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Road trip around western Russia

Russian hospitality - 09.07.03 - Kirishi, Russia

Monday. When we woke, it was rainng heavily but by the time we had checked out the rain had ceased. We went to the other rock store where Veronica and Svetlana were working that day to buy an CCCP pin to go with my Ural vest. We changed a few words and started our bikes with Staraja Ladoga as our aim for the day.

After some 100 km. I suddenly run out of gas. I simply hadn't thought about the fact that the previous day we had driven almost 100 km. with two peersons on my bike. Bergie went looking for a gas station and I stayed at my bike waving for cars to stop. Finally a biker driving a car stopped. He didn't speak any english but I managed to explain my problem. We didn't have any proper hose to get the gas so he couldn't help. Fortunately there was a gas station in 5 km. so Bergie returned soon. When I again had some gas to get me to the station, the guy - his name was Sergei - invited us to eat. He was just on his was to her mothrs with her wife and said we could also sleep there. We followed him for about 50 km. and arrived to a small village with cows and goats walking freely on the roads. When we started eating Sergei bought a bottle of vodka to the table and started filling our glasses. After having satisfied our stomaches the drinking continued. The memories past this point aren't that clear anymore. I remember we drinked to Finland, to Ural, to Motorcycles and to Berenov - is that was the name of the village. Despite our language difficulties we managd to communicate without any major problems. At some point of the evening we also had a chat with some local young guys on small bikes and got invited to Sergeis sisters wedding in the beginning of August.. All together the three of us poured down two liters of vodka. Before going to sleep I had to go and throw up and so did Bergie during the night. When he was walking around the house they also mesured his blood pressure. All in all, the experience only made stronger our feeling about globall biker brotherhood.

Tuesday morning we woke slightly hang over. I played backgammon with Sergei and we watched Mummy dubbed in Russia. After eating some pelmenies and thanking our hosts we continued our ride. Staraja Ladoga, despite being more like a village was a nice looking place. W stopped there to have something to drink just before rain started and shortly after we rode on, the rain ceased. At about 6 pm we arrived to a city called Kirichi and checked in to a four star hotel - a room for one person costed only 1000 ruplas which is about 30 euros. We had a good dinner and after that decided to try the sauna of the hotel. The sauna had sofas in the rest room, gym equipment and a poreamme. Henry called the reception and ordered us some beers. After the sauna is was already midnight so we turned in.

On the road again - 09.07.03 - Saint Petersburg, Russia

The sun was shining. It was (by the way, Henry is at the moment playing Bounce on his new Nokia) a beautiful Firday morning when Bergie came to fetch me from my apartment. I loaded my bike and we left for lunch in Atelje. Unforuntately it was closed so we decided to get the visas and eat something on the road. We changed some money and got the visas and were ready to hit the road.

It felt really good to be on the road again. I had some doubts about the condition of my bike, but it run like the russian dream it is. We had decided to take the Kings Road to Vyborg and continue from there to St. Petersburg. In the distance there were dark clouds, but we were lucky to miss the rain.

The Kings Road was mainly in a good shape and felt nice to ride. There was one section of about three km with no asfalt, but that was it. And especially the last part of the road from Hamina to Vironjoki was a really nice twisty road.

We arrived to the border at about four pm. On the way there we passed almost five km queue of trucks. We filled in the customs declarations and drove past the queue to the passport control. About thirty minutes later we were enjoying Sojuz Apollon tobacco and some soda in Russia. Crossing the border was easier than we had expected and the officials - mainly young guys - were only fascinated to see tourists on bikes.

We arrived to Vyborg at about 7 pm and checked in the Dhruzba hotel. 30 minutes and some freshing up later we were enjoying the first beer of the trip. After that we walked to the beach had some more beer and ate shashlik. This is holiday!

We had a walk in city and decided to have one more beer in a bar near the hotel. It didn't take five minutes when we had been asked twice if we'd like some sex and once if we'd want some drugs. We finished our beers quickly and called it a night.

The next morning we left for St. Peterburg. We took a small curvy road through Primorsk. For the first 20 km the road was it pretty bad shape but after that it got better and it felt good to ride through the Russian nature with trenches on the both sides of the road.

When we arrived to St. Petersburg it started raining. The fourth hotel we tried finally had a free room in our budget so we checked in. At about 2 pm. we hit the town in desperate need of beer and food. After walking around a little we found a restaurant where Bergie had ate previous time when he was here. It was expensive in Russian stadars but we were hungry so it was good enough. After the dinner we chcked out the main sights of the town ad started our search for the local metal club. In the first supposed-to-be metal bar they played electric blues we decided to try more traditional means. And the traditional mean walkd right to our arms - a metalhead had lost his wallet and sopped us to ask for money. Before giving him any I asked if he knew any good bars in the town. Unfourtuately he wasn't local but knew a metal store near by. Having nothing better to do we decided to check it up.We found Castle Rock without and after noticing the price of the records - about 4 euros - we decided to buy some. At the cashier Bergie asked the girl working there where's the best metal bar in town. The answer to our surprise was that there arent's any. In disbelief we kept asking for a metal bar until te girl offered to take us the the best bar - a rocabilly one - after her work. The store was closing in 15 minuts so we decided to wait. After a while she came out with a friend of hers and we went looking for the bar. The girls were named Veronica and Svetlana. The bar - Money is Honey - was indeed rockabilly but it was better than the traditional Russian techno you hear everywhere so we didn't complain. The girls said they didn't speak any english but after a moment we were conversing and learning new Russian words. At about 2 o'clock we decided to hit the hotel. Before that Veronica had arranged herself the next day off - Svetlana had a free day anyway - so that they could come for a motorbike ride.

Sunday started somewhat cloudy. At noon we called Veronica and arranged a meeting at the Chernyskshvskaya metrostation an hour later. We met the girls and hit for Peterhof - the summer palace of Peter the Great. Even though helmets are mandatory in Russia, the milizia didn't stop us - our own helmets we had given to the girls. Peterhof was impressive. The palace itself was huge but still it was nothing compared to the sights around it - fountains and statues everywhere. No words can explain the majestic feeling of the place so look at the pictures.

With the girls on the back we rode back to St. Petersburg, left our bikes to the hotel and went to look for some food. We ended up in a Ukrainian restaurant. While waiting for the food we asked the girls if they had enjoyed the day and both of them were complitely thrilled by motorbike ride. After the food we went for some more beer and learned some more useful words. We couldn't have had more fun without meeting Veronca and Svetlana and made them promise to call us when they were coming to Finland later this year.

After bidding farewell to the girls we went back to the hotel and checked our map deciding to aim for lake Ladoga the next day.

11.07.03 - Novgorod, Russia - Ural problems in Novgorod

[Bergie] In the morning Skoll noticed that his left cylinder wasn't firing. We replaced the spark plug with Skoll's only spare and that seemed to help.

We left Kirichi in a depressingly grey weather and took some pictures in front of a tank near the city entrance. We found a nice roadside barbeque to have brunch at, and then continued toward Novgorod.

Rain started in about 10 kilometers, and we had to wear the rainsuits for the rest of the trip. At one checkpoint the militia urged us to race the engines a bit. So far everybody has shown very positive interest in the bikes. People stop to look, want to shake our hands and pose with our bikes.

In Novgorod we had some hassles with finding a hotel but finally checked into shabby soviet-looking place called Gostinitsa Rossija. The price was only about 9 euros for night, and we had a splendid view over the river Volhov and the Novgorod fortress. I asked the receptionist whether the hotel parking would be safe and got a prompt "nyet" as an answer. The sun also showed itself for the first time in a while.

[Skoll] While driving in the city I again noticed that the bike wasn't behaving normally - it didn't accelerate properly and misfired. The last few kms it was clear that the left cylinder wasn't working anymore. we decided to troubleshoot the bike the next day and get to know the city now.

The hotel was only some 5 min walk from Kreml - the ancient fortified center of culture, politics and trade. For the first time on our trip there were no clouds on the sky and the sun was shining hot. We had a walk around the city trying to find a photo shop to check the prices of digital cameras in here, but alas, had no luck. After having a nice dinner in a viking-themed restaurant we walked back to the hotel planning to have a good nights sleep.

Wednesday. The sky was all grey again. Both of us woke tired. The room was very hot the whole night and we had many mosquitoes. For breakfast we had mashed potatoes and ham. Before checking out from the hotel we went to check the condition of my Ural - not surprisingly it hadn't got any better during the night so we decided to stay here for anothre day and find a repair shop. We checked out one car service place we had noticed earlier but unfortunately it was closed so we decided to try the tourist info center. The lady there spoke good english so we explained our problem and she promised to help. After the first few phone calls it was abvious that there are no bike service stations here in Novgorod. In a bike shop - which also acted as the meeting point for all bikers in the city - they promised to call some local bikers and ask where do they get their bikes repaired. Ten minutes later we were called back and told that a few guys would be here in half an hour. 20 min later indeed to guys showed up and with the help of the lady from the tourist info I explained my problem. Their diagnosis was that I have to change the carburator. Bergie had in the mean while left to upload pictures in an internet cafe so I left with the guys and their car to ger to carburator.

The shop was called simply Moto (Veliki Novgorod, Popova street 14/32, phone (8162) 615-871) and they sold there also bicycle parts. Mihaill - the other of the two guys walked directly behind the counter and started looking for spare parts. We got what we needed and headed back to our bikes. By the time we god back Bergie had also retured from the Internet cafe after managing to upload only some 5 pics because of strict transfer limits.

Our new russian biker-friends wasted no time and started removing the left carburator. When looking inside the carburator it was apparent that it had seen its best days. During the process we exchanged a few words in their poor english and our even worse russian, and heard again that Russian bikes - including Ural - aren't respected much here. Mihail himsef had Yamaha Intruder and his opinion was that Japanese and British bikes are far better that Russian. In addition to changing the carburator he recommended to change the whole bike.

After changing and adjusting the carburator the Ural clearly run better but still not as good as it had some time ago, so Mihail recommended to change the other one also. The other guy - unfortunately I didn't get his name - went to get the spare arts and we stayed by the bike removing the other carburator. Some time later my Ural had two new carburators and was running like a dream again. Te service with the spare part had costed alltogether 1500 rubles which is less than 50 euros. We gave the guys our site address and bid farewell. They said had been nice meeting us and asked us to send them an email when we got back to Finland to hear if everything was allright. The whole experience once again made stronger our impression of Russian people being friendly and open.

We drove our bikes back to the hotel and went to look for some food. Just when we arrived to the restoran it started raining heavily. After the dinner we walked back to the hotel, had one more beer and called it a day.

A glimpse of the real Russia - 12.07.03

Friday greeted us with a deprssingly gray atmosphere. After a quick breakfast we loaded the bikes. My Ural was running nicely. To our surprise the can of Binding beer was gone. We were sorry we weren't there to see the exprssion of whoever took the beer, when he first tasted it. It had, after all, been with us for almost a year and several thousand kilometers.

Our aim for the day was Staraja Russia - Sergei had recommended it. The scenery in western Russia is somewhat interesting - there are roads with not a single curve in 50 km and only bushes on the both sides of the road. That's what it was also for the first part of our ride for the day.

Staraja Russian was nothing to see really. I had a cup of coffee, Bergie some Orange juice - or Apelisinavi sok in russia - and we continued for Demjansk. For the first time we decided to take a road markd i yellow on the map. The first 40 km. the road was in pretty good shape but after that we had some 30 km of gravel road. The riding was slow but we saw some real Russian countryside. On the road to Demjansk I noticed again that my Ural isn't running properly. We reached Demjansk only to find that it was nothing more than a village so we decided to ride for Valdaj which was some 70 km more to the east. We missed the exit for the city once but managed to find it after all and checked in to a ghost hotel, which by the way had no sign no hotel whatsoever and looked as Soviet it it can get. The room for two costed about 12 euros. When driving around the city I noticed clearly again that the left cylinder misfired repeatedly.

We had a dinner in the only restaurant in the city - Dar Valdaj - with both of us having a beer, a soup and some delicious pelmenis. It all costed less than 5 euros. After that we had two beers at the local beer tent where one pint costed 60 cents. When back at the hotel we were asked if the two bikes outside were ours and after a positive answer they propably tried telling us, that if we leave our bikes there, they won't be there the next morning. After three beers we didn't care anymore so we walked to our room, watchd some bike-stuff on the TV and made plans for the next day - if our bikes are taken we take the train to Moscow othervise we aim back south to Holm.

13.07.03 - Veliki Luki, Russia

On the Banks of Volga

The Saturday morning in Valdaj was once again gray. To our surprise the bikes were still there. Still, even when we were loading the bikes, we were instructed to take them to guarded parking area (stajanka). Despite of our plans, we decided to push on one more day and have a look a Tver. Before leaving I also adjusted the valve clearance in my Urals left cylider which had made knocking sound.

We also stopped by the local Internet club to try to upload some pictures. The square where we had walked in solitude the previous evening in look for food was crowded with people. We left our bikes by the market place and Bergie went to check out the Internet club. In the meanwhile a crowd gathered around our bikes and old men came to talk with me about the them. As uploading the pics wasn't possible we turned our bikes toward Tver and opened the throttle. Again, when driving in the city I noticed that that one of the cyliders was't functioning properly, but once we got to the highway it worked normally.

The ride to Tver was uneventful. Twice we had to wear our rain suits, but that was it. Tver was a surprisingly big city with dolby cinema theater and everything. We checked in to hotel Centralnaja - another legacy of the soviet times - and went to find some beer and walk around the city. At that time Bergie noticed that almost all of the pictures waiting to be uploaded - about 20 of them, covering our time in Novgorod and Valdaj - were broken. We bought a new Compact Flash card, ate our first pizzas on the trip and turned in.

Sunday morning wasn't any different from the ones earlier. We left the town with plans to drive as long as we feel like - or goal was to be in Pskov near Estonian border in two or three days. Slowly the sky got brighter and after an hour or so we even saw sun shining every once in a while. The roads were boringly straight with nothing but fields as far as the eye can see on both sides. At least there were small villages here and there to cheer up the scenery. The asphalt was in some parts new and in good shape but mostly it was bumpy and worn out by the countless trucks.

Some 30 km before Veliki Luki - where we had decided to stay for a night - we were stopped by the milizia for the first time. In Russia there are these milizia checkpoints on the border of the cities and this was one of them. Apparently we hadn't done anything wrong and the officials were simply bored as they were only interested in our bikes and how fast do they go. After answering their questions we were asked to show and accelerate all we could. A stupified smile on our faces we did as asked.

In Veliki Luki we checked in to a hotel which from the outside did't look like much but turned out to be pretty nice from the inside. After a quick shower we decided to go search for some food. Not more that two steps after we had stepped out from our room, our administrator - as they call them here - asked if we'd like something to eat. We gave a positive answer and were directed to a small empty dining room. We sat down and a moment later we were brought a can of every beer they had and some juice and water. We picked the beer of our choice. Another moment later, without being asked what we'd like to eat, we were brought some chicken salad as the appetizer. While eating the salad we could hear microwave oven being used and shortly after that we were brought a simple but tasty meal of rice and pork in mushroom and onion dressing. After a walk in the city and a few beers it was time to get a taxi back to the hotel and get some rest for the ride to Pskov the next day.

My friend milizia - 14.07.03 - Pskov, Russia

Monday morning in Velike Luki was the first one to greet us with sunshine. Dark clouds still covered most of the sky but that didn't bother us. During the last few days I had noticed odd cruching sound coming from my Ural's engine. The previous day I had topped up the oil but that didn't help. This morning, after a bit of investigation, it seemed to come from the alternator. Feeling relieved we started our 250 km ride for Pskov.

In Pustoshka, some 70 km from Velike Luki, we stopped for a moment. I left to the post office while Bergie stayed with the bikes. When I came back there was a crowd of boys of 5 years to men of 60 years around of our bikes bombing Bergie with questions. Initially there had came only some young boys looking at the bikes, shortly after them some older boys who even dared to open conversation and encouraged by them the older men.

The questions were typical: "Where are you from? Is that an Ural? How many cylinders does that have? How fast does it go? 200, really? Is that really an Ural? How much does that cost?"

We continued our ride, but it didn't take more than a few kilometers when we were stopped by the milizia. This time it wasn't one of these usual checkpoints and we knew we were speeding. We didn't quite understand what was the speed limit - possibly 50 km/h - but we were shown we had been riding at 81 km/h. The officer, with a smile on his face, tried to explain us the situation but we didn't understand a word. Almost laughing he kept asking us what should they do with us now. He also said something about fee, but when I asked how much would that be, he seemed to ask us back how much would it be. After repeating 'Ja ni ponimaju' (I don't understand), still smiling, he said 'ladna' (okay then) and gestured us to ride on. I doubt their attitude would have been the same had we been on a car.

During the next 100 km we were stopped for two more times - these luckily on the normal checkpoints. The procedure was the same as on the first time - a few guys - one of them holding a machine gun, the others only pistols - walked to our bikes and started asking questions. First a few more 'official' questions like where are we coming from and were are we going to, and then questions like how fast does it go, how many cylinders, is that really an Ural, What does this button do, what oes that button do and so on. Eventually, after satisfying their curiosity, we rode on.

Pskov was a city celebrating its 1100th birthday some time this year. We checked in to a hotel, and had a walk in the city. The walls surroungind the center were old and imposing, but other that that and the usual Lenin statue, there wasn't much to see. We had dinner in a restaurant built to an old guard tower and enjoyed documentary about tanks.

The sun was still shining when we walked walked back to the hotel. The next day we would be again safely in west - Estonia that is. Before that we would pass some time by watching Russian TV and consuming beer.

Go west - 16.07.03 - Nurme kula, Pärnu, Estonia

Tuesday morning in Pskov and not a single cloud on the sky - the first summer day during our vacation. Wearing only t-shirts we aimed for the Estonian border. We were there at about 1 pm. There was no queue, but then again there didn't seem to be any officials either. While we waited some Latvian cars came behind us and we started wondering if we were at the Estonian border or at the Latvian. Some 30 min later the officials returned from their lunch break.

The customs went without problems but when we walked to he passport control the lady there started asking us where was the migration card. The same card was asked also at the hotel in St. Petersburg. As we didn't have it, the official made a few phone calls and then asked us to wait. And - joking whether we are going to get safely back to west - wait we did. After a while we were brought the missing migration cards, which we apparently should have filled when entering Russia and where the hotels should have stamped our stay. We filled them in and were finally free to go. Hooray!

To our surprise we were actually at the Estonian border. On the other side the officials asked us a few questions about our bikes and after changing some money we rode on. It took us some two hours to get to Tartu where my cousin lives. Half of the road was in excellent shape, the other half had some heavy road work - courtesy of the World Bank. After Russia Estonia really felt like a modern western country.

The day was the hottest one so far in Estonia and they had promised even hotter for the next day. We had a dinner at Marju - my cousin - and she showed us the sights of the city. After that we went to visit a restaurant built in an old gunpowder cellar. They served there 0.3 liter beers for juniors, 0.5 for ladies and one liter biersteins for men.

The next day was indeed even hotter. We had a breakfast and left for Pärnu. On our way we stopped to for gas and had a chat with a local who had had a Jawa years ago. Riding felt really good. The sun was shining and the scenery was nice. At some point we got a bit of light refresing rain. On the way Bergie proved that you can do the most amazing things while riding a bike - like spread sun lotion to your legs, not to speak about taking photos and writing SMS's.

We arrived to Nurme - a village some 10 km from Pärnu where my aunt keeps an Inn - and had a refreshing swim in the river. The rest of the day went nicely sitting outside, chatting, swimming in a river and drinking beer.

Nurme kula, Pärnu, Estonia - 19.07.03 - Bike problems in Estonia

We started the next morning with another refreshing swim in the river, and continued to the centre of Pärnu for beers and some shopping. The day was very hot so we had to stop to a beer terrace every couple hundred meters.

After seeing the centre and arranging Mark's bus tickets we went to the local biker pub Alexandri to enjoy regular-sized (1 liter) beers. Bergie was trying to learn some Estonian, mainly focused on buying beer without appearing too poro, the name Estonians use for "drunken Finns" (whereas all Finns are considered drunken).

In the evening we went to Kuursaal, the self-titled largest pub in Estonia, located on the Pärnu beach. We met some friends of Skoll's cousins and enjoyed more beers. After discussing differences between travelling in Russia with a truck and a motorcycle we returned to the Uueda inn for some sauna.

The next morning we packed up with all the intent to ride on to do some camping in the Saaremaa island. However, the battery of Bergie's Triumph had emptied during the stay. We went to buy new battery fluids with Skoll's little brother. After recharging Bergie gave rides on his Triumph to the large horde of motorcycling enthusiasts that quickly materialized.

After lunch we said goodbyes and rode on to the Lihula highway. After some kilometers of riding Bergie noticed Skoll getting left behind. The Ural had started sputtering and failed to accelerate past 40 kmh. As the front light had gotten very dim we attributed the problem to dead battery. The alternator had made very strange noises for the last week so we diagnozed it being broken.

Luckily we got the Ural limped back to Uueda and put the battery into charging. While waiting for the Ural problems Bergie took a look at the Triumph in more detail and noticed that the ignitor cord of the middle cylinder was hanging loose. When JL Bike had replaced the ignition box and coils they had apparently forgotten to plug the cylinder in. This explained the lack of power and high fuel consumption Bergie had been experiencing after the ignitor changes. With all three cylinders running the bike had a completely different character. It had real power!

Intent to still do some camping we set up the tent on the backyard of the inn and spent the rest of the day alternating between sauna, beer, barbequeing sausages and swimming in the river. While we missed Saaremaa, this still was a proper summer holiday.

We went to sleep listening to fireworks in a nearby wedding party.

This story was kindly provided by Routa, a Finnish touring-oriented Motorcycle Club,

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