July 1, 2011
Picture this: A London pub, Czech Budweiser beer in Kurgan, Russia. Now is that cosmopolitan or what? Our hotel seems very Russian, but not in a bad way. We actually have a suite with overstuffed furniture covered in dark brown velvet. We had to plug in the water heater to get hot water and it was only after my lukewarm shower that we noticed. Our babushka sits at her desk by the elevator and doesn’t smile, although she was very helpful when Ed gave me the car key instead of the room key when I went up to get my camera! Of course I didn’t notice until I climbed the four flights of stairs. Do you think we’re tired at the end of the day? I do remember that our 'Welcome to Russia' dinner included red caviar and champagne.
We crossed the border from Kazakhstan into Russia today. Nothing like crossing from China into Kazakhstan. That was a nightmare of waiting. That crossing took seven hours and with only 15 minutes until the border closed, did our cars come through. Today we arrived at the Kazakhstan border about 10:00 a.m. and we were through both borders by 11:35 a.m. The wood houses with their blue and white trim and neat fences are everywhere and as much a part of Eastern Russia as the groves of birch trees.
Other than long lines of trucks, it had nothing in common with the last crossing. Lots of picture-taking smiling guards, but still the ever-present sniffing German shepherds. We really felt we experienced the setting described in The Long Road to Paris on pages 230-237. We didn’t have Vald to help us, but we did have Egor, our Kazan guide. We were met by John and Tatiana our Russian guides. Tatiana will go all the way to Paris with us.
It’s a small world. In western China we met Chuck Brown from Kernersville, N.C. Today the driver of our support van was wearing a UNC Tar Heel shirt! Through John I learned he had been the driver for a group of scientists from UNC (and elsewhere). He was eager to have a photo taken with us when he learned that both Ed and I had taught there.
So Russia. We were here in 2009 on the train from Vladivostok to Moscow, but driving this country is different. Roads so far are much like Kazakhstan, mostly two-lane highways with lots of bumps and dips but drivers are much more aggressive. If I can remember my skills from China I’ll do alright.
Car update: Stewball has a black eye. Yup, somewhere in Kazakhstan, something (bird or rock) broke the glass in the left front headlight. The official story will be bird since that is what happened to Schuster in 1908. The first day it burned alright but now no light at all. Both in Kazakhstan and Russia you have to run with headlights on in the daytime as well as night. The traffic police in Kazakhstan didn’t seem to care, we saw many cars with only one headlight. The only thing we get pulled over for is to satisfy the curiosity of the highway police and give them a chance to see the cars close up. However, we have learned this is not the case in Russia. Tatiana will see if she can locate one in Ekaterinburg but Ed is doubtful. We have been in touch with Klaus, our rally friend from Germany who will meet us in Vilnius, Lithuania and hopefully he will have tracked down a new headlight. If not, Ed is sure we can find one in Berlin.
Tomorrow is the run to Ekaterinburg, then a day off to visit this interesting city with the Church of Blood that stands at the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1918.