A Travellerspoint blog

Countryside to Belogrod 185km

Homeless!

My plan today was to ride about 130km leaving myself just 50 the next day and a chance to explore the city of Belogrod a little; I was find out today though that things don’t always work out as planned.

Right from the moment I got on the bike I felt good. You get these days sometimes when the riding almost feels effortless and this was one of those days.

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Sun coming up

I stopped for dinner after about 120 kilometres and at a petrol station nearby I met the ‘two Sergeys’ These two happy go lucky chaps worked there and we surprisingly managed to have a conversation for about ten minutes despite the fact that I can’t speak Russian and they can’t speak English. Once again I use conversation in the loosest sense of the word, it was more a case of listing football teams and players from Russia and England with them keen to express their knowledge of English football and vice versa me with Russia. One of the Sergey’s loved the fact that I was proudly displaying the Russian flag on the side of my handlebar bag. He disappeared for a moment and came back clutching about 10 more small Russian flags which he presented to me. It was extremely kind of him but quite what I’m supposed to do with 10 Russian flags I’m not entirely sure?

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For some reason I've become taken with snapping the ever changing bus stops on my trip......a patriotic one today. Perhaps there is a book in the offing “Bus stops of the world by P.G.Smith" Surely an international bestseller waiting to happen.

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I did think about stopping soon after but as I said I felt good and just decided to keep going.. Belogrod soon appeared ahead of me in the distance and I tried desperately to look for a place to put the tent down for the night. However the countryside had now given way to houses in the fields and more and more people. Just when I would think I’d found the perfect spot I’d see another person crossing a field. It was almost as if the city didn’t want me to camp outside of it and it was pulling me in like some kind of force field.

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Some of you might think this is a strange picture to put up but it's a sign of positive progress in Russia I think. I've seen rubbish, huge piles of the stuff lining certain parts of the road and in fields and it's great to see that people are being more actively encouraged to put their rubbish in bins thus maintaining the beauty of the countryside.

With camping looking less and less possible I decided to simply ride towards the city thinking that the closer I got would mean there would at least be some cheap motels for me to stay in. The problem was that no motels appeared and by nightfall I found myself slap bang in the centre of the city.

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Is this the most sinister picture of a squirrel you’ve ever seen? But seriously, it highlights the very real danger of forest fires in this part of the world.

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The 'Paul collection' and also finding someone crazy enough to ride with me!

I was actually near the train station and as everyone knows trains stations tend to attract a certain clientele and not one that you necessarily want to be around late at night, especially when you have all your worldly goods with you. I met a group of young guys who told me that I should stay away from this area as it was where all the hooligans like to go.

By now the time was around 9:30 and the two hotels I had managed to find were ludicrously expensive. It was clear to me that I would be spending my last night in Russia officially ‘homeless’ I located a 24 hour petrol station and went about making myself comfortable in their car park. It was well lit, the mini market was well stocked with all I needed and like all Russian petrol stations it had a security guard with a gun! I chained up my bike on the off chance that I nodded off during the night and someone tried to make off with it.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t uncomfortable but the way I looked at it I just had to make it through seven hours before day break and then I could get back on the bike.

Night time in Belograd seemed to bring out all the ‘boy racers’ and quite a few of them pulled up to refuel The site of me cleaning my chain, checking each nut and bolt on the bike and writing in my notebook must have left them somewhat puzzled but they left me in peace and that was the main thing.

It’s off to country number 5 tomorrow, Ukraine. My visa is still good in Russia for about another two weeks but I’m now well on course heading westwards and I’m quite happy with that. I’ve had a great time in this amazing country and seen and done all I wanted to do at a pace that suits me. I know there is still so much to see here and hopefully one day I can come back and do just that.

With riding the bike I’ve come to view things not in terms of destination but rather in that of the journey itself. When you jump on a plane, bus, train or even in a car there is so much that you just don’t see. People will say I can’t believe you didn’t visit this or that place but I feel I’ve seen so much more than just visiting places if that makes any sense. It’s not been about just ticking of sights it’s a totally different way of seeing the world.

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Decoration my rear mudguards seems to have picked up.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 07:23 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Voronezh to Somewhere in the countryside 82km

sunny

I hit the road again today and despite having got up early I didn’t really leave Voronezh until midmorning. You guessed it another of those tasty meals had me sticking around a little while longer than I planned. Sergey and I also got talking about equipment too and before I knew it the time was eleven and there I was still lounging on the sofa. I’ve tried to embrace this change of a more leisurely pace and believe I’m doing much better at it than when I first set out. After all, what’s the rush?

Sergey and Ira escorted me out onto the road and were kind enough to also wait with my bike as I popped into the large supermarket to pick up water and some snacks for the day. Its little things like this that really make the difference. I’ve also noted that in Russia people don’t seem to mind if you actually bring your bike into the supermarket and chain it up inside. I’m not sure that kind of thing would fly back in the UK.

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Looking back to Voronezh

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An example of a section of Russian roads which have these wonderful sweeping downward rides, obviously you have to go back up but their steepness means that you can almost cruise back up without peddling. It's as if you're riding on a roller coaster.

In terms of what happened out on the road today there was very little to report. I managed to cover around 80km, a short ride for me these days and in keeping with my promise to Sergey I passed up the numerous invitations of spacious tunnels and picked a spot a little off the road in a nearby field.

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Weaning myself off tunnels.....my field for the night

It was another blisteringly hot day and I knocked the riding on the head early enough to try and enjoy some of the late afternoon sun. I really need to perhaps even up my tan as at the moment I have these incredibly tanned arms, legs and face but the core of my body remains milk bottle white…… and no I’m not going to post of pictures of that before you ask!

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Notice the washing on the line

Short and sweet today.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:22 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Voronezh

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Sergey and Ira took me on a walking tour of Voronezh but not before Ira got the chance to demonstrate her exemplary culinary skills by whipping up a storm of a brunch. I was served with this delicious baked cake which she made from scratch I was encouraged, not that I needed much you understand to slop huge dollops of cream cheese on the side of my plate and then dunk the cake as it were into the cream. Needless to say it tasted amazing and I tried my very best not to appear over eager when I was offered seconds.

We took a ‘Marshutka’ into the city centre; these are a typical form of transport in former Soviet countries and are basically mini buses which operate in addition to other existing forms of transport such as buses and trams. They can usually sit around twelve people but it’s not uncommon to find fifty or so individuals all neatly packed in like sardines in a tin. While they are a great, cheap and convenient way of getting around they also come with the drawback that in the summer months things can get a touch on the smelly side on board.

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A famous Russian rocker

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We strolled around the city and even along Karl Marx Avenue before heading down to the river and from there over the bridge to the park which Ira designed. In terms of what a modern park should be it had everything. It’s a park primarily designed for children and if I was thirty years younger you’d have had to drag me out of there kicking a screaming; as an adult it was pretty good too.

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The interesting tradition of some newly weds of attach padlocks to fences to signify their love.

By the time we headed back to their apartment I was pretty beat. I’ve found that when I spend a day off the bike and walking it can be a rather strange sensation. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s hard to explain. I guess you are just using a totally different group set of muscles. My Brooks saddle is very comfortable and I’ve been really pleased with it but it’s always nice to give the old derrière a bit of a rest. Is it right to be able to feel bones in your bum?

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I spent the evening looking at more of Sergey’s photos. It’s funny that as I go along my way and meet lots of different people they all introduce me to these new and incredible places that they’ve been and you realize that there are just so many other place that you want to go. I was particularly taken with his pictures of Crimea and cycling through Finland. I loved his pictures of the spots he’d found for wild camping and I vowed to make more of an effort to get further off the road and into fields to find more, lets say picturesque places to pitch my tent. He actually questioned why chose to sleep under roads. I should clear this up, I’ll often do this when I’ve been riding for a long time and really don’t want the hassle of wheeling the bike further off road and also when it looks like it’s going to rain. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve become this kind of human sewer rat!

While we relaxed in the living room Ira prepared a delicious bowl of fresh mushroom soup. I know that makes us sound like really old fashioned blokes taking it easy whilst the woman slaves over a hot stove in the kitchen but I noticed that when Sergey did try to get involved by taking the croutons out of the oven and making a slight mess of it Ira became a little frustrated with him. We all laughed about it and agreed that as men we sometimes are far better at the eating side of things rather than cooking..

I’ve decided to leave tomorrow for the simple reason that I’d like to perhaps spend an extra day visiting the city of Belogrod near the border with Ukraine. So tomorrow I’ll get back on the bike perhaps a kilogram heavier (which wouldn’t be a bad thing) and start the last leg of my ride through Russia.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 05:27 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Anna to Voronezh 112km

Today was as easy as it gets on the bike. Despite the fact that I’d splashed out on a hotel room for the night I didn’t sleep that well and was up at the crack of dawn to get ready for the short ride to Voronezh. The hotel had a kitchen which meant that I could make some coffee and take my time getting ready. I even managed to finish off watching the movie I’d started the night before and was ready by nine to checkout.

It seems that Russia is one of those countries that likes to keep track of people’s movements. Upon entering the country it’s important to register your visa, this should be done within I believe 72 hours of arrival.

Many travellers obviously choose to stay in hotels throughout the duration of their stay but for those travelling by motorbike, bicycle or perhaps hitchhiking it’s a little bit harder. I believe that you are supposed to be able to prove your whereabouts during your time in the country and this is obviously where registration comes in.

I’ve stayed in two hotels now, in private residences and obviously in fields and tunnels. This presents a small problem as there aren’t many trees or plants that are able to register you passport. It was also another reason I decided to stay in a hotel last night so that I could pick up another registration paper from the hotel.

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I half expected this to be a rather arduous and torturous process but the two middle aged Russian ladies who completed the form for me where very friendly despite our obvious language barriers.
They couldn’t understand what this ‘Cuckfield’ was on my passport and my dictionary on my phone has proved to be extremely useless in helping me out. It’s amazing the detailed mimes one goes into in order to try and explain things. We were getting nowhere and I feared I might have to actually mime having a baby. Thankfully the penny dropped before it came to this.

I don’t anticipate any problems at the border in explaining the ‘gaps’ between my stays in various places, I think one look at my dirty clothes will make it clear to them that I’ve not really had the benefit of hot showers each day.

It was onto Voronezh today and a nice leisurely ride of just over 100 kilometres. On leaving Anna I ran into a group of Italian motorcyclists who were heading for Mongolia. What is it with all these motorcyclists and Mongolia? We exchanged a few words with me even managing to pull out a few Italian phrases out of the bag from my days there. They once again congratulated me on my feet so far but I tried my best to deflect praise back upon them.

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There are certainly some difficulties in riding a bicycle but this also goes for motorbikes too. I’d feel a lot more comfortable for example blowing out a tire or getting a puncture on a bicycle at 20kmph instead of 100kmph on a motorbike. The sheer weight of a motorbike makes getting it off road and into trees to camp far more difficult, a bicycle is just simply so much easier to move around. They have my upmost respect for the challenges that they have set themselves – ‘Buona fortuna i miei amici italiani’ is what I say.

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Voronezh or Bop-o-hex as I prefer to call it

The road was easy enough today lots of uphills and downhills and before I knew it I was on the outskirts of the city. The traffic was heavier as usual and I really had to stake my claim and right for position on the road. While I’ve found drivers in Russia to be fast they are for the most part respectful. That is except for the person who decided to empty the contents of a plastic bottle on me when passing the other day. I’m hoping it was water! Perhaps they were just trying to cool me down on another blisteringly hot day.

I’d arranged to meet Sergey in the evening as he usually works until seven or eight. In such situations and with the bike with me I did what any respectable tourer would do and headed straight for McDonalds. Again I make no apologies for my choice of eaterie but it makes perfect sense; free WiFi, clean toilets, air-conditioning and of course Big Macs! I spent as long as I could there usuing the free Internet available to me but one can only make a cup of coffee last so long.

Thankfully when I texted Sergey for clearer instructions to his house I found that he was already home and that I could turn up at anytime. Once again I knew very little about Sergey and his wife before I arrived. It was no problem locating his house thanks once again to GPS and I met him outside the large supermarket near his house.

I’d made a request to stay with him as he’d expressed an interest in bikes in his profile. He took me to his very nice apartment just a few minutes walk away and I was introduced to his lovely wife Ira.

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Sergey and Ira and more delicious food!

Sergey is a software developer and Ira a landscape designers who also has a real passion for flowers and flower arranging. They are the epitome of your modern day upwardly mobile young Russians. They are both thoroughly interesting people and immediately started to tell me about their biking adventures through Russia and Finland. Sergey possesses a very sharp sense of humour and I sat and looked through his beautiful pictures of their trips.

Ira is a master in the kitchen and she prepared a delicious meal for us later that evening. We took a stroll around the neighbourhood before retiring to their apartment for evening tea.

I don’t tire of writing it becasue it’s true but once again I’ve been lucky enough to be put up by two very nice people who have accepted me and my bike into their house, fed me, made me laugh and educated me about their lives previously and what it is like to live in modern day Russia. It’s such a great learning experience for me and a real pleasure to spend time with people such as this.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:16 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Short of Borisoglebsk to Anna 136km

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I've been quick to point out the delights of sleeping under roads but I have to say that I slept awfully last night. I decided that because I was under the cover of the tunnel that I wouldn't bother with the tent and choose instead to simply lay the sleeping bag on the mat and sleep like that.

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Taking you inside the pleasure of tunnel sleeping!

With everything in its correct place I lay down on the sleeping bag to listen to one of the numerous podcasts I've still got left. As darkness settled around me I jumped up in a flash nearly smashing my head on the top of the tunnel. I felt something rustle past the side of my sleeping bag. A couple of days previously I'd seen my first snake and due to the fact that I'm absolutely terrified of them I retreated quickly out of the tunnel. I'd also heard a story recently of a Dutch traveller who'd been bitten by a rat and had to return immediately to Holland to receive treatment.

I took my small head torch and tried to shine it into the tunnel however the battery is failing fast and it failed to offer any serious illumination. Ordinarily this doesn't happen as I'm inside the tent and I began to rue my decision, based partly on laziness to not put it up.

I ventured back into the tunnel and pulled the sleeping bag quickly to one side, immediately a shadow shot off back down the tunnel and out of sight. It was clear that it wasn't a snake and instead a mouse or possibly a rat? Whatever it was it was pretty clear that my sleeping bag and me were blocking its way through the tunnel. I pulled the mat and sleeping bag out the other side and into the now night sky and we waited. The torch came back to life and after a few minutes I carefully made my way back in. It was all very Indiana Jones ad at last I was able to see make out the movement of my nemesis ahead of me, with a flick of the switch the beam from the torch hit the spot where it was standing and lit up its eyes. What in my mind had become a foot long rat with sharp fangs in turn was actually the smallest of small field mouse shivering nervously as I stood prepared for battle. I felt a bit of an idiot and many of you may laugh at my comical misfortune but when you're out in the open and something tries to get in your sleeping bag one lets see if you don't act a little jumpy. Not wishing to be disturbed further by my small fury friend I decided it might be best to actually put the tent up.

With my adrenaline levels up after my encounter I now found it almost impossible to get to sleep. By rights I should have fallen asleep the minute my head hit the pillow but now I lay restless, tossing and turning the tent feeling even smaller than it usually doesn't. Eventually I managed to nod off but it was the worst sleep I've had in a long while.

It was actually a relief when 5:00 o'clock came around and I could get up. I'd deliberately set up camp here for the night as it meant I was only 10km away from the next wonderfully named town of 'Borisoglebsk' I had planned to wake up around 7 and roll into town for breakfast. Most cafes don't seem to open until 7 so I was way to early to be getting out on the road. Thankfully I still had enough medicinal alcohol for the stove to boil up a cup of coffee.

As I was brewing up my small friend returned once again obviously coming back from his night of partying and wanting to go back through the tunnel and home. I moved my stuff to one side and waved him through. He took a little coaxing but I feel we have a level of trust now and he eventually tiptoed his way back into the tunnel and before disappearing like a shot.

I hit the road myself around 6:30 and was glad to see a gas station just a few kilometres down the way. Voronezh was 215km away so out of my range for today. I figured that if I covered at least 110km today then I'd have a short ride to my final destination tomorrow.

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I've been buoyed recently by the news that my best mate Tom is coming out to meet me in Prague on the 5th of September to ride the final leg of the trip together. I'm really excited about it and it's going to be great to have a companion at long last. It's meant thought that I've needed to really start thinking about times, distances and plans for the next month.

It's hard to believe that the trip is nearing its end. I know that must sound a little premature as I still have to cross the Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and France; I can though feel things getting easier. I'm out of the vastness of China and Kazakhstan now and in contrast Russia feels like a walk in the park.

I plan to spend this month in Ukraine and Poland, a country that one fellow rider described as 'one long village' I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.

Initially I'd set a date for the 22nd of September to return a day before my birthday but now I'm thinking that an extra week might be better in order to really take in the final part of this trip.

Factoring in another person to this trip will be interesting but Tom is a fit lad and I'm sure after a couple of long days in the saddle he'll be used to churning out 100km per day. His imminent arrival has got me thinking about how close I am to home now.

People have contacted me and asked when I think I'll be back and I've always maintained it would be around the late September early October time. There are requests to arrive on this day and that day and inquiries of whether people can come and ride some part of the final day with me.

In setting a date to return it feels to a certain extent that the clock is ticking. If it was up to me I'd probably just roll up one day at home and not tell anybody about it but that's just me. I know however that there are people who want to be part of my return. I'm flattered if I'm being honest but also slightly perplexed still at the interest levels my trip has raised. It's been amazing to get so much encouragement from so many different people while on this trip and I've drawn so much from that. I guess it hasn't really sunk it for me the distance that I've covered. My life for the past five months has been anything but normal but it's been amazing. I've experienced new levels of freedom, met wonderful people and seen amazing things; it sometimes feels that it's all a little too much for my mind to take in.

Now though some nagging thoughts are returning and I suppose it's only natural. I've talked to and listened to a lot of people who've returned from long trips especially on a bike and the feelings they have when they return.

I will not only be returning from nearly 7 months on a bike but also 7 years in China. I've no doubt there will be some reverse culture shock. I'm trying to keep my mind focused on what is ahead in the coming two months and simply enjoying and more importantly making the most of that. Who knows when I might get a chance to do something like this again?

If I had a pound for each time someone asks me the question 'What are you going to do when you get back?' then this trip would have self financed itself. I suppose it's only natural to wonder but the honest answer is I haven't thought about it, okay perhaps a little but I've been so focused on what I'm doing now and haven't really had the time to spend worrying about this. This trip has changed some of my perspectives on life and it's made me realise many things about myself that I previously didn't know.

Things will be a little strange at first I'm sure when I return but that's life and it's about adapting and embracing changes in our lives and moving on. I feel I have so much energy these days and my mind is channeled to spreading positivity and happiness around me I hope I can take that back with me more than anything.

The more I ride in Russia the more it reminds me of home and today was no different. I passed through a beautiful section of tall pine tress and could so easily have been back home.

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I decided very early on today that if a hotel presented itself along the way then I'd stay there for the night, not because I'm tried of sleeping in the tent but partly down to the fact that I can get on my computer and update this blog before I get to Voronezh.

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I'm always very conscious when I go and stay at someones house that I need time to get online and update my blog. It's a fact of modern day traveling that we need to get online. I hate arriving in someones house and immediately asking them for the wireless password. So I decided it would best to find a hotel for the night and spend the evening writing my blogs before I arrive thus giving me more time to spend with my hosts. And who says I don't give you anything?

I arrived in Anna this afternoon and found what appears to be the only hotel in town. It looks a nice place, small with the usual assortment of cafes and shops and also some impressive Soviet architecture. The man at the hotel sensing a payday informed me that the room was 1500 Rubles, a whopping thirty pounds! There was no way I was paying that and I was eventually shown to a tiny little room with two beds and told I could have it for 750 for the night.

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It's not uncommon in some hotels to find no hot water but that wasn't a problem here and despite the fact that I've only been on the road for three days since leaving Saratov I'm always amazed by the dirt my body manages to pick up. I often wonder am I tanned or just plain dirty?

Well that is all for now and with the time just gone 8 o'clock it means I still have the chance to watch a movie perhaps, a rare luxury these days.

Tomorrow, Voronezh where I will probably spend the weekend before riding the final two days out of Russia and into Ukraine.

Dobry vecher.......Budem zdorovy!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:41 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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