We leave Kazakhstan after a brief and wonderful stay, the drive from Astana was tediously boring, 8hrs of the same view across corn fields brings us to the Kazak-Russian border near the town of Troitsk. As all land borders require, we wait, get stamped out of one country, sit in no man’s land for a while then enter the next control point. The border security we not as strict as the Mongolia/Russia crossing, in fact, they didn’t really want to check the car, 3 guards chatted among themselves and then one reluctantly came over to check over the vehicle. Then he took a shine to Robyn and started joking around, smiling and giggling giving us a quickened and smooth vehicle check.
Back in Mother Russia, we drive to Chelyabinsk and find a laundry service located in a huge supermarket, 3 ½ weeks and down to our last pairs of underwear, we were very happy to find somewhere to clean our clothes, that and the back of the car was starting to smell like a teenager’s bedroom.
We stock up on supplies, Mongolia meant all our tinned food surplus was drastically diminished, we did make a massive faux pas, when purchasing bottled water we accidentally bought 12x bottles of fizzy water. Yummy.
Our mobile phone SIM card tariff is confusing at best, we thought we bought 10GB of data for the 1-month in Russia, then our service stopped and we get a message saying that we only have 40Mb of data per day left. That amount of data is about good enough to download your junk mail folder and check the traffic then you have to wait for 24hrs for it to regenerate.
We were going to stay in Chelyabinsk and look for hotels but with no internet, this would be difficult also maybe have a shower for the first time in a couple of days, instead, we drive 300km towards to the Ural Mountains and spent 3 days in the Yugansky Nature Reserve by a lake.
Apart from the mosquitoes the size of tennis balls and the lighting storm that forced us to take refuge in a wooden hut as we watched the bolts zap the lake 50 meters away from our rooftop metalled framed tent, the location was very pleasant. During one of the torrential downpours, we used this time to have an outside shower then proceeded to wash the truck, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
We met some of the Russians on their summer holidays, some friendly, some possibly on “Russians Most Wanted List’, then we started to debate “do we look Russia?” a stocky bloke with dark features and a blond female with green eyes sat by a lake with a bottle of vodka. I think possible yes we do, Na zdorovye!
We leave the Urals and encounter some of the worst drivers to date, we passed many, many trucks on their side, roof or involved in the head on collisions with the Soviet Lada that peppers the Russian roads. Even when we sit in standstill traffic then crawl past there fallen comrades very squashed inside what’s left of their car, seconds later we are been overtaken by crazy Russian drivers. I suppose they think it won’t happen to them.
The drive to Suzdal was tortuous, a road that runs through village after village with M25 rust hour style traffic at every hour of the day. We pass trucks returning from the Silk Road Rally an annual rally off-road race which starts in Moscow and finishes in Xi’an, Tristan has been told “no” we are not allowed to do this 🙁
Suzdal is a pretty town in Russia’s Golden Ring area north of Vladimir and is in a cluster of ancient towns northeast of Moscow famous for domed Dome Churches and Monasteries. We arrived on a Saturday and conveyor belt weddings filled the town as bride and groom entered the various Churches 15 minutes apart from each other.
The plan was to spend only one night in Suzdal, we had booked a night at a very nice campsite where Tristan met “Steve” (the crazy Russian) he spoke a tiny bit of English, introduced himself and returned with a bottle of vodka, a carton of tomato juice and 3 shot glasses. The night quickly took a downhill stance and this resulted in spending another night to recover from thous antics. Thanks “Steve!”
We also met a lovely Swiss couple that gave us advice on where to stay in Sergiev Posad, we continued around the Golden ring stopping in Kostroma, Yaroslavl and then to Sergiev Posad. The recommend camping was in the parking area of a restaurant with views of the 14th-century Trinity Lavra St. Sergius monastery complex which was perfect for us. They locked us in at 10 pm and then opened the gates at 9 am, at one point we thought we would be staying there indefinitely! We were let go and made our journey towards Moscow.