29 Jun 2011

Omsk - Beer in the Sun Heaven

Omsk is a large sprawling City but the Centre is quite small in comparison and is on the North Bank of the River Om where it flows into the much larger Irtysh. On the South bank of the Om/East bank fo the Irtysh is a cluster of Hotels and Restaurants, with a sandy beach running down the East bank of the Irtysh. We are on the 6th floor of the Turist Hotel, which whilst the cheapest is also the nearest to the beach and is the best Hotel we have stayed in so far. This is the view from our window.

The City has various monuments plus a number of quircky statues, like this one of a workman emerging from a man hole.

Behind the beach are a number of bars facing west so ideal for a beer in the sun at the end of the day. Trouble is, you go for a beer at 18.30 and the sun just hangs there for hours. This picture was taken at 21.30 and as you can see the beach is still pretty full and the sun still quite hot.

This is for Sarah (who has been complaining about the state of mothers hair in the pictures). This is before (on the Vodka aagain I am afraid - mine is the guiness on the left).

And this is after.

This was probably our most Intrpid adventure yet! Finding a hairdressers was difficult, booking us both in was not easy and when it came to cutting my hair I pointed to the clipper and the hairdresser looked horified (as most men have their hair longish here). After a while trying to decide which head to use she made a tentive start up the side, then pointed to the top of my head for confirmation and with a shrug carried on. Like the Toyota garage they were very professional and the first time I have ever had my hair cut without bits down my shirt.

We have now decided to stay a third night so will be getting the bikes off today as there are some good cycle ways round Omsk, and maybe a river boat trip later on, before the real intrepid stuff starts.

28 Jun 2011


With our new friend Dennis from the Ufa Toyota Dealership with Nadia his Fiancee, they found a small bedsit for us (which they would not let us pay for) and showed us round Ufa. Here we are drinking the national drink (for that area) which is made from fermented mares milk (like sour alkaseltzer) apparantly good for a hang-over.

Chris got to mozzy bites on her eyelid

Camped by a Lake in the Zara------ National Park (map's in the cruiser on a ramp)

At the Kungar Ice Cave

Inside the Ice Cave

At the Kremlin at Tobolsk, The original capital of Siberia

Camping by a Lake about 120 miles before Omsk we were invited to joing a group of Russians and yes, Chris is on the Vodka again - I played the ex alcoholic card and said I could only drink beer (there is a major alcohol problem in Russia and apparantly they will not encourage an ex-alcoholic to drink) I was drinking beer before they invited us but it seemed to work OK.

The Lake at midnight, not very well exposed I afraid, but the lake was incredibly bright blue.

Thumper to the rescue, a fellow camper just before we pulled him out.

We now in Omsk at another Toyota garage with Wifi. We were advised to have a couple of seals replaced in the front and centre diffs at Ufa and they did not have one of the seals and suggested we have the work done at Omsk as they would have everything we needed and gave us the addres in our alphabet so the sat nav could find it. As it turned out they had less than Ufa, but advised another location that might have them. This was a parts supplier and they had all but one part, the other was in another branch the other side of Omsk, but fortunately another customer helped us find the address on our sat nav. Back to Toyota where they are now fitting them, very odd! But the quality here appears to be high and labour is around £27.00 per hour. They have also found us a very reasonable Hotel and arranging a taxi to take us there - so a night on the town in Omsk.

From Ufa we took a loop south to take a rough road between the only 2 decent sized mountains in the Southern Urals. After getting lost we were given directions by a guy in a village down a seriously narrow, and even more seriously muddy track, (with accompanying screams from the passenger seat) and after 7 miles came to a no entry sign! I was not going to reverse for 7 miles so carried on, to be confronted by some sort of official on a motor bike who turned us back (but at least let me go forward far enough to turn round). At this point we gave up and headed back to the main road (much to Chris's relief) and camped by a lake in the Zaka(something) National Park. From here we headed North to the Kungar Ice Caves and then Siberia, first up to Tobolsk, the original capital and then down to Omsk.

We saw a couple of small mountains but most of the Urals we saw were gently rolling hills and lots of forrest, the real mountains are much further north. Siberia in fact is much the same except flat (after the first 100 miles, which is comparatively densly populated, with loads of new houses going up which would not look out of place in MK), just trees and grass, but many of the roads are lined with trees so all you see is trees. At least it is good for camping, there are loads of tracks, so we just dive off and join the mozzies behind the trees, but its OK once we are in the tent with the mozzy nets in - after the extermination session that is. We generally have dinner in the roadside cafes (often lunch too), which are generally good and cheap so at night we just stop, pop the tent up and dive in.

Possibly the biggest benefit of our detours was to get off the main roads, which are full of trucks doing 40 mph and cars doing 70, mostly only wide enough for 2 vehicles but frantic overtaking going on in both directions. The amount of near misses is amazing and so far we have only seen one accident (in Russia), where a small car was half its original width against the front of a truck, if anyone was on the passenger seat side they would not have survived!

Whilst the countyside rarely changes the condition of the roads varies tremedously, one minute race track smooth, the next like driving through an earth quake, but like Romania, when the cars zig we zag and overtake them. Amazingly the b roads and minor roads are often in better condition than the main roads, but these also have sections with severe pot holes.

From here we have about 700 miles to go before we enter the Altai mountains, real mountains where the road is often over 2000m, about 300 miles later we will enter Mongolia and then we will slow down again for a few weeks. We will almost certainly be staying in a Hotel in Ulaanbataar, which will hopefully have internet access, but we dont expect to be there for another 3 or 4 weeks.

18 Jun 2011


On the Vodka, on the beach (in Ukraine) with the Russians

Parked next to the 'road' on the 60 mile beach in the Crimea

Crossing the 'stream' to get back to the road after camping on the beach

Entering Volgograd

Arriving at The Volgograd Hotel

Chris on the Vodka again! in the Volgograd Hotel

We are now in Ufa, about 1200 miles into Russia, using the Wifi at the Toyota main dealership whilst the cruiser is serviced. It could just as easily be a main dealership in Aylesbury, with grey skies and black clouds to match (except they serviced it straightaway instead of a week next Wednesday). They are very friendly here and one of the guys on the service team has offered to show us round his city tomorrow if we stay over.

We started off trying to get it serviced in a small local garage in a place called Beleby, after much head shaking a couple of guys then led us round 3 more garages all to no avail so we headed for the main dealership at Ufa which is excellent, they quickly found a very attractive young lady to translate and all very professional.

Before we left Volgograd (was Stalingrad) we visited the war memorial, with a massive statue of mother Russia, plus the war museum where they have left a complete building (an old red brick mill) in the state it was when it was bombed plus all sort vehicles and p[lanes, including a destroyed tank.

The following day took us past Saratove where we visited a park full of ex military vehicles, the sort that once paraded through the sreets of Moscow, with huge tanks and rocket launchers, plus helicopters and planes (including a Mig 27).

For the last could of days it has been driving and sleeping, the scenery has been mostly flat grassland with trees and bushes lining the road, most of which have tracks behind them so we just sneek round the back and pop the tent up - no probs. All the trees and bushes are similar to the UK here and the roads very from being superb to awful. The main road across Russia is follow of trucks doing 45 to 50, with cars doing 60 plus trying to overtake them which can get very hairy at times.

So far the police have pretty much ignored us, stopping us once about 4 miles from the border to check papers and once today just to look inside the vehicle, but all very pleasent. The Russians are all very reserved to start with but once you get them smiling they dont stop, we have not fealt threatened anywhere (so far).

We are now heading south off the main drag into the lower Urals and then we will loop slowly round and head North up to some ice caves before the dash across the rest of Russia into the Altai mountains and Mongolia. We have done 4,500 miles so far and we have another 2,000 or so before enterring Mongolia.

Keep an eye on spot as I dont know when we will be able to update next.

13 Jun 2011

A night wild camping on the beach with Andreas

And the Russians

Removing a large screw from my tread before heading along the 60 mile beach

And Andreas proving that you can plug the hole without removing the wheel or deflating the tyre

A beer in the sun on the beach

We are now in Volgograd over 400 miles into Russia and the first time we have had internet since the Hotel in Ukraine. It is like a parallel universe here, the Hotel could be anywhere in Europe, the standards are similar, the prices (except for deisel at 51p per litre) are similar and yet everything is different and you cannot make head nor tail of the writing, sign posts, menus etc. Suprisingly Romania was the most run down, worst roads and old traditions, but also the cheapest. The Russians go to the Ukraine on holiday as it is cheaper (except for fuel).

We have been travelling for the last week with Andreas a German who has has lived in Australia for a while and driven a Nissan Patrol from Australia, through Africa to Germany and is now on his way back through Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China.

After leaving the Hotel in Izmair we camped at an up and coming beach resort on the black sea coast and so impressed we have negotiated to buy 3 sea front chalets.

They need a bit of work.

But one includes beds

And another has a honeymoon ensuite.

We then headed for the Souther Coast of the Crimea but could not get in. All along the coast west of Yalta the roads to the see front villages were barracaded and you have to either live there or have a Hotel reservation to get in!

We managed to get into Yalta, but left as quick as we arrived as it was jam packed, and wild camped in the hills. Further along the coast however we found a camp site on the beach for £4 per night so decided to stay for a few nights.

As we packed up to go on the second morning Andreas passed by honking his horn and waving, and then returned a few minutes later. We chatted so long we all decided to stay another night and set of together the following morning.

After a day sight seeing we found a secluded spot on a beach to wild camp, next to some Russians. After dinner the russians invited us over for Vodka!!!!!! and we stayed another nigth, no hang-over, but we would definitely have ALL failed a breathaliser!

From here we headed north up a track Andreas had found up the East coast of the Crimea, basically along a 60 mile strip between 100 and 500 metres long with beach on both sides. It quickly went from broken tarmac, to gravel to sand and we actually drove along the beach for about 12 miles, it was wonderful.

Another nights wild camp on a beach and then into Russia, after the most incredible thunderstorm in the early hours, and other than literally 2 drops of condensation after 3 hours of solid torrential rain the tent was completely dry, and we did not even have the fly sheet on! The ground we were on was completely waterlogged and had to use low box to get out and cross a now 70m wide and probably .7m deep stream to get back to the road.

Crossing into Russia took less than 3 hours, queueing and paper work and other than checking the underneath with a mirror we were not searched and on our way.

First night in a Hotel, another night wild camp on a beach, this time on a large lake, with Herons wading about looking for fish and now the Hotel Volgograd.

After breakfast Andreas heads south for Kazakhstan and we head north for Siberia, with the possibility of meeting again in Mongolia as we are taking opposite routes.

1 Jun 2011


Now we are really roughing it, in a small suite at the VIP Hotel in Izmail in the Ukraine. We had to go through 3k of Moldova to get to the Ukraine, so 2 border crossings, close on 5 hours in total. It was made a lot easier however by a young, very pleasent female Moldovan border guard who came over to the Ukraine side to translate for us and then made us tea whilst we waited to be searched.

As we arrived at the first border point we had to queue in blazing sunshine, by the time we got into Moldova an amazing dust cloud preceded a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain that lasted almost into the Ukraine.

The first few miles of Ukraine is like a wasteland, with roads considerably rougher than Romania in parts, and the parts that aren't are even more dangerous as you never know when a huge pot hole will appear. The last hour or so was completely dark as there was nowhwere to stop with swamp land both sides of the road.

Izmail is spread out in large 'blocks' and is poorly lit and the Tom Tom, that has been superb up to now, had a fit was directing us all over the place (trying to reach the centre) and after getting us within half a mile suddenly wanted us to do 7.5! After disapearing off in various tangents and through various craters we eventually came across a Hotel, they had no parking but directed us to one that did and whilst it has blown todays budget we were glad to get in a room. By this time it was 10pm but with the help of a young local we found a retaurant and had a suprisingly pleasent meal.

It is now another sunny morning and the forecast is good to the next 10 days!