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The Next Lap
Our continuing journey towards Russia and Mongolia

Rotterdam, Holland. 19th April 2011.

   What fantastic weather we have for the start of our trip! I can't imagine that it will be like this for the 7 months we are away but can only hope.

We left the flat early afternoon and headed towards Harwich with a couple of stops en route. Nick wanted a traditional, final British supper, of Fish and Chips which we enjoyed on a park bench in Harwich.....could this be a sign of things to come??

As we waited for the ferry we had time to chat with the cyclists who were off on their own adventures, I was almost envious.

After a great night sleep in the luxury bunk beds we headed to our old friends Harry and Janny in Rotterdam. Harry soon had us out walking around the neighbourhood near the huge Hoy stadium. After lunch we went out onto the canal cycle paths on the traditional "Sit up and beg" Cycles. The traffic has to give way to cycles on the endless cycle paths and it takes a while to get used to it. There were hundreds of people out and about cycling in the sunshine.

When we got back to their flat it was 27 deg on the balcony! And there is more to come!

Tomorrow we head east.

Walcz, A10 to Bydgoszcz, Poland.  26th April 2011

   Harry & Janny’s son Ronald guided us out of Rotterdam on his matt black, old police BMW R80RT, via the Windmills and canals. The sun shone and the trees were full of blossom. The old girl burbled her way along the lanes...a great start to the adventure apart from the price of fuel at £1.54p per ltr. We were soon in Germany after a short time on the fast but boring auto route from Utrecht to Apeldorm.

Our 1st camp was at Osnabruick which was very quiet; we were the only folks camping there. The next day we arrived at Domitz on the River Elbe and camped close to the loch. Again we were the only ones in tents although there were plenty of camper vans and caravans. It seems that for a while we will be experiencing perpetual spring. The further East we go the blooms of the trees and shrubs appear so much further behind those of the UK. It has been lovely to ride through the forested areas with the fresh foliage.

Germans really celebrate Easter. On Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Monday all supermarkets and businesses are closed. Only petrol stations and restaurants are open. Towns, villages and homes have been decorated with Easter bunnies made of straw, yellow chicks and brightly coloured eggs hang from shrubs and trees along the roadside. The centres of towns are also closed.

On Good Friday, the 22nd we headed to Bodstedt via Ludwigslust, Parchim. Gustrow and Rostock. It had become very flat and much windier the closer we got to the coast. The Folks at the campsite at Bodstedt were very friendly and only too keen to fix our old adaptor which didn't want to work. Jens fixed it using our camp stove and a screw driver? Don’t ask how!

We spent 4 nights camping at Bodstedt. The sun was very hot but the wind bitterly cold and relentless. Our new friend Jens took us to Zingst, the closest beach which was busy but windswept. Everyone seemed to be enjoying ice creams wherever we went. On Saturday we enjoyed getting to know the very friendly folk at the site around a bonfire at night. They were very sociable and generous - I shall say no more!

Now Easter is over we are back on the road and today we reached Poland. I was a bit disappointed as the whole frontier was like a ghost town. We changed Some Euros into Zloty's which today are worth about 21p. The language is completely different and we haven't seen another UK car since we left Holland.

We felt a few spots of rain as we passed a Motel, the price was right and they have free WIFI and breakfast, a good start to our first visit to Poland.

Until next time

Lesley and Nick

Footnote.

   1st Our friend Janny in Rotterdam was very unwell and was admitted to hospital the day after we left them. Happily she is recovering at home now.

   2nd The international adapter for all plug sockets ceased to function until Jens fixed it for us.

   3rd Nick has lost another filling!! I seem to remember this happening on our last trek round the world!

Ventspil, Latvia. 1st May 2011.

   I am very impressed with what little we have seen of Poland so far. The German/Polish border was a ghost town. The only place open was a small port-a-cabin ”Kantor” money exchange which we stopped at straight away to exchange Euros into Polish Zloty’s. ( E1 = 4.20 PLN) Already it seemed a bit cheaper. A mile down the road we came across a huge Flea market and several stalls strewn along the road. Many stalls were run by old ladies selling colourful glass ornaments which I later discovered were for placing on grave stones. The very full cemeteries are full of colour and flowers and most of the churches seem very new and modern.

The countryside is full of wildlife. We saw Fox, deer, storks and Bison within the first hour of riding along the very new highway surrounded by open fields and woodland.

There is a great deal of construction of roads and houses in Poland and great care is taken for the safety of road users. We have never seen so many speed cameras, usually in every town or village and there have been several Police checks but we haven’t been stopped at all.

In the large city of Bydgoszcz huge tower blocks have been painted in pastel colours or had colourful adverts covering the end walls. The trams are busy and familiar stores like Tesco, with its red telephone box outside, Castarama, Macrow, BP and Shell fuel are very common.

Where there is space there are allotments and people very industriously digging and planting. The further East we travel the season of spring appears later. In some places the daffodils and tulips are just in bloom and where we once saw orchards of apple blossom we now see bare branches with a little hint of colour.

On the surface it looks as though Poland is developing very well. We just wished we understood the language so that we could make conversation.

The border into Lithuania was also deserted but there was a constant stream of large trucks on the approach roads. The first thing we notice is that the houses are now low, grey, small bungalows made mainly of wood, with corrugated roofing. The country was flat and open and dusty dirt roads lead off the main roads to small settlements. On our first night we found a gem off the main road. A wonderful log cabin and a superb chef! No camping or one-pot cook for us.

As we rode around Kaunas we saw an interesting rock formation in the distance. It just needed to be explored. When we arrived we discovered it was a magnificent concrete sculpture memorial to those who lost their lives to the Nazis. On 20/11/41 1,000 deported Bavarian Jews were murdered here. In total over 50,000 Russian, Jews and Lithuanian people were murdered here in the huge chambers. It was a spine chilling experience to visit this unsigned memorial.

We are now in Latvia and have seen the Baltic Sea and felt the Baltic chill. The bike is going well. Nick’s tooth seems to be okay at present and I am celebrating my birthday with a bar of truffle chocolate. We have been so lucky with the weather and hope that it will continue for the next leg.

Until next time… Lesley

Riga, Latvia capital City. 4th May 2011

   We left Ventspils and very soon felt the icy chill, frequent stops were made to get a hot drink and add another layer as the sky turned grey and threatening. Thank goodness we only had 129 miles to go to the Capital city of Riga. Ten of those miles may have been in search of a hostel but we found the "Happy Hostel" south of the river and made it our base for 2 days. We are the first Brits to have ever darkened their doors, and it was so cheap; at least we got our wonderful Hood Jeans washed!

Trolley buses with overhead cables are usually driven by non-smiling women. The number-19 trolley bus took us into the city centre where the old collides with the new. Nick was somewhat overcome by the lofty girls in spray-on trousers and I feel even more conscious of my grey hair as every other female over 40 have colours ranging from black, orange, purple and plum; I think I will stick with the natural look.

We wandered around the cobble streets, dodging the trams and trolley buses and found that Riga is a city just like anywhere else. Huge indoor markets selling meat, fish, fruit and veg etc are held inside old Zeppelin Hangars and market stalls outside sell underwear, shoes, magazines and cigarettes. Dark and gloomy underpasses offered some shelter from the unexpected snow yesterday and the buskers do their thing entertaining the locals hoping for enough donations towards a coffee or bottle of something.

The huge glossy shopping Malls are very similar to those in UK. We had a quick wander around but prefer the back streets and alleyways. I think we may be the only non locals here.

Today (the 4th) is another Bank holiday. Children are off school and we were drawn to a park near the canal where we watch a wonderful military marching band playing some fairly upbeat tunes. Not only could they play but they were dancing as well. Salsa type steps with the odd duck and dive kept the music alive. I wish I could do at least one of these skills, play and instrument or dance.

We ventured out to the outskirts of town to visit the Motor museum. After a hike through a forested area we came across a wonderful motor racing circuit being used by cyclists, runners, in-line-skaters and lots of men pushing small baby pushchairs. (Perhaps the Mums are out there driving the Trolley buses?) As it was B/hols it was closed so we walked back to the stop through the woods...and the sun came out and the temperature rose.

We are back on the road tomorrow to place ourselves closer to the border, hopefully ready to enjoy a smooth and incident free border crossing into Russia on the 6th.

Until next time

Lesley and Nick

Moscow, Russia. 10th May 2011.

   After our days off in Riga we headed towards the Russian border, following a huge river for miles and regularly crossing railway lines which carried all kinds of freight. The land had become very flat and boggy. The silver birch trees that lined the road appeared to be drowning and bowed over. Having entered the “Border Area” we stopped at Ludza, 30 miles from the border and were entertained by a little lady in the belfry of a nearby church, rattling out some amazing rhythms on the church bells. I couldn’t see any ear defenders under her red head scarf!

Border Crossing Border crossing day and we are on the road by 9am after feasting on peanut butter and honey sandwiches. We arrived at 9.55am and joined the back of a very long queue, about a 1-km !! At least it wasn’t raining. After sitting for a few minutes a man in one of the vehicles beckoned us through so we rode slowly by the stationary vehicles till we pulled into an official looking area where we hoped we might be able to buy some insurance for the bike; No luck there! A guy on a big Honda Blackbird roared passed the cars and got to the head of the queue at a red traffic light. He then hopped off and began pushing it towards the immigration area; we followed. After stopping at the traffic lights near the first cabin our passports were checked and Nick was given a slip of paper. We then pushed the bike 400 mtrs to the next cabin where Nick handed the ticket to a man in the next cabin. Once again our passports were checked and we had apparently passed through Latvian customs.

We pushed the bike to the next set of 3 or 4 cabins - Russian Immigration, in an undercover area. At the 1st cabin we were given 2 identical immigration slips each, fortunately in English, which we filled in and handed back to a 3rd person who checked and stamped the passports and returned them to us with one of the registration slips. Apparently we must guard these with our lives. The bike was then pushed a few metres to another cabin where English copies of the Customs form had to be found so Nick could fill in the bike details in duplicate which were needed for temporary importation. We understand that usually the bike has to be registered within 14days at an office in the city where the registration can be extended but we were very fortunate and were given the full 3-months there and then, the same length of time as our visas. After a quick glance inside the panniers we were waved on and rode under the arches and into Russia. The whole process took 2-hours and during that time I counted 10 different uniforms and not one smile.

Once again information we received from www.horizonsunlimited.com regarding motorcycle insurance was very helpful. We stopped at a garage 100mtrs away and found a man behind a makeshift desk in the corner of the shop with a laptop, this turned out to be the insurance office and currency exchange. Nick bought 3-months insurance for about 1458 roubles (approx. £30) and cashed in the last of the Euros and Latvian change and I bought the coffee. We both gave a huge sigh of relief……well that wasn’t too bad.

Pot holes! The roads leading to the border where not great but the main M9 from the border to Moscow was quite amazing. The pot holes were huge and deep, in places it looked as though it had been carpet bombed. Nick had to concentrate 110% as it had begun to rain which made things worse, at least he wasn’t missing much in the way of scenery. In places the tarmac was missing in chunks and grooves 2-3 inches deep ran crisscross along the road. It reminded me of some of the dirt roads we had ridden in South America. Then suddenly for a few miles it will become smooth and silky so that we could pick the speed up a bit and relax before the holes began again. It was tough going and the route initially was mostly crossing boggy marshland with forested areas. I had my first experience with a Local toilet, a shack with a slightly raised wooden floor which had a large hole cut into it through which you could see daylight. A deep breath of fresh air is necessary before entering one of these chambers!

The road signs are all using the Cyrillic alphabet which makes them unreadable to me. Dirt tracks lead off from the main road to villages of small wooden houses. At the side of the road we saw old ladies selling stuffed beavers and the furs and heads of bear and wolf alongside jars of what looked like honey, I shudder just thinking of it.

We spent our first night in a trucker’s café; the “Matron” sits behind her desk and issues keys. The room was clean and tidy and even had a loo and shower. We were soaked so dripped everywhere, I am sure she disapproved.

Next day as we got within 50miles of Moscow the road suddenly improved and the traffic, which up till then had been mainly lorries and Ladas, now became much heavier with lots of rather smart cars. We found our pre-booked Godzillas Hostel (www.godzillashostel.com) quite easily and soon made use of the washing machine. Later we ventured out to see what Moscow was about. I have never seen so many expensive shopping malls, designer stores, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, Ferraris and Bentleys in one small space. New glitzy buildings mingle with the old, but it was not as drab as expected. In fact, there is quite a mixture of architecture here and nothing that screams out “Tasteless”

Yesterday, 9th May we joined the thousands to line the streets hoping for a glimpse of the Victory Parade which ends in Red Square. The public are not allowed near Red Square. You probably saw more of the parade on the 6pm news than we did but the crowd were very enthusiastic and cheered as the tanks rolled past us. Later in the evening we watched some ceremonies and singers on a stage opposite the Bolshoi Theatre, there was much flag waving.

Today, our last day in Moscow, we took a wander around the Kremlin after walking across the famous Red Square. The Churches and cathedrals within the square were very ornate and inside the walls were covered with icons and paintings. In one cathedral there was a display of jewellery including a collection of Faberge eggs given as gifts by Tsar Nicholas II, ( no photography allowed). Nick insisted that we had lunch at the Mac D’s in Red Square! And you know what? It tasted the same as everywhere else!

We have enjoyed our time here in Moscow and would encourage anyone to visit, as long as you have plenty of cash in your pocket as nothing here is cheap. I understand that you can buy the world’s most expensive cup of coffee here but it’s only hearsay!

The panniers are packed and Nick is just been out to kick the tyres. The bike has been safe parked on the pavement outside the hostel …. it’s opposite a huge Police station!

We have done 2500miles so far. The bike has been running perfectly on the various qualities of fuel across Europe and Russia, (where its now 60p a ltr…Happy days!!). We have developed a bit of an oil leak from one of the fork legs but other than that she is fine.

Until next time…. Lesley and Nick

Kazan, Russia. 12thMay 2011.

   Moscow on a Wednesday morning seemed to be busier than Mexico City! The 8 lanes, both ways, was full of traffic of all types. We eventually found our way onto the M7 to find it even more congested and fume-filled. Two hours and only 25 miles later we got to open space and in need of a coffee stop and leg stretch. The combination of breakdowns, accidents, road works and the sheer volume of traffic had kept us slower than walking pace for many miles. The old girl is so heavy loaded up that Nick’s back, arms and legs had a serious workout.

The M7 passes through many villages and small towns. Each village seems to specialise in particular merchandise on the road side stalls. Grotesque brightly coloured (non) cuddly man-size toys, garden gnomes, wicker furniture, plastic table and chairs and flowers, chandeliers, ornate tea urns, and inflatable dinghies with fishing gear line the motorway. The term ”Expect the unexpected” springs to mind!

The roads here are a total mystery to us. One minute we are coasting along at 65mph on smooth surfaces the next minute Nick is battling with potholes, grooves and re-graded surfaces. The heavy trucks belch out toxic fumes and broken down vehicles litter the roadside. Fuel is available at regular intervals and we have to decide how much we need and pay for it before the pumps work. But the price is great at only - 67p per litre! We experienced our first re-fuel with a guard with a shotgun and have seen many roadside Police checks but so far they haven’t been interested in us as we just burble along taking in the surroundings.

On approaching the Volga region near Kazan the scenery changed and became pleasantly rolling. We were now riding in open countryside and seeing fields being busily being cultivated for the first time. We were now travelling alongside the Volga River, Europe’s longest at 3600kms and which starts NW of Moscow and flows to the Caspian sea.

Tyumen, Russia, 15th May

Near Kazan, on the road to Perm, we woke at 6:45am to sleet and the bike covered on snow!! By the time we had breakfast of fried eggs and bread the sleet had stopped and the roads looked as though they were beginning to dry out. I felt sorry for the scantily dressed girls by the transport café hoping for some warmth and comfort in a friendly truckers cab.

Continuing on the M7 we passed through more gently rolling countryside. But ahead the dark clouds thickened with another snow storm ahead. We took and early lunch stop to let it pass, glad that we did when we saw the roadside white with snow.

A few hours along and we came to the “nodding dog” oil drills dotted around the fields. Because of the severe winters many pipes including the town water supply are raised off the ground by a couple of feet. They even follow the contours of the houses and are raised higher to allow vehicles to pass under.

The village houses are really quite small and often log cabin style. I noticed that almost all only have 3 small windows at the front which are usually decorated with intricate carvings and brightly painted. Most have a huge pile of wood outside for the fires and neat gardens for growing vegetables. It gets light at 4am and as if by magic….we suddenly found ourselves loosing 2 hours! We are now 5 hours ahead of BST. We are now in Western Siberia and in Asia.

The Trans Siberian, (the worlds longest) railway starts in Moscow and runs 9289kms to Vladivostok. We have been crossing it at regular intervals since we passed Perm. I counted 66 wagons towed by 1 engine, impressive but not quite as long as some trains in Canada.

Much of the scenery has reminded us of Canada but the fuel, now at 55p a litre is much cheaper. Nick did a calculation today and the “Old girl” is doing av.63mpg on the 95 octane fuel.

Today we have the best roads so far in Russia …. We hope it will continue.

Till Later, Les and Nick

22nd May 2011 Irkutsk, E Siberia, Russia.

   We have just clocked up 6080 miles and it has been tough going. The “old Girl” has once again done us proud. We have just ridden 11 days without a day off from Moscow to Irkutsk, close to Lake Baykal, the world’s deepest fresh water lake, and it has taken its toll. We are both really tired and our bodies have taken a battering.

The distances between villages, fuel and truck-stops has increased and with the worsening road conditions our need for these oasis has grown; Nick is having to concentrate all the time. The Russian drivers are quite erratic and often appear at you two abreast and expect you to get onto the soft and often steep roadside to allow them to pass. The potholes are amazing as are the man-made areas that have been gouged out of the surface randomly, presumable with a view to filling them in at some stage. Closer to the bigger towns teams of painters work on the crash barriers! Filling holes might be slightly more productive? The truck drivers are amazing. Not only do they negotiate the bumps and holes but they are tyre fitters and mechanics as well. You do not ride many miles before you see a truck being worked on at the roadside. The small shacks on the outskirts of villages do a roaring trade in truck tyres as many have been abandoned by the roadside - shredded.

We have been staying in the truckers cafes where the rooms are fairly cheap and the food wholesome…ish! We have been sampling the different versions of Borsh soup, (Beetroot-based) and bread as our main meals but have also selected a daily surprise from the display counters which are then re- heated by Microwave and served with smash potato. Everything is microwaved!

Just outside Ormsk we stayed in a truck stop and in the morning one of the truckers presented me with a bar of chocolate. Some of the conversation was lost in translation but apparently he was driving one of the many trucks that we play leap-frog with all day and they thought I deserved a prize! Great guys. One even been hooted at us when we took a wrong turn in a town, just to get us back on track. We have also been stopped by folks who would like a photo and met some very helpful people who have exchanged numbers in case we have problems. Our most recent helper was a 7ft tall guy on a cruiser bike who led us to this hostel. Many thanks. Cars often flash at us to warn of Police checks. We slow down a little and raise our visors and smile at the wooden-faced officers…what a job. They tend to ignore us and only twice so far have we been asked where we are going, and then waved on.

The fields have been vast, much bigger than the whole of Wymondham, or even some counties. At times it appears that you can see the curvature of the earth the land is so barren and open. And then there are more trees and straight roads before boggy open spaces. Because of the size of the fields it appears that they are not ploughed. We passed many fields where stubble had been burned and for a couple of days the air was filled with smoke from grass and tree burning and the distant rounded hills appeared blue. As we ride along I have time to have a good look and have yet to see any sign of wildlife; it is most disappointing. The most common birds seem to be the large birds of prey, Magpie and some raven-looking crow. The highlight of the week was spotting some small rodents beside the road warming in the sun.

We always can tell when we are approaching a settlement of some sort by the rubbish strewn roadsides. There appears to be no means to dispose of rubbish except by dumping, environmentally friendly? No way. I won’t even begin to tell you the horror stories of the ”comfort stops” which are memorable!

We are now staying a couple of nights in an Irkutsk hostel after 2 really bad days riding on dirt roads, which is the M53. Other guests here are on their way back from Mongolia and have been sharing their road trip horror stories. I don’t know if it is a cunning ploy to break our sprits further but is doing a good job nevertheless. Once we get to Mongolia and find out for ourselves what the conditions are like I think we will both be happier. At least we will know what to expect and can then decide how we are going to deal with it.

The “Old girl” will needs an oil change before we cross the border but we have a few more days ride to get there and the roadside repair shops are the only guaranteed wild life en route.

Another good night’s sleep and clean clothes and our spirits will lift and the ride will continue.

Until next time……

Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia.  28th May 2011.

   We had a reasonable relaxing day in Irkutsk, Russia but the hostel was very small and very busy, we really needed to have a decent sleep so we decided to move on towards Mongolia. After 12 miles we spotted a garage that had everything from tyre fitting, fuel, carwash and oil. The “Old Girl” was in need of fresh oil after the 6000 miles we covered since leaving home. Nick likes to change the oil regularly and keeping a special eye on the dreaded rear bevel drive bearing. We spent a happy couple of hours with the boys who were so interested in the process; I think they may have been more used to the Lada oil change! Once the oil had been changed the bike was then washed and polished and we were ready to find some lunch. Nick had already removed, washed, re-oiled and replaced the foam air filter, giving the “old Girl” a breath of fresh air.

We managed a mere 84 miles in total but Nick was happy - we found some bends!!! The roads weren’t brilliant but there were definite bends! They led us to the side of Lake Baikal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world. We both agree that it has to be the highlight of the scenery so far. We found a quiet, Swiss-style cabin by the lakeside for the night and washed our hands in the freezing fresh water. The following day we continued around the lake with views of snow-capped mountains. We had been told that the Southern tip of the lake (where we were) had only thawed in the past 2 weeks! Within 20 miles we could see the frozen surface of the lake, which during the winter, vehicles drive over. Many sink to the bottom, never to be seen again!

We stayed one last night in Russia, (for the time being) just outside Ulan Ude. Next day the scenery changed again as we headed to Mongolia. It became hillier, soft and rolling and even the road surface was smoother. 164miles later we arrived at the border at 1pm to stand in a queue for 2hrs before the custom procedures began. All I have to do is pass through passport control, showing my passport and handing in my registration papers. Nick has to go through passport control and then the lengthy Customs for the “old girl”. The stressed official was not very efficient on the keyboard and seem to become slightly agitated when a colleague slumped down beside him and began so slowly shuffle 2 pieces of paper. 1½ hrs later we had exited Russia. We rode into no-mans-land meeting up with a German motorcyclist. He had been waiting at the border since 9am with his “Tour guide” and they were still there after we had collected the necessary 4 rubber stamps to enter Mongolia. The whole process took 4 ½ hrs once details had been entered in neat handwriting into a huge dusty ledger. Fifty mtrs from the exit Nick purchased 1-months insurance for the bike at around £20. We were glad to get away from the border town; so many locals were watching and not particularly friendly.

We discover we have gained another hour and now are only 7 hours ahead of you and we are roughly converting £1 to 2000Turgits, give or take a few. But we have a few problems ahead, so until we have a new plan.


Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. 31st May 2011.

   Within a few miles from the border with Russia we could take a deep breath and enjoy. The scenery in Mongolia is wonderful. Soft, gently rolling hillsides, filled with herds of horses, cattle, sheep and goats. Tiny white specks in the distance are revealed as small Gers, the white circular tents that are the homes of the Nomads.

We took a de-tour from the asphalt road to find a village where traditional bows and arrows are made, but found ourselves in the middle of construction of a cement road. The dirt roads are challenging in places and, luckily for us, where dry and dusty. There are few sign posts and, from the main roads, small dirt tracks disappear into the hills…someone must live over there somewhere!

Camels graze in their own little herds but Yaks, cows and sheep all seem very sociable. Spring is a wonderful time to visit here as all the animals are giving birth ... the whole Steppe, (countryside) becomes a huge nursery. Horsemen watch over their animals and often we could see huge herds moving as one across the hillside. The dogs are protective and will chase us as a warning. We don’t slow down just in case we become a victim.

Our hold-up at the border meant that we were late looking for somewhere to stay. We passed through Darkhan, a grubby dirty town and headed further south looking for a small quiet track leading to the hills. We found an ideal stop and pitched our tent. The skylarks sang and there was peace. We feasted on our staple diet of bread and peanut butter and crawled into our sleeping bags. As the sun set it became very cold but we were cosy and slept soundly.

The birds woke us the next morning. The skies were clear and blue. The sun is very intense but the breeze is cool. We break camp and go in search of breakfast. Our Russian language is poor and our Mongolian is nil! We found a small café and managed to ask for a cup of tea, ”Liptons or English breakfast”. The local tea is weak, very milky and filled with salt, Liptons is the best option. We sat and waited to see what the locals were eating and decided against the pale anaemic looking noodle soup with bits of grey mutton (Soup with food) and opted for the mutton burger with fried egg and rice served with the ever popular pickled carrot. Suitable refreshed we head to Ulaan Bataar, the Capital city. Nick loved hacking through the traffic and smog. The busy side roads were filled with small stalls, engine and vehicle parts and rubbish. Large trucks and cars were all queuing at petrol stations, patiently waiting.

We arrived at the Oasis Hostel www.intergam-oasis.com to the south of the city. Six Gers in the garden, space to park vans and motorcycles, camping and dorm rooms … a real oasis. We have met some wonderful fellow travellers all following the dream. Manfred, who rode 2 horses around the world in 4 years www.weltumreitier.de and is now researching the Nomadic lives. Alfonse and Helga are travelling in their camper van with their large dog, Clyde from the USA, he has returned to Mongolia to finish his bike trip. And Rob from Wales who broke his hired bike in the desert, and 3 Australians who arrived half way through our stay. Everyone has a story to tell it has been great.

A ride out of the city took us to the huge stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan on horseback and overlooking the open Steppe; it was very impressive. En route we stopped off at the roadside where we could see the huge birds-of-prey up close and personal. The birds’ trainer placed the big bird on Nick’s arm, huge talons grasping him but he loved it.

The city is busy dirty, dusty and a real mix of buildings and stores; there are huge shopping malls and small shacks. Businessmen in smart suits rub shoulders with folks from the country Gers dressed in their boots and long jackets. The buses are packed full but I was offered a seat by some young girls … could it be that I was the only grey haired person in Mongolia? It was a good experience but you have to watch your pockets and wallets.

Now we have a problem. Russia has blocked the supply of fuel to Mongolia and some other old Soviet countries. Diesel is scarce, queues of trucks and vans wait for hours hoping for a fresh delivery. We are told that only low grade petrol is available across the country but supplies of that are running short. We have enough fuel to get us back to the border but the others in campervans have serious issues with lack of diesel. Varying accounts of the track conditions on the southern route to the west, the need for knobbly tyres, fuel and weather conditions have left us with many questions. So now we have to decide what to do. We have had a couple of days sorting our gear and just generally relaxing and chatting. Tomorrow, the 1st June, we are leaving the Oasis hostel in Ulaan Baatar. It’s been a good stop but it’s time to leave. I am sure we will have made a decision by the morning. So, until then

Lesley and Nick

OMSK, Russia, 7th June 2011

   Our decision, right or wrong, had been made. Our revised plan was to enter Mongolia to the East and Ulaan Baatar then to travel west through Mongolia crossing back into Russia in the Altay region south of Novosibirsk. We had been told that we would need knobbly tyres for this rough and often sandy route which involved several river crossings and together with the concern over the availability of fuel reluctantly forced us to change our plan.

The 1st of June is a Mongolian Bank holiday. The roads were much quieter as we left the “Oasis” and rode towards the city centre. As if to celebrate our departure we met a procession heading towards us. Police cars and bikes led the way followed by the army, beauty queens, Disney characters, and cyclists, to name but a few. Everyone seemed happy, smiling and waving at us as we head north towards the Russian border.

A few miles out of the city and we were in beautiful open countryside again. The herds of animals oblivious of the Bank holiday, grazed quietly. I had been watching out for a Yak to photograph when one caught my eye suddenly. She was in the throes of labour and we were fortunate enough to see the whole event from the first breaking of waters to the new calf a few minutes old taking its first shaky footstep. Fantastic!!! Isn’t nature wonderful!!

We spent another wonderfully peaceful night camping out in the middle of nowhere. All the land around us was free with no fences or boundaries. The herdsmen usually on horseback are the ones who determine where their flocks will graze. Closer to the Russian border in the towns we saw a little fencing where there were arable crops, a safe guard against the goats and sheep eating all the fresh growth.

We crossed into Russia via the same border crossing but only taking 2 ½ hrs this time instead of 4 1/2. There was much less traffic because of the fuel shortage and no trucks at all. From the border we headed directly for Ulaan- Ude the closest large town. After spending an hour we found the hostel we were looking for only to find it closed so we had to opt for a motel where I think we were the only guests. Within 3 days of our arrival into Russia we should register our visas. Some hotels or Hostels will do this when you book in (as in Moscow) but this Motel didn’t. In the morning the receptionist said she was going to the registration office so we followed her into the city. After much discussion the receptionist had to fill in more forms and Nick was given a slip of paper to confirm registration. Apparently I didn’t need one as I was the wife.

As we approached Baikal Lake again the temperature dropped dramatically. There seemed to be snow in places on the surrounding mountains that we didn’t remember seeing before. The rivers were flowing fast and clear into the lake but much of the ice across the lake had disappeared. As soon as we left the shores and headed into the hills towards Irkustk the temperature rose and we were able to shed a couple of layers.

Since we passed along these roads a couple of weeks ago spring has filled the trees with fresh green foliage and the roadsides are filled with wild flowers. The whole place feels much more cheerful and people are actually beginning to wave at us as we pass by.

We have seen 5 other motorcyclist in the past few days all heading towards Mongolia. We hope they find the fuel that they need and enjoy the wonderful countryside and friendly people.

Today we got caught in the tail end of a thunder storm for a short while, only the 3rd wet ride all trip so far. The jacket linings have been stashed away as it is now 27-32deg. Sadly, the mosquitoes and other large flies have appeared and are quite savage and persistent. I think it’s time to bring out the insect repellent.

Unfortunately we have to retrace some of the route west where the roads are long, straight and incredibly boring. The road from Novosibirsk to Omsk can lead to depression but the fuel is getting cheaper again. Once passed Omsk , to avoid Kazakhstan, we will be heading North for a while before cutting across to Chelyabinsk and towards Ukraine and Europe.

We have to remind ourselves that we were fortunate enough to have seen a little of Mongolia which compensates for the thousands of miles we have ridden across Russia.

The Truckers motels are the best value for accommodation along the route as they also have cafes open 24hrs. Ear plugs are essential as these places are always busy, on the main road and within earshot of the many trains in the Trans-Siberian railway. The motels are generally clean but I do not think that there is a trained plumber in the whole of Russia. All the food is micro-waved!!

Internet access is rare so I apologise for intermittent reports.

A special Thank you…. to Chris and Julie of Hood Jeans who’s jeans are wearing well and are comfortable as always. … Andy Goddard(Chiropractor of Norwich) who manipulated me before we left and will have to straighten us both out on our return… and of course Eddie who runs the website and gives us words of wisdom. Thank you.

So far we have travelled 10,420 miles and we are still on the original tyres although Nick had been a bit concerned about where we will be able to get another rear tyre. So far it’s okay amazingly after the rough, tough, potholed terrain we have covered so far. The old girl is doing us proud and has clocked up over 130,000mls and will be looking forward to another oil change soon. Every morning after a short cough and splutter, she leaps into action with no hesitation...unlike us after a restless night.

Til next time

Lesley and Nick

Russia, between Ufa and Samara, June 10th 2011

   Some of you may have noticed that we have changed our route. This was because after calculating the expense of completing another lap of the planet we found that we would have to find at least another £5000 for air fares, shipping costs and insurance etc. On the strength of this financial expense we decided to make Mongolia our objective for this trek. Having made it Mongolia only to find they were in the midst of a fuel crisis caused by the Russian supply being reduced we were unable to complete our tour of Mongolia as we would have wished. We then had to back track into Russia and have now retraced our steps for part of the way back towards Europe. Our plan is to enter Europe from southern Ukraine visiting Romania, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, France and crossing back into England. We hope to be back in UK by August. This will still have given us a 4 month motor cycle adventure and at the same time saved some money for our next project!!! Watch this space!!!

Crossing the Urals further south between Chelyabinsk and Ufa has proved to be some of the prettier areas in Russia so far. The pine trees on the low hills have been likened to the Blue Mountains in Australia. Unfortunately we arrived during heavy thunderstorms which reduced vision and also gave us a good thorough soaking. The roads are much busier due to the traffic heading to Ukraine but the roads continue to live up to expectations….potholes, dodgy driving, trucker’s cafes and road side stalls, honey in large pickle jars seems to be the most popular in this area.

We are heading towards the Volga River, the largest in Russia, with the hope of finding somewhere by the river for a few days to do maintenance on the old girl and our clothes and perhaps a little relaxation. We have now covered over 10,000 miles and our next border crossing will be into the Ukraine.
 

Volgograd, Russia 14th June 2011

   The temperature is rising suddenly, 32deg in places and getting hot and sticky. The associated bugs and biting things are extremely hungry, day and night. I am glad we are away from Siberia now as they are notoriously vicious there. We followed the vast Volga River on the west bank from Samara, stopping off at an unpronounceable village with pretty buildings and a 3km promenade. A 15yr old local on a shiny scooter showed us to the only hotel and then came to check up on us and took us for a walk by the river while he practiced his English. We thought we would stay a couple of days for a rest but the awful music from the bar next door until 1am, followed by very chatty cleaners at 5am in the morning, quickly changed our minds and we were back on the road by 8am the following morning.

Once clear of the dreadful M5, with its heavy traffic heading for either Moscow or the Ukraine border, we could enjoy a bit more space along the P228. The countryside along the Volga River is some of the prettiest we have seen in Russia, with rolling hills and streams but the roads are still terrible. There are many speed checks along the roads close to cities. Nick has had to be very careful to spot the cars tucked in bushes and small sensors on tri-pods on the verge. We have been stopped 4 times by Police, which are often routine checks. We are asked where we are going or where we have been and then waved on quickly when they realise we have very limited Ruski. On the last occasion the Police officer points his black and white baton at us and we had to stop, he was very serious. Apparently Nick had overtaken a truck on a solid white line that hadn’t, as yet, been painted on the new few metres of road. Another vehicle was stopped at the same time and the driver became very animated. The policeman was prepared with his tatty book of rules. There was much finger pointing and raised voices until the Police man’s mobile phone rang and he suddenly lost interest in Nick. We hopped on the bike and rode away sedately…that could have been expensive!

Clive and Nina left Norfolk the day before us on route for a tour around the Stan’s, (Countries ending with stan), (see www.getjealous.com/ninaplumbe ) We had a text from Kazakstan to say that they would be in Volgograd, (previously Stalingrad) for a couple of days and perhaps we could meet for a coffee. It was great to meet up with them and hear of their adventures. Nina’s bike was in for repairs which would hopefully get her home by the end of the month. They were staying in the Volograd Hotel in the centre of town so we also spoilt ourselves with a bit of luxury for 2 nights. Soft loo roll, clean sheets, cereal for breakfast, wifi and a big enough sink to get my jeans and tee-shirts washed and dried …Total luxury! Nick however is still suffering with bad tooth ache and is just back from the dentists for repairs. The roots were removed from the offending tooth so with any luck he should have a good night’s sleep at last.

With Nina, Clive and Kate and Will from Australia we visited Mamaev Kurgan, or Hill 102 where the amazing 72mtr tall statue of Mother Russia with a sword aloft stands over the site of a 4 month long battle in 1942 where over 1 million men were killed. Smart young soldiers guard the statue of fist and flame in the circular hall with the names of over 7000 of those that perished engraved on the walls, an impressive memorial. Volgograd city centre is rather grand with wide roads, many parks and beautiful large buildings which had to be rebuilt after the war. Many statues hold focal points in parks. Moscow and Volgograd are both cities that could be anywhere else in the world and do not reflect what we have seen in the countryside.

Tomorrow we will be heading West towards Ukraine, another country, currency, language and hopefully culture.

Volgograd, Russia. 18th June 2011

   Another change of plan … This time not of our making! Just after breakfast at the hotel, and after saying farewell to Nina, Clive, Kate and Will, Nick developed some stomach pains. He already had an appointment for some treatment at the dentist as he has had bad tooth ache most of the trip. When he returned to the hotel he complained about bad stomach pains and within a short time he was very poorly.

Nick was very sick during the night and in the morning his pulse rate and temperature were so high that I summoned the Hotel Doctor. Several different pills and potions were administered but hardly had time to take effect before they were re-introduced to the world! For 2 days Nick was very sick but he gradually began to keep liquids down. I booked extra nights at the hotel as Nick was in no fit state to ride.

In the meantime, when relieved of my nursing duties and while Nick has been incapacitated and sleeping, I have been wandering the local streets. Saturday is the day for weddings it seems, I counted 8 brides at one time in the nearby park all waiting to have their photos taken by a memorial. Some of the brides looked stunning; some looked stunned, and only one was dressed in the all-time classic Meringue-style frothy frock thankfully.

So, with some gentle exercise and lots of rest, we are now hoping to leave for Ukraine tomorrow. Nick has been down to see the old girl, sprayed her with WD40 and kicked the tyres. Our panniers are half packed, washing is up to date and we are off to eat pizza before a good night’s sleep … well that’s the plan!

100km East of Budapest, Hungary.  25th June 2011.

   It was a great relief to be leaving Volgograd , mainly because Nick was feeling well enough to travel and secondly because it was so hot and stuffy. The day before we left it was 42 deg during the day and when we took a stroll in the evening around 9pm it was still 33deg. We were both glad to be back on the bike even though the skies were grey and we got caught in several showers, still it was comfortably warm. The roads lived up to expectations and the fields became smaller. The most interesting scenery in Russia has been from the Urals and along the Volga River where it is pleasantly rolling. We stopped not far from the Ukraine border just before the thunderstorms began for the night.

The rain stopped just as we got to the Russian/Ukraine border crossing so we were able to shed our waterproofs for the 1½hr procedure and, with a sigh of relief, we entered Ukraine. To our dismay the Cyrillic alphabet is used here also so we were back to confusion and describing the word as opposed to spelling it. The roads continued to be rather lumpy but it wasn’t long before we noticed a change in the surroundings and general feel of the place. We passed by several working coal mines with the wheels still in motion. The smaller fields had hedgerows and banks of pretty wild flowers. The villages and towns we passed through appeared at first to be rather drab and grey but the light perfume of roses and other flowers filled the air making it feel more welcoming. Our first contact with the locals was encouraging and people seem to be generally much friendlier. It was like a refreshing step back in time with horse and carts, herds of cows, freshly cut hay stacked in tall piles and so many people working the land.

A litre of fuel was costing 80p but for some reason the “old girl” is complaining a bit and is sounding rather lumpy and is reluctant to start in the morning. I think it must be something to do with the rough roads as we have both been complaining of aches and pains.

Between Donet’sk and Yman the countryside became gently rolling with fields of sunflowers not quite in flower but all facing towards the sun in preparation like banks of solar panels. The gardens had more flowers and the allotments were neat and tidy. Old ladies stooped over tending their crops in the fields and men wielding scythes. Lexus 4x4 cars pass ancient horse and carts loaded with hay. Suddenly there are no silver birch trees or pine trees but lovely woods filled with all types of trees and shrubs from weeping willow to sumac shrubs and wide verges with dandelion clocks the size of tennis balls.

We stayed in a small village close to the Hungary border where life was always busy. The cows, dragging their chains, walked themselves home for milking. The geese and chickens rounded up their young and boys on noisy mopeds came to look at the bike. Everyone was friendly.

Yesterday, the crossing into Hungary took 1½hrs with no surprises so here we are about 100km from Budapest and heading for Austria , possibly via a BMW dealer or garage to have the “old girl” looked at. We stopped overnight in a lovely new hotel and enjoyed the best meal in months. At 5am a noisy thunderstorm broke and we watched hail, the size of peas fall across the fields. We decided to have a late start after our tasty breakfast before continuing towards Budapest. Let’s see what else Hungary has to offer.

Until next time…..

Albertville, France. 5th July 2011

   After the huge hail storm we decided to have a lazy start as we only had to travel 86miles to find a campsite on the outskirts of Budapest, Hungary. After pitching our tent we took a bus and metro to the centre of the city and spent the day wandering around the ”Buda” area enjoying the old castle and cobble streets in the warmth. We walked across the chain bridge which spans the Danube and watched the barges navigate their way between the tourist flotillas on river excursions.

As the “old girl” has been chugging a bit recently we visited a BMW garage in Budapest which balanced the throttle bodies of the fuel system, but only ten minutes down the road she was stalling at every opportunity! She did sound a little better than earlier though. We had clocked up over 12,500miles on this trip so far and she does have 134,500 miles on the clock so I suppose it is only to be expected.

We enjoyed a nice camp by the lovely milky green Balton Lake, which appeared to be very popular with the locals. Later on we headed to a nearby town for a new rear tyre (the old one had some unusual vertical splits). We also treated her to an oil change and rear brake pads. Nick wanted to do the oil change himself as usual but “Insurance and “health and safety” was mentioned and so he was banned from the workshop.

Throughout Hungary we had been battered by very strong blustery winds which made riding hard work. The East was relatively flat but it became more rolling hills towards Austria. The border crossing into Austria was a non-event. No border control or passport checks just video surveillance. We stopped at the first garage we found to buy the €4 Vignette, (a licence to ride on the motorways for 10 days) and changed our money into Euros. We rode the motorway to Graz and found an expensive campsite with an enormous outdoor pool which we fell into once the tent was up; a great way to cool down on a hot day!

Austria is quite a culture shock in a way. Everything is so ultra-neat, tidy and clean. The window boxes on every ‘chocolate box picture’ house are spilling out brightly coloured flowers. The towns and villages all looked as though they were competing for the ‘best kept village’ awards. The countryside was neatly trimmed, the grass had been cut for haymaking and the locals were busy with their modern machinery cutting, bailing and packaging the hay in plastic covers. The mountains and roads are a playground heaven for the hundreds, maybe thousands of big bikes we saw. We had a couple of wet days where we had to keep the waterproof trousers on and the temperature dropped in the mountains quite dramatically.

At a village campsite beside a grand hotel in Pil, near Innsbruck, we had just finished our ‘one pot cooking’ rice and soup with bread when we heard and Umppah band begin to play. Realising that sleep would be impossible we wandered to the square where a smartly dressed band played on an under cover stage. Locals were sitting at benches and tables enjoying a mug of beer to wash down the sausage and bread feast, so we joined them and enjoyed a very pleasant musical evening until 10pm when the skies turned black with rain. The night and following day became wet and chilly as we headed towards St Moritz, locally known as the ‘Freezer of Europe’. The previous night’s temperatures dropped to 2deg! The roads were wonderful and twisty through the mountain passes and again were filled with motorcycles. Apparently there was a huge BMW meeting nearby which would explain the vast numbers of them on the road. The many cols and passes where spectacular with glaciers, tall jagged peaks and pockets of snow. On the flat lowland valleys there was haymaking everywhere. It was really stunning scenery. The road infrastructure in both Austria and Switzerland is amazing. Tunnels ranging from 100 to 9000 meters long cut through the monstrous mountains. It’s always a surprise when you reach daylight again as the view has changed dramatically.

We camped in Martigny, Switzerland close to an ancient Roman amphitheatre. Near the borders of Switzerland, France and Italy the views were wonderful with the mountainsides covered with vineyards, (Nick was happy). The next day we rode across the Col de la Forclaz and dropped into Chamonix, France where we had close up views of the great 4810mtr tall Mont Blanc with is vast glaciers and snow covered peak. Chamonix is a busy touristy town catering for the many coach tours and skiers. We watched Para glider canopies drifting in the air gradually making their way down in the thermals from the high rock cliffs, (Madness)! We are now in Albertville, France for a few days rest and some vital clothes washing. We first camped on this site about 34 years ago on our first joint motorcycle adventure and it hasn’t changed at all. The idea place for some R&R and to catch up with the vital washing!

Brest, Brittany, France. 17th July 2011

   The weather was wonderful while we camped in Albertville, sunny and warm by day and cooler in the evenings, just right for camping but we were both ready to move on.

We were still in the Alps and really enjoyed the following couple of days when we crossed many of the Cols and mountain passes that are regularly used for the Tour de France cycle race. The Col de la Madelaine and,Col du Glandon were beautiful. As we sat almost at the peak of one of the climbs ,enjoying our bread and cheese, we could trace our route like a piece of spaghetti snaking it's way through the vast mountains.

We camped not far from Alp du Huez and shared the site with mad downhill mountain bikers who were competing in "Mega Avalanche" over the weekend. Over 2000 entrants were about to hurl themselves across glaciers and down mountains at breakneck speed; several British competitors where ready for the ultimate downhill race. I imagine it was slightly different from their training in Wales!

From the Alps we passed into the Ardeche area with its rivers and canyons. Nick was really enjoying the roads and said that the stretch between Valance and St Agrieve was one of the best flowing twisty road he had been on for a long time.

The annual Tour de France cycle race was passing close by so we headed to Murat, near Puy Mary. We were hoping to be able to camp on one of the hills but the roads had been closed to prevent any more campervans passing so we camped in the town municipal site. The rain began at 5am and continued until 30 minutes before the race passed by our vantage point; exciting stuff.

As we headed West near the Central Massif area the scenery was changing, becoming more rolling, the sunflowers gave way to huge orchards of apples and plums.

After our traditional visit to the Decathlon store in Angouleme we picked up our cycling route North to visit Sarah and Bill for a few days. After 18 consecutive nights camping it was a refreshing change to sleep in a real bed, we had difficulty getting up in the morning!

We continued to follow our cycling route to Saumur on the very dry Loire. Everywhere is looking bleached and dry in this area as very little rain has fallen since February and hose pipe bans are in force.

We have just arrived in wet and windy Brest to the West of Brittany. We had hoped for a few days on a beach somewhere before we catch our ferry to Cornwall but ... At the moment it's extra layers and waterproofs!

Our next adventure will be in August when we return to our house after, 5+ years, and once the painting and decorating and gardening has been done we will enjoy a rest on a real bed and have time to reflect and maybe plot and scheme again. So this will be our last update of this trip. Thank you for joining us and Thanks to Eddie who has made this site possible.

Cheers, Lesley and Nick

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