Russia - New Friends
We were knackered even before we left! The hotel didn’t have a lift and we after we had manhandled our entire luggage down three flights of stairs we were worn out! Ah well, its good exercise.
We took the M18 towards Lodemcje Pole. It was my (Lisa’s) idea to cut across from the M18 to the A114 on the yellow road that links the two.
Well, initially we went around and around Lodemcje Pole but couldn’t find the road at all. The GPS kept on telling us that we were on it -then not on it – way off it – going the wrong way. ...and so on! So, eventually we asked in our shaky Russian and found that everything has changed due to a new infrastructure and we needed to keep on the M18 for a short while and then the smaller road would be obvious – and it was.
This little road is 149 km long and started off fine. It was really nice to have some bends and turns, which was making riding fun. However, just as we were enjoying playing, the road suddenly stopped and turned into 85km of dust, sand, and rocks! I started very slowly, being a bit apprehensive of the ‘road’ surface and standing up on the pegs as my bike felt very different from the slim, light model I had ridden while on the BMW Off Road Course. We are still so green at all of this!
As time went on we gained more confidence and picked up our speed. With both bikes kicking up huge clouds of dust I snatched a glance at the speedo whcih was creeping past 50 mph. It "IS" easier faster, but it just takes a little while for your mind to accept this! With one small break on a bridge which still had some tarmac, we stood up on the pegs for the majority of the way – if we hadn’t our control would have been less and our backsides black and blue as this small road was a logging route which had been corrugated by all the logging lorries.
At the very end of the road the road turned back to tarmac and finished at a roundabout with a.........wait for it.........real MIG on it. We just had to stop and take pictures and I have to say my (Simon's) bike looks great next to a MIG. We also had quite a few tourists who also thought our bikes and the MIG looked great but took more interest in our bikes that the huge MIG!.
We arrived in Tichvin a little later than we intended and our first feelings where those of concern. We both felt an underlying buzz of trouble in the town and were worried about even pausing at the side of the road. But we had to stop and just as we did two cars pulled up – one in front and one behind – uh oh! We need not have been worried as both men got out of their cars and said we should be careful and not stay on the roads, as it wasn’t safe.
After we were told that our luggage wouldn’t be safe nor our bikes in the hotel, Sergio, one of the men said he would take us to a car compound where our bikes would be safe. All of this was quite worrying, however, we had no choice.
We followed the guy through streets that looked like scenes from a war torn Beirut, where we were getting the kind of looks that were not welcome. Eventually we turned up at a compound surrounded with razor wire. We were told that this is where all the locals leave their vehicles, as anywhere else is just not safe! After being told we need to leave our bikes here Sergio and his wife said we were to stay with them!
Sergio told us he had a friend who had to leave Russia due to ‘problems’ and her flat was empty. Actually we later found that it wasn’t empty but just like someone was still living there – she really did leave in a hurry! Sergio put our entire luggage in his car and took us to the block of flats where he lived with his wife, son and daughter. As we entered the flats we were struck by their dilapidation. Entering the unlit concrete corridors the overpowering smell of urine caught in our throat. Do people actually live here we thought? Yes they do.
Sergio’s family live on the fifth floor and, once past the 3 secure steel doors and the countless locks, we were welcomed into their home like long time friends. We couldn’t help but be surprised by the pleasant decoration and soft carpet under our feet, a stark contrast to the outside.
It’s been said that you meet the best people, new friends, when you most need them when and this couldn’t have been truer in the case of Sergio and his family. Their generosity, hospitality and trust in us (two smelly biker tourists from the UK) was quite literally overwhelming and very, very humbling. We were offered their hot water to wash (hot water was in very short supply) and then their bathrobes, which we gratefully accepted. The rest of the evening and early morning was spent with the four of us around the table, laughing at our own attempts at conversational topics from politics to family, with us speaking no Russian and Sergio and Katrina speaking no English. The only way we managed to ‘converse’ with each other was by using our very basic Russian dictionary and Sergio's sons Russian to English very old and worn school dictionary. We would point at the word we wanted, Sergio would say it, we’d repeat it, they would laugh (nicely) at our bad attempts and then they would do the same in turn!
Later that evening Sergio insisted on going out for beer and point blank refused to accept any offers of money from us. His wife offered us the last of their borscht (tasty beetroot soup), cut up meats and cheese and we ate, talked (using the dictionaries), drank and laughed into the wee hours of the following day.