Welcome to Russia

The Russia border crossing was my first with one of my 8 visas arranged before departure. I was up early for breakfast and to check my paperwork so I could make the border by 10am. Immediately I was advised not to film or take pictures by the locals. 30 minutes later I was through the border thinking that was easy. In fact I’d only made it through the Ukrainian side. Once on the Russia side there was entry documents and declarations to complete. This took the best part of 2 hours but it was done with smiles and help from a friendly old timer in customs. Once they understood what I was doing and where I was going they were really helpful.

Next thing I knew I was in Russia. No matter how many countries I visit I always get a sense of nervousness and excitement. Maybe they won’t let me in. Happens every time. I love the rush every time.

Dodgy Cops

I wasn’t long into Russia when I came across my first police scam. I was pulled over and advised that I passed a car illegally. They even presented the guy to finger me. He was either trying to save himself or it was a rather elaborate set up to trap me. I was asked to join the cop in his car. In the backseat was the boss cop, surveying the situation. The discussion went on for a while. I stood my ground and denied doing anything wrong. Eventually I just blamed the other guy, as he had passed me. After about 10 minutes of this the cop finally caved in and I regained the initiative. We then a look at my truck, I showed him the set up and he took a shine to my whiskey bottle. He said I like, I said do you want some. He declined as he was on duty (and his boss was watching). In the end he wished me well and we had a laugh and I headed on my way. A ticket/bribe nicely avoided. Big O 1, Dodgy Russian Cops 0

Sergey and Kristina

Sergey and Kristina

The remainder of the drive was fairly in eventful. It was a lovely day for a drive and the roads were good. I arrived into Volgograd in the early evening and made my way to Sergey’s (my host) apartment where they were on hand to meet me and help me store Boris in a secured car park. In his apartment I meet their 10 yr old daughter Sonya. Very charming as we ended up spending the evening together chatting via google translate and Russia language book. I slept well on my first night in Russia.

Volgograd sightseeing

After breakfast with Sergey and Kristina I headed into town to see the sights. Armed with local instructions on how to get around and where to go was loaded up my camera equipment ready for a big day. This was to be my main day for the Russian side of things, film wise. I got the bus I into town and then headed for the metro to go visit Mamayev Kurgen. This is apparently the biggest monument in the world. They were not wrong. It was massive. Even bigger than the Kiev monument (that was designed by the same guy). Being ANZAC day it was a poignant place to spend the day remembering the sacrifices of the Russian soldiers at the battle of Stalingrad, as well as the ANZAC forces. I spent a couple of hours wandering around, watching the changing if the guard and filming the place. I have to say it’s definitely in my top 5 all time monuments. The Soviets did like their monuments. They are a bit like Churches elsewhere in the world.

Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd

Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd

Afterwards I headed back to town for a look around. Next up was the Volga River. A mighty river, rich in history.

The Volga River

The Volga River

After a quick dip of the hand in the river I headed off to the Stalingrad war museum. Very impressive collection of memorabilia. Unfortunately most of the descriptions were in Russian but I still got the jist of the story. It showcased the battle over 1942/43. The key players, the weapons, uniforms and key battles.

Stalingrad War Museum

Stalingrad War Museum

They were set up for an official event of some kind. Just went I though word had reached them of my visit, a wide ranging group of old timers in their military uniforms and medals arrived. I guessed it was most likely for them so I slipped out to let them have their gathering. I found out later that May 9th is the major day for remembering the events of the battle if Stalingrad so there were many preparations and events under way. Especially as it is the 70th anniversary this year.

Stalingrad War Museum - Wall Mural

Stalingrad War Museum – Wall Mural

I walked around for a while and had subway for a late lunch. Then wandered home with a couple of beers for Sergey and me, and chocolate for the Kristina and Sonya. That evening we had dinner together and shared a few travel stories. They are both passionate about travel and enjoy meeting others that are travellers. Sergey then brought out his guitar and played a couple of cracking Russian tunes. Very impressive stuff. Here is the link to the YouTube clip. Check it out.

The next day I departed, after breakfast with Kristina. It gave us the chance to chat. She is working from home a lot these days on account of being pregnant. I got on the road around midday and headed south towards Elista. It was a very windy day, so a good one to travel on. Once on the open road the scenery was amazing. Flat rolling hills of green. Horses, cows and sheep. I decided that I need to get some filming done. However during the process the wind was so strong it blew the drivers so hard it damaged the front panel making it impossible to open and close the door properly. Damn it!! And I was so close to a no drama, lovely driving day. The film footage better be awesome!!

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So there was another unexpected issue to resolve. Wonder how long and difficult this will be to solve? I arrived in Elista around 5pm and set about trying to find some accommodation. This was the first time I didn’t know where I was going or what I was looking out for. There were no hotel signs in English. It was like I was in a different country. Within a matter of 200-300 miles the ethnicities of the people changed from White Russian to Asian Russian. I felt for the first time that I was in Asia. Eventually I had to pull over and go ask for some help finding a hotel. I went into a mobile phone store and asked for a hotel. The chap lead me outside and point 20 metres to the next building. Hotel he said. Ah right. Thanks. In I went and asked for a room. A simple single student like room was 1650 roubles (£32). This was more than I spent on accommodation for the whole trip to date. Russia doesn’t really do hostels and budget accommodation. Well they do budget style and quality, but at corporate rates!! I checked in, checked Boris and wondered how I would fix him. Decided that an early start to Stavropol would be the way to go. I had diner in the restaurant and had a chilled evening planning the next few days ahead. Tomorrow I was hoping to meet up with a couple of other overlanders that I last met in London.

Stavropol

Elista wasn’t doing much for me and I had a car door to fix. I hit the road at 8am. The drive was even better than the day before. Sun out and no wind. I arrived in Stavropol at midday and found a panelbeaters business as I was driving into town. With my dodgy Russian and hand signals I got the message across. They got their tools out and got stuck in. 45 minutes later the door was fixed. Superb effort and then they took no money for the work. Top lads. They even posed for a few pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I drove straight into town to the meeting point with Gareth and Lisa. I was there for 10 minutes and then they rolled up. Sweet. Was a great reunion after 18 months since we last met. We kicked about and shared stories for a while before heading to a hotel and then KFC (and free wifi). After lunch went looking for a hotel, went the wrong way, then got separated and I couldn’t find the hotel. So I came back to the original hotel and waited for Gareth and Lisa to come find me.

Gareth, Lisa (the Vader) and me (with Boris)

Gareth, Lisa (with Vader) and me (with Boris)

Eventually we were reunited. We headed to the car park behind the Intourist hotel and negotiated to park there overnight for a 100 roubles. When settled we headed into town for dinner and a few beers. It was a lovely evening sharing travel stories and discuss future plans. There is a good chance we will cross paths again in The Stans. We headed back to the car park around 11pm and asked if we could stay in our tents. No problem the owner said. All good. Off to sleep around midnight. A great day!!

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The next morning we stayed coffee and breakfast before saying a farewells. I headed back to inner city hotel to check my email before I left. I needed to messaged my Vladikavkaz contact to tell him I was in my way. As I went to leave town I took a wrong turn down the bus only lane and was caught by the cops. So this was how my first discussion and bribe came about. I was in the wrong here. They knew it and I knew it. Talking my way out of this one would be difficult. The cop lead with the line in dodgy english that I could not drive for 6 months after this infringement and that I would have to pay 5000 roubles (£100). I played all my sorry, a mistake blah blah blah cards and said where I was going etc. This went on for a while and I could see he wasn’t going to give up. So then negotiation began. It went something like this

  1. Cop: 5000 roubles
  2. Me: Nyet
  3. Cop: 4000
  4. Me: Nyet, Nyet, no money, poor tourist. Spent it all at hotel last night.
  5. Cop: 3000
  6. Me: Nyet
  7. Cop: 2000
  8. Me: Nyet, 100
  9. Cop: 1000
  10. Me: 200
  11. Cop: 500
  12. Me: 300
  13. Copy: 400
  14. Me: 350
  15. Cop: o.k done!!
  16. Me: sweet. I’ll just get some cash (I’d got it down from 100 GBP to 7 GBP)

I got some cash from the truck and handed it over. Unfortunately I’d got my roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia’s mixed up. I gave him 100 roubles and 250 hryvnia’s. He wasn’t keen to take the Ukrainian cash but I convinced him it was worth more. He begrudgingly accepted. I departed with a smile and handshake. Went I got back to the truck I checked the rate and it turned out I’d given him 20 GBP worth of Ukrainian cash. Bugger!! I couldn’t let him get the better deal. So I grabbed another 170 roubles and headed back. Much to his confusion I signalled for him to return to his car. My friend, I began I have found some roubles. Let’s exchange roubles for hryvnia’s. You don’t want them. O.k he said. Sweet again I thought. I’d just traded 20 GBP for 3 GBP. I headed off once again, knowing that in the end I’d lost 30 mins and ended up paying a 270 rouble (5.50 GBP fine), but it could have been worse. The honours were shared on this occasion. Big O 1.5, Dodgy Russian Cops 0.5

I headed for Vladikavkaz  which promised to be a wonderful drive down towards the Georgian border and the Kezbegi mountain range. The journey provided more dodgy cop situations. This time the darken windows on the front doors were the problem. I just told them I asked the Russian Embassy in London and they said it was o.k. With a smirk they let me go. Big O 2.5, Dodgy Russian Cops 0.5

The road south was fantastic. The mountain ranges soon came into sight. The snow capped peaks were a beautiful sight. I enjoyed the drive and eventually rolled into Vladikavkaz to find my host for the night.

The Kezbegi Mountain Range from Vladikavkaz

The Kezbegi Mountain Range from Vladikavkaz

Artem (and Denis) save the day!!

Here’s where the fun began. First I couldn’t find the meeting point so I texted Denis. Denis said he couldn’t come because he was in hospital!! Was he texting me from his hospital bed? I gave Denis my location and he said he was very sorry he couldn’t host me and would sent a friend to help me out. O.k, I thought. This should be interesting. I’ll just sit back and wait for the calvary to arrive.

An hour and a half later Artem turned up. Armed with his iPad and using google translate he said Denis was very sorry he could not host me but he was in hospital. If I would follow him, he would show me to a motel for the night. Cripes, he really was in the hospital, and he was effectively acting as my local travel agent. Next thing we are driving through the streets of Vladikavkaz heading for a motel.

We arrive, Artem does all the talking and books me a room for the night. I try to pay and he won’t accept any cash. Why I ask? Denis is paying as he is very sorry he can not host me. Flippin heck, the guy is in hospital and he still insists that he needs to host me. Artem and I chatted for a while but he had to go. His parting comment was not to go into town walking around as it wasn’t safe, but if I wanted some company the front desk could arrange some. I had to laugh. Here I was being looked after in a foreign town by a guy I’d never meet before and he was worried I’d be lonely.

It had to be one of the most amazing pieces of hospitality and generosity I think I’ve ever received. You gotta love the Russian people. I’m was to miss the place, but the was a border to cross.

The next morning I was up at 5.45am so I could get to the border before the morning rush. I checked Boris. There is more oil leaking again!! Bugger!!

I was on the road by 7am and not long after I stopped to fill up one last time on cheap Russian diesel (40% of the price of UK diesel. I’m loving the 270L tank capacity I have when its this cheap). It was a beautiful day and view of the mountains was magnificent. It wasn’t a long drive to the border. I arrived at the border at 8am and joined the queue. I’d be warned that the border turns into a free for all so getting here early was important. Just in the first hour I was there a few cars push their way in. A few arms and fists were raised but they got in.

By 10am I was through the Russian border to what I thought was Georgia. So I stopped to take pictures, only to find I was in no mans land between the border again. Next thing the border police are on the scene asking me to stop taking photos and I’ll have to wait until the Captain arrives. I practice my border police banter. Then out comes the cricket bat when Afghanistan comes up in conversation. I’m trying to engage the police in a game of cricket when the Captain arrives. He is younger that all the rest of us. I delete the pictures for him and apologise many times. Fancy a game of cricket? No, ok then I’ll be on my way. Tootle pip.

Georgia here I come.

Russia in Summary
A step up in terms of infrastructure. The roads were better and the drivers pretty good compared to the Ukraine. The farm land looked good, and it also looked better used and maintained. Volgograd, Mamayev Kurgan and the Volga river were highlights. Stavropol was pretty little city. The cops are on the lookout for opportunities to fine you, but for the most part are friendly. The locals were very hospitable and went out of their way to be helpful. There was a mix of white Russians and the first signs of Asiatic appearances in the people, especially in Elista. Spring had arrived and the warm sunny days were a pleasing change from cold temperatures in Europe. I enjoyed my time in Russia. I think I’ll got back again one day.

5 Responses to “Russia, ANZAC day, dodgy cops and hospitality from the hospital bed”

  1. Hey Mr. O. Glad the trip is going well. Regarding fines – when I lived in Russia (1998) the police had to give you a receipt for anything over the standard fine which at the time was 42 roubles. If you can identify the current threshold they will generally settle just above it.

    • Cheers for the advice Ian. I’m out if Russia now but sound advice for other places. I got nailed in Azerbaijan yesterday in a speed trap I never even saw. 75 euros later I was on my way!!

  2. Dean Yarrall says:

    Loving the tales! Keep battling away 🙂

  3. Anton Kharytonov from Donetsk says:

    Oil leaking again??? I confused, I believe in Donetsk mechanics!!! Sorry))))
    So, in Ukraine there are bad roads and good cops. At the least, you don’t had a trouble with cops in Ukraine!
    Good luck!

    • I think the problem is more tricky then they were aware of. I’ve just had the car serviced again and the oil leak is still there.

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