5 – 11 June Poland (north)

Route : Gdynia – Wloclawek  – Gdynia

Kms : 500 kms

Summary of event :

a) Old town in Gdansk 

b) Sunset from a boat (with lots of drinks)

c) VW event at Wloclawek

5 June Gdynia After a good home cooked breakfast, brewed coffee and a good shower at Daniel’s and Barbara’s home, we had to go back to reality … WORKSHOP… The plan was to come back and stay another night with Daniel where he will take us around the city. But we were in the workshop the whole day and Udhaya cooked rice with chicken/pork curry from the balance meat that we bought for the event. I had 2 servings as the last that Udhaya cooked curry was early May in Irkurst for Alisher and Anna. Pawel took Terence and Stephen to Pepowo as Stephen’s engine needed to be fixed (he has been running with the spare engine since Novosibirsk, Russia). They came back with SIM cards for us ZT35 for 10gigs and since 1 June there is no more roaming for countries in EU but Poland mobile providers will have this effective 15 June. They also came back with Bob! Bob bought a VW Transporter from Holland (It was getting too hard to ship or drive his T2 and its now parked in Malaysia) and will be joining us in our journey to Germany. Bob, his wife Riga and mate George was with us in China with a hired car and driver. It was getting dark and Silves was still at work. Even Pawel was changing the black oil for nana and flying ace. We all then decided to sleep in the workshop’s car park. The workshop has a toilet and a decent shower but it shuts when the door to the workshop shuts. Our cars are parked outside the workshop in a compound/parking lot with other transport companies.

6 June Gdynia Got up at 9am and it was scorching hot… I had a shower at the workshop and since we have data, I was busy with my blog. Haven’t been updating since 18th May and lots of photos to sort out between Udhaya’s and my phone. Udhaya cooked curry Meehun with Polish sausage for lunch.. It started raining at 2pm and from 25 degrees , it changed to 5 degrees. Looks like I am not missing the Sydney extreme weather (I know Melbourne is worst, but Sydney is close). Jarek , a friend of Pawell who was at Karwia over the weekend, dropped by to check on us. Bob and I went to his house as Bob was buying a pair of seats for his T3. He was too kind to buy meat and vodka and BBQ it over at the workshop for dinner with us. With us being in the workshop sleeping in the vehicles and cooking, its the place to be with everyone just dropping by esp. those that we met from the event who are all from this town.

7 June Gdynia Silves, the mechanic of the workshop ( and our landlord too as we have been putting up the nights here), was so kind to buy us loaves of bread and his wife Sylvia baked a cake for us too. He has been too kind to let us use his space and often is showing me a little bit more about Poland in his computer. Daniel dropped by at lunch time to check on us and he even brought us traditional Polish soup for lunch. He also said that he will take us out this evening. The boys have been busy with their cars as Silves is busy with other cars. Christmas came early for Cliften as spare parts that was ordered arrived today where he had the biggest share. Michal, Pawell’s cousin who has been dropping by very often to check on us, took us to his home for us to do our laundry and to have a shower. Bob, Udhaya and I went with Michal and we met his beautiful family incl Renata his wife who designs clothes! She was wearing the same fabric and design with her 10mths old baby Cornelia. She even offered us gnocchi and sauerkraut which we couldn’t say No. It was delicious. Later at 6pm, Daniel came as promised and the 5 of us jumped into his VW Transporter. We went to pick up Barbara and his driver so that he can drink. We were drinking wine and beer in the van like a bunch of teenagers. Everyone I have met so far have zero level alcohol tolerance and will not drive if they had even a sip of alcohol, but they are pretty lax with talking on the mobile phone. They wanted to show us Gdsank which is the next town to Gdynia and its an old historic city with beautiful architecture and its a ship yard. At times, the city it feels like Venice. Pablo from the event came to join us too after work. We walked around the city and I noted that we were the only tourist who had local friends hanging out with us! And then we met Peter, Pawell’s business partner who had a speed boat and we went for the ride of our life with the sunset in the horizon. We were also drinking and having so much fun. Its sweet wine that I was drinking and it did hit me a bit later as I was basically wasted. We went to have a bite at a local joint and had more drinks. It was too much of drinks and one member from our team puked on the way back., I am not mentioning names… We got back close to 1am and Silves and Pawel were still working on the vehicles. Pawel is helping us with the repairs so that we can get it done quick and also the fact that Silves is busy. This seems to be the longest write up for a day…

 

8 June Gdynia Got up at 10.30am and didn’t feel as bad as the Saturday in Karwia. Today I had a good big breakfast 4 slices of bread with 3 eggs. I got the time today to edit and clean up the photos and continue with my blog. We had a few visitors today including Michal and Jarek. We went to Michal’s mate Tomek and Buli who are mechanics close by to see if we can service Nana to save time as Silves is busy (you get the message by now that he is busy) . They were so accomodating and were so happy to see us and we took photos with them. I had a shower in the workshop even after being offered a home shower by everyone who dropped by to say hi. Pawel’s mum cooked lunch for us i.e. mince meat wrapped in cabbage like a roll with gravy and you eat it with bread. Sylvester, Pawel and the boys worked through the night to get the cars fixed and serviced.Udhaya was busy cleaning the carburettor and gave the engine a good wash. I sat in the workshop with them while they worked. Went to bed at 2am and they will still working through.

9 June Gdynia Udhaya came to bed when it was getting bright at 3am, and we got up at 9am as it was sunny and hot! Silves brought us cakes and bread from his friend’s bakery for breakfast! Sylvia and her youngest daughter Zosia dropped by and she is the cutest girl I have met so far. she has the bluest eyes and the cutest dimple and she is just so friendly. She loved Nana and didn’t want to leave Nana after she got comfortable in the car. Sylvia said that Zosha has more car toys than dolls.I did some washing as it was good weather to dry clothes ( we hang the clothes on the cars instead of opening a clothes line and make the place like a caravan park. and Michael dropped by to bring the clippers as Udhaya wanted to trim his hair and beard. The engines are still not in the busses yet as they have been fixing the spare parts and assembling it since yesterday. Cliften’s  and Terence had to drop their engines as there were parts being replaced. Udhaya found a vacuum cleaner in the workshop to vacuum the car as not been vacuumed since Malaysia. He has been cleaning up Nana the whole day. There is a 3 days weekend VW event that starts today at a town 250kms away at Wloclawek. We were suppose to convoy with Daniel and gang (all 4 of them incl Pable and Kinga was getting there with Pablo’s black beetle called Gruby (fat in Polish). At this stage, we don’t know when we will be leaving as Clif’s and Terence bus are still being repaired. Terence engine was fixed back in his bus but after a while oil was leaking and it was decided that we will leave tomorrow morning for the event without Puch and Flying Ace. I was really looking forward to catch up with Daniel and gang. Instead we were lucky enough to have Jared and Ewa over for dinner in workshop; they will be sleeping over too tonight as both will be having a few drinks.

10 June Gydnia – Wloclawek (250kms) Nana had a few more final checks to be done and we went to Pawel’s parents place for breakfast. What a breakfast as it was like in a hotel with generous spread and all the finer details with the dishes incl garnishes that his mum carved and decorated. It was a very cosy and lovely place and we were very fortunate to have met his parents. She even baked a delicious cheese cake which I did not hesitate to have 5 servings! We got back 2 hours later at 10am and Nana was still being worked on. He works in his own time and he does take time but he is the best so far for our type of cars. He even owned VW classic cars in his younger days.  Finally at 12.30pm, we left for the event Jarek and Ewa (with Mikowai and their dog Nudie) and arrived 3 hours later. This event is bigger than the one in Karwia and you get VW classic car owners from all over Poland. I am amazed by the number of events for VW classic cars as they have it every week. We met some of the same group of people from Karwia and they were kind off shocked to see us still in Poland. We met Gruby and her passengers! They were auctioning for charity and Bob bought a VW photo frame for Z270 (its expensive but its for charity). They also had other games like knotting a rope and wood cutting (I am sure there is a better name for this). They had a group of folk singers/dancers from the mountains of Zakopane who was performing. The whole night then was just drinks, music, food, bonfire and more drinks. We went to bed at 3am while the party was still going.

11 June Wloclawek – Gdynia (250kms) I promised Ewa that I will take Nudie for a walk (she is a 3 years old Newfoundland and boy can she pull me. I did practice walking her with Mikowai yesterday in preparation for today’s walk). I made plans with Bob last night for 7am start for a walk. I was still asleep when Bob came knocking at our window at 8am but decided to still go. We went for a 30mins walk in the woods. I miss having early morning starts (back home, even in weekends, I am usually up by 6am) as you have the whole day to plan and do whatever. We had some traditional Polish zupa (soup) from the event’s alfresco cafe (It was Z5 and comes with a roll).  We also tried semi smelly cheese fresh from the mountains and it was delicious. We finally left at 3pm and made plans to stop over at Pablo’s family summer house half way along our journey back. Gruby had a flat tyre on the way back and Jarek managed to supervise and fix this situation. This summer house this place but it was 2mins walk to the lake and it was a nice cottage with an outdoor BBQ and a vegetable patch. We met Pablo’s dad who looked more like an older brother and we had BBQ polish sausages and salad. The sausages here are very tasty but they are not good for you (unless you buy it directly from source or a deli). They are very salty as salt is used to increase its water content, to reduce the amount of meat that they use. We went to the lake, Pable and Udhaya did kayaking, the boys played volleyball but there were many mossies around. We left close to 8pm and because it only gets dark like at 9.30pm, it didn’t feel too late. It took another 1.5 hours  to get back to Gdynia and we were heading to Mechelinki which is 20kms north of Gdynia. We were going to park on a cliff facing the Baltic Sea and at night you could see Norway and Sweden. Jarek came close to midnight and some other few mates and we drank vodka (I only had 1 shot) and were keeping ourselves warm over a bonfire.

 

31 May – 4 June Latvia – Lithuania – Poland (north)

Route : Mapp – Terehova – Kaunas – Gdynia

Kms : 1,150 kms

Summary of event :

a) We are in EUROPE! 

b) Lunch and dinner in different countries in 1 day

c) VW Event in Karwia

31 May Mapp Russia – Latvia Lithuania Kaunas (340kms) I remember Terence calling for Udhaya at 6am and they both disappeared. At around 9am, Udhaya told me that they got it sorted out and we now have our green card and need to stamp our passport and sort the cars for inspection. The officer stamping our passport was shocked that the duty free staff did not ask us to stock up on cigarettes and instead told us the quota. He also said that if you fly, its 1 carton and doesn’t know why its different when you drive which is 2 boxes only. Later on, Terence told me that Udhaya went to speak to the Insurance office but a different staff now as the revues one ended her shift at 6am, She was so helpful and managed to get it sorted out. Thank you Udhaya… Stephen, Cliften  and I was asleep while Terence and Udhaya rescued us from this dilemma. After crossing over, on the way, we stopped at a cafe that resembles of a cowboy town from an old Clint Eastwood movie. We had a chicken/potato/salad with coffee for E6. We are rolling in Euros now! For the first time from the start of the trip, we have been running on a tight schedule as we had limited visa in China and Russia. We are now in EU and there is no need to rush to the next destination…OF course its still at the back of our mind to arrive on time for the main Hessich Oldendorf event mid June and  Chimmay in Belgium. We were heading out and stopped at a small town to withdraw some Euros and there was a supermarket that I could buy some bread (E0.30) and juice (E1.50). The roads here were not great as there was road works and it was raining.  We didn’t have time to explore Latvia and Lithuania as we are expecting to spend more time in Poland to service the vehicles. We drove 200kms in Latvia, and didn’t go through the capital city Riga as it wasn’t on the way. We had breakfast in Latvia and dinner in Lithuania.. I always see this in movies with the rich and famous, but cannot believe that I am having meals in 1 day in different countries! It took 30 days to cross Russia and 21 days in China and now we are just passing countries in a day! Stephen’s bus had issues and we were repairing it in the rain under the covered area of a petrol station.We had dinner in a decent restaurant (diners were having wine and steak) and had soup (E1) and chicken/potatoes (E7), lucky to get hot water for free! We were looking for a place to park at night and there is no truck stop/24hrs cafe like in Russia; maybe because there are not many trucks on the road? We found a petrol station with a few trucks parked and decided to sleep there for the night.

1 June Latvia Lithuania Kaunas – Poland Gdynia ( 530kms) Wow! Its been 2.5 months since we started our journey and we are now in Europe.. I mean Nana is in Europe.. If only Nana can talk, I wonder what she has to say.. Refuelling since leaving Russia has been a breeze as we could pour first and then pay.  Today we have to reach this town in Gdynia to meet Pawel. Long story short, Pawel was hitchhiking in Asia last year and Terence who was driving his bus from Cambodia gave Pawel a ride. Since then, they have become good friends as Pawel has a VW as well.  We were going to stay with Pawel and he was arranging for our vehicles to be serviced in Poland. We stopped at a local Tesco to buy some food to cook for dinner as we will be parking and sleeping in a car park today. Pawel is working and we will park where he parks. He will be drinking tonight so will not be driving his car home. We cooked instant noodle (it says curry, but its not up to Malaysian spicymeter) and had dinner at the carpark. An unmarked police car paid us a visit and they were not too friendly, asked for our passports and after checking, gave it back to us and left. Poland is cold… we were suppose to walk to Pawel’s work place to have a drink but decided to call it a night.

2 June Gdynia – Karwia (80kms) Today, there is a VW family event (30 VW classic) for this town and is held in Karwia and Pawel invited us to come along where he will be spinning there with his cousin Christof. But before that, we went to visit Silves a mechanic that Pawel has arranged for us to discuss on timing and what needs to change. We cooked some light lunch (bread, eggs and sausages) at the parking area of the workshop.  The vehicles had to get a wash for the event and we washed a DIY car wash. We then headed to a money changer as Poland uses Zloty and not Euros! We have been using our credit cards so far in the petrol station as didn’t have the local currency. We also bought some grocery for the 2 nights at the event. We bought beer, wine, lots of meat, bread, potatoes, eggs etc. We arrived at Karwia close to 6pm and met everyone. Some spoke English and some didn’t but its ok as we had Google Translate.. We also shared with them all our videos and the charity work that we have done in Asia. We met a couple with the coolest purple beetle (Renata and her husband) and its got the heavy metal theme all over including the engine which has a skull as the carburetor! They were barbecuing and having vodkas and beer.. This weekend for everyone at the event is all about drinking and relaxing. They were all very nice and very inviting. After having too much of sausages, we brought out our meat to BBQ and eat. We met a lot of people and Udhaya was chatting to Daniel who has travelled to Asia..  I had too much of wine, whisky and vodka that I know I will be paying the price tomorrow.  Terence and Cliften retired early while the rest of us partied till 3am (30mins before sunrise)  This event was held in a motel that is owned by the organiser Peter and the backyard is where the event is held with a stage, pizza oven used as a BBQ, a kombi bar selling alcohol, trampoline and seating area. They even had 1 room where we could use the shower and toilets. Those with a beetle slept in the motel while we slept in Nana, while the rest slept in their kombis and Transporter.

3 June Karwia We got up close to noon and the music was still going! This motel is surrounded by houses and looks like everyone in the neighbourhood was ok with the noise last night that was still going when we left at 3am till this morning. I wanted to take a shower, but we were heading off soon for a convoy to Puck 20kms away. This is my first experience in a large convoy of VW. We then entered the town and parked our vehicles in the centre (similar to the Grand Place in Brussels). Lots of local tourist in this joint and we were all chatting with the local tourist and I spent a bit of time with the VW family that I met last night in the event. They are really trying their best to talk but they do understand English pretty well. We had coffee (ZT6) and then it was time to get going. We headed back and walked around the block as everyone was going to eat fish. We finally found the place and had fish for lunch. It was not expensive ZT 80 for Udhaya and I where we had 3 types of fish (its priced by weight and not per dish) with potatoes and salads. In Russia, there are places where the food (and cakes) is sold by their weight i.e there is NO price wastage. Terence was out for his run and I decided to pass as I was still hungover from last night. When we got back, I had a good shower and then it was time for party…  There were more people this time and we met a lovely family Eva and her husband Louis with her parents. She loves spicy food and studied in the UK with friends from Sri Lanka. She was giving Udhaya tips on cooking a good curry, even after telling her that Udhaya is a chef. Today we cooked our meat in the motel kitchen as we were hungry. Today I told myself that I will stick to the wine that I bought and will skip the vodkas, but its easier said than done. Tonight was not as crazy as last night and we went to bed close to 1am.

4 June Karwia – Gdynia (200kms)Nana was parked just at the porch of the motel and it was full of human traffic in the morning and no one realised that we were sleeping in the car! It was forecasted to rain the whole day and it did. After a good breakfast at the motel’s kitchen, it was time to leave. Now, we had Daniel and Eva’s parents who wanted us to come and stay with us if we want to. Kinga (close friend of Daniel and his wife Barbara) also offered us to stay with her. Everyone is simply hospitable which I never expected. Daniel was to take us touring the cities today and for us to sleep at his place but due to the rain, we will skip the excursion. Pawel was taking us to a private collector’s museum at Pepowo where we met the owner and his wife who is a chef and cooked us a 3 course lunch. Daniel came to meet us when we were done at this museum as we were heading to his home in Gdynia. Kinga was there too and another Pawel ( we call him Pablo) from the VW event.  Barbara prepared salads and we had takeaway pizzas for dinner.. They ordered too much pizza and we were up talking till 1am. We 5 and Pawel slept in their living room and they had a very nice home. I am still in a bit of shock when people open their homes to strangers, but I guess its different when you are in the VW family anywhere in the world where you are treated like family. Today has been after a long time that we had 3 good meals at decent times.. If this is everyday, I will have to keep a closer eye on my food portions..

 

25th-30th May Moscow – Mapp (Russia border)

Route : Nizhny – MOSCOW – Yakhroma – Zapadnodvinskoye – Mapp

Kms : 1,400 kms

Summary of event :

a) Kremlins

b) First VW event in the trip 

c) Russia doesn’t want to let us go

25 May Nizhny Novgorod – Moscow (450 kms) He lives in a pretty big house (2 separate blocks but connected somehow) with 20 rooms and few families. They all have kids of their own and it seems to work! There are few kitchens and toilets too. I wish we had more time to get to know them better.. Maria who lives there too is an English teacher and she speaks fluent English, Andre speaks a little. We slept really well and got up at 3pm! After a good hot shower, we went down and met the rest of the household and the kids who were back from school. We also met Natalia who is Andre’s partner. There was also a lady that plays the piano and sings, she composes her own songs too and she is good.. They also teach handicrafts to kids and they showered us with so many gifts on top of giving us a place to sleep, shower and food too! We have been spoilt in this trip. We had pancakes with Lake Baikal honey, ricotta cheese tarts and chicken roulette all cooked by Natalia. And coffee brewed by Andre.. Spoilt to the max! We sang, played the piano, danced, wined, dined.. It rained and we too did not want to leave. At 9pm, when it was still bright, we decided that its time to say goodbye. We were heading to Moscow which seemed to be so hard to get to and could probably end up skipping like what happened in China with Beijing city.

26 May Moscow – We arrived in the middle of morning traffic in Moscow and it was not because we planned it that way, it just happened. We had a few issues with the vehicles during the morning. In the middle of the traffic, Clif’s bus gave way and we pulled to the last lane of the highway ( there was no breakdown lane or emergency lane). We were there for almost 1 hour. We then continued on and pulled off to a building with carpark to rest the vehicles. It was pointless driving in the traffic. This was already close to noon and we were also making plans to visit the Malaysian embassy which was like 30kms from where we were but it was going to take 1.5 hours to get there. The traffic is the whole day today as its Friday and the locals head out of the city for the weekend after work. We ended up going to the hostel that we booked online which is 3km away from the city centre. It was a decent hotel with a dormitory with 6 beds that we had all to ourselves (Stephen will sleep in his bus and Clif wants to spoil himself and sleep in a hotel).  By this time at 4pm, we haven’t had lunch and headed to a restaurant that was recommended by Roslan who works in the hostel. It was a Georgian restaurant serving pasta, pizza and steak. Its been the best pizza so far and we all ate our hearts out. Now, a steak in Russia costs appx R500 but here in Moscow its R1,000! Moscow is basically European prices. My large Prawn and Salmon pizza (yes, I finished it myself) costs R400. Michael, another VW enthusiast that we connected through our journey and Facebook, invited us to attend a Classic car event in Yakhroma (70kms north of Moscow) tomorrow and he was planning to come today to meet up with us for dinner.  We managed to have a short nap before he came at 9pm. Udhaya, Cliften and Stephen went with him while Terence and I decided to sleep as we were just too tired from driving the whole night (I have taken over the Nana since Novosibirsk).  Stephen and Cliften decided to stay in Michael’s place and they left with Michael that night.

27 May Moscow – Yakhroma – Moscow (220kms) I got up early and went to buy some grocery from a nearby supermarket (I love supermarkets)  so that we could have a good breakfast cooked in the hostel.  We left at 11.30am for the event in Yakhroma. We arrived at the event close to 3pm due to the traffic of people getting out from the city.  This is a big annual event and when we arrived at the gate, we were told by the organisers to park at the main stage! Stephen and Cliften arrived 30mins later. Everyone was just curious and amazed of our journey. We were then told to drive to the podium and we were interviewed at the stage.. After being a celebrity, we moved our vehicles to where all the Classic VW’s were parked and we spent time talking (google translate at times) to all of them. There was also 2 Germans (I am really sorry but I cannot seem to remember your names and many others from the event) who were travelling from Germany via the Stans country, Iran and Russia. Theirs is the orange VW Bus which is pretty cool. They are both engineers/mechanic who took 2/3 months off to do this trip. There was food truck in this event and we were lucky enough to get some free hotdogs when they were wrapping up for the day.  We left when the event was over at appx 9pm. Udhaya was making arrangements for us to stay smack bang in Moscow centre so that we have the full day tomorrow to explore. We arrived close to midnight and decided to visit the Kremlin for some photos with the vehicles (Stephen didn’t follow us back as he was staying in the event park with the German explorers). We spent too much time parking the cars in a no parking zone that the police came to check on us. Luckily they let us go instead of giving us a fine. Its hard when you are taking photo of the car and Kremlin, and you get passerby posing with the cars… We basically shooed them away.  Comrade Hostel is the place that we were staying and they didn’t have any spare dorms for the night. Maria, who has been working there for 7 years, was kind enough to allow us to park our vehicles in their parking lot (which is limited and had to be booked) and sleep as we were staying here for 2 nights (R630 per person and R200 for washing your clothes which includes drying in a dryer). Moscow is cold day and night and after using the toilets, we headed to the cars to retire for the night.

28 May Moscow The plan was to wake up early so that we can cover Moscow today, but alas, the rain decided to make its way and we ended up getting up at 9am. Terence went for a run at 6am and he got caught in the rain.  Today is Sunday and its not as busy I guess compared to Saturday.  The beds were still not available and after a good shower in the hostel, Udhaya and I headed out (on foot of course). We were looking for a French patisserie and after 1 hour, we found a fancy joint and decided to spoil ourselves (I wasn’t going to walk another  minute for breakfast!) We had coffee (Australia still has the best coffee), almond croissant and apple strudel for R895 which is standard “cafe” prices in Malaysia/Australia. Of course, the pastries in France or even Australia is no comparison, but Udhaya wanted to savour the local pastries. Moscow has beautiful architecture and we just walked and walked. We also stumbled on Moscow Zoo in the middle of the city which was closed! R500 entry fees which I think is reasonable. We then had KFC for lunch as I was planning to go for a run with Terence at the Kremlins in the evening. I only could do 7kms as my feet was aching from walking the whole day (this is my excuse) while Terence completed his 10kms. We cooked instant noodles and roast chicken (cooked from a deli) for dinner. This will be the first time that we are sleeping in a dorm with other guests! I guess its hard work repeating our journey to everyone esp when time is limited. Terence was sleeping in a different dorm from Udhaya, Cliften and myself. Stephen came pretty late to the hostel (he was going to sleep in his bus) and they all went again to the Kremlins to take photos of the vehicles. I was busy uploading my photos and my Blog.

29 May Moscow – Zapadnodvinskoye (430kms) After checking out from Comrade and saying our goodbyes, we headed to the Malaysian embassy! They were so happy to see us but were expecting us last Friday where they had Malaysian food cooked for us. Yesterday was the start of Ramadan where the Muslims fast for a month, so there goes some home cooked food as they didn’t prepare any since its Ramadan! We were there chatting for 2 hours with the Ambassador and her staff. We basically pointed out that we didn’t get any support from Malaysia (after reaching out to a few relevant government bodies) and still decided to carry on with this trip. We then met up with 2 Russian “explorer” who drove their Russian car to Bali from Russia and they were keen to meet us! I sat in their Russian car and they travelled with 6 people in 2 cars. They are a band and earn their keeps busking and in clubs, and also doing documentaries of their travel. They took us around the University of Moscow area which is also a suburb where the elites live. We had kebabs from a food truck around the area for R200 and it is basically double the meat of what you get in Sydney! We said goodbyes and left close to 2pm. Around 6pm, the weather took a turn with strong winds and tornado! (The next day, we found out from locals that 6 people died due to this weather on the road or while walking outside). Cliften’s front glass cracked and luckily he brought a spare glass (we too as ours are curved and it might take time to source for a replacement). Within 2hours, a local mechanic managed to fix it. This mechanic was recommended by a local that we met at a petrol station while refuelling We drove till 10pm and slept in a truck R&R. Roads were better since Moscow with 2 lanes most times.

30 May Zapadnodvinskoye – Mapp Russia border (300kms) Our visa in Russia ends today. Today, Puch had issues with his engine oil and we were stuck at the side of the road for almost 3 hours. With all the problems we have been having with the vehicles, it feels like even they don’t want to leave Russia! We met a couple that are friends with Andre that we stayed with in Nizhny.  He is with a Toyota Hiace van that was converted to a camper and they were heading to Belarus for holidays and he pulled over when he saw us (we first saw him 20kms before when refuelling) He made tea for us and spent time having a chat about his trip, his van etc.. He also had a 42 inch LED TV on his back glass! Solar panels too.. By the time we arrived at the border, it was 7pm and we decided to have a good dinner as we didn’t want to have the same experience in China were we were stuck for 3 hours and there was no where to buy food. We also stocked up on ciggarettes  as its cheaper in Russia i.e. R120 for a pack of 20 sticks. Luckily we only bought 5 ; when we saw a duty free shop and wanted to buy more, the staff said that we can only carry 200 sticks per person and this is the same as in Australia.  We then headed to the Russian border and it took almost. 1 hour for the release of the cars and then us. Latvia border was basically 5 minutes drive and some of them spoke some basic English. Now, we wanted to get Green Card (Insurance that applies for all countries in Europe for non EU cars) in Moscow but we were told that Moscow only processes green card for Russian registered vehicles and we should get it at the border or in Latvia. The customs/border at Latvia did request for green card and we said that we will get in in Latvia. She then pointed us to a building in the border with office blocks and told us to get it from there. There was 1 office with Insurance but the staff said that they don’t do it. The border officer came to help and when they tried, Malaysia was not appearing in their system. She said to go back to Russia to get it, but we said our visa has expired and we did check and cannot do it in Russia. She said that we could leave our cars here and go in the morning to the next town in Latvia to get it done, but its the same company as the one in the building. We decided to sleep for the night and maybe we will think of new ideas in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

18th – 24th May Russia Novosibirsk-Nizhny (NEXT MOSCOW!)

Route : Novosibirsk – Baranisk – Omutinskoje –  Krasnoufimsk – Votkinsk – Nizhny Novgorod 

Kms : 3,400 kms

Summary of event :

a) Bye Bye Novosibirsk

b) Impromptu shooting session  with the army and drinking vodka at the same time

c) Meeting Andre, Natalia and Maria in Nizhny

18th May Novosibirsk – In the morning, we found out the room bill for the last 2 nights was R2000/night instead of R1500 which is the rate that we paid for the first night. I went to speak to the owner and she said that R1500 is a half day rate. We communicated through Google Translate and I basically told her that we were not informed of the half day and full day rates and she apologised. We decided to sleep in the car tonight as Stephen’s bus is getting fixed.We went to the hypermarket to buy some grocery and had dinner at KFC at the mall.  A burger (similar to Zinger), medium drink and fried is R150 and 2 piece chicken is R108. For dinner, we went out with the VW mechanics to a local hangout similar to American Chillis / TGIF. Lots of beer and steak. We manage to get a lift in Andre’s Russian LADA classic.

 

19th May Novosibirsk – Guess what? Bus is still not fixed and looks like another down day. We had a good breakfast ie. coffee, ham and cheese croissant from the grocery that we bought. We hung out in Cliften’s room in the same hotel (as we slept in our cars) and we watched the movie “Get Out”. Its a good horror film, watch it if you can. Ran 10kms in the evening with Terence ; and when I got back, Andre who took a drive in Nana in the morning, came with his Honda Gold Wing to give me a ride! He did mentioned this in the morning, and looks like he kept to his promise and luckily I was back from my run when he came looking for me. Andre doesn’t speak English too and its my first time sitting in such a bike. It was a good experience. Before reaching back, he drove through a petrol station and I assumed that he wanted to refuel. Guess not! He is friends with the owner and they were having a birthday celebration in the office and the back of the station.. There was so much of food served (I had 2 packs of instant noodle after my run!) and instead I had vodka with his friends. They were all so keen to chat with me as I do not think they have met a Malaysian! There were 2 of his friends who are in the army and they had their rifle which they gave me to hold and have a look. Took a lot of photos with their phone as I didn’t bring mine. This is all new to me and again, I wished I spoke to language. I guess the vodka did put me to a good sleep as I woke up at noon the next day.

 

20th Novosibrisk – Baranisk (380kms) After a good sleep, we checked out from the hostel and said our goodbye to the staff there. I then noted there was a wedding convoy that stopped on the main road and everyone came to Nana to take shots! We then headed to the VW service centre as we were going to leave from there. We finally left at 5pm and stopped for “lunch” first, where we dined at one of the  cafe where they weigh all the food including rice, chicken and pasta! We drove the whole day today and we stopped close to midnight when we decided to sleep at an R&R with the trucks.

 

21may Baranisk – Omutinskoje (880kms) This place did not have shower so I am using my wet wipes to wash myself for the first time! Today will be a drive day too and I have been driving since Novosibrink while Udhaya sits in Terence’s bus to help navigate the team as Puch is the lead car. In the evening, Nana was jerking and we stopped and changed the distributor. We decided to call it a day at 10pm and slept in an R&R with the truckies!

22 may – Omutinskoje to Krasnoufimsk (780kms) After breakfast, we left at 10.30am and stopped at a town called Boroskiy to check on our mobile plan. We got Yota and new lines as our Beeline’s plan has ended and we wanted to try something else instead of topping up. Beeline seems to work well in cities but not on the highways, Yota was said to be better on the highways. We were in this town for 3 hours and had lunch here as well. Its a small town and everyone came to talk to us and take photo with the vehicles. I spoke to a group of school boys who were very interested with our journey.  The roads today were not good and it was a cold day to drive. I had my beanie, gloves, microfibre towel on my lap (the cold air from the front blows into the car) and the electric blanket as well. We drove the whole night and stopped at 4.30am when one of was getting tired.  Bear in mind, we saw the sun rise at 3.30am which is unusual for us.We looked for a hotel as it was like 4 degrees and we didn’t wasn’t to suffer sleeping in our vehicles. We are smart now with half day and full day rates, so managed to get half day rate at R300 per person. It was a dorm but so far we always seem to have the whole dorm for ourselves even when its a 6/8 bed dorm.

23 May Krasnoufimsk -Votkinsk (430kms) We got up at 10.30am so that we could take a good shower before we check out at noon. Good toilets and hot showers are a bit of luxury for me. The hotel had a good cafe where we had brunch. I had rice, 6 eggs, salad and cabbage for R80! The blonde lay below is the Manager of the Hostel and she gave us candies and fridge magnets as we chatted with her on our journey. We left close to 6pm as Rusty was having issues. We drove till 1am and decided to pull off and sleep in a petrol station as we couldn’t find and truck R&R when we wanted to finish for the day.  The guard in the petrol station was really nice when we asked for hot water. China had hot water everywhere, but not Russia. There has been times that we had to pay for hot water at a petrol station (R50). The guard also lent us an electric heater. Because its usually female that man these petrol station, there is a usually a guard for security purposes.

24 May Votkinsk – Nizhny Novgorod (930kms) For the first time, we got up at 4.30am (3hours of sleep) and started driving at 6am after refuelling, toilet break and checking black oil. We went to a cafe to have breakfast that was on the way and I had a good portion of beef goulash to fill me up.. After driving for 7 hours, Stephen was waving the white flag (he was tired) and we stopped at the outer part of Kazan city. Now, due to time and visa constraint, we are unable to visit Kazan. If you are in Russia, make sure you visit this city. We left for Nizhny at 11pm as Puch had some issues along the way. Through Facebook, a VW enthusiast; Andre who has been following our journey, has been wanting to host us and we decided today that we will go and visit them. By the time we arrived at Nizhny at their home, it was 4.30am! And we were hungry! We had some light meal before retiring to bed at 6am..

 

12th – 17th May Russia Irkutsk – Novosibirsk

Route : Irkutsk – Tulun – Uyarskiy – Krasnoyarsk – Mariinsk – Novosibirsk

Kms : 2,050 kms

Summary of event :

a) Bye Bye Irkutsk

b) Trans Siberian Highway

c) Truckies R&R

 12th May Irkutsk – Tulun (460 kms)After a good shower and the last clean of the apartment, Anna and Alisher came by and routinely, we took photos.  It was a little emotional for Anna and myself when we had to say goodbye as we have been spending the last week much together. They took us 30kms north and out of the city to the highway.  We are finally on the road.. We have been feeling very restless of having too many down days, but as I said, this is all beyond our control… The plan is to drive to Tayshet which is 600kms away. I found out later today that Alesher is not a direct friend of our contact in Moscow, Aljona. He is in the network of friends with Aljona and he was kind enough to help us with the vehicles. I have to say the roads on the highway is better than I expected. There has been areas where there are potholes but these are usually getting to a city or in the city.  There are lots of trucks on the road and boy are they fast.. We might overtake them at first, but they are quick to chase. We are lucky that the sun sets between 9.30pm – 10pm which gives us more driving time during daylight. We did get some advice from a passerby in Lake Baikal that its not safe to camp near to a river as Russia has lots of river and this was what I kind of planned out to do. He said to park where the trucks park for the night.  We found a good stop with lots of trucks, a cafe, toilets and a motel at Tulun (100kms before Tayshet). Cliften prefers to sleep on a real bed instead of his bus, he needs to rearrange his bus to be able to put his bed up. We had dinner at this place and then retired to our vehicles to sleep. The weather was a little chilly but not cold. R15 fees to use the toilets which was decent. Coffee at these stops is cheap i.e between R20-R30 (RM2.50/AUD0.70). Menus are in Russian of course and we rely on our google translate photo app to translate these images into English. The choices are usually beef goulash, rice with beef, chicken with cheese, macaroni, eggs/potato are sides, lots of meat pastries which are to die for and desserts too. We had a few truck drivers who we were trying to have a conversation and some even offered us vodka! Well, not for me for now..

13th May Tulun – Uyarskiy (590kms) We got up and while arranging our vehicles, a young Russian chap with alcohol smell on his breath came and was being friendly … for a reason.. He was asking for money, then a lift and then cigarettes.. I did read that there is a high unemployment rate in Russia and lots of men in smaller towns spend their time drinking vodka. I have to say, this is the first that I have experienced it first hand. I have to say that all that I read in the internet about Russia is outdated. It was mentioned that the police will try to fine you for something and will ask for a bribe, so you will need to give them cigarettes etc. Well, the experiences we have had with the police so far has been very pleasant. They tell us to be careful, they check our passport and not forgetting taking photo of the cars. They do smile unlike most of the police in China. Another point of observation, these R&R’s cafe in the small towns usually have women working and I do not see the men,  I guess they could be truck drivers? Well, I hope they are not at home or out drinking vodka. Today was a full day of driving and we drove till sunset i.e. 10pm. We pulled over in a stop that had a petrol station, SHOWERS, no cafe but the petrol station has a cafe inside with hot food. There was 5 trucks parked paralel and there was1 spot where all 4 of our vehicles was parked back to back and the length was the same as 1 long truck. The fees for using the toilet was R15 and showers R150. We decided to shower tomorrow morning as it was already close to midnight. And it rained from midday till when we went to bed.

14th May Uyarskiy – Krasnoyark – Mariinsk (500kms) After a good hot shower and my home made breakfast (ham & cheese sandwich), we headed to the city as we wanted to sort out our mobile plan which does not seem to be working. We have not been able to communicate for the last 2 days, and relied on free wifi which was limited as we did not stay in a hostel/hotel. This is a pretty big city and Stephen found a mall close to the city centre that we could go to. The internet provider that we used was Beeline and after 2hours with them, we topped up another R100 and I took the chance to ring home (WhatsApp of course) and send emails etc while the rest were still in the shop sorting out their internet plans. There was a supermarket in this mall and of course I went to the mall. I bought the same items, pineapple juice (1ltr for R150 and Udhaya loves it), ham, spreadable cheese, butter, bread, cookies, OATS and milk! I haven’t had oats and milk for the longest time! We left at 2pm after lunch at a cafe in the mall. Now, refuelling is a headache. We always have issues wanting to fill up the tank with our credit card as they are not able to charge before refuelling. At times, when we pay cash, they insist on how many litres instead of a full tank. Here, unlike China and Mongolia, you have to pour it yourself. You have to place the petrol hose into your tank first (the monitor at the pump will not be reset), pay at the counter and start fuelling up (the monitor will reset to $0/0ltr). We didn’t have such problem in China/Mongolia. So, I have decided to just pay cash and the exact litres instead of full tank.  We drove the whole day, it was raining today too.. The scenery is simply stunning. Towards the evening,  there was appx 5km of bad roads and after driving for an hour, Terence suddenly veered to the right. Puch had a flat tyre and the rim was damaged too! They managed to replace the tyre and the rim within an hour and we were back on the road. We ended up stopping at a truck stop with a cafe and motel. We slept in our vehicles and Cliften slept in the room (R400). I had my dinner in the car at 7pm i.e. oats and milk, it was simply delicious.. The boys had dinner late at 11pm at the cafe. These cafe operate 24hours mainly for the truck drivers. We are in a different time zone and we are 1 hour behind (when we reach Moscow it will be 5hrsMalaysia/7hrsSydney behind)

15th May Mariinsk – Novosibirsk (500kms) We left after breakfast and I was driving today too (I drove the whole of yesterday). If you look at the road signs, Novo is spelt Hobo in Cyrillic. Today was looking cloudy and it rained late morning. Udhaya sat in Cliften’s bus today and I had Nana to myself! We did a few stops for the busses (engine oil, valve check etc). We were to head to VW dealership/service centre in the city centre as we wanted to see if  we can use their facilities to jack up the cars to do a few checks. We were luck to have this booked in when we were in Tulun. Alexandre was on his way back from Moscow and spotted us parked on the highway in the morning. Its his dream to own a VW and he was genuinely assisting us to get this booked in (he called Udhaya so many times while I was driving). Russians have been so helpful and we were so worried that we won’t be able to find any workshop who is able to help with the cars. China was a struggle too but we had our tour guide who could translate. Russia, we are on our own but we are meeting so many people who are just helpful and go out of their way to help. We were having such a good drive until we entered the city as it was peak time and traffic was bad. Puch gave way and died luckily at the side of the busy road. While Terence was fixing the rope for Rusty to tow Puch, a police officer stopped and was telling us nicely to tow out as its peak traffic. He brought us to a safe place for us to decide what we plan to do (tow ourself to VW dealership which is 10kms away or other options). We ended up towing ourselves and it was a convoy of slow moving 4 VW classics getting out from the city to VW dealership. We also had to do a U turn which was a challenge with oncoming traffic in both directions. I guess, the whole town knows us and not one car honked at us. If any, it was to get attention and give us a thumbs up on our vehicles. We also had a local who was driving through with his VW Transporter coming down to help us! He was so amazed at our classic cars as he has not met any one who drives these vehicles and its his dream too! We are happy that our vehicles can bring a smile or a tear to people that we have met so far in this trip.

When we got to the VW showroom, it was almost 7pm and luckily they close at 9pm. The staff there were so helpful and we left Puch there. The VW Transporter guy was with us and also helped us to find a hotel closely when we were done at 9pm. The hotel was R1500 per night and we 3 shared a room while Cliften  had a room to himself. Stephen slept in his bus at the car park in front. It was close to 10pm and we were trying to have dinner at the cafe but there is just not much to eat. The staff contacted the owner who came within minutes and managed to dish out some good hot food (beef dish, eggs and olio pasta). What a day…

16th May Novosibirsk – Terence and Cliften left early as they had to be at the VW dealership at 8.30am. We relaxed and Udhaya/Stephen went to a Beeline shop at 11am to sort out our phones. I decided to stay in the hotel and get my blog, budget, emails sorted out.  I had peanut butter sandwich for breakfast (and some cookies too) and hot black coffee (hot water from the cafe). I checked out at 3pm as Udhaya and Stephen was in the VW dealership too. I ordered a coffee and potato bun (wanted a beef bun but realised I pointed to the wrong bun and didn’t have my phone handy to google translate) . While I was having this in the cafe, Udhaya and Cliften  came back to collect Nana. Nana is to get her black oil changed (last changed in Xian, China)  and replace her distributor as we are currently using Cliften’s. I followed them to the shop as there is a nice customer service area with free wifi and coffee! We were there till 9pm when it closed. While driving out and 500mtrs away, Nana’s engine stopped. Lucky it was a quick fix as VW did not tighten the distributor cables! See, you cannot mess with a classic.. They also recommend us a restaurant for dinner, which belongs to one of their customer, Kharan (Armenian). This place was 10mins drive away and we could see him standing at the front waiting for us. The food was amazing and according to Stephen, the best so far in Russia. It was BBQ pork, lamb and chicken with home made spices. We slept in the same hotel which was just 100mtrs away from this restaurant. Tomorrow we will head to the town for some sightseeing as we will not be leaving tomorrow.

17th May Novosibirsk – Slept in and when I woke up, it was snowing! Heavy snow in May i.e. spring season! This was heavier than the snow we experienced in Baikal. What is going on with the weather? What a day when we wanted to do sightseeing as we knew that we were not leaving today. Chilled and kept ourselves warm in the hotel. Towards evening, Terence and I did our 10kms run and had dinner in IKEA.. meatballs of course!

6th – 11th May Russia Irkutsk Final part

Route : Irkutsk

Kms : 0 kms

Summary of event :

a)  We are residents of Irkutsk! 

b) Not hitting the road for a week!

c) Running for the first time in this trip! and 2 days consecutively

6th May Irkutsk – They came at sharp 11am and we sat in his 7 seater people mover. Flying Ace was parked at his mum’s place. This place was 30kms away in a town called Taltsy and it’s a museum of wooden architecture of Siberia. We spent a good 2 hours here (entrance fee was R300) and had lunch at the café. All the wooden houses in towns that we have driven through so far has very pretty windows and are so classic. After this, we headed to the village of Listvyanka 50kms away, on Lake Baikal’s western shoreline. It is a popular starting point for summertime wildlife-spotting tours, plus wintertime ice-skating and dog sledding. We saw the Baikal mountain range (from a far) and it was just spectacular with snowcapped mountains.  It was too cold for a dip in the lake but there were many people fishing. Omul, is a type of fish that you can only get from this lake and they smoke and salt it. There were many small stalls along this spot where you could buy it. Udhaya and Cliften enjoyed the fish the most. I tried but did not enjoy it. We picnicked by the lake for a while (we bought ham, bread and drinks from a supermarket). We left at 6pm and we all fought hard not to shut our eyes in the car (except Alisher who was driving), but we failed. We went to his mum’s place as he wanted to give us some yak meat from a yak that bought few months back. They sent us back and showed us the supermarkets close to the apartment. Udhaya cooked yak curry and Stephen said it tastes like goat meat. I am not too keen to try yak sambal for now as I have the leftovers chicken curry.  I had too much of spreadable cheese and bread during our picnic that I decided not to have dinner. Udhaya did Teh Tarik (Malaysian tea with condensed milk) that night while Terence and I went to the market to get milk and ended up having a drink at the bar closeby (Harat’s pub). The boys later on went back again to have a drink.

7th May Irkutsk – Got up and took turns to shower as this place is a 1 bedder and of course 1 bathroom. It takes at least 2 hours for us to get ready. It gets bright at 5.30am and sunsets at 9pm. I decided to eat the chicken curry and rice from 2 days ago for breakfast. It reminded me of my brother Martin who eats rice and curry for breakfast! I am a believer on heavy breakfast. Udhaya and I went to the bazaar and town close to Alisher’s house. We walked in the market and bazaar.. Fresh meat, cheese, sausages, fish, endless bakery/cakes, fruits and vegetables.. I can really go crazy here… They even have 3in1 coffee, we bought Nescafe 3in1 50 sachets for R500. The weather today was too hot at 27 degrees (Sydney’s summer). We had lunch in a Tajikistan cafe serving rice and dishes.. After lunch, we went to that strip of old cottage houses and ended up at CakeHouse. Udhaya wanted to sample their cakes and we had coffee and cake there.. Udhaya had a cake with ladies fingers, sour cream and cow berries.. It was light and not too sweet. The slices are charged by the weight and it was R360 (RM28/AUD9)with latte at R200. After walking around that strip which had a supermarket (I am still trying to find peanut butter in a supermarket or anywhere, but cannot seem to find one; even in the markets), we headed to Alisher’s house where his wife has baked a currant tart… It was delicious and we ate it with fresh berries and tea! What a treat.. Alisher was showing us photos on his big screen TV of his family travels in Russia and countries around Russia.

8th May Irkutsk – Another down day as the busses are still not ready. Today, I ate rice for breakfast and yak curry. Wow.. the meat was so tender and I actually think its better than mutton and lamb! We tend to wake up between 8am-9am as we sleep at between midnight to 1am. Udhaya and Clifton went with Alisher to town to buy spare parts (when I say shopping, it will mean shopping for spare parts as we have not had a chance to go for real shopping).  We also went back to the town and bazaar to spend a bit more time feasting our eyes with the fresh produce. Late afternoon, Terence and I went to the workshop and took his bus close to the lake that we plan to go for a jog.. We manage to jog for 10kms within 1 hour, the terrain was mainly offload.. At night, the boys headed out to the city for a drink. Instead of uber, they have something local called “gett” and it was pretty easy to use if you know the location that you are going to i.e. alphabets are Cyrillic.

9th May Irkutsk – Today is my dad’s birthday and I am hoping that he is looking down at us and smiling. He loved his beetle and told my mum never to sell it! I feel that he is somewhat in this journey with us as he loved his car and the car is a part of him (its Udhaya’s now and funny how this is currently our only car as we sold our car in Sydney when we decided to do this trip). Well, I do hope that we are doing him proud.. Who would have thought that Nana is still around and better still, running in Russia!!!!

We bought minced beef from the supermarket nearby (800gm for R360) as Udhaya was cooking mince beef olio pasta for lunch… The solid palm oil is finally becoming liquid. After having a good 2 serving for lunch, 2 hours later, Terence and I decided to do another 10kms jog! At this point, Stephen has gone with Flying Ace to the lake to fish. We did jog and met up with Stephen after our jog. We were building a small camp fire and Flying Ace attracted a group of locals. Its Victory Day today and its a holiday. One of them spoke English and he has been to Kuala Lumpur.. They even shared some of their pork sausages with us. By the time we headed home, it was 8pm and still bright.

10th May – Irkutsk The plan was to leave tonight as Cliften’s bus will be completed in the evening. After our morning routine, the 5 of us cleaned up the apartment with little tools that we have (a cloth was used as a broom and mop). It was snowing today and when I checked my phone weather app, it said “flurries”… first that I have seen such weather condition..We then headed to the workshop to check on Cliften’s bus. Udhaya and I left back to the apartment at 4pm as there was nothing much to do and we were hungry. We had made plans to have dinner with Elisher tonight as a thank you for all his help and hospitality.  While Cliften was driving his bus back from the workshop, the bus stopped and it was towed back by Terence bus back to the workshop. While the mechanic was looking at the bus, another passerby came and said that he does car wiring and he can help to fix it. They then drove another 10kms to this worksop. Elisher and Anna was at the apartment with us and while we were heading out for our Mexican dinner, we stopped over this new workshop to check on Terence and Cliften. It was already 9pm and they will work on the bus and it will be ready in the morning. We all then headed for dinner with Elisher in his people mover. We were having dinner at11pm! It was good Mexican food. We didn’t leave Irkutsk.

 

11th May Irkutsk Cliften and Terence went to the workshop in the morning. I had 2 cookies for breakfast as there was nothing much that we bought to eat..as the plan was to leave last night… Udhaya and I decided to walk around this small town as there was a strip of shops we saw when Elisher drove from the apartment to the restaurant. There was an open market, bread shop, meat shop and we found a supermarket.. We bought bread, ham, egg, cheese, fruits, cookies..and I found peanut butter! Anna and Elisher came over around at noon as we were to leave and we wanted to pass them the keys to the apartment. Elisher, Udhaya and Stephen ended up going to the other workshop while Anna and I stayed in the apartment. Anna was too kind to give us a souvenir which is pine nuts from Irkutsk and the mini dolls (I don’t know what they are called).  We gave them Live2Drive t-shirts as a souvenir. She taught me some Russian, while I taught her Malay, Tamil and some Cantonese. She really is a keen leaner. We have been relying on google translate to communicate the entire time and the at times, the app gets it wrong. The boys got back close to 10pm and Cliften’s bus is here and all 4 vehicles are now together at the apartment.. We then headed out to a local restaurant for BBQ dinner.. and some dancing too..

1st-5th May Russia Irkutsk Part 1

Route : Khyagt – Ulan Ude – Lake Baikal – Irkutsk

Kms : 810kms

Summary of event :

a)  Crossing over to Russia

b) Our new friends Alisher and Anna

c) 10,000kms!

A little bit about Russia ; its the largest country in the world by surface area but only the ninth most populous, with over 144 million people compared to China’s 1.4 billion.

1st May Khyagt – Ulan Ude (250kms) WOW! What a difference at the Russian border. There was no queue ahead of us and it felt like a new country as people are Caucasian looking. Border crossing at Thailand, Laos and China didn’t feel much different as people didn’t look very different. They had sniffer dogs with the customs officer and mind you, the weather is in the single digits too! They checked the vehicles and did ask if we brought any drugs or medicines. They didn’t speak English at all but there was this nice officer at the border (Asian looking) who could speak English and helped us in filling up the forms etc. I then realised that our 4 vehicles was holding up a queue of 3-4 Russia cars. We finished with the vehicles and got our permit document, passport stamped and there is a copy of the white entry form filled up and stamped which a copy is given to you. This slip is not stapled and you need to keep it with your passport and not loose it. This took 2 hours at the Russian border and we drove in to the border town called Khyagt and looked for hotel. We found a hostel (R500 pp) that we could park our cars. We finally put our head down to sleep at 3am.

We got up appx 9am, had a good shower and headed out to get our mobile connection and lunch. The hostel owner was Asian looking, I noted there are many Asian looking as this is still at the border of Mongolia/Russia. The “exotic” looking “boys” were getting all the attention (people wanting to take photos with them) while they were walking around town. Language is a real struggle and after relying on Google Translate for like 2 hours trying to get our mobile plan, I was still not 100% sure of what we paid for and what are we getting. We paid R200 for 7gb data. Now, ordering food is another dilemma. The menu is in Russian and Russian alphabets are not Roman letter, but Cyrillic.. We ended up pointing on the food that the other diners were having as the menu does not have pictures. We left appx 3pm and was heading to Ulan Ude. We arrived at night and managed to find a hostel close to the city.

I also learnt to use the app Google Translate where you could type, talk and take photo of Russian menus too!! We are so lucky to be in this century where technology limits any communication barriers, hence there is no reason not to travel to a country that speaks a different language!

 

2nd May Ulan Ude – Lake Baikal  (330kms) We left close to noon after having breakfast and checking the vehicles and of course taking photo with the hostel staff and the vehicles. We are today heading to Lake Baikal, considered the deepest and oldest lake in the world.  It’s famous for skiing during winter and fishing during summer.

We arrived at appx 7pm and found a nice hostel close to the town. Ski Baikal Hostel, is a big hostel and has decent rooms, kitchen etc.. The room at the hostel was R600 pp and the only complain that I would have would be their slow wifi. We stayed here for the night. The location was ideal too as there was a supermarket closeby. We ended up getting some instant noodle for dinner as it was late and didn’t want to have a heavy dinner. I just realised that I no longer have my sniffles; it took 2 weeks to clear without any medication.

 

3rd May Lake Baikal – We got up in the morning and guess what? It’s snowing in May! Its soft snow and this would be the 2nd time in this trip that we are experiencing falling snow. The first time Udhaya and I experienced falling snow was when we were on the final day trekking to the summit on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal! It wasn’t the way that I wanted to experience my first snow experience. I have to say that it wasn’t as cold and dry as Erenhot in China or in Mongolia.. Rusty and Puch were getting some works done at a workshop close to the hostel. Nana and Flying Ace went to the lake which is like 2mins drive from the hostel and parked. The waters at the shore of the lake was icy and cold. We put the tarp up and cooked some eggs, sausages for breakfast. The vehicles attracted lots of local tourist and many did not know where is Malaysia but they know Singapore and Thailand. It was cold and windy and we had to wear our full suit of beanie and gloves. 2 hours later, we went to meet the rest at the workshop. For dinner, we had eggs, sausages and bread that we cooked. It was yummy and filling.

4th May Lake Baikal to Irkutsk (230kms)- After a good sleep and breakfast, we left close to midday and were heading to Irkutsk. Puch finally had a car wash last night and looks so clean. This is the first wash since we started our journey.  We drove through forest and there was just snow everywhere. we could see the ski fields on the mountains. The views leaving Lake Baikal was simply scenic and the weather was still cold and windy. Rusty and Puch did not get fully fixed in Lake Baikal and needed to visit another workshop. When we arrived at this town, we headed to the VW showroom which will have a service centre. Language was a problem and the mechanics were not very keen to assist with these classic cars. A lady who came a little later and I think she is the head (as she kind off told the mechanics off), told that they can help to jack up the buses and see what the problem is. We left Puch and Rusty there for the night as it was already 7pm and the staff at VW was nice to show us to a hostel close by. Its Krow Hostel and its only opened in Oct16. Iriana, she works there speaks for what I think good English for a Russian. The rate was R500 pp and the hostel had a much better kitchen and rooms. It was already close to 9.30pm by the time we settled and headed out to get dinner. We walked for almost 5kms in the cold (really cold) and everything was closed except a very expensive Chinese restaurant. We ended up eating in the nearest supermarket which had deli and a bakery. The supermarket took credit card! I try to use my credit card if I can so that I don’t have to withdraw too much of cash.  When doing my research for Russia before the trip, I couldn’t get much information if credit card is widely used. Today marks our 10,000 kms since the start of our journey, which is 1/3 of our total journey kms.

5th May Irkutsk – We got up and left to the VW showroom at 10am with Nana and Flying Ace. Nana was jerking really bad and just didn’t have power. After getting lost via Google Earth to get to this VW showroom which is 3kms away, I used Google search for this dealership and found the location from here. 30mins later with a bit of traffic, we were there. Through our Live2Drive facebook page, Aljona from Moscow (she is a tour agent) reached out to us when we started our trip if we need any help in Russia. We did reach out this time and she sent Alisher who is a mate of hers to meet us. Now, Alisher is a big built, straight forward and no nonsense kind of guy. He could not speak English and we were communicating with him using Google Translate. He knows about cars and took us to a workshop which belongs to his friend. We left the VW dealership and headed to this workshop. He even told us to stay at his apartment and we did not hesitate. Once we negotiated on what to do with the vehicles (Nana too, except Flying Ace) and the price, we went back to the hostel to check out (another lady who was there was nice enough to let us check out as this was 1 hour after the check out time of 12pm) She of course took photo of us and Flying Ace. First we went to his mum’s place which is a classic wooden house that you see in all the cities so far in Russia and its smack bang in the city! Location Location Location. There is a strip in the city where they rebuild these old classic houses and they are rented out as restaurant, hotels, souvenir shops and also bars, it’s a pretty trendy and hip place. Alisher said that the land and the house can fetch close to R20M and he will be selling it as he is building a house close to Lake Baikal. He has 2 adult kids, son in the military and daughter studying architecture. He served us tea in the cute cottage and his wife Anna came and she was this petite lady who was just so lovely and they both are so accommodating like we have known them for years! We told them we wanted to cook and for them to have dinner with us. We walked to the markets (similar to markets in Europe and I wished we had more time to explore this place) and bazaar close to his place and bought chicken and potatoes. We went to the apartment and it was not too far from the workshop. It’s a large 1 bedroom apartment with lots of heating! Udhaya started cooking when we reached back. Menu for dinner was chicken curry and egg sambal. I believe they enjoyed the food but the sambal was a little spicy, eventhough Udhaya made it mild with lots of sugar. Alisher made plans for us tomorrow to explore a museum and he is one person you cannot say no to. We insisted on city tour but he said no. After dinner, we wanted to go to a pub. There was one close to the apartment, but he took us back to the city. He took us to the strip of classic houses and we went to one of many pubs. Beers was R130 for 0.33l and R200 for 0.5l. After having drinks, we walked along this strip for a bit before heading back to the apartment. Anna showed us how to use the washing machine at the apartment and we definitely need to get some washing done. The last we did was in Ulaanbaatar a week ago.

 

 

 

 

 

27th – 30th Apr Mongolia – Ulaanbaatar and Altanbulag)

Route : Choir – Ulaanbaatar – Altanbulag

Kms : 600kms

Summary of event :

a)  Living in a ger

b)  Dinner and drinks at an Irish Pub 

27th April Choir – Ulaanbaatar (250kms) – Got up at 7am and by the time we left, it was 9am. Today will be 3 nights that I have not showered as there has not been any hot water. We took a really slow drive as we stopped several times for Rusty to take a break as the engine was heating up.. We were going to put up in Oasis Café & Guesthouse as per the I Overlander app (its an app which gives information on camping sites, points of interest and workshops) . We arrived early in the evening and this place was only hosting a family and now us!Its low season,  the cost is T28,000 pp in a ger or T30,000 per car (2 people). We slept in a 4 person ger while Cliften stayed in a dorm room inside the hostel. After a good hot shower, we took a taxi to town which is 6kms away. This hostel provides breakfast too.  Traffic at 7.30pm was really bad and it took 30mins to reach the city. Taxi costs T15,000 and we all 5 of us crammed into 1 taxi. We met some locals who pointed us to some good local restaurants. We ended up at Moghul Restaurant and we had a good feast of lamb and chicken. The head waitress was a star and can converse in English… She even helped us to call a taxi after dinner and went to speak to the driver on our destination. Good food T79,000 for 4 people ( I had last night’s fried rice earlier on and wasn’t hungry at dinner).

 

28th April Ulaanbaatar – Had the best sleep so far in Mongolia. Thick mattress…. Took a quick hot shower in the morning.. We have not had the luxury of butter while we were in China, and this would be the first place since maybe Malaysia that I am having toast and butter! I had 6 slices with just butter and it was just heaven. The butter is a little light for my liking, but I am not complaining. Rusty was being attended to at the workshop just next door. The mechanic is a Japanese by the name Kochi San. He even used the VW Beetle manual that my dad got personally delivered from VW Germany (which we brought with us)..

Udhaya and Stephen went into town to get some car spare parts. We invited the guesthouse staff and the garage staff for lunch as Udhaya was going to cook chicken curry. They were still out buying parts, so Terence and I went to the supermarket a stone’s throw away to buy meat and vegetables. Chicken parts was T7,000 per kg (supermarkets’s meats are all frozen) and a tray of eggs 30. The boys said they will not be able to come back for lunch so we ended up eating instant noodle for lunch. By the time they came back, it was already 4pm. Udhaya started cooking at 7pm and we had lunch at 8.30pm. The guesthouse staff have already left for the day, but the garage staff came and joined us for dinner. They were pretty amused of us eating with our hands!

29th April Ulaanbaatar – We took it easy today too as the vehicles are still being fixed in the workshop. Appx 6pm, they were all done and we decided not to leave in the evening, but tomorrow morning instead. We took a good 3kms walk to a “black market” which sells everything that you could think of. We were there when they were closing off, so couldn’t see much. Cliften bought a pair of boots and Terence bought a jacket. After this, we took a taxi to a good Irish pub in the city. Stephen did not join us as he was unwell. We had beers and a little too much food that we couldn’t finish! We had 2 pizzas (the salami pizza wasn’t to rave about as the salami tasted like plastic) and a meat platter with pork knuckle, beef, sausages, salad , chips and garlic bread. We even had tiramisu and carrot cake for dessert… On the way back, we agreed with the taxi the fare of T10,000. When we arrived back at the hostel, he insisted on T20,000. While we were arguing, Cliften decided to just pay him the amount and let it go. For those who are reading, be wary on taxi fares so that you do not get ripped off too much. This was the only bad experience that we had in Mongolia. During the taxi ride, Cliften even commented that Mongolians are really nice and we are having such a good experience in this country.

 

30th April Ulaanbaatar – Altanbulag (350kms) – After a good shower, and breakfast (yup, 6 slice of toast with butter), we paid our dues for the hostel and took photos with the hostel owners. The roads heading up north was not as good as the roads from the border heading to Ulaanbaatar. We stopped for lunch at the side of the highway and Udhaya cooked eggs with instant noodles. We had a few cars who parked to say hello and wish us well, but there was this 1 couple with a 4 year old daughter who stopped, offered us their food and tea! They were the nicest people.. They spoke little English but it was enough esp when they gave us sandwiches and a hot drink. We were heading towards the border town of Altanbulag and when we arrived, I guess we were expecting a town similar to Zamiin Uud, but this was no where close. We ended up changing money to Russian rubbles and also sorting out our vehicle insurance for Russia. Mind you, we didn’t have insurance in Mongolia as it was too hard to arrange for this at the border before getting in to Mongolia. The vehicles insurance is dependent on our duration in Russia and also your engine capacity. Nana is 1300 cc and it costs T155,000. We agreed that we will cross over tonight itself as both borders operate 24/7. We went to have a quick bite at a local restaurant as I have read blogs that it could take u to 8 hours in total to cross over to Russia, and also the fact that we haven’t had our dinner yet. We had to clear our vehicles first and the customs officer didn’t want to stamp our passport until midnight as our Russian visa is only valid from 1st May. At midnight, after our passports were stamped, we left Mongolia and within 500mtrs, we were heading to the Russian border. Thank you Mongolia and we will be back as there is just so much more to explore….

21st – 26th Apr (China – Erenhot and Mongolia – towns before Ulaanbaatar)

Route : CHINA Erenhot  – MONGOLIA Zamiin Uud – Sainshand – Choir

Kms : 500kms

Summary of event :

a)  Our new friend Gan and his lovely father

b)  Gobi Dessert 

c) Hot Water… NONE

21st April Erenhot CHINA to Zamiin Uud MONGOLIA (30kms) – We got up in time to have the breakfast in the hotel. It was allright and we wanted to fill up our stomach as we don’t know when will be the next feed. We went to a local supermarket to get groceries for the next 2 days. Now, I was told by a friend and also from reading travel blogs, that there are limited food supplies (if there is, it will be overpriced) before reaching Ulaanbaatar. We stocked up on coffee, eggs, potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, water and bread (the bread was sweet and we didn’t know as we don’t read the language!) We also found electric blanket for Y40! We could plug this into an inverter while driving and get it heating when we want to sleep in the car. We then went to a local mechanic as Rusty needed some repair. Shannon our guide was also arranging for a money changer and the rate we got for Mongolian Tughrik was pretty good Y900 = MT 315,000. By the time we were done, we had to rush off to the China Border Exit, mind you we haven’t had lunch yet. We were there from 2pm for 3 hours and we were fretting that we might not have enough time at the Mongolian side to get through, which means spending the night at no man’s land. When getting out from China we saw so many Russian 4 wheel beaten up trucks with Mongolian registration. They were carrying so much of goods/provision and at times, there were boxes in the front passenger side with little room for the driver to move. I had taken snaps from Google Maps when we entered China and now as we leave China i.e. one end to the other.

 

We got into Mongolia border and our worry was the vehicles; and we are on our own without any tour guide! We did go to the Embassy in Bangkok in November last year (there is none in Malaysia) and the officer said there should not be a problem to drive in. We were suppose to double check again in Beijing but didn’t make it to Beijing remember? Also, Udhaya and I only have single entry to China while the rest have 2 entries. If we have issues, then Udhaya and I will be stuck as we cannot enter China for the 2nd time. There were military officers in the other side whom were really friendly and helped us. Then came our hero… We call him Gan (its an abbreviation of his surname) and he spoke English. It was supposed to be his day off, but he got the call to come to work today. We have to count blessings and everyone’s who’s keeping us in their prayers.

He himself was not too sure as he is in the military side and not familiar with immigration, customs or process for the vehicles. He was running around for us as there seem to be lots of stamping in a document that we had to get before we were issued the final temporary vehicle permit. There were custom officers who also checked the vehicles and the engine details. It took close to 3 hours and and Terence/Udhaya will need to go back the next day to finalise the document. Gan was nice to offer us his place to sleep so he sat with Terence and we headed back to his place. Now, we didn’t know what to expect but it was beyond our imagination. We drove past the main town into an off road sandy area. His father used to be in the army too but he retired 20 years ago and passes his time by fixing cars/trucks. His gated property is mainly his garage and surrounded by cars. He currently lives with his dad and they live in a traditional Mongolia “ger”. He invited us in and it was really an experience as who would have thought that we would meet a local who invites us to their home. Actually, I have to say that its Asian (For my Aussie mates, Asian does not refer to Chinese, but anyone from Asia) culture to invite people they meet to their home. This town is cold, sandy and windy. The ger is perfectly insulated to contain the heat from the wood fire. The toilets are outside and cooking, changing, sleeping, dining and watching TV, is all done in this closed up ger. We then took Gan and his dad out to dinner in the town. We took all our vehicles and they jumped in with us. They took us to a pretty fancy restaurant that serves Western and Mongolian food. I cannot believe the choices of food they have as we have not found many Western restaurants in towns of China the similar size to Zamiin Uud. Maybe, Mongolia has more overseas tourists compared to China? We had a feast of meat and I ate hand made noodles with vegetables. The bill came up to T150,000 for 7 people. We had beer too. Stephen ordered his fruit juice and the glass came with the 1ltr juice box! People tend to ask for cigarettes when you are lighting one. In China, we could smoke anywhere (even in the mobile phone airconditioned shop) but in Mongolia, they are very strict. Also, you can use credit card in restaurants and at petrol stations! In China, they only accept cash or Unionpay. Gan then helped us to look for a hotel where we could park our vehicles safely. Lucky it’s a small town where everyone knows each other and the owner of the restaurant was nice enough to let us park (away from sight) in the apartment that he lives. There are apartments in this town where people live and also the gers. We found Kushvgol Hotel with the rate of T50,000/room. The hot water was indeed very hot but I could feel the electricity running through the tap water. It wasn’t a nice feeling as I felt that I was getting electrocuted whenever I on the tap.

22nd April Zamiin Uud – Terence and Udhaya went with Gan to the border to settle the vehicles. Its Gan’s day off today and he was happy to spend time with us. We questioned his proficiency in English and he said that he learnt to speak English in secondary school. Cliften, Stephen and myself walked to the town from our hotel (10mins walk) to have breakfast. This is the same area as the restaurant that we had dinner last night and the bakery is below the restaurant. We went crazy as they had pastries, steak and spaghetti. I ordered spaghetti as it was already 10.30am and this will be brunch for me. It was a big portion, lots of meat/gravy and a slice of cheese. We would have never expected to have such food in Mongolia after our food experience in China. This was T6,500 and it was good value for the portion size. The rest of them met us in this bakery at noon. After lunch, we went to get our SIM/mobile phone cards, lucky we have Gan as we can’t speak the language. They had plans for 7days or 14 days and we had to get the 14 days plans as we will be in Mongolia for 8 days (T20,000). We headed back to Gan’s place with all the vehicles. Clif’s and Terence busses need some work done. Gan’s brother who is also in the military but somehow was not on duty, came by to help his dad to repair the busses. Unlinke his brother, Gan doesn’t know to repair vehicles. Gan took Udhaya to a place where you could buy lamb as we were planning to cook dinner tonight at Gan’s place. The lamb was T21,000 for 3kgs (1kgs was bones). We were hanging out in the compound area of his dad’s place and most of the time we were in the car as it was too windy and sand was flying everywhere (you basically tend to swallow some sand when its blowing).  The palm oil that we bought from Malaysia has solidified! I don’t think you could get this in Australia. I have been told that palm oil is very good for you. Udhaya started cooking at 7pm in the garage (with the shutters down of course) once works on the buses were done. Lamb paratell (non gravy Malaysian Indian style cooked) and dhall (lentil) was on the menu. By the time dinner was ready, it was 10.30pm! Eating dinner late has been such a norm and I guess I cannot complain if I get good food.

We decided to sleep in car today and it was really cold. It was 2degrees but the wind chills makes it 3-4 degrees colder. The car is not properly insulated and because its air cooled, the winds will definitely get inside the car. We opened up the mattress that we bought at Aeon Subang (Malaysia hypermarket) for RM50 and it was definitely comfy.So far, they have many supermakets and there is just so much more products compared to towns similar in size in China. They have products from China, Russia, USA, Korea, France etc… There is just so much variety. They even have all the provisions that we thought we would not be able to get from Erenhot. The prices are reasonable too. Price of a beer at a restaurant is T3,500 (0.5l), 3 in 1 coffee mix is T15,000 for 50 sachets.Toilets in restaurants and hotels are proper toilets. They have wall heaters and its not run by electricity but water, more economical.

23rd April Zamiin Uud – We got up pretty late as it was just too cold outside. The buses are still being repaired and Gan left for duty at 8am. We were in Gan’s place till about 5pm and then headed back to the same hotel. We went out for dinner at the restaurant and I had some pastries and meat pie from the bakery. Nothing much to report on this day other than it being a down day for us to relax. We found out that Gan’s father not only repairs vehicles, but he also bakes bread and cooks! He showed us his dough and we tasted his baked bread..

24th April Zamiin Uud – Sainshand (220kms) – We got up at 9.30am and went for breakfast at the bakery. I ate the same meal for the 3rd time i.e. Spag Bolognese. We went back to Gan’s place as he was finishing off after a 24hr duty at 10am. He ended up coming at 2pm, we said goodbye and left for Sainshand. We had early dinner in Sainshand and Gan helped to sort out our place to stay and we stayed in a hostel that houses military staff. All stayed in a 3 person dorm (T20,000/pp) while myself and Stephen decided to sleep in the car park and in our vehicles. The hot shower seems to be switched on only on certain times. The temperature came down to -2 degrees.

25th April Sainshand – Choir (250kms) – Got up at 6am as I thought I could use the shower and toilet before the human traffic, but there was no hot water! We left the place at 7.30am and were looking for a workshop as Flying Ace’s exhaust needs fixing. Every shop was still closed at this hour including place to eat. We ended up cooking eggs at the back of a gas station and ate with the sweet bread from China which is still very soft. As usual, we had admirers (the vehicles of course) at the gas station and one of them was kind enough to bring us to a workshop! He was there the entire time with us and I believe the mechanic was a friend of his. He even bought beer at 10am and invited all of us to have a drink! This is my first time having beer before noon. I was killing time with my blog and again, inside the car. We were getting hungry and invited this new friend of ours (I still don’t know his name) for lunch. He does not speak English, his wife is a medical doctor and she speaks fluently (we spoke to her over the phone) and he is a jewellery crafter. He then took us to a mall where there are many small shops selling clothes, food, provisions etc. We were also to park in a location where there is CCTV cameras and true enough, I saw Nana being watched in the big TV. We went to his shop and we sat there for a while. He gave us coffee and bought currypuff/empanada with beef and pork and you eat it with coleslaw on the top. It was nice and I had 4 as I was hungry. We were there while he worked on some silver and ended up giving all of us a chain and for me chain and pendant! Stephen who was in the garage with his bus, came over appx 3pm when work was done and his wife spoke to Cliften and said that they don’t want any money and this is simply Mongolian hospitality! Bus fixed, free lunch, coffee and silver chain! What else could you ask for? Well, they wanted to flag us off from the end of the city to the highway… We are having such a good experience with Mongolians so far…

While driving, Rusty was overheating and we stopped a few times.Udhaya ended up cooking fried rice (nasi goreng kampung) in the Gobi desert while Rusty was getting fixed. I was running my electric blanket that we bought from China for the first time and it was keeping me warm (1 hour to heat up), if we decide to sleep in the car I have it ready. Puch towed Rusty for 2kms at apx 10.30pm to the next gas station and Cliften managed to get Rusty running in no time.   We ended up entering the next town, Choir and while entering we had a police car that stopped us. Terence was talking to them while we were all in our vehicles as it was too cold to get out. We ended up following the police car and driving to maybe (we didn’t know where we were going but they told us to follow them) the police station, but instead they took us to a hotel that we could put up the night. How nice! They even told us to lock all our vehicles. The room was T40,000 and I asked if there is hot water and the staff said yes. It’s a shared toilet in each floor. Water was not hot that night.

It’s been very windy and driving against the wind direction, we are not doing good mileage with the vehicles. Petrol is cheap at MT1600/ltr.Toll has been very minimal (T500 –T1000) and at the last toll gate, the lady took time to come out of her booth and snap photos while the rest of the cars wait in line!

26th April Choir – Guess what? No hot water in the morning. I tried to speak to the staff, but due to language barrier, they called their boss who speaks little English and there are some water works being done which explains why there is no hot water. It will come back in the afternoon. We also met a kiwi couple Cate and her boyfriend who are travelling on 2 wheels i.e. their push bikes. They have cycled in China and are now in Mongolia. I was busy updating my blog but the internet was challenging. I am still waiting to have a hot shower. I ended up not having a shower as the shower is still not hot and I didn’t bother asking again. Rusty has some works to be done and a passerby brought a mechanic over who worked for 5 hours on Rusty. Daniel, another passerby who lives around the area saw the vehicles and came over for a chat. He is an American (his mum is Malaysian) and is volunteering for PeaceCorps. He has been teaching English in this town for 1 year and he has another year to go. I did tell him about my hot water dilemma, he commented that during winter, they get daily hot water. But during summer, it comes only 3 times a week and the days are not fixed. We went to a Western restaurant and had steak, beef goulash and Korean food! We and Stephen decided to sleep in our vehicles this night, but I didn’t use the electric blanket as I try not to run it when the car is not running as I don’t want to affect the battery. We could have driven at night but we decided to leave in the morning.

 

 

 

18th – 20th Apr (China – Shanxi, Inner Mongolia province)

Route : Xian – Hebei – Great Wall – Erenhot

Kms : 1940 kms

Summary of event :

a)  Great Wall 

b)  Nana had issues and Flying Ace on fire

c) Cold and Snow

18th April Xian – Hebei (880kms) -Today was a drive day and we were heading to the direction of Beijing. We returned to the same R&R to say goodbye and thank you to the mechanic. We were suppose to visit Beijing city based on our original schedule but we are behind schedule (we only have the tour guide till 21st Apr and we have to be at the border cleared out of China on the same day), so the team decided to pass on the city and head to the Great Wall. To drive in Beijing city, you need another license/registration and this also applies to the locals too. (for my Chinese friends who are reading this, if this information is not correct, please do comment).  The plan was to stay around the outskirts of Beijing and take the train in. We cannot miss Great Wall as we can take photos of the vehicles and Great Wall. I guess I will need to come back to China to see Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.So this means, no electric heating that we could have got from Beijing!

At 10pm after we left one of the many R&R (again, I miss the 7 Eleven R&R food variety and the coffee in Thailand), while driving, Nana suddenly died, luckily this happened in the R&R. It was the condenser issue and we left at 11pm after it was fixed. We managed to find a hotel near Hebei town at 2am! Tonight has been extremely (single digit Celsius) cold since we landed in China. Yunnan was cold as we were driving in from Laos and Thailand which was very hot. The clouds at sunset is the prettiest that I have seen so far.

19th April Hebei to Great Wall Badaling (350kms) – Clif was working on Nana from 7.30am. I went across the hotel to get the fried bread (Yee Char Keoy as how we call it in Malaysia) which was so delicious and it was only Y1 each! I decided to go back to bed until we are ready to leave as I have a terrible flu since my long walk in Xian. I decided not to take any meds and let my body fight it.. Lets see how long it takes.. We finally left at 9.30am..Nana was not 100% as she was jerking every now and then but drivable. Close to noon, just after the toll gate we were stopped by police… The funny part is they didn’t ask for any of our papers, instead they were advising us on driving safely in China and ended up taking photo with them! Then Flying Ace couldn’t start and while they were checking there was fire in the engine and Stephen used his fire extinguisher.. I missed this drama as I was sleeping in the car. 5 hours later when all was fixed and when we were ready to take off, Nana suddenly was having timing issue. We finally left the area at 7pm. We drove to a town in the outskirts of Beijing where there was a mechanic to fix Stephen’s car.. It didn’t take long, but we decided to get dinner closeby. The staff and owner were so friendly and took photo of us and the vehicles etc.. There is Sichuan pepper in almost all the dishes.. We then continued our journey to Great Wall at Badaling (one of the many areas where you can visit a part of Great Wall). At appx 10pm, Nana stopped on the highway and Puch towed Nana 5km to the next R&R. Luckily it was a quick fix and we were back on the road.. We then got stuck on a traffic jam at 12.30am as there was the merging of 2 highways and there was too many trucks.. This lasted for an hour. Nana cannot seem to go above 60 miles (her odometer is in Miles) and we just had to take it slow. We arrived at the Great Wall at 2am and it was 5 degrees! … Clif and Stephen decided to get a room but we 3 decided to sleep in the car and parked at the Great Wall parking.

20th April Great Wall to Erenhot (710kms) – We were woken up by the noises of local tourist busses at 5am and it was still cold, again, the coldest so far in China. We freshened up and met up with the rest to go to the GREAT WALL. Y40 entrance fee and its 6km wall that you could walk. We could only spare 1 hour to walk on the wall and take pictures. The steps are pretty steep and uneven but you can see people of all ages on the Wall. Again, other than the Wall, Udhaya, Cliften and Terence were the other “wonder” as locals were taking photos with them on the Wall.

We were then on our way to the border town in China, Erenhot. It’s a long drive day…. I was thinking about lemons as I miss having lemon slices in my water… Erenhot is cold too… Stephen’s tyre gave way and we found a workshop in the local town. And it was snowing for a while! We had dinner at one of the local restaurant and saw some Mongolian truck drivers having their vodka and meat. We had a chicken dish and soup. Before we left, we wanted to use the toilet.. Guess what? The owner took us to the back (which is her garden our in the cold) and told us to just pee out there! There were fresh herbs and I tried my best not to step or pee on them as there was no lights!

We got in to Erenhot close to midnight and Udhaya crossed over a red light! The police car came next to him and guess what? He was not questioning about the red light, but wanted to get a photo of Nana! In the bloody cold.. It was 1degrees at this time..

We got a hotel and there was no hot water at that time… I guess they switch off to save on bills!

Look at the photos of a petrol station below. It really amazes me that the petrol stations are sizeable with many pump areas, but its ALWAYS only 2 pumps which is “switched on”. This takes time as there are 4 of us and esp when there are other cars pouring petrol too. I still cannot seem to get an answer as to why they build such a large station when all the pumps are never used?