Archive for February, 2013

The Beginning…

Posted: February 10, 2013 by geeza11 in Uncategorized

So it has almost begun…

Tomorrow we ride out of Irbit at 12pm on our late 1970s Desert Sand coloured Ural Motorcycle that apparently has been completely refurbished and is as good as new, but then a new bike doesn’t take 10 kicks to get it going and isn’t noted to be “the most difficult to start” it may be a long trip to say the least.

The past weekend has been a drop in the deep end of riding motorcycles through ice and snow. If you use the front brake, the wheel instantly locks up and you have no steering, so that is out of the question. The back break is on its way out and as before applying breaks means skidding a lot. So pretty much stopping quickly is something of a dream. But the bikes are an amazing amount of fun to drive. Today we took them through their paces at a motocross track, sliding around corners and getting stuck in snow drifts. One major problem with having a sidecar is that when turning right (it is on the right side of the bike) the sidecar wants to flip you all the way over and turn you into a road and Ural sandwich, something that isn’t fun! But it can be overcome by the person in the sidecar leaning over to move the weight further out and make it more stable. Ruts are also a big problem and so are hills, as the rear tyre begins to slip!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Don’t let that worry you though, as long as you drive sensibly the bike will try and behave itself and respect your decision not to plough into a snow drift or large russian truck. The weekend hasnt all been about riding motorcycles. We visited the Ural factory as well as the museum and were stunned that literally one guy was making the whole bike. We’ve seen Russian folk dancing whilst eating a traditional Russian meal and we’ve gone ice swimming and sleigh riding. It certainly has been a packed weekend!

It all gets serious tomorrow though. We leave at 12 and are hoping to make a 300km journey to just past a town called Tavda where we hope to camp for the night. Should be interesting! We’re the only team with a map so have been lending a hand to try and work out the best possible route. It will take us in a Northeast direction and from Tavda we follow a railway up to Uray before main roads again up until Nyagan. From there we meet up with the ice road and then it is 600km of no petrol stations to Salekhard. We’ll be finishing in a ski resort just outside Salekhard where the two week forecast has shown temperatures form -30 to -40 for the days when we will arrive. How fun!

For now, we both feel prepared and are confident that, with common sense and determination we will be able to make it and live to tell the tale. We’ll try and keep you updated, remember this is Europe so there’s better telephone signal than some major cities in Australia. We can also leave a voice recording either from our phones or even the sat phone, so be ready for those. We’ll be sure to update you and tell you where we’ve been so keep on checking up on us. There’s also a live tracking that you can follow if you just click on Tracking at the top of the page and follow that to the adventurists website. But now I must get sleep so I will be alert and ready for the big day tomorrow!

Thanks everyone for your support, and we’ll see you on the other side!

Guy and Patrick

Advertisements

Moscow!

Posted: February 10, 2013 by geeza11 in Uncategorized

Welcome back readers to one of the last posts about our time gallivanting around major Russian cities. I will however continue to update you on our progress towards the Arctic Circle as long as there is some form of phone signal or satellite coverage where we camp for the night, which apparently there is in the middle of Siberia, but I digress. So here I go describing our short but extremely fulfilling time in Moscow and subsequently Yekaterinburg.

After what we thought was an extreme number of early starts (3), we had decided to book an afternoon train to Moscow from St Petersburg. The train was an incredible piece of engineering and formed part of the high-speed train network across Russia. It was classy, clean and spacious inside yet reached speeds in excess of 250km/h turning a 700km journey into three hours and fifty minutes of smooth jazz fun, although no free Wi-Fi L. The late start and quick trip made it much more enjoyable and we hopped off in Moscow feeling rather refreshed. One more crazy taxi ride later and we had arrived at the hostel. Once again very clean and friendly though the mornings proved to be interesting with only one toilet and shower for 20 people. We then did our usual thing and moseyed around the main streets in town and ended up in the extremely pretty Red Square. Bordered by the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral (dome church #2), an expensive and very ornate shopping centre and the red buildings at the entrance it makes for an impressive sight. After spending some time taking in the city we returned to the hostel and planned out the next day.

With so much to see and do in Moscow we decided to add a bit of risk/time pressure and woke up at 11. First of all we decided to visit the Kremlin and Armoury inside. The walls of the Kremlin are an impressive red and stand out against the white snow that covers most everything. Inside there are ranges of old and new government buildings but a somewhat lower standard than the rest of the incredible city! We then visited this ridiculously grand and overpriced shopping centre before checking out an array of 15th-17th century Royal clothes, settings, carriages etc. Rather impressive.

He following day we had a rather funny experience in this sushi bar. In broken Russian we ordered a meal and a water/tea each being on a budget and all that. First of all two waters and two pots of tea came out. Upon asking why the double up, he spoke some crazy Russian and gestured he couldn’t refund it. So we were like fair enough, but then came two bowls of udon noodles and our confusion too. The waiters were having a not so sneaky laugh at the back. Finally we decided to lay down the law when my dish came out double as well and we said we wouldn’t take it no matter what. But when the waiter pointed out the largish sign that said 1+1=1, i.e. two for one, we felt we probably should take it. Awkward. It did however get us very cheap vodka and made for a great afternoon. That night we then visited a very classy bar in Moscow owned by Denis Simachev. They made any cocktail you wanted and at whatever time of the day. You could come in at 6am or 3pm and order a martini. It was a very nice bar and we returned there the next morning for some delicious breakfast too, minus the alcohol!

On our final day in Moscow we once again woke up late and then visited St Basil’s Cathedral. It is recognizable by the huge coloured domes that stand out against the horizon when viewed from afar. The inside was very interesting and certainly contained a lot of history. That night we had bought tickets for a Russian folk dancing concert called “Sadko”. There was an orchestra and dancers that performed the classic Russian dances and songs. It also taught us that the Tetris theme music is based on a Russian folk song as the game was developed in Russia. We then had that stuck in our heads for days. Rather catchy!

That pretty much sums up our time in Moscow. It is a very beautiful city and has so many things to see and do! I’ve kept it brief because it’s late and we’ll be starting the long journey North through snow and ice tomorrow but I hope this has provided some insight!

Guy and Patrick

CAN HAZ PHOTOS?

Posted: February 7, 2013 by blinkenzomg in Uncategorized

You can: we have them! I’ve been uploading photos to http://flickr.com/blinken and Guy is uploading them to Facebook or wherever, if that’s your thing. Here are some of my favorites, but keep an eye on the Flickr page for the latest.

I was going to finish with a witty pun, but after reading the post below for the first time I think if we upload any more puns today WordPress will literally set fire to our blog. So, sorry about that.

Tram, Yekaterinburg: where we are now. They have trams, buses, trolley buses *and* a subway. In a city the size of Perth.

Tram, Yekaterinburg: where we are now. They have trams, buses, trolley buses *and* a subway. In a city the size of Perth.

Red Square in Moscow. Kremlin to the left, behind the big white domey thing. GUM fancy-pants department store to the left, behind the temporary ice skating rink. St Basil's Cathedral in the centre.

Red Square in Moscow. Kremlin to the right, behind the big white domey thing. GUM fancy-pants department store to the left, behind the temporary ice skating rink. St Basil’s Cathedral in the centre.

Market shopping in St Petersburg, with the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in the background. Very pretty. I bought a cool camera and a USSR-replica hipflask (I passed on the KGB one), Guy picked up some neat replica Russian space program badges.

Market shopping in St Petersburg, with the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in the background. Very pretty. I bought a cool camera and a USSR-replica hipflask (I passed on the KGB one), Guy picked up some neat replica Russian space program badges.

I’ll leave it at that, but check out the photos if you get a chance – click on any of the pictures above or see http://www.flickr.com/photos/blinken/sets/72157632663440077/with/8448707778/ for a convenient index page.

Yours in Russia-ness,

Patrick

From Russia With Love

Posted: February 6, 2013 by geeza11 in Uncategorized

Good evening once again,

This time I’m writing from our smallish hostel located just off the main street in Moscow, however time is always ticking and my keyboard not forever tapping so I’ll have to give you a quick rundown on the beautiful town of St Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) and then later on find somewhere to begin for Moscow. Only a week now until we start the Ice Run proper as well, rather chilling! But for now I’ll put some words together for you depicting our brief time in The Palmyra of the North (let’s hope the name refers to the Ancient City).

With so much luggage – 1 x 17kg bag each, 1 x 20kg duffel, 2 x back packs, and 2 x helmets (with some read dye they could easily look like a bagged head) – catching any form of transport is always slightly rushed and stressful, quite similar to our first experience in St Petersburg, Russian(ed) and somewhat stressful. We jumped off the train, walked the wrong way off the platform, before making the walk of shame back past a number of Russian soldiers to the sound of their jolly laughter. Once outside the inner tourist really blossomed. Having already heard about the large number of black cabs in Russia (unregistered taxis) and the convention of bargaining down the price before hand, we proceeded to completely forget and load all our bags into one, then asked the price upon arrival and were told that it would cost 2300 rubles or 74AUD. Sometimes you learn the hard way in life. But with that out of the way and all our stuff safely in our room we decided to get out onto the streets. It was a good chance for Patrick to practice the Russian he had learnt previously and it was very helpful in ordering our food and navigating our way through the streets. At first Cyrillic can seem daunting however, it is rather simple and all the words are phonetic so no silly silent bs, ts, or ps.

The rest of the first day here saw us climb to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral (big domey church thing) however our bad luck for the day continued as after ascending to the top of the dome, enjoying the amazing view over the town and descending the 270 steps to the bottom Patrick realized that he couldn’t find his second wallet containing a large sum of euros and fresh rubles. We tried going back up the exit, but were shouted at in Russian by some guards so presumed that it might be best to leave. Patrick then bought another ticket and climbed the whole cathedral again but to no avail. Some investigative work looking through photos revealed that his bag had in fact been open and our races up the steps may not have been the best idea. We then did our usual aimless but very insightful wandering and absorbed as much as we could, from the Cyrillic to the Russian culture and intricate architecture on the buildings. It is certainly a country very proud of its language and heritage and we found that it wasn’t that they couldn’t speak English they just assumed you would have learnt Russian, an attitude very different to the Finnish and most other European countries. The rest of the day was fairly relaxed and after waking up at 3:15am were fairly tired and decided (after going to a pub) to go to bed to get some rest for the next few days of relaxation oppan Russian style.

The Hermitage was one of the big things on our list as it apparently houses more artwork than the Louvre even with over 20 million pieces in storage. Inside is a labyrinth of corridors and rooms all ornately decorated in gold and artwork. At first with no map we managed to get completely lost and I swear we saw the same vase/sled at least 5 times, although a very nice sled at that. The attendants were also giving us some odd looks. Crazy tourists. Finally after at least an hour we found a map and got less lost. There were some incredible paintings there by Matisse, Cézanne, van Gogh and Picasso along with the amazing Tsar era items intricately carved out of wood/bone/gold etc. One thing that stood out was a clock about the size of a small shed, completely out of gold. On the hour, the three animals inside, peacock, owl and mouse would come to life moving their head/wings. Nowadays not such a big deal, but the lifelike movement is achieved through just some wind up springs and was designed in the 18th Century. Clearly no expense spared on the construction! I’m sure the peasants would have completely understood, Kings can’t rule properly without their gold toilet seat! Unfortunately Patrick had come down with a nasty cold so we decided it was best to head back and have a restful afternoon/early night so he could have a quick recovery and get straight back into it the next day.

And we certainly did. Patrick had recovered well and we soon found ourselves admiring the incredible mosaics inside the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the place where Tsar Alexander III was exploded (great church pun: How do churches make holy water? They boil the hell out of it). Not just shot or stabbed or hung or quartered or whatever they did in those days but actually exploded. Hmm messy. We then ventured into the awesome souvenir market and bargained our way through lots of different soviet era memorabilia and millions of babushka dolls. I managed to pick up some awesome space badges and Patrick a camera, flask and some other interesting items. The Russian Museum was next on our list and exposed an important era in Soviet Art. After getting back to the hostel, we decided it was time to come out of our six bed dorm and actually converse seeing as we hadn’t been out much due to illness and it was well worth it! The kitchen had been taken over by a number of ISIC students from all parts of the world. They made a dish from each of their countries. We made some overcooked pasta with what we thought was tomato sauce but turned out to be 99% capsicum 1% tomato. What had us gagging they seemed to be enjoying with smiles…sort of. Clearly Australia was well represented. We can be thanked later. But then the Brazilians showed us some of their funk and then did a quick samba lesson! Awesome fun. Most of them had come to visit and use the kitchen but once they had all left we went out to a bar with these guys from Turkmenistan and Brazil, turned out to be a very interesting night after all!

Our final day in St Petersburg we visited the sea fortress and pretty much froze. Once again wind chill was a big factor which may be sort of worrying considering it was -3C and we’ll be riding in -20C. Let’s hope we can acclimatise…

Well we have actually made it through Moscow and are currently in Yekaterinburg and will be staying here two nights before moving off to Irbit.

Only four days until we leave now, so we’re both getting pretty excited and a touch nervous at what lies ahead. I’ll leave it at that and hope to finish off writing up our time in Moscow shortly.

Hope you’re all keeping warm, and during our trip we’ll be able to update our blog via voice and text so should be interesting.

From Russia with love,

– Guy and Patrick

IMG_2010

SIBERIAAAA! The place to be!

Posted: February 6, 2013 by blinkenzomg in Uncategorized

That will be all, thankyou.

-Patrick

PS. Guy sez he has more blogs coming soon, because he’s less lazy than me.

PPS. (We’re in Siberia)

To Russia and Beyond!

Posted: February 1, 2013 by geeza11 in Uncategorized

So this post was meant to be up and running a fair while ago, but maybe putting “Tsar” in our name wasn’t the best idea as we haven’t actually been able to access our website…In Russia internet use you! But with the wonders of a few taps and clicks from Patrick we will now keep you up to date with all the tasty packets of information from our adventure. Anyways, this is what I had written all those days ago on the train as it twisted and turned its way, like a headless snake writhing away from the two headed eagle, into Russia and from there we shall begin…

Hei, moi, Привет, hello!

The past few days certainly have been a whirlwind of snow, walking and a myriad of weird and wonderful European languages. We’re currently on the train to St Petersburg travelling through the snow covered countryside. The train left at the inspiring time of 5:15 meaning a 3:15 wake up 30min trek through snow with all our luggage and a half hour wait at the station. But the jet lag certainly helped out here and with St Petersburg two hours ahead we should be back to normal soon. So here goes, I’ll try and give a brief account of the pretty awesome experiences we’ve had over the 118 hours prior (seems short when you put it like that).

I’ll begin where I last left you (so many flashbacks), embracing the refreshing air of the reheated pizza at Perth Airport. We got a bit lost and went to the wrong gate on the other side of the airport, but luckily there was thirty minutes until our plane left and we managed to arrive at the correct one with…thirty minutes to spare (What is this?! An airport for ants?!..no just FIFO). It was close. One point I would like to state again is the kindness/awesomess of the lady at the QANTAS check-in counter. She went out of her way to get us exit row seats, which made the flight all that much better! Singapore airport was at least three times as big and we were glad we had the three hours between connecting flights. The most interesting part about the 17.5 hours of flying was the heated argument this couple were having on our left in Finnish, that and the guy behind us wearing a GoPro strapped to his head for a decent part of the trip. Anyway with the flying out of the way it was time to embrace the Architecture in Helsinki (#32 of that joke).

We jumped off the plane grabbed our bags, flashed our passports, got a stamp for being awesome and then headed out to the icy cold in our super bright matching red and green mid layer jackets at 6am. How dandy! Almost every taxi was a late model Mercedes, BMW or Volkswagen and the fare matched the tailored suit the driver wore as well. However we weren’t worrying about that, because outside there was an obscene amount of snow covering literally everything, not figuratively at all. The roads even after all the snow ploughs and salt were still layered in slush, though apparently 120km/h is still safe. $100 later we had arrived outside the Hostel Erottajanpuisto. It was a very quaint building and the hostel was on the second floor with big wooden doors and high ceilings. After placing our bags down we kitted up in our limited gear and decided to face to the cold to find something to eat, much easier said than done.

With the Sun rising at 8:41 it makes sense that nothing, not even a breakfast cafe opens until 9. However we only discovered this after walking around in -5 with no gloves or thermals for a couple of hours until they did. Albeit it was a damn good hot chocolate when we finally got it! The rest of the day we spent walking and exploring the city. It’s a mix of the extremely upmarket boutique and designer shops as well as some large department stores, I would imagine that the Mercedes and BMW dealerships are somewhat busy all the time. The buildings vary from the incredibly old to new with crazy architecture (I refrained there). There are some amazing churches there, from the era of Russian occupation built completely from red bricks and adorned with gold spires. Very beautiful when covered in snow! One of the highlights of this first day was walking across the frozen port and wandering around ships trapped in the ice. On one side were these guys ice-fishing and the other were people walking dogs as you do on the port. We also saw one lady jump straight into a hole in the ice in her bathers for a refreshing dip. With a long day behind us, and realising that it was actually Australia day we decided to have Nepalese…But then, with a number of other Australians, headed to the Aussie bar and shared a few beers there. Imported VB tastes much better than in Australia, and serving it ice cold only requires a quick walk outside. We finally headed home at 7:30 and were in bed at 8:30. We go hard.

Off the coast of Helsinki is an Island fortress covering 80 hectares and 8 islands, the only way to visit said fortress is by going in a ferry and breaking through the sea ice. It makes for a very interesting journey filled with wonderful loud thuds on the hull and cracking, ever hoping that these sounds and shudders are the not in fact the ice breaker becoming ice broken. But we made it across live and well and ventured out into the maze of walls and small streets. One of the most striking features was the light pink wall of the first building surrounded by dark leafless trees and snow, dappled in sunlight. We managed to almost freeze to death on the far end of the island although our new coats were dealing with the wind somewhat better than before. We followed these mystical signs halfway across the island looking for a café, that according to the guidebook “served the best warm apple pie and hot chocolate.” But after pretty much getting frostbite from our necks upwards (talk about a brainfreeze), lo and behold the warm tasty pizza place and apple crumble café were closed. Seriously who only serves apple pie in summer. After sailing the good ship Icebreaker (not actually it’s name) back and just being general hooligans around snow we returned to our hostel and went to bed even later – 9:15! But not without stopping by a couple of bars and being passed notes written on the back of a postcard for a government advertising campaign to reduce slips and falls in Finnish. Who knew Liukuesteitä could mean lube by simply crossing out –esteitä and replacing it with –voiteita. Ah Finnish how witty you are!

At the top right it reads "I am a Puma!"

At the top right it reads “I am a Puma!”

The following day required another brisk wake up and chilly walk to the port for our ferry  across to Estonia, as you do. Never having been on a cruise ship, it was a marvel to be able to go for a quick shop at the supermarket or buy an expensive watch or both. Whatever floats your boat I guess! Other than that the trip went swimmingly and soon we were meandering our way around 500 year old battlements, and climbing up tiny staircases to the somewhat hard to find mulled wine. A good advertising tip is to put the sign for your tasty drink/meal at the bottom of a number of ladder climbs so by the time the customer gets to the top he/she doesn’t have many other options – a defibrillator may have been a good addition too…! We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day there and even stumbled across an abandoned Soviet concert hall with steps that rather than lead to the entrance actually take you completely over the top of the building and make you walk away. In Russia you don’t go to concert, concert go to you!

Anyways after that we pretty much caught the ferry back, had some dinner, woke up early (3:30am) and caught a train to St Petersburg which brings you back to where this story started. Make sure to keep an eye on the page as I’ll fill you in with all the juicy gossip of our time in St Petersburg, which may or may not include samba, vodka and some crazy brazilian funk!

до свидания

Guy and Patrick

Selfie #42