Archive for the 'World Tour 2008' Category

May 27 2008

Red tape in Rostov

Published by under World Tour 2008

After only 45 minutes, 3 forms, 6 control checkpoints and a quick look in one of my bags by a border guard, I enter Russia. It was easier than I had feared!
The next day I meet Olivier at the Alliance Francaise in Rostov. He’s left France in February and has spent 2 months cycling through the mountains in winter. I’ve had an easy trip so far compared to him! We are going to cycle together to Astrakhan, and both relieved to have found a partner to ride with in Russia. Everyone told us that cycle touring in Russia isn’t a good idea. We hope that in villages people will be more easy going than in a large city like Rostov. Our route will be a straight line from Rostov to Elista and Kazakhstan, trying to avoid the main roads as much as possible.

Today Olivier has a lot of shopping to do in Rostov. He had most of his equipment stolen (sleeping bag, tent, stove, clothes, …) when he was in an Internet cafe in Ukraine. His rear wheel is also split along the rim (Mavic 719, Mavic rims are known to have bad batches…). We spend a day looking for all the bike and camping shops in Rostov. We find a fantastic little bike shop called Samokat on Tekoutchiova Ulitsa. The shop is tiny and very hard to find (between the swimming pool and the stadium) but they have all the top of the range Shimano kit and even the extremely rare oil specific to my Rohloff hub! The prices are the same as in Western Europe though, Russia isn’t cheap! The staff is very helpful and Olivier find a great new wheel for 100 euros. They also gave us a T-shirt and a couple of beers when we leave!

We also found a great camping shop (Kemping-Don) that even stocks a Primus Omnifuel (the stove that everyone uses in the Himalayas) but it’s a bit more expensive than in Europe so Olivier decides to wait to get a replacement sent later. In the meantime we can use mine to cook for both of us.

I also tried to find a local SIM card with Internet access, and it seems that I need to have some sort of registration for 3 months in my passport to be able to buy a SIM card in Russia! I find a helpful shop that makes a few phone calls but the final answer is nyet. I’ll try again in other cities but I’m not very confident. The twitter updates aren’t working anymore either so in the coming days (weeks?) I won’t give as many updates as I did in Ukraine.

Our hotel (Starry Rostov) was also supposed to register our visas with the local police but we’re still not sure if they have actually done it. Wait & See

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May 28 2008

How to buy a SIM card in Russia

Published by under World Tour 2008

At last I’ve managed to buy a Russian SIM card! You need to register with a hotel first, show your passport with this very important registration to the shop assistant and fill a few forms in duplicate. Russian citizens have similar constraints! I filled the forms in English and I’m sure all this could have easily been forged but what mattered is that we followed the protocol!
i have a card with Internet access but it’s 15 times more expensive than in Ukraine: about £10 for 100MB in Russia instead of £8 for 1GB in Ukraine!

Back to cycling now with Olivier. We’re leaving Rostov in the afternoon after a last visit at Alliance Francaise. Hopefully the russian villages we’re about to cross will be less hectic than Rostov!

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May 28 2008

Alliance Francaise in Rostov

Published by under World Tour 2008

Olivier, Andrei, Alexandra, Arnaud
Olivier, Andrei, Alexandra, Arnaud

Olivier and I are now on our way to Elista (Элиста) and the Kazakh border near Astrakhan (Астрахан). A big thank you to the Alliance Francaise in Rostov for their fantastic support!

We are now eager to discover a less hectic life in Russian villages and hope to see soon more camels than 4x4s!

(Show on Google Maps)

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May 31 2008

Friendly Russia

Published by under World Tour 2008

Friendly staff in Russian village canteen
Friendly staff in Russian village canteen

In Rostov a lot of people told us that Russia is a dangerous country and that cycling alone was a very bad idea. However we’ve felt completely safe since we left the big city for the small villages. On the road everyone waves back at us with a smile and whenever we stop people aren’t afraid to come for a chat and ask the usual questions. Even shopkeepers are friendly! Yesterday we stopped in what we thought was a cafe but it was in fact the village canteen. They gave us drinks, food, and we left with a bag full of doughnuts. That same day someone gave Olivier a small Russian flag to add to his bike trailer. So far a lot of people have mistaken the French flag for the Russian one, they won’t have any excuse now!

Russian countryside near Salsk
Russian countryside near Salsk

Tonight we have been invited by a Chechen familly in a small village called Solenoye (Соленое) in Kalmykia. (Show on Google Maps) This was a relief for Olivier as he only has a hammoc and trees start to become scarce in this region. Olivier’s tent was stolen in Ukraine and in Rostov he didn’t buy a new one, thinking he could do without for the next couple of months. He is now regretting his decision, especially since Southern Russia is much wetter than Southern Ukraine!

A few minutes before the deluge
A few minutes before the deluge

Every day we play cat and mouse with large storms and we sometimes have to push the bikes through thick mud. On the other hand the paved roads are much better than in Ukraine and the South-Westerly wind has been very favorable so it’s easy to make up for lost time once we’re back on the main roads.

A lot of people we see in Kalmykia have asian features, Kazakhstan isn’t too far now!

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Jun 01 2008

Wild camping in the Russian steppe

Published by under World Tour 2008

After being offered a copious breakfast based on salted milk and rice, we leave our hosts at noon. Olivier has also gained a new flag to add to his collection: Chechnya. I had some reservations about waving a Chechen flag around Russia but this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Even the militsia around here is relatively friendly and tonight we’re sleeping in the middle of the steppe 100m from a police control where they told us it was ok to camp. (Show on Google Maps) There are a lot of these permanent police checkpoints between towns, they usually stop lorries and sometimes ask us where we come from (otkuda?) but they haven’t asked to see our passports yet.

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Jun 03 2008

Photos Russia: Rostov to Elista

Published by under World Tour 2008

A week of cycling in pictures, from Rostov to Elista with Olivier:

Russia - Rostov to Elista

Cycling in Rostov Oblast and the Kalmykia republic

Russia - Elista to Astrakhan

Elista to Astrakhan - Steppe and the city

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Jun 03 2008

Cycle touring in Russia (Video #2)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]Cycling in Russia – Rostov – Elista[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 03 2008

Cycle touring in Russia (Video)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]On the road near Salsk, between Rostov and Elista.[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 03 2008

Russian steppe (Video)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]The steppe between Rostov and Elista.[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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[TAGS] Russia Cycling[/TAGS]
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[LENGTH]16[/LENGTH]

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Jun 03 2008

Cycle touring in Russia (video #3)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]Olivier on the road[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 03 2008

Elista, Republic of Kalmykia

Published by under World Tour 2008

My thermarest has developed a strange illness
My thermarest has developed a strange illness

We are staying for a couple of nights in Elista (Элиста) to do a bit of shopping. Elista is famous for being the chess capital of Russia but not for its camping shops. We only found a couple of sport shops near the market not far from our hotel in the centre of town.
There aren’t many trees in the steppe for Olivier to use his hammock so he has finally bought a tent: 15 euros and it pops up in 3 seconds!
I also bought a karimat as my thermarest has started delaminating a few days ago and is now completely unusable. I’ll miss the comfort of the thermarest!

Buddhist prayer wheel
Buddhist prayer wheel

Kalmykia is inhabited by people who migrated from Mongolia centuries ago and everyone around here has Mongolian features. This is also the only region in Europe where buddhism is the main religion. We’ve seen a few temples and prayer wheels around town. The president of the not-so-autonomous Republic of Kalmykia is a chess fanatic and has even imposed chess as a mandatory school subject.

There aren’t many villages on the road from Elista to Astrakhan (the first one is 90km away!) and we will have to start planning a bit more for food and water. Astrakhan is only 300km away and we should be there in 3 days. Olivier will have to sort out his Kazakh visa there. I already have a 3 months visa so I will wait with him until he gets it or until my Russian visa runs out, whichever comes first! Red tape is a nightmare in this region. In Kazakhstan we hope to meet the other Olivier on his recumbent bike, he is in Rostov at the moment, only a week behind us.

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Jun 06 2008

On the road to Astrakhan

Published by under World Tour 2008

The day we left Elista, the Kalmyk hotel staff in Elista gave us a free lunch and 200 rubbles (£5) despite our protests. We visited the enormous new buddhist temple on the edge of town and met an elderly woman who told us she came back to live in Elista after Stalin deported her whole family to Siberia at the end of WW2.

The steppe between Elista and Astrakhan is much drier and more desolate than the green steppe East of Elista. We were even caught short of water on an empty 70km stretch between two cafe stops. the roads are very good (much better than in Ukraine) and the traffic very light. We see a lot of old coaches and lorries imported from Germany, still with the German brands on them.

It is very hard to evaluate distances in this environment: we see villages on the horizon 20 or 30km away and it seems to take forever to reach them. It is psychologically hard to cycle in such a featureless landscape.

We are 70km from Astrakhan (Show on Google Maps) and should arrive there tonight. We will stay there a few days to sort out visas for Olivier and also buy another tent (the 500 rubbles tent bought in Elista didn’t last long!)

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Jun 08 2008

Photos: Elista to Astrakhan

Published by under World Tour 2008

New photos: the steppe from Elista to Astrakhan:

Russia - Rostov to Elista

Cycling in Rostov Oblast and the Kalmykia republic

Russia - Elista to Astrakhan

Elista to Astrakhan - Steppe and the city

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Jun 08 2008

Astrakhan, last stop before Kazakhstan

Published by under World Tour 2008

Astrakhan theatre, brought to you by Gazprom
Astrakhan theatre, brought to you by Gazprom

Like most Russian cities, Astrakhan (Астрахань) is an expensive place: the first hotel we find, the Azymut hotel on the Volga, asks for 3000 rubbles (£75) for a room with 2 beds. Fortunately, after 10 minutes of pondering how long we could afford to stay in the city at this rate, someone tells us that there are a few rooms available in the city stadium for 250 rubbles (£6) per person. Later that day we meet Maksym, a 24 years old student, who is very keen to speak some English and offers us a sandwich and a beer.

It seems that if you’re an obvious foreigner and you stand around in the street long enough in Astrakhan, someone will come and try to help you, especially if you’re on a loaded bicycle!

The Kazakh consulate in Astrakhan is closed during the weekend so we have time to relax. Everything here is being renovated mostly thanks to Gazprom, the big sponsor of the city. The petrol business is already big here! It would be a nice place on the Volga delta if not for the armies of flies that invade the city in May and June and make it impossible to stand still for more than a few seconds without being surrounded by thousands of insects.

Tilo and Barbara
Tilo and Barbara

On our first day walking around the city we meet two German cyclists, Tilo and Barbara who are also on their way to China through all the Stans and with a much more relaxed schedule than us. Barbara is covered in nasty mosquito bites and that comforts us in the choice of our route accross the steppe rather than down the Volga.

At the terrasse of the Piknik cafe near the Kremlin we also meet two French locals who have been living in Astrakhan for a few years: Nicolas and Patrick. They will soon open their own cafe so if you visit in a few months, make sure to pay them a visit!

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Jun 12 2008

Cycling in the Russian Steppe (1)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]Leaving a bivouac between Elista and Astrakhan[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 12 2008

Cycling in the Russian Steppe (2)

Published by under World Tour 2008

[DESC]Following a track in the Russian steppe 100km from Astrakhan[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 12 2008

Crossing the Volga in Astrakhan

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[DESC]A busy bridge on the Volga in Astrakhan[/DESC]

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[AUTHOR]frogonabike[/AUTHOR]
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Jun 12 2008

Fame in Astrakhan

Published by under World Tour 2008

Xavier, Olivier, Olivier#2, Arnaud, Geraldine with our Kazakh visas!
Xavier, Olivier, Olivier#2, Arnaud, Geraldine with our Kazakh visas!

After almost a week of waiting, Olivier has finally obtained a two months Kazakh visa. In the meantime the other Olivier I met near Odessa three weeks ago has rejoined us as well as Geraldine and Xavier, a couple traveling to China on electric scooters. It is actually much more challenging than on bicycles as they need to find a power socket every 100km to recharge their batteries, not an easy task in the steppe.

We’ve had time to make ourselves comfortable in the very dynamic city of Astrakhan. Everything here is being renovated thanks to the large gas industry that surrounds the city. Prices are already high and they will probably reach European levels in a few years. Russia isn’t cheap!

Interview with local TV
Interview with local TV

Nicolas, a French local who is studying Russian in Astrakhan, arranged an interview for us with the local TV station. The interviewer spoke English but found it more interesting to do the interview in Russian: “I go to China”, “I eat pasta every day”, “Russian people good”, “Astrakhan nice city”!

The 3 weeks I’ve spent in Russia have been the best of the trip so far. People have been extremely friendly and helpful with us. For example in Astrakhan we fortuitously met Adil and Irina who ended up spending the day with us to show us all the bike shops in Astrakhan. We had a meal later in a nice restaurant and they invited us to their Dacha the next day (Unfortunately we didn’t have the time).

I have added a few more pictures to the Elista-Astrakhan gallery.

For future travelers to Astrakhan I would advise to look for Nicolas (email available on request) who knows everyone in the city. He is going to open an English pub in a few months, so ask for the “Bear and Roastbeef” if you’re in Astrakhan from September 2008 onwards! I have also scanned an annotated map of the city centre.

Today is my last day in Russia as my visa runs out tomorrow. There are 80km left to the Kazakh border and I will leave tomorrow morning and hope that I don’t have any mechanical problem en route! The two Oliviers will be staying a few more days as they still have a few admin tasks to complete and we should meet again next week in Kazakhstan. There are 3000km of wild steppe left to cycle to Almaty and I don’t think the internet connection will be as good as in Russia so I will probably update the blog much less often.

Thermarest has very kindly agreed to send me a free replacement for my damaged sleeping mat via UPS to Atyrau, 300km on the other side of the border. My next stop will be in this very expensive city, thanks to the petrol business again!

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Jun 14 2008

First days in Kazakhstan

Published by under World Tour 2008

I arrived to the Russian border with only 6 hours left on my Russian visa but I didn’t get any hassle from the Russian guards, they were even very friendly! The Kazakh side was the classic border control experience with 6 booths to visit and many forms to complete in duplicate.

Villages in Kazakhstan are much poorer than in Russia and people even more curious. I am currently in a small town 250km West of Atyrau (Show on Google Maps) where I found a bankomat and a local SIM card with limited internet access (WAP).

It’s very hot (40-45C) and there is a lot of sand in the air. The roads aren’t as good as in Russia, but still not as bad as in Ukraine (for the moment!)

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Jun 18 2008

Photos – Astrakhan, Russia to Atyrau, Kazakhstan

Published by under World Tour 2008

Kazakhstan - Astrakhan to Atyrau

First steppe in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan - Atyrau to Qandiagash

Atyrau to Qandiagash: Makat and the start of rough roads

Kazakhstan - Qandiagash to Toretam

Qandiagash to Toretam via Embi, Shelkar, Aral. Accident in Aral.

Kazakhstan - Shimkent to Almaty

Shimkent to Almaty, a hillier Kazakhstan and a very expensive city

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