Well it didn’t start too well…
Firstly, my luggage didn’t arrive in Moscow from Goa (via Doha). Then I found out my flight to Vladivostok was from another airport in Moscow (called Sheremet) which was 100 km away. Darn! I had 2 hrs to get there, but by the time the lost luggage attendant had completed all the necessary paperwork, I was never going to catch it, particularly as it was now Moscow rush-hour (which is supposed to be terrible). Double darn! Luckily the airport had free wifi and I managed to call the Aeroflot booking office on viber (an iPhone app) and change my flight to a later one.
There was a train that went almost to Sheremet airport, but it looked complicated, and having travelled all night & day from Goa with very little sleep, I just couldn’t be bothered to mess around for the sake of a few quid, and so looked for a taxi.
Luckily, walking back into the arrivals hall, I was approached by 101 different taxi reps, and the first nice Russian gentlemen I hesitated at offered me a very special tourist price of 6800 Rubles (about 120 quid), so I thanked him and wandered away to check out some more prices (with him following all the way, slowly eroding his generous price as we walked). In the end he dropped it to 4000 Rubles, but the information desk pointed me in the direction of the cunningly disguised ‘official taxi booth’ where I finally picked up a taxi for 2350 Rubles.
From a not ideal start, two and a half hours later I was sitting in the correct airport enjoying a couple of beers and a couple of burgers (that mysteriously came with the beers), ready for my evening flight to Vladivostok; proof that things usually do turn out OK after all.
The flight from Moscow to Vladivostok was 8 hours and 20 minutes (with 7 hours time difference), which put how big Russia actually is in perspective. I would be riding back to Moscow on my bike, and should be there in 2 months or so (taking my time via Mongolia).
After 2 days & 2 nights travelling on planes I finally arrived in Vladivostok at midday 7th May and jumped in a taxi straight to the port customs office where I had arranged to meet the manager from the shipping agent handling my bike, Svetlana.
After a couple of teething problems, such as getting turned away from the customs building by the receptionist and not being able to call Svetlana (as I didn’t have wifi to call on viber, and no SIM card that worked in Russia), I eventually managed to get inside and meet Svetlana who was knee deep in Russian paperwork.
Also at customs waiting for his KLR650 to be released was a Mr Geoffrey Bransbury. Geoff is originally from the UK but immigrated to Australia as a young man (one of the old ‘10 Pound Poms’). He’s riding his Kawasaki (shipped to Vladivostok from Melbourne) from Valdivostok to the UK, but as he’s set a date to meet his wife in Paris, he’s on a tighter schedule than me. He’s 69 years old, but looks great – good for him!
After a short while at the customs office we found out our bikes would have to be inspected the next day, so we went for lunch & then went to find me a bed. I’d actually booked a room at the same hostel as Geoff, and on the way back I bought a local Russian SIM card for a few quid – it was good to have Google Maps up and running again, and find out where I was!
I was pretty tired after the long trip and thought a jog would do the trick and wake me up. So I told Geoff I was going for a jog, and then remembered my jogging kit was in my lost luggage, probably still stuck in Doha. If my luggage didn’t turn up at all, I was thinking it wouldn’t be disaster, as I had all the important things I needed in my hand luggage (my tank bag with shoulder straps). However, it would mean I’d have to go on a mini shopping spree to buy a few changes of underwear.
Annoyingly I’d left the inside lining to my helmet in my luggage, as I’d taken it out to wash it, and so it would also mean a new helmet. And I’d also need a new dry bag to keep everything in. And a new security chain (I’d bought a new one after losing the key to my other one). And new running shoes. And casual shoes. So actually, it would be quite a pain.
Back at the hostel, instead of jogging I devised a little circuit training session in my room (I’d splashed out a couple of extra rubles for a single room), which made me feel much better. I wouldn’t say I’m a fitness fanatic, but every now and then I HAVE to do SOMETHING , or else I feel as though my body will clog up and grind to a halt. Goodness knows what I’ll do when I’m too old to do anything, but I guess I’ll always be able to do something – at least I hope…
In the evening Geoff and I went for a little wonder around town and came across a procession of Russian artillery vehicles, tanks and troop carriers. Were they about to start invading their eastern front, as well as their western one? (Only joking all Russian readers 😉 )
The 9th May in Russia is ‘Victory Day’ when they mark the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War (also known here as the Great Patriotic War), and being 7th May this was all part of the preparation.
We found a decent bar, ordered food and supped a couple of pints. I tried to order Russian beer with my new found Russian linguistic skills (courtesy of Google Translate), but ended up with Japanese Asahi, so it looks like I have some work to do. At least it was beer.
The next morning we breakfasted in style with The Queen at the ‘5 o’clock Café’ down the pedestrian high street. It was strange to see British royal memorabilia scattered around the place, but still no-one could speak the Queen’s English – or any type of English. Fair enough though, of course, seeing that we were in Russia. Unfortunately my Russian is rubbish, but Google Translate gets the job done for me, near enough.
Then off to the customs bonded store, and I clamped my eyes on the Tiger for the first time since Japan, sitting all alone in the cold, dusty, Russian bonded warehouse. I felt a tear of joy well up in my eye, but forced it back in, so as to not look soft in front of all the stern, dour Russians standing around.
Geoff’s bike was extremely well packed inside a wooden crate, having been shipped from Melbourne. I helped him reassemble it, like a motorcycle jigsaw puzzle.
The customs inspection went well (they just read the frame numbers) and by 16:00 we had our bikes freed. I’d also had the good news my luggage had turned up at Vladivostok airport, so my first trip on my bike was a run to the airport to collect it. Unfortunately the airport is 45 minutes away, and as it was now Vladivostok rush-hour, it actually turned out to be an emotional 3 hour round-trip (this was also partly because I went to the wrong airport terminal at first). It had also started to rain, and so I and the Tiger got soaked and covered in mud.
I arrived back at the hostel just in time to be collected by Yuri, Link’s General Manager, who was taking Geoff and me out to dinner. We had a traditional Russian pizza (?), but it was a good one!
Yuri is a good guy and gave us a few tips driving the road to the Mongolian border, where he’d just been on a business trip. His services for releasing the bike were only 200 USD, which I thought was pretty good, considering what I’d been charged in Japan (600 USD).
Geoff and I had decided to leave the next day after lunch so we could watch the Victory Day Parade in the morning. It turned out to be quite a spectacle, with hundreds of Russian troops and military hardware parading through the streets, followed by a long line of civilians holding up photos of their relatives who had fought in the war. It is sometimes forgotten (or not known) that an incredible 27 to 28 million Russians died during WWII – far, far more than any other country’s loses.
Then we were off! The friendly hostel workers saw us off with photos and a wave, and I started to see that once you’d got past the initial Russian ‘cold front’ shown to strangers, they were just like everyone else in the world – friendly and hospitable. Well, almost everyone else.
Before we went, I just had time for a photo of me and similarly handsome baldy bloke, Yul Brynner, who was actually born in Vladivostok back in 1920.
We stopped to look at the view of Golden Horn Bay on the way out of town.
The first target on our Russian Tour was Khabarovsk – the next big city nearly 800km away. And the sun was shining!