(ЗОЛОТОЕ КОЛЬЦО РОССИ)
In the following texts there is a series of Blogs about a truly extraordinary tour of Russia's Golden Ring organised by a Latvian Tour Company.
These Blogs were written each day and emailed back to colleagues, family and friend. They are therefore spontaneous, written in the moment at the places and amongst the people where the experience took place. No sanitised or considered prose, just straight from the heart.
I have tried to express what I felt at the time I felt it. It is too easy to write accounts when you've returned home, and to do this is to lose the emotions and the context that they occurred within.
The accounts below are true, but I hope they are also readable and amusing – that was my intention. If you want to read more, then go to: Wikipedia
"How was your 24hours in the Bus?"
Well it wasn't quite 24hours, but it was quite a lot. We left the centre of Riga at 21:00hrs on a 17seater Mercedes Sprinter Bus (pictured), all but 2 seats being occupied; quite a tight fit. We were crewed by 2 drivers who changed over about every three hours, and by our courier. The whole coach, excepting myself and the guy from Portugal spoke Russian for the entire journey; probably for the entire holiday. Latvian could not be heard.
The coach sped out of Riga on Freedom Street vying with trams, potholes, atrocious cobbles and traffic that could be 5 wide in places. Oh and watch out for trams; their track is a dreadful cobbled band down the middle of this thoroughfare, and when they stop for passengers the other lines of traffic must also stop for the passengers.
As we continued on the road out, the street lamps finished and our Courier warned us that this journey was the worst of the week; 1200Kilometres (Lands End to John O'Groats). Every two to three hours the Sprinter stopped sprinting and we paused at a garage for toilets and coffees and for driver change over. We were warned that the road condition would deteriorate before the border, and particularly so afterwards (see pictures of the main road into Moscow).
For some reason we were navigated through part of Estonia to get through to Russia and we took the Estonian customs around midnight. Not a lot of bother here, except for the miles and miles of heavies parked up on this country lane. Russia is playing games with Estonia and any LGVs can be held for about a week before border formalities are completed.
We didn't have to wait a week, but the Russian Customs kept us stationery until 3am. The final act was to order us to evacuate the minibus and bring all our luggage inside for scanning. Everybody's passport was inspected at length and in detail with some feigned surprise about some aspect of each one just to put fear of rejection into each passenger.
Meanwhile the luggage stood in front of the non-operating scanner with no operator around. After about 15minutes of this game we were told to go as "the scanner operator cannot be found". We set off into the night and the road got more potholed and the joins between the concrete sections got more apparent. At 7am we paused at a Russian motel for breakfast, and I made the mistake of putting the toilet paper down the WC instead of into the tin bin; oh and I forgot to pay the attendant her 5roubles.
Onwards we rolled with still hundreds of kilometres to 'MOCKBA' on the signs. At about 100Kms to go the road became Motorway (more of a dual carriageway in reality) and there was only a little improvement in surface quality. Then we hit the outskirts of the Russian capital and ground to a halt in gridlock.
But our drivers were not afraid of a challenge and we found our way around Moscow and parked up at Sergiyev Posad (Се́ргиев Поса́д) at 16:30hrs. Unfortunately the kind weather that had accompanied most of our 19hour transit let go and the onions domes pierced a gloomy grey and caused it to weep. I got a few photos of the The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius (Тро́ице-Се́ргиева Ла́вра) before the rain drowned everything.
We are now camped in a hotel at Alexandrov - 1hour past Sergiyev Posad, AND we have persuaded the Ostrov Hotel into giving us access to their Wifi.
Enjoy the photos, hopefully more tomorrow.
a russian dawn: ten hours on a minibus from Latvia into Russia, only ten more to go.
Bumpy Road: This is the main road in Russia from the Western border direct to Moscow
The Dormition Cathedral (Church of the Assumption) within the St. Sergius Lavra at Sergiyev Posad
Cathedral of the Trinity; Тро́ице-Се́ргиева Ла́вра (The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius) at Sergiyev Posad
Church of the Holy Spirit. Built in 1476 within the St. Sergius Lavra at Sergiyev Posad (Се́ргиев Поса́д)
[a PICASA album by RedSimon]