Less majestic was the cough creeping up through Jeroen’s throat from the late-night light inebriated cannonballing in the swimming pool in the language camp. Joe, one of the foreign counselors, celebrated his early farewell party and as one of the Russian parents in the camp invited our entire group over to their table for shashliks and shots, we were bound to end up doing “bombas” in the pool. Jeroen’s health fluctuated up and down in the following weeks as a result, with some positive influences by (1) a collection of medicinal Altai herbs, (2) a highly de-concentrared homeopathic rescue-drop and (3) being taken in by a non-orthodox pelgrimage, though it couldn’t prevent Jeroen from ending up transported out in a beat-up Russian ambulance.
The herbs we got from Irene in Aktash. On the last day of camp we joined the kids on the bus back to Barnaul, but got out on the main road from the exit out of Chemal. We had gotten the tip from Aljona from the language school, that Aktash would be the perfect spot for a few days of unwinding after the camp. Loïc, one of the French volunteers, had similar plans, which meant we were now three! Wondering whether we would all fit with our backpacks into the same car, we enjoyed the sun breaking out through the clouds while waiving friendly to the cars passing by. Not soon after a guy who, as we later learned, had taken a private taxi east of our destination invited us in. It allowed us to sit back, relax and enjoy the astonishing beauty of the continuously changing landscapes through our back seat windows, all the way to Aktash.
There was a small hiccup as we got out of the car, when the taxi-driver insisted us on paying “three”. As we thought it was fair to give him a little bit of gas money, Jeroen reached for 300 Rubles, to which the taxi-driver replied in Russian “thousand, three thousand”. As this was too high of a sum for hitching a ride, we kindly objected, at which point the guy who was actually paying for the ride (and who had invited us in) intervened and assured us we didn’t have to pay. It was the first time we were asked for money at the end of a ride, but it all worked out ok. Funny enough, the same taxi driver passed us by twice while we were hitchhiking in the next few days, both times his car was full, and we even met up with him again when we overtook him at a view point underway.
In Aktash we had found the perfect retreat in Irena’s wonderful guesthouse. We were treated on delicious pastries with home-made raspberry jam and herbal tea and Irene’s friend Tanja and her daughter Polina and son Arseni joined us shortly after as well. By now Jeroen’s cough had crept up to congest his entire head, but Irene took every possible remedy out of her kitchen and bathroom cabinets. From salt-water spray to medicinal ointments and, of course, lots and lots of herbal tea.
With Jeroen’s health on the up again, we set out for a walk with Irene and her son Vasia, Loïc, Tanja, Polina and Arseni to collect wild herbs and mushrooms, which we later prepared into a wonderful meal and captured into a video (which you can find in our film section). We shared a few relaxing morning yoga sessions together (no cobras or cucumbers this time) and felt a little sad to part our ways with everyone. Especially with Loïc after having spent so much time together, but he promised to come visit us someday 🙂
We had seen a smallish lake on our map, which means that in reality it would have to be massive, and Irena told us it is stunning, so that’s where we decided to go. With Jeroen still not a 100%, we found some shade to hitchhike north to Ulagan, where three young local Altai in an old beat-up car picked us up. They have a beautiful language, which sounded much more Asian than Russian, and seemed rather curious about what we were up to. As the guys were rally-driving their old car through the mountains over some very bad roads, only stopping for us to take photos, all of a sudden the car came to an unexpected halt. It turned out we had run out of gas about 5km away from the nearest petrol station. Luckily Jeroen had just filled the gas container for our camping cooker, so we emptied the 600ml of petrol in their tank, in the hopes it would take us to town. But first we had to push the car down the hill to get the engine going again. After all four of us jumped into the moving car, our driver resumed his rally-driving style, to which we immediately indicated that we had to be economical with the little petrol, if we would want to make it to the next petrol station. One of the other guys echoed our concerns, which unfortunately didn’t deter our driver driver from speeding. As we were mostly going downhill, we hoped we would still make it and started envisioning driving up to the petrol station with the last drop of petrol left in the tank. But alas, real-life is not Hollywood, so we came to our second halt, right on the edge of town. So close… After a friend on motorbike brought us some more petrol, the pushing and running started again, but this time the engine didn’t start. After some pointing and staring and pulling on some wires of the engine, a second friend was called over, who showed up in a truck and pulled the car back to life. The whole event probably took around an hour and a half, which only became frustrating when we realised that the petrol station was at the bottom of the other side of the hill. We would have only needed about 500 meters more to make it. Not only that, we could have easily pushed the car for 20 minutes to the top of the hill and let it roll down to the petrol station. Why we did it the hard way, we will never know.
We briefly toyed with the idea to pitch our tent and stay in Ulagan for the night, but we had to get out of town first. There were a few younger people drunkenly walking around in the middle of day, which might be an effect of the lesser perspectives in life in a small rural town, but that’s just guessing on our part. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long to be picked up by Sasha(..?). He was on a bike tour with a friend and would drive his car in our direction to set up their next camp. As the surroundings got more and more impressive, the road got worse and worse and our driving speed went down. We were probably averaging only 20 to 25 km/h, but the views were stunning. Most astonishing was the view on top of a huge cliff, looking down into a valley in the evening sun. The road down there was so steep, that a two-wheel drive wouldn’t be safe, which meant we had to find a new ride. Here we met Irina, Jura, Tanya and her husband, who were on a road trip from Kazakhstan through the Altai mountains. They had a big 4×4 vehicle, with two sofa’s in the back and a flat screen tv. The women didn’t feel too comfortable going down the very narrow and steep road, but neither did we. Especially not after one of the shocks broke off halfway down. But eventually we made it to the bottom, where we continued our way alongside the river in the valley, with some of the most amazing views, accompanied by the sounds of disco-songs blasting through the speakers and the flashing lights of the music clips they were playing on their flatscreen tv. It felt a little like a small version of Russia in itself: beautiful, while full of contradictions.
As the women in the back tried to persuade the men to set up camp (to no avail) we kept on driving at 15 to 20 km/h (the roads wouldn’t allow us to go any faster) till midnight to make it all the way to lake Teletskoye. We felt destroyed after such a long day, but it couldn’t have ended better with us camping on a strip of sandy beach between the bonfires under a sky full of stars. The long day of traveling threw Jeroen’s health back a little, but we could still do some light yoga on the beach the next morning. With no food around, we decided to hop on one of the ferries in the afternoon to take us to the other side of the lake, which is a whopping 78km long and took us 5 to 6 hours, reminding us once more: Russia is big!
The sun on the ferry was melting us away and there wasn’t much left of Jeroen’s yoga warrior pose on the beach that morning. With Jeroen feeling ever worse, it was time to take out the big guns: our homeopathy kit, a present from Thekla, a long friend of Linda’s family and a homeopathic counselor. The “rescue remedy mix“ unfortunately didn’t have its desired effect, but then again, it is more of an emergencies and crises type of healer. Perhaps it did improve Jeroen’s vision though, as he spotted some tents from the ferry alongside the lake: a perfect spot to camp!
It turned out to be the camp of a group orthodox Christians (they prefer the term pravoslavnaya) on a pilgrimage. We were immediately invited by Aleksey, his wife and their friend Igor to join them for dinner, their mass and a concert. They even offered to have their doctor take a look at Jeroen. The hospitality of the group of pilgrims, who were on a 250km hike through the Altai mountains, was incredible and they even surprised us by being willing to talk openly to us about politics, a first with Russians in Russia! Here we also met Sergei, a Russian hitchhiker who was taken in by the religious community as well and with whom we shared some very nice discussions.
Despite the Altai herbal tea from Irene, the homeopathic rescue drops from Thekla and the great food and kindness of the pilgrims, Jeroen was still not feeling well, so we decided to take a break from hitchhiking and take the bus back up north instead. As we tried to break away from our new pilgrim friends, we underestimated the distance to the bus stop. With 500 meters to go, we saw the bus approaching from the bridge to our left. As Jeroen didn’t have the energy, Linda made a run for it, waving to a woman standing next to the bus at the bus stop. The woman didn’t seem to be bothered and as Linda came within 50 meters, the bus drove off, still 2 minutes before departure time. As Linda collapsed together in disbelief, the woman at the bus stop walked off, while pointed with a smug look at her watch…
After some encouraging words, we had our thumbs back in the air. Not soon after, we got a ride from a very friendly couple who drove us all the way to Bisk. It didn’t take us long to overtake the bus, which was a rather satisfying moment 🙂 In Bisk we decided to take a bus to Novosibirsk and spend a few days in a hostel to relax a bit. Jeroen wasn’t feeling too good, so in the hostel we asked about a doctor. It didn’t take long for two nurses to appear who, after a short examination, instructed Jeroen to follow them into the ambulance, which looked like it was an eighties original with a diverse collection of dents and holes after a good 30 years of service. The hospital didn’t look much better, but Jeroen got the full-body check-up with some very old-school looking medical equipment, probably an opportunity for the hospital to cash in on the well-covered insurance policies of a Western European foreigner. Nothing too serious, as the friendly doctor explained in her half-broken German: an acute bronchitis for which Jeroen was given some antibiotics. It made us decide to stay in Novosibirsk a while longer and take the Trans Siberian railway to Irkutsk, a lovely town with beautiful old-style wooden Russian houses, a nice switch from the not so pretty Soviet architecture, although most of these houses were unfortunately in a rather poor condition.
But Jeroen was still struggling with his health and this story desperately needs a happy end, so luckily the magical shamanistic powers of Olkhon island in lake Baikal provided just that. Just dipping your hand into the water of lake Baikal should already lengthen your life by a full year! We wandered onto the beach without much of a plan, when a friendly group of Russian hippies invited us into their camp. One of them was a bit too enthusiastic about the magical powers of the island, as he believed every plant, bush or tree to be magically edible (which he gladly demonstrated to us), but camping there on the beach for 8 days did cure Jeroen from his Altai cough and gave us all the energy we needed to hitch our way back and into Mongolia!
Not to get all too political all of a sudden, we’ll leave that until we leave Russia, but let’s see where such a provocative title could take us.
First, out of Pavlodar, our last Couchsurfing address in Kazakhstan, a country which shares a lot of the same democratic values as its aforementioned big bother. The family we stayed with had some of their own political struggles. They were homeschooling their five children, which is not officially allowed. The mother and kids fled the country to homeschool in India and Nepal and it took the Nepal earthquake for the local school director to urge them to come back and work out a solution.
Much respect to the mother, as she took care of the home and the schooling ánd the Couchsurfer guests. With five kids, two parents, us two and another Couchsurfing guest in a two-bedroom apartment its safe to say that it was an intense two days.
But our journey continued further eastwards, still without much sleep. We happily took the quick and easy option to cross the border back into Russia by train and would have taken a second train or bus further east, but there wasn’t any leaving anytime soon, so we started walking out with our thumbs in the air once more. Not soon after, we were sitting in a car with a mother and her daughter and son on their way to an outdoor church musical recital, to which we were cordially invited. The gathering thunderclouds hadn’t deterred the crowd, consisting mostly of babushkas and dedushkas, but the gusting winds played their part, cracking the sound of the music from the speakers. Linda offered the wind protector of our microphone, which didn’t help them much, but as the rain started coming down it was time to break up the concert anyway.
As we got back in the car, we were spontaneously invited for a small tour through the city of Kulunda, where we learned about the (to that point to us unknown) honeysuckle berries and the local soda lakes. The mother didn’t want to send us out into the light rain, but after some strong convincing on our part we were allowed to leave the car. As a joke, we got all five of us lined up with our thumbs in the air for the next passing car. It must have been a convincing image, as the driver actually stopped. We said our goodbyes and hopped in, hoping to make it to some of the bigger lakes to camp for a few days. Our driver, Ivan, told us he was driving straight to Barnaul, our destination for the upcoming language camp. Hinging back and forth on taking a breather or taking a quick ride into the city, the prospect of heavy rain, salty water, no shower, and many mosquitos, swayed us to stay in our comfortable seats of the big and fast Mercedes SUV. As we were happily chatting away in Russian, all thanks to Google Translate, Ivan was so kind to invite us for the night to his home. After Ivan collected all the groceries, we prepared a wonderful meal together. The local unrefined sun seed oil we used for the salad dressing was amazing and as Jeroen strategically tried to keep his whiskey glass half-full (to not have it refilled), we moved with a bottle of wine, some melon and a guitar to the penthouse balcony, where we spent the rest of the evening with an incredible nighttime view of the city.
After we kindly declined to stay a second night, we made our way to a hostel where we locked ourselves in a room to catch up on some overdue sleep. Here we met a few rather remarkable characters, although they probably thought the same about us, as we would often hear the aroused words Germania and Njemski (German) from behind a corner or a closed door. We decided to not overthink it and made our way to the language school where we met the other volunteers from the UK and France. We spent a few wonderful days with the Russian counselors/cameraman Polina, Anja and Slava (thanks for hosting us!) and the other volunteers in Barnaul, before heading out with about 90 kids to the 10-day language camp in Chemal in the Altai mountains.
To get an idea what it was like to be a camp-counselor, which brings us back to our title of a modern day gulag, we put together a small video, which you can find in our film section (Bad counselor). Of course we weren’t mean to the kids áll the time, but we did have lots and lots and lots and lots of fun. The hardest part was answering questions about whether we like Russia, to which we honestly answered that the country is beautiful and the people are incredibly friendly, while mostly leaving out anything political. Self-censorship is a shameful consequence of an oppressive regime, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re still inside Russia. Did we already say it’s beautiful here?
Outside, behind the windows lies the incredible vastness of the Kazakh steppe. Not a tree in sight, only the blurred line of hills far away. Here and there a herd of horses or cows, a pray bird, and the occasional dusty road. At the moment, however, we cannot see any of this, because the windows of the bus, our last hosts maneuvered us in, are hung shut with curtains. With our deep dive into the Kazakh culture form the day before, the orange curtains come as a welcome change. More on that later, because much has happened on our way here.
We return to Moscow. After hopping and jumping over various motorway crossings, we continued our journey east. First with Olek, a self-proclaimed Russian gangster. We did our best to try and ignore that, to not get involved in any dubious business-deals, and tried not to pay too much attention to the self-made tattoo on the palm of his left hand. Except for the somewhat aggressive style of driving, we felt safe with Olek. Perhaps as he seemed impressed by our fearlessness (we jokingly refered to it as stupidity) to sleep in the wild with our small palatka (tent) between the medved (bears).
Not soon after we would have our first night sleeping behind a petrol station. Not a bear in sight, but plenty of mosquitos militantly buzzing around our heads, forcing us to set up our tent in record time without any discussion on the required amount of tent pegs.
Unfortunately we couldn’t find coffee at the petrol station the next morning, but instead we found Vladimir, who drove us slowly but steadily in a convoy with two trucks to Cheboksary. In no less than 19 days(!) Vladimir accompanied the trucks with farming equipment from the Netherlands to Vladivostock! Why he was driving alongside them in his car we weren’t able to figure out.
We decided to go further south and when we parted ways we camped out beside the motorway once more, luckily without any unwanted visits by bears or wolves. The next morning we met the wonderful Renaz and John who drove us with great enthusiasm to their home town Chistobal, where we were invited by Renaz’ mother to have traditional Tatar sweet and savory delicacies. With their friend Lera, who spoke fluent English and could answer our many questions, we walked around the smallish city. We learned that Tatarstan is the strongest economical region in Russia, with their own language and a 50-50 divide between Muslims and orthodox Christians.
We were invited to stay with Lera in the beautiful Russian-style wooden house of her aunt and uncle. While Lera was doing a top job translating the stories of her aunt from her travels when she was young, we were enjoying the homegrown strawberries from their garden. When Lera and Renaz’ friends came by later that evening, we were pleasantly surprised that instead of vodka, everyone was having tea and shisha.
The next morning we were treated on Blinis (buckwheat pancakes) from Lera’s aunt, after which we were dropped of at the bus station to take us back to the motorway. Here we had our first panic-attack: Jeroen couldn’t find his passport. Renaz and his friend Alina raced back, while Lera tried to convince the bus driver to wait just a few more minutes, when to our great relief Jeroen found his passport tucked away in a small inside compartment of his backpack. After a couple of good-bye pictures, we continued our way east.
From a deserted petrol station we were then picked up by Kamil, who dropped us off at the exit toward Ufa, and showed us in the translation app of his tablet what we have experienced during our trip as well: “All people are inherently good. Sometimes they do bad things, but I still try to see the good in them”. The motto was confirmed not long after, when the cctv camera installer Evgeny took us in for an 850 km drive to Chelyabinsk, only stopping to treat us on Borscht or to show us nice viewing points, although we couldn’t actually see that much, as it was pitch-dark in the middle of the night. While we were trying to teach each other some English and Russian, Evgeny called his wife to organize a train ticket for us to Astana in Kazakhstan. Every week Evgeni drives thousands of kilometers around Russia, which is hard to comprehend when you are from a country as small as the Netherlands.
Not only the size of the country is impressive, the rivers (such as the Wolga) are huge as well, but they all pale in comparison to the size of the Russian women’s high heels. How they effortlessly walk around in shoes with 25 cm heels is beyond us. We spotted only one shoe-related accident, but it didn’t stop the girl in question to bravely continue limping forward in her fashionably high heels.
In contrast to this self-inflicted torture, widespread among Russian women, our stay in the train to Astana was most enjoyable. We spent most of the 1000 km laying down, catching up on some sleep, while enjoying our view of the vast Kazakh steppe. In Astana we found our way to Sergey and Nathalia, who introduced us to the incredible Kazakh hospitality by not only offering us a place to sleep, but also by showing us around the city on bike. The city is an architectural playground, with many exotic buildings scattered across a Soviet-style infrastructural city, which was nothing but steppe before it was made the new capital city of Kazakhstan about 15 years ago. In winter, the temperature can drop to below minus 40 degrees Celsius and during snowstorms, the police closes down the city to prevent high-risk and costly rescue operations from people that get stuck in the snow. Something that was hard for us to imagine, while cruising through the city in our slippers and t-shirts. It didn’t turn out to be our last taste of the Kazakh hospitality.
As we continued our journey, we noticed that another pronounced trait of the Kazakhs is their curiosity. Many drivers, even those who were going in the other direction, stopped to ask us what we were up to. Fortunately, we’ve learned by now how to explain our travel plans in Russian. Not soon after we were taken in by a driver who was incredibly friendly to us, until he suspiciously asked whether we were “globalization agents” and proceeded to express strong nationalistic tendencies as well as his rather pronounced homophobia. We felt somewhat flattered to be seen as agents, but were also a little sad. To Europe he would not want to travel, since all people were gay. In addition, the Netherlands is a drug-infested country. We decided to think of Kamil’s motto: “All people are inherently good, but sometimes they do bad things…”.
Our driver tried to convince us not to continue on our planned route along small roads, but to go with him to the closest bigger city, as there would be more traffic. But we were looking for adventure and decided to try our luck. After waiting for half an hour at the crossroads of a dusty road and not a single car passing by, we slowly lost heart. We had some entertainment though, with a stranded bus on the side of the road full of curious Kazakhs who, after some hesitation and initial reluctance, decided to come over and ask us about our trip.
Fortunately, one of the many small police stations was located near by, so we walked up to one of the police officers. We learned that our preferred route was not so bad, but with a desperately gesticulating “nje machina” (no car) we made it clear that we had been rather unsuccessful thus far. The friendly policeman then offered to drive us over the deserted road to a better crossing. After a few unsuccessful attempts he managed to get the engine going and so we drove with blue lights further in the direction of Pavlodar, cheerfully waving at the guys of the bus
The new intersection also lent itself much better for hitchhiking and after two short rides we got in the car with Sertay and Alma, who gave us enough experiences for an entire week in just one day, which brings us to our second story of the amazing Kazakh hospitality. Sertay and Alma did not seem to be bothered by our inability to speak Russian and happily chatted away at us. We mostly nodded and smiled, trying to catch a word or two from what they were saying. They invited us over for tea and lunch with their relatives in a nearby village and while we enjoyed the excellent fish, we tried as hard as we could to scrape together the little Russian we know, to try and communicate with them. As we later drove further up toward Pavlodar we passed a group of guys on horses in the steppe. Sertay hit the brakes and drove up to them to ask what they were up to. Immediately we were involved as advertising models in a promotional film for a national park. We were interviewed and asked to say “Kazakhstan chorosho” (Kazakhstan is good) many times. Linda got her head wrapped with a flag of the national park and was then hoisted up a horse, all carefully registered on camera.
When we finally arrived around 6pm in Sertay and Alma’s small village Radnikovsky, located in the middle of the steppe along the Irtysh-Karaganda channel, which supposedly runs all the way from China to Russia, we were even invited to spend the night. Sertay immediately put an end to the last aspirations we had to try and be vegetarian, when he said “bèh” and “shish kebab” a couple of times with a twinkle in his eyes while sliding a finger across his throat. As we tried our best to convince them not to go through so much trouble for us, more and more people from the village came round to have a glimpse at the tourists, word got around quickly. Luckily Gulmira dropped by as well, their daughter in law who spoke perfect English. She took us on a walk through the small village, and told us about her wedding from a few months ago (in Kazakhstan it’s not a wedding unless at least 300 guests are invited) as well as the challenges and beauties of getting used to her new life in the countryside. She also treated us on some kind of horse-buttermilk, which tasted rather interesting and unusual. We both obediently drank up.
When we returned from our walk, Sertay sat calmly on his garden bench and we were already hoping that we had simply misunderstood him. Our hope was quickly shattered when we entered the kitchen with a carved up lamb lying before Alma on the kitchen table. Sertay had probably diplomatically sent us away to not burden the faint-hearted souls of us Western Europeans. We imagined to still see a few hastily wiped away blood spatters on the wall.
So a feast was prepared and a few other people from the village came by to see the new village attraction, according to Gulmira we were the first tourists to have ever visited their village. Alma was running around the kitchen with a dough roller and head scarf in her hair to not only prepare the shashlick, but also a traditional horse-sausage and a Kazakh dish made with dough.
We ate and drank, with the poor Gulmira serving as our translator, as Sertay repeatedly uttered short speeches about friends and hospitality, to which a new glass of vodka was raised each time. It was an incredible party and when we finally went to sleep, Sertay even tried to apologize to us for not finding the time to heat up the sauna.
After a solid breakfast the next morning we were then maneuvered into the bus, because our hosts wouldn’t allow us to simply stand and wait next to the road. Behind the orange curtains we left Sertay and Alma’s family in deep gratitude. We have now arrived in Pavlodar where we were spontaneously invited by couchsurfers Yura and Svetlana and their five cute little kids. Some sleep would be really good now.
As quickly as we made it from the outskirts of Kiev to Moscow, we managed in one day, so slowly did we move in between. We had only planned to stay in Moscow for 3 nights, and yet we have been here a week already. Partly due to the unfriendly nature of the Russian visa requirements, here we are degraded as a tourist to a mere “Input”, but more on that later.
First: Kiev. We were warned that it is no easy hitchhiking destination from Odessa, although it seemed straightforward enough on the map. But as we took turns waving our КИЕВ (Kiev) sign, smiling to the cars passing by and flashing the red and blue of our bright colored ponchos while walking up to people at a nearby petrol station with our best “privjet” (hi), we gave in to the rain and the temptation of a nice warm seat on a bus. It also got us in time to our next Couchsurfing address with Sonya and her fluffy (definitely not fat) cat Ted and her pet snail Isha. Not soon after, Jeroen was unsuccessfully running after Ted to get him to perform on video, while Linda was showering Isha on her hand in the sink. Ted was not amused by Jeroen’s frantics, but, as far as body language goes for snails, Isha was having an awesome time.
As did we. Kiev is a beautiful city and Sonya showed us some of it’s most beautiful places. After sharing a nice Warenyky meal (see our film section), we were on our way to the biggest country in the world: Russia!
The tip we got from hitchwiki.org was “Do not accept any rides to the city of Brovary, as there will be no useful spots to hitchhike along the road”. We felt confident we had communicated perfectly where we needed to go. Not soon after, we were dropped off in Brovary.
As the rain started coming down in buckets we decided to make the most out of it and find a cheap hotel. In this rather smallish city we felt we couldn’t possibly miss out on something. So like Isha, we decided to curl up in our little home and stay inside, which turned out to be so comfortable, that we decided to take things easy and stay two more nights. Lo and behold when we went for a walk on the third day, Brovary was putting Transnistria to shame in all it’s old Soviet glory, with wide streets, big arches, fighter plains in parks and a selection of battle tanks for children to play on.
But we were on our way to Russia, so to Russia we must go. With the help of Larissa and her husband and the incredible friendliness of Sascha to make a big detour for us and drive us all the way to the border, we seemed to have refound our speed again. Although the momentum was abruptly halted, when we got to the Russian side of the border portal. For no apparent reason we were left standing, melting like a slug in the blazing sun, until finally, we were allowed to enter the “Input” line for Russia. After the final necessary recitation of famous Dutch and German football players with the last border patrol, we had made it into the land of 11 time zones: Russia.
We quickly got back up to speed again when Andrew 1 and Andrew 2 picked us up, as they were on their way to where we wanted to go: Moscow! We don’t know how many of our nine lives we lost on that journey, but somehow we managed to come out alive. Andrew 2 told us: “don’t worry, this is Russian style of driving”, which made us wonder why we were the only ones overtaking others. Andrew 1, while overtaking someone on the right, reassured us; “I did a safety test for driving many years ago, I have a certificate”. Well, why don’t you just unfasten your seat belt, close your eyes and get some sleep, this man has got a certificate…
As we got off our hot tin roof, we refound our slower, more comfortable pace again and had a great time exploring the city of Moscow with Couchsurfer Fedor and his two little sisters. The sisters, around 9 and 14 years old, were pushed by their big brother to speak English with us, in full sentences. When we asked whether they liked cats, a simple yes or no was not cutting it. Fedor forced them to correctly repeat the question and to reply in whole sentences, “they may not like me now, but they will thank me for it later”. We think they enjoyed it quite a bit and as soon as both got over their initial shyness, they really got going. Our favorite one, was: “What is your hobby?” The nine year old: “I like old pre-revolution buildings… at night”.
And when we found out that the visa hassle back home and at the border was not good enough for good old Putin, we need to register in the first city we enter ánd in each city where we stay for more than 7 days, we decided to once again curl up in our little home and take it easy, while waiting for the necessary paper work to come through.