Archive | August, 2011

22nd August – Jaroslavl

22 Aug

We followed Vladimir and Liudmila into Yaroslavl to meet Ksysha who was going to give us a tour of the city. There are lots of beautiful buildings, as Yaroslavl is part of the so called ‘golden ring’.  Some of them look as though they are out of a fairytale!




We also visited the museum in the monastery but our tour was cut short for two reasons. Firstly we had to take delivery of 20 liters of ethanol (meths without the methanol) which was the minimum quantity. It is not dyed and so is very clean burning. That should give us enough for ages if it is not confiscated on the Mongolian border!! Secondly we had a TV crew from Yaroslavl TV who wanted to do a bit about our trip on the local news! We spent about two hours for them to make a 2 min feature which appeared on the news at 8.30 pm   …… We didn’t expect that!




The camper was a mess as we had not expected this, but they still wanted to see how it all worked.



Once the fun was over we went to a nice restaurant on the waterfront and had a meal with some of our new Russian friends, Luiba and Mark. Farewells over we drove off to Ivanova with Ksysha, arriving around 5.30 pm.


Wow what a busy few days!




21st August – Dacha Philatovo

22 Aug


We spent a relaxing morning at the dacha while the keen hunters went off to shoot on the river. Marjool went off to visit another family for tea who owned a very original wooden dacha. Again they were incredibly welcoming.



The water was heated in the traditional way using a Samovar, as we have seen on the tea stalls along the M10. I have not seen them in England.




Russians love to dance and Marjool was treated to an impromptu performance …..



Later on in the afternoon we packed up to go, but not before we had a bit of a photo shoot with Troopy. I did say point at Russia ….. but it had been a long weekend and the pointing was fairly random!



Mmmmm ….. Try again and this time point at your favourite place.




It had been a great weekend and there was still more of Luiba’s friends to visit for the evening / night!  More sightseeing on the way, then we arrived at Dacha Philatovo to meet Vladimir and Liudmila. Liudmila spoilt us again ….. we’d like to take her home!





It was a beautiful spot and the pair of them had obviously worked so hard to build it from scratch and get all the land from green field to a fantastic home.



As Marjool walked around the village she spotted a row of  vegetable storage buildings. It needs to resist freezing and so is around 2m below the ground.





Again we were treated to another wood fired banya. This time there were extra skin treatments, it involved covering the body with honey and sea salt scrub and ground coffee. This felt really gritty when applied but the smell was lovely. There was also the now familiar birch bundles. In between each treatment was five to ten minutes in the sauna at 108 deg F. The final stage was to wash down with cold water. It was amazingly refreshing! Again no pictures, but we were even served tea in the process.



More food followed the banya and tomorrow we were booked for porridge at 8.00 am. As we said we were spoilt!!













20th August – Issady near Yaroslavl

22 Aug

The camping spot just outside the hotel worked out well, and we decided that for city night stops it would be a good option to ask for parking either in or just outside an hotel car park area. It felt very secure knowing that the security guard was watching over us … thanks!



Our plan was to cut across country to Jaroslavl via small villages. This time it worked out perfectly and the roads were actually very good and although it looked as though it would be a challenge to navigate, the signposts to the city were fairly regular. We then passed the city and found the M8 which we needed to stay on for a while to get to Issady. Thank goodness for our Russian lessons!!



As it was all going so well we decided to use very small roads again to cut across to the dacha. The only problem with this was the fact that the roads shown on the map are not always there. This time we found the road getting smaller and smaller and finally ending on a grassy area outside  some small dachas but not the ones we wanted! Oh well another chance to practice our Russian …. left, right, straight on, thank you being the most common words …. plus shaking of head and sign language meaning no road!!



A typical wooden dacha.



Another about turn and a couple more stops for directions led us to the right road. About an hour later we arrived at the right village and met with our Russian teacher Liuba and her husband Mark! Last time we had seen them was in Teignmouth Devon (UK). It seemed so strange (but lovely) to be here in Russia meeting again. We are so grateful to Liuba as she provided the contact with Olga in Pskov, the people here in the dacha and Marat the Russian captain and his family who we will be travelling with us onwards from Kazan.

Our hosts were Svetlana and Vladimir and they were so kind and welcoming. People came and went over the weekend, but they were all so friendly, open and hospitable. They are rightly proud of the country and wanted us to have a good time ….. which we did! The traditional welcome is with shots of vodka and although we were able to go along with it for a while, we had to drop out through lack of practice!





Almost as soon as we sat down it was time for a fishing expedition for me and for Marjool to visit an area only accessible by boat, where she met Victor and Galay.





On the way way back both Marjool and I were treated to a ride on a classic Russian motorcycle. We do not have pictures of Marjool but I am sure that Mark can e-mail some (?!) but I got the chance to meet another friendly local!



Marjool had a chance to visit a slightly eccentric but friendly man who has built a replica of a spaceship that landed on earth many years ago …??! It doubles up as a summer home and has a great location. The planning laws are slightly more relaxed than the UK.



Needless to say Graham caught no fish : (   Oh well maybe tomorrow!


The host then challenged Graham to a game of Russian billiards. The pictures were a bit hazy as it followed more Russian hospitality. Vladimir won after a close match ….. Russia 1 – England 0 !!


The evening finished with a banya …… basically a sauna but with whipping. A tight bundle of oak leaves were used to whip each other (reasonably gently!) which felt surprisingly nice …… could certainly get to like it ….. and it is good for the skin … really! Sorry no pictures!!






19th August

19 Aug

We had a great night’s sleep, it was a really quiet village well away from the road. We had an early breakfast so that we could carry on to Jaroslavl. The lady that we are staying with is called Olga as well! Apparently it is Helen in english, though I can’t work out why. Again she checked that we did not need breakfast … so sweet!




We said our goodbyes and had a few pictures taken!




Another nice person to visit again one day!





We headed off on great roads for most of the way, then made a few errors and ended up on at a dead end where the road no longer existed, even though they were shown on the map. The last 15km was so bumpy that you could not drive more than 20km/hr. Shame as we had to do it twice! The detour cost us about 120km and so we were not going to make it to Jaroslavl in time. We changed our goal to Uglich. On the way we noticed that the houses were starting to get more ornate. Painted different colours and with more flowers in the gardens.




Found a place looking over the Volga River by a big 4 star hotel and had a chat (Russian plus sign language!) with the security man who said that it was fine sleep there and he would keep his eye on us. Not only that he called the reception and asked if we could use the wifi in the hotel! Again we can’t believe how nice people are. Spent a pleasant evening in the bar with the laptop …..

Internet is not easy … although we have a way via the 3G on the phone, it only seems to tether to the laptop near cities. There may be a few days gap between posts. This weekend we are off to a weekend party in a datcha by a lake and so not sure when the next post will be …????? Maybe you need a rest!

18th August – Pskov to Jaroslavl

19 Aug

After two cooked meals yesterday afternoon and evening, and a big cooked breakfast followed by cake in the morning, we were sure that we would not starve on our way to Jaroslavl! Olga spoilt us right until the end! She even led us right onto the road to Novgorod checking on the way that we could manage the ‘pay first then fill system’. You actually have to put the nozzle in the tank first before you pay so that they know which pump you are on. It was nice to see the litres move so fast and the Roubles figure move so slowly!

We set off for the M10, and before we had joined the road we saw a policeman wave his batten at us to signal us to pull over. I wound down the window and said good morning to him and shook his hand. Marjool gave him her best smile and handed the documents as he asked for them. International driving license, V5 (registration doc) and green card. He was really friendly and even waved as we carried on. A nice man!

It was raining as we drove along the M10, which is more of a bumpy A road than a motorway. With the stream of lorries passing in both directions, some riding close to your tail, it is not our favourite type of driving. We amused ourselves listening to another episode of Lord of the Rings (thanks Dan and Ben!) and looking at the roadside stalls. The tea stalls are nice but they are right on the hard shoulder  and not easy to stop/park at unless you have nerves of steel!




The other stalls that were every few miles, sold huge cuddly toys, inflatable things of all sorts, water heaters, plastic garden gnomes in incredibly bright colours and all sorts of other items that you may need on your long drive! It must be a dangerous job as the stalls are only a couple of metres from the road.




Each time you get to a village it is split in half by the busy road. Its seems a shame because the houses are nice but the noise of thundering lorries going past must be really tiring. There are also no crash barriers to protect them.




One thing that we would like to recommend is the Garmin World Map. It just shows where you are relative to the main roads. It has saved us a few times taking the wrong route. It is non routable and so it does not guide you, but works well as a compass and a check of your map reading skills!



We thought that we were doing really well but just before (15km) we were due to turn off the M10 and go cross country on small roads, we hit a traffic jam …. sat in it for 2 hours before our exit came! Cars still overtook on both sides of us …. the hard shoulder became the inside lane even though it was full of potholes.




Turning off felt great! Suddenly we were on a quiet road with no traffic! We followed the road for about 10km and found a small side road that led of to a little village (30 people lived there). It was lovely and had a tiny church that had been recently built just for the village.



Within minutes we had some local children chatting to us in Russian and a lady and her daughter making us welcome. Showing us a bit of grass outside the house where we could camp. They also bought us apples and even asked if we were wanted to eat something! Amazing! We were still full from the meals with Olga and so had to decline. The village is surrounded with lakes, but no time to fish as we need to get to Jaroslavl. We’ll have to go back one day.




Tomorrow will be the second leg of the journey. All small roads we hope.


17th August – Pskov

17 Aug

Had a lovely day of sightseeing with Olga. Firstly we went to visit Izborsk which is one of the most ancient Russian towns, founded by one of three viking brothers who came into Russia in 862! In 2012 Izborsk celebrates its 1150th anniversary and so there is a lot of work going on to prepare for the influx of visitors.

Izborsk is also famouse for its 12 springs. The legend has it that each spring has powers to, cure disease, give happiness, good luck and love and various other desirable things. You are supposed to drink from each one ….. we cheated slightly and went to a point where the waters from the various springs meet ….. a sort of ‘lucky cocktail’!




We then went back up the hill to the fort and had tea in a little tea shop that was in an old traditional wooden house with a great fireplace/oven. The design was such that the smoke travels around a series of horizontal and vertical passages, each with air dampers to take out as much heat as possible before the smoke leaves the chimney. This leaves shelves that the very young and old could sleep on to keep out the chills in the -30 degree C winter nights. This one is still used to heat the tea house in winter.


We carried on to the Pechory Holy Dormition Monastery that has been in constant use for over 500 years. It is also famous for the sand caves that run under the monestery, which are used to bury the monks and other key religious figures. Olga was a little cheeky and attached us to the back of another group and so were given a candle and toured the caves with one of the monks. It was an amazing experience and quite creepy. We could not take pictures inside. Maybe there are some if you Google it?



The area inside the monastery walls are very well looked after. It is a tranquil place to live and walk and entry is free.



Tomorrow we have to leave Olga and her family. Thank you for looking after us, it has been a lot of fun and a great introduction to Russia. We will miss you!







16th August – Pskov Russia!

17 Aug

Diesel Price 26.1 Rub / Ltr (£0.57 / Ltr) !!

Clocks forward by another hour. Now three hours ahead of UK.

After our fairly sleepless night we headed down to the border (Koidula) waiting area for our alloted time of 6.00am. Some of the ‘diesel importers’ said that we may have to wait a lot longer, however at 6.20am our registration number appeared on the monitor in the waiting area (in the window of the blue portacabin) and we drove towards the border.



It was a misty morning and we drove through to the first barrier feeling a little bit nervous. We had heard lots of stories about difficult staff and searches which included a complete emptying of the vehicle, even people being turned back after an error was found on a document …..

We arrived at a barrier and queued for a further 15 minutes before we were called forward to the first checkpoint. This was to leave Estonia. We had to show the passports (first border since leaving home), driving license and registration document (V5). There was also a check of the chassis number and a quick look in the back …. which was full of bags etc. The lady was friendly and helpful in terms of our language issues!

Next we went to another checkpoint where we had our passports checked briefly and were handed two immigration cards (more smiles) to fill in before the next checkpoint which was immigration. We pulled over to a parking spot to fill them in. There are several numbers on the visa and so were confused about which number to use  on the form. I went on foot to the booth to ask. A really friendly young man (Customs Officer), who spoke good English helped us. It is the top number on the right (in red ink).

When completed we drove to the immigration booth and the same man helped us again. We had only filled in one side and so needed to complete the same information again on the other side of the form. He could not have been nicer! There was also another friendly man with him who asked about the trip and laughed when we told him how far we were going. They joked about the Russian roads and waved us on with a ‘Welcome to the Russian Federation’. Thank you!

The next step was Customs where we needed to fill in a customs declaration form (two copies) that also covered the temporary import of the car. Again the lady Customs Officer could not have been more helpful. She helped us with every item that needed to be filled in. There is an English translation under the Russian but it is not always obvious what information is required. When the forms were stamped and completed the car was given a brief search, lasting maybe three minutes. She then reminded us not to lose either our immigration card or customs form as it would be difficult and expensive to leave the country without either of the documents. Thank you too!

We were so pleased that the staff were so kind, friendly and helpful that we wanted them to know more about the trip, so we gave each of them a business card with our website address on! I hope that they look at the site to see our progress through their country ….. The whole process from booked time to arriving in the petrol station outside the border area had taken two hours.

As you come out of the border area there is a charge of 150 Rub to get on to the main road, so if you are doing this crossing have some Roubles ready.



We were due to meet Olga who had been introduced to us by Liuba our Russian teacher at the petrol station just outside the border. It was also the place where we were to buy our green card (third party insurance) for driving in Russia. It was the right place, but the girl who was at the desk spoke no English and however much I tried to point at the documents and explain, she just kept shaking her head …. I was stuck! If you want to complete this step yourself without help you need to have a letter written in Russian explaining that you want a green card, with all the details of your vehicle, name, address, length of stay and anything else you can think of! We were lucky, just at that moment Olga arrived and we managed the whole process in about ten minutes. Total cost of the green card was about 2000 Roubles (£44) for the month, but is more expensive (maybe twice) if the car is over 100 hp. My V5 does not quote a figure.

Olga led us to Pskov which is about 45 minutes drive. We went back to her place for breakfast and met her daughter and grandson. They are lovely people and asked us if we would like to stay in her friend’s flat for a couple of days. It would be the first time that we had not slept in the camper since Holland.



After breakfast we went out sightseeing with Olga, and she had also agreed to take us to the local immigration office to complete the visa registration process. You must do this within 3 days of arriving in Russia. First stop was the Pskov Kremlin which is inside one of the old city walls. The city is very old and goes back to 903! It is older than Moscow which dates back to 945.



The walls and towers have been renovated, and look beautiful from the other side of the river.





On the opposite bank of the river from the kremlin there is a railing where newly married couples stand to have their photos taken. It is traditional for them to fix a padlock on the rail as a symbol of their marriage. They either throw away the key as a sign of the permanent bond or take it home in case they change their mind !?



We also visited a lovely, simple church, build in a local Pskov style. It has two towers (onions) and has an unusaual design around the tower called the Pskov necklace.








In the evening we went out with the family to a restaurant and to park the camper in a secure parking for a couple of days. It was good value at 100 Rub per 24 hrs. I am sure that the car would have been fine, but for our first nights in Russia we decided to play safe.


On the way to the restaurant we decided to give our new reserve driver a test. He passed with flying colours, although we may need to invest in a booster cushion!



It has been a great day and a lovely welcome to Russia. Thank you Olga!



15th August – Last day in Estonia

16 Aug

We reluctantly left the lake in the morning and headed back to Voru to see if we could find somewhere to buy a green card for Russia, as our insurance will not cover us at all and we need at least 3rd party to satisfy the police if we get stopped on the way. We could not find a company that would do it unless the car is Estonian registered. We gave up in the end, as we had heard that we could get it somewhere on the Russian border. The countryside down to the border crossing at Koidula is rolling hills and forest and we were surprised how empty it seemed. I suppose with only 1.34 million inhabitants (800 k of which live in and around Tallin) it should not be a surprise. Lots of houses were deserted, but still looked pretty with the flowers still growing around the windows.

On the other hand there were also a lot of old factories that are no longer working. There are very few jobs outside tourism in southern Estonia.

Next stop was some sandstone caves at Piusa. We did not go in the caves themselves but liked the playpark equipment …. typically nice woodwork.

Later we headed to a small village called Matsui just about one km from the border. We slept there (sort of) as there was lots of noise made by locals importing/dropping off cheap diesel right through the night. The diesel is around half the price of the diesel in the Baltic states and so some of the car owners increase the size of their fuel tanks and make up to three trips a day over the border to collect. It is gathered together and sold on for a profit. Good for the people doing it but bad for the queues at the border.

The next post will explain the border process and will describe our first day in Russia, which due to our host Olga, was great!

14th August

14 Aug

Had a nice relaxing day in the campsite, only jobs were a minor repair to the woodgas stove and some washing. It is such a lovely quiet place, that we’d love to return to one day.



The campsite had a rowing boat that you can use, so we thought that we would spend a bit of time on the water exploring.



We were not the only ones on the water. There was a man fishing who had obviously decided that the priority for his fishing boat was comfort. It came well above stability and size!




Having received a number of urgent requests to have a shave, coupled with the fact that I could never tell if my face was clean after a messy sandwich ….. I decided to go back to clean shaven …. at least for a while.



Ahh back to normal!



Last picture from this place is the sauna, which has been fired up for the owner of the campsite.





13th August – Estonia

13 Aug

Spent last night parked in a free camper place, right on a lake and next to an hotel in Otepaa This is actually where the world championships for cross country skiing are held every year. We woke this morning to find that it had stopped raining! Not sunny but dry. We had been trying to sort out which border crossing to take using the internet last night and stumbled across a series of posts on the new (since 1st August 2011) border crossing system. As the Estonians are so into technology they decided that it would be a good idea for every person wishing to cross into Russia to book a crossing date and time on line. This is in order to cut down on the big queues. We have heard of people taking 10 or even 15 hrs to make the crossing, although 3 to 4 hours was more common. The only problem for us is that it meant that the earliest we could book was 06.00 on 16th August rather than our planned date of 15th. We will see how well it works!

Once we had made the decision we decided to try to find a nice campsite in a quiet place, by a lake with shelter in case the rain starts, with good wifi. Hmmm not fussy ….. should be easy! As we drove down towards Veriora to find the elusive perfect site we noted that the houses were different in style to the Latvian houses.

We stopped in the small town by the church to look for bread, and even in this tiny place there was a wifi sign on the post by the church and little gardening shop.

We carried on to Polva and dropped into a tourist information centre and told them what sort of campsite we were looking for. The lady knew just the place!

About an hour later after following smaller and smaller unmade roads we came to a lovely lake and house. It turned out to be just about perfect!

Again we were the only ones there!

The place had its own sauna on a floating pontoon on the lake.

The shelter was really nicely made, had power, wood cooker, smoker, open fireplace and wifi …. as we said perfect!

The roof was covered in grass/plants and the gutters were machined from logs and held up with tiny uprooted pines. The four corner supports were made from uprooted trees with the roots trimmed to shape to hold the roof. We have not been to Scandinavia but I suppose they must have things made in a similar style.

Even the legs of the tables were made from the roots and bottom of the stump!

Maybe its a bit odd taking a picture of it, but as you can see we like wooden things …. even loos!

We’ve decided its too nice here to move on and so we think we will stay another day …. as long as its not pouring with rain….