7 days, nearly 4000km thru Siberia and the Russian Far East. Good roads, endless forests and weather getting increasingly rainy. But also a visit to lost villages and towns spread, breathing still the spirit of the good old Soviet Union.
27th July. The day we leave Irkutsk, Siberia’s Venice.
Now we’re on our way out of Siberia, on the road to Russia’s Far East. Eastwards to the city of Khabarovsk, then to the south to Vladivostok. Some 3200km to Khabarovsk, 750 more to Vladivostok. First on the Trans-Siberian -, then on the Amur Highway.
Day 1 on the road: 3950km to Vladivostok.
Today’s target just Ulan Ude, 450km to the east on the road we already know. A whole day’s trip along the southern shore of Lake Baikal, later along Selenga River.
In the evening we arrive in Ulan Ude. Just in time for a dinner at Shashlikoff’s (as usual).
Day 2 on the road: 3500km to Vladivostok
In the morning we’re pretty busy. Luckily the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the import of Prado. Good news – we don’t have to smuggle the car into Uncle Donnny’s empire. In addition we have to immediately establish Prado’s third party insurance for the US because end of July the premiums will raise by 20%. Not an easy task to have all documents printed and later scanned in an East Siberian town. Whatever by 9.30am we’re ready to leave.
On to Chita. Hence, driving eastwards to the last real town before Khabarovsk, some 2750km still further east. Today a 650km drive, only. The 1st few km still along Selenge River, …
… the Trans-Siberian Railway on the side, …
… then thru an endless hilly landscape, forests and grassland.
The road pretty good, sometimes a little bumpy, some maintenance work on the way.
Quite a number of very traditional villages to pass thru – all giving a slightly desperate impression. Just imagine them in wintertime with at least -40°C.
Late afternoon we arrive in Chita. Time for a beer in the restaurant of the Arkadia Hotel. Obviously we’re slightly tired – later we discover that these guys sold us the most expensive beer we ever had in Russia. Whatever – money has gone.
Chita, 29th July
A rest day; a day to admire the beauty of Chita: the Soviet style concrete apartments – mostly in desperate need of repair, …
… some historic buildings, …
… the huge square dedicated to Lenin, …
… the town’s imaginative central hot water system …
… and finally of course the cathedral.
And the visit to Chita’s ultimate gourmet temple: Mama Roma . Excellent Italian cuisine – the Russian way. They even speak a few words English to avoid overstretching our Russian.
Day 3 on the road: 2850km to Vladivostok
The next part: Chita to Mogocha, 580km. Again the whole way mostly on a good tarmac. The landscape as before: hilly, forests, grassland, some agriculture.
In the afternoon some nice thunderstorms.
We arrive in Mogocha. The place not really overwhelming. Of course, there are the usual grey Soviet-style apartment blocks. Just considerably more rundown. There’s also the main road. But not much else. Well, not to forget the industrial plant closed down many years ago.
Undeniably the ultimate place to get depressive in no time or just to survive with the daily bottle of vodka.
At least they made good use of the factory’s chimney.
Despite Mogocha’s limited potential to get lost, we cannot find the place to stay we’re looking for. Driving up and down the main street and with the help of the GPS and Maps Me we finally locate Gostiniza Turist, our supposed hotel. Some friendly people even make signs that we’re at the right place. Finally we discover the signboard on the rundown house – completely faded and torn. At least inside the place is much better than the outside impression.
In the evening the only restaurant in town is used for a private party – what else should the poor guys do here? For us remains some shopping in the supermarket and a beautiful dinner in our awesome room.
Day 4 on the road: 2270km to Vladivostok
The next strech. 310km to Skorovodino. Never heard of Skorovodino? Nor did we. Doesn’t matter. The road is still pretty good, …
… the landscape the same as yesterday. Rainy weather. This stretch definitely gets very lonely. Little traffic, very few villages.
Of course today there’s something special. We reach the northernmost point on our trip – so far. 55° north – about the latitude of Denmark.
Then the other sensation: we enter the Amur Region. According to some rumours, now we’re out of Siberia and entering Russia’s Far East. Should we believe others we still have to drive a 100 km further to leave Siberia. Well, probably more a question of Russian interests.
Early afternoon we arrive in Skorovodino. Despite its great name a town as usual in this part of the world: another main road with decaying Soviet style apartment blocks.
The real highlight the monument to the heroes.
And there’s another great name: Hotel Platinum. It must be all about the name and the prize for the room. Nevertheless, to comfort us a little there’s Kafe Sofi – a kind of eatery’n’watering hole for those in desperate need for an alternative to concrete buildings. This also is the place where we meet Lilian and Ido from Gouda/ Holland on their way to Japan – travelling not as comfortable as we do, they are on motorbikes.
Late afternoon the big surprise: checking Prado after this long distance we discover a lot of oil leaking from the transmission. What the hell could that be? Is Prado preparing itself for a home for sexy senior citizens? Or, are these signs of Prado’s Alzheimer? Does it forget the repairs we just made a few days ago? Or just leaving us alone in Siberia’s loneliness?
And what should we do? Send Prado to the doctor; send it to the emergency room in a car hospital? Finally we decide to ignore this leak for the moment and drive 1 day further. There’s a much bigger town to come: Belogorsk.
Day 5 on the road: 1960 km to Vladivostok
Today the next 530km. Now we leave the very lonely part of the road. We’re turning southwards to Belogorsk. After all these lost villages along the way in the evening we should reach a real town with more than 60 000 inhabitants and surely a good mechanic. Of course we have to drive carefully as we don’t know what’s happening with Prado’s transmission.
Early afternoon we arrive. Definitely it’s a bigger town. So no problem to find a doctor for Prado. A long and intense diagnostic starts. The oily transmission block is cleaned. The oil level checked. Every centimetre of the transmission casing is inspected. Several test drives follow – still nowhere the slightest problem. No sign where all this oil may come from. Long discussions with the mechanic – thanks to Google Translator time consuming, but without any problems. Then all other parts of the car are checked. Finally the stethoscope has to proof its usefulness again. Again no real problem. Well, a wheel bearing slowly asks for a replacement and the front suspension shows its age. We know that. Maybe we should really change that in Khabarovsk – the next big town. After 2h were off. Still no idea what may be the problem with Prado’s transmission. Whatever. Big thanks to the mechanic, he did even not allow us to pay for his inspection. Tomorrow we have to observe Prado.
Day 5 on the road: 1430 km to Vladivostok
As we’re still not sure about Prado’s health, we decide to drive directly to Khabarovsk. 680km on good tarmac. So just a day’s drive. Landscape the same as yesterday and the day before. Just less hilly and more swamps on both sides of the road.
The huge difference is the number of police enforcing all kind of rules for road security. Somehow it increases from 0 to 2 guys at each and every corner. Stopping poor drivers, often with speed traps. So we have to drive a little carefully. This also because Prado’s transmission is still spitting oil.
On the way a huge monument dedicated to the construction of the road from Moscow to Vladivostok.
Approaching Khabarovsk there’s considerably more traffic.
In the evening we cross Amur River on the 3km long bridge and here we are – in Khabarovsk.
Khabarovsk, 6th July
2100km to the west and 4 days of driving after leaving Chita we arrive in the next town resembling somehow to an urban center: Khabarovsk.
And that’s the place where the monsoon rains start to slightly influence our journey. Looking at the sky – all grey, a mix of dizzle and rain. A Russian remarks our enthusiasm about the current weather. To encourage us a little, he shows us his nice weather app promising continuous rain for the next 7 days. No problem. On the 8th the sunshine will be back; provided Russian weather forecast is not too erratic. What a pain in the ass. Consequently we sink into deepest depressions. Fortunately, there are a few minutes of sunshine between the hours of rain. What a relief – at least these beware us of immediate suicide.
And of course there’s the other reason to survive the rainy weather: Pani Fasani. An eatery/watering hole requesting all guests to participate actively in all kind of challenges. And the winner gets a liter of beer.
Despite the weather we’re busy in Khabarovsk. Even if it is a nice town, Prado’s strange behaviour of spitting oil gets 1st priority. We go to Toyota – the mother of all car hospitals. Immediately they find us somebody speaking English. Then they check the car for 3h. They find the problem: a small valve on the transmission block got jammed. They clean it, test it and find it functional again. Shame on Prado for making such trouble just because of a tiny valve. Unfortunately they could not change it – as usual this part is not available somewhere in town. Then we let them repair all what should have been repaired for a long time and a day later – and after paying about 1 month’s travel expenses – they’re done and Prado is rejuvenated.
To spend even more money we book our ferry to Korea. DBS Lines in Vladivostok make it possible. The reservation not really easy. On internet not possible, by mail no answer and by phone the pitiless confirmation that there’s no space available during the whole month. So, what to do? Easy – just wait a little bit. Then suddenly we get by mail a confirmation that we may book without any problems. By the way, from the same person having fiercely denied this before on the phone. So we book – and that’s it. Easy, isn’t it.
Then a side trip to Komsomolsk-na-Amure. A town some 400km to the north-east; built in the 30ties of last century by gulag-prisoners as a center to colonise Russia’s Far East. Nowadays said to be 1 of the few places where the good old Soviet Union still is alive. And it’s also the place where they build these Suchoi aircrafts – these planes which impress Uncle Donny’s generals so much.
So a place to visit.
Of course weather as predicted – pouring rain the whole day. The landscape: the same we had in the last days.
Finally we cross Amur River on a huge steel bridge, pass the all impressive signboard announcing the proud city of Komsomolsk – na – Amure …
… and we arrive at the 1st original Soviet-style apartment blocks of the outskirts.
It’s slightly difficult to visit the town. Simply because of the rain. But let’s not discourage.
At least a short visit to admire the huge 6-line boulevards – with no cars, but age-old tramways.
The decaying cultural palace – nowadays a kind of an old-fashioned shopping mall, …
… the buildings in the style of Stalin’s neoclassicism between grey concrete apartments, …
… and finally the famous mosaics of pure Soviet art. Unfortunately the most famous 1 in the cultural palace doesn’t exist anymore.
Finally a look at the Great War Memorial. Then we leave this fascinating town and we’re on our way back to Khabarovsk. Just 400km.
Day 6 on the road: 750 km to Vladivostok
Today just 350km to reach Dalnerechensk. The road pretty good as usual, the weather bad as usual.
Unfortunately, we have to leave the highway after a few km. The road is blocked. Fortunately there’s a bypass. Not a good road, but even small cars pass. The journey just takes a little longer today.
Then we’re back on the main road. Today is definitely not a day to drive fast. There are too many thunderstorms and too much water on both sides of the road.
Dalnerechensk, another nondescript town. Nothing to do – due to lack of any sights and pouring rain. Just a slightly strange restaurant for a couple of beers and dinner. There, even the waitress seems to be in a bad mood.
Day 7 on the road: finally in Vladivostok
Just 400km left to Vladivostok. Weather not really improved.
The area gets more populated, more agricultural land. By now many fields flooded. The last part of the road a real double-lined highway.
Then we reach the Pacific Cost. Just a bridge to cross …
… and we’re in Vladivostok.
10 month and some 50 000km after we’ve started the trip thru Asia. We celebrate this with Lilian and Ido – the 2 Dutch guys on bikes – and have a thick fat dinner.
That’s it for today. More soon – in our next post.