Russia - A hellish ride
Bleary eyed, we rolled out of bed early as we were meeting Vladimir at MacDonald’s and following him with Denis to see the ‘Ohlins man’.
A 45 minute ride out of Moscow we arrived at what looked like a run down block of flats but which turned out to be the ex-headquarters of the former Soviet motocross and speedway teams. Dozens of hard won trophies still line the corridor, simply left to gather dust. The ‘Ohlins guy’ turned out to be Yuri, the former head technical engineer for the Russian motor-cross team. We couldn’t have asked for a better man to be looking at the rear shock. Within 40 minutes the problem had been diagnosed and solved with a donation of a Ohlins pre-load unit from Vladimir.
Relieved, we happily accepted the repaired shock back and then made our way back to Autodom. En-route we stopped off at the bike market to pick up a set of fork gaiters for the F650GS, whose previous gaiters had by now been shredded. This was all on a Sunday and Vladimir and Denis were doing all of this for us on their day off!
We were finally ready, gaiters fitted, rear shock fixed and St Petersburg was waiting for us. We had received the kind of welcome and enjoyed a level of hospitality and help that we could have only have dreamt about. To Alex (Manager of Autodom), Vladimir (BMW Russia), Denis (After Sales Manager Autodom) and Marina (Autodom), we owe you a very, very large thank you. You made our stay in Moscow all the more memorable. Alex maybe we’ll see you in South Africa in February 2004, who knows!
At 5pm we made our start from Moscow to St Petersburg (formally Leningrad). Yes, we know its a bit of a silly time to start off but we couldn't really afford to stay another night in Moscow and didn't want to stretch new friendships too far as everyone had been so fantastic anyway!
Little did we realise it was going to be a marathon ride. We started in torrential rain, riding in Moscow rush hour. We had travelled 4-miles in about an hour. Finally we reached the bottleneck. The 3 lane carriageway we were on was completely flooded on the outskirts of the city. The water must have been 8-12 inches deep in places as we made our way through, praying not to have to stop.
The rain finally subsided and after a brief stop at Mcdonalds (bloody hell that’s twice in one day) for coffee we began again. We had been determined to leave Moscow on the 13th and with hindsight should really have left it another day. The road to St Petersburg is long (roughly 800k), it is also the main lorry route, so contrary to what the ‘Lonely Planet’ guide book says about the road quality being good, sorry, but ‘BOLLOCKS’, is it!!!
The road is potted but worse, it is also very badly ridged. Deep troughs, which go on for mile after mile, have been pushed into the roads by the continuous onslaught of overloaded lorries. Cars have a better time of it, but on bikes it’s bloody horrible as you find the front and back of the bike continuously fighting to go in different directions, as the wheels are pulled by the deep ridges in the road. Concentration has to be 110% just to keep the machines upright. Night was drawing in and we needed to make a decision to either keep going or stop for the night.
It was getting late but so far none of the small towns we had passed through had looked particularly secure. We decided to keep going. At dusk the rain started again. 2 hours further on and things were getting frightening. Lorry drivers frustrated by our speed (50-60 mph due to the dire weather and road condition) were overtaking us in silly places. It was now pitch black and the road was getting worse with the bikes weaving about underneath us. Mile after mile passed very slowly. We were getting overly tired and concentration was becoming a problem.
At around 2:30am we pulled into a garage, parked up and hauled ourselves off the bikes and slumped pathetically on the kerb. Still in our kit that was black with dirt and sopping wet, we rested back against the forecourt office. Within minutes we were both asleep. Not one of our more glamorous moments! 30 minutes later, feeling slightly refreshed we were off again.
At around 4:30am the rain stopped as dawn broke and at 6am we stopped again desperate to close our eyes. This time we simply pulled off the road, put down the side stands and fell asleep on the bikes. When you’re this tired your tank bag becomes welcoming pillow. We couldn’t decide if falling asleep on the bikes took us one step closer to ‘rufty tufty’ bikers or just plain desperate. Our egos prefer the thought of the first. By 7am we were back on the road and at 9:00 we were approaching the centre of St Petersburg.
The first hotel we approached said they were full, but being the largest with a few thousand double rooms we thought they didn’t like the way we looked. I’m not surprised though because we didn’t like the way we looked! Sweaty, grimy with filthy clothes, boots and hair with a 5’oclock shadow (and that’s just Lisa!)...not a pretty sight! We were told however that their sister hotel across the road had some space and so off we went to battle through the morning rush hour traffic – we never seem to time it quite right when we arrive in cities! Our Lonely Planet book once again said that this hotel was at the cheaper end of the travellers budget – me thinks they need to update!
Being tired, hot etc...we decided that, despite the price, which was well over budget, we couldn’t face getting back on the bikes in order to hunt for another and cheaper abode. The bikes also had secure parking with three armed guards (!) at an additional cost of $10 per 24-hour period per bike – apparently not a bad price in St Petersburg as secure parking is few and far between.
Our hotel was situated on Nevsky Prospekt, which is one of the main streets running the length of St Petersburg’s centre (the Soviets tried re-naming this street 25th October Avenue in honour of the revolution – the name never stuck – I wonder why?). Nevsky Prospekt is Russia’s most famous street running 4km from the Admiralty to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra (monastery) from which it takes its name. The inner 2.5 km to Moscow station is St Petersburg’s seething main avenue, the city’s shopping centre and focus of its entertainment and street life. Pushing through its crowds is an experience in itself.
After long showers and lots of sleep we ventured out onto Nevsky Prospekt and found St Petersburg to be very cosmopolitan with plenty of cafés and bars. Parts even look like Venice as large waterways run through the City. We’ll have a better look tomorrow.