Tag Archives: Russian visa registration

Tver to Moscow 9-17 July 2012

The weather became noticeably hotter as we approached Tver, but a cool headwind has for the most part has kept things bearable on the bike. As we approached Moscow the towns became larger and better catered for in terms of bars and cafes, so we stopped a few times to escape the heat and treat ourselves to a beer and some wifi. We’ve accommodated this in our budget by adopting different sleeping & washing habits. Instead of spending the occasional night in “paid-for accommodation” (in Russia this means a hotel as we haven’t come across any campsites), we’ve continued to wild-camp and spent the money on a couple of meals out and some beers. Very nice.

“Barbie-Pink is SO not my colour”

Tver is a lively town, bisected by the Volga. We arrived on a Sunday (8 July) and it seemed like most of the town were cooling off in the river, sunbathing on the sandy beaches along the river bank, or enjoying pony-rides on garishly bedecked animals. We were tempted to join the swimmers as it had been a while since we’d washed, but as we’d spent quite a lot of time in a bar posting the last blog-entry we decided to get a few more kilometres done before finding somewhere to camp.

We’d planned on getting quite a few kilometres done that evening but not far out of town we found a mowed field – something of a rarity in this land of overgrown meadows and dense forests – and decided we couldn’t pass it up and would just have to put in a couple of big days to get to Moscow. In hindsight we might as well have spent time swimming in the river, as the field remained intolerably hot until about 10pm, so we lay and sweated and didn’t even think of cooking dinner until after dark.

We were on the road reasonably early (for us) the next day and enjoyed good tarmac, a tailwind, and hardly any traffic from Tver to Kimry. We wanted to get a big day done so put the hammer down a bit (encouraged by a persistent entourage of horseflies) and arrived in Kimry for lunchtime having covered 80km…..a distance that we usually manage in the course of a whole day. The mozzie-smocks had been invaluable on the ride as the horseflies are strong fliers and were able to sit happily in our slipstream even at 30+kph and, before we donned the smocks, could take bites out of us as and when they pleased. Smocked up we felt much happier and were able to relax and enjoy the riding instead of pedalling frantically in a futile attempt to outpace our tormentors.

We were hot and bothered by the time we reached Kimry, so after a spot of lunch in a shady park, we found a bar, had a beer and caught up on emails, and then made our way down to a quiet beach to wash ourselves and our clothes in the Volga. Bliss. It was so nice to feel clean and cool, especially as the next day we would be meeting our hosts in Moscow and didn’t want to appear looking too much like a pair of tramps.

Ablutions and laundry in the Volga

From Kimry we followed the Volga to Dubna, did some supermarket shopping and then found a secluded site in some woods just outside the town to set up camp. The mosquitoes swarmed relentlessly, but once again Keith put his smock on and foraged a nice bowl of bilberries for our breakfast.
The next day would see us arrive at one of the key points on our journey: Moscow.

We’ve been hosted in Moscow by the parents of a friend of my brother. They live just north of Moscow in Lobnya, so from Dubna we just followed the main road south, which wasn’t too bad in the morning, but after Dmitrov the terrain became hillier and the road became a dual carriageway full of speeding juggernauts. Not pleasant riding, although the tarmac was in good condition so that helped to a degree.

The road infrastructure in Russia is completely unlike that in the UK. If you want to travel the length of Britain on minor roads you can do so fairly easily. In Russia, the minor roads generally don’t link up, they just branch off the main road and then terminate in a village. To our chagrin we’ve found that planning a route away from main arteries full of trucks is frustratingly difficult, or simply impossible.

But the day to Lobnya wasn’t really about the riding, it was all about the excitement of meeting our hosts…an event which was delayed slightly when we had our first puncture of the trip about 5km from Lobnya. We limped on, pumping the tyre repeatedly until we found their house.

My brother’s friend’s parents (Big Ilya and Vera) have access to a neighbour’s dacha (summer house) which they kindly said we could use. Little Ilya and his wife, Varya, arrived shortly after we did, having been delayed in the Moscow traffic, and we spent a lovely evening sitting out in the garden, feasting sumptuously on Vera’s delicious ploff (rice and chicken) and pie, and drinking beer.

L-R: Little Ilya, Varya, Vera, Big Ilya, Keith (trying to make friends with the snarling dog off camera)

After cycling past so many quaint wooden houses it was a bit of a treat to be living in one. The facilities are basic; we have a pit toilet down the garden, and the shower is fed by well water that Ilya Snr pumps up into a tank just above the shower where it is then heated up, but there’s not much of a head of water so the shower trickles a bit feebly. But we’re perfectly happy with basic facilities and the house itself is full of retro-rustic charm, with wooden floors, 1950’s furniture and wallpaper, and the family’s photos and books on walls and shelves. It’s a perfect Moscow base for us…so good in fact that we planned to stay two or three days but have been here a week.

After dinner, Ilya and Varya drove us round to the train and bus depot to explain the rather confusing timetable and show us where to buy tickets, which was really helpful. We have a choice of fast trains, slow trains and a bus to connect us with the Moscow metro.

Our time here’s been a mix of socialising, sightseeing, shopping and chores. The first thing we did was some laundry, and Keith fixed the puncture we’d picked up as we approached Lobnya. Our tyre had lasted 4,000km, which is about 1000km more than we got out of any of our rear tyres last year.

Previously our tyres had failed on the sidewall (just near the bead where the rim and tyre connect) long before any of the tread had worn, but this year whilst the sidewall is showing signs of wear, we’ve preserved it long enough to wear the tread from the tyre too. We put this down to the fact that this year we’ve gone against all previous advice to pump the tyre as hard as possible, and have been running slightly soft. It was an experiment borne of frustration but one that seems to have worked.

The wheel also needed truing as quite a few of the spokes were loose, so it was quite late in the day on Wednesday when we finally caught the train into Moscow and headed to “Atlas” a map shop on Kuznetsky Most where we bought a Moscow map, a map of Kazakhstan, and a Baedeker’s guide to China, in English, with an accompanying map. Let the route-planning commence!

Beautiful, bonkers, St Basil’s

After that we went for a stroll past the Bolshoy Theatre and down to Red Square to admire St Basil’s and the Kremlin. Ilya met us at Lenin’s Mausoleum and took us for a guided walk around the Kitay Gorod area and showed us some little gems like the building that housed the very first embassy of Britain in Moscow. After drinks, some food, and some websurfing in a bar Ilya drove us around Moscow, pointing out the key sights, including the dramatic State University up on a hilltop where there was a huge aid effort for the flooded Krasnodar region being organised and which also afforded excellent views across the city, before kindly driving us back to Lobnya where Vera had waited up for us with some delicious home-made borsch.

Moscow State University – one of Stalin’s “Seven Sisters”

On Thursday we thought we’d better get our visas registered. When in Russia, you’re meant to get your visa registered if you stay somewhere for more than 7 nights. This is something of an inconvenience for cycle tourists as we rarely stay in the same place for more than a couple of nights, but the border guards can get sniffy if you try to leave Russia with no registration. So, we went to the Moscow branch of the agency who’d arranged our visas and asked them to register us. They said we should have already registered as we’d been in Russia for 10 days, but we explained our situation and that we’d tried unsuccessfully to register at our first hotel 2 days into Russia, and they very kindly then registered us for the entire period of our visa, so now we don’t need to worry about it unless we stay for more than 7 working days somewhere else, which we may well do in Omsk where we’re planning to apply for our Kazakh visas.

We then found a quiet corner in a Ukrainian restaurant (which Ilya had told us was the best place to get Russian food), had some lunch and then researched the next phase of our trip until it was time to meet Antoine and Elodie, the French couple we’d first met in Rzhev.

Cyril and Methodius, who invented the Cyrillic alphabet, with Ilya and Keith, who didn’t.

We found a laid-back underground bar, with a Kazakh waitress who spoke great English and couldn’t believe we were planning on cycling there, and also found our indecision over the menu pretty funny. We were joined by the French couple’s Russian friend Slava and the evening flew past (accompanied in the latter stages by what Slava informed us was known as ShitRock from a live guitarist) until we realised we’d have to dash to make the last train back to Lobnya.

The next day we returned to the agency to pick up our visa registration and also made enquiries about Chinese and Kazakh visas. The girl at the agency was really helpful and confirmed what we’d already suspected – that there was no way we’d be able to get Chinese visas in Moscow as we’re not residents – and also gave us some advice on the Kazakh visa. She printed out all the forms we’ll need, including spare copies in case we mess them up, told us how long the process would take, and even said she could come to the embassy with us if we have any problems. So helpful! But we’re going to leave it until Omsk, where we’ll have a better idea of our timings for being in Kazakhstan, and where hopefully, at a smaller consulate, the queues won’t be so painful.
We then headed to a place Slava had recommended for shopping for a few new clothes (ours have worn out a bit since we first set off in April 2011), but although I was seriously tempted to blow £60 on some down booties to keep my tootsies warm on cold nights, we failed to find the long-sleeved shirt that was the main focus of the shopping mission. We had to cut the shopping short though to meet up with Antoine and Elodie again in the evening.

At the TV Tower

The French couple both work at the Eiffel Tower and are members of The Federation of Great Towers – which includes the Moscow Television Tower – so they get free entry for themselves and a guest each at any of the 38 great towers that are in the federation. It was quite funny when we first arrived, as the woman on the reception desk, who spoke good English, had never heard of the Federation that their tower is a member of, and was politely incredulous when Antoine asked for free entry. She insisted that this was not possible in Moscow. Antoine equally politely insisted that it was possible, and after she conferred with a few other people, we were suddenly guests of honour and were in.

After passing through the extensive security checks we went through to the base of the tower itself where the tour guide sought us out and gave the four of us a separate introduction to the tower before going to look after the other Russian visitors.

The lift up to the viewing platform was almost as impressive as the view itself: 337 metres in 58 seconds, and yet barely any sensation that you’re moving at all. If it hadn’t been for the rapidly scrolling numbers and the video from the camera pointing up the lift shaft I’d have thought we were still on the ground.

In the time between us entering the ticket office and entering the base of the tower the weather had changed dramatically from sunshine to heavy rain. We all eagerly exited the lifts to be momentarily baffled by what looked like a white glass wall. The tower was shrouded in cloud and we couldn’t see a thing. Thankfully the wind was blowing quite strongly and the cloud dispersed and we had a stunning view of the storm crossing the city.

L-R: Keith, Tamar, Elodie, Antoine

We’re really grateful to Antoine and Elodie for inviting us up there as it would have been too expensive for us to consider otherwise, but was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Moscow. It was particularly pleasing seeing the landmarks that Ilya had taken us to the day before and getting a better sense of the orientation of the city.

The next day was Saturday and we got two buses to Decathlon to see if we could get some new clothes. Keith successfully bought a pair of trousers and a new sleeping bag liner, but a suitable long-sleeved shirt continued to elude me.

Ilya and Varya then met up with us in the car and took us to a treasure-trove of all things outdoor. Three huge floors stuffed with small independent retailers selling anything and everything related to cycling, skiing, surfing, skating, hiking, camping, shooting and fishing. We came away with a new chain for the bike, some vulcanising solution, a Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre (which are like bloody hens’ teeth in Russia, trust us!) and I bought TWO new shirts!

“Come on, stroke me, I won’t bite…..”

Back in Lobnya, Ilya cooked some shashlik and Keith made a summer pudding and another enjoyable evening was spent in the garden, talking until it was long dark. One of the highlights of the evening was making friends with Ilya and Vera’s large guard dog. The dog’s huge but barely more than a puppy, and if Ilya Snr is around then it’s quite playful…..with Ilya Snr. It behaves respectfully towards Vera and Ilya Jnr, rather less so with Varya who gets pounced on, and it barks like an absolute maniac if Keith or I so much as look at it. However, as we were going to bed on Saturday, and long after Ilya Snr had said his goodnights, I managed to approach and stroke the dog, and it finally seemed quite relaxed and friendly. But it would appear that that was a bit of a fluke as the next day Ilya Snr was out and we were talking to Vera and the dog went quite berserk trying to get to us. I’m pretty confident it would have bitten us if it had been able to reach us. It’s the first time I’ve met a dog that I really thought might bite rather than just bark. I’d love to spend more time here and work out how to get on with it. It’s such a nice playful hound underneath the snarling and bravado.

The next day we went sightseeing. We decided that we’d already spent far too much money to justify spending more on entering the Kremlin, particularly as we weren’t sure if we were really in the mood for churches, palaces, thrones and great halls, of which we’ve seen quite a few on our travels. So instead we decided to go to the Andrei Sakharov (Russian nuclear physicist turned human rights advocate) Museum, which was free and sounded a bit different….but it was closed for their summer holidays. At a loose end we took a stroll along Arbat to see the street artists, but it was a bit of an anti-climax, so we headed down to the Art Muzeon Sculpture Park, where some of the old Soviet statues ended up after they were pulled from their original pedestals in the 1990’s wave of post-soviet feeling. The old soviet statues have since been joined by an eclectic mix of more contemporary sculptures and installations, including some hilarious musical litter bins, and there was also a small arts market where Keith indulged me and let me succumb to an ammonite necklace made of pyrite. That absolutely MUST be the last extravagance or our budget will be completely shot to pieces.

Where old Soviet statues are put to pasture. Loosely translated this one reads “USSR – Axis of Peace”

Ilya met us in the Sculpture Park and then drove us to see the Memorial Zone of the Great Patriotic War (more tanks, guns, boats and planes than you can shake a stick at) and the All Russia Exhibition Centre (formerly the USSR Economic Achievements Exhibition) which was originally created in the 30’s and expanded in the 50’s and 60’s to showcase Soviet successes and splendours. The Lonely Planet sums it up pretty well when it says “Here you will find the kitschiest socialist realism, the most inspiring of socialist optimism and, now, the tackiest of capitalist consumerism.” It was a fun place to hang out for a while despite the pissing rain.

I’m not normally a fan of big cities, and to be honest hadn’t really been looking forward to Moscow very much, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m glad we’ve been based several km outside the city as the massive 8 to 12-lane roads look pretty daunting for a bike, but from a pedestrian’s point of view it’s been a great city to visit. The metro is cheap and efficient, and spectacularly beautiful. Some of the stations feel like you’re entering a posh hotel or a theatre rather than a tube station.

Stained glass art in the Metro

If you miss a metro train there’s usually another one along in just 45-90 seconds – unlike the several minutes you wait in London – and the local train, bus & mashrutka (minibus) services are easy enough to manage with a bit of local help to get you started. When our bus broke down one day in an unfamiliar location we just approached other bus and mashrutka drivers, enquired “Metro?” and within minutes were back in motion again. Easy! Mind you, I’m not sure if travelling regularly by mashrutka would be conducive to a long life. The one we took was fairly elderly and rather dubiously maintained, and driven in a fashion that gave scant consideration to the state of the tyres, the wetness of the road and the general chaos of the other traffic.

Moscow parking…whenever, wherever and hope no-one blocks you in.

We could probably spend another week in Moscow quite happily, but a) it’s too damn expensive – food, beer and museum entry is pretty much the same London prices with beers costing around £3 – and b) we’ve already realised we’re going to have to take trains across parts of Russia and Kazakhstan if we’re to get to China before the winter, which is our current plan (visa acquisition permitting), and we’ve been convinced that winter in Xinjiang will not be fun on a bike. So Monday 16 July was a day of fettling and chores with a view to setting off pedalling again on Tuesday…or maybe Wednesday.

Keith has fashioned some platforms from some pieces of metal he found on the road as we pedalled into Lobnya last week, so that we can sit a couple of 6 litre water bottles one either side of the trailer’s wheel and carry more water through central Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. I drafted this blog and did some laundry.

Siveri to Tver 30 June – 8 July 2012

Heat, dust, flies, mosquitoes, appalling roads, belching trucks, undrinkable tap water, a dearth of fresh vegetables…Russia can be hard to love at times. But the friendly locals and our excitement at being back here go a long way to make up for the difficulties.

The last blog post saw us preparing to leave Camping Siveri in Latvia. We had a fairly easy run from there up to the Russian border near Zilupe, apart from a 15km stretch of un-surfaced road which we encountered shortly after stopping to chat to some Latvian cycle tourists who were on their summer holiday with their son on a tow-along bike. We hadn’t seen many other tourists on our trip this year so it was especially nice to stop and chat for a while.

We wild camped about 25km short of the Russian border and, after a typically lazy start the following morning, arrived at the border at around 1.15pm. We knew the clocks would go forward and we’d lose an hour, but still thought we’d got plenty of time in hand….until we saw the queue of traffic. We rolled past car after car after car, all stationary in the heat, and no sign of the actual border. Embarrassed to be jumping the queue, we turned and pedalled back to take our place at the back, and asked the car-driver in front of us if he was familiar with the crossing and if this length of queue was normal. He said it would take a minimum of 4 hours. We groaned inwardly and settled down to have lunch.

The sun beat down as we huddled in the tiny scrap of shade afforded by our trailer. It had taken about an hour to move two car lengths. Keith went for a stroll up to the front of the queue, and came back to report he’d found the border crossing and there was no sign of a foot-passenger queue or any obvious place for us and our bike other than to queue with the cars.

We waited. Aeons passed. Stars died and were reborn. Galaxies collided. We crawled forward another car length. Keith went for another stroll.

During Keith’s absence, one of the other motorists came up to me and indicated that I should take the bike to the front of the queue. Not knowing where Keith had got to I waited for him to return, which he did in due course announcing that he reckoned we should just ride to the front and take our chances. I told him this concurred with the motorist’s advice and so that’s what we did….cruised in a slightly self-conscious fashion past the patiently sweating motorists until we reached a red light with a sign in Russian and English telling us to wait until our registration plate had been noted and we were called forward. We ignored this and pulled forward to a respectful distance from the Latvian border guard’s booth, who, when he was free, greeted us with a big grin and an envious look at the Pino, stamped a bit of paper, and waved us through. We handed the bit of paper to the Latvian customs officials, who waved us through, and then finally, we stopped at a third Latvian booth and once again were waved through. At this point we met an English guy on a motorbike who lives in Moscow. He was well-used to the procedure and assured us it was fine for us to keep jumping the queues of cars. So we did, at every opportunity.

Next stop was the first Russian booth, where we were given an entry/exit card to fill in. We then had to hand that to someone at a second booth, and have our bike and baggage inspected (of a fashion) by a woman in military fatigues. She started to ask us to open the trailer, but when she saw what a hassle it was to remove the solar panel, spare tyres and other paraphernalia, just asked us to unzip a couple of pockets on the panniers, and then spent the rest of the time asking us about our trip. She then led us to the Russian customs booth where we answered a few questions about what was in our bags and showed them our bottle of wine (for that evening’s dinner) and vodka (bought in Latvia to use up the last of our Lats) and were then waved on our way to the fourth and final Russian booth where, for reasons unknown, they wanted to look at our passports again. So after two hours of pointless queuing in the heat, it only took a further one and a quarter hours of jumping the queue, passing bits of paper around and smilingly opening a couple of bags before we were free to pedal on Russian soil. Yay!

Church built of logs

The M9 road runs directly from the border crossing to Moscow, but we guessed it would be the main truck route so as soon as possible we turned off towards the town of Sebezh, got some money from an ATM and then continued on a quiet road with pretty good tarmac for a small number of kilometres before camping near a lake.

We awoke to find we hadn’t been robbed or murdered by bandits, proving correct our suspicion that the nice people we met on our trip in Russia last year were more representative of the general populace than the bandits that many people seem all too ready to tell us about.

The next 25km or so were on the same quiet, well-tarmacked road that we’d been on the day before, but then we got routed back onto the M9. At first this didn’t seem too bad. A few big lorries came by but there was decent tarmac and plenty of space. Then, sadly the true nature of the beast was revealed: ruts, bumps and potholed tarmac that had us weaving across to the other side of the road at times to try to be as kind as possible to our wheels. The number of lorries increased and there was barely enough room for the two facing streams of traffic to pass each other, let alone pass a Pino too.

Trees, swamps, and if you’re lucky…decent tarmac!

There was a tailwind for the first day or so, which was appreciated for a while, but then we realised it was enabling some large grey and yellow flies to cruise with us even at 30kph. It’s horrible sweating up a hill with half a dozen large, buzzing beasts performing figure-of-eights around you, pausing only to try to land on your face. Keith had the worst of it as in between swatting flies he also had to look out for pot-holes and keep an eye on the mirrors to make sure approaching trucks had seen us and were pulling out enough that he wouldn’t need to take evasive action onto the gravelly hard shoulder, and also keep an eye forward to see what the oncoming traffic was up to. After 25 hot, stressful kilometres we stopped at a petrol station and chugged down a couple of litres of Fanta, and thus fortified made our way a couple of kilometres off the M9 into a town to find a supermarket. We had lunch under the town statue of Lenin and then returned to the M9 to do further battle with the juggernauts and the flies.

It had been a few days since we’d washed (perhaps that explains the flies!), and after the lack of wifi in Camping Severi we were keen to post our belated blog, and also wanted to get our visas registered, so that evening decided to treat ourselves to a hotel – our first night in a bed for almost two months.

It took a bit of time and the promise that we’d be paying in roubles to reassure the proprietor to let us in, but eventually we managed to allay whatever concerns he’d had. We never did unravel the rapid stream of Russian sufficiently to establish what his concerns were but it seems that one of the problems was our visa registration, which they told us was unnecessary. We hope they’re right.

We had a shower and headed to the restaurant for dinner, deeming this to be the more prudent approach rather than risking the wrath of the owner by firing up the stove in the bedroom.

We tried our best to look at the menu, but the waitress was having none of it. After some confusing exchanges, during which the waitress enlisted the help of some other guests who spoke even less English than we did Russian, we eventually agreed we’d be very happy to have whatever it was we were being offered at the price they were offering it, and so enjoyed a nice meal and a beer before retiring to the reception area to post our belated blog from Latvia. Keith then stayed up until after 3am sorting out a load of banking and other important things to keep the trip and our lives running smoothly. I was in bed reading Turgenev to get me into the Russian vibe.

We love these little vans and are wondering how difficult it might be to buy one.

The next day, showered and in clean clothes, we resumed battle with the M9. It was actually a relief to have a headwind which meant there weren’t so many flies. Wherever possible we tried to move onto side roads, but aside from one slightly hilly but otherwise lovely 20km stretch we didn’t have much luck with them.

The next day saw us still on the M9: the distance from the Latvian border to Moscow looks insignificant on the overall map of Russia, but it’s around the same distance as going from London to Glasgow. Sadly the headwind had dropped sufficiently that pedalling was still difficult but the flies could now join us – which they did with gusto.

Any side roads were either un-surfaced or simply not well-signed enough for us to identify them working with our 1:750,000 atlas, and so we continued with the trucks, and the flies, and the headwind, and the heat, and the crap tarmac.

Beijing to Paris, via Moscow

In the afternoon we had a treat though when we came across some other cycle tourists: three guys from Beijing who were cycling to Paris. After cycling across China they’d had to take a plane to Moscow as they’d been unable to get Kazakh visas, and in a converse situation to ours had only spent one night under canvas on their trip, preferring hotels each night. We chatted to them for a long time, comparing routes and kit and experiences, before going our separate ways. We gave them our Latvian and Lithuanian maps since they were heading that way and they told us we’d got about 30km of chaotic roadworks ahead of us. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that although they’d got the tailwind, they’d probably got more flies. It’s from small mental victories like this that strength is drawn when pedalling in adverse conditions.

The roadworks turned out to be comparatively pleasant. For much of the time we were able to sneak onto the new tarmac whilst the rest of the traffic made do with the single un-surfaced carriageway remaining to them.

Cinema Sputnik

In all it was five full days from the border until we left the M9 for good. We’d had a few brief detours into towns to buy supplies, and one disastrous attempt to follow what started off as a nicely tarmacked road but which ended up being a fly-ridden dirt-track that sapped our speed and had us off the bike at one point when a sudden unexpected patch of deep sand caught the front wheel. To frustrate us further the big noisy flies had been joined by horseflies that were happily drawing blood and even biting through our clothing. I donned the bug-mesh smock and sweated a lot; Keith just swatted and pedalled harder through the sand and gravel.

On the bright side though, we’ve now spent a day and a half on a road with good tarmac and fewer lorries, and Keith bought a new gear cable and borrowed some (crap) cable cutters from a market stall selling bikes, and has replaced the bent cable housing near the rear mech which had become kinked (probably when I caught the trailer on it by mistake). So today we’ve had a pretty good day with slick gear changes and not too many trucks or flies.

Buying and fitting a new gear cable at the market in Staritsa

We camped last night in a mosquito-ridden forest through with some monstrous scary hornets buzzing around, plus the usual share of horse-flies and the large grey-yellow flies that insist on flying into the vestibules and then buzzing frantically between the inner tent and the fly despite there being two gigantic vents for them to get out through, not to mention the two open doors.

The aftermath of a single unnoticed mozzie overnight in the tent. Keith it would appear is unpalatable and remains unblemished.

We’ve been discovered by locals twice now whilst trying to sneakily camp in Russia. The first time was at one of our more desperate spots in some woods just out of sight of a couple of small wooden houses. We’d already tried several other spots and decided they were no go, and were getting pretty fed up with the impenetrable, bug-ridden forest.  The forests we’ve been in in the rest of Europe have been criss-crossed with paths and logging tracks and camping has been fairly easy.  The Russian forests have few trails and thick with nettles and other dense plants.  Even the meadowlands are mostly uncultivated in this area and full of waist-high grasses and flowers that make camping rather difficult.  So we set up camp at a less than ideal place and I dived into the tent to escape the thronging mosquitoes (by far the worst we’d had to date) and Keith donned his bug-smock and went foraging for bilberries. We’d only been there 30 minutes or so when a man came walking by. He seemed unfazed by the appalling mosquitoes. Perhaps he’s immune to them. We asked if he minded us camping there, and he seemed OK about it and told us the name for bilberries in Russian, and tried to tell us a load of other stuff that we couldn’t understand, and all in all didn’t seem to upset by our presence at all.

Our second discovery was in a fairly mozzie-free field that had been recently mowed. I was just preparing to squat for a pee before retiring for the evening when I caught sight of an old Lada bumping towards us across the field, causing me to zip up quickly and try to look nonchalant. The old couple in the car waved and smiled enthusiastically as they passed us. We grinned and waved back. Wild camping in Russia can be pretty good!

About to cross the Volga in Rzhev

In fact, the response we’ve had since crossing the border has generally been great. Truck and car drivers hoot their horns (in a nice way) and wave or give us a thumbs up. People stop to chat when we’re at the supermarket and pose for their photo next to the bike, and a few people have stopped at the side of the road to offer us water or simply say hello and find out what we’re up to.

Some locals drivers who stopped for a chat

In Rzhev, where we finally left the M9, we were asking some locals where the supermarket was when two cycle-tourists came riding by in the opposite direction. They were a French couple heading to Moscow from St Petersburg, en route to Mongolia and beyond. We’ve agreed to try to hook up in Moscow as we really enjoyed chatting to them about their trip to date and their future plans. We’d originally fancied Mongolia as a route into China, but have heard it’s next to impossible to get a Chinese visa in Mongolia. Mind you, we’d also heard it was impossible to get a Russian visa outside your country of residence but they’d managed to pick one up in Helsinki, so perhaps they know things we don’t.

We’re currently treating ourselves to lunch in a cafe with wifi in Tver and hope to arrive in Moscow in about 3 days time. We’re really looking forward to staying with the parents of a friend of my brother, who have kindly agreed to put us up for a few nights.

These ornate window surrounds have been an attractive local feature

Oh, and Keith’s knee is looking much better. Not quite back to normality, but coping well with 90-100 kilometre days, so we’re very pleased and feeling pretty confident that it’ll settle down completely in due course.