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Kazakhstan–the real deal

As an Austrian friend we met later on in Ulaanbaatar would put it, the Kazakh part of the border is a “Vogelhäuslverschlag” which means a collection of birdhouses but in broad Austrian dialect. The Kazakh part of the border was rather confusing so wen ended up standing in front of the departure hut without knowing it. After half an hour, when it was our turn, the lady gave us a wink, laughed and waved over an officer who gave us a lead to the correct house. From there on it was straight forward, even the officer was speaking English. After getting the necessary stamps and all the other border procedures we wanted to get ourselves an insurance for the car, even that hut was quickly to be found. Along the way we met a Turkish truck driver who wished us good luck for being so mad to go into Kazakhstan. Well, by that time we did not know what Mongolia should throw at us.

So we made our way in direction of the very first city and fetched us some Tenge. Then we drove out of town into the steppe and for the very first time we noticed this intense scent of “Erika” in the air. And although we could still see the city, this feeling of freedom. The steppe was exactly our place and we should enjoy our time in Kazakhstan a lot.

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Moscow–the city of contradictions

Moscow – the city of contradictions

 

Leaving St. Petersburg and its grand architecture behind, we made our way to the Russian capitol – Moscow. We were not sure what to expect, having heard a lot and imagining even more. Will the main streets be often blocked because of some “VIP” needing to get to his mansion or job faster, will the face of Putin be seen on a lot of billboards? Whilst driving on from St. Petersburg we had a lot of questions in mind as you can see. The first great surprise was the motorway we found ourselves on. As far as we knew these motorways are toll routes – therefore we wanted to avoid them – but surprisingly there was no toll to be paid, as the whole infrastructure was yet to be build so we had a very new and well build street nearly all to ourselves. And what a motorway – the nearer we came to the city, the more lanes the motorway seemed to have and finally by nightfall and heavy rain, we entered the city. Once again Klaus was the driver and I the co-driver. This is important to mention, as in Russian cities you need both. It’s a bit like a WRC rally. One needs to pay attention to all the drivers and the road, whilst the other looks out for red lights, pedestrians, stray dogs and the route. Changing lanes to take an exit was a process better to be started at least 1 km before the exit and as it was heavily raining, even before that.  Being an experienced team by now, we managed without any real problems to find the hostel we had booked a room for two nights. As we weren’t lucky enough to register our Visa in St. Petersburg, we urgently needed to do so in Moscow. The hostel was nice and clean and mostly used by Russian people as a permanent residence whilst working in Moscow.

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St Petersburg: Up the game, white nights and a beautiful town

The first thing we saw in Russia was the border town Ivangorod. It was one of those ugly border towns and in the meanwhile we had learned that border areas don’t have much to say about countries.   First thing we searched for was  an ATM and found one after some attempts (yay, our first rubles) and the second thing was an insurance office, but no luck with that. In other travellers blogs and books I always read that one needs an insurance for the car in Russia and although we knew the name of the state-insurance (Ingostrakh) we could not find one. We gave up and hoped to find one in St Petersburg, hoping not to crash into someone on the way there. And guess what? we had a close call in St Petersburg.

The first thing we noticed on the Magistral was that Russian drivers must be plain crazy. We had heard many stories about them, but the stories and the reality were two different pair of shoes. Scared of the stories about corrupt police and what not else we drove exactly the speed limit and were overtaken at any possible and impossible place by new cars as well as old Ladas and with the twilight setting in we decided to have a brake. At a McDonalds. So yes, our very first meal in the mother of all former communist countries, was in one of the most globalized, capitalistic restaurant chains possible. When you kick tradition in the guts, then do it with a head start.

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Russia: we made it to the border!

When you prepare yourself for an overland journey, the one country you hear the most badass-stories about is Russia. And the unbelievable thing is – most of the stories are true, I could hardly believe it. Of all travelled countries so far Russia is the most challenging one – for us as well as for our car. But then this country is so highly rewarding as well, for the first time ever I felt absolutely free.

Most of the stories I read, mainly pointed out the negative things, like the corrupt police (check), the extreme driving conditions  (check) especially in cities (double-check), the road conditions of smaller streets (check) and many, many other things.

Those things are there, no question, but what a lot of stories forget to tell you is, how highly addictive Russia is. We all know that Russia once was the mother of all communist countries and although the country now is officially democratic, in fact it is not. But I am not going to talk about politics here, I’m going to tell you about my impression of Russia.

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Estonia: Nice people and Russia is so near

 

As it had become a tradition in the North-eastern countries we reached Estonia by night. Like in any country of the European Union there is a sign after the border providing you with some basic information about the various speed limits in the country. Its the same for Estonia, but except for the most countries having three or four rules, Estonia had two because they simply don’t have many different kinds of streets. But the streets  they have are mostly in a good condition and driving was nice and easy.

At first we reached some border town, I can’t remember its name and somehow we must have found the poshest area of the town. We drove around for some time and just saw big cars, big, new houses and thought by ourselves that if the rest of Estonia is like that, we won’t be able to afford anything here. We drove on and after some time came to the more normal areas and were relieved as we saw the colourful  log-houses again we already got used to in the northern countries.

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