A Travellerspoint blog

Kalininsk to 15km short of Borisglebsk 154km

semi-overcast

I woke up at 6:00 this morning but it's a testament to how comfortable I find the tent these days that having got myself up for some biscuits and chocolate spread I then found myself retreating to the sleeping bag for another couple of hours sleep.

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When I did finally get out on the road I couldn't find a place to have my usual breakfast of fried eggs and coffee so instead just kept pedalling for the morning and within no time I'd covered 60km. When I arrived at the café though I was in serious need of some grub. It's amazing how the body works and after a plate of meat and vegetables I was like a car fully gassed and ready to go.

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I felt awesome on the bike this afternoon, sometimes you feel yourself slumping over the bars, each rotation of the pedals is an effort and your legs feel like led weights. In the afternoon though I rode tall, I actually felt higher up on the bike and my legs pumped like a couple of well oiled pistons. It's a great feeling when you're like this and I picked up some serious pace. I even considered whether it might be possible to do another of those 200km days.

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Ideally I need to arrive in Voronezh on Friday night which is when Sergey is off work, pushing it today would probably mean that I'd arrive in the city in the afternoon and might spend a bit of time kicking my heels waiting for him to knock off work. It's really hard to go out and look around the city or even just pop into a supermarket when it's just you and the bike; so instead of going too far I slowed the pace as the evening drew in.

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Feed me!

One strange thing did happen today; I passed a sign for the town of 'Anna' as seen here in this picture with the Russian Cyrillic spelling 'AHHA'. I was listening to my Ipod as I approached this sign and had it on shuffle. Rather bizarrely just as I passed the sign the famous eighties classic “The Sun always shines on TV” by Ah ha blared out in my ears......how strange!

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I was once again under the road tonight in my now natural habitat.

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:35 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Saratov – past Kalininsk 137km

semi-overcast

Yesterdays TV interview in Anna's apartment was followed up today by the TV crew arriving promptly as promised at 9:30 in order to film me leave. It seems that my life just gets stranger by the day.

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Click here to watch the glorious TV footage in full

I had one final breakfast with Anna and as she prepared porridge for me I packed up sandwiches for the days ride and also made some for her, it was the least I could do after all she has done for me. It's always hard saying goodbye and despite the fact that I've only known Anna for such a short time it doesn't make it any easier. She is the living embodiment of an Angel here on earth and I'm sure like with all the other people I've met and especially those I've 'couched' with she will remain a trusted friend from now on.

After a small problem with one of the panniers and a quick repair job on it it was almost time to leave again not before the journalist had once again caught me off guard by firing some questions at me. Apparently the footage will be up on youtube and I'll obviously post a link but I'm not sure my performance was so polished. There was no giving me the questions beforehand and thus I really had to think on my feet, this fame lark is harder than it looks. I'm hoping that my bumbling attempts to answer her questions will be covered up by the Russian translation.

Questions answered, hugs exchanged and 'good road' wishes offered it was time to leave. I pulled out of the gate of Anna's apartment with the white Lada following close behind. I wasn't sure how long there were going to follow me but Anna had said they'd point me in the right direction to get on the road for Voronezh. It was quite strange having a cameraman leaning out of a car riding next to me. I tried my best to simply focus on the road, the last thing I wanted to do was crash. I allowed myself a couple of cursory looks at the camera I really had no idea what they wanted me to do. After about 10 minutes of filming me, they flagged me down, pointed me right and wished me luck on the way. I was somewhat relieved to be honest that they were no longer following me and with my showbiz commitments fulfilled I could no concentrate on the days riding ahead.

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I was really happy out on the road, I'd had a great fews days in some wonderful company in Saratov and was now heading towards Voronezh where I'd also received the good news that a guy there named Sergey and his wife had agreed to host me.

In terms of todays ride not a lot happened. The countryside continues to be pleasant and the roads not bad. I stopped just outside Kalininsk for Borsch and bread which has now become a staple of my diet.

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I was running a little low on cash so took a short detour into Kalininsk to pick up some more after that it was back out onto the main road to find a place to sleep for the night. A nice steep embankment camouflaged perfectly with some overhanging trees presented me with a large culvert. I waited for the traffic to pass and pushed the bike down the small hill and into the culvert, it fitted perfectly, as snug as a bug.

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There was a time when the very thought of sleeping in a tunnel under a road would have seemed like utter madness to me but I'm so used to it now and I'm genuinely pleased when I find one such as this. I've never been troubled by anyone during the night and it offers the perfect shelter. Freshly washed sleeping bag out, aired tent up, it was time for some well earned kip.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:31 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Saratov days

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I ended up staying three and a half days in Saratov such was the hospitality granted to me while I was there.

It appears that the locals in Saratov love the sunshine and love to hit the beaches. It must be strange to live in a city where you can swim in the river in summer and skate on it in winter.

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Anna introduced me to her friend Lena and her five year old daughter Lettia. They live in Swansea as Lena is married to a guy from there but they were back in Saratov for the summer. She's been in Wales for a number of years now and it's interesting to see that she has picked up something of the Welsh accent.

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Anna has a car and I spent my time there being chauffeured around. It so strange to not be on the bike, I've not spent a lot of time in cars since leaving Xiamen and it genuinely feels strange to travel so fast.

Elena left early on Sunday morning for a gruelling 32 hour train journey to the city in the west where she lives and works.

Sunday was as all Sundays should be, relaxing; coffee, followed by a walk in the park and a chance for me to show off my oarsman’s skills on the small lake.

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Move aside Redgrave

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Monday was perhaps the most interesting of days. I had initially intended to leave Saratov on this day but Anna and Lena had persuaded me to stay an extra day. What with it being a Monday Anna obviously had to go to work. She works for the local TV station and she invited me along to have a look around and told me I could also use one of the computers in her office to get online.

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The original anchorman

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As I uploaded pictures, made couch requests and looked at routes through Europe one of her co-workers came in and spoke to her. It turns out news of my trip had spread through the station and the lady reporter in question was interested in doing a small piece about me for the news the next day. It's not everyday you get to appear on Russian TV and within an hour we were back at Anna's apartment with a cameraman and reporter.

We sat on the sofa and the reporter went through the usual questions about why I was doing it and what difficulties had I faced so far. They wanted me to show them my pictures, maps and equipment that I had. We then retreated to the kitchen and sat down for afternoon tea, all the time with the camera still rolling. It was so bizarre!

We spent a good hour together and they took a lot of footage, it really must be a slow week for news in Saratov. It was agreed that they would return the next day to not only watch me depart but also film it!

Saratov really did turn out to be an unexpected treat for me and it was all down to my wonderful host Anna. Nothing surprises me any more on this trip. I just continue to meet incredible people all with incredible stories.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 20:34 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Ride into Saratov 65km

Welcome to another home from home

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27th July – Ride into Saratov

Once I'd managed to drag myself from my state of slumber I was soon out on the road this morning and heading for Saratov. Unlike Kazakhstan Russia has small cafés and restaurants everywhere and therefore it's meant I've been able to dispense with cooking breakfast myself in the mornings. It's so much easier to just pop into one of these for a few eggs and cup of coffee.

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Today's cafe

As I pulled into the café car park this morning I was a little unsure about whether to eat in this place or not. I could see a man of considerable bulk who appeared to be wearing the same clothes as a surgeon. I didn't know quite what to make of this, it looked well and truly out of place and I had images of some horrific slasher movie in which patrons are tempted in only then to be taken out back and turned into sausages! My imagination, as you can see is really beginning to run away with me. Naturally I had no need to be fearful and my 'surgeon' chef served possibly the best plate of fried eggs I've had on this trip. Not only were they cooked to perfection, sunny side up but also garnished with fresh basil and slices of tomatoes.

I've been in regular SMS contact with my host Anna in Saratov and I texted her this morning with my ETA. Once again I had Google maps to thank for finding her address. This function has been invaluable since I started this trip and in particular when locating specific addresses in a city.

The city of Saratov looms large off the banks of the River Volga and in order to get to it you must cross one of the huge bridges spanning this massive expanse of water. Yesterday I passed through the town of Marks and today it was the turn of Engels. My route to Anna's house saw me avoid riding through the centre of the city and instead I was taken on a road leading to the outskirts. Saratov or as I've come to call it over the past few days 'CapatoB' (Kappa Tob) such would be the English pronunciation of it, is a city with plenty of hills as I soon came to realize. We're talking short steep climbs followed by equally short rapid descents, almost roller coaster-esque.

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Anna was at work when I finally arrived at her apartment but she had told her mother who also lives at the apartment from time to time to be prepared for my arrival. Her mother, obviously spoke no English but nevertheless welcomed me like a long lost son returning home. Bike and I were both ushered into the apartment as Evdokiya spoke rapid fire Russian to me. I did my usual nodding and 'dah, dah' while understanding precisely zero of what was being said to me.

First on the agenda was a warm shower and then Evdokiya prepared a delicious lunch for me. I felt a little bad as it seemed I'd pulled her away from the Russian soap opera that was playing on the TV. While eating my lunch I tried to ask her whether she liked soap operas by using a quite comical combination of hand and body gestures. With this being the first impression she had of me I've no idea what she must have thought. Not to be deterred I tried to explain to her that soap operas such as the one she was watching are also really popular in England.

I was exhausted after lunch, not due to the ride you understand but due to my foiled attempts to explain Eastenders and Coronation street to 60 year old Russian lady. She invited me to take a rest on the couch in the living room and I duly accepted.

Anna returned home around three with her sister Elena who is also on a ten day holiday in Saratov. Refreshed from my sleep it was back into the kitchen where Evdokiya was preparing stacks and I mean stacks of pancakes for afternoon tea. Fresh cream, honey and butter were loaded into small dishes around the table as my mouth watered, how I wondered would I be able to contain myself and not appear too eager to simply devour all of the food that was being placed in front of me in a matter of minutes. It was simple I had arrived in culinary paradise.

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What better way than to start the weekend than to all pile into Anna's car and head for a swim in the river. I said goodbye to her mother who was returning to her village for a few days. Earlier while stuffing my face with pancakes I'd recounted the story of losing my spoon on the trip and how on a couple of occasions I'd eaten yogurt using my fingers. Obviously shocked by such a story …... Evdokiya presented me with a beautiful wooden spoon and bowl set before she left.

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I love the fact that people in both Kazakhstan and Russia have such a close relationship with the nature around them and a dip in the river after work seems very common. Saratov as I was to find out actually has a whole host of 'beaches' along the banks of the river in which local residents flock to in the boiling hot summer months.

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Anna and Elena took me to a an Italian restaurant down by the river for dinner and we then spent a lovely evening walking around the city centre. Historically Saratov has close links with Germany and previously served as the the capital of the Volga German Republic, I'll resist the temptation to simply copy Wikipedia and pass off the knowledge as my own but do check out the interesting history of the city for yourself on Wikipedia.

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Elena and Anna

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McFlurry time!

Once again I've rocked up to a place with no expectations of what or who to expect and once again I've been welcomed with open arms, nothing surprises me anymore on this trip.

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Due to the fact that I was up at 6:00 in the morning I politely declined Anna and Elena’s invitation to go dancing at midnight and she was more than happy for me to stay in her apartment and watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics on TV. Anyone who knows me will know that I'm completely useless at staying awake when I have to. I would probably make the worse lookout guard in history. This was also the case tonight as I struggled against my fatigue. I valiantly made it through all of the opening ceremony and even managed to make it past the letter S as the countries paraded around the track. I was determined to see the GB team come out and also obviously see who would light the Olympic flame. I then however made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes and thinking to myself 'I'll just listen to it and wake up when they announce Great Britain' and that was that, I was out like a light!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:58 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Past Pugachev – Marks 130km

sunny

I've heard many people state that they sleep better in a tent than in a bed in a hotel. This statement obviously needs to take into account just exactly what kind of hotel one is staying in but for the most part it's a sentiment that I've come to concur with.

I was really very comfortable in my tent this morning and enjoyed an extended lie in. This I suppose was also partly due to the fact that once I get up and out of the tent the body then becomes somewhat robotic in the process of packing up.

Step one – Deflate and roll up the sleep mat.
Step two – Put it into the bag which goes on the back of my bike.
Step three – Stuff the sleeping bag in with the mat
Step four – Attach bag to the top of rack
Step five – Fold up tent and pack away
Step six – Attach handlebar bag to the front
Step seven – Unlock the bike
Step eight – ……..and we're off again

This is carried out with almost military precision now and is often done so whilst still half asleep.

Today was the wedding anniversary of both my parents, sister and brother-in-law. Part of me is still convinced that they actually got married on the same day to benefit me in that it's easier for me to remember such is my incredibly bad memory when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries and the like. I decided to pay tribute to them by riding with 'ink' on my arm today to celebrate this joyous occasion. I'm not sure what people outside the café thought of me as I scribbled blank ink on my arm but I've come to expect strange looks from passers by on this trip.

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I finally caught up with my Tour de France podcasts. It has been strange following the tour via this medium and it's a pity I've not been able to witness the amazing feet of Wiggins. His success and listening to the pods have really inspired me over the past few weeks of riding. I'm obviously not in anyway reaching speeds or the physical effort these guys put in but I can share with them the fact that we all spend extended hours in the saddle. There though the similarities end.

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The more I ride in Russia the more I've come to the conclusion that the countryside is very similar to that of back home in England; lots of rolling hills, wide open fields and what appear to be oak trees. The presence of trees off to the side of the roads now makes wild camping much easier but one still needs to spend time scouting out the perfect spot to hide and this can be a time consuming process. This was very much the case tonight as just when I thought I'd found a nice secluded area for myself someone else would either appear on the scene and I'd have to up and find a new place.

I rode through the town of Marks today and tomorrow will head through Engels all very highbrow intellectual stuff.

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With day 143 on the road behind me I look forward to arriving in Saratov tomorrow. I've been out in the open for the past three nights now and it will be nice to have a couch to sleep on. Saratov is just 60 kilometres away so until then.......

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:50 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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