Tuesday, August 28
We carried on the road towards Samara which was the next city on our destination and we were fortunate that the M5 motorway to the circle round Ufa so we do not have too find our way through the capital of Bashkortostan region with over 1 million people. From while we had a four lane motorway but realised that was too good to last so we were down to 2 lanes and when we entered the Tatarstan region which is very rich in oil reserves which I do not believe any of that money is spent on the roads because they are atrocious.
Tatarstan is another autonomous Republic population by the Tartars which make up 49% of the population. These two republics are part of the Russian Federation.
Leaving the Republic of Tatarstan the roads got better and the clock went forward to 2 hours, and eventually we crossed back over the time zone so found we had two hours extra in our day. It is two hours extra to enjoy the tracks in the road caused by hundreds or thousands of trucks plodding their way along this road, we call the railway lines and you've really got to slow down otherwise you find yourself flung towards the centre of the road or the curb. These were particularly bad most of the day and occasionally would strike a new bit of road which had not yet been damaged and we can really increase our speed on these occasions.
The police have been in the very strong view since were being back in Russia often with radar guns to pick out the speeders. Of course they are never there when somebody does some bad overtaking neither is the tank to make them think twice.
We stopped again at a hotel/parking spot and again for the 100 rouble’s we have a spot for the night and also filled up our water tank again.
Wednesday 29 August
Well what can I say, another day of lousy Russian roads, with dangerous overtaking, continual streams of very large trucks coming towards us often in convoys of 15 or more, and of course in amongst these trucks are cars trying to pass them so they take their lives in their hands, or in the hands of the person coming towards them and do some of the most dangerous overtaking you've ever seen.
This is not reserved to the cars, sometimes when the trucks are overtaking they manage to get back in line with split seconds to spare, but that is driving outside Europe.
Mid-morning we crossed over the River Volga, a real immense stretch of water and it wasn't for the Peninsula of land stretching out into the river they would have had quite a job in bridging that stream!
A little bit further on we pass the hometown of the Lada automobile, told Luda my Lada joke on how to double the value of the Lada, “ fill it up with gasoline”, she was not impressed.
We also passed a sign pointing into the distance to the direction of Lenin birthplace some possible 100 km or more into the Russian wilderness.
Looking at the villages we passed today and every day as we drive through Russia you can't help noticing there are only dirt roads between the houses and no form of footpaths as we know them, it is probably like New Zealand had 60 or 70 years ago and if they are moving at the pace of China could only be a matter of years instead of decades for them to catch up.
With stopped for the night in the parking area of a cafe near Kirsanov and we had as a destination for the day Tambov which will place us about 800 K from the Ukraine border.
Thursday, August 30
We started off with a foggy morning heading towards a destination for day of Voronezh however on the way we struck a bridge that was stated as being 3 m high and as we need 3.15 m we decided to try to go round it and ended up going a long way to a destination.
Russia decided to show us today that they could build a motorway and so they gave us a sample of it for 10 to 50 km and it was as good as anything we have seen and every so often they put us back on the old road so we knew just how good the new road was.
Eventually we got to and through the city of Voronezh and in doing so we crossed both the rivers Don and the river Voronezh, they combine after the city and become the Don River which flows through Ludas city of Rostov on Don. Looking at the trail that the Auto Route produces of our travels I see we travelled around Voronezh the same way on our route into China.
We passed through a lot of towns/villages today, to stick in my mind with establishment dates of 1673 in the next one we passed through at an establishment dates of 1703 and when you realise that Kursk was destroyed by the Tartars in 1240 you realise just how short our New Zealand history is!
We stopped at a petrol station and drained the final jerry can of its 20 L of diesel and gave the two jerry cans to the staff in the shop at the petrol station and they could not believe we are giving away two perfectly good cans but they accept them anyhow. I did keep one unused jerry can for future use but we originally bought them for the adventure in Uzbekistan but circumstances did not permit that.
The road to our destination also had as a destination Moscow, and later Rostov on Don some 650 km away and we carried on towards our destination of Kursk and we finally stopped at 100 km short of this destination and a café/truck parking spot for the usual fee of 100 rouble’s.
Friday, August 31
We carried on to Kursk and going through the city we got lost a couple of times with the GPS not having roads or wanting to send us under a 3 m bridge. We were sent on a path in a northerly direction and meant to take a road which would take is westwards towards our destination but the road did not exist, so we did a U-turn and went back into town to take the road to the left that we should have taken in the first place.
As we wandering our way through Kursk we found a spot that advertise the washing of trucks and buses so we thought it is time our Carthago had a spring clean, so got a line to be washed to be told that really we should have had a booking but we can go in after the mobile crane parking behind it and then wash ours at the same time, and a very good washing they gave it and I don't think there's been this clean for a very long time.
We then found the GPS was leading us on a road towards Moscow instead of towards the Ukrainian border and eventually we did a left-hand turn which placed us in direct line with the border some hundred kilometres away.
We stopped at a supermarket to replace our supplies and we went into a telephone shop to buy a Sim card for my Samsung Note N7000, I had one from New Zealand which did not allow me to get Internet so this was an interesting exercise as the Russian one plugged straight in and I was on Internet immediately.
I also discovered with this particular telephone/notebook that it would serve as a WiFi station and I could use up to 8 computers using the WiFi signal that it produces. This model the Samsung was not available from the telephone shops in New Zealand when I left so I was unable to make full use of this telephone until today, when I discovered the full possibilities with the system.
Why were going through all of these villages we could not help but notice some of the names of some of the villages (in Russian that translated) and they were names like Red, Green, Lenin, October, Hen, Dirt, Heel and one can just imagine the early communists, forming a commune, and deciding on what to call it, sitting round a table, and trying to work out a name that was politically correct and would impress the party faithful, but one still wonders how they got some of the names.
With tomorrow being 1 September and traditionally the first day of autumn is interesting to note that all of the trees are getting ready for autumn with their leaves changing slightly.
We eventually got to the border and roads have fluctuated from ghastly to great, and we really flew through the border with no problems on either side which at this stage of the travel was gratifying.
We carried on about 20 km into the Ukraine and we found a parking spot we were settled in for the night.
Saturday, 1 September
Traditionally the first day of autumn and we woke to find our little parking spot full of very large articulated trucks for carrying very heavy equipment, there were 10 of these monsters and either they were very quiet in arriving or we slept very well, nevertheless we took off leaving them sleeping.
Today we drive into Kiev to the campground that stayed at four or five times before, the problem approaching it from Russia is that you had to drive an extra 3 km to do a U-turn to get on the right side of the road for the campground, and likewise if you are heading towards Poland you drive into towards Kiev and then do another U-turn to get going in the opposite direction.
The speed limit on a lot of the Ukraine roads is 80 K and of course you have to drive at less than this, so it makes a longer trip than perhaps it should be, assuming the roads will allow you to go faster.
Both our Garmin and Tom-Tom did not have a full complement of roads for Kiev and at the critical point both ran out of roads and consequently out of directions right in the middle of Kiev just when we wanted no way we were going. We pulled over and put the Samsung Note into action and that got us right to the campground without any trouble, and just so that the other two were not consigned to the scrapheap immediately about a couple of kilometres out from the campground they decided to find some roads for us to follow. It's interesting to note that the Samsung Note with the Sygic GPS mapping system has been quite valuable as a GPS and is proving to be a piece of equipment which will prove invaluable.
Every year Luda spends a month split between Rostov and Kiev visiting friends and family and this was a very good reason to pass through the Ukraine to leave Luda with her father here in Kiev while I heard on towards Bavaria and the Carthago factory to see if we can get the motorhome looking pretty again.
The Speedo today reads 119277 and we left Holland with as speed reading of 85837 which means we have done 33,440 km to date on this trip.
Monday, September 3
Today I left Kiev, left Luda with her father, and I headed off towards Europe to sort out the motorhome problems and of course to fly home.
The roads towards Europe from Kiev are fantastic, when we drove into Kiev last April there was well over 100 km of road undergoing reconstruction, most of that has now finished however they are still upgrading bits of the road but doesn't interfere with your fast progress across the country.
I had a little bit over 650 km drive to get to Poland and quite frankly it was no problems with the fantastic road conditions. I seem to recall coming from Russia the road was not as good which leads me to the conclusion, along with a few other things, that Ukraine would like to be part of Europe. This does not go over very well with Russia because the Ukraine has been a little bit like a Siamese twin as far as Russia is concerned and you know the problems separating Siamese twins.
Other interesting bits along these lines is that all the road signs and now in Ukrainian and English. Children from the first year at school will now be taught English as a second language instead of Russian.
The one exception to this is the Crimea which has always been part of Russia even though it is connected by land to the Ukraine was given to the Ukraine by one of the past presidents in a fit of generosity which considering the fact that the majority of the people in the Crimea are Russian and the Russian navy base is in Sevastopol it all sort of went down like a lead balloon. When the Ukraine became independent Ukrainian became the first language, now for the Crimea they have made the exception that Russian will be the number one language.
Yes things become interesting when you separate Siamese twins
Driving across the Ukraine you could not help but notice in the countryside a hive of activity with the autumn harvest being taken in, there were potatoes being dug and bagged, there were marrows and pumpkins and all associated with this family being collected on a horse-drawn carts and being taken away for winter storage. Some of those pumpkins were enormous in size. Looking at the potatoes being dug remind me of my childhood days when gardening was a forced pastime and picking up all those damn potatoes!
The traffic police are pretty active, I've seen on average one radar cop every 50 km, I switched the tom-tom to warn me when I was exceeding any speed limit, so when I entered a village and the speed dropped down to 50 or 60, I received a beep and slowed down successfully every time.
I noticed quite a lot of new hotels, and one stood out with a large sign which said “ we can understand you” which in the Ukraine, were Russians have a job understanding Ukrainian this would be quite a good selling point.
Another interesting different approach was one particular area where there were lots and lots of trucks, trucks loaded with bricks, trucks loaded with sand, trucks loaded with gravel, trucks loaded with or any sort of commodity you may want for building, trucks loaded with firewood, I would guess if your market for any of this sort of products you go down to this particular area, find a truck full of your product you wanted, then start talking price, nice interesting approach.
Luda worries about a lot of things, so it was natural for her to worry as I am wandering across the Ukraine by myself in the motorhome, so I promised to text her on a regular basis letting her know of my progress. Of course the first text I sent I received a notice that my prepaid card was exhausted and of course if you have no money on your card I'm not quite sure how you're meant to replenish the money if you're overseas, perhaps I need to ask 10-year-old!
The Samsung note N 7000 is a wonderful phone it would do almost everything, including chews through the money on your card, I guess it's a matter of knowing of which buttons to turn off, just like with the computer this automatic updating, when you're on the Internet, of any software you have on your computer can chews through the money when you're travelling.
It is a very strict hard learning curve but at least with the pre-pay you know how much money you are going through unlike the card I bought in Italy some years ago which was linked to my credit card and I found out how much I use when I saw the account for several thousand dollars.
So for Poland I have bought a simple telephone card that will allow me to send text messages and it has cost me 5 Zloty which I'm told is not very much money ($NZ2)! It certainly looks like it is a lot cheaper to buy a Sim card in the country that you are in, yes I know that is basic, but I am a slow learner.
Well I got to the Ukrainian border in very good time and so did lots of other people all wanting to go to Poland so it took me about three hours to get through the Ukrainian part so I was sitting in the motorhome just watching people, and I saw a customs officer walking past so I took notice to see how the Ukrainian lady customer officers compare to the New Zealand Lady customer officers.
Well if the government ever asked me, I will tell them not to do what the Ukraine has done, because every man coming back from overseas if they see one of these ladies in the goods to declare aisle they would all find something to declare, of course this would help the revenue so it might not be a bad idea.
I did not pay particular attention to these two girls, but they were tall, of course who wouldn't be with 5 inch stiletto heels, when I say stiletto I mean some of the thinnest heels you've ever seen, of course they had long blonde hair, very pretty, very well-dressed, beautiful make up, eyeshadow applied perfectly, but then of course I did not pay particular attention, I was just trying to assess them as Customs officers.
So after this excitement I got through the Ukrainian border which it is and about another hour to get into Poland, most of the time was waiting for your turn, and probably had I gone tomorrow morning I sailed straight through without any waiting.
On the way into the Ukraine in March, we found a new shopping centre near the border where we spent the night so I headed straight for that and yes the shops were still open for business at 7:30 PM, or I should say some of the shops, but the ATM cash machine of course is always open so I obtained some local currency.
Then saw that the little computer shop/telephones/etc shop was still open so there I purchased the local Sim card, and noticed that he had a Epsom printer like the one I had on board the motorhome that with all the rough roads of Kazakhstan was bumped out of alignment and I gave up trying to adjust it so I left it on the side of the road on the way back through Kazakhstan.
I was keen to get the same model of machine, not because it was so good but because I had bought a total set of replacement inks and any of you that have done that know that it costs some times more than the machine so everything matched up and now I can print again.
Tuesday, 4 September
Today I head towards Ravensburg some 1300 km away, and somehow I don't think I quite make that by tonight, but I managed 680 km placing myself in to Germany about 150 km from Dresden.
This morning when I set out it was foggy and I gone away to an early start of 6 AM so I managed to get through a lot of the villages before they got busy.
Previous times we were driven through Poland has always been wall-to-wall traffic with roads or under repair, they still have a few roads under repair and for the first 200 km this morning there was wall-to-wall traffic, in fact I was glad I was not coming the opposite way as they seem to be twice as much coming that way.
I had at the back of my mind my experience with the guy I called the Gestapo because his electronic device that had mounted on his van told him that I did not have the toll via box which is an automatic money collecting device as you travel on specified roads. I saw one of these vans with the gizmo on and thought I been caught again but there was no movement so I pulled into the next gas station and purchased “the toll via box”.
Now that was quite an experience and it took a total of about 90 minutes, first no one in the shop could speaking English, and we both struggled with them talking to me in Polish and I replying in English, until I asked the people in the shop, does anyone speak English, a young attractive girl volunteered and she spoke very good English so we got a lot of the basics sorted out, so I went out and filled up the vehicle with diesel, brought in my passport and vehicle papers, and then the fun started.
First of all the computer program did not have New Zealand listed in any way, nor did it have any listing for a telephone number so in the end, with the help of another English speaker, a not so attractive woman who could speak basic English, we ended up putting the country in as England, and the telephone prefix as Poland with them getting me to promise to telephone the people so they could change the details. I had a pretty good idea at the other side of Poland by tonight and the 240 Zloty was a lot cheaper than last time I crossed Poland.
A little bit after this I was back on the road, the schoolchildren had started to appear and lots of the more activity, and the road wound its way through village after village and I thought this can take me three days to get across Poland, after installing the toll machine, I passed several police standing on corners, binoculars in their hand, looking at windscreens to see if the box had been installed, I was inspected twice so was pleased I did not experience the March experience.
Then a wonderful thing happened with the road, I ended up on a real motorway, with a top speed limit of 140, that's faster than the German autobahns, so I spent most of the afternoon cruising along at between 90 and 100 until I started feeling a little bit tired, then I remembered the 6 AM start so I pulled into a truck stop and have a snooze for an hour.
When I woke up I remembered I was going to ask a 10-year-old what to do to recharge the telephone, then I realised he would have told me to go to McDonald's, buy a big Mac, and use their free WiFi and sorted it out that way, which of course is what I did, so sometimes it pays to think like a 10-year-old.
With the Internet all sorted out, telephones all sorted out, it was back on the road feeling very refreshed, fill up with petrol just before I left Poland, and the sun was setting just as I arrived into Germany, used the tom-tom to find simple parking, which I did, the guy has just arrived and collected 10 Euro, so all in all it was a good day's drive.
Wednesday, September 5
I left my camping spots in the country by a lake called Talsperre Quitzdorf in the old East Germany about 80 km outside Dresden, and had the German autobahns which brought me all the way down to Ravensburg here in Bavaria, the home of Carthago, I arrived too late today, they start the day at 6 AM so get away early, so going to see them at 8:30 AM tomorrow morning and it looks like we just making an appointment for next April, I'm parked in their parking spot which has room for three motorhomes.
After the water pump was finally repaired, when I had five days to get from Kunming to the Kazakhstan border so we did not waste any time, once into Kazakhstan has my notes reflect, the country was like a billiard table but not quite as interesting, so we moved through that reasonably fast, that took us to Russia, Luda’s country and one that I've visited about six time, every place I have been so far the houses look the same and the villages have the same feel so again there is nothing for us to stop and stare at.
So it was on to the Ukraine where Ludas father took his retirement from a the rank of a Colonel the Russian army, and as the Ukraine was then part of mother Russia and Kiev was a very desirable city to retire to he chose that, of course no one really knows what can happen to a country. So after spending a couple days in Kiev was on to try to get motorhomes fixed this side of Christmas if possible, so I drove from Kiev to Poland in the one day, then across Poland the next day, and then across Germany to Ravensburg the following day. In all I was driving for 27 days and a total of 12,220k from Kunming.
Thursday, September 6
Well Carthago can do nothing in my timeframe for this year so I made an appointment for mid April next year. I then telephoned VB suspension the people that supplied my airbags and they only have one mechanic on duty and can do nothing for three weeks, so that's another job for April.
Carthago are shifting to a new location and the calling it Carthago City and is within 10 km of the new Hymer “city” Bavaria seems to be a popular place for the automotive industry.
I then drove onto Hofstetter (there was only one face there that I knew every one else was new ) to get a number plate replaced, that will be done and we are ready at 10 AM tomorrow morning.
My TV/DVD that the DVDs stopped working as to be sent away to be repaired and that will take three weeks so that's another thing to pick up in April. April is going to be busy!
Trying to sort out my LPG in China I cut one of my LPG's hoses, I should say I cut 2, I tried repairing one with a hose clip but that is illegal in Germany so I managed to buy a new hose from the spare parts department here.
I bought a number plate light and fitted that to the rear ready for the new number plate and I might almost be legal!
Friday, September 7
At 10 AM the number plate had arrived, so I install them promptly front and back, then a German came and told me I had them on back to front, the front was on the back and vice versa, if you look carefully at the plates you see the back plate has got an extra transfer on it, but that was easily fixed.
I left Hofstetter's and started heading the 800+ kilometres towards Hanks place in Holland, when one thinks of German autobahns you think of wide roads with possible high speed limits, you don't think of roads under construction, reduced down to 2 lanes, queues of traffic, but all was not lost because occasionally somebody when past at probably 140 K.
Round five o'clock I start looking for an overnight camping spot and found one very close to the motorway that had free parking but no facilities.
Saturday, September 8
When I woke in the morning the field next door was full of stalls in a Saturday market place, and there are three other motorhomes in behind me.
I wandered through the marketplace and found five DVDs that looked interesting so they changed possession, then it was time to be on the way again.
Often when you getting close to a country's border you see very few cars from the next country until you cross the border and then you start seeing them.
I found when I was about 100 km away from the Dutch border I start seeing Dutch cars about one in every 15 had the NL numberplate and then when I was about 5 km away every second car had a Dutch numberplate.
So there was only a short drive to Castricum parked the motorhome in the normal spot and then start collecting together all the bits I have to take home to New Zealand, where is all the junk come from?
Then it's a matter of cleaning the vehicle dumping the water and tomorrow we take it to the Fiat agent to have 122,000 km major check. Was interesting talking to the salesman at Hofstetter, he always asks me what mileage I have done and when I tell him he gives a little chuckle, this time I asked him what should I have done for the year of vehicle that I have, he said the normal in Germany would be about 25,000 km.
It was rather sobering particularly when I worked out that our trip to China ran up 36446 kilometres, but then I believe motorhomes are built to be used not to sit in the back yard.
Today I again ran out of money on my cell phone, and I discovered this when I was then make a telephone call and it told me I was out of money, and offered me an option of doing a recharge their and then, which I did, and completed my call, I guess the 10-year-old would also told me that!
Monday, September 10
I sent a e-mail off to my travel agent, Ferrymead United travel, asked them to book me in an earlier flight back, he came back with a possibility for Wednesday which suited me and asked me to let them know how I wish to pay for it.
We spend each year with them getting close to $20,000 and were being doing this now for about eight years so I feel that they possibly almost may know me, so I asked them to do the change and on the day I get back I would call in and pay them the $250.
They replied that the office manager would prefer to have the money before they made the change and asked me if I wanted to do a bank transfer. I won't print my reply.
I dialled the to telephone to Arab Emirates airlines here in Holland, did the change over the telephone, and was told that I could pay $100 at the airport, so it looks like a local telephone call here in Holland saved me $150.
Wednesday I leave, 6+ hours to Dubai, 8 1/2 hours in a hotel in Dubai, 21+ hours from Dubai to Christchurch with stopovers in Bangkok and Sydney. I wonder why I won't be flying this airline again!
Well that's it for this year we have started planning for next year's travel and we certainly will not be part of a tour!