Sept. 17 (Volgograd)

Sept. 17 (Volgograd)

This morning after yummy hotel breakfast (I went for foods like fried eggs or yoghurt that could be slurped up without chewing) I decided to take my Dad’s advice and look for a dentist here. What better place to suffer than in a city that has already seen so much suffering, I thought. But actually it turned out to not be any suffering at all. The hotel receptionists kindly phoned around for me to find an English speaking dentist, and then sent me there with the hotel shuttle bus! How is that for service? Additionally it turned out that we are able to stay in our room for an additional night.

The dentist I was taken to was Dr. Mihail Slutskiy, and his dental center “Lasur”. The pleasant surprises came one after another: The clerks and assistants were clearly experienced middle aged ladies rather than the teenage helpers one often finds back home in Zurich who sometimes make a totally illiterate impression. Second, I was asked to pull one way booties over my shoes. A Swiss dentist would have let me put my shoes which have spent days trampling through Mongolian pastures in horse and cow dung on his dentist chair. Finally, the doctor spoke quite good English, and he took his time to discuss at length the treatment strategy, as well as our motorbike journey so far. Back home dentists are always in a crazy rush, so bad that they often don’t wait for the anesthetic injection to fully activate before starting to drill! This was not a problem here, I got a full 15 minutes for that, meaning that there was no pain at all during the procedure. Actually this procedure was performed by a colleague lady-dentist (I am sorry but I did not get her name) who the doctor said had more frequent recent experience with doing endodontic therapy. And guess how much I paid them for all this? 2100 Rubles!!

So the tooth is now open to drain. I got antibiotics and stronger pain killers, and was told to rinse the hole after each meal with salt water. The plan is that I find a dentist in the Ukraine who can finish the job by sealing the tooth. While I did take a pain killer tablet as a precaution, right now the tooth does not hurt, which is great. I am not sure what is the minimum or maximum time to wait before sealing the tooth, but I think it would be ideal to get this done in Kiev. I am going to try to create an appointment at a Kiev dentist over the next days.

After the dentist I met up with Jerome and we went to check out the Mamayev Kurgan and the Panorama museum. I will post pictures soon. Tomorrow we have a very long trip into the Ukraine on the program. We hope to sleep in Luhansk, or somewhere nearby.



































































Sept. 16 (Volgograd)

We are in hotel Yuzhiniy in Volgograd. We’d like to stay here for two nights, unfortunately the hotel only had a room for one. We’ll see if someone cancels tomorrow morning.

The way here was pure torture. First of all, the tooth pain got much worse, I took a total of 600 mg of Nurofen (and more recently, a liter of beer) today to make it somewhat tolerable. I can hardly eat, even chewing on the opposite side hurts a lot. Second, it was raining all day. The road from Saratov to Volgograd was mostly OK, but there were some sections “under construction” where one had to drive in sand, which has turned to slippery mud. It is quite exciting to drive on a really unstable surface at 80 km/h with a big rigs coming just behind us. Fear of death came up as a conversation topic today. The weather was actually downright evil. We had a lunch break at a gas station when the rain stopped and the sun started shining. I took off my rain overall and rain gloves at that point because they were unwieldly, lose fitting, and the high winds (did I mention there were crazy strong cross winds the whole day?) were always trying to grab me by the flapping overall and toss me into the oncoming traffic. An hour later of course it was pouring again, and without the rain garb I was soaked to the underpants within minutes. And that’s how I drove another two hours or so to the hotel. During such a day I contemplated haunting questions such as “have I really run out of better things to do with my time” or “at 35 years old, have I already exhausted all forms of pleasure available, such that I voluntarily chose to suffer such punishment”, etc…

We stopped to take pictures of the Volga at an opportune spot anyway.

The last hour was as usual spent in bumper to bumper city traffic on horrible flooded city streets, which often have even more dangerous situations arising due to impatient, speeding locals than the hours of highway riding. I was so tired getting off the bike at the hotel that I fell over.

We did find a nice restaurant where I had a steak, and Jerome shared his supply of Algifor Forte with me, so in the end I am happy — we accomplished our goal for today, so it was a good day.




























Sept. 15 (Saratov)

We decided to go to Saratov instead, because we’d like to see Volgograd (Stalingrad) tomorrow. The nice thing about riding around the world with your own motorbike is that you can change your itinerary at a moment’s notice.

There was no hotel breakfast — the hotel Ural was utter crap, the ruins of a soviet era hotel, perhaps it once had some glory days — so in the morning we visited the bazaar behind the hotel. There we bought some water, tomatoes, bananas, and a melon. I wanted to try a Kazakh watermelon for some days now as they are being sold everywhere along the road. The man who sold it to us told me that he did his military service in Hungary, and knew a few words in Hungarian. The melon was very sweet despite being a tad overripe already. The toothache got a bit better since yesterday but it flares up every time I eat something. Good thing we hardly eat during the day.

After that we used my portable pump to inflate our tires … the bumpy roads have caused them to lose about a quarter of their pressure since Mongolia. Then we set off toward the Kazakh-Russian border which was surprisingly painless.

We drove through what seemed like endless sunflower fields to get to Saratov. If the Beetles had been from Saratov Raion, I bet they would have sung about ‘sunflower fields forever’. Everything is enormous here.

We crossed the Volga to get to Saratov. The Volga is …. huge! I am sorry for repeating myself. This city on the Volga shore is reminding both of us of Nice. We are staying in hotel Slovakia (very posh, the first hotel we stay in that has a western standard of quality) on the shore promenade, which really seems like a sea shore. There are massive ships on the river here…like ocean cargo ships.













Sept. 14 (Uralsk)

Visited the Aliya museum in Aktobe this morning; left the city atthat noon. We rode all day for about 500 kms, reaching Uralsk by dark. The road conditions were excitingly varied, met lots of interested ppl on the way, shook a lot of hands. Scenery wasmostly desert this time. Saw islamic cemeteries which look like miniature cities. It took us what seemed like hours to find our mediocre hotel “Ural” in dense traffic. No hotel internet, wroting this on phone. Shocks did not get worse despite my failure to avoid some massive potholes. Teeth still hurt. Tomorrow we plan to continue to Samara.







Sept. 14 Morning

This day is not starting well. I got a toothache. Also, since yesterday one of the front shocks on the bike is leaking oil. Fortunately it is on the side opposite from the brake disc, whose function could be compromised by leaking oil. A new fork seal would be needed but i think i can only get this at a bmw dealer. Right now the leak still looks minor, i am hoping we can at least get to Kiev with this one, ideally even all the way home. And I took some painkillerfor the tooth. We hope to be in Uralsk by the evening…

Sept 13 (Aktobe)

We rode what seemed like countless hours and hundreds of kilometers to Aktobe on pretty much perfect roads and hardly any traffic. I am sorry for not offering specific kilometer figures, but I somehow did not inherit this fetishism regarding the logging of the odometer from my Grandfather who I remember has recorded the number of kilometers his Lada has rolled between each refueling in a small notebook inside his glovebox. (By the way, his Lada, which in Hungary is already considered an oldtimer would still be seen as a totally mainstream vehicle in Kazakhstan, where most people drive similarly old or even older models on the pothole ridden roads alongside ancient Kamaz trucks.)

The weather was again beautiful and clear, though a bit colder than yesterday. On the final third of the trip, some trees appeared. I took a go pro movie in the morning, it is the fourth recording of an about 20 minute segment of road. I also have recordings of Mongolian and Russian highways. I will put these online when I am back home, they will need some video editing, otherwise they may be a bit … monotonous. We saw huge flocks of crows today, and a fox who caught a hapless crow. The highlight was a massive eagle that flew across the road just meters ahead of me. We also saw a group of three adventure bikers at the side of the road; I regret not stopping and meeting them, but I did not want to further annoy Jerome who never seems to want to stop. Probably 100% of our stops are requested by me. Still, our only significant stop was over lunch, where Jerome made some pasta with tuna and tomato sauce on my benzene burner for us.

We reached Aktobe in the evening traffic jam, where it was hard to concentrate on riding AND waving back to all the motorists who were waving to us and asking where we were from, or other for us incomprehensible questions.

We’re staying in hotel Aktobe, one of our random passers-by fans named George was friendly enough to organize us a car which we were asked to follow, and he took us to the hotel. This city seems even less touristy than Kostanay, and we were not able to find a restaurant in the new city’s center, so we had to make do with the food court in a shopping mall. There was a slight misunderstanding regarding our order, and we ended up receiving two enormous pizzas. We shared one, stuffed ourselves with half of the second, and then I gave away the still hot final half to a grateful hobo on the street.

We will try to visit the local Aleya museum before driving on toward Uralsk tomorrow.































Sept. 12 (Camping)

We were going to start riding in the morning after breakfast. There was however one more thing, which I thought was a minor Todo item at best: At the border when we entered Kazakhstan, we were told that we needed to register with the immigration department within 5 days or we’d get in trouble. I asked about this at the hotel reception, and with the help of some other guests who could translate, we were told that the hotel could only register us for the duration of our stay there, and if we wanted to register more permanently, we would have to visit a government office that was close by. We started walking in the direction that she gestured, and eventually entered a bank. I asked a security guard there where to go, and he gestured in another direction. Walking that way down the street another few hundred meters, we reached a government building, where a friendly security guard directed us to a second floor office. There a lady looked at our papers, and then wrote an address on a piece of paper. This we gave to a taxi driver outside, who drove us to the indicated place. There was another smaller government office, where a dozen people were waiting in front of a dark window. We waited for a while, but as the queue did not seem to be making any progress, we left to do some grocery shopping. On our return, we were allowed to cut to the head of the queue due to being clueless tourists. (Being a tourist in Kazakhstan seems to grant celebrity-like status. We are constantly being stopped on the street as people ask where we come from, where we’re going, what brand our motorcycles are, etc. In traffic people honk and wave at us all the time. It is pretty cool in a way.) There a clerk spoke German, and she gave us a new address to go to. We took a second taxi ride to the new destination. There a police man motioned us to knock on a small dark window. We were given two forms to fill out, unfortunately it was in Russian (or Kazakh?) and contained about two dozen fields. I tried to use my amazing Russian skills but by the time I managed to decipher about three of the fields, Jerome has found a German speaking local named Andrei who kindly enough filled out the entire form for us. I then filled out the second form based on his example, and handed them in through the window.

We were eventually invited inside an office where four Russian domina style police women earned their living: All wore tight fitting police uniforms along with long hair, long painted nails, absurdly high heels, and masses of gold and diamond bling-bling. They were however very friendly, and one of them even spoke some English. Apparently they did not see tourists who needed to get registered very often, but eventually figured out the process, and within an hour we were out of there with a registration stamp until the 20th. They told us that we have to re-register after that date. Fortunately we have no intention of staying in this country beyond that date.

Unfortunately due to this delay it was around 2 PM when we finally rode out of the city, in the direction of Aktobe. We rode about 300 km through sunshine and beautiful landscapes. The countryside here is completely flat, with no trees. There are only grasslands and gigantic wheat fields, larger than one can see, continuous over dozens of kilometers, under an enormous sky.

The road was also perfect: Flawless tarmac alternated with completely deteriorated roads, destroyed to the point where many cars and trucks preferring to drive alongside the road in the dirt, which was at least free of craters. But these bad sections only lasted a few kilometers each, ending at the point where this off-road driving was changing from fun/challenging to tiring.

Around 8 PM (after 6 hours of riding, with just few minute stops to fill up gas and munch some cookies) we rode through the town of Zhailma, which looked like a war zone. Most buildings were in ruins, and livestock were grazing around a few inhabited shacks. We decided to ride back half a km where we saw some small hills (otherwise the landscape was still completely flat) behind which we could hide our bikes and tent from the road. We still had half an hour to pitch our tent (the new one we got in Ulan Bator after our own tents turned out to be inadequate). We unpacked it for the first time, and were surprised to see that it was indeed “The North Face” brand, rather than a cheap imitation that we assumed it was. Both of us and all our stuff fit comfortably, and it was clearly also water proof thanks to having two layers. We pitched the tent wearing full bike apparel, gloves, and closed helmets, because an incredible army of mosquitoes assaulted as as soon as we got off the bikes.

We were only able to disrobe after zipping the tent closed, and while inside we heard their buzzing until they eventually gave up in the cold night. We had some herring and tuna from cans with bread for dinner. The night was surprisingly chilly, we ended up wearing two layers of clothing inside the sleeping bags. My sleeping bag is rated as being good down to -4 degrees, but I am not sure what the assumptions are regarding attire within the bag under such conditions. I am pretty sure one would freeze without wearing a winter coat inside.

I had some pretty amazing nightmares, either due to the cold, or due to the benzene fumes — my sleeping bag was packaged in the same backpack as our reserve fuel canister. The first one started by me getting frustrated with all the mosquitoes in the night. I decided to drive my Cadillac home. Back home my dad got tickets for the two of us to go watch some erotic art-house cinema show, I however realized that I left all my luggage and belongings with Jerome in Kazakhstan, and neglected to help him with tearing down the tent. I felt really bad about this but could not bring myself to cancel the show with my dad, as I did not want to disappoint him. I woke up in the middle of the night, relieved to find that I am freezing in a tent in the dark in Kazakhstan in the middle of nowhere, and the uncomfortable social situation was just a dream.

I went to sleep again, at which point the dream continued, bizarrely enough. At this point I seem to have sorted matters regarding Jerome and my luggage, and was with my dad at a dinner reception after the show, which seemed to have had a strange lady-boy theme. At the reception they were serving meaty human skulls. I asked if this was not considered cannibalism, at which point the hostesses comforted me that the skulls did not actually contain human remains, they were merely very realistic imitations. They pointed out that there were also heads of dinosaurs, rhinoceros, and other fantasy creatures ready for eating, which were clearly not real either. I was quite excited to try some of these creations when it was announced that the kitchen has run out of servings, and I was merely offered a nutritious vitamin pill instead. I again woke up quite disconcerted and spent the rest of the night just dozing until 7 AM, when it started getting light. We had some salami with our remaining bread, tore down the tent, and were on the road by 9 AM.

Here are some camping pix. Jerome was so fast tearing down the tent that I neglected to take a picture of it in time:










Sept. 11 (Kostanay) (Updated)

We got the bikes!! Turns out the workers did not unload them last night, rather they left them in the otherwise unloaded wagon which waited overnight in the station. We asked for them to be unloaded…there were two workers on duty and they did not have a fork lift. Rather they lifted the 200 kg bikes in 30 kg wood frames 50 cm down onto a gurney and then onto the floor by hand!! We tried to help but the added benefit of two such girly men was likely purely symbolic.

We gave them generous tips and were on our way. We drove 100 km to the Kazakh border where both the Russians and the Kazakhs were friendly and uncomplicated.

We reached Kostanay after 200 more km-s by the evening with no further stops for food, gas or drink so we were rather starved. We checked into the hotel “Tourist” here which as of this moment has no hot water but is otherwise decent. We went out after dark, looking for the restaurants listed in our Kazakhstan guide, but the supposedly German “Bavaria” seems to have gotten closed down, and the pizza restaurant in the center pedestrian zone has been converted to a Doner shop. We had some decent fish soup and pizzas in the Doner shop regardless. Jerome was disappointed that they did not serve alcohol, so he did not get his daily beer.

I have to say, Kostanay is a very cleaned out place, it reminds me of the small Hungarian cities in the countryside. All the curbs are painted with red-white stripes, and there are lots of flower beds everywhere. Most of the center streets are closed to cars, the trees have Christmas lights, and all the buildings in this area are clean and illuminated. It was a welcome change from the bleakness of pretty much every city we saw so far.

We walked through a shopping mall, and were surprised to see a boutique offering World-of-Warplanes style combat plane action in 3-DOF flight simulators. We paid 700 T each for 5 minutes of stomach wrenching action. The simulators were actuated by 2 electric motors, with a central cockpit suspended like a gyroscope, and able to rotate along any axis very rapidly. The game was quite hard to play as one had to strike a balance between shooting down enemy planes and not losing one’s lunch (actually dinner, in our case). It was a lot of fun.

We plan to drive to the south east direction from here tomorrow morning, but there is no major city that way before Aktobe, so we will likely be camping. Expect spots on the map and the next update in 48 hours or so.







Sept. 8 (Trans-Siberian)

This post will be out of order, but I need to give more details about the Trans-Siberian railway experience from Irkutsk to Chelyabinsk.

We bought the tickets at the Irkutsk railway station with Rostislav’s help, who took us to a second floor counter with nobody waiting in like. There are three classes available: Regular seats with no berths, 4-sleeper ‘Kupe’ compartments, and 2-sleeper ‘Luxe’ compartments. Rostislav suggested we go with the middle option, and I am very happy we did.

The train wagons seem to be technology from the sixties or seventies I guess, but built like a tank, and very nicely maintained. There are about eight compartments per wagon, plus a compartment for the wagon service person, and a toilet at both ends. There was also a boiler that dispensed free hot water for tea at one end. The windows were a bit dirty but otherwise the compartments were in good shape. There was even a Persian rug in each compartment that the wagon clerk diligently vacuumed daily.

Each person received a thick mattress to place on the sleeper, a comforter, a pillow, a bed sheet, a small towel, and covers for the pillow and comforter. Additionally, pretty tea mugs were lent out by the clerk free of charge.

The best part of the trip was our fortunate company of the senior couple Vladimir and Vera, who were returning from Irkutsk to their native Petrpavlsk in Kazakhstan. Indeed, the train goes briefly through Kazakhstan on its route, so we have in fact already been to Kazakhstan!

Vladimir is a dental technician, though he has served in the red army as a T-62 tank commander. They did not speak English but we had enough time to communicate everything we wanted by using gestures, and drawing pictures in my notebook.

They also generously shared all the food and Cognac they had with them. Particularly interesting was to try the cedar seeds which we have seen street side vendors sell ever since we arrived in Russia, and so far could not identify. These are eaten here like sun flower seeds are eaten in Hungary. Fortunately this time we were also prepared this time, and also had our own herring conserves and vodka to share. A really good mood ensued for the remainder of the trip. We originally had booked the top two sleepers, but for some reason they asked us to switch such that I sleep in the top bunk and Jerome sleeps below me, and they have the other side for themselves.

There was also one well working power outlet in the wagon, where people took turns charging mobile phones and laptops.

The scenery for most of the approximately 50 hour trip was indeed constant Taiga: This means a dense wild forest consisting primarily of shrubs and Birch trees. In Kazakhstan the scenery changed to savannah-like landscapes and in part cultivated lands. Vladimir said that had we gone east from Irkutsk toward Vladivostok, we would also have seen swamplands.

All in all it was a really comfortable though not particularly scenic trip that I can recommend. One ticket has cost us 7300 Rubles; it is really an inexpensive way to travel such a long distance, with free nightly accommodation thrown in.

Here come some photos. Sorry that they are in random order, it is WordPress’ fault.