A Travellerspoint blog

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Why go to Volgograd?

…..because I want to know how and why 2 million people lost their lives in 200 days?

semi-overcast 25 °C
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Volgograd; better known as Stalingrad and the location of the bloodiest battle of WWII, The battle of Stalingrad, the German front line which was the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime. Over 90% of the city was destroyed and the rebuild is nothing spectacular but this place holds great significance to the Russian people and is home to the memorial on “my hill” and the 86m statue on Mother Russia, impressive and visually stunning. If you ever come to Russia this alone is a must, a humbling and deep thought provoking experience. If the Russians hadn’t won a great many people today may be speaking German. In addition to the memorial, the old flour mill still stands in the grounds of the museum in the condition it was at the end of the battle. It was crucial that this not be taken by the Germans and just 24 men defended this for 50 days being replaced only once by another 24 men, truly an act of undeniable courage.
We had a rest day in Volgograd which saw the morning taken up with the memorial visit and the afternoon was spent doing oil changes, we’ve clocked up the first 10,000k’s already. We had a superb lunch and one of the best meals so far, layered Baltic salad followed by a Russian pasta dish that is a staple and favourite from childhood, beautifully presented and simply delicious. The evening saw us wander downtown to catch views of the mighty Volga River where we also met representatives of the local biker club who offered accommodation if needed, some of the boys are still smarting from the "The Rabbit Club" in Romania! We then stumbled onto and into a very local underground bar which we never left until 1.30am. A very accommodating publican & restaurateur who as Russians do insisted we share a number of vodkas with him. All this was achieved with the help of Google translate and along with other locals we had a great night including watching Ghana defeat Germany……..in Stalingrad??!!

Posted by ScottyJ 11:30 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Saratov…..surprise, surprise

….home of the super model!!

sunny 26 °C
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Well Saratov was not actually on our itinerary but with all the changes we could not make the 790k’s to Samara in one day so a random stop was made in Saratov, home to about 1 million people and sustained by a rich agricultural heritage. Our hotel, one of the best so far was situated right in the mall and it being Sunday many locals were out and about enjoying the glorious 26deg day. It should also be noted that the town was buzzing in anticipation of the Russia v Belgium game that was on later in the evening. We are basically following the mighty Volga River from Volgograd via Saratov to Samara before we exit into Kazakhstan. This river is a lifeline to the Russians as are many of the rivers in Europe to the Europeans. After a stroll down to view the river and it is impressive here, it is no stream, we wandered back to the mall in search for dinner…..not only on the walk but also during dinner the boys were all suffering a serious case of rubber neck……the women of Saratov are stunning! Enough said. We concluded the evening in search of water and ended up engaged in conversation with two 3rd year law students outside the KFC in the mall. Alex & Max were a load of fun, engaging, highly intelligent and a taste of the new Russia.
Tonight we arrived in Samara around 5pm and again our hotel is right on the boardwalk running alongside the Volga River. Lots to do tonight in readiness for our crossing into Kazakhstan, like counting cash for currency declarations and what will be our first night’s camping! A very enjoyable dinner with half a dozen of the crew whilst enjoying the sunset and the balmy summer evening!

As we enter Kazakhstan tomorrow I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again but I'll be making sure that everything is charged tonight and hopefully catch up on the photos.......Cheers ScottyJ

PS: we enter and exit Russia another 4 times and I believe it best to expect more of the same, standby and I'll let you know :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 12:10 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Kool Khasakhstan

.....but watch those temperatures rise!

sunny 26 °C
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An 8am departure on an overcast, cool and drizzly morning for the 150+km’s to the Russian/Kazakhstan border. The first half was slow in the wet conditions and became slower. We soon found out why; a massive Russian tank, artillery and troop movement was slowing down all traffic….not sure where they were going and I really didn’t want to ask! It was kind of different riding under the barrel of a 155mm piece of artillery, not something you do every day  A coffee stop about 50km’s from the border was very welcome and a chance to get out of the wet weather gear, grab a coffee and snack on some more local delicacies! As we approached the border you could see the landscape changing, still very intensive agriculture but now it becoming very flat in all directions. Over a slight rise saw the border crossing ahead. How long was this going to take?? I don’t think the Russians and Kazakh’s have decided who is going to pave the small section of road between the two posts, it is like off road riding to the point Tango lost it at passport control and laid it down in the dirt, it was a comical exit from Russia. Anticipating a 4-5 hour stretch we were surprised to be out of Russia within the hour and entering Kazakhstan including insurance and lunch was another 1.5hours….we were stoked as it had become quite hot and there was little shade. The Kazakh’s are a very different ethnic group and I was surprised by the welcome. Very friendly and inquisitive. After clearing the border we headed to the next town to get cash and fuel…..it has something to do with the number of bikes with foreign plates but people were stopping in the street, at the traffic lights asking where we were from and welcoming us to their country. Once refuelled we headed out of town to find a camp spot. It was always going to be a challenge setting up the first camp and yes you guessed it I was in the kitchen with my cook buddy Juliet. Spag Bol was the order and within 2 hours we were serving up. It was a real Aristos night but we pulled it off well…..I think, no complaints. As I write I am in my tent out on a plain where the power poles disappear into the horizon, it is still light but I am ready for Zzzzz.

Posted by ScottyJ 00:18 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Short break in Aktobe

......and needed!!

sunny 30 °C
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Picked up another hour today this didn’t matter anyway because it was light at 4am! Up at 6 to start the pack up, mmmmm going to have to rethink breakfast, not a cereal person; lucky there was one banana left and I’ll wait to see what is on offer when re refuel. Worth the wait, a type of mash served with what is best described as a spicy, as in flavoursome, meat patty….well that was what the locals were eating and it went down a treat with two cups of delicious coffee. The scenery has really changed now, lots of reminders of Australia flat as far as the eye can see with the road shimmering into the distance. Out of nowhere we came across a small river that held a deep hole, still, cool and supporting fish life and aquatic plants; lunch stop! There is a reason I’ve been carrying those swimmers in my top box, so refreshing. Chatted to a Kazakh family who were taking their daughter to Almaty to fly to KL and study English for a month at university level. Her English was very good and she became the spokesperson for the family. Just before they left I asked for some ideas on local food and got the quickest of responses. We were heading to Aktobe and were told you can get it everywhere. That’s dinner sorted!
Arrived around 4pm checked in and made a beeline for the shower, it was a hot ride sitting in 30deg heat all day. We have a rest day here then 3 more days camping as we head to Uzbekistan. Aktobe is an oil and gas town with little remarkable features but it is great to just chill. Not a town known for tourism we were left to our own devices to find our way around and settled down to a cold beer at the Café Haypolz. We were served by the daughter of the owner who took great delight in trying out her English which was of a very high standard. They didn’t have the dish on the menu I was looking for but she said, “please wait a moment” and on her return she advised that the kitchen would make it but is would take 30 minutes, ah well get another round in Beschparmak is the dish and apparently known all over Kazakhstan; a mixture of meat, potatoes and the most amazing broad ribbon pasta spiced and with just a hint of a sauce to bring it all together. Preceded by a beef soup and accompanied with salad………….just the way the locals have it. Five very satisfied customers and I now armed with a few more dishes to source thanks to Aigerim…..couldn’t get my tongue around how to pronounce her name! One thing is for sure with us camping for the next three days my search will be limited to the our fuels stops  Back to the Café again tonight to enjoy Shashlyk, a mixture of pork & lamb, grilled and served in a mini “hot wok” over coals for communal eating all a great which was a great hit with everyone at the table. Kazakh music was being played out in the next room and the night concluded with Roomie and I being asked to dance with a couple of local girls…..free Kazakh dance lesson, which we couldn’t refuse :-) 

Posted by ScottyJ 19:18 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (1)

Road of Death

………….four days on the Kazakh Steppe

sunny 40 °C
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The 1600km ride across the Kazakh Steppe to Shymkent has an infamous reputation in this part of the world and the memorial stones that dot the highway are testament to its name. This is our first extended period of camping, three nights. Juliet and I have volunteered to cook for the entire trip…….let’s see how that goes. Our rationale is that life is too short to eat bad food and everyone else seems happy with that arrangement…………….gets us out of doing the dishes and we get our tents set up!! 

We left Aktobe at around 9am and the temperature was already climbing up into the high 20’s. Once clear of the city we got a taste of what was going to be the vista for the next four days. Flat, brown, featureless as far as the eye could see. A treeless plain shimmering in the heat; think Berkley tableland but three times as vast. It wasn’t long before the temperature gauge was reading 34deg and there it stayed as we rode kilometre after kilometre. Strangely though landscapes of this magnitude have an aura that is quite spellbinding. Late afternoon we noticed in the distance the sky had become very dark and whilst we thought we would avoid it we rode straight into a very fierce thunderstorm, strong wind, torrential rain and the temperature went from 34 to 16 in a flash…..I didn’t worry about wet weather gear as when we came out the other side it was 34 again! Given the temperatures it is pointless to stop too early and setup as you would be just sitting in the heat hence we rode until around 7pm before pulling off the road and setting up camp. There were problems with the trailer so while we set up next to a partially demolished building in the middle of nowhere Mick & Justin went back to the last town to search for a welder. Into the kitchen tent we went and after some initial problems with the stoves we turned out Kazakh Cacciatore for the crew…another successful meal or at least that was the feedback…..the food gets better the more beer they give the cooks  It doesn’t get dark around here until around 10pm and the sunset was stunning….on the flip side it is daylight at around 4.30am!!....and you know what that is like in a tent  It rained tonight around 2am so I took the opportunity to jump out of the tent, strip off and have a shower in the rain. It felt good.

Day two and we were packed and ready to ride around 8.30, already the temperature was 34deg. Now I have to say the road had been very good but today we came across large sections of the old road…….and you can now understand why it has the reputation it does. Narrow, deep potholes, undulations, ridges, no run offs, loads of deep sand and volumes of dense choking dust…. throw in the oncoming traffic and countless semi’s and you have a free for all. Yes some “offs” today but no injuries and I was oh so close to losing it in the sand on the wrong side of the road but hey power is your friend and a last ditch squirt on the throttle just got me out of it! In addition some of the other obstacles that you regularly encounter are wild horses, cattle, camels and donkeys, all highly unpredictable. The most concerning of the day was a donkey who was facing down the highway, it was so hard to see until the last minute, yep got to say it he was making a real ass of himself  We stopped for lunch today in Aral which besides being a fair sized city was once a bustling seaport on the shores of the Aral Sea. For those the that don’t know, the Aral Sea no longer exists; in just thirty years the Russians managed to create one of the biggest environmental and ecological disasters of all time….82,000 sq./kms of Sea vanished…….the dry sea bed and the remains of the many ships sitting where they run aground is all that remains. Apparently attempts are being made to resurrect parts of it. Still the temperature was climbing and at a little “roadhouse” we found that it was 41deg! Again we rode until around 7pm and set up camp on the left this time opposite what has to be the remotest roadhouse I have seen. Tonight was Chilli con Carne with rice and warm beer…. I think that as it was eaten for breakfast and lunch (cold) is testament to how well it was received.

Today Alpha, Echo & Oscar had decided that they had had enough of the heat and were going to push through to our destination….a 650km ride with unknown road conditions, it’ll be a long one. I thought of going with them but since I had volunteered to cook I decided to stay and with my failing fuel pump problems I did not want to hold them up. I’m flying a new fuel pump into Tashkent and I hope that will be the end of it…..still going to have to change the head stem bearing sometime soon…..they’ll last to Almaty, I hope??!. During breakfast we noticed slow movement on the horizon and shortly thereafter a herd of two hump camels came meandering by. It was visually spectacular to see them in their natural habitat. The rest of us pushed on until we were about 250km’s out and tonight we found ourselves by a river…..bliss, well almost, once we decided how to work around the thistles and ticks……temperature hit 40deg again today and everyone was feeling it…..Beef stew with vegetables tonight and again for breakfast! As it was still steaming hot after dinner Roomie and I grabbed a stool, and went and sat, chest height in the river to cool off; it was also a chance to enjoy a cold beer and do our washing at the same time. No fly’s on the tent tonight and I fell asleep under a brilliant starlit northern sky.

We were all eager to get going today…the lure of a shower and all the other little luxuries kept us on task for our destination Shymkent. After a short visit to the 13th century mausoleum of a Sufi mystic Khoja Ahmed Wasawitask in the town of Turkistan we arrived around 2pm just as the mercury hit 39deg…it was a fight for the shower but I had waited that long I could wait another 10 minutes! Booked a massage for 5.30 which was excellent and I was ready for a lazy dinner (great outdoor grill spot with the best Shaslyk so far) and a cold beer! Looking forward to a night between sheets tonight……Off to Uzbekistan tomorrow!!

Posted by ScottyJ 09:57 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

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