Saturday 13 September 2014

Day 76 Friday September 12th Moscow

Nobody slept particularly well and we were all awake and ready to go at around 8:00am. We had arranged with the nice taxi driver from yesterday to come to the hostel at 09:30 so Geoff phoned him and he happily agreed to come over at 8:30 to take us to get petrol and then on to the baggage depot of Moscow's Yarkovsky train station.

So with 20 litres of petrol in green jerry cans and all our luggage we arrived at the baggage depot expecting to get a good "bollacking" from the staff who had insisted we take two of the bikes yesterday. We had brought a nice bottle of vodka in case they needed placating, but arrived at about 9:00am to find that the depot didn't open until 10:00am.

Geoff and Dave walked to the station to get coffee and breakfast whilst Paul and Frank looked after our luggage.

They returned some 30 mins later with coffee from a KFC and some kind of samosas made from meat and cabbage. Paul was complaining of a slightly upset stomach so declined breakfast.

The baggage people opened up the large doors at 09:50 and invited us in to dismantle the bikes from the crates they had been packed into. There seemed to be no animosity about not returning yesterday, and so we set about with a hammer and chisel loaned by them to dismantle the crates and packing.

Various parts of the bikes had been removed (the hand guards etc.) and all the brake levers and handlebar ends had been well wrapped in cling film type tape. After a short period we had the bikes free and had created a huge mound of wooden slats and packaging inside their warehouse.

The warehouse labourers offered to take all the packaging to the skip (right outside) for $50 but we declined as this seemed just to be a scam to make easy money from foreigners and so we said we would do it.

So each bike was then filled with 5 litres of petrol and coughed back into life after it's seven day train journey. The warehouse stood the height of a rail platform above the height of the road and the bikes had to be ridden along a narrow walkway area about 100 metres until there was a ramp where we could ride the bikes back to road level.

We then took all the wood and packaging from inside the warehouse to the skip.

After Geoff had completed the paperwork releasing the bikes the warehouseman called him back from across the road shouting "hey bike man"
And indicating for him to go back into the warehouse. He then pointed up the warehouse corridor to where Dave's bike had been stored, and there was a small amount of packing material still on the floor. Geoff duly went and picked it up, but it would have been far less effort for him to have picked it up himself than to have gone outside and shouted for Geoff to return to do it.
So with that simple change of attitude we didn't thank them or give them the bottle of vodka, but just took a picture of them instead.

The front tyre on Geoff's bike was flat but it seems that they may have deflated it to get the bike to fit into the crate because he managed to pump it up and it seems to be ok.

So we set off to the tyre depot to collect our tyres.

Moscow traffic is fairly hectic and there are frequent times when the traffic stops in a jam or whilst waiting for traffic lights. After about 10 minutes riding Geoff's bike again started to smoke quite heavily from the engine. We all just cut across about five lanes of traffic and parked at the side of the road to let the bike cool off and see what was the problem.
There was oil all over the top of the engine and we quickly established that the breather pipe that runs from the top of the oil reservoir to the top of the engine had perished with heat and was leaking oil straight onto the top of the hot engine. The pipe was the wrong kind and was just reinforced fuel pipe and not the heat resistant black rubber pipe it should have been. Paul had some ordinary plastic fuel pipe so we temporarily replaced it with this, and it stopped the smoking for the remaining 15 mins. of the journey.

As we neared the tyre depot Geoff's machete came loose from his bike and fell onto the road, when he went back to pick it up it had been run over by some heavy traffic and the false exhaust pipe used to hide the machete handle was squashed almost flat. The machete survived ok though.

The tyre depot was in an industrial complex and on entering Dave spoke to a large biker who knew exactly where we wanted to go. He then rode his bike through the complex to show us the way. At one point he stopped and spoke to a guard at a road barrier who then lifted the barrier and we all rode past. We would really have struggled to find the place without this bikers help.

The depot had our tyres and we worked alongside the two mechanics to jack the bikes up and remove the wheels before taking them inside the depot to have the tyres replaced using their tyre removal machines. All seemed to be going well until we came to Dave's bike and he had trouble again getting his tyres to sit correctly with the tyre beads on the rims of his wheels.

After much inflating and deflating of tyres, copious amounts of tyre soap, and huge belting with a cloth protected hammer the mechanics eventually got the tyres on correctly. We are all just praying that if someone has a puncture on the way back it is not Dave as we will certainly struggle to fit the tyres correctly again.

The mechanics gave Geoff some heat resistant hose for his breather pipe and he fitted this whilst everyone else was trying to fit Dave's tyre correctly.

By the time we had all got our tyres fitted it was about 3pm and Paul, Dave and Frank were keen to make some progress towards home and get out of Moscow before the traffic built up any more.

We all then went to a local petrol station to have a final communal fill up of tanks and we said our goodbyes.

It was strange after 76 days of being constantly in each other's company for us to be splitting up. We shook hands and hugged (as only men who have been naked in a Russian banyan can) and then pulled out of the station and went our separate ways.

We will next meet up back in Clitheroe when we will have a get together to share photos, videos etc.

So dear readers this will be the last blog of the Rooski Riders as a group. There may well be an epilogue when we share our return journeys from Russia.

From all four of us there is a big thank you to all the people back home who posted comments about the blog. These comments were eagerly awaited and made us all feel in touch with our friends and loved ones back home.

Thank you all very much!

There may be more later, but there may not!!


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Thursday 11 September 2014

Day 75 Thursday September 11th. Moscow

At last the day dawned when we can get off the train, so after a small breakfast of fried eggs supplemented by free pizza (we think left over from last night) we duly packed away our belongings and all stood in the corridor just willing the train to go faster.

Employees of the train company have a large proportion of their salary determined by the punctuality of the trains and therefore the train duly slowed and waited so that it could then pull into the station at exactly 11:03.

The carriage containing the bikes was right next to the engine which was positioned right next to the end buffer of the line, so seeing as nothing was going to happen quickly regarding unloading the bikes we decided to leave them and get a taxi straight to the hostel, so we could wash and relax then tomorrow collect the bikes and arrange for the new tyres.

We chose a large looking taxi in the station car park area and showed him the address for the hostel we had taken from the website. He couldn't find the address on his sat-nav so in the end phoned the hostel and thought he knew where it was. He said the price would be 1000 rubles. We went 20 yds and arrived at the car park barrier and he wanted 100 rubles to pay for car parking. We immediately started to think we had made a bad choice, but we were hot sweaty and in the car so we pressed on. He proceeded to drive along and at the same time gamble on his iPad!!
After about 1 mile he had second thoughts about where the place was so asked us to phone the hostel. We said he had the phone number he can phone, he shrugged indicating he had no credit on his phone. At this point Dave turned to him and said either take us or let us out but were not paying any more!
He went straight to the street, but finding the hostel was a little complicated. The check-in time was not before 1 pm and it was just midday. We phoned the number of the hostel and they told us to wait in the street and the admin person would be along in about 10 mins. We paid off the taxi driver sending him away with all our best wishes and waited. Geoff found the door of the hostel which looked like it housed Fort Knox.

Sure enough after a short time a man called Stas came along and let us in. He knew about the booking and was very helpful given we had arrived earlier than the start of his shift.
The hostel only has a couple of rooms and we are in a six bed dorm by ourselves.

We decided to leave straight away and find Red Square because Paul, Dave and Frank wanted to leave tomorrow but also wanted to see Red Square before they left.
We walked in the general direction we had been told but got it slightly wrong and ended up at the banks of the River Moskva and then came around in a wide loop into Red Square. The walk had taken 40 mins but if we had walked directly it would only have been 10 mins.
Red Square is very impressive, the Kremlin, Lenin's tomb, and St Basil's Cathedral.

We had a shake-out of our finances and realised we would need more rubles. We all tried a couple of ATMs with a variety of cards and failed totally to get any money out. Now quite depressed about our potential shortage of money we changed our remaining US Dollars into rubles (noting the bank wouldn't exchange GBP for rubles!). In the bank the teller told us it is just some ATMs that won't give money on foreign cards, and we should try machines linked to the Bank of Moscow. Just down the street we came to the Bank of Moscow and we all managed to get money from the ATM.

We stopped and had a beer and some light snacks in a posh cafe (which cost £50) and then went back to the hostel.

Geoff and Dave decided to take a taxi to the train station and try and get the jerry cans off the bikes and source some petrol ready for tomorrow. When we arrived at the baggage depot the attendants seemed miffed with us that it was now 4pm and the train had arrived at 11am and they wanted the bikes out of there work area as soon as possible. We explained to them that we would have to go and get petrol, and that there were only two people and there were four motorbikes and we would come back tomorrow. They insisted we take two bikes now and then two more in the morning.
Dave and Geoff said ok they would go and get petrol and return for two of the bikes. As soon as Dave and Geoff were away from the depot they decided that with not having a sat-nav with them they would find it difficult to return to the hostel, and so they would return tomorrow and pick up all the bikes.
We are expecting a big row in the morning, but what can they do throw the bikes away!!!

We have located the tyre depot where Denis Panferov has sent our tyres and this is on the western side of Moscow centre ( we are on the eastern side)!!

So tomorrow after getting the bikes (hopefully) we will ride out there and put on the new tyres. Dave, Frank and Paul then plan to head off west towards home while Geoff will return to the hostel and wait for Savi to arrive on Monday.

More tomorrow

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Day 74 Wednesday September 10th. Less than 1000km from Moscow

Another day dawns and we repeat exactly the same routines.

Toilet, wash, cup of tea then off to the restaurant car for breakfast which today was two fried eggs and bread, but today Dave managed with hand signs to convey that we didn't want pieces of salmon mixed in with the fried eggs.

In conversation with the women in the restaurant car Paul discovered that they work a shift pattern of 45 days on and then 30 days off! When they are working they are available to serve for 15 hours each day. This means that they start say in Vladivostok and do three return trips to Moscow and back. We all looked at each other and didn't think that any of us could manage to work that shift pattern. These women were married or had steady boyfriends and families so the stresses on those families must be enormous.

We have bought the women of the restaurant car and the "pravadnicas" in our carraigea boxes of chocolates to say thank you for looking after us.

Paul and Frank are now up to guests 13 and 14 for their cabin but despite this we still managed a period in the middle of the day when there was nobody else in their cabin and so we gathered there for lunch which involved tins of sardines, oxtail soup and salami, a powerful set of aromas!

Geoff and Dave now have a large woman who is travelling with a little girl. At nighttime the woman looks to be uncomfortable having to sleep on a single bunk with the little girl.

Today there was a repeat of the long running discussion between Frank and Dave about whether the motorbikes were on our train, and whether it mattered. Frank has stuck to his argument that there is no point in trying to find out where the bikes are as it can make no difference to what we should do when we first arrive at Moscow, and Dave continues to try and wind Frank up about the chances that the bikes may never arrive!

(Yesterday Geoff received a text from a Russian number that he didn't recognise, and it was only today when the above debate was raging on that he realised it was the text from the baggage man Sergay in Vladivostok with the number of the wagon which contained our bikes).

At the next station when the train stopped for a length of time Geoff and Dave duly walked the length of the train and discovered that our bikes are indeed on the first carriage adjacent to the engine, but this is now privileged information available only on a "need to know" basis!

Trees trees and more trees, maybe someone should write a song about the trees of Russia.

As we travel on the train there are times when the whole carriage judders and shakes. We have been discussing this for a while trying to understand exactly what is causing this and whether it is something we should be concerned about.

At each station when the train stops there are wheel tappers who pass along the sides of the train and hit the wheels and suspension with a small metal hammer listening for any unusual noise that could indicate a potential faulty component. As they pass along they make quite a musical melody of "ping, ping, clunk dong" which gets repeated at each set of wheels. Our carriage wheels don't sound any different to the other carriage wheels!!

Geoff remembered that at ICI the crane that ran along steel rails would shake and judder when the wheels became slightly out of alignment. This was called "crabbing" and it used to shake the whole building. We thought this may have been the cause of the noise perhaps as the train went around a bend but on examining the carriage axles they look to have some form of differential which should stop judder at bends, and the judder sometimes seems to occur not at bends but when the carriage is first picking up speed or nearly stopped!

You would have thought that with so many mechanical engineers and motorbike experts we would have sorted out this puzzle by now!!

All ideas welcomed on this problem?

More later

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Day 73 Tuesday September 9th train to Moscow

Woke up this morning and when Geoff went into the restaurant car he was told by Olga to stop whistling. She wasn't joking either, apparently whistling seems to be an unacceptable behaviour.

Stopped at one station and there were loads of army vehicles, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, trucks and first aid vehicles all loaded onto railway carriages ready to go somewhere.

We also saw a section of track just off from the main line where about twenty tanks were being lined next to a ramp for getting them onto the rail carriages.

There is absolutely nothing interesting about the landscape it is just trees and more trees!

Train pulled into Novosibirsk station and stopped for 40 mins so we took some photos of the main building with its socialist realism architecture and statues.

Also got a shot of our daytime "pravadnica" who despite the scowl on her face on this photo is really quite a nice friendly person

Spent most of the day listening to Dire Straights on Paul's tablet trying not to drink too much beer during the daytime. At the evening we have a meal in the restaurant car then drink beer and on this night we opened one of the 1 litre bottles of vodka. It's lethal stuff you have no perception of getting drunk and then suddenly the bottles empty and you are blathered!

You then wake up in the early hours of the morning wondering why your mouth feels like the Gobi desert.

Journey nearly finished now, tomorrow is the last full 24hr day.

More later

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Day 72 Monday September 8th. Train from Vladivostok to Moscow

We are losing he plot!

The highlights of the last 24 hours could be sleeping through the train stop in Irkutsk at 2am in the morning!!

Paul and Frank are up to cabin/room mate number 12 but we now suspect they are not getting off the train just moving away from Paul and Frank!

This morning we awoke to colder weather and a mist everywhere so now the boring train journey just looking at trees has turned into a boring train journey just looking at a white mist.

Took a photo of the waitress in the restaurant car called Olga who keeps us fed and supplied with beer.

Geoff and Dave have to deal with a female cabin companion who lays on her stomach on the lower bunk showing us her perfect bum inside her blue Adidas track suit bottoms. Today she compounded the torture by putting a cushion under her hips!!

We stopped at a large city on the way to Novisibirsk where the train stayed for 40 minutes. We all got out and stretched our legs and took photos of this exciting event!

In the photos above you can see the "pravadnica" ( female pravadneek) who looks after our wagon. Not the kind of person you would pick an argument with.

Also the train security staff who travel with us on the train but get out at the stations to help the "pravadnica" maintain control. These railway police carry guns!

Talked on the phone to Denis Panferov who confirmed he is holding four sets of road tyres for us.

A major crisis, the restaurant car has run out of Baltyka beer!!!

Will this journey ever end!!!

More later

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Day 71 Sunday 7th September

Dave reverted to his sleep walking again and it was only that Paul was up and awake at four in the morning that stopped Dave from exiting the train (as he tried the previous night) dressed only in his underpants!

The FLP have joined the train (train KGB) and this led to Geoff being questioned three times more about his passport and train ticket. He was quizzed when he first boarded the train much more than the other three Rooski Riders. It has now become apparent that the clerk who typed out the tickets typed Geoff's visa number and not his passport number in the place where his passport number should be on the ticket.

Yesterday Geoff noticed a room at the back of the restaurant car that at first glance looked like a washroom that contained a shower. He used it yesterday and when quizzed by the others told them it was a shower with basic facilities but nice hot water. Paul and Dave kept referring to the fact they would save up the enjoyment of having a shower to a later time. This morning Dave announced he was off for a shower, and Geoff enjoyed a good 20 mins chuckling to himself waiting for Dave to come back. He came back cursing Geoff for lying about such an important thing!

Dave and Geoff have had five different people staying with them in their cabin, but Paul and Frank are now up to guest number ten.

Breakfast of fried eggs flavoured with salmon accompanied by eight pieces of chunky "hleb" (bread) and coffee set us up for the long boring day ahead. The scenery is gradually changing from yellow silver birch trees to green silver birch trees, and now joy of joy we are running alongside Lake Baikal

The drunks were back again on the wine and vodka but we have managed to avoid them for most of the day.

Paul has noticed that the women who serve in the restaurant car seem to have schizophrenic personalities. At one point they are friendly as pie and the next they are snapping at us to take our phone chargers out of the sockets in the side of the rail carriage!!

We have spent much of the day as the previous, discussing our journey, and it was noted that the train was travelling along the southern side of Lake Baikal which we had also passed some weeks earlier after leaving Mongolia. We were all enjoying a beer, silent, all deep in thought about our odyssey, the personal challenges, working together and forging friendships. We have learnt to pull together and rely on each other's skills. It was at this point that Frank very excitably pointed out an M55 fuel station where he thought we had refuelled.
It was with raised eyebrows, and in unison, suddenly shaken from our deliberations that one of the team who very calmly, with a quiet monotone expressed all our thoughts. "You dumb half-wit" It's part of a chain; there are hundreds of these along the Russian roads. "

More later

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Location:Chita to Irkutsk

Day 70 Saturday 6th September

As mentioned yesterday, we all felt a little more relaxed about our train journey.
This state of contentment was undoubtably helped by having copious amounts of beer on a pretty much empty stomach, served by the increasingly friendly and helpful cabin staff. Olga, a rotund woman with a big smile supplied the Stella bottles and tins of Baltic 3 until about 12.00 local time.
Unfortunately our Russian cabin mates may well have not been quite as relaxed as we went clambering in and out of our bunk beds to visit the toilet at the end of the cabin.
The toilet is a simple stainless steel bowl with a flap which is opened with a foot pedal. Pressing the pedal, opens the flap and the contents of the bowl drop on to the track. The toilet door is locked for obvious reasons when the train is at rest in a station.
One of the team, who struggles finding his way round whilst drowsy from sleep had to be ushered back on the train by the night shift pravadneek. He isn't sure where he relieved himself but feels a little embarrassed this morning about his night time wandering wearing only his underpants.
Not as embarrassed though as Geoff. Geoff decided that he would try out the shower that he had discovered the day earlier. He had his shower, changed his clothes and rejoined Paul, Frank and David in the buffet car.
Some 20 minutes later, David returned to the cabin which he shares with Geoff and a stern faced, middle aged Russian woman and her husband. As he walked down the narrow corridor which runs alongside the accommodation he was met by the female cabin mate. She was grimacing and wafting her hands in front of her face.
On entering the cabin David was knocked backwards as the smell of Geoff's dirty laundry hit him. The ladies husband appeared lifeless, his arms,still and limp against his side, the only thing holding him up was his nose which was jammed through the open window. ( this may be a slight exaggeration but it has only been done for dramatical effect. Hopefully enabling the reader to fully comprehend the impact which Geoff's laundry had on this section of the train)
The cabins sleep four and are very cramped, as a result we have spent much of the day and evening in the restaurant car prior to sleeping . There are surprisingly few people frequenting this part of the train. The relative high cost of food and drink perhaps being the answer. Whilst we were enjoying our morning coffee, we couldn't help but notice 3 men in their late 30's / early 40's having numerous cans of beer followed by bottles of vodka. They were very friendly asking where we were from. By the time we were having our evening meal we had all become tired of being asked the same questions. Uncertain as to whether it was a result of the alcohol that they had consumed or perhaps they were taking the p..s. We all decided to leave before anything kicked off! Unfortunately Frank and David hadn't finished their beers and instead of promptly leaving ordered another couple. Too late was the cry. It kicked off! Fortunately the friendly staff must have contacted the burly train security and much of their aggression was directed towards them. Although the two slower members had to dodge an empty vodka bottle being hurled around the cabin. Danger gone, a delicate situation dealt with care and consideration it seemed prudent to order another beer or two and discuss all the 'numerous events' of the day.

More later

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Location:Somewhere on the Trans Siberian Railway