After a few days in Ukraine we drive on to Russia. Another 1500km to reach Kazakhstan. Despite all we may read in our newspapers we find a quite neat and organised country.To communicate we are simply obliged to bring to perfection our Russian knowledge – definitely nothing else really works.
But let’s start in the capital of Ukraine, where our last post ended:
The last evening in Kiev. A visit to the not so cosy Tajo Lounge and a last glance at the Maidan.
22nd April 2016; Voronezh
The next morning on the way to Sumy. The road a paradise for pothole lovers. 6h for 300km.
Landscape as usual, some rather decrepit villages and small towns; quite a difference to the Ukraine west of the capital.
Sumy – a rather small town, not much to do, just to get ready for Russia.
Then on to the border. On the Ukrainian side slightly confusing – again all kind of guys doing the same thing: looking at the passports, staring at the car, searching for whatever they imagine might be in the car. A short time later on to the Russian border post. Much more organised, but strictly Russian language only. Nevertheless, everybody helpful if our perfect knowledge of Russian is not enough to solve all admin. requirements. They even find us the English version of the customs declaration form. After 1,5h and a semi-intense search of whatever they might be looking for we leave.
Traffic is seriously supervised by the local police for any offence to be paid for immediately. Some police presence definitely real, some others rather fake ones. We’re lucky, nobody stops us, probably they don’t know how to communicate with us, or we’re too careful not to drive too fast, etc.
Voronezh – a regional center with some 800 000 inhabitants. No real sights, just to get our 1st impression of a Russian town: a great opportunity to exercise our Russian – nobody speaks anything else.
Lenin in its old grandeur,…
… a modern version of a traditional market, a signboard to a world famous restaurant (already seen in other places), some churches, etc. Overall the town looks very neat, much organised and quite different to an Ukrainian one.
25th April 2016; Volgograd
The next morning we leave early for our long trip to Volgograd. 580km; nearly 8h. The 1st 200km eastwards, then the big change: after more than 3000km driving to the east we turn south. The landscape as monotonous as usual, trees’n’fields on our left, fields’n’trees on our right a more or less good road with the hell a lot of trucks in front of us –at least most of the time. Southwards, some 150km north of Volgograd, the landscape changes dramatically. No longer the fertile fields. The Central Asian steppe replaces forests and fields – grassland as far as the eye can reach.
By the evening we’re in Volgograd. The whole town was completely destroyed during WW II. Nowadays huge boulevards lined by even bigger houses built in the best Soviet art of architecture form the CBD: monumental architecture at its best – or its worst, depending on the angel of view.
The outskirts may rather serve as a model to the socialist reality of people’s owned Soviet construction.
The main must-have-seen sights are the battlefields and a related museum in this town they called Stalingrad at that time. Then an opportunity for a real world saving dictator to slaughter some 1 200 000 persons for the good of his weird ideologies and power plays.
Of course the memorial hall is also an excellent opportunity for some extravagant military exercises admired by the crowd and used as a decoration for the odd selfie business.
After all this heroism on to Elista, the proud capital of the Republic of Kalmykia. Some 300km quite good road with many trucks. We pass thru some rather poor villages, the landscape: simply flat.
On the way out we enjoy some socializing with the police, just to check the documents. No complaints and off we are. Shortly before arriving some more socializing. Martin did not pay respect to a stop signal in front of a police post. Some friendly exchange in our best Russian and a fast non-bureaucratic solution. Definitely an advantage that Martin knows the numbers in Russian – at least the 1st few 100.
To balance a little we stay in the Hotel Elista. A place where they still cultivate Soviet lifestyle at its best. Probably one of the few places we can still live that in such a gem of people’s owned socialism.
A visit to the Buddhist temples in town …
Then on to Astrakhan near the Kazakh border.
Some more 300km on good roads. Landscape as usual.
In Astrakhan lots of activities are going on. The most visible one the preparation for the Silk Road Rally which will take place somewhen in June. We didn’t dare to show Prado all these beefed cars – could create jealousy.
The next one: preparation for 1st of May.
And then of course some odd sightseeing: the traditional quarters, Astrakhan’s Kremlin and the promenade along the Volga River …
Tomorrow we will leave Russia, head for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Surely new adventures will wait for us. Being definitely back on the Silk Road, crossing into Asia and enjoying some of Asian’s worst roads thru Kazakhstan.