying on one of the islands off the west coast of Schleswig. Neumünster was 100km away, and in our way lay Hamburg. And it started to rain. On our way into Hamburg we crossed the magnificent Willhelmsburger Bridge


Crossing Hamburg in rush hour turned out not too bad - if exhilarating at times - and after a couple of hours we were in open countryside and steaming north into Schleswig Holstein. We'd arranged to be in front of the station between 12:30 and 1, and we rolled up just after 12:45. The weather had cleared up by then, and we enjoyed a long lazy lunch at an outdoor restaurant, before taking our leave and heading east for another 50 km or so.

Most memorable bit of this stretch was the lakeside town Plön (a name which I never tire of pronouncing)




This part of Germany is pretty flat, but the belgian half of our duo managed to find a steep cobbled climb which had us pushing our laden bikes.

Next morning was our last in Germany, so we left the other occupants of our pitch to their amourous activities


and set off down the inevitable cyclepaths


pausing only for breakfast


We left the mainland onto the island of Fehmarn on a magnificent new bridge


with some good views of the island


When we had descended from the bridge and were making out way down a lane through the rape fields, and I was trying to find a view of the bridge, Els swarm_catcher suddenly became agitated, barely able to speak with excitement. For on our left were two beekeepers doing their thing. Surely another good omen from St Zozimas.


A short ferry ride took us from Fehmarn and Germany to Rødbyhavn and Denmark, and a Sustransy path away took us away from the port.


Then it became hot, with a strong headwind, on flat, exposed roads. After an age we reached Maribo, and stopped for coffee. And cake.


Later in the afternoon we climbed what by Danish standards must be considered a mountain, and on the descent I spied what looked like a magnificent bridge. By this time Els had realised that although she was on a pilgrimage of the home of St Zozimas, I was on a mission to collect exhibits for the Bridges for CrinkleyLion thread.


And I wasn't disappointed


Storstrøm Bridge

Our campsite that night was a field behind a farm (twinned with Upper Sedbury). Els was having a shall-I-bother-to-pitch-my-tent-or-just-sleep here-dilemma when she noticed something in the sky


There were hundreds of migrating birds heading east. To Russia, no doubt. Another good omen?


We were up and on the road early again next day, as we were due to meet up with YACF’s very own Danish ambassador, Gus, fresh from his African End-to-End. Mid morning, just south of Køge we spotted a red YACF jersey steaming towards us on the opposite side of the road.

We paused briefly to discuss route options - we were heading for the Helsingor-Helsingborg ferry on the other side of Copenhagen - then set off towards the city with Gus guiding us..




At one point, while we were stopped at a red light, a joyful convoy of bikes passed across the junction, accompanying a bride who was being delivered to her wedding in a bakfiets. Only in Copenhagen. Unfortunately I was too slow with my box brownie.

We stopped for Els to buy a charger for her camera, and enjoyed brunch in a (rather expensive) cafe, while Gus told us of his African adventures. Having been on walking trips in north, west and east Africa, I’ve always fancied cycling there, so I listened with particular interest.



Gus delivered us to a suitable point in the north of the city before we said our goodbyes, and we set off up the coast for the ferry.


It was hot, there was a persistent headwind, and I was running out of water, but we passed through some very pretty spots.




On this stretch I stopped at a supermarket to buy some drinks, and outside we met Erik, a Dane who had that morning started a cycling trip to Spain. He looked woefully unprepared, with a suitcase bungied to the rack of his bike, and no room to stash the food he had just bought. He had a small cheap-looking tent ‘for in case he couldn’t find a hotel’, but no sleeping bag. After a friendly chat comparing notes, we wished each other ‘bon voyage’ and went on our way. Over the next few weeks we often wondered how Erik was getting on.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #1 on: 21 September, 2013, 07:14:49 pm »
Part 2

A few kilometers and a ferry ride later we found ourselves in Sweden. Our first few kilometres in Sweden could hardly have been worse. We couldn’t find our way out of the port complex. When we’d escaped that (by a somewhat ‘unofficial’ route), we couldn’t find our way out of Helsingborg - the GPS track for once didn’t make sense, and we had to retrace more than once. By this time it had clouded over. When we tried riding in what we thought was the right direction, the cycle path stopped and dumped us onto a main road, and we went past an Ikea at a depressing out-of-town retail park  Then it started to rain. Hard.

Then things slowly got better. We turned off the main road on to a more minor road, the rain gradually eased, we found a town with a supermarket open on Saturday evening, stocked up on food, and eventually the country turned into what Scandinavia is supposed to be - forests, lakes, and not a sound except birdsong. Until, that is, you get going again, and the sound of tyres on gravel drowns out the birdsong


Next day was Sunday, and we learned a valuable lesson. We were passing through a very rural part of Sweden, and as we found out, there weren’t many opportunities for buying food. We came to a village supermarket fairly early, but as it was Sunday it wouldn’t be open for over an hour, so we pressed on. After all, there were plenty of villages marked on our route and, we assumed, some might have shops. As we found out, what was marked as a village was invariably just a label for a few farms which happened to be slightly closer together than normal.

Sunday morning traffic in rural Sweden.


We did manage to buy some eggs at an isolated smallholding run by an elderly German who also kept bees (I reckon he was an ex Stasi officer with too many skeletons in his closet to have stayed safely in Berlin). Lunch consisted of poached eggs for Els and the last 2 Cup-a-soups for me.

After 90 km, at nearly 3 o’clock, we detoured to a small town which was big enough for a supermarket. Even better in the same building were a cafe and local library with free Wifi. We took full advantage and bought as much food as we could carry.


Some time after that we left the forests, and our slight change of direction, plus a change in the wind direction, meant a tailwind


That night we stopped at a lovely lakeside campsite with a super sunset


Next day was warm and sunny, and near Jönköping we decided not to dip into our reserves for lunch but took advantage of a roadside eatery




The afternoon stayed warm and sunny, so the ice-cream sign outside this establishment drew us in


It turns out that polkagrisfabrik means ‘novelty rock factory’, and this was obviously the centre of the Swedish novelty rock industry. This wasn’t the only polkagrisfabrik we saw in Gränna


The long hot days were beginning to take their toll


but by this time we were pretty efficient at putting up our tents.
http://youtu.be/seFNS9O60Ms

Much of the next day was a slog into a headwind, but it was nice and sunny, and we had the roads to ourselves,

and amongst the things we spotted were a roadside display of vintage agricultural equipment


and a runic stone.


A broken spoke for Els near Norrköping put a bit of a dampener on things


We ended up at another idyllic lakeside campsite, this time near Nyköpping




The following morning we searched for the LBS the campsite owner had told us about, and had to ask further directions from a man in town. We followed his directions, and when we arrived at the building he was waiting there in his car, making sure we didn’t miss it. #Swedesgoingoutoftheirwaytohelp

Hagar Cykel did the business and we were on our way.

Our route gave us a ride on a ferry

some deserted gravel roads

an ornate boundary marker

and an old milestone showing distances  using miles

The OED says
Quote
In Italy (where there were many different such measures), Spain, and Portugal, the ‘mile’ was developed from the ancient Roman measure, and its length ranged between 7/ 8 and 1¼ English miles. In Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, the ‘mile’ seems to represent the ancient Germanic rasta (see rest n.1), to which the Latin name was apparently applied arbitrarily; its values ranged from about 3 to over 6 English miles.

We also enjoyed an almost endless choice of views of lakes, trees and farms


and also a lake. An irresistible lake.


INAL but I do believe that in Scandinavia when you see a lake like this on a warm sunny day it is The Law that you have to tear off your clothes and run into the water. And we are nothing if not law-abiding.

That brought us to  Stockholm.  We found our hotel and went out into the suburb to look for a supermarket for the following day’s ferry trip. We saw a young woman with a carrier bag full of groceries and asked where the shops were. She didn’t just point us in the right direction, but turned round and accompanied us to a point where we couldn’t get lost, and recommended one supermarket in preference to the other. It turned out she worked there, and had just knocked off from working at the till. #Swedesgoingoutoftheirwaytohelp

There was nothing out of the ordinary in the supermarket, but we were shocked to see that it stocked tins of Hummersås. You just can’t avoid him and his anatomy.

Stockholm meant a night in a hotel. In a bed. Where I couldn’t sleep, possibly because I had just got used to sleeping quite comfortably without any sleeping mat, having ditched a faulty one in Germany, and possibly because I didn’t want to oversleep our 4 a.m alarm. Any sleep would have been been brief anyway, because we didn’t work out where to catch the next day’s ferry and how to get there until about midnight.

In the end we got up in time, rode 16 km through a deserted early-morning Stockholm, found the right ferry port, and prepared to relax on a 14-hour crossing to Finland.

It’s probably one of the most scenic 14-hour ferries available. For the first few hours the ship passes thousands of  Swedish islands


then there’s a little bit of open water, (and an island where the ferry stops) then it passes thousands of Finnish islands


Other things to do include looking at cake


and watching a helicopter making practice landings on the helipad


We landed at Turku, and the first thing we did was … take a ferry. But this ferry trip crossed a river and lasted about 2 minutes.



Turku looked like a nice town, and we would have liked to have a look round, but that would have meant an even bigger distance the next day, so we pressed on.

That evening was our first attempt at wild camping


Just us, alone in the forest with 27 zillion mozzies


That’s 27 mozzies and a big wild animal which came and investigated our tents during the night.

Onward the next day to Helsinki, during which we saw a crane


and had our now-customary midday picnic on a rock. Swedish and Finnish rocks aren’t pointy and jagged, they’ve all been smoothed by passing glaciers, so it’s just a matter of throwing a tarp over a mossy rock and you’ve got a comfy spot for a picnic


We also heard a cuckoo. In fact we heard a cuckoo every single day until we got to Russia. Perhaps it was the same cuckoo which was accompanying to Solovki, an emissary from St Zozimas, perhaps.

So we arrived in Helsinki


Eventually we found the hostel where Els had booked beds, a lovely old building in a lively area of the city. The other occupants of our dormitory were still out when we went to bed, but didn’t hear them come in, and I don’t think we disturbed them when we left early the next morning.

The morning’s route took us west to Porvoo, mostly following the path beside the main road. Shared use


Porvoo has a touristy area with cobbles, shops, traditional wooden buildings


and a market, where I sat on a bench for several minutes observing a mad stallholder  trying to sell her artworks to German tourists


Heading north, we happened upon a rock concert outside the village supermarket


Later on (at milking time, to be precise), we were delayed by some cows equipped with rather substantial foundation garments


We were getting near Russia - there were several Russian cars seen on the road and on our campsite that night.

Next morning I felt my back wheel rubbing. Broken spoke. So we stopped at a windmill-themed cabin at the side of the road. My attempts to replace the spoke failed but two minutes with a spoke key stopped it rubbing. Nevertheless I didn’t want to go too far with my wheel in that state.

That evening at our hostel near Imatra, I found, using google and OSM, a Trek dealership near our route out of town (during which I learned that the Finnish word for bike shop is ‘pyöräkorjaamo’), so the next morning we headed to the address indicated. I was expecting a big professional showroom, but it turned out to be a one-man business working from his garage/basement. Nevertheless, he dropped what he was doing and whipped in a new spoke. We had a little chat afterwards, and when he heard where we were going he left us in no doubt of his opinion of Russian roads.





His opening hours showed one of the advantages of being your own boss.

Later we passed through the beautiful Punkaharju area. It’s not so much a regionn area with lots of lakes, it’s more an area of that it’s mostly water with a few bits of vaguely interconnected land.




We’d spent most of the day with the Russian border a few kilometers to our east. The following day we would cross the border, but before that we had to find somewhere to pitch our tents for the night. In one direction was the makings of a nice sunset.


In the other direction was a vivid rainbow with its very own shower. We chose the latter.

D’oh!


Amazingly we’d got this far according to plan despite an ambitious schedule, broken spokes, headwinds and heat, and we’d managed not to lose each other or fall out. But the following day we would cross into Russia and everything would start to go pear-shaped.

To be continued
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Tail End Charlie

Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #2 on: 22 September, 2013, 09:34:58 pm »
This is excellent. What a trip!!

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #3 on: 23 September, 2013, 06:53:39 pm »
Part 3 Not much of a ride report, a bit more Michael Palin.


We’d pressed on late into the day to get close to the border crossing at Vyartisilia. It didn’t help that it had taken ages to find a wild camping spot. The one we found wasn’t ideal - there wasn’t much room between the pines,  the forest floor was covered in fallen cones, twigs and branches and the mossy ground was too soft to hold tent pegs firmly. We’d just got the tents set up when the heavens opened. All night long there was thunder and lightning, and it was still tipping down when we packed up our sodden tents and set off on the short ride to Russia.

Els had planned only 60 km for the day, because we didn’t know how long the border formalities would take. So there was no debate about diving into a transport cafe on the outskirts of Kitee.

Alternately we looked out at the falling rain and the weather forecast on Finnish breakfast TV, which we couldn’t decipher, even with several chances to view the graphics. We decided to leave when it stopped raining or 9:30, whichever was earlier. A tweet from a Finnish contact suggested it would be 9:30


We might not have left strictly on the dot at 9:30, but eventually got under way again. About 10km further there was another roadside cafe, and we agreed that it was probably time for an early lunch. Even allowing time to digest the  tasty schnitzel, followed by cake and coffee, it was still before midday when we reached the border. Finnish formalities took very little time, and, after an initial show of passports to an official in combat gear, we found ourselves standing in the rain at the back of  line of cars. Soon the man in the front car saw us and took pity on us, waving us through.

First we were given tiny (about A6) forms to fill in. Using my Brooks to rest on, and struggling to fit everything into the minute spaces on the form, my soggy hands soon turned mine into little more than a smudged soggy mess. Els was first to present her documents to the large unsmiling blonde behind the window. Everything was checked - visa details were compared with passport details, ultra violet revealed no signs of forgery, details were entered into computer, and the passport was stamped - and after about ten minutes Els passed into Russia.

Then it was my turn. The lady went through the same procedure, until it came to using the ultra-violet machine. With furrowed brow she picked up her phone and spoke (it didn’t have a dial or keypad). A few seconds later two men in big hats came running from a different building.

They didn’t look too pleased to be dragged away from their samovar, but dealt fairly speedily with whatever had irked Svetlana and returned to the crossword in that morning’s Правда. I didn’t know what the problem was, but just stood there patiently - I knew everything would be sorted out eventually (despite the white lies on my visa application, which bizarrely as things turned out turned out to be true). Meanwhile all sorts of thoughts were running through Els’ head. What if, having let her in, they refused me entry? But in the end my stamped passport was returned to me and reunited, we got going into Karelia.

So far on our trip from Belgium to Finland we’d barely noticed any changes when going from one country to the next. A change of currency, perhaps, slightly different standards of cyclepath, or shop opening hours. But entering into Russia I experienced the same degree of culture shock as when getting off a plane at  Bamako or Nouakchott. There seemed to be a general air of neglect. The road had not potholes but craters, which is why a car was coming towards us on the wrong side of the road - it was circumnavigating a few square metres of missing tarmac. Buildings looked tatty and neglected (especially so after the spick-and-spannness of Scandinavia). Grassy areas were overgrown. Still, it had stopped raining.

Els had picked out a hotel 10 km or so to the south-west, and we found this easily along a muddy track through a timberyard. It contrasted with what I’d seen so far (admittedly a very short time) in Russia. New, clean with well-tended lawns outside

and inside: clean*, nicely decorated, wifi and a receptionist who spoke English. By mid afternoon the sun came out and we were able to drape our tents over the balcony and dry them out.

*except under the stairs where we parked our muddy bikes.

Opposite was a lake, obviously an attraction for the oligarchs from St Petersburg who might wish to spend the weekend here and indulge in a little fishing when they had tired of speedboating.







The restaurant building was new, but I couldn’t help comparing the decor and lighting with the restaurants I’d visited in East Germany in the 1970s. But the food was excellent, even if we couldn’t make head or tail of the menu, printed in the script form of Cyrillic. But with the patient help of the waitress, we got a good meal.


We set off early the next day, with the lake on our right, hoping that the muddy sandy track would  soon give way to a road of tarmac or of compacted gravel as we had ridden on in rural Sweden and Finland. The rain didn’t help. There were few other road users  Occasionally we heard the rumble of an approaching timber truck. That was a cue to pull over into the undergrowth and watch the truck thunder past, its unladen trailer bouncing about on the uneven surface. It was difficult to keep the bike going in a straight line on the slippery mud and brakes became caked with mud, producing a horrible scraping sound. On flat bits my 32s sank into the wet sandy mud. We ended up pushing our bikes up the hills, and descending slowly for fear of ending up in one of the ruts down which the water was streaming. Bridges across rivers were constructed of logs.



The tarmac never appeared. By 11:30 we had covered about 25 km.  It was clear we wouldn’t do anything like the 150 km we had planned. And if the planned route to Kem was all, or mostly, on such roads as this there would be no possibility of getting there with enough time to visit Solovki. Besides which we weren’t carrying much food, and couldn’t be sure of anywhere to stock up with more.

So with a tinge of sadness we realised that cycling all the way was out of the question and made the decision to return to the hotel and come up with a Plan B (or Plan Bee as my sister pointed out). The return trip was a long slog, but when we reached the hotel Els swung into action to plan the rest of our trip. We’d lost a day so a radical rethink was required. It was only a small obstacle that today’s receptionist didn’t speak English when Els sought her advice - they communicated via google translate, taking turns to type into the hotel PC. The receptionist didn’t seem to have much local knowledge, so roped in the cleaning lady for route advice. I just sat back and waited for this ad hoc committee to come up with a plan. Els also phoned her contact Dimitri, who turned out to be very helpful and provided priceless route advice and train info.

Eventually a plan formed. We would ride south 70 km to the nearest station, in the town of Sortavala, get the train from there to St Petersburg, and then get the train to Kem. From Kem the ferry would take us to Solovki. And then do it reverse, with Els flying home from St Pete’s and me going to Sortavala to pick my bike up and head home from there. Simple. I had no doubt that over the next few days we’d have to tear up plan B and come up with plans C, D, and E or as many as it took until we ran out of letters.

Next day we retraced almost to the border, then took the main road to Sortavala. This had a pretty good surface. In fact in places where fresh asphalt had been applied, there was a big drop off to the side and both of us sensed possibly disastrous consequences if we rode off the road.

We reached Sortavala in good time, stopping only at what was obviously a local beauty spot with several waterfalls, although Els was more interested in the stall selling honey




Sortavala was hot and dusty. The smell reminded me of some African towns I had visited.


We went straight to the station to sort out tickets for the rest of the journey. While Els went into the booking hall I read a book, rewired my rear light, adjusted my brakes, read a book again, looked up hotel details,  provided Els with my passport and a few thousand roubles (they only took cash and luckily I’d stopped at a cashpoint). It must have been well over an hour before Els emerged once more brandishing a stack of tickets. And what magnificent tickets they were


We managed to check in at the Hotel Lagoda (as recommended by DImitri), a hotel built in the 1930s and seldom decorated since. Lovely decaying elegance. We packed up Els’ bike for the train journey - wheels off, and wrapped in my tarp, aided by the hotel security guard, who appeared not to refrain from the odd vodka while on duty (my bike was to stay at Sortavala), then went for a walk into town. There were lots of old wooden buildings, similar to those we had seen in the Finnish towns Turku and Porvoo. That really isn’t that surprising, as Sortavala was part of Finland until the Winter War 1939-40, changed hands a couple of times during the Continuation War 1941-44, and ended up part of the Soviet Union.



They also had a statue of Wowbagger


I also had to make arrangements for leaving my bike and camping gear in Sortavala while we went to St Petersburg and beyond. Armed with notebook and phrase book I went to reception - the receptionist didn’t speak English, but my first request to book a room for the 22nd was easily understood and flatly refused. There was a car rally on that weekend and there wasn’t a room to be had for miles around. Somehow I managed to explain it wasn’t a problem - I had a tent. Then after a lengthy sign language conversation, numerous misunderstandings and plenty of laughter, I arranged for my luggage to be stored in a downstairs store room and my bike to be left in the car park behind the hotel. I wasn’t particularly happy with that, so borrowed Els’ new lock, and covered the bike with her groundsheet, so it wouldn’t be immediately obvious what it was.

Next morning a taxi got us to the station in good time. It was less than a kilometre away but we had an unweildy wrapped-up bike, panniers and barbags to carry, so played safe. The train rolled slowly into the station  bang on time, and we found the coach where our booked ‘seats’ were, showing tickets and passports to the stone-faced provodnitsa (carriage attendant) as we boarded. I was expecting a normal train carriage - with seats, possibly tables, that sort of thing. But no, this was a sleeper, and everyone was still asleep. It looked very much like this.

 I found my allocated bunk, which was a top bunk, but after stashing our luggage had great difficulty in getting up to it. There were a couple of footholds, but the headroom was tiny. With a most inelegant manoeuvre I managed to haul myself up and wriggle onto it, but I’m glad no-one was awake to see me. I wondered how Els was getting on with her bicycle-shaped package. (As it happens, people were very helpful in re-arranging their luggage to make room). It was several hours before we would reach St Petersburg, so I fired up my e-reader and got stuck into a bit of Dostoyevsky. I wanted to look at the scenery, but the bunk only just above the top of the window, so it was with great difficulty that I got a view. When I did manage to distort my neck enough to see anything, the view could be summed up in one word. Trees. Or in three words, lots of trees, or alternatively, nothing but trees.

No-one stirred until mid-morning, except the woman on the lower of the bunks opposite me, who got up from time to time to stroke her husband’s ample stomach, as this was obviously a proven method of stilling his snoring. The usual procedure on waking  was to visit the samovar at the end of the carriage and return with a glass of tea, wrap up the sheets and mattress, and then sit on the bottom seat.
 
The train rolled and clanked into St Petersburg on time, and we took a taxi to the hotel Els had booked for her return trip. The taxi ride was notable for two things - we were taken along Nevsky Prospekt, and the taxi driver couldn’t find the hotel, despite having the address and a satnav. When at length we got there, I stayed outside while Els went in to get a room sorted. It was ages before she re-emerged. She had initially been told that it was full, so she just stood there until they magically  remembered a cancellation. Any other hotel would have been less than ideal because Els wanted to leave her bike and camping stuff there while we went off to Solovki. It was clear that Els was going to make Plan B(ee) work even if it didn’t want to.

It also meant that I’d be staying at the hotel which I’d specified on my visa application, even though I’d had no intention of going to St Petersburg  when I filled it in. I’d have a voucher from the hotel saying I’d been there, so that was a little inconsistency I wouldn’t have to explain away if I was required to show my papers anywhere.

Els packing her bike for storage:

At one point in the afternoon I lazily looked at our schedule and wondered out loud how we were going to get to the hotel from the station at Kem, given that we wouldn’t arrive until 00:46, the hotel was 12 km away, and as we hadn’t booked, would there be anyone there to give us a room? I assumed, given Els’ efficiency, that it was all sorted, and I'd get an answer. In reply there was a “Hmph!” from Els, and she was straight onto her iPad, and an email was fired off to the hotel. In time the answer came back - taxi from outside the station, it’ll cost 300 roubles, and we’ll reserve a room for you.

Now being seasoned veterans of Russian rail travel, we had a bit more of an idea of what to expect for the next day’s 14-hour journey. This time we had opposite top bunks, so could chat, and had stocked up with plenty of food. Rather than snacking at indeterminate times during the day, we decided to eat at definite mealtimes. Our journey also demonstrated something we had suspected on our first journey: as soon as Russians get on a train, they sleep. The woman on the bunk below Els got on at St Petersburg at 9:30 am, immediately changed into her pyjamas, made up her bed, and went to sleep. Apart from a few breaks from her slumbers to do a puzzle in her wordsearch book or to eat a biscuit, she slept all the way to Kem (and didn’t get off there, so presumably slept all the way to Murmansk).

And yes, madam, your bum does look big in that.

Meanwhile, I read some more Dostoyevsky, listened to some podcasts, slept a little and watched the trees go by. Els read and slept.


The view from my bunk


Our provodnitsa made sure we were ready to get off when we reached Kem, and we staggered off the train into the northern midsummer post-midnight twilight. We were about 150km south of the arctic circle and the sun had set, but it was the sort of half-light which, if I was riding my bike back home, would prompt the thought that perhaps I should maybe start thinking about putting my lights on soon. Dimitri (or was it Vladimir?) had warned us to have plenty of cash so we got the taxi to take us via an ATM (one of the few in that part of Russia - I had done my homework). The taxi was rather bizarrely decorated, and the driver spent most of the journey on her phone, but we were dropped off outside the hotel (a complex of log buildings), with instructions to get to the reception buildings. We saw some people sitting outside one of the buildings, and seeing us a woman got up and said “Ah, you must be Els.” She briskly whisked us inside, got her staff to check us in, do the police-registration stuff, sold us tickets on the first ferry the following morning, and showed us to out room. We also met Anatoli, who’d be on the ferry as well.

Before 8 the next morning the same woman was standing on the ferry’s gangplank, giving a lengthy speech to the assembled passengers in Russian. It went on for several minutes. I’ve no idea what it was all about, but her English summary for our benefit was “Mind how you go, it’s a bit slippery”.

Most passenger were in the saloon, many of them fast asleep.





The White Sea was very foggy, and after a couple of hours the "Vasiliy Kosyakov" slowed down to a crawl. I learned later that the approach is very rocky, and there is a very narrow channel marked by bouys, before two markers appear on a hill above the jetty which have to be lined up if you don’t want to hit the submerged rocks. If you miss the first bouys, you're in trouble. I showed Anatoli the track on my Garmin. He was very impressed, and suggested I should lend it to the captain.

Two and a half hours later the island loomed out of the fog, and for the first time we caught sight of the monastery’s impressive array of towers.

I could tell this was an important moment for Els. In 2011 her Dad had told me about her long-standing wish to cycle to  the islands, the home of St Zosimas the beekeeper. The tone of his voice suggested it was a wild idea (what a crazy daughter I have!), but it immediately struck me as a brilliant idea for a jaunt. Anyway, we were nearly there, even though it hadn’t gone quite to plan. Several times since arriving in Russia, as a leg of the revised plan had been completed successfully, we’d looked at each other as if to say “You know, we might actually get there!”, and now we could see it through the fog with our very own eyes. The first part of Plan B(ee) had actually worked.


To bee continued.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #4 on: 05 October, 2013, 04:09:17 pm »
Part 4 Solovki / Solovetsky Islands

We’d got there. Where, you ask, is “there”?

(click to show/hide)

We were due to spend four days here, so what could we expect? I knew that there was a monastery which had been used as a prison (the Soviet Union’s very first gulag), and, errr, that's about it. I'm sure that by Russian standards there are much more remote places, but it's still pretty remote - it takes a long slog north from St Petersburg and then a 2½ hour boat trip to get there (but only when the White Sea isn’t iced up). In the 19th century it was where errant princes were sent into exile, and for centuries it had been a destination for pilgrimages.

The first thing we had to do when we landed on the island was to find somewhere to stay. Anatoli kindly walked with us to the tourist office (known locally as the Excursion Bureau), and they pointed us in the direction of the Hotel Priut. We really couldn’t have found anywhere better. It had:

1. a room with a fantastic view of the monastery across Prosperity Bay.


2. A cat with enough fur to survive a northern Russian winter


3. A balcony for drying tents and log tables outside for writing postcards


4. Bikes for hire
5. A woman who spoke Spanish, so some sort of dialogue was possible.
6. A (possibly Spanish-speaking) patchwork and handicrafts fanatic. A consequence of those long winter evenings, I suppose.


7. A restaurant for breakfast and evening meal. Not sure what this was (but excellent porridge at breakfast)



The view from our room, incidentally, was not dissimilar to the view on a 500-rouble note


The island is about 25 km long, but apart from a few small outlying monasteries and hermitages, just about all of the population lives at or near the main monastery, and most things are within easy walking range.

First we walked round the outside of the monastery with its impressive kremlin






During the Crimean War a British gunboat sailed through the White Sea to the island and lobbed a few shells at the monastery. They didn’t make much impression.

Then inside the monastery. From 1919 to 1939 it had been the Soviet Union’s first gulag, and religious artefacts and decorations had been trashed. Then in the 1960s and 1970s things began to change. Such buildings were part of the nation’s cultural heritage, and worth preserving, it was thought, even in country where the official line was strict atheism. WIth that the long job of restoration began. It is still going on, so it doesn’t quite match the descriptions of 19th century travellers.









We could hear the bells from our hotel room






We found some icons of St Zozimas, but none of him with bees


One thing we couldn’t find was a church, or rather, we couldn’t find any entrance to any church, no matter where we looked. Each church’s door seemed to be locked or covered in scaffolding.

Outside the kremlin are three small chapels, each built to commemorate the visit of a member of the royal family in the 19th century.


We didn’t see a sunset (or sunrise) while we were there, as at midsummer, the sun sets at about half past midnight and rises again at about 2:30. So we went to bed in broad daylight and woke in broad daylight. This was about the nearest we got to a sunset


On our second day we hired bikes to take a trip to the north of the island. The bikes had decent enough tyres, reasonable brakes, questionable gears, and mine had a saddle at a dangerously jaunty angle. Anyway, we set off along the road to Rebolda, a distance of about 20 km. There were plenty of times we had to get off and negotiate some feature or other, but we had all day to get there and back




Just don’t drink the water downstream of this structure.


We only saw 2 other people all morning - one a hiker who gave us a cheery greeting, and the other a cyclist  with a black and white wooden pole strapped to his frame. He hadn’t long gone past us when he left his bike and went up a bank to the side of the road. For some reason which is still unclear to me Els stopped to see where he was going. When he saw us he enquired “Are you foreigners?” and introduced himself as Dr  Alexander Martynov, Deputy Director of Solovetsky Мusem-Reserve and archeologist.  He was there to do the finally planning for a dig he was due to lead, having done a preliminary investigation 10 years previously when he had unearthed some mesolithic quartz artefacts.  He was so full of enthusiasm for his subject, and obviously knew a vast amount about the islands’ history and prehistory, so we started asking questions. When were the islands first occupied? Who were the people who first came here?  Where had they come from? Where could we see a labyrinth? Finally he realised that the best and fullest reply was “Buy my book, available from the Excursion Bureau”. And to be fair when we eventually bought copies and read them, it  answered all our questions, and far more fully than could have been done in a five-minute chat. He was in a hurry to get on with his task, pacing about and recording any quartz fragments he found.



The purpose of the dig was to investigate any evidence of settlement. The site was by a lake. We’d seen many beautiful lakes in Finland, Sweden and Russia, and even that morning while riding across the island, but this one was special. Idyllic even.


We continued on towards Rebolda


Rebolda had some old wooden sheds, frames for drying seaweed, and a newly planked pier where we sat and ate a packet of biscuits.









We went a bit further round the coast, just to see how far we could get, but the track was soft sand, so turned back. That was the furthest north I’ve ever been.


During her research into the islands, Els had read that beluga whales could be seen there, and kept staring out to sea. It wasn’t long before she spotted a large white shape which kept lifting itself above the waves in the distance. Beluga whale? Well, I’m convinced.


We took a slightly different route on the way back which our new chum Alexander had recommended as a better road. It was straight, flat, and well-drained, but the log bridges were mostly disintegrating

Only later did the penny drop - this had been a railway line built by the inmates of the gulag to connect Rebolda with the south of the island. When the railway had been decommissioned, the iron bridges had been scrapped and replaced with makeshift log bridges.

Later we visited one of the many labyrinths on the islands. Alexander’s book makes a few suggestions as to  the reason they were constructed, but in short “We just don’t know”.


To the south of the monastery is an area known as ‘the settlement’, a hotch-potch of 20th century buildings.

The first ones you come to are four wooden buildings, two on either side. These were originally barracks from the time of the gulag. Now, one is a school, one is a shop, one is a museum about the gulag, and one is one of the most quirky cafes you’ could  ever visit.

First, the former barracks, now a museum. We went round, but our understanding was hampered by our lack of Russian. There were artefacts and eyewitness accounts from survivors - I’ve since read some horrific tales of torture and death - but on show there was also a propaganda film made in 1923 which tried to show gulag as some kind of holiday camp.


The cafe is painted blue, and has a nautical theme


The staff have little Russian sailor hats, and I sensed an attempt to break away from the stereotype of sullen service, and even to appeal to an international clientele, but they couldn’t get it quite right But full marks for trying They’d even gone to the bother of getting the menu translated into English (or done it themselves with a dictionary).


I don’t think I’ve ever seen gruel on a menu before (but if it was anything like the porridge we had elsewhere on our trip, I’ll bet it was top notch).


There are also plenty of tatty post-war soviet buildings.


and also the former gulag administration building


Other random buildings on the island:

A baptismal chapel with running water. Tip: get baptised in summer


The biological research station built in the 1880s. Now a cross workshop.


Sheds. The island has waaaay more than its  fair share of sheds.



19th century rigging shed, gracefully falling into the sea


The Maritime Museum, in the gallery of a shipbuilding shed. Replicas and reconstructions a speciality



The Saint Peter is a replica of a 17th century ship on which Tsar Peter the Great visited the islands. It has since been launched, but the launch didn’t quite go to plan

.
We hired bikes again on our 3rd day on the island, and visited the botanical gardens. Originally  the summer residence of the monastery’s Father Superior, then after 1919 a residence for the gulag administration, and lastly botanical gardens as part of the Museum-Reserve. The plants weren’t mind-blowingly spectacular, but so close to the arctic circle I suppose it isn’t that easy.

One oddity, to my eyes at least, were the yellow poppies






At the top end was the father superior’s dacha


On our way back we stopped and hired a rowing boat for a couple of hours. There are several large* lakes on the island, many of them linked by canals built by the monks at some distant date in the past. In two hours, we saw two other boats. It was also a chance to dust off two otherwise unused settings on my Garmin - knots and nautical miles. Our distance was 3.2 nautical miles and our maximum speed was 3.4 knots.

*’large’ in this case means ‘vastly bigger than the boating lake at Skegness’.





On our final morning we finally got into a church - officially it was closed, but as Els
      (a) was cunningly disguised (using a (non-YACF) buff) as devout Orthodox Sister Els* and
      (b) said she wanted to buy candles at the souvenir stall,
they let us in. She also made them search high and low for a souvenir icon depicting Zozimas doing his ‘beeskeeping’ thing, and wouldn’t leave until they’d found one.

*I was strictly forbidden from taking any photos which included her in this garb, but I'm working on an artist's impression.

We bumped into our chum Alexander twice that morning, and each time he asked anxiously if we had bought his book. On the second occasion he said he had checked at the Excursion office, and insisted that they had copies, and was very keen that we should buy one. So we went straight there, snapped up a copy each (they were expecting us), and having ticked off just about everything that we (i.e. Els) had wanted to see and do, we wandered off to the lovely deserted bay near the labyrinth to read our new books and doze the afternoon away in the sun.



While waiting for the ferry, we were approached by a film crew* from Russia One to give them our impressions of the islands. SInce then, despite scouring Russia One’s version of iPlayer and finding some fascinating clips featuring the islands, I fear** we were left on the cutting-room floor.

* a scruffy bloke with a big video camera and a tripod, and a young woman with a microphone who looked as if she was wondering what on earth she’d done wrong to be sent to this desolate wilderness, and was looking forward to returning to the hustle, bustle and nightlife of downtown Moscow (or St Petersburg or Archangel or Murmansk).

** actually I’m very relieved

At 6:30 that evening, in rather better weather than had met us on our arrival,  the Vasiliy Kosyakov (the 9th boat ride of our trip, if you’re keeping count) pulled away from the harbour, and our time on the island was over.


A beautiful place with a fascinating history. As I read somewhere
Quote
The combination of spirituality, wilderness and bloody past of Solovki will leave no one indifferent.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #5 on: 12 October, 2013, 10:12:27 am »
Part 5  Out of Russia

We spent the night at the Prichal Hotel in Rabocheostrovsk, yards from where the ship docked, and the following day began the long journey home. According to the original plan, I was to ride all the way home from here, while Els took the train to St Petersburg and plane to London. But because of our changed plans, my bike was (fingers crossed) in the carpark behind the Hotel Lagoda in Sortavala, so I was now going to take the train with Els to St Petersburg, and then continue on my own to Sortavala by train and start my ride home from there.

Our train was due to leave Kem that evening, but first we had to get to Kem, 12 km away. So far we had travelled by car (London to Roeselare), boat (several times), train and bike. Now we were to take the bus. The bus route started from outside the hotel complex, so we were the first people on it. At the next stop several more passengers got on, and as it had only about 20 seats, it was already almost full. More and more people got on at subsequent stops, and no-one got off. Every time the bus stopped I thought “That’s it. No room for anyone else”, but at each stop I was proved wrong. It reminded me of the 1960s stunts to get as many people as possible in a mini or a phone box. I’m surprised no-one was crushed. I would gladly have given up my seat to one of the many babushkas jammed in the aisle, but we were imprisoned in our seats.

Кемь

When we eventually reached the outskirts of Kem people started to get off, so we didn’t have to travel all the way to the end of the route, and got off at the station. Els had to exchange her voucher for a train ticket, so she went into the booking hall while I went outside pulled out my Dostoyevsky and waited. And waited. And waited. A couple of hours later she emerged with a ticket - apparently the ticket office hadn’t been open straight away, but the queue had started to form anyway, and even when the office had opened, it took ages to buy a ticket, so the queue hardly moved (although there were, I understand, vehement disputes and accusations of queue-jumping to keep her entertained)

Even then we had several hours to kill in Kem. Now Kem is not the most attractive of towns,  and most of its buildings and streets look pretty much the same


I’d noticed a museum and church marked on my Garmin, so, having nothing better to do, we thought we might as well see what they had to offer.

The church was a gem, completely built of wood, but with the same sorts of domes as at Solovetsky.



Inside, the church was mostly plain and unadorned, but there were a few icons. Alas, none of St Zozimas with his bees. We got into conversation with the priest, who gave us some tips as to where we could while away a few hours. A few minutes walk from the church we came to the river, laid a tarp on the grassy bank, and dozed for a few hours (interrupted only when I wandered off to fulfill my obligations to the Bridges for Wossaname thread)


Nine o’clock found us back at the station. Most of the line is single track, so trains travelling in opposite directions have to pass at the station. While we were waiting for our train, one pulled in going north. I slowly spelled out the cyrillic on the carriage - Astrakhan to Murmansk. Two names which conjure up ideas of very distant places, places which you know exist, but which are so remote to us that they almost seem mythical. A bit like Samarkand or Timbuktu. Kem to St Petersburg seemed prosaic in comparison.

Luxury

Our tickets had been bought at different times, so we had ended up in different parts of the train. I found my reservation, and was immediately struck by the differences with our previous trains. First, it wasn’t open-plan, but in 4-bed compartments. Then I saw my bed was already made up, and the pillow had been puffed up with a certain artistic touch. And there was a sealed plastic bag on the bed containing such goodies as a pair of slippers, shoe-cleaning stuff, wipes, toothpaste and toothbrush, an eyemask and a shoehorn(!). Then a woman put her head round the door asking what I wanted for dinner - fish or meat? And what about breakfast - porridge or eggs? When she’d assured me that I wouldn’t have to pay extra, I placed my order, then fired off a text to Els to see if she’d bought me a 1st-class ticket by mistake. Not so, she said, but in her carriage she had to make do with the provisions we’d bought in Kem for the journey.

By the way, I’ve since found out that I was in Kupé (2nd class) and that our previous trips had been in Platskartny (3rd class) - “recommended for the most budget-conscious and adventurous visitors” according to the Man in Seat 61, but perfectly adequate according to me. Spalny (1st class) must be very swanky.


Despite such luxury I didn’t get very much sleep, but we arrived on time 14 hours later and got a taxi to Els’ hotel, then took the metro to the centre and spent a couple of hours wandering along Nevski Prospekt,


Now I can’t say I put much effort into keeping up with the latest trends in ladies’ wear, but I couldn’t help noticing that the fashion in Russia this summer was to have hemlines as high as possible (i.e. show as much leg as you can get away with). This also applies to bridal wear, as we noticed when we saw a happy couple amongst the crowds


We found the ultra-ornate Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood which Els wanted to see (although I much prefer the down-to-earth simplicity of Kem’s wooden cathedral)


and then we sat for a while in Mikhaylovsky Gardens.



Parting of the ways

Then it was almost time to go our separate ways, Els back to her hotel, and me to Ladozhsky Station for the overnight train to Sortavala. I was wondering how our farewell would be after four weeks in each other’s company, sharing all sorts of ups and downs, in headwinds and tailwinds, through rain and shine. Our routes shared the same metro line for a couple of stops, then almost before I realised it, the train began its rapid deceleration. “This is it, then,” said Els, to which I replied “Yup”. No violins, no foggy  “We’ll always have Paris Kem”, just a quick peck on the cheek and I was carried away onto the platform by the tide of commuters.

Now suddenly I was on my own.

I still had some time before the train was due, so at the station I
  • had a solo snack at a bee-themed snack bar. (Other snack bars were available, but I had been completely indoctrinated by this time)
  • bought a pair of socks at the official Zenit FC souvenir shop - about the first purchase of any kind I’d made since leaving home. Up till now my job had been to stay outside shops and supermarkets and look after the bikes.

I went up into the main station concourse to wait for the train to be announced. Near one of the entrances two uniformed men (with big hats) were searching someone’s baggage in great detail and examining his papers. When they’d finished with him they just selected someone else who was standing minding his own business waiting for a train and gave him the same treatment. I really didn’t want to be their next victim, so retired to the end of the hall out of sight, emerging from time to time to see if the train had appeared on the departures board.


Ladozhsky Vokzal central hall Photo: Sergey S. Dukachev
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #6 on: 12 October, 2013, 10:16:59 am »
4th class travel

Eventually the train was announced, I made my way to platform 8, and the train rolled in. I went through the now-familiar routine of showing passport and ticket, and assuring the provodnik that I knew my reservation number. Then as I got on, I saw to my dismay that the grimy carriage wasn’t even 3rd class - just tatty seats with not much more more legroom than the Rabocheostrovsk - Kem bus. Before me was the prospect of 5½ hours jammed into an upright position, struggling to get any rest  before the train arrived at Sortavala at 3 a.m.

Opposite me was a small boy with his babushka, and she insisted that he sleep with his head in her lap and his legs on the seat, so at least I had his legroom as well as my own. I dozed fitfully, partly because of discomfort and partly  because I was anxious not to oversleep my stop.

Big Hat and Leather Coat

At about 2 a.m. two men appeared at the end of the carriage, one in uniform (including a big hat), the other in a leather coat. They walked slowly through, examining passports. They gave the woman on the other side of the carriage a real bollocking, presumably for not having her passport, and then moved on. It seemed I had survived  unscathed, and I exchanged glances with babushka is if to say “We got away with that, then.” Too soon. They reappeared demanding to see my documents, doing the page-flipping trick with my passport so that they could check that my visa details matched my passport details (it’s something they learn at Border Guard College, I think, before they are awarded a big hat). Then they  quizzed me. Was I alone? - err, yes. Where was I going? - Sortavala. Which hotel? Here I could have lied, but I didn’t have a hotel reservation, so just said ‘no’. Leather Coat seemed a bit taken aback, shocked even. - No hotel? - no. No hotel? - silence. Big Hat, whose English was a bit better than his chum’s, threw me a lifeline. “You go direct Sortavala to Finland?” -  “Da, da” I answered and nodded vigorously (omitting the detail that ‘direct’ on a bike might take a couple of days).  They seemed to be satisfied with that, and moved on, and I gave an inner sigh of relief.

But they still weren’t quite finished with me. Big Hat came back, sat down beside me, and asked to see my passport again. This set my hands a-trembling, and I struggled to get it out of the pouch round my neck. He seemed amused by this, and tried to put me at my ease. Without Leather Coat, he seemed quite human. When eventually I’d extracted my passport and handed it to him, he copied out all of my details by hand into a red hardback notebook. Not just passport and visa details, but also every detail from the hotel vouchers we’d been given and the form I’d filled in in the rain when I’d had my first encounter with the Big Hatted Border Brigade. Eventually he was done, and they carried on down the train, while I started making contingency plans for what I would do in the probable event that my bike had been knicked in the past week and a bit.

At 3.a.m. the train pulled into Sortavala station. It was noticeably darker at that time of the morning this far south (Sortavala is at about the same latitude as the Faroes and at the western edge of its timezone; Kem lies about half a degree further north than Reykjavík). I assumed the hotel wouldn’t be open at that time, so I planned to grab some sleep on the benches at the station. For some reason, as I was making my way down where the platform would have been if there had been one, I happened to look round, and saw Big Hat and Leather Coat walking along together about 20 yards behind me. They were probably just stretching their legs before the train departed, but I didn’t fancy trying to explain myself to them once again, so when I got to the station building I did a quick right and right again onto the parallel road towards town.  If they appeared behind me now, then I’d know they really were following me.

Olga

Of course they weren’t following me, and I started to relax a bit as I made my way towards the town . From the direction of the station I heard the train’s whistle, and the lights at the level crossing started flashing. Other pedestrians carried on across the track regardless, but I fancied seeing the train close up. While I waited, a woman came from behind me and said something in Russian. It wasn’t exactly cold, but if I’d been her I would have put a cardy on and put my teeth in before leaving my house. Having said that, the hem of her skirt conformed to the latest St Petersburg fashion. I replied with my stock Russian phrase indicating that I didn’t understand Russian. She said something else in Russian which ended with ‘Olga’ and pointed at herself. I pointed at myself and said ‘John’. She was struggling to find some English words, but in the end managed to convey that she would really like it if I came with her to her house. Along with my wallet stuffed with euros and roubles, no doubt. She was rather insistent, and looked offended that I should so repeatedly turn down her hospitality. Eventually, with as firm a tone as I could muster, I said ‘Bye, bye, Olga’, and she took the hint. As she disappeared off down a backstreet, the train came past at a distinctly unhurried pace. It had a red engine with a big star on the front.

I thought I might as well make my way to the hotel anyway, on the off-chance that it was open, but when I got to within a couple of hundred yards I saw a two couples standing outside the front door. I strongly suspected they were looking to hire a room or rooms by the hour. When I got nearer I realised that Olga was one of them, so I carried on towards town on the opposite side of the road.

I spent the next hour or so wandering round the town, sitting in a park, watching the all-night road-resurfacing operations, and generally wondering what on earth I was doing there. Eventually I made my way back to the hotel, and sneaked a look round the back from a neighbouring street. I couldn’t actually see my bike, but I could see Els’ groundsheet covering what could well be my bike, so things were looking good. The pavement outside the hotel entrance was now deserted, but the door was locked and ringing the bell repeatedly had no effect.



Opposite the hotel was a small park, and I decided to wait on a bench there until there was sign of life at the hotel. It was now about 4:30, and beginning to get light. I wondered if I was close enough to use the hotel wifi - I still had the password from our stay there on the way out. 

Bingo!*

So for half an hour or so I surfed away on my phone, tweeting and  posting to YACF.

*If you ever find yourself in Sortavala and want to get in touch with the outside world, go to the park opposite the Hotel Lagoda. The password is ‘commfort’.

Sherlock

Wondering when the hotel was likely to open, I glanced up and saw a small car, probably a Lada,  drawing up next to the park. A man got out of the back, said goodbye to his friends, and walked rather unsteadily into the park, wondering where to put his empty beer bottle. My heart sank when he spotted me and came towards me, then sat down next to me on the bench. I hoped that my standard Russian phrases “Я англичанин” and “Я не понимаю по-русски” might dissuade him, but he knew a few English words and wanted to chat.

By means of my meagre Russian, his sparse English, and sign language/charades, we managed to converse. At one point we established that the object he was miming was a book, then he made an expansive gesture with his arms, repeating “много, много”. Hmm. A big book? No. Lots of books? So he had lots of books. Then he slowly and deliberately said “Co Nan Doyle”. “Ah!” I replied, “Sherlock Holmes!” So he was a big Sherlock Holmes fan.

“Da, da, Sherlock Holmes! Two-two-one BEEE Baker Street” he replied, emphasising the ‘BEEE’ not only with his his voice but reinforcing his point with a gesture with his forefinger, to leave no doubt that it wasn’t just any 221 Baker Street, and that he knew his subject matter inside-out. He also explained, during the course of about 30 minutes, that he was a fireman, liked fishing and his name was ‘Löscher’ (I’ve written it in German because that’s how it sounded (except for the dark ‘L’ sound) and it’s how I’ve remembered it , as it would be a very appropriate for a German fireman - it means extinguisher).

So there I was, at 4:45 in the morning, about 46 hours since I got out of bed, sitting in a park in a dusty Russian town I’d never heard of ten days previously, while a Russian fireman tells me of his Sherlock Holmes obsession. I have since tried to think of some episode in my life when I’ve found myself in a situation as bizarre as this, but in vain. I’m even struggling to remember weird dreams or Audax hallucinations which come close.

I also explained to him what I was doing, where I was going, and why I was waiting (this took another 30 minutes or so). He also gave me a recommended route to Finland which I knew to be nonsense because it didn’t use a recognised border crossing and would probably get me arrested. If I was lucky.

He didn’t understand why I was waiting for the hotel to open, and got up gesturing me to follow, crossed the road, and opened the hotel’s front door. And there, behind the desk, was the same receptionist who had arranged for me to leave my stuff, which meant I wouldn’t have to go into any complicated explanations. She even had ready an itemised bill post-it note with all the storage fees, which came to a grand total of 2000 roubles.

We retrieved my panniers and tent from the dusty downstairs storeroom, and Mrs Receptionist came out to see load my bike, then asked “Woman?” No, she wasn’t offering me Olga’s services, but wondering where Els was, so I said “Sankt Peterburg London” while making an aeroplane-taking-off gesture with my right hand, which she understood straight away.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #7 on: 12 October, 2013, 10:29:06 am »
Back on my bike!

Very soon I was back on my bike, and life suddenly became much simpler. I may have been over 2000 km from home, but all I had to do was sit and pedal, making up the route as I went along.

I had a choice of border crossings.

Either
  • retracing to Vartisilya, 70 km to the north, and retracing through Finland,
or
  • going south round the shores of Lake Lagoda and then heading west to cross the border near Imatra.
Since I’d have done very little cycling in Russia by the time I left, it seemed a shame to do the same stretch twice, so I turned left out of the hotel car park and headed south into unfamiliar territory on the main road in the direction of St Petersburg. Unfamiliar except that I’d gone through the area twice by train in the past week, and the road crossed and re-crossed the railway line several times that day. I passed through several villages and towns I’d seen from the train.  The road had a pretty good surface, and early on a Saturday morning there wasn’t much traffic, but I did notice several rally cars on their way to Sortavala. Soon I stopped to change into my cycling gear, and stuffed my shirt and trousers under the bungee holding my tent in place. Big mistake.

I was getting a little peckish by now, and stopped at a tiny roadside shop. Through pointing and holding up fingers I managed to buy some bread, cheese, cake and fruit. In front of her on the counter the assistant had an abacus and a calculator. She totted up my purchases with the abacus, then entered the total into the calculator and  turned it round so I could see how many roubles I needed to pay. I think that should be added to those lists of things-to-do-before-you-die:
  • Be served in a shop by someone who uses an abacus.
I stopped for a picnic in the forest, but was attacked by a swarm of vicious biting flies, and fled as quickly as I could. They even attacked me while I was riding away and bit me through the back of my mitts. A few kilometres later I found an uninfested spot and stopped for a bite to eat and a snooze. I hadn’t slept properly the past two nights, and was beginning to feel it.

Gravel

There were two reasons for my policy of using the main road. The first was navigation - all I had was a page from a small-scale European road atlas. The atlas didn’t include Russia, but this bit of Karelia happened to be on a page which was mostly Finland. The second was a cunning ploy to get to Finland using only the smoothest tarmac, but after about 70 km it all went horribly wrong. The tarmac just stopped. I thought for a moment that I’d blundered on to some rough farm track, but no, this was still the main road - there were still signs with the distance to St Petersburg and Vyborg. It just didn’t have any tarmac, just bottomless coarse gravel or, in some places, sand. And dust. Every passing vehicle (luckily they were pretty few) threw up clouds of dust. I saw one bus which had to stop because visibility had been reduced to zero when a truck had overtaken it. From time to time I looked for a track where tyres had compressed the gravel, in the hope that the going might be easier, but invariably that took me into the middle of the road and left a foot-high ridge of loose gravel between me and the sanctuary of the edge of the road and I’d have to cross that ridge pretty sharpish when the next truck or car came along. As often as not that meant dismounting and manhandling my laden bike through the gravel. I tried to stay where possible on the thin strip of sand next to the verge, sometimes firm, sometimes soft and often non-existent.

I tweeted my displeasure, and Els tweeted back with some info from the Baltic Star CC website. I was on the route of their Lagoda 600/800, and the website describes this stretch

Quote
Most difficult 35 km long part of the marathon with no paving waits for you 73 km past Sortavala. That's hard but yet not terrible,

Hard but not terrible? My considered verdict is ‘terrible verging on the downright bloody impossible’. For 3 hours I don’t think I reached 10 kph. Downhill was as hard as uphill. At times I found myself pushing my bike when it ground to a halt in the deep gravel.  Flemish kasseien and Tuscan strade bianche.aren’t even in the same league. In one village my hopes were raised when I hit some tarmac, but it lasted only for the length of the village, and soon disappeared, leaving me back in the gravel, sand and dust. At least I knew now that in theory this stretch would come to an end, but wasn’t quite sure when.

This is what James Reynolds made of this bit when he rode the 800 in 2004 (from the Baltic Star website).

Quote
Before the start we were warned that the event contained 40km of dirt: this is it. I wasn't particularly worried by this, I have plenty of experience of Russian dirt and 40km doesn't seem very far when you have been across Siberia. Actually a well-maintained, flat dirt road is a very good cycling surface. But this is neither. A thick layer of dust covers the whole surface. So you climb as far as you can before wheelspin takes over, then descend gingerly into dust-filled sumps (which are generally unrideable). Every time a lorry comes past (which is surprisingly frequently) the world disappears; you can either ride blind or stop. I wonder about turning round and heading back to the 600k finish. But bulldog spirit means tenacity, and I'm not going to give up. So I slip, slide and slither slowly onwards. Three hours after leaving the control I emerge onto tarmac again. Not exactly an impressive pace, but I'm across. Now it's just a straight run to the finish.

Jim Trout, also in 2004, didn’t pull his punches, either

Quote
then the ugly 40km of gravel appeared. Talk about a terrible nightmare come true! Imagine the sandiest, chunkiest, pot-holiest, hardest ripple-bumps gravel road. Now add a bit of traffic to throw dust in your face and 23mm tires that get trapped in the sand grinding the bike to a halt every 100m.

After several hours, the tarmac gradually reappeared. First a short stretch, then more gravel, then a longer bit, followed by a little bit of gravel, and so on until it was all tarmac. Potholed and rutted tarmac but tarmac nevertheless, so I celebrated with an ice cream. By evening I’d reached Priozersk. It looked very spick and span compared with other Russian towns I’d seen. (OK - smarter than the other 2 towns I’d seen, Kem and Sortavala. I’m sure there are others. Perhaps Priozersk is the typical Russian town) Public buildings and shops were freshly painted, the TCB looked new and was properly anchored at either end, the roads were silky smooth - it all looked very suspicious. Apparently plenty of wealthy people from St Petersburg have dachas there, so perhaps that’s where it gets its air of affluence.

Even though I hadn’t had proper sleep for over  60 hours, I left the St Petersburg road and pressed on, wanting to get close, but not too close, to the border. It was still very light, the road was good, and I had the world to myself. I intended to sleep in the woods, but the birch forests were too dense. At length I found a lovely spot on the soft mossy forest floor amongst the firs, well away from the road. I didn’t bother pitching my tent, just rolled myself up in my tarp. I wasn’t quite sure of the legality of what I was doing, so made sure I could make a quick getaway if necessary.

I slept like a log and didn’t get going till about nine. I only had about 60km to ride to the border. The night had been dry but it started to rain lightly as soon as I started off. Nevertheless I made good time on the smooth empty road. I should have known it wouldn’t go on for ever. After about 15 kn the tarmac just stopped, and there was just a broad muddy track winding through the forest. There weren’t many cars or trucks about, so at least I could pick what I thought was the firmest route.

Mid-morning I came to Borodinskoye. It had no road surface to speak of, and a big factory belched smoke into the grey sky. Everything - buildings, grass, trees, cars -  was covered with a fine layer of damp soot.  It also had a railway station. From the train we had seen only trees, for mile after mile after mile, and then the train would stop at some remote settlement of shacks and a few dilapidated houses in the middle of nowhere. Borodinskoye was that place.

A few kilometres later at Kamennogorsk I turned right onto the road which would take me to Finland. The town certainly had an air of affluence - it even had a cycle path next to the road. And the sun was out.

About 10 km from the border there was a barrier across the road, and passports had to be shown, even if you weren’t intending to cross the border. I wasn’t surprised, I’d seen several signs warning that this was a border area and that documentation was compulsory. Probably the reason for Big Hat and Leather Coat on the train in the middle of the night.

Then through Sevtogorsk to some more barriers and a couple more big hats wanting to see my passport, before the woman behind the window took the form I’d filled in on entry, typed some details into her PC, and waved me through into Finland.
So that was Russia done and dusted.

Only Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France to go through now and I’d be back in Blighty. What could possibly go wrong?
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #8 on: 24 October, 2013, 06:23:34 pm »
Last Leg(s)

Now in Finland, I felt almost home. I made straight for the campsite in Imatra, right next to the hostel where we’d stayed on the way out, next to a lake



I pitched my tent and made ready to shower and get out of my cycling gear, but couldn’t find my trousers and shirt. The last time I’d seen them was when I tucked them under the bungee on my rear rack the previous day. They must have become dislodged and bounced to their freedom somewhere on the rough road from Sortavala. I hope they found a good home. Meanwhile I added trousers to my shopping list and started to think about how I was to get home.

Because of time constraints Els had planned our outward route down to the last detail, with daily destinations and distances. In contrast my usual strategy is to point my bike in a direction, and see where it takes me, stopping early each day or carrying on late as the spirit takes me.

The factors determining my ride home were:
  • Get home in good time for LEL
  • Go via the strawberry stall in Verden to claim my free punnet
  • Call in at Els’ parents place
  • If at all possible, get to Morkhoven for the BBQ at the end of the Herentals 1200

A quick calculation told me I’d struggle to reach Morkhoven in time, so I began to consider another possibility. On our ferry trip from Stockholm to Turku I’d seen a brochure with an advert for the shipping company Finnlines, with a tiny map showing their routes. One of them suggested a ferry route from Helsinki to northern Germany. If I could take that, it would cut out a chunk of Finland, and all of Sweden, Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein, and leave me plenty of time to get to Morkhoven. So far we’d had the retronymous Plan A, and then Plan B(ee), so this must be Plan C (named after the Baltic (Sea), geddit?).

The next day I set off intending to stick close to road number 6. It’s obviously a main road which gets a fair bit of motorised traffic, but for most of its length there’s a cyclepath or a wide shoulder. On our way east, Els and I had ridden an  15-km stretch which had neither,  so on my way back I took a big detour, which took me through forests and past idyllic lakes. No surprise there.



It was on this detour that I stopped at the side of the road for a quick snack. While gazing at nothing in particular, my eyes rested on something hiding beneath a leaf, which turned out to be a wild strawberry. A bit more rooting about and I found a whole load more.


They were tiny, about 5 or 6 mm across, so the 12 or so I picked barely covered the palm of my hand, and disappeared in a single mouthful. Not as sweet as its typical cultivated cousin, but very tasty.

I left the road late that afternoon in search of a campsite which was shown on my Garmin. Unfortunately the route it prescribed took me across a lake. I was just to retrace when I came across a structure described on a board nearby as a ‘lean-to shelter’. It looked ideal for sleeping in, but it was a bit too early to think about sleep, so I sat down and dipped into my Dostoyevsky.



By and by a woman arrived to empty the bin, and we got into conversation. Of course it was OK for me to sleep there, and she stressed that if I did stay there, then I must light a fire. I think it’s obligatory in Finnish forests


There was also a well-equipped woodshed

and a composting convenience


I set to building a fire, found a kettle in a corner of the shelter, filled it from the lake, and waited for it to boil. Then came the question of what to do with the hot water. It was too late for coffee, so I dug my last  Cup-a-soup (asparagus flavour) from the depths of a pannier and drank that



It was about five yards from the shelter to the lake, so I sipped my cup-a-soup while I watched the sunset. It was beautifully calm.


Next day I pressed on towards Helsinki, but without a particular destination in mind for the day. During the day I saw:
the windmill-themed cafe where I’d fiddled with my back wheel to make my bike rideable after my broken spoke



The preferred mobility aid amongst Finland’s grannies


A real windmill


This (no explanation available, not from me anyway)


The campsite at Lovisa had closed for the day when I arrived, the man I spoke to when I rang the number on display at reception was rather rude, so I found myself a super wild-camping spot in a forest


One of the few drawbacks of wild camping is the lack of shower facilities, and by mid morning the following day it started getting hot - the temperatures were unusually high for Finland, even in the height of summer - and I was decidedly uncomfortable.

Not before time I spotted a sign pointing down a track at the side of the road. I don't know what Venjärvi means, but I guessed that it was somewhere I could swim.



300 metres later I found myself at yet another idyllic lakeside.



This one even had a cabin for the purpose of ripping one’s clothes off



After 20 minutes or so wallowing in the water, I continued towards Helsinki, stopping at Porvoo to
  • eat an icecream. I noticed too late that they had licorice flavour icecream. Mind you, if it’s like their licorice then it’s disgusting.
  • buy a ticket for the Helsinki - Travemünde ferry for the following evening at the tourist office
  • inspect my back wheel, which I hadn’t dared to do yet, despite the noises and wobbliness Not a pretty sight



If I replaced the wheel it would be the third summer in the last 4 that I’d had to replace a wheel in the middle of a tour. I decided to see how far I could go before it disintegrated completely, and if possible, all the way home.

The campsite near Helsinki was big and characterless, but it did have the advantage of being near the ferry terminal. It also had a laundry, and after 5 weeks it was about time I got round to using  one.

The ferry left at 5:30 pm, which gave me enough time to do my laundry and buy a pair of trousers before check-in.


The 29-hour crossing went smoothly enough, and I spent most of the time in the company of the Brothers Karamazov.

There was a handy campsite near the ferry terminal, and the following day I made my way through the centre of Lübeck and on to the campsite at Grossensee, east of Hamburg. I’d stayed there before, before and after riding the Hamburg-Berlin-Köln-Hamburg. It was still there, but with new management and rebuilt toilet block, but sadly without the previous warden, who spoke with a broad Saxon accent, and had me in stitches with his vulgar versions of German proverbs.

The next few days were fairly uneventful but I did claim my free punnet at Verden - the same woman was working there (but she assured me that she’d briefed her colleague that if a cyclist turned up cycling home from Russia, he was to get a punnet on the house).



She was full of questions, and I gave her a full blow-by-blow account of the trip so far.

I also spotted several tripods at the side of the road marking deaths of wildlife (mostly deer I assume),


a very standard bridge design on the Mittellandkanal



I made a detour here just for the hell of it


and saw some German Belties


I had a bit longer in the Netherlands on my way back, including a night at a minicamping behind a farm, which was probably much more pleasant  (and cheaper) than the holiday-camp-type campsite I’d rejected 20km earlier.

I also had yet another ferry ride


some more bikepaths


a bridge which was open (or closed, depending on your point of view)


I reached the campsite in Noordewijk bang on schedule, the day before the HCH1200 was due to finish, and enjoyed a Duvel (on the house) in the campsite’s bar. By this time my back wheel had had enough - three spokes had pulled right through the rim, and several others were threatening to do the same - so I wobbled to Herentals, bought a new wheel, then rode back to Morkhoven (via a bit of canalside path) in good time to see the first riders returning.



The BBQ and prize-giving was a raucous do, I ate with veloboy, swiss hat, Ray Robinson,  and mattc, and also spoke to tkatzir, Gino Maes, and numerous others. It was greatly enlivened by the presence of 8 Brazilians and their endless supply of Brazilian rum.

The following morning I called in at Jeanine’s B&B, just to say hello, and ended up having a lengthy breakfast with mattc, Marcel from Brussels, and Bernd and Helle (the German tandem pair which, ahem, made such an impression at LEL). It was nearly midday by the time we got going. I rode with Mattc through Mechelen as far as Steenhuffel, then we went our separate ways. I only got as far as Merendonk near Gent.

I amused myself on the road with a study of the fascinating subject of Belgian letter boxes.


In one sense the following day was the end of the trip, because I got back to Els’ parents place near Roeselare, from where we’d started out weeks before. We (including Els’ sister Kris) spent a pleasant evening telling tales of my trip, showing them my photos, and even enjoying a guest appearance by Els (via skype), who had already been back at work for 2 weeks.

Els' Mum had been following our progress very closely - if either of us tweeted, a reply from Meim was guaranteed within a minute. Her F5 key must be worn smooth.

Kris was very worried about the state of my sandals - the front straps had completely come away from the sole, which left them like flip-flops, but pivoting at the ankle end. I insisted I was quite happy with them, but she wouldn't have it, and the following morning she turned up with insulating tape (which had already been tried and found wanting), velcro strips (I didn’t think they’d last long) and knicker elastic (which actually worked nearly the whole day).

The next couple of days didn’t feel like part of the trip, I was just going home as quick as I could. But I take a break from the headwind to stop off at Poelkapelle to wander amongst the headstones


and spotted a couple of bridges




And, after a night at de Panne, a ferry crossing, a night a Folkestone and the longest and hilliest day of the whole trip, I was home.

And now in a swarm_catcher style, the things I’ll remember are
  • seeing the towers of Solovetsky monastery looming out of the fog, meaning we’d made it
  • meeting my friend Simon and his family for lunch, and riding with Gus the next day
  • riding to Rebolda, and meeting Alexander Martynov
  • our first evening riding in Sweden: lakes, forests and silence.
  • the various characters one encounters at 3:30 am in Sortavala
  • the daily cuckoo
  • swimming in Scandinavian lakes
  • strawberries at Verden
  • grinding to a halt in the Karelian mud and coming to the realisation that we’d have to turn back
  • Els’ company and practical good sense for 4 weeks
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

shyumu

  • Paying my TV license by cheque since 1993
    • Balancing on Two Wheels
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #9 on: 25 October, 2013, 06:48:13 pm »
Gosh.  What a great journey!
a journal of bicycle rides I have enjoyed:

http://balancingontwowheels.blogspot.co.uk/

Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #10 on: 27 October, 2013, 06:26:39 pm »
wow an epic.
Get a bicycle. You will never regret it, if you live- Mark Twain

Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #11 on: 23 June, 2014, 07:28:15 am »
On the anniversary of my return, I share with you 'her version'.

MyBlog
MyPhotos

Meeting Gus in Copenhagen


John's ideal bus shelter: with front door!

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #12 on: 23 June, 2014, 11:30:58 am »
I can't wait to read this and find out what really happened.
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Salvatore

  • Джон Спунър
    • Pics
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #13 on: 06 December, 2023, 11:54:35 am »
Back on my bike!



I was getting a little peckish by now, and stopped at a tiny roadside shop. Through pointing and holding up fingers I managed to buy some bread, cheese, cake and fruit. In front of her on the counter the assistant had an abacus and a calculator. She totted up my purchases with the abacus, then entered the total into the calculator and  turned it round so I could see how many roubles I needed to pay. I think that should be added to those lists of things-to-do-before-you-die:
  • Be served in a shop by someone who uses an abacus.


And after much streetview scrolling along the A121 between Сортавала and Приозе́рск, I've found the shop.

Here it is only a month before I shelled out my roubles there



and here it is 5 years later



Steetview
Quote
et avec John, excellent lecteur de road-book, on s'en est sortis sans erreur

Cudzoziemiec

  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #14 on: 06 December, 2023, 12:25:09 pm »
Wow! What wonderful thread necromancy. It seems I must have read almost everything at the time but for some reason stopped before "Last leg(s)", so I've just enjoyed that. And the shop above was still sticking to the old "produce" description and resisting a name more than a quarter century after the arrival of Russian capitalism!
Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.

Cudzoziemiec

  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Re: Beeline to Russia (his version)
« Reply #15 on: 07 December, 2023, 09:13:03 am »
On the anniversary of my return, I share with you 'her version'.

MyBlog
MyPhotos

Meeting Gus in Copenhagen


John's ideal bus shelter: with front door!

Loved the beekeeper/peacekeeper mix up.
Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.