Posted on 5/12/03
March 20th would be the day we finally get back on the road in Finland.
March 20th would be the day that the War in Iraq would begin. And,
March 20th would have been Ronald Jerry Patterson’s 42nd Birthday!
As you read this chapter of our journal you may think they are the writings of an anti-war activist. Not so, you are reading about Ronald Jerry Patterson, my first born child who only lived to the middle of his 19th year. Nothing heroic or special, he just got dizzy, fell down and never got back up. It was an aneurysm, a weakened blood vessel that burst in his chest. That was way back in 1979.
I went through all the phases of sorrow and grief that any parent would. Anger, guilt and despondence. As all things do, the feeling passed or at least receded to the back burners of my mind. Then, in 1981 I found myself in Washington D. C. at the slab of black granite known as “The Vietnam Wall.” It was strange, I felt such sorrow as never had before. I watched others touch the names there and thought of Ronnie. Did you know that the average age of casualties in Vietnam was 19 years and 3 months?
Here was a whole wall full of 19 year old kids who, like Ronnie, would never laugh again, dance again or love again. Here was a whole wall full of 19 year old kids who wouldn’t grow old gracefully. That moment changed my thinking and my life!
Five Days in Helsinki, Russian Visas, the Flu and a Fall
The Ferry leaves Stockholm for Helsinki at 4:50 PM. I felt like HELL. We got there at 3:00 and had to wait. At first we stood outside with the cars. We were in the shade and it was cold. Cat walked down to the ticket office and lounge. I remembered or maybe Cat reminded us the, “It is easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.” I pushed the bikes one at a time until she got back. No problem, we were soon in, out of the cold, and sitting in the sun.
At 3:50 we had to go back out and join the line of cars. A guy in the cold weather gear that indicates authority told us to go to the front of the line. We thought we had just been given priority but it wasn’t to be. I was coughing and wheezing. The pharmacy drugs weren’t doing it. The man made us wait while all the big trucks drove aboard then he started loading vans and station wagons. Finally he wave us on, we were at the end of the line. After lashing the bikes to the bulkhead we struggled past all the trucks and cars to the doorway. Once inside we were subjected to truck drivers puffin’ and indecision. Cat scouted the way, we got on a crowded elevator and up to floor six. The bike bags that work so well when on bikes are always a challenge, especially in crowds. We have and inside cabin, no window but our own toilet and shower.
I hit the sack. Cat went exploring and let me sweat and sleep for a couple of hours. We had dinner, a Garden Burger, we thought that meant vegetarian. It tasted too good, it was a good ole Burger. We both ate every morsel. Sleeping was no problem for me, I was out like a light, Cat slept light. She doesn’t like the rockin’ and rollin’.
It was a sweat it out night for me.
We had breakfast and watched the ice break up and flow in large pieces past the boat. Entering Helsinki Harbor we could see that Spring hadn’t been seen here, yet. The ice was so thick that cars drove on the edge over the water. Unlashed, we rode out into a cold, crisp Finnish morning. Everything was familiar, we went directly to the Tourist Office. There weren’t many rooms available. We chose one in a moderate price range for Helsinki and pedaled to the door of Hotel Anton. The clerk Harri, was a great guy. The computer was included and so was a decent breakfast.
Our room reminded us of a hospital. That was appropriate, I felt terrible. The cough was bad but the wheeze when I breath out was so loud it kept me from sleeping. Harri sent us to a Doctor. She saw me that same afternoon and prescribed antibiotics. Her diagnoses, Bronchitis, also needed a steroid inhalant. The Apteekki was on the ground floor, so was the Alko Store. I got the drugs while Cat lay in a store of Vino.
We only left the room to go to the Russian Embassy. The first day we were too late, only open from 9:00 to Noon. They are only open on weekdays. Today is Friday. I went right back to the bed. Cat did the errands. She got things mailed to the Grandkids and Daughter Lori. I did get an e-mail from Igor saying that the invitation would be there Monday and we would get confirmation via e-mail.
Saturday was sunny but I wasn’t. I started the Meds and felt them as well as the Bronchitis. I really just lay around again in our Hospital room. Today would have been our pal, Terry’s 60th Birthday. The band, Acadiana, will play today in Solvang, the Danish town in California. It was fun and we always celebrated Terry’s Birthday after we played. I composed an e-mail to Judith, his wife. She has been missing. She hasn’t answered our recent messages. I was fairly insistent and talked about Terry, the band and the good memories. She did answer the next day. Still pretty shaky, she is back to counseling. It is strange, I was as close to Terry as any member of my family, maybe closer for the 10 years we worked together and played the Music. Perhaps that’s why we felt compelled to hear from Judith. Was it for us or her? Both we think!
Cat did more exploring and chores. She drug me out for lunch at a local place. We enjoyed trying to get the order from the nice lady and watching the locals drink their beers, smoke and talk. After, we walked through a Market Place, the kind that Cat loves. I lay back in and Cat walked for Chinese Food. We ate in, again.
The included breakfast, Internet and it was afternoon. Cat walked for a sandwich. That evening neither of us felt like leaving the room. We ate leftovers from the past two nights.
Monday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Cat had no green to wear but my only clean shirt is the green one. We bought an all day trolley pass, thanks to Harri. Back at the Embassy, actually the Consulate, around behind the Embassy. A strange scenario, you have to wait in line and a little speaker at the gate allows you in, one at a time. Well, it seems to be someone comes out then the next in line is allowed in. Finally our turn, we got inside, past the cameras and guard and filled out a request form. Stood in line inside, too, only to find that they didn’t have our invitation? Back to the Hotel and a check of the e-mail but no word from Moscow?
It was a busy day, though. We took the trolley to a Laundromat and put the wash in. Lunch across the street, Chinese again. Also we got the theft claim form for the computers completed and faxed to our Insurance Adjuster. Another quest was completed when we found the cold weather face masks we wanted. Cat also connected with a guy we have been e-mailing to since last October. He is our connection in Laihia where we stopped cycling last October. He had some bad news for us. The only Hotel in town was closed so we had to change our plans. We would go back to Vaasa and start our 2003 journey there. Another slow day of healing and staying in. Cat bought food at the nearby Grocery Store and we watched the War in Iraq begin to take shape.
Another day, off to the Consulate, we started to jog to catch the trolley and I went down. So weird, I just sort of collapsed. I think I twisted an ankle but the result was embarrassment, a torn pant leg and skinned up palms on both hands. Ouch! I jumped back up and we waited for the next trolley while I inventoried. The pant leg was ripped and my knee was bleeding, yep I torn my underwear bottoms, too. The palms had some gravel embedded but I was sure that I would survive. Onward, we stood our time in line again only to be disappointed, again.
Pauli, the new desk clerk at the Hotel had urged us to see Suomenlinna, the Island Fortress. Since we had bought another 24 hour pass that included the boat we decided to go for it. He told us that some Portuguese people that we had seen at the Hotel loved the boat ride through thick ice. The ride was unique, the ice was more than a foot thick in places but the little boat crunched right through. The Island was fairly anti-climatic, cold and icy. We did walk to a Restaurant and have some wonderful sausage and potatoes. Hot and tasty! After a quick stop at the Suomenlinna Tourist Office we went directly back to the boat and Helsinki.
I did find a pair of pants to replace the ragged ones then we walked to the Train Station. We found that we can take the bikes on the 3:00 PM train but didn’t buy tickets, we will check with the Consulate first.
Back at The Anton, still no e-mail from Moscow. We were disappointed and decided to call Igor. The clerk, a different young guy, used to work with the Telephone Company. He called the main office and found the correct number to dial for Moscow. Voila, I found Igor at home and he told us that the Invitation had been faxed this afternoon. We were elated, we celebrated, we had Pizza delivered to the room.
The next morning, Wednesday, March 19, we got up and went directly to the Consulate. As we waited we talked with a couple who have been living and Preaching their Christian beliefs her in Russia for almost three years. Very nice folks from Ohio but on a mission that I tend to disagree with. It always seems that trying to sell ones belief only leads to discord. The families of those being led away must hate to see conversion from the beliefs they were born into. Doesn’t everyone think that their beliefs are the only true beliefs? Awe, enough of the religion thing. We stepped to the window and started to introduce ourselves again but the gal there knew who we were and immediately said, “Your papers are here.” She was really helpful, she took our Passports and we told her we would come back in a week. We were elated, we were going to Russia!
Next stop, the Tourist Office for anything they have to help us route back to Helsinki. Then the Railroad and our tickets then back to Hotel Anton. With bags crammed full we cycled to EATZ, the restaurant where we had lunch before we flew out in October. Soup was terrific. I ran across to a bank and paid for our Visas to Russia. The fee is 156€ for both plus a bank fee of 4€. We really were on our way!
Sitting inside the Train Station we watched the flow of humanity come and go. Our train departs at 15:04, that’s 3:04 on the twelve hour clock. We pushed out early and waited then caught the Conductor. He led us to car 14 where we could leave the bikes. It is a strange system where you hang them. Obviously not designed for touring bikes, we had to take the bags off and store them in lockers.
The ride is 4 ½ hours. We went through small hills, wooded areas and then a real snowstorm, wind and snow that was sticking on the ground. Something we didn’t really need to see.
nce in Vaasa we pushed the bikes out then carried bags. We were completely de-trained when it pulled away. I leaned my bike on a post. It fell in the wind and the mirror broke off. We were in blowing snow and cold as we loaded the bags. The choice was simple, we could see the Radisson, where we stayed last October. The clerk was cordial but firm, their best rate was 110€. I told him about our stay before at 99 € rate. He said, “Okay, 100€”. We had a place for the night. One disappointment was that the Internet Access that was included had now changed to 23€ for 50 minutes. We passed on that one. Why, we wondered, do Hotels try to make such an inexpensive and basic service a BIG profit center?
Of WAR and ICE
March 20, 2003
Vaasa to Iskyro
Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday Dear Ronald Jerry Patterson,
Today You’d be 42! WE STILL MISS YOU!!
Our plan was to lay in and prepare because our pal at the desk had said that it would be – 7 this morning. We awoke at 7:00 and Cat pulled the drapes back. It was a beautiful, cloudless, sunny morning. I called down and he confirmed sunny and – 6 Celsius. It looked too good. We decided not to shower, just go to breakfast, see how cold – 6 feels and decide whether to ride or slide. When we flipped on the TV we knew that we would have another memory of this day, our troops have begun the
destruction of Iraq and/or the removal of President Saddam Hussein. Bombs fell and President Bush made it clear that the diplomacy was definitely finished. Not that we’re against war, we’re just against killing any living thing. “Thou Shalt Not Kill!
War & Ice
It was cold but the winds were light. Our friend at the front desk took the map and drew a route. We reorganized the bags, dressed for success in cycling, in the cold and headed out the door. Since Nina at Tourist Info had been so kind to us we decided to start from her office. She was off today so we took a pic with the two other girls, Tove and Katja. Nina had told them that we might be by. It was now 11:30 and we were under
way. WorldRiders2 were headed for Cape Town, South Africa.
It was cold but the wind was on our backs, that helped. We had gone about 3 Km when I rode onto a patch of ice and hit the deck, hard. The bike slipped out to the right and I went down on the left. Oh boy, I’m gonna be sore tomorrow. That was a wake up call. From that point on we took it easy and walked through the icy patches. That really slowed progress. Our route was a little out of the way but took us off the main road and most of the day we were on Bike Paths.
At 1:00 we were both feeling hungry and there was no place to stop. We continued looking for a restaurant or store. No luck, so we pulled over, left the bikes on the right side of the road and crossed to an old house. Standing, in the sun, on the leeward side, we ate the sandwiches and drank our water. Amazing, it was frozen in the bottles.
Finally at a little after 2:00 we stopped in the village of Vahakyro at a Grocery Store. As we sat in a couple of chairs and ate a few things we bought I begin to explore options. We were and an oddity. I asked for a toilet and the owner showed the way. Then I asked if there was a hotel in town. No, but he had a friend with a furnished house that he rents. He called only to find that it was taken. Other options, a place 20 Km on down the road. We knew that we had had it for the day. Then a nice lady told us about another possibility. Isokyro, a place off the road that has a guest house.
The guys at the Grocery Store, the owner and the girl both took us to heart. We had forgotten how great people are and how they really want to help. Finally we decided that we would take a cab to the guest house and leave the bikes there at the store. Markku, the owner, had us bring the bikes around the building and he stored them in the compressor room. It was spotless, I complemented him and he told me it should be, he had just had all replaced 1 week ago. I knew that he had spent some money and commented. He said, “Yes, 200,000€”. He has owned the store for 2 ½ years so I said that he must know that he’ll get his investment back. He shrugged and said, “Maybe”. I knew the feeling, I’d been there. Back in 1965, I swaggered into Boron, California and bought a little Grocery Store. Little did I know that 7 years later I’d have less than I did when we started the thing. I did learn a lot of lessons, about life and business.
The cab was a huge van. He was happy to accommodate, at 20€. It was further than we though and further off the road than we had pictured. The place is called Vieraskoti Liisesa. The owner was there to meet us. What an accommodating guy he was. He carried bags, gave us a tour of the place then offered to set up a coffee machine since they don’t do breakfast. He offered a microwave but we though it wasn’t necessary.
It was a cold wind a blowin’ as we walked the Km to the grocery store. There is no restaurant, only a bar and it is further down the road. We decided to eat in. Visited both grocery stores in town and got a chicken, bread and cookies. Pretty light and of course you noticed that we left out wine. Not by choice, the nearest Alko is 20 Km away. As we walked back the owner drove up, jumped out and gave us his old Cell Phone so that we could call the Taxi in the morning. What a nice guy, so nice that I asked if he had taken the coffee machine over yet. When he answered no, I asked if he would bring the microwave. He understood the problem and said that he would. Somehow, maybe the loaned phone, reminded us of Aidan, our landlord in Lagos. He had gone those extra miles, too, including letting us use his cell phone.
That microwave was a lifesaver. After a warm shower we heated our chicken, pulled off pieces of bread and enjoyed a banquet. We were here alone, solitude and ice!
It is almost 8:00 PM now. The thermometer tells us that it is –8.2 degrees outside. The weather news, at least the pictures, said that it would be a little warmer tomorrow but cloudy and windy. WE watched TV, picked up a little CNN News on the Finnish station, not much new since this morning. What a Day!
March 21, 2003
Isokyro to Kesti Iivarian
The day started early, cold and early. I awoke at 6:00 AM and looked out the window. There was an unbelievable sunrise reflected in the ice on the river. I checked the outside temperature, -9.1. Back under the covers and we just relaxed until 7:00.
The fruit and food we picked up was at least enough to fuel us for a while. Thanks to our patron we enjoyed hot pastries. I called the Taxi at 8:30, the guy handed me off to one who spoke some English. I asked him to pick us up at 9:00 but her said, “Too early,” then he struggled until we worked our 9:30. He got here just a little early.
Our friends at the store, Markku and Krista, turned out to be husband and wife. We got the bikes out of the compressor room and I loaded them while Cat shopped for lunch things. Again we talked about my experience, bad checks from customers who would then go miles out of the way to avoid coming in. He agreed, they have had that problem, too. You not only lose the money on the check but you lose the customer, too. The guy I met yesterday, a painter working in the store took our picture together then we pushed off at 11:00. As we started to roll they came out and handed Cat two big Finnish Chocolate Bars, for luck and strength.
Marke & Krista
During our conversation Markku told us that his Mother and Father are retired and live in Malaga, Spain so we told him about our time there and at Marbella.
It was a tough day on the trail. Cold and wind from the south east that pressed into our right temples and impeded our progress. We were both stiff and sore, too. Out of shape? Yes we are!
After struggling for 15 Km we turned off the street toward a store called Tolkin. Though we thought it was groceries it turned out to be Hardware. That would have been a problem for us except for the clerk. I looked around a little while Cat stood in the sun near the door. They did have some fruit drinks so I took a bottle and asked if it was to drink. The girl, Anne, said, “You’re from America?” I was surprised then she told me that she was Scottish, married to a Finn. I asked about sitting on the patio chairs that were for sale. She was excited, “Yes, come in and I will get someone to take the register so we can talk.
We relaxed and unwrapped our lunchmeat and cheese. Anne came over and told us she has lived here for 3 years and loves it. Cat asked about the cold and she said that she must be a local now, she found herself taking the dog for a walk in –15 and thought it wasn’t that cold. I told her about my friends, Paul and Nancy who I helped buy a house. When I told her that they now have 3 boys and a bigger house she volunteered that they had a house, 7 rooms, and she is pregnant. What a nice person, she also filled our water bottles and then gave us Salmiakki, the Finnish salty licorice candy. Wow, three nice new friends and two kinds of candy.
It was just head down and push the pedals for another hour and a half. Our dream of reaching the big city of Seinajoki were fading, fast. When we finally reached the cross road and our turn from Highway 16 to 18 we knew that we could go no farther. The young girl in the service station was a God Send. She spoke great English and really helped us find the only room in town. The owner of the place stood by and smiled as she hustled on the phone.
After securing the room we realized that we were short of cash. The Bank, the only Bank, wouldn’t accept our ATM Card. I went in and waited then finally one of the two clerks told us we could get cash from our Visa Card. We tried for $250 and it wouldn’t work, she couldn’t get approval. Just when I thought we were in deep trouble she suggested $100. It went through, we would be able to pay for our room.
We pedaled off down Highway 16 BOUT 3 Km and took the turn where we saw the sign. Off across a muddy, icy road then lost. I went to the door of a farmhouse and the lady was wonderful. We couldn’t understand a work either was saying but she new the Guest House. She stepped out on her porch in stocking feet then onto the ice to point back down the road. As I returned to the cross road Cat was talking with a guy in a car. He had chased us down, he was the owner of Kesti Iivarin Majatalo. He asked us to follow then took off as though we were riding motorcycles. I saw him turn in so we did find the place. It is an old farmhouse. He has no garage but decided that we could keep the bikes in his shop. Cat checked the room, not bad for the ONLY room in town. We were at home for the night.
Viljo was really helpful. He took Cat’s bike and I followed him across the sheet of ice that is the driveway and around the house on the extension of the ice to his shop. It was tough work, his boots are better suited for walking on ice. My bike shoes are like a fish out of water, on ice. The bikes do not handle at all. The weight makes them want to slip away to the right as you struggle and push.
Hot showers made us feel better. The eldest of four children, Tina, gave us a ride into town. She told us that she is 21 and the youngest is only 3 months old. When we came in her father told me that he wanted to cycle tour Europe someday. That looks like it will be 15 or 20 years, now.
A couple of glasses of box wine at the Bar next to the bank then we enjoyed salad and split a pizza at the ABC Restaurant. (They have no Alko Store in this village, either.) ABC is actually a gas station, truck stop, hamburger place. The pizza was good but rich. Good and rich. We taxied back to Kesti Iivarin, I journalized a little then we watched TV. Unintelligible TV for us as it was all in Finnish.
March 22, 2003
Kesti Iivarian to Seinajoki
Today is Glenys, Cat’s Mom’s Birthday, a young 82 years. When I talked with Viljo about finding an Internet Connection in the village to send her a Birthday message he said, “Jo, I have here one.” He offered to let us use their computer.
More unintelligible reports of war on TV. No English but the orange fire balls spoke international sentences. We were up before 7:00. Slowly we dressed and packed. We were pretty much ready at 8:00, our appointed time for breakfast so I went down and knocked. Vikki, that’s Viljo’s nickname, stuck his head out the door and said, “Five minutes.”
Breakfast was porridge with toast, juice and coffee. They offered a small tray of cheese and meat. We packaged part of it for a snack along the trail. As we finished Vikki came up, poured a cup of coffee and sat. Cat went down to use their computer while we did our best to have a conversation. He is a Carpenter, they prefabricate log cabins with what he called power saws. Most of his work is in the summer. No wonder the old house looks so good inside. He has lined the entire upstairs with rough sawn log. There is a breakfast room and 4 bedrooms that open off of it. The guest book didn’t look like they have that many guests, hopefully lots of them don’t sign in. It was interesting that several of those signed in were from the USA. Most here, tracing their family roots. Vikko said that a lot of people immigrated to the US from this area. In fact one signer was a cousin of his who lives in Seattle, Washington.
Cat’s attempt at the computer failed. It is old and slow, like me. She could get to AOL but couldn’t send the message. She was a little nervous and stopped trying because Vikko’s wife and baby were sleeping, the computer was in the master bedroom. Cat said the wife apologized that the computer was so slow and her English was better than Vikko’s.
We were pleasantly surprised when we brought the bags down. Vikko had already pushed the bikes across the ice. We chatted, or tried to, while we loaded the bags, took a picture on the ice then cycled away. The wind was blowing in our faces andit was cold. Today was supposed to be warmer and in fact it was before you factor in the wind chill. We had to ride hard to make the 3 Km back to the cross roads. When we turned the corner we still had heavy wind resistance on our right temples. It was going to be a tough day.
The bike path was clear most of the time but when we approached ice we walked it. We only stopped a couple of times to rest a little and drink some water. At one point the wind was howling across the icy farm fields at about 25 Km per hour. (15 MPH) It took most of the fun out of cycling and slowed us to a crawl. We only averaged 12 Km per hour. We both knew that Seinajoki was the end of our ride for today. It was just 28 Km from Vikka’s place but we were out of shape, out of gas. To go on would be to turn the corner into the wind and plow another 33 Km. At the rate we were traveling it would be dark before we got to the next town.
Slippin’ and a Slidin’
Like a magnet, we were drawn to the Alko Store for a bottle of wine. While Cat shopped I kept an eye on the bikes. A guy sidled up and sat next to me. He tried to have a conversation. The only words I understood were “Money, money”, which he repeated often. As he talked he would point toward the Alko Store. I was getting it, he wanted a drink and he wanted me to give him money. He had the look of an alchohloic and strangely, when he held his hands up to accentuate his point I saw that he had no thumbs. Cat came out with her bag and he really rattled. We told him, “Bye bye” and he answered the same, smiled and waved.
The City Hotel, Best Western was just around the corner. They had a room, just 76 € including breakfast. We grabbed it. The lady resisted our request to take the bikes to the room then shrugged and turned away. We pushed them into the lobby and one of the housekeeping ladies rushed over and spewed words at us. The only one we understood was Hotelli. When we told her we were staying in Hotelli she rushed back toward the front desk as if to complain. Too late, we were in.
The elevator is small, Cat thought we would have to take the bags off. I had her open the door and I pushed hard then pulled the front wheel up and pushed it in on the rear wheel. We made a bit of a mess, the tires were muddy. Cat went back, after we had them both up, and wiped up a bit. We were in for the night.
Lots of war news, over and over and over. Yes, in English, too. We showered then went down and used their computer. That was the best deal of all, FREE. There is a problem getting money for shipping Lil’ Scotty and over 100 other messages. We got a Birthday Message off to Glenys and cleaned up lots of others. One piece of happy news, Todd, the producer of LandRider’s Infomercials has arranged to get a DVD video camera for us. We will be able to take shots and send them to him from the road. We are still hopeful that he will be able to come to Moscow or at least get a crew to do some shooting there.
Dinner at the Hotel Restaurant, we thought we were going to be the only guests but a big group came in and partied. Back in the room we caught a subtitled movie that looked good but couldn’t keep our eyes open. Lights out at 9:30 PM.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Seinajoki to Jalajarvi
I woke up at 3:22 AM according to the digital clock on the TV. Couldn’t seem to get back to sleep but I rationalized that we had already had almost 6 hours sleep. The sounds of a party breaking up drifted up to our room as I drifted back off to sleep When I awoke at 6:30 I had to get up. I bugged Cat by typing until she turned the TV on to, MORE WAR. It is starting to look like it won’t be a cake walk and more friendly fire casualties. So far 3 helicopters have crashed killing fourteen Us and Brit Soldiers. They play a clip of the Father of one of the first fatalities holding a picture of his son and saying, “President Bush you took my Son away, you took my ONLY son away.” Then, a news flash, a US Soldier, possibly a Muslim, went nuts and threw a grenade into a bunch of colleagues. He killed one and injured 25. Well, war is nuts!
I caught up the journal then we did the included breakfast. I was really good. Cat put some new friends into the web-site while I finished my coffee then we cleaned up the e-mail some more.
By 10:00 we brought the bikes down, got an interesting picture of Bike and I in elevator. It was 10:30 as we rolled away from Seinajoki but pulled up in just a few blocks. The lady at the Hotel told us to go right but it didn’t feel right? Cat got direction from inside a service station while I talked with a young guy about our trip. He too confirmed that we would find the road to Tampere, E12 just continue onward.
Somehow we took a round about route but did find the Highway and pedal out on a wet street lined with a forest of small trees. The road undulates up and down, slightly but is pretty flat. We started on the bike path but soon gave up and hit the street. The gravel that covers it has piled up after being put on each layer of fresh snow. Now that the path is dry it feels loose and unfriendly.
It is warmer but our toes are running cold. At 17 Km out we stopped for a bite of food. Sitting in a cute little bus stop we munched and froze out. The floor was ice and the slight breeze blew through, around our feet. Our cloths were a little sweaty, too. That began to cool, it was a little after 12:00 noon, we had to roll.
The landscape is pretty much the same as the first 3 days. Tall skinny trees, some conifers and some white barked like birch. Open areas where the fields lay fallow under the snow and ice allow the wind to kick up a little more. Anne had said that there were only a few very small villages between Seinajoki and Jalasjarvi, our target for today. We began to plan on going to the next little village then came a little cold rain and it sort of quashed that idea.
On the outskirts we stopped to take a couple of pictures of the famous windmills of this area. We were in Jalasjarvi 35 Km and 3 hours from our starting. Yes, we are still moving pretty slowly but we feel stronger. The Restaurant and Hotelli Valtatie drew us in. Just a bowl of soup and info, we felt good enough to ride on and the rain had stopped. The soup was really pretty good, and the guy is very helpful. Yes, there is a place to stay about 15 Km on down the road. Unfortunately, no Restaurant or store. The guy at Valtatie did tell us that the store in town, another 2 Km, was open. We decided to ride on in and see about taking enough for dinner, calling the place and riding on. The whole idea unraveled when the stores, all three of them, were closed. We stopped a nice gal and she confirmed what the guy at Valtatie had said. She even stopped a couple of other people and asked but all to no avail. It was back to The Valtatie for the night.
The room is ground floor so we rolled the bikes right in. A hot shower, a little English language television. We were in heaven. Oh yea, the show was Touched by an Angel so it was a tear jerker with a good message. Hot showers, Finnish style, where the water comes out directly above your head. No door or curtain but a giant drain in the middle of the floor. And dinner, we both had Spaghetti Bolognese. Trying to Carb up for tomorrows first longer ride, 62 Km.
March 24, 2003
Jalasjarvi to Parkano
“When it’s Spring Time in Alaska, it’s 40 below!” Johnny Horton.
It will be 40F above today but the words of Pauli still ring in our ears, Helsinki is farther North than Fairbanks Alaska. We’re still pretty close to the Arctic Circle here.
It looks like 6:30 is time to get up, now. I peeked out the window and Cat stirred then asked what it looked like. Beautiful, some high clouds and a sunrise of orange and gold. We stirred then turned on the TV. Of course the news was Irak, that’s how they spell it here. The first pictures we saw were of three young American Soldiers, Prisoners of War. It was awful, one of them was wounded but sat up and talked. One was a girl, a black girl who looked scared as heck, who wouldn’t be? Of course the news is all in Finnish so we just had to guess what was happening. Then G. W. Bush came on and said, “ I expect that the Prisoners of War will be treated in the same way that we treat Prisoners of War.” Next an Iraqui Officer stood in front of a bank of microphones and said that Iraq has always treated POWs well, even before the Geneva Convention established rules. Obviously a jab, intended to say that Iraq is an old and civilized nation. The last news we saw was live from California. The Oscars were being given out, live, at 7:00 AM, well that would be 9:00 PM at home. One guy, Michael Moore said, “ Shame on you Mr. Bush, Shame on you. We’re against this war and shame on you. Any time you have the Pope and____.” We didn’t hear the rest because of the over dub but I thought he said, “The Dixie Chicks, against you, you’re gonna lose!”
What a way to start the day. Breakfast was okay. We have re-established our like for boiled eggs. After coffee we loaded the bikes and wheeled out a little before 9:00 AM. A recent record for us. We rode directly to the center of town and bought groceries. Bread, lunch meat and cheese. Back out to the Highway, E12 but when we crossed the bridge it was obvious that we couldn’t jus ride around and onto the roadway. Off to the right we could see the bike path. We took a chance that paid off. However, when we joined the path it was all ice. We had to walk, slip and slide.
About half of the day was on bike path, the other was a wide shoulder, most of the time. The scenery really looked familiar. Finally I decided that it was like Alaska. Thin trees, most conifer, and wide open spaces. There were very few cars on the road most of the time. I remembered looking at the map of the world at Veiraskoti Liisesa, the guesthouse back three days ago. Though we’re south of the Arctic Circle by 300 Km or so, we were farther north than Anchorage, Alaska in Vaasa. (Somebody check that, okay?)
The Alaska Look
We stopped at a Truck Stop for juice. It is also a tourist place with a cheese maker and nice restaurant that is probably busy in the summer but not today. The temperature was +7 when we left Jalasjarvi. It felt like a wonderful spring day. Sure, there is snow along the side of the road and the rivers and lakes are frozen over but it was warmer than we have seen since we arrived here. We even saw some guys ice fishing, sitting on the lake with their lines lowered through holes, hoping.
Our second stop, for lunch was in Kuivasjarvi, it would turn out to be just a Service Station and Mini Mart. There was a Grill but it was closed. We bought two apples then sat on the patio of the Grill, in the sun and enjoyed. Our little thermometer, laying on my black jacket in the sun, registered 22 degrees. We were in a heat wave, at least until we started to ride again. As we sat a car pulled in and the guy began to fill his tank. He yelled out to us, “How far are you going?” We had seen him, his wife and son at the Hotel in Seinajoki. Nice guy, Italian yet named Mustaffa. They live in Sweden. He and his Father have a Persian Rug Business. He is visiting salespeople and taking a little vacation at the same time. I pointed out the fact that the way he dressed looked more Italian that Swedish. He always has a nice jacket and silk tie on.
The real temperature was about 8 degrees most of the day. As we neared Parkano the traffic picked up and the shoulder narrowed. The terrain had started to roll and undulate. It was slow ups and rock and roll downs. We turned the corner, into Parkano at 2:15. This will be our longest day on the seat since we re-started, 5 hours, and our best distance, 65 Km. We were back in business.
We stopped at the Super Market, I bought bananas and asked where the Hotel Pesti and the Alko Store were located. The gals there took great care in pointing and directing. We walked up the hill to Alko then coasted back down and around the corner to the Hotel. Cat checked us in then we tried to push the bikes up the driveway. It was a sheet of ice. We slipped and slid until my bike went down. Then the lady who works here came out and showed us how to find the best places to step.
When we got inside we realized that she had booked us upstairs and the elevator was tiny. Cat asked if they had a room on floor one. The gal took the keys and dashed away. When she returned we were in Room 104. It is small so we had to leave the bikes locked together in the hallway.
Cat showered then hit the Tourist Office while I soaked up the hot water. We went to the Library and used their computers. This really capped off our best day of cycling yet in 2003. The first message was that, even though they hadn’t received the payment, Lil’ Scotty was aboard the good ship Trieste and headed for Port Hueneme. Then another piece of great news, after almost a year, Le Classique, our old Cortez Motor Home had sold. We would net almost $6,000. Well we paid $6,200 for her and we spent more than $8,000 fixing her and keeping her running but we wouldn’t take a $1.000.000 for the fun times she had given us. We used her for our Real Estate Business, taking up to 14 agents with us to look at new properties on the market. When she was a Real Estate Bus we had “Patterson & Tintorri, Your Real Estate Home Team Advantage”, sign on her. When we were playing music we had another set of signs and she became, “Acadiana, Cajun & Zydeco Band, The Gator head Express.” So, one big piece of memorabilia leaves us and another takes it’s place.
Dinner was pretty good, another deserted restaurant save for us. We are beginning to wonder if anyone travels here in the winter?
March 25, 2003
Parkano to Ylojarvi
Though we were up fairly early we seemed to bog down. Breakfast, the included then off to the ATM, the Apteekki (Pharmacy) and Library to try to get an e-mail to Bengt Bengtsson, our Lil’ Scotty agent to forward the message from our Pal, Charlie, our Base Camp that he would wire the money on Monday. The ATM rejected us. Cat went for the drugs and I rode to the Library but it wouldn’t open until 10:00.
It was 9:45 when we finally straddled the bikes and pedaled. Based upon advice from the gals at the Pharmacy we went back to the main cross street, up the hill past the Alko Store and out across a bridge over the highway. It was like a freeway overpass with no way to get on the bike path. We took a turn to the left based upon blind faith and rolled down a dirt, muddy road. There was a small path carved between snow banks that led to the bike path. Though the sun was shining brightly it was still pretty cold. Several times we had to walk the bikes through fields of ice.
The road continues its ups and downs. Most of the day would be out on the highway. For lunch we rolled into a fast food place called Rolls. Burgers and fries, how Californiaish. As we were readying to leave Cat asked about the phone number for the Hotelli in Ylojarvi. Analie, who works in the adjacent store took her to heart and researched until she found it. They didn’t have a public phone but she told us we would find one further down the road. Later we stopped at a place that used to be a service station. No gas but a small café and store. We bought a container of orange juice and split it into our water bottles. We tried to phone Ylojarvi to confirm a room at the only Hotel. It will be an 82 Km day and we may get in late. The nice lady finally got our question and stammered out an answer. “No telephone.” We were really out in the country,
It’s Like Camping?
She did say there would be one in 2 Km so we rode on. Another Rolls Burger joint pulled us in and the nice girl let us use their cordless phone. The guy at the Hotel spoke very little English but got the point that we were coming and he took our name.
Most of the afternoon was spent on the Highway, E12. As the day wore on the traffic thickened and a lot of it was trucks. Big trucks, many pulling double trailers. Each time one came by they very courteously pulled away, across the center lane and raised a huge cloud of dusk. My tickle in the throat hated it. We both began to hack and cough. I started to wonder what might be in the dust, they use gravel and salt for traction during snow and ice. There is also a liquid that is used on windshields, I could only imagine what other chemicals we might be sucking in with the dust.
It’s a Dangerous Business!
We both were becoming weary of the heavy traffic. Cat said that she could feel herself scrunching down and tightening up each time a one of the monsters bore down on us. Every time we jump on board the bikes we know there is some degree of danger in doing what we are doing. Today was one of the days that brings the point home. We circled in a round-a-bout then were caught in a narrow lane. We decided to lift the bikes up on the sidewalk to get out of the traffic. A truck with a set of doubles rounded the circle and sped into the narrow area as Cat was lifting her front wheel onto the curb. I yelled but the noise of the truck buried my warning. As the rear wheels on the trailer cheated in the turn it came closer and closer to Cat. She sensed the danger and yanked herself and the bike up and fell over backwards. I thought the truck had hit her or the bike. Her head smacked down on the walkway, on the back of her helmet and her little light broke in two. I rushed to her but she was already getting up and cursing the truck driver. She didn’t even realize how close she had come to getting her bike or worse yet, her leg crushed. We were lucky! The driver probably didn’t even realize how close he was?
On the brighter side, there are fields where the grass is starting to show through the snow. The trees were getting taller and the Evergreens are getting ever greener. It really feels like a spring day. At one point we stopped and shed one of our layers of clothing.
The hills seemed to get steeper and the pulls up them longer. We even had to walk a few times as the day wore on. Cat remembered our first days on Highway 1 along the California Coast. It was the only real training we had done. This too was training, slowly getting our bodies back in shape for the distance that lies ahead in the next almost two years. The bike path presented hazards, too. We found ourselves headed away from the road and decided that we should cut across the snow, back onto the highway. Suddenly, I sank, knee deep and shoes full.
We caught a bike path in a village but it was veering away from the Highway. Concerned and not wanting any extra distance added to our already long day, we pulled up to ask directions. Two women passing sort of ignored us but must have figured out we were trying to talk to them. When they stopped a girl, Rita, on bicycle almost ran into them. She stopped, they all listened to our question then the two indicated that they couldn’t speak English but Rita pulled through. She dug out enough words to tell us to go to a horse place then further 2 Km then to the right. We had seen lots of trucks and horse trailers with sulkies on top or hanging on the back. I asked if it was a racing place and she said, “Yes, little wagons.”
When we saw the race track we pulled in, got fresh directions and a couple of pictures of the horses and sulkies. It looks like a lot of ordinary people are involved in the sport. Glenys and Earl, Cat’s parents go to the races at Santa Anita almost daily during the season. We usually join them at least once. The Sport of Kings there is really just for the very wealthy to own and race their animals. Here we saw every thing from retired couples to young people grooming and preparing their ponies. The trucks that bring them here range from trashy trailers to huge and expensive horse haulers. These are farmers and wanna be farmers and horse lovers having fun and betting they will lead, down the stretch.
Trotters, Pacers and Everyday Racers
The three guys at the gate worked out enough sign language to get us to The Sport Hotel. The girl who checked us in was really great. Unfortunately she couldn’t accept any credit cards. The nearest ATM was a 10€ cab ride away, 20€ round trip. We scraped together enough to pay for the room but had no money for dinner. A shower, that’s what we need then we’ll work out the details.
Surprise, we even had Euro News, in English. The war continues to grind along. Many are starting to wonder why it is taking so long. As one commander put it, they just drove in, without any resistance. Now they were at the edge of the cities and the Iraqis were there, waiting for them. He complained that they were trying to avoid civilian casualties and infrastructure damage. As though the Iraqis should come out and fight like men. He even said they were playing dirty by dressing like civilians when being captured. Well what would we do against the world’s most powerful army if we were little David up against Goliath? The woman announcer said it was looking less and less like a cake walk, we agree. One callous commander when asked how many enemy casualties there were, he said, “We’re not accountants, we’re fighting a war. We kill em’, bury em’ and move on.” I have heard that it is easier to kill if you de-humanize your victims?
Though the girl had called the restaurant we saw when we rounded the corner and told us it was closed we decided to walk there and see for ourselves. Maybe it would open after 6:00 PM? Wrong, it was closed until March 31. Back at Hotel Sport Restaurant we suggested that, though we want to hold onto them we do have some US Dollars. The gals talked mongst themselves then told us that we could go to the bank in the morning and pay then. That is trust, that is hospitality. We had the Finnish Hash. It is 5 Euro per person. A real pile of potatoes, sausage, ham, onion and a fried egg perched on top. The salad bar was included, too. As we were finishing our favorite gal brought dessert, a bowl of strawberries. The entire meal including a bottle of okay wine was 25€. What a bargain.
Back in the room, we watched the rotation of Sky News twice then caught subtitled movie. Our legs are a little stiff but we basked in the feeling of accomplishment.
March 26, 2003
Tampere to Helsinki
That pesky dry throat had me up and sippin’ the cough syrup at 4:00 AM. I lay awake for a little while and thought about our plan and how tight it was going to be. We are about 2 ½ days from Helsinki by bike. That puts us there on Friday. The Russian Embassy closes at Noon. When my coughing awoke The Cat we talked about plan B. We decided that we would get into Tampere this morning then take the train to Helsinki and get the Visas. We will leave the bikes here, spend the night in Helsinki then get back the next morning. This new plan would allow us to cycle from Tampere to the Russian Border. That will cut 2 days cycling so it made sense, dollars and sense.
Breakfast is only served from 6:00 to 8:00 AM. Who made that rule? We rushed across the slippery ice only to find the door locked. My watch said 8:02. Were they that tough? We pounded, tried to get the other customers inside to open the door. Finally I discovered the night bell and lay on it. The morning girl opened the door, spewed a stream of words foreign to us then pointed at the sign. I pointed at my watch to show her that it was less than 5 minutes after 8:00 and we had been at the door since 8:00. Reluctantly she allowed us in. Her attitude was 180 from the ladies last night. She was almost huffy.
Breakfast, the usual which by the way we had paid 7 Euro extra for, then we began to pack and plan how we would find the village, the bank then get back here. Two field decision in one morning! We will just take off leaving the bill unpaid then mail cash back from Tampere or Helsinki. We even left a note for Harri, the owner, to make sure he knew. I slipped the bikes out of the garage and across the slippery ice, we loaded and hauled for Tampere.
Just down the street we came to another moment of decision. Which way to go? A gal in colorful cold weather gear stopped for the light and we asked her. She spoke very little English but got the gist. It was still below zero and there was ice on the path. We stopped and walked. She soon left us as she hurried to work. Another stop and shuffle across slippery surface then we crossed under the railroad tracks and to a fork in the trail. As Yogi Bera said, “When you come to a fork in the trail, take it.” We would have been lost except for the sight of that colorful girl, Kiia, standing, waiting to let us know which way to go. This kind of hospitality seems to be the rule rather than the exception here, in Finland.
It was about 15 Km to the Centrum. We followed signs then asked when we felt insecure. Easier than we thought, the main street dead ends at the Train Station. Yes, there were several trains to Helsinki, yes they could store the bikes there. We backtracked and got maps directions and Hotels for our reroute. One of the gals husbands at tourist works with the newspaper. She asked Cat if we would do an interview. We would love to but not today. We promised to call or stop in when we get in, tomorrow. Back at the train station we off loaded the bags we would take with us and checked the bikes. Sure we would miss the next train we bought tickets for the 12:22 departure. When we got up on the platform the 12:07 was still there. We were under way.
Two hours riding backward and eating our pilfered breakfast food and we were back in Helsinki, again. Oh Lord, stuck in Helsinki Again! We bought a trolley pass and went directly to Hotel Anton. Our pal, Pauli was on duty and happy to see us. Yes, they had a room, we were home in Helsinki, for the night.
Our plan was to see the Doctor, have her check my wheeze and Cat’s rash and fill several prescriptions. We fear going to Russia and running out of drugs. The second most important item was laundry, we would see the Doctor then go to the Laundromat. Well, it seems that half of Helsinki is sick. We had to wait an hour and a half to get in to see Doctor. That took up the desperately needed laundry time. The Doctor, Jorma Ohisalo, spoke great English. He had lived and worked in Texas and Pennsylvania. He really questioned whether Cat had actually suffered a heart attach. We hated the wait but loved talking with him. He wrote the prescriptions, checked my lungs and elbow as well as Cats rash. Nothing he could do about the elbow or rash. Though I do have a little rattle left over we decided that I would get back on the steroid inhalant again.
Cat sat out the wait for the drugs at the Apteekki while I posted the 25€ in a thank you card to Harri. No laundry but we did get wine and decide to dine in. Chinese sounded good but it was a long walk. The store is just across the driveway. We took the easy way out, chicken and salads from the Market. We both worked hard cleaning up the more than 100 messages we had up on e-mail. More of the same ol’ war news. It seems to have stalled out? Definitely won’t be a flash in the pan kind of thing. We did find two interesting comments. The first, a US Sergeant, said that it was like cracking a walnut with a sledge hammer. The other, an anti war activist who said, “You promise to save the village but you have to kill half the village to do it?” Next, we got lucky and caught a rerun of The Academy Awards Ceremony that was held last Sunday. Finally lights out at midnight.
March 27, 2003
Helsinki and The Russian Embassy
Late to bed, early to rise. We enjoyed what we hoped would be our last breakfast in Helsinki for a long time. Packed and ready to roll, we checked and worked with the e-mail, said our goodbyes and took the trolley to the Railroad Station. Rather than drag the bags around we left them in a locker and went to the Russian Embassy. The lady there had told Cat just to go to the speaker and say, “Ready Visas.” That didn’t work so we stood in line and waited. It is a cool 8 degrees and breezy but our spirits were soaring. We had been a little nervous about whether to say we were traveling by bicycle so we devised what is known as a plan of “Creative Truth.” If asked, as we have heard some others, we would say that we were meeting a friend from the
Russian Cycle Touring Club and they have arranged transportation. Of course the friend Alexey, who we’ve yet to meet, is on a bike and will guide us. When we were next up the lady asked the guy ahead of us if he was taking his own car and he responded, “No, I’m traveling by Train.” Cat looked at me and whispered, “We better be honest”. Finally, it was our turn at the double glass window with little speakers. The nice lady just looked at us, smiled and handed both Passports to us with Visas inside. We quietly walked out into the street, out of camera range then let out a little yelp and hugged. We were going to cycle Russia!.
Pauli, our pal at Anton had urged us to walk past the harbor. What a surprise, as we rounded the corner from the Embassy we were shocked to see water, no ice? This is the same place we took pictures of with ice a foot thick on it. This is the place that we rode the little boat through the ice, just one week ago. What a mystery, how can it disappear so quickly? We could only speculate that a warm current made it’s way under the thick ice.
No Ice in the Harbor?
Back at the Rail Station we collected our bags, got tickets and were soon on the 11:04 headed for Tampere. On time arrival, of course, that’s the Finnish way. Within a half hour we had the bikes out, the bags loaded and were rolling back to the Info Center.
The people there were glad to see us but Olga had misunderstood Cat yesterday. The reporter for the local news came to meet us at 1:00 Pm but we were already in Helsinki, we don’t mess around. We cleaned up the few remaining e-mail messages, got maps and directions then made our third field decision, we would stay here in Tampere tonight. It is too late to go the 40 Km we must complete because the next day will be almost 100. Olga, whose husband works with the newspaper, called and got us a hotel for 60€. That is cheap, for a large city. We were concerned about the location and how bad it might be.
Before going to the Hotel we decided to try to find mirrors to replace those we have lost. Olga circled the three stores nearby that might have them in stock. We pedaled up the main street then stopped to look at the map. A guy walked up and asked if he could help then showed us exactly hoe to find the bike shop. No luck there so we set off for the Sporting Good Store. Again we stopped to study our map and another guy walked up and said he would like to help us. A third time, the same thing, we were beginning to love these standoffish Finns. Our guidebook says that they don’t usually speak unless spoken to. That may be true but they are right there when you need to be rescued!
We had to pedal back to and under the Train Station then up a steep sidewalk. When we turned the corner we saw a plain looking building with a dirt/ice/mud parking lot. Once inside we were more than pleasantly surprised. It is called Homeland Hotel and it is an efficiency apartment. Yes, a range/oven and refrigerator, even a sink and coffee maker. The TV held another pleasant surprise, BBC. And we can’t forget the washing machine and dryer downstairs. We hadn’t washed our cycling clothes in a week. What a treat!
We’re at home, Cat is cookin’ and I’m typin’. Salmon, new potatoes, salad, Home Cookin’ in Homeland. I was able to bring the journal current and insert more of the pictures in the Spain to Stockholm story.
BBC continues to bring us semi live accounts of THE WAR. An American General has said that this is not the war that they had prepared for in their war games. We also saw several wounded Marines and one of them said that they were that there would be little or no resistance? George, what were you and Tony thinking? If the UN Inspectors were still there nobody would have been injured or killed. Maybe, just maybe they would have completed their job, ferreted out any weapons and destroyed them, without casualties.
March 28, 2003
Tampere to Palkane
I woke up at 5:00 AM, maybe because we hit the lights at 9:30 last night? We did a typical “at home” breakfast, bananas, orange, toast and coffee. Though we were up
early we got a late start. I took the bikes out back and oiled the chains. A decision to ride back to the Tourist Info wasn’t that popular with Cat. She wanted to get on the road. Our ride today is only about 40 Km and I wanted to check the e-mails and get details of the route we should take. The young man, Mathias, who is a Trainee was there. Olga was off and the other girl had finished her work here. Wally e-mailed the news that we were back on the bikes and we had lots of news from friends. Of course we love to get these messages but they take time and Cat was still anxious to get on the road. A lady came in that we hadn’t met yesterday. She did give us a route that turned out to be a good ride. It was a small side road all the way to the town of Kangasala which is about half our ride today. Most of the day was on bike path and we had several very icy areas that we had to walk the bikes through.
It was 10:45 AM by the time we pedaled up the bridge and over the railroad tracks. We were on a bike path of some sort or other most of the way to Kangasala. We stopped at a large shopping center and had a great chicken burger at Hesburgers. Cat was concerned about a room in the small town of Palkane. It is Friday night and we thought that the small Motel might book up so she tried to call. One attempt led to a conversation in two languages and a hang up on the other end. Then there was no answer so we continued on blind faith.
The shopping center wasn’t in Kangasala. We still had 5 Km to go and the gal at the Information desk there told Cat that we should take Highway 12 from that point. We started on the north side of the highway then came to a tunnel under it. Thinking that we would turn to the right we took it. There was no path on the south side but we thought the road would circle round and join Highway 12. WRONG! We had to push through a snow back and across a muddy field to find it. I stepped up on the snow and sank almost to my knees, again. It was good for a laugh until I realized that my shoes were full of snow. I held each foot up and did all I could to shake the ice out but my socks were soon wet.
Highway 12 is a lot busier and there was no bike path. The shoulder was fairly wide and marked with a white line most of the time. The road is little ups and downs but it is a beautiful, sunny day and we have a light tail wind. We passed water, well, ice over water, on both sides of the road at one time or another. We saw a couple of ice fishermen and one cross country skier out on the lake. Late in the afternoon we rode through fairly tall trees that blocked the sun. There is still plenty of snow on the ground and it was pretty cool in the shade.
Palkane fell under our wheels at 2:15 PM. We had met a guy who looked like he had already had a few drinks at the Shopping Center. He told us that Palkane was a nothing place. It reminded us of Pucker Brush, Nevada. Remember the story of our friendly family that helped us weather the storm there? No storm here, thank goodness but it is just a truck stop and travel center. The Store, Café and Motel are all one. It was a small room and the beds are bunked up like those in the Ferry Boat. Hey, home is home.
March 29, 2003
Palkane to Lahti
The included breakfast also provided a pilfered lunch. We rolled out the drive at 9:40 AM. The sign tells us that it is 91 Km to Lahti. It is cold and the road rolls up and down. The first little town we passed is Hauho and we wanted to make sure that we would have a room because we will get in late. Cat went in the combination service station/restaurant and tried to ask for a phone. The people working there couldn’t understand but a guy with close cut hair and a little pony tail stood up and told her that he would help. He stepped outside, she followed then he dialed the number from our pamphlet and handed his cell phone to Cat. What a nice gesture. Anth Hyytia is a carpenter, he builds houses in Helsinki. Living in this small town is good for his family. He travels and stays in Helsinki all week then back home on the weekends.
On down the road a short Way we came upon a really strange sight. The car looked like a dog with its leg up from a distance. Up close it was unbelievable! The lucky people, for some reason, veered across the lanes and hit the end of the guardrail. Instead of rolling over three or four times the car caught the rail like a train and rode right up and on it.
We stopped for soup in a wide spot that sported three restaurants. We chose the cute one that turned out to be a bakery. The ladies were nice but refused to help us choose the best of the two across the road. We went for the one with the swarm of big trucks parked around it. The server has jet black hair and a nice smile. She reminded me of an old real estate pal. They would probably be about the same age, too. We looked at the buffet and each chose a different entree. After I paid her Cat discovered a pot of soup and changed her mind. It looked good so I changed, too. Our black haired friend continued to smile as she wrote the credit. The soup was good, full of potatoes and soft meat, like bologna. The only thing we didn’t like was that it had whole clove seeds floating and flavoring.
The sign across the street told us we still had 38 Km to go and it was 3:00 PM. We just pedaled. Cat saw a sign, Keskura and said she thought it meant Center. We turned and coasted down into the center of town. Lost, we stopped a well dress, well groomed looking couple and asked directions. They conferred in Finnish then he used most of his English to tell us 3 blocks up then left. We thanked them and rode to the stop light. Suddenly he was yelling and running toward us. Huffing and puffing he said we should just go one block then left. What a wonderful gesture.
There was a huge statue in a little park on the corner. We had seen signs all day, in fact since leaving Vaasa, to be careful for Moose crossing. It was a moose, okay, a bronze moose but a moose. We were setting up the camera on Cat’s bike when Klaus walked up and said, “Can I help?” he took the picture then I took one of him. He is a Male Nurse at the hospital just across the street. He also pointed out our hotel, just around the corner then hurried off to work.
It was after 6:00 PM by the time we got to our room. We really needed a warm shower! Dinner and a glass of wine and we were sleeping by 9:30. Oh yes, the war rages on. No count available on how many of the enemy Iraqis have been killed and buried but they are saying that 49 Americans and 26 Brits have paid the ultimate. Also the Americans missing numbers have swollen and they know that 17 are POWs. That news should make a few Vietnam Vets roll over in their graves. Damn I wish they hadn’t started, even the brass are saying it will be a longer and I’m saying much more painful war than most thought before they started shooting, killing and dying.
Sunday March 30, 2003
Lahti to Kouvola
Surprise, when we went to breakfast Cat noted that the two clocks in the restaurant read 9:30, an hour ahead of my watch? Yep, the waitress confirmed, they changed to daylight savings time at 3:00 AM.
I took a couple of shots of the fairly un-photogenic main street of Lahti then we rode. That is the sum of the day, we rode. It was cold and some head wind slowed our progress. The bike paths always got very hilly or icy so we took to the road. It was tight, at times then we enjoyed a wide lane or a decent bike path until late in the afternoon. It is 65 Kms on the map but we must have done more than 70 with the back tracking and cutting over snow banks to get out of the traffic then back onto the road. Lunch was pretty non-descript, too. While we ate a little girl ran back and forth in the parking lot. She was wearing a pink snowsuit, probably 3 or 4 years old. For some reason she chose the bikes as her tag for the run away from her parents car. She would run, touch, turn and laugh. We probably got as much fun out of the exercise as she did. The Mom and Dad must have loved to see her expend all that energy before stuffing her back into the car.
With just 15 Km left to ride the road thinned and the traffic thickened. We struggled in a clod wind and a swarm of trucks and cars. It was 5:00 PM CEDST (Central European Daylight Savings Time) by the time we got into Kouvalo. There were three hotel possibilities. We chose the first we would come to. Lost, I went into McDonalds and got excellent direction from the manager. As we checked in the Desk Person, Mari told us the room would be 79€. When I told her that was more than we usually paid she apologized. I asked about Internet Access and she said we could use the computer for 5€ per half hour. When I asked if we could make a deal on that she smiled and said, “Yes.” I asked what the deal was and she almost laughed as she said, “Free, is that a good deal?” How could we pass on that?
March 31, 2003
A Day Off in Kouvola
A cold windy snowy day off. We were tired and tired of the cold and wind but it was the snow that stopped us. This would be a day of rest, Internet and TV. Yes, we have BBC and when the news began overlapping we found several shows in English, dubbed in Finnish. In the late afternoon we walked to the shopping center. The wind whistled around our ears and through our clothing. It is still very cold with an extreme wind chill factor. Toiletries, CDs and floppy disks were our goals and we met every one of them. A picture with our friend, Mari, who had checked us in and shared so much good information with us. We had hoped to have one with her and the bikes but she is off work tomorrow.
April 1, 2003
Kouvola to Lappeenranta
First stop this morning is the Post Office. We mailed a package of maps and back up materials home then rolled out of town in cold, dry weather. The road rises and falls, the shoulder is narrow much of the way. We tried to ride on the bike path a couple of times but gave up at patches of ice and another dead end that required a backtrack.
A light snack in the early afternoon at a truck stop. The gal there was extremely nice, spoke English and was talkative. She told us it was her first day on the job. She had owned a Boutique for 22 years so she had experience. OJ and cookies then back on the road.
Just crank, slow long ups and downs, all of the time in cold air. Our lunch was ham and cheese leftovers. We just stood in the sun, move around to warm ourselves and wolfed it down.
It was late and very cold when we finally rolled into Lappeenranta. Lost, Cat tried to ask directions from a guy. At first he was hesitant then pointed straight ahead and motioned for us to go ahead three blocks. The light changed and he walked across as we stood and talked about whether he was correct or not. We had to wait for another green and as we did he stopped and stood looking back at us. We wondered what he was looking at and why he was just standing there when he had seemed in such a hurry before. The light changed and we pushed. As we reached the opposite curb he stopped us and apologized then pointed to our right. There it was a couple of blocks away, Hotel Sokos. What a nice man, it reminded us of all the people who stopped when we were trying to find the sporting goods store in Tampere.
At the desk we both choked when they told us the price. We told them that our price range was much lower than 120 € per night. Then I mentioned that we had chosen the place because of our stay in Kouvala and that it was 79€ with unlimited use of their computer. She said, “That’s very cheap, the best I could offer is weekend rates, that would be 80 €. Delighted but not wanting to show it I asked about Internet. “Unlimited, of course, it is included.” We were in for the evening.
April 2, 2003
Lappeenranta to Vyborg
There was no hurry to get started this morning. It is –8 and windy outside. As we ate our breakfast we had the ladies at the desk try to book two rooms at the Druzhba Hotel in Vyborg., When we stopped back they said they had no luck. When they did get through on the phone the person there didn’t speak Finnish or English. Oh boy, a sign of things to come. They did suggest a travel agency that specializes in Russian travel.
The cold seemed to cut right through our layers of clothing as we rounded the building and headed down the street. It was already 10:30 AM and we still had to try and book the rooms. What a disaster it would be to get there and not have a place for us or our guide from The Russian Cycle Touring Club, Alexey.
The lady in the second desk took us in and began her work. Paivi Hyttinen told us she was new to the company but had travel agency experience. With the help of Alina they did get in touch with Druzhba and finally reserve the rooms. Then we paid them and they gave us vouchers. It was all done on trust but what other choice did we have?
When they finally understood that we were going to ride our bicycles across one of the gals listening in the back came out and said that we wouldn’t be allowed. “You will have to get a ride across, the Russians won’t allow you in on bicycles.” That started a flurry of phone calls to the border. Paivi and Alina really got involved. In the end they spoke with both sides and both confirmed the other gals story. No bicycle will be ridden across, we would have to make an arrangement with a bus or truck driver to have them hauled over. What a disappointment!
Another stop that we wouldn’t have made without Paivi’s help was a money changing office. They wouldn’t take a credit card so we had to find a cash machine. It was just around the corner and it worked. With a hand full of Euros we went back and emerged with a bucket full of Ruble. The rate is 31 Ruble to 1€. 200€ became almost 10,000 Ruble.
Finally, at 12:30 PM, we rode away from Lappeenranta and our last Finnish town. Finally we were leaving Finland. It seems like years ago that we froze out in October. Speaking of frozen, the wind whistled round our ears and through our jackets. Cat put every piece of clothing she had on and still shivered. No telling what the temp was with the wind chill factor.
It was a 7 Km ride to the north east then we turned toward the south east and Russia. Our map had indicated under 30 Km. to the border. The signs made it clear that it would be 40 Km. Our map showed us that we were riding along the Saimaan Kanava. We think that is the Saimaa Canal, Saimaa is what we think Russians call Finland
In the tiny village of Nuijamaa, very near the Border, we stopped for a bit of food. They called the soup Borscht, it was a cabbage soup but it had those darned clove seeds in it. We again worked around them and had two bowls each. There were a lot of trucks and truck drivers coming and going. A couple of hot looking Russian girls seemed to be flirting with some of them? (Their car had a Russian license plate.) We were excited and in a hurry to get back on the road, cold or no.
Down a fairly steep hill then up and we were at the Border Guard Station. It wasn’t clear to us if the soldiers were Finns or Russian. When we went inside for Passport Control we found that we were still in Finland. They were nice, even allowed a picture with them in front of the building. Then we asked if they were through with us, they nodded yes so we just started pedaling. One guy called out, “Take a deep breath, it’s the last real freedom you’ll breath until you leave Russia.”
With those words still echoing around in the trees and cold air we pedaled out into the no mans land. There is a sign at the actual Border and we really wanted a picture. The Finns had warned us not to even take our cameras out. We heeded the advice. There were cameras on poles keeping track of our progress, we could see them move as we rode slowly up the hill toward the rough looking Guard House on the other side. There were 4 soldiers there. We leaned the bikes and presented our Passports. Sure that they would send us back or make us wait for a truck or bus, we said nothing. The Commanding Officer called someone, slammed the phone down and called again. Finally he leaned out the window, took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “You go!” We went!!
Our celebration was short lived. Ahead we saw a long line of trucks and cars. We rode to the front of the line then stood by the window. Finally another Officer looking asked for Passports then picked up his phone, closed the little window and chattered about Americanskis. Slamming the phone back into its cradle he gave both Passports to a green uniform guy and he walked off to another building with them. We just stood in the sun, tried to stay warm, and smiled. Those were the longest held smiles we’ve ever tried to maintain.
It must have been more than half an hour when the guy came back with our Passports. The man of authority took them then got back on the phone. This time he left the window open and we could understand tow words, Americanski and Velocipede, Americans on bicycles. Another half hour of smiling as he shuffled papers then he motioned us to the window and shoved the Passports across the window frame.
That wasn’t all though, our next stop was customs. We had to wait but they did let us stand inside a small room with a window where we could keep an eye on the bikes. The room was heated and the forms they provided even had English questions. We had to declare our cash, cameras, even the computer. There were a couple of guys from Finland waiting, too. They told us that they were going in to buy cigarettes. “They are really cheap there,” he told us. We wondered if he was just supporting his habit or stocking up to sell them?
Finally, our turn with the Customs Officer. A young man not quite as serious as the others had been. He looked over the forms, had me sign one of them, glanced out the window at the bikes then motioned for us to go on. Uncomfortable, we pushed to the barricade arm that was still in the down position. When I called out to see if he was going to open it he motioned for us to go around. We were off in a flash, we didn’t have to be told twice. Just as we began to feel like we could start the celebration we found ourselves in another gated line. We passed the cars again and went up to another window. This time a nice looking women with a tough look on her face took our Passports then looked us over, made us take our sunglasses, studied our faces then began the stamping process again. Finally she handed them back and with a stone face pointed toward the road. Another false start of celebrating, another guard station. This time three guys including one who we had seen at the first stop on the actual border took a look at our Passports then smiled and waved us on. The entire process had taken more than 2 ½ hours.
We were on a little down hill run when we ran into a huge lineup of parked trucks. Thinking that we were going to be subjected to another level of bureaucracy we pulled up and tried to ask. No one spoke English, we tired of the game so rolled out and on up a hill. As we started a group of Russian Soldiers entered the road, walking ahead of us. The hill was steep enough that we were moving at the same pace. We thought they may have been hunting as they were armed and had a couple of dogs with them. They were stone faced as we huffed and puffed past them, they didn’t respond to our “Hellos”.
Finally, alone in the forest we let out a cautious yell of victory. Then an Army truck passed us and the same soldiers we had just passed walking were in the back of it. More sure of ourselves, we yelled out a big “hello” and they all smiled, waved and yelled back. At last, a real Russian welcome.
The road rolls up and down but follows what is now called the Siamenski Kanal. We crossed several bridges and lockes. It looks like the Canal could be a busy place at some times of the year but today it is completely frozen over. We are alone with the exception of tiny groups of cars and trucks that finally made it through the difficult path of Guards and checkpoints. It was cold and dusk was a threat. At almost another 40 Km we took a turn to the right and away from the Canal. Another 12 Km of bumpy road and we were on the outskirts of Vyborg.
The place looks pretty dingy, the road is bumpy and traffic heavy. We had to push over the bridge above the railroad tracks. Then we realized that we didn’t know where Hotel Druzhba was located. I remembered one of the girls in Lappeenranta saying it was close to the train station. From the bridge we could see it so we took the right turn after the bridge and pulled up in front of the station. There were a few taxis there so I asked and the driver pointed toward a great looking building. That seemed like good news.
At the door of Druzhba, which means friendship, we were welcomed by a big guy who was obviously the security guard. He spoke no English but made it clear that we were not going to take the bikes inside his Hotel. Cat stood in side the first door and watched the bikes while I went in to negotiate with the desk. When I walked up the woman there said in perfect English, “We have no rooms.” I told her my name and she pulled a note out and handed it to me. It was all Russian but the name Alexey made it clear that he was here somewhere. She told me that he was at the Telegraph Office and we could call him on his cell phone.
I was tired, Cat came in and sat with a row of men in black. She was the only one in the line that wasn’t smoking. It was 8:30 PM until I looked up at the clock above the desk. There clock was set at 9:30? Yes, another time change. The woman at the front desk wouldn’t let me use a phone to call Alexey, she said that they have no lines out.
I made another run at the room then remembered that we had a voucher. When Cat pulled it out the lady was indignant, “Why didn’t you tell me before?” (Wow, we owe it all to Piani and Alina.) We checked in and I went to the room to call Alexey while Cat continued to guard our goods. The phone was terrible, full of static and it refused to work. I called the desk and the curt woman said that she would send a man up to show me how to use it. Of course it was the same big guy who held our bikes captive outside his door. He tried and tried then gave up and made an attempt on a cell phone he had. That didn’t work either so he called the desk. He left the room, I followed. At the front desk the cranky woman called on her phone, the one without and outside line. I was able to get the point across to Alexey that we were at the Hotel.
We sat in the “Men in Black” lineup until he showed up. Once there I complained that they wanted us to keep the bikes outside. I was very vocal about our baggage and the value of the bikes. Big guy took us to the parking lot and showed us a power pole where we could lock them. I really complained about the lack of security and we all went back inside. After a huddle with Alexey the bug guy motioned us to the front steps. There he grabbed my bike and started pushing it through the doors of the Hotel. Alexey took his bike so I grabbed Cat’s. Inside we made a quick right and went into a back room to a freight elevator. So, we would sneak them past the bitchy clerk. Oh dear, the elevator wouldn’t work. The big guy gruffly pushed out into the lobby with Alexey and I on his tail. The woman just stood and stared as we pushed to the elevators then inside and up. We would keep the bikes in our rooms. When I tried to tip him, Big Guy shook his head, he wanted 600 Ruble, almost 20€. I objected but paid, it was worth it!
Alexey knocked on our door at 11:00 PM. We invited him in and the three of us huddled near the not so hot heater and ate leftovers we had on board the bikes. He couldn’t understand a thing we said and vice a versa. He did have a dictionary and phrase book but they were slow and difficult. The best tool we had was a picture book that our friend Igor had given him. It is full of pictures of food, rooms, trains, buses and all sorts of travel things. It was to be a point and sound affects conversation.
We sent Alexey off to his room and the beds finally met our heads a little after midnight. We were tired.
April 3, 2003
A Day Off in Vyborg
Planning on breakfast at 8:00 AM with Alexey, we drug ourselves out of bed at 7:30. There was sun shining on the buildings across the ice. A guy took the path across ice and I said, “This guy likes winter, it’s a closer walk to work for him. Down by 8:00, Alexey stood us up. Well he did mention that he only eats twice daily. We received the same, not very cordial, service as we had experienced at the front desk, last night.
Walkin’ on Ice
Bundled up, we walked to the train station for a look. Pretty plain. We circled around the water or should I say ice, across from Hotel Druzhba. There is an open air market with ten stalls. An old guy latched onto us and just kept pulling fun things, like tiny tool kits, a magnetic screwdriver, finally maps of Vyborg and one that covered the roads from here to St. Petersburg. He asked for 5€ and I told him nyet. He continued to follow us and talk then pulled a 2€ coin out of his pocket, pointed and held the map toward me again. How could I resist?
An indoor market with meat, produce, dried fruit and candies caught our attention. We bought some hand sliced ham, cheese, prunes and dried cherries. The dried fruit lady was great. She would open a bag hold it out to us and say, “Nummy, nummy?” She was inviting us to taste. Cat bought the prunes then the gal insisted that we try the cherries. What a salesperson! Of course we bought. We found bananas, too.
Back at Camp Druzhba, we found Alexey’s bike leaning near the front door. He was sitting inside. We had decided to call off today’s ride due to cold. It is –7 degrees and blowing. I got the girl, a different one that last nights Queen of Mean, to let us keep the rooms. Alexey was a little confused, he asked through her, where he would stay. The smile was ear to ear when I told him, you stay where we stay. Guides probably have to go to cheaper rooms on normal group tours.
We had him follow us to our room and we tried to call Igor. The hotel phone proved to be as worthless today as it was last night. Finally Alexey pulled his cell phone out and made the call. I discussed how we pay Alexey with Igor. We reimbursed him, 1000 Ruble, about $30 US for the train fare. We will also pay for a phone card so that we will be able to call for help, even Igor when we need him. That cost an additional 700 Ruble, just over $20 but that seems a bargain if the cold and snow continues. We are thinking we can call for the St. Bernard with the keg of brandy.
The three of us walked to the Post Office and found that they do have an Internet Connection. Alexey went his own way looking for the phone card while we tried to get on AOL until frustrated. The guy was quite nice, he tried to help but in the end it wouldn’t work. They didn’t forgo the charge but it was pretty cheap, 15 Ruble for a half hour. Cat was even more frustrated that they charged.
We thought we had arranged to meet Alexey in our room at 1:30 for lunch. We spread the ham, cheese and bread out and waited then jumped in at 1:45. Maybe we thought we said one thing and he heard another? I even started drinking his soft drink when he knocked on the door. He had been to every shop in Vyborg looking before he finally found a phone card. He ate what was left and I poured the soft drink in a glass. We spent more than an hour trying to communicate. He is interested in our bikes and wants to work on them. I discouraged that, at least until we get to St. Petersburg. During the walk it started to snow, small granular flakes at first then bigger, softer fluffier flakes floated past our window. And it’s sticking, the streets are covered.
At 4:30 we told Alexey that we needed to take a bath. Well, we showed him the word “bath” then played charades until he got it. We made a date for dinner at 6:30 and called the desk to have them tell him in Russian.
We decided to wait until in the morning then decide whether to take the train to St. Petersburg for sight seeing then come back in a few days when the weather and roads clear.
Dinner out, we chose a place, the round tower, that was advertised in the Info Magazine. Taxi was the only way to go in the cold, wind and blowing snow. The tower was a disappointment. There was a party going on in the restaurant and the music was in the ear splitting decibel range. We listened, as Cat took a look and did the thumbs down. The girl in the cloakroom suggested a place just across the street. It was dark like a bar but the music was manageable. We ordered a bottle of Italian wine and assorted food.
When we asked for the bill the girl brought a hand written list to us. It seemed like a pretty good deal. I wanted to make sure she had included the wine. It was there but as we looked it over she came back and took it from me, increased it by 350 Ruble and handed it back. Now I really wanted to know! She played as though she couldn’t understand but we felt that someone could. A guy behind the bar, probably the boss, urged her onward. Several burley guys hovered around the bar and watched. I asked to see the bottle of wine, we wanted to compare it to the menu. I was sure that it had been listed at 350 Ruble. Alexey said “Not nice people.” He seemed worried.
I demanded to see the empty bottle but she acted as though it was gone. Then I went to the bar and asked to see a bottle of the same brand of wine. She resisted then said, “Different, red.” I insisted so she handed me the bottle. The menu had both and they were the same price, 350 Ruble. The boss faded into the back room, the burleys mumbled and moved down the bar. The girl took the bill and changed it back. I felt badly for her, she was being used, by a guy who thought he had an easy victim. Alexey urged us to get out of the place. Not one person said a word as we left but all stared at us.
April 4, 2003
Vyborg to St. Petersburg
Sneg and more sneg. A look out the window made it clear that we wouldn’t ride today. There was at least 5 inches of snow on the ground. The more it snowed, the colder it got, the closer we came to a decision to take the train into St. Petersburg. There we could wait out the weather for a couple of days then come back and cycle. Our plan always included days off there to explore the city. Now we would just do it before we begin riding. When we told Alexey he was genuinely disappointed, he wanted to ride bike.
Alexey and I walked through the snow to the train station. Tickets were a problem. He may have been in control of the situation but he couldn’t relay that to me or let me know what the problem was. We were bounced from window to window in the dank old station. Finally he connected and we had them. We rushed back and finished packing then pushed the bikes through 5 inches of fresh snow.
Getting on board was simple, we just lifted over from the platform to the car and pushed them inside. They let us line them up and I lashed them to the seats. It was cold and got even colder when the train started to move. Alexey checked windows and couldn’t help. Cat hunkered down and bundled up. I went to the toilet, it was dirty and the toilet was metal. I was glad that I only needed a stand up job. It was a cold hour and a half then more blowing snow and cold greeted us in St. Petersburg. Alexey wanted to cycle but we vetoed the idea. We pushed around to the other side of the station and up an icy ramp looking for information. Finally we had Alexey call Igor in Moscow for help. At first he told me of a place that was reasonable but 18 Km from the Center. I told him that we wanted to be near the Center so we could walk or take buses. Then he suggested Hotel Oktiabrskaya, it is near Moscow station but a little expensive.
I asked Alexey to find a taxi van that could take the bikes. The driver was pretty helpful, he even took some of the seats out so that we could cram the bikes in. It was cold, snowing and blowing when we got to the Hotel. Cat went in to get our rooms while Alexey, the driver and I off loaded. We stacked the bags on the snow covered sidewalk and leaned the bikes on the building then he stood guard and I went in to see how we were doing. Bad news, they only had suites available and they were $125 US each. The girl there was very nice and suggested Hotel Moscow but wouldn’t call to see if they had rooms. We told her that we would stay three nights if we could move to a less costly room tomorrow. She was certain that we could. We bought the Suite Deal.
The staff was of no help in moving the bags and bikes. They did hold the door open and unlock the baggage room for us but that was it. I loaded a baggage truck they had and Alexey got the bikes up the stairs and into the storage room. We were ready to explore but lunch came first.
The nice young girl at the desk suggested lunch at a buffet Café across the street. It was a great spread of food. Alexey was preparing to fast so he wolfed down a ton of food. He has some voluntary program, sports related we thought, that has him fasting at times from sundown to sundown. The rest of our day was spent writing journal and getting back in touch with the world via e-mail. They have a business center here with fairly fast Internet Connection. We had more than 140 messages to sort through.
Alexey joined us for dinner at the small restaurant here in the Hotel. When he eats, that boy can really eat!
April 5, 2003
Tourists in St. Petersburg
Our day started with the included breakfast, Alexey is fasting today. We met a couple, she from Singapore, he Texas. They work with an oil company that is having staff meeting is Moscow. The have sneaked away for a day of tourist and fun here before going back to work half way around the globe from each other.
There is an Intourist desk near the front door of the Hotel. The lady, Helen, was a gem. She offered maps and in depth info about St. Petes. We enjoyed talking with her. She cautioned us about being aware as there are thieves and pickpockets. Then she told us about being robbed by a group of young guys in Rome, Italy. She said they circled around her and grabbed her purse. She was screaming, “Don’t rob me, I’m a poor Russian woman,” but it didn’t help. The story was to illustrate that bad things can happen anywhere. We had to agree and told her about our loss of the computers in Portugal.
Alexey joined us and we walked down Nevskiy Prospect, the shopping street. It was too cold to really stay outside but we walked, looked inside stores and shops then saw the roof line of a fantastic Cathedral. As we walked toward it we decided to have a bite to eat. Cat and I had Chinese soup. Alexey watched, he is fasting today. So the big cost of yesterday’s lunch is diminished as he begins not eating.
The fantastic Cathedral is called the Blood because it was built by Alexander II in honor of his Father Alex I who was stabbed to death. It is a true expression of early Russian architecture recreated in the early 20th century. Maybe I should say a study in ornate Cathedrals. The interior is similar to most Cathedrals except the walls are covered with larger than life murals of the Saints. I enjoyed watching the tour groups and taking pictures of some of the people. There were girls on horseback riding around the Cathedral trying to sell rides to tourists. It was blowing snow yet some kids could still talk their Mom into spending a few Ruble for a ride.
A man approached me and said hello in English. He had snaggled and broken teeth and an interesting look about him. I stopped and listened to his story. He was a teacher, English and other subjects. Now he’s trapped like so many retired people here. The Soviet system was similar to our Social Security, he and others his age were counting on it for retirement. How I wish now that I had talked with him more. Damn the cold and snow. How I wish now that I had bought a small book he offered or just given him some Ruble.
We ended our exploration at a very touristy place where crowded stalls of chatsky items are offered. The place must be jammed in season, when the snow isn’t blowing. We bought an Elvis Matruski, the wooden figures carved out with several more of the same or similar figures inside. Just making the choice then the deal was time consuming and exhausting. We found several Elvis’s but finally decided on the older Elvis because Dave has an Elvis suit like the one on that Matruski. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the gal stiffened on her price. She demanded 380 Ruble, the going price was 310 or $10 US. I almost walked away but conceded when I thought about how much David and Lori would like it and that we were only haggling over $2.00. This damn money thing really is confusing.
Walking back to the Hotel was a quest for a phone card with Alexey. Our deal is that we pay his expenses, including telephone. It wasn’t easy, he needed a Moscow card and few places sold it, here. Each shop sent us to another. Finally, walked out and frozen out, we found the card. It was a taxi ride back to Oktiabrskaya. I don’t know why we avoid taking a taxi, the ride back that would have taken an hour to walk, only cost 200 Ruble, about $6.00. Damn this money exchange thing, again.
Cat and I dined in the same little café in the Hotel. Alexey fasted.
April 6, 2003
Exploring St. Petersburg, Hermitage
Cat and I went to breakfast then Internet. We found Alexey and set off to see St. Petersburg together about 11:00 AM. We began walking down Nevskiy Prospect again then froze out. We chose a fast food place for lunch. They had a large variety of foods. I had pasta, Cat soup and Alexey feasted on Salmon and rice. He was definitely eating again. Taking the advice of a woman on the street we jumped on a bus and rode almost to the door of The Hermitage. It was the Winter Palace during the times of the Tsars. There are six building constructed in phases between 1754 and 1787. More than 300,000 items of art and antiquities reside here. 120 rooms are chocked full of West European Art that is regarded as one of the finest collections in the world.
We fell into line with the locals, in the snow and cold. I don’t know how they spot you but a guy came up and began offering a deal to guide us and a deal to slip us in the side door. I hated the idea but it started to make sense when our noses were freezing. We asked a young girl about his offer, she said that he has special tickets for foreign visitors. Comfort overcame cultural and social discomfort, we took his deal and he whisked us through the exit door, past guards and monitors. He began his pitch to guide us but we reminded him that we had told him, up front, that we would not need a guide. No offense to him but we know how they sometimes make sure that you see their favorites of move you toward another piece of business for them.
The next 4 hours were spent just browsing among treasures. It is hard to explain the feeling of standing within reach of a Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens, DaVinci, Monet, even some of Vincent’s work. The time flew by. There is a story of a disturbed person who came in and used a knife to deface a 400 year old painting. It could happen again, at anytime. The security is a small wire that detects movement but it is usually only a foot or two from the masterpieces. Though it seems to lack security it is a boon for those who want to see great art, up close.
That and another hour on the Internet then we set of via cab for dinner at an Italian Restaurant. Alexey wanted pizza and so did we. It was almost disappointing when he received his food and there was no pizza. We asked and he smiled when he told us that he would have pizza after this heaping plate of salmon and pasta. When he eats, he really eats.
April 7, 2003
St. Petersburg to Moscow
Woke up to BBC reports of war. The US troops have entered Baghdad at least a few of them have. Flexing their muscle, they say. I fear that the worst is yet to come and then the long drawn out snipers and suicide attacks. Oh well, who are we to worry about such huge things? My Sister, Joan, is worried about me. She told me in an e-mail that we should love America and follow our President. Well I do love America I just don’t like some of the things we as a Country do, on the skin of this shrinking planet. I remember seeing money and arms flowing into Afghanistan when I was in Pakistan in 1989. We backed the winners and they became “The Taliban.” ENOUGH OF POLITICS!
Our bags were packed and we had them on the bikes by 10:30 AM. We stopped at Alexey’s door and he answered, wrapped in a towel. He doesn’t seem as anxious as we are. Cat is concerned about getting us and the bikes on the train.
Outside, a vicious cold wind greeted us. We cycled, in crowds of pedestrians, to the Mocba Train Station. After carrying the bikes up a flight of stairs and pushing in to a nice warm building, a guard began speaking Russian to me. Alexey intervened and an argument broke out. I did a little video of the malay and Cat got nervous. She said the lady in the glass booth had called someone. We stood for a few minutes then a big cap policeman strode up with his chin sticking out in an air of authority. Our camp folded. We pushed and pulled back down the stairs and around the corner to another large open station. Alexey may have been at fault as we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During the hour wait Cat tried to shop for food. The little “fireplug” ladies were aggressive and she couldn’t seem to get the attention of the clerks at the counter. They have a lot more experience at pushing their way to the front of a line than Cat does.
Boarding time was another interesting experience. We got to our car and started unloading some of the bags when a tall lady in black coat gave Alexei the negative nod. We off loaded and pushed to the car next to the engine. Obviously they didn’t want the door between cars blocked. The wind was really howling and the chill factor really cut through our cloths.
Getting the bikes and bags onboard was a real hassle. We had to pay 250 Ruble (about $7.50) for excess baggage. It was never clear who got the 250 but why should we concern ourselves? We pushed, pulled tugged and struggled around the corner from the entry and into the car. In order to leave an open aisle we hung Alexey’s and my bike by the front wheels and just lopped Cat’s onto the seats. I strapped the wheels up as the train began to jiggle and roll toward Moscow.
By 2:00 Cat and I were hungry so we decided to walk to the Pectopah (Restaurant) car for a bite of lunch. Our car and the next one back must be holdovers from the 1930s. They are rough and just clatter along. As we made our way back the space between cars was open to the ground and the plate steel that was the floor had big gaps allowing the noise and cold to come rushing up around us. At the 4th car back we found that we were locked out? With no one around we struggled with the handle for a while then gave in and went back to left over pizza and stolen fruit and cookies from breakfast.
Alexey has been sewing his shoe. Yes, he has a pair of bike shoes with step in clips that are ripped along the outer edge of the heel. Cat noted that we would just dump them and buy new but as with many things here, they MAKE DO.
Later, we found the door open to the dining car so suggested that Alexey, who has ended his fast, go first while we watched the bikes then we would take a turn. He was back in short time, they had told him food would take more than 30 minutes. He had coffee there then dug out bread and leftovers from his bag. We made our way through the lurching train cars and cold noisy spaces between them to the diner. A young guy putting away dishes in a cabinet near the door looked up and said, “Closed.” Though he had little English he didn’t want to hear our complaints. We were standing in front of a sign that stated their hours, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. I showed him my watch, it was only 7:15. He didn’t offer any explanation or apology, just a shrug. I acted as though I was going to change the sign and he stammered, “I change.” Oh well, this is Russia?
The train arrived on time, we off loaded quickly. It rolled back out of the station empty in just minutes. We put the bags on the bikes then went to the front of the station. Cat called David who had suggested Hotel Russia. He had changed his mind as they want almost $100 per night. He suggested Hotel Leningradskaya which was just a block away. We could see it looking very art deco with lighting illuminating and accentuating the design. Like ducks in a row, Alexey led and we followed down the ramp, onto the street, under a bridge then across two zebra crossings to the Hotel.
It is a classic place like David had suggested. Alexey was sent to the 18th floor, our room is on the 5th. It really is like the old days here. As usual, they take our Passports when the check us in. Then they give us cards to take to the floor our room is on. As you pass from the lobby toward the elevators a guy there requires that you show your card. Then we had to push the bikes up a steep handicap ramp to the elevators. On our floor we had to give the card to a hall monitor. She in turn released the key to us. We were home, in Moscow, at last.
April 8, 2003
Up and at em, the sun was shining bright. We showered then I went up to rattle Alexey’s door. He was up so we went to the restaurant and met Cat there for breakfast. A strange buffet, probably popular among Russians but foreign to us. They did offer orange juice and hard boiled eggs with the spread of cabbage, beets and other items we usually reserve for dinner.
We grabbed our camera and met Alexey back in his room. He has a great view and we wanted to get some pictures. Also, we had him call Igor and explained that we were releasing him but would pay him for today. We really like him a lot. Beyond the in-ability to communicate he has been great. We couldn’t have made it onto the train without him last night. His fee of $20.00 per night was easy but we couldn’t continue paying for his room and meals. He did get the point across that he is staying with friends here. After we gave him the money, a mix of one US 20 dollar bill, a € 20 and 4 €5s. He seemed happy but like us, sad at the same time. We didn’t get to cycle together but he was a great guide. He worried about us walking around and in traffic and often acted like a bodyguard. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Moscow awaits, we walked to the Metro, bought 10 tickets each and rode to The Kremlin. Sounds easy but it was actually a blend of asking at the travel desk in the hotel and asking several people on the street. At one point a women stopped as we pondered our map and spoke English with us. She is a teacher, we thought she would hit us up as a guide but she just wanted to help. We followed her back into the Metro then she told us to us the under pass to get to the other side of the busy street. Her name was Valeria or something close to that. The National Museum, Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, St. Basil Cathedral and Gum Department Store all surround Red Square. You can really feel the glory days here, the days when huge parades of armament and soldiers passed in review for Kruschev, Breznev, Stalin and others. The Tomb of Lenin is open but no cameras, although a women offering her services as a guide, for $20 US, told us that we could take it if we went with her. (Maybe a bend in the rules like the guy who took us in through the exit at The Hermitage?)
Lunch in an Italian fast food place across from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we witnessed the changing of the guard. Similar to that of the change I had witnessed in 1989 at Lenin’s Tomb. It is obvious that V. I. Lenin has really fallen from power and prestige. It was cool enough that we decided to come back tomorrow and get some pictures. It was lunch and the weather that foiled that plan for today. Yes, the sky clouded over and it began spitting down wet snow.
As we walked a group of young guys told us that we couldn’t enter the back side of the Mausoleum and wanted to help us. One was quite insistent and it made Cat a little nervous. She thought that he probably wanted to hire on as our guide. He turned out to be a student from the University of Civil Engineering. His friends were from Bulgaria. They tagged along and helped us find the entrance to Gum, the world famous Department Store is across from Lenin’s Tomb. V.I. would either turn over in his grave or say, “I knew it would be like this,” if he could see Gum now. In 1989 I saw people, mostly Babushkas, little old ladies, standing in line waiting for low quality goods based only on a rumor that a delivery might come. The place is like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or 5th Avenue in New York City. Every upscale shop in the world is represented here, now.
We walked around the outer wall of The Kremlin and to the Hotel Russia to check on a room. That was a mistake. We found ourselves out in a very wet snow squall. Our pant legs and jackets were soaked by the time we got there. The girl was friendly enough but said that they were fully booked. Then she suggested that we call reservations and they could help us? The price was just a little less than our current place. We decided to stay where we were. Back out on the street we tried to get a cab without luck. Back inside, we asked about taxis and the same girl told us to go to the Kremlin View Entrance. We started into the hotel but were stopped. You can’t go into the hallways unless you’re a guest. Irritating that we had to go back out into the weather but probably good security.
At the other end of the Hotel we asked about a cab and the young guy pointed to a desk, inside. As we stepped through the door a guy standing there asked if we wanted a taxi. When we asked if he was a taxi driver he said, “Black Car.” I asked the price and he quoted 300 Ruble. We took the deal, we were soaked and didn’t want to have to walk to the Metro then from the station to our Hotel. It was also a chance to ride in a big, black, Volga.
Igor Nalimov was on time, 6:00 PM in the lobby. We had purchased a little cheese and crackers, wine too, of course. Our Hall Monitor lady was helpful with dishes, knives, forks and wine glasses. We had bought apple juice because Alexey said that Igor didn’t drink alcohol. Wrong, we drank, ate cheese and crackers and talked about time past and future. Then we adjourned to a Chinese Restaurant a couple of blocks down the street that the Hotel recommended to Igor. The food was good but it was the conversation that was great.
I first met Igor at the Moscow Cycle Touring Club in 1989. he was to be our guide but was re-assigned. Later, he visited California and stayed with me. We lived on a boat for a week, jogged and cycled. The Solvang Century is a 100-mile ride. He wanted to do it so I bought the tickets and we rode. When we reached the first check-point they had bananas and pineapple as part of the snacks. Igor said there were more bananas there than in all of Moscow. He really fell in love with the pineapple. He said that they would cost 1 month’s wages in Moscow. At every stop he loaded up then came the big hill up and over, into Solvang. As we started up the hill he apologized and said that he would have to walk. I said, “No apology needed, you’re carrying 3 months wages of pineapple in your stomach.” I waited and we rode triumphantly into Solvang.
When Igor left me I sent him to my friend, Donald Hunt in Marina Del Rey. He stayed there for two days. He told us that Donald only had a small carton of milk in the refrigerator. He was hungry so he drank it. When Donald came in he asked where it went. Igor told him that he had drunk it and Donald said that it belonged to him. He sent Igor to the store to buy a replacement. Donald was probably trying to teach Igor to ask. Igor said that what he learned was how Donald got so rich!
We ate and laughed too late into the evening. Igor will meet us tomorrow and help us get a package from Fedex. What a nice guy. We will attend the RCTC meeting on Thursday and talk about our trip. He also invited us to come with the Cycle Club to the Russian Space Center. We couldn’t pass that up!
April 9, 2003
The included breakfast was pretty interesting. We got there at 9:20 and the table was bare. We got a few cookies and some coffee. Most of the people sort of bumbled around and looked for scraps then a guy in a tie and blue shirt spoke up. In fact he spoke in a loud and firm voice. The woman in charge seemed irritated then embarrassed so she went in the back and brought some things out. He berated her again so she yelled at the rest of the crew and they began to completely re-stock.
The rest of our morning was spent finding then using an Internet Connection. A quick lunch and we had to hurry back to Leningradskaya Hotel to meet Igor at 2:00 PM. We entered the Metro at a different location and were immediately lost. Probably took the wrong train to the wrong place. A nice lady turned us about and we took another for 1 stop. Another nice girl helped us find our way to daylight and there was the Hotel. We were 10 minutes late but Igor was his usual cordial self.
We set off immediately for the Fedex office. Another interesting journey. Our friends at LandRider have sent a video camera for us to use in lieu of a professional shoot. We could not have even found the office without Igor. Once there, we would have really floundered without him. The Fedex office sent us out the door, around the corner and into a very rough looking building. There we had to pass through a Customs check point. The lady gave us each a laminated card after we showed our passports. They gave us more directions through a muddy, shoddy courtyard. On the third floor we finally found a girl who began the process. It took almost two hours to retrieve the video camera they had sent and we had to pay $200 US in Value Added Tax? They even told us that we may have to pay more when we leave the country. What a maze of red tape. Igor has been urging us to have another guy come with us on our re-routed ride to the Latvian border. This may have convinced us?
We parted with Igor in the Metro and promised to see each other tomorrow night. We plugged in the new camera to charge the battery and walked to dinner. This time an Italian place. Struggling with the menu and our Russian speaking waitress I went to the bar and suddenly, there was a guy who spoke perfect English. Dinner was okay, the Georgian Wine was so-so then we danced. They had a duet, keyboard and saxophone. Of course we were a spectacle, Cat said that the gals all wished their guys would dance and the guys hated me for dancing in front of them. Good music and a great dance. A note of interest, they have a Visa sticker on the door but when they presented the bill and we put our Visa Card out they said, “Nyet.” We pointed out that they have the sticker and a guy showed up who spoke some English. He told us that we had to tell them in advance if we want to use credit card?
April 10, 2003
Russian Cycle Touring Club
First things first, we went to the Internet Club. After deleting junk and answering messages we were back in the Moscow Metro and it was a quick trip to Hotel Leningradskaya. The Metro is very fast and efficient. Crowded beyond belief during rush hour but still a good ride for only 15 cents, US. They sell tickets with ten trips for 50 Ruble. A great cast of characters both in the train and around the station. Women sell clothing, food, even fresh vegetables and fish, near the station door.
We have joined Adventure Cycling because they are a great organization. Hopefully they will publish some of our story in their magazine. Part of our membership is 9 magazines a year. I will ask that they send them to Igor and The Russian Cycle Touring Club.
The guards are changed at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier at 1:00 and we were there to get pictures. It is amazing how they kick their leg so high as they march, solemnly, to their stations. In 1989 they guarded the Tomb and frozen body of V. I. Lenin. He was revered as the one who led Russia in the Revolution against the Tsar in 1919. His body and the Mausoleum are still a big part of Red Square but are now relegated to the watchful eyes a small stream of curious tourists. When you get close to the area a small army of women sidle up and politely ask to guide a tour of the Mausoleum with details of the embalming. So far we have resisted?
Dima Paltsev was the young man who helped make my trip across The Soviet Union possible, in 1989. He, his then wife Sabina, a girl named Allah and a friend of his, Sergei were the team who accompanied us. I wanted to have a cyclist but through a strange series of events ended up with a group. Dima was chosen by our hosts, The Soviet Peace Committee, because he had a car. That was very rare in those days. He worked in a car factory so was able to keep an old Lada running. He was 24 years old and his wife 19. The 99 day trip was as exciting and eye opening for them as for us.
Today Dima is a successful business man. He met us at a large stone statue of Karl Marx in Theatre Square and we walked to a very nice restaurant. On the way we passed upscale shops like Versace and Armani, even a show room called Moscow Bentley. Now that’s change from my trip here in ‘89’, the only cars were Russian made. A friend of Dima’s, Irene was there, waiting for us. She is a good looking, English speaking Real Estate agent selling upscale homes in the $500,000 to $2,000,000 price ranges. Yes, that’s US dollars and most are purchased by wealthy Russians. How things have changed!
Irene had to leave but we stayed, talked and laughed about our wondrous times together. Igor has said that we were the first foreigners to cross the Soviet Union by bicycle. Whether or not, it was a unique time that couldn’t be reproduced. Things have changed so dramatically, even the country, USSR, is gone. Dima has matured to a confident 38 year old man. I remember him as a thin, nervous young guy who taught the others how to play Monopoly. He called it a game to teach Russians about business. I think he learned his lessons, well! We ordered a glass of wine and I said, “Some things never change.” He laughed and said, “That’s good, to be stable!”
As we were leaving we stepped out onto a deck overlooking a large square. He told us that two of the building were KGB. Not wanting to miss that shot, I pulled the camera out and as I aimed our waiter opened the door and spoke to Dima. He asked us not to take pictures, they aren’t supposed to allow photographs from the deck. Some things really haven’t changed!
No Pictures, KGB
After making our way back to the Hotel via the Metro we had to hustle to get ready for our date with The
Russian Cycle Touring Club. Alexey was coming at 6:00 and we will cycle to the Club. He called and gave us a much needed half hour reprieve. We were ready and waiting out in front of the hotel at 6:30 but it was almost 7:00 before he arrived. We rode through the crazy traffic like ducks in a row. When Alexey isn’t guiding, he’s a Cycle Messenger and rides like one.
The Club is on the 5th floor and there is no elevator. I wanted the bikes with us for security and to demonstrate to the student members. Alexey grabbed Cat’s and took off up the stairs. Igor and I struggled for two flights then a couple of young guys came down and took over.
President Igor’s Club
We talked about our Odyssey and the journey in 1989. They had questions about our route, how long we were cycling and where we get the money to support ourselves. We explained that I get a pension, that’s what Igor calls it, and we sold our company and receive monthly payments. They wanted to see our equipment so we pulled some of it out of the bags. They crowded around as we demonstrated the Auto Shift feature of our LandRider bikes. One thing that hasn’t changed is the way the club members build, maintain and repair their bikes. Most don’t have much money so they “make do”. Some though do have nice bikes and equipment. It was a fun and interesting evening. As our portion ended a burly guy grabbed my bike and two others carried Cat’s down the five flights. Big, strong Russian guys.
The ride back was even more fun, in the dark. With our helmet tail lights blazing we darted in and out of traffic following Alexey. At the Hotel he pulled out two albums of photos. A trip he and three others had taken in the Ukraine last year. As we looked he disappeared. We were perplexed but waited until 10:00. When he failed to return we took the books to the room and got ready for bed. At 11:00 one of the English speaking guys from the club called from downstairs. He and Alexey were here to pick up the albums? Turns out that Alexey had hurried back to the Club and taught a class.
I went down with the books, we talked a little then they started out the door. A woman, one of the three at the front desk called out and Alexey went to talk with her. I thought they were giving him a hard time so I walked back out to intervene. Interesting, the intrigue one dreams up when they don’t understand the language. My thoughts of Government intervention or power of the women at the desk dissolved when they said the women wanted to know who we were, why we all rode bikes and wore yellow jackets!
April 11, 2003
Moscow, Video and Snow
The usual Russian Breakfast, beets, carrots and cabbage. The hot main dish was hot dogs and mashed potatos. Today there were some warm fried eggs as compared to the normal cold. We ate late and lazed until Alex, who will help us complete our trip in Russia, arrived at 11:00. He is a small 70 year old guy. Igor says he is a Master of Cycle Touring. The one big problem is that he hasn’t mastered English yet. He does speak German, we don’t know if that will help or hurt. Our quest is to get train tickets back to Vyborg. It would turn out to be another test of our patience and a confirmation that we should have a guide. We went from window to window when we finally were told in unsteady translation with a lot of German thrown in, that if we took the night train we would have to put the bikes in cases. I was worried about the night train because we would have to get a little sleep and Cat usually doesn’t. We need to be rested before setting off on a long bike ride. We changed to the day train leaving at 12:30 and were assured that we could take the bike with us. The entire process took more than 2 hours and 2 calls to Igor to translate. We still don’t have a Hotel in St. Petersburg? The day train gets in at 8:20 PM and we have to cycle across town to be close to the Finlandia Station because the Vyborg train leaves at 8:30 AM. A very frustrating morning. Some of the clerks were as rude as our Hotel desk clerks.
Breakfast Beets and Cabbage
Lunch was a picnic in the sitting room of our floor of the Hotel. We bought a chicken leg, added that to the leftovers from last night and it was great. The bikes loaded, we set off across town to meet with Anatoly, a guy that Igor had found for us at the last minute. Cycling in traffic is always a treat but in Moscow the cars really go fast even on narrow side streets. It only took two asks to make sure we were on the right street and we rode right up to the walls of the Kremlin. Anatoly was a little late so our filming session didn’t get started until 3:30 PM. He is an interesting fellow. Speaks a distinctive brand of English with sing songy Russian flavor. Our first practice session showed how little we knew, he and I, about the video camera. It seemed to be resisting but finally we got a pretty good take in front of General Zchochov astride his giant horse.
After several more failed attempts we got another then pushed into Red Square. He was most intrigued with the churches and history. In his beautiful sounding English he told details of the small church and the fact that Stalin had destructed the gates we came through in order to get tanks into Red Square for the big military parades. We rode slowly in front of Lenin’s Tomb and got a pretty good sweeping shot. As we turned to come around for a second take a police car honked his squawker and said something into the loud speakers. Anatoly said, “We must not ride our machines here but we can push.” Our second take would be of us walking the bikes on the same route and within the watchful eye of the Law.
It began to snow as we pushed and the temperature seemed to dip several degrees. We pushed the bikes up on the walkway that separated Red Square from the department store, Gum then rode, legally toward St. Peters Cathedral. It is wrapped in construction netting and not very photogenic on the Square side so we went around behind. There we stood in thickening snow and tried to figure out what had happened to the camera. It would only take still pictures. It was Anatoly who noted that it was on Card instead of Tape. Once that mystery was solved we did a couple of turns sweeping past Hotel Russia and in the snowy shadow of St. Basil. The cobble stones were getting slippery as we rolled down around to the south wall of The Kremlin. The snow was getting wet, a rise in the temperature?
Anatoly continued to insist that we must see the Cathedral of Christ The Savior. I tried to get my point across that I had to meet my friend Sergei at 5:00 PM. He had us standing in front of it in the wet and wind. Cat was shivering. He went up on the steps and talked or argued with the guard. I thought he was trying to get permission to take the bikes inside. I approached him and learned that they were closing. He wanted us to go talk with the Priest and get his permission to go in after closing. It was tempting, he continued to plead, “I am so very sorry that I was late. It is my fault that you couldn’t see the most beautiful Church in all of Russia. When Stalin had it destructed even Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt had a piece of it taken to your White House.” Yes, Stalin had it torn down but is has been reconstructed with care to the details of the original church.
I was relieved when Anatoly finally, reluctantly agreed that we should start back to the Hotel. He led us in a different direction that included a hill, something that we had thought wouldn’t be found in Moscow. It was 5:40 when we rolled up to The Leningradskaya. I rushed into the bar and there he was, Sergei. It had been 14 years since our adventure crossing The Soviet Union. We shook hands then I rushed out to say goodbye to Anatoly and bring the bikes in and up to the room. It isn’t easy to tell Anatoly goodbye. Goodbyes are always tough but he didn’t want to let go. He continues to try to find a way, a different time or day when we could get together and see the Cathedral.
Cat showered while I sat and talked with Sergei. He is heavier and a great deal more worldly than the 24 year old kid I remember. The boy who loved to go fast on a Motocycle and drink hot tea on hot days was now an International Lawyer. A coat and tie guy who has traveled the world over defending corporate clients. Self assured in his professional life, his personal life is completely askew right now. He has divorced and it’s obvious that she, not he, wanted out. He said that being a lawyer is a boring life of long working hours. Also, she liked to dance, he doesn’t. She wanted to go out and eat, drink and dance. He has a large home, probably worth $2,000,000 or more, US dollars. (Real Estate is sky high here, as Dima’s friend Irene had told us.)
We had a close and personal talk about life, marriage and family. Though he has just been coasting for almost a year while his family life crumbled his plan now is just to work and earn. He is 38 and wants to have 60 million US Dollars in ten years then retire. It may be a retreat from reality or the pain of his loss but a worthy ambition. It almost felt like a Father and Son chat to me. Sergei told of his adventure when he became the first Russian to field a team in the Paris to Dakar Rally. He said that when his people complained about the tough conditions or heat he told them of a guy who rode a bicycle across the Kizil Kum Desert and he’d say, “If he could do that, we can drive cars!” (I felt proud of having done it and that he was proud to have been a part of the adventure.) He said it was the greatest time of his life. It was probably one of my high points, too. (Except for the failing marriage that I really didn’t want.)
Cat came down at 6:45 and met Sergei. Reluctantly, I had to end our meeting. We have a dinner date with a couple from Ventura. They bought a home from Paulette, one of our agents with Patterson & Tintorri Realtors. Cat took a picture of us shaking hands then I grabbed him and gave him a “Russian Bear Hug.” As I did I whispered, “There will be another woman and more happy times.” It was fairly emotional so I left quickly. We promised to keep in touch and to see each other again. He worked on a case in San Francisco just a month ago. It was a quick turn around 2 day deal. He appeared, then negotiated away a 1 ½ million dollar lawsuit and got the opposition to pay his client $75,000 re-imbursement of costs. His fee was $50,000. He will have that 60 million, I have no doubt.
Luckily David and Geyla, our dinner dates, were stuck in traffic. I was showered and dressed by the time they arrived. He is Vice President and Manager of the Russian branch of Harvest, an oil company. David is from Michigan, his wife Geyla was born in Venezuela, she’s in the family business. They have 4 kids, 2 hers and 2 his. The oldest are in college. She is pregnant and they have just applied for adoption of two Russian orphans. That’s family in a big way. They gave us a tour of Moscow as we drove to the restaurant. It is atop a hotel with a great view of Moscow. The food was good, rich but good. The price was pretty rich, too. David snapped up the check so we made a deal that they would go to lunch with Paulette next time they are in Ventura. We are members of The Tower Club, a place similar to this, on the 21st floor of an office building. It was great to be speaking English at normal speed. We had a wonderful time. It was after midnight before we finally got to bed.
Roof Top Tour
April 12, 2003
One year ago today WorldRiders2, Pat & Cat, cycled away from our office and our NORMAL life. We have come a long way, physically and mentally in these 12 months. Some days it seems like just yesterday when our friends and family gathered to see us off. We’ve cycled almost 9000 Km (5000 miles) and traveled the length of Europe in Lil’ Scotty. We’ve made hundreds of friends, in The World and on The World Wide Web. At times it has been very tough, lonely and physical. However, other times we have spent in new places with new friends far out weigh the difficulties. What a year this has been, what a great world we’re in, it’s almost like being in LOVE, with life!
Dima was to pick me up at 8:00 AM. I called him to see how he was doing. He apologized but I had to confess that I needed the extra ten minutes to finish dressing.
Cat has decided that she doesn’t need to see his old cars and may get her hair cut so she won’t go. As I exited the elevator Dima was scuffling with the two guys who are stationed at the door between the lobby and receptions hall. When I asked what the problem was they let him go and he straightened his overcoat. One of them looked at me and said, “Your friend is crazy.” I think he just started in without regard to their authority. As we turned to leave he spat out a few words toward them, Russian words.
He has a western attitude. Parked next to the hotel was a slick but dirty looking Mercedes coup. We flew though the streets of Moscow to a restaurant and had food, coffee and good conversation. Back on the road he wove in and out between cars and trucks at a furious speed. Dimitry Paltsev was the leader of our expedition across the USSR in 1989. He was a rare Russian youth, he owned a car. He loved to drive and drive fast. The car, a Lada, was his because he could keep it running, he worked at the factory. We talked about buying and exporting old cars to the US. They had several wonderful looking cars that were from tooling of companies that discontinued production. Packard was one and the cars here held the 1930s look into the 50s. Then they bought Hudson and made big cars of them.
Dima explained his life since 1989 and it reads like a fairy tale. He worked with Michael Harshon, the guy in charge of Soviet Travels for Peace and Environment who actually made the trip possible. Michael started an investment fund when the Soviet Union was dissolved and privatization came to Russia. Dima worked with him and became a partner. The firm grew the largest fund in Russia. Buying vouchers that were given to each citizen for cash then trading for companies, real estate and businesses of value. Michael is retired and living near San Francisco. He has a house at Lake Tahoe, his kids are almost grown. He is teaching snow boarding. Michael was a champion white water rafting sportsman in the old USSR. Sergei did some work with them in the beginning before his practice. I feel that Dima and Sergei both made the leap from typical poor Soviets to rich Russians because of our trip together back in 1989. Michael knew Ludmila, Sergei’s mother. He asked around for a motorcyclist who would accompany two Americans. She volunteered her son then Michael decided that we should have a car along and Sergei introduced him to his friend, Dima.
As he grew and earned Dima retained his love of old cars and we were going to see his toys. The drive was thrill a minute. When I glanced at the speedometer on one leap between a car and truck he hit 200 Km per hour. I told him I was uncomfortable and he said with a laugh, “It is always less comfortable in that seat.”
Two of his cars are at a make shift shop 50 Km from Moscow. One is his old beater that he drove for several years. He has spent $10,000 US on it and it still needs a lot. The other is a ZIS, the copy of a 1942 Packard. This car is fantastic. He has had it on the road but wanted heavier suspension. It is original looking but actually a street rod. The frame, suspension and engine are Mercedes Benz. He drove it to St. Petersburg for a friends wedding and chauffeured them around town. He said they got a lot of open mouths when people saw the car. I could see why. By the way he has $80,000 US invested in it. It’s not for sale but he would consider $150,000. (Everything has a price!)
The time in the car was great for reminiscing. We relived those wonderful 99 days in ‘89’.and compared stories. I decided that we must sit down together and write the story, some day. It might sell better here than in the US. It was a huge adventure that can’t be repeated. Everything including the country has changed. People here know that better than those in the United State. Dima knows the US through a car window. Typical of him, he spent 3 weeks about 4 years ago, driving across the US from Boston to San Francisco with his son Timothy. (Timothy is 9 ½ now. He is Dima and Sabina’s son. They are divorced. She was only 19 when we shared our adventure. She was in charge of food and I don’t think she had ever cooked?)
Dima made a mad dash for Moscow to show me his baby. No not his 2 ½ year old daughter that he shares with his fiancé but his ‘56’ Mercedes 300 roadster. It is garaged in a building he and a partner own in downtown Moscow. Another beauty by anyone’s standards. He is going to repaint it to the original color. It is his classic and he wants it as original as possible. It does have an after market hard top but he likes the convertible top. In fact he says that you can drive it 120 Km per hour and not have wind around your face. The building also houses a start up company, Steppes Travel. He and a partner from England have just kicked it off. Selling soft adventure to Russian travelers. In fact they are sponsoring a luncheon to kick it off next week. (In some ways I think our trip helped to instigate this idea. Moscovites have money and want to travel. I hope he does well at it.)
During the drive in Moscow Dima had another opportunity to flex his muscle for me. He pulled around a bus then into the torn off lane. The Police waved him over and leaned through the window. They talked then Dima laughed. The Cop made a snarling remark, Dima laughed again and we drove away. He explained that the officer wanted money. Dima felt that he was correct enough that he could present a good case in court if he had to. He told the Policeman to formalize the ticket and he would fight it. The officer wanted Dima to give him 100 Ruble. Dima said that he was embarrassed because his guest is a foreigner and he didn’t want to have me see the Police break the law. The Cop told him that they could look in the trunk and he could give him money there. That was when Dima laughed and said, “Why would I do that?” That was when the Cop muttered, “You are greedy” and Dima drove away.
The time had flown by as fast as Dima had driven. We were to meet some of the members of the Cycling Club and go by train to Cosmonaut City or Star City, the Cosmonaut Training Center. We stood by the car and talked then got a guy to take our picture. Like Sergei, I hugged him as the shutter fluttered and like Sergei, he hugged less than I did. Maybe it’s just not a Russian guy thing. Ah, parting. I just spun on my heel and headed for the Hotel door.
Cat hadn’t gone to get her hair cut. In fact she hadn’t left the room but she had reorganized the bags and made them ready for travel. We waited on the steps until 11:30 then decided that we had misunderstood or they had as no one showed up. Back up to the room, we decided to try to call Anatoly, our camera man, and ask him to call Alexey who speaks no English to find out what had happened. A real round about way to communicate but it worked. They thought we knew what train to take. They did give Anatoly directions to the train station and from the station at Star City to Cosmonaut Center.
Amazingly, we were able to buy tickets and get on the train to Tsilkovskaya with a little help from several new friends that we’ll never know. People really try to help but the staff aren’t that helpful. Once on the train, we had no idea how we would know the stop where we should get off. We thought it was a 20 minute ride. A guy sitting next to us tried to make conversation. It was obvious by his breath that he drank during the day. He started whispering, motioning for us not to listen to the people coming through the car, selling things. A group of musicians came in and I took the camera out. He grabbed my arm but I shook him off. Cat thought he was cautioning us not to show the camera. I did get a little video clip of the music but you can’t see the group. When they came down the aisle I took my wallet out to give them a tip. He was very aggressive and physically urged me not to give them money. I couldn’t find a small bill and they passed by. He had his way then, he began asking for money, for Vodka. His sign language was easy to understand, he had a hard time getting the meaning of NYET.
The Band Played On
There was a quiet cyclist in the seat ahead of us. We tried to talk with him. He was shy and only spoke Russian. He did try to point out the stop we should go to on the train route. Both he and our whispering drunk left at the same stop. The drunk motioned that we should go on. As we rolled away from that station they were both peering through the window. I turned and asked a woman two seats behind us. She was quietly reserved but did get the point across that we should stay on the train. Each time the train stopped we would look at her and she would shake her head. Then, at one stop she motioned that we would go to the next. It turned out to be an hour and fifteen minute ride.
The club members were there, at the gate, which was a 5 minute walk from the train through a wooded area on slushy snow. They were into their trials and the first team, handicapped riders came in soon after we arrived. We couldn’t go in until the first group of riders finished, then we would join them. By the way, one of the handicapped riders had a leg missing and another had no hands. Very inspiring. They did a new event for the club, slow riding. They had a course about 50 feet long cordoned off with plastic tape. The idea was to ride as slowly as possible. If you touch the tape or put a foot down you’re penalized. One guy was so good he could stop and sit then move a little and stop again, unfortunately he lost his balance and concentration near the end and touched a toe three times.
Alexey Climbs Stairs
Finally the long awaited for visit. We followed a couple of young guys on their bikes and walked probably a mile to an austere looking building where we accompanied the group on a tour led by a military guy speaking Russian. This is the actual training center. It is a military base. They do have a NASA office here, too, to coordinate activities of the International Space Station. They had a mock up of Mir, the first manned space station to orbit earth. We crawled around an on it, even into one section. Then we walked to another brick building and saw the water tank where Cosmonauts train in weightless conditions. We talked about abandoning our Odyssey and getting $30,000,000 together. Then we could fly orbits, like the two other Americans have in the past, that had trained here. We abandoned that idea when we considered how big a stack of money $30,000,000 would be!
Cat was starving so we went to the Café while the group toured the little museum. Four of the young members of
Russian Cycle Touring Club were there. They had seen our presentation and one wanted autographs. Then they asked us to pose for a picture. We had to have one, too. What nice kids. One of the girls had spent time in England an spoke enough English to have a conversation.
He’s Got Balls
Over all it was pretty boring. Oh, there
were moments but most of it was things we had seen
and experienced at the National Space Museum in
Washington DC. Well the patches on the sleeves of
the suits were different but all else pretty much
Back at the gate, the trials were continuing. Igor had a schedule for the train, the next one would be there in 5 minutes. We shook hands with lots of cyclists then I gave Igor one of my now famous Russian Bear Hugs and we ran toward the train platform. It was on time and we were on board. The ride back to town was easy as everything is once you know how. It was after 7:00 Pm when we got back to the Hotel. We hit the phone, trying to line up a Hotel in St. Petersburg. No luck so I called Igor. He tried to help but couldn’t get through, either. He called back and said that he had booked a call through the operator. We went down to the restaurant for dinner.
Enjoying the Ride?
When we came in from the train we stopped at the restaurant and a nice lady who spoke great English interpreted the menu for us. We decided to eat there and she told us they would be open until 10:00 PM. When we went back down at 9:00 and the fellow in the restaurant told us they were closed. Upset, I pushed and he worked up enough English to tell us that the Bar was serving food. We went into the bar and the servers there said, “No food!” I tried to tell our story of whoa, but to no avail. One woman who spoke a little English tried to help. When it was obvious that they wouldn’t serve us I insisted, “Why?” She looked at us and said, “It is Russia.” That kind of pissed me off so we went back to the Restaurant. The nice English speaking woman was there and she confirmed that they would serve food in the bar. We told her they had said no. She asked us to wait and she went to the bar. When she came back she said sit anywhere, we will serve you here. Then the ultimate insult, they had no wine, or would serve none? The bar was closed? We walked!
Out into the cool night air and down the street we went, back to the Chinese/Japanese Restaurant where we had dined with Igor. We had a nice bottle of wine and Sushi. It was 10:00 Pm but it was a great dinner.
Sunday April 13, 2003
Moscow to St. Petersburg
Today, we’re movin’ on. I awoke early and pulled Cat out. We showered and were at breakfast by 8:30. We needed the Internet, messages were piling up and I must find a place to store Lil’ Scotty. A new 50 Ruble ticket and we were in a train and on our way. The Metro was virtually deserted. As we entered the shopping center the security guys said they were closed. When we said we had come for the Internet they motioned us in. Messages answered and messages sent then back on the Metro. The market is a brisk walk. We loaded up on food and hurried back to the Hotel. It was after 11:00 when we pushed out onto the steps. Alex was there and we were off to the next leg of our Odyssey.
Another lesson in persistence and patience. They wouldn’t let us take the bikes on the train. Alex was shocked, we knew this would happen, we’ve been here before. Finally a deal was made to sell us a compartment and let us keep the bikes in the Coffee Shop area. Of course it cost an additional 1500 Ruble. (About $45.)
Once on board, we settled in. I started typing journal while Cat and Alex struggled to converse. He really is trying. He brought a book with him and is studying. I think he will be speaking pretty good English by the time our time with him is finished. I got so tired that I dozed at the keys of the computer. When I awoke with a start I found that my finger was stuck on the keyboard and I had typed about 20 lines of the letter F. I put it away and crawled up to the top bunk and snoozed.
We had dinner in the compartment with wine. Alex said that he didn’t drink spirits but heartily joined us in drinking wine while we ate. He really is going to be a fun guy. He contributed chicken his wife had packed and salt pork. It had been years since I had tasted salt pork, it is salty and greasy, not unpleasant unless you think about the sludge it adds to the arteries.
The train arrived at Moscow Station in St. Petersburg at 8:40 PM. We off loaded then put the bags on and cycled down the shopping street, Nevskiy Prospect then right on Liteiny to the bridge across the Neva River. There we dismounted and had a conference. Alex was steadfast that we needed to go on, we felt that it was just down the street, on the river front. He finally gave in and we pedaled on the sidewalk and up to the door of St. Petersburg Hotel.
Cat and Alex went in while I stood guard. Cat said that the woman told her they had no rooms available then Alex jumped in, in Russian and we suddenly had two. Funny but we think that the rooms we were assigned are old and haven’t been renovated. They must not like to rent them to foreign visitors. Having Alex along makes us Russians! The rooms are basic but adequate. He was in the room next to ours. It was after 10:00 PM. Cat readied for bed, I took a 40 minute turn on the computer in the Business Center. We had a ton of messages, I lost track of time until the clerk came to remind me that they close at 11:00. Cat had BBC on, her glasses on and her head back on the pillow. She was sound asleep. It had been a long day.
April 14, 2003
St. Petersburg to Vyborg and on to Repino
We met at 7:00 AM in the lobby. Cat checked but they don’t open the Breakfast room until 7:30. Since we know the problems of loading bikes on trains we decided not to wait. As we left the Hotel Alex started to lead us out into the heavy morning traffic. We yelled and turned toward the sidewalk. That was the first time we noticed his very cute way of saying, phooey. He raises his right hand then swings it down quickly. He was disappointed, he wanted to mix it up with the cars and trucks. We were cautious, or should I say prudent. We stayed on the sidewalk. He grudgingly joined us. It was an ask, ask, ask kind of trip. With all the asking we still missed the turn. A guy pointed down the dirt alleyway he had just emerged from and Alex rode that way. We followed but again prudence told us not to follow him into a huge mud puddle. He made it but if one of us had lost balance and put a foot down they would have been in wet socks all day. We pushed as he again did the little hand movement.
Our train arrived in Vyborg at 9:45 AM. It took time to get them off then cross the tracks. Alex decided that we should lift them, what a struggle. My rear wheel has been acting strangely, I checked for broken spokes, found none so assumed that I needed air in the tire. A very friendly fellow who seems to be in charge of air at the Service Station waved us in, in front of a woman in a car. She was fairly indignant, maybe it was one of those times when we were better off not understanding her tirade. I tried to ask the guy for
65 PSI but he and their system is different. Finally by feel, we arrived at 4 BAR. (I assume that a BAR is some measurement of Barometric Pressure.) We had soft drinks and snacks and finally, at 12:00 noon, we were headed out of Vyborg. Alex seemed to stop and ask almost everyone we saw along the way and still managed to get us lost. A nice lady pointed back in the direction we had come from then she and Alex chattered away. Finally he gave in and we turned around. Once on the highway we knew we had our work cut out for us. It would be a long day.
As a city, Vyborg was one of our least favorites. Sort of a typical border town, most of the people weren’t friendly and the air was thick with the fumes that spew from the never ending line of big trucks coming and going from Finland. It was cold, even a few flakes of snow blowing around but the roads were clear. Though our ride was only about 50 Km none of us was trained up for it. Alex hadn’t ridden in several weeks and we had been off the bikes for 10 days. Between the traffic, language problems and getting to know Alex, the first hour was pretty tough. Then we took a turn for the countryside, off the main road.
This was really Russian countryside. Tiny villages occasionally broke the monotony of the spindly treed forests and open grass land. It was cold and we went through swirling wind, wet with snow then very cold air with tiny, icy snow in it. Hunger began to set in. We asked Alex if there would be a store (magazine) or Café along the road. He chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. We entered a large village and he asked but was told there were no stores or Cafes. People, many men in military uniforms, were walking along the roadside carrying plastic bags. We insisted that they must have a store. Alex got the point across that it was an Army Base and the store was inside the imposing wire fence.
I Have No Understand
At the main gate to the Base Alex pulled up and spoke to the guards. They in turn called out to a guard shack nearby and we heard guys inside calling out, “Hello, how are you?” They swung the gate back and Alex told us that we would be allowed to eat in the Base Café. If you are in or have been in the US Military don’t confuse this with the Mess Hall or Enlisted Men’s Club. The room was sparsely furnished and the furniture was well worn. The only customer in the place was also well worn looking. Dressed in camouflage fatigues, he sat starring straight ahead, a beer in one hand while shoveling food in with the other. The women who worked there were very nice and the food was hot and tasty. It was after 3;00 Pm when we forced ourselves to go back out into the cold.
Some how we missed the turn off to Rostsino. Alex had continued to assure us that Igor knew of a hotel there. It looked out of the way to me but we were getting tired. The cold with wind and bits of icy snow combined with the ups and downs weren’t helping. Yes, just when we thought it couldn’t get worse we started pulling some pretty good little hills. Suddenly we had the frozen Baltic Sea off to our right. We were at least 10 Km beyond the turn off. Alex remained upbeat as best we could tell. He stopped and asked everyone we saw in the desolate cold about a hotel. Almost grinning, he told us that there was a Hotel next to the train station, just 5 Km further. As we pushed onward the snow thickened. At the spot where there should have been a hotel there wasn’t. False information! Continuing to ask, he said that we should find a place in just 3 Km down the road across from the church. The church was there but no road, just snow across from it.
At one point, Alex swerved across the road into a service station. We pulled up and waited in blowing snow. He rode away from there toward a house, we were really getting cold. We pushed across the road and leaned against a building to get out of the wind. A young boy rode up on a bike and we asked, Hotel? He looked at us as though we were aliens, which we are, shrugged his shoulders and rode away in a flurry of snow. When Alex returned he confirmed that there was no Hotel at the Train Station. He thought there was one coming up, soon. Cat was nervous but what else could we do, we rode on through the storm.
As we strained to see through the thickening, swirling snow we came upon a building that looked like a Hotel. We couldn’t tell if it was open. There were no cars in front. We pushed through heavy slushy snow to the door. Inside we met a strange group. The two guys who greeted us were cordial but when we asked for a room they said that we must talk with the Director.
Alex pulled us aside and indicated that the place was too expensive. When the Director finally came down he was haughty. His prices were 4500 Ruble for a double and 4000 for the single. I tried to negotiate. We didn’t think there was anyone else there. I told him it was off season and we could only pay 3000 for the double. He was adamant that the price was firm. We felt that he thought he had us by the snowstorm. We didn’t take long to decide to move on.
Outside, Alex told us that he was sure there was another place at the road to the right of the Church. When we got there, there was no road to the right. He had a long conversation with two guys while we stood shivering in the snow and wind. They told him that there was a bad Hotel 9 Km further and a nice one 9.5 Km away. Cat wanted to turn back to the expensive place. I convinced her that it was at least 5 Km back so we should go no.
Blindly, in a snowstorm we really pushed ourselves. We had passed a sign indicating that Vyborg was 100 Km behind us, and that was on the big road. When the old Hotel sign shown through the gathering gloom and snow we turned in and I waited while Cat and Alex checked us in. I brought his and Cat’s bikes up the 25 steep stairs. Mine was just too heavy so I waited for help. Alex is funny, he is like a bull. I wanted him to push the back of the bike while I lifted the front wheel up each step. He felt a nee to lift. Each time he lifted the front wheel would dig in rather than roll then I would have to lift. I just couldn’t get the point across and we finally ended up on the same step, lifting the entire 120 pounds one step at a time.
The place was an old style Soviet Hotel, the rooms were pretty bad but it was sort of warm and we were out of the snow. It was after 9:00 PM and we were hungry. With the bikes safely stored in the rooms we hit the restaurant. It was surprisingly good. We had Fried Chicken wings, salad (cukes and carrots) then Alex and I topped it off with ice cream. As tired as we all were, we had a nice time clinking glasses and toasting to a 120 Km day.
April 15, 2003
Repino to St. Petersburg
Breakfast was to be served in the bar, called Alex. We had a good time chiding him about bringing us all that way through the snow and cold just to make sure his restaurant would have our business. The bar even had a brass pole where the girls swirl and show their stuff. I took a turn at it but since my audience was limited to the three of us, I only got a couple of cheers and whistles. For breakfast we had a first, wieners and green peas with catsup.
Country side became commuter land. Large homes on only slightly larger lots. They reminded us of North Ranch, West Lake Village, California. I used to say they had ¾ acre houses on ½ acre lots. These were trophy homes for the St. Petersburg Nuevo rich. One friend said they call them “Nuevo Russian.” I didn’t get a picture of the Nuevo mansions but they are there, freshly landscaped or under construction. I did take some of the new construction of flats and condos that dominate the roadway skyline.
There is a bridge, whose span goes off to the right, out of our view. It must be famous because Alex required that we stop for a picture. From that point we were on a sort of freeway. The housing gathered into heavier clumps, mid and high rise began to take over the private homes. I did see a guy hiking along the road in hiking pants, boot and a pack. He seemed out of place as he marched toward the wall of flats.
The City sign for St. Petersburg was another photo op. There was even a little snow left on the ground for effect. From that point onward we were urbanized. A steady flow of traffic spread into two lanes of aggressive drivers all trying to save a second or two. Like so many things lacking in Russia, when the road with two lanes widened just slightly they began to improvise. When you improvise a lane that isn’t there it tightens the space between cars considerably. Cars almost rub against one another and of course they take the shoulder where we are riding. As we squeezed closer and closer to the curb one aggressive van driver whipped into the unmarked curb lane. He made it passed Alex and Cat but when he got next to me the road narrowed. He began to press to his right and right into me. When he hit my mirror it popped off and the stem it is attached to scraped his paint. He continued to crowd and I began to see a disaster in the making. If I hit the curb I’d go down hard. I freed my left hand from the handlebar and pounded on the van. He slowed and tried to move left but there was no room. Scraping along the side of the van, my helmet and shoulder were now dragging the side, also. Ever so slowly he pulled left and I wobbled right. Then he accelerated as though he wanted to run. I was pissed and started to pedal hard to catch him. The light ahead changed to red and he was trapped.
Shaking with elevated energy from the adrenaline rush I charged up to him, lay the bike down and stood in front of his van. He slowly got out and I couldn’t think of anything to say so I almost yelled, “Did I hurt your van?” I was surprised that he understood, he looked back at the scrape mark and said, “Nyet.”
Alex and Cat pulled up and the three of us continued to scold him. Alex told him that he had broken my mirror and should replace it. The event was over, it could have been terrible but I was in one piece. Still a little shaky I listened as Alex continued his tirade then calmed and said, “Don’t worry about the mirror.”
I got the bike up and stood in front of the van. Then, Cat took a picture that we call “Eyes wide shut.” (From the Tom and Nicole Movie.) I have now been hit by a blind Portuguese truck driver and a Russian guy in a van that drives with his eyes closed? Maybe next time he will think before he crowds right? As he drove away Alex pulled my mirror out of his pocket. The little devil had picked it up but told the driver it was broken. I popped it back on and we were off.
Cat and I began to look for sidewalks and bike paths to ride on. Alex gave us more and more of his little hand signs, arm shoulder level then flail downward with the hand. He wanted to ride in the traffic but we hated it. In frustration he took off down the road and was almost got hit. I wanted to explain that he was our leader but a leader is one who has followers. That could have taken all afternoon. Quietly he assumed what we called 3 position and followed us over curb and gutter.
We came to a bridge, a narrow two lane that rose above a street and railroad tracks. Alex got his point across that we had to ride over it. I didn’t want to and Cat refused. Then a cyclist came toward us and I had Alex ask him. Surprised, Alex said that we could go ahead on the lower level.
That led to a street with no cross walk only a subterranean pedestrian passageway with lots of stairs. We studied the situation for several minutes then dropped down the stairs on the baby buggy track and pushed up the other side. That only solved half the problem, we then had to push and ride a ways to the left then dive into oncoming traffic in order to cross. I went to the middle of the six lanes and held traffic while Cat made her way across. A couple of nerds honked but just as many gave us a wave or thumbs up.
A lot of sidewalk riding, Alex hand waves and curb jumping and we were back where we had started from two days ago, Hotel St. Petersburg. Again Cat and Alex went in while I stood watch. Cat said that the lady told her they had rooms but they were $100 for a single and $120 for a double. When she complained that we had only paid $50 and $60 just two days ago the lady said, “Oh, you had un-refurbished rooms, I have that price for those. As we began the elevator ride Cat was trapped by a couple from England. I went on to the room then stood by the door and waited. It seemed an hour but was probably only 5 minutes when she came up. She said the couple wouldn’t let her go. They wanted to talk Iraq politics. Cat listened then excused herself and entered the elevator as they continued to express their views.
As a treat, we dined in the Mirrored Hall. It is adjacent to the Hotel the route there isn’t easy. Up a flight of stairs then down and around. Dinner was very good. Lots of celebratory clinking and a violin player that was fantastic. We left the camera in the room so I made the long convoluted run for it, I wanted a memory of her music. Alex even danced with Cat. A very nice evening of dining, dancing and music.
April 16, 2003
St. Petersburg to Gatchina
We had business to do, we needed to get the video of our ride through Red Square to DHL to send to Todd. The new segment of LandRider’s Infomercial is almost ready to go and we want to be a part of it. Alex was having a hard time understanding what we were doing. He did get message that I needed a new rear tire. Mine was shredded, coming apart all around the rim. Alexey had pointed out two cuts on the side but I disregarded them. Our tubes are very thick, thorn free, and I think I have been riding mostly on it as the tire is really tired.
We did take advantage of the included breakfast this time but we were moving slowly. Our original idea was to take the bus but just learning the system could take half a day. We went to the cab desk and told them where we wanted to go. “Okay, follow this man,” said the authoritative crew cut guy at the desk. “Wait, how much does it cost?” I questioned. Glad I asked, he and the driver had a little conference then he said, “350 Ruble.” That seemed like a lot but we took the deal and hustled into his slightly beat up Lada. Cat, the wheel and I sat in the back seat. Alex and the driver chattered like old friends. The traffic was horrendous, it took almost half an hour to get around the corner and across the bridge. No wonder it cost more than $10. When we finally reached DHL we sensed that we would be stuck here in an industrial area. I asked how much to wait and take us back to the Hotel. At first he said 350 Ruble then we told him that we would need to go to a Sporting Goods store, too. He said, “Okay, wait then Sport Store for 300 Ruble.
DHL was another learning experience. We knew some of the problems due to our receiving the Video camera. The clerk was really nice, spoke English and took us right away. The package had to be open and inspected before they would accept it. She looked at the floppy disk and digital video tape then asked if it was business or personal. We had prepared for that one by bringing Todd Osborn’s home address. This was a gift of pictures and video. She helped us get it into a fairly crushproof pack then came the shock. It would cost $76.00 US. We gulped, now we had $300.00 of our rapidly retreating dollars in this project. Oh well, the show must go on.
While the driver waited, he must have smoked a half pack of cigs. The cab was full of smoke but we soon had it ventilated. The cool air felt good and took the burn out of our eyes. He took off and began his weaving, dodging and darting as we drove to the Sports Shop. Oops, he had the right address but there was no Sport Shop there. At first we thought we had old information but we had torn the page from the telephone book. He was disappointed to say the least, when he looked at the yellow pages ad. We had mispronounced the street name. Back across town to the shopping area and right up to the Shop. We decided that it was just a block to Nevskiy Prospect and the almost direct bus. When we cut him loose he seemed pretty happy. He had thought he would have to wait.
The store is a fairly large department store. The bicycle department is in the basement. Alex led the charge to the counter and told the guy that we wanted a tire with Kevlar belt. That led to a search of the rack and lots of conversation that we could only listen to. Finally they chose a German tire. It looked good to me. The cost was 890 Ruble, I paid while the young guy installed it on our wheel. When he was finished I gave him one of our cards. He didn’t speak much English and we could see that it was going over his head. I asked Alex to explain our Around the World trip. When he stopped talking the young guy went behind the counter, pulled a light blue water bottle down and handed it to me. He told Alex to ask us to carry it around the world. What a nice gesture, I promised that it would make the trip and he would see a picture of it on the Site when we get home.
It was almost 12:00 noon, we jumped on the first bus that came along then off at the other side of the bridge. Back at Hotel St. Petersburg, it was check out time and they were putting the pressure on us. I put the wheel on then struggled with the bags. Our black bag with the computer in it has begun giving us a hard time. The zipper keeps glitching and it takes a long time to slowly get it closed. I still had tools out and bags all over the floor when the lady came to clean the room. She left in a huff so I moved the bike and bags out into the hall. Sweat was running off my forehead. My shirt was wet. The security guy came and stood, sort of threateningly as I worked at reopacking the tools. Cat was nervous, I wondered what he could or would do. Finally we took the bikes with bags only haphazardly dangling, down the elevator. As I emerged a stern looking guy in the Lobby almost shouted, “Nyet, nyet velocipede in Hotel.” Where had he been, I was in no mood to argue, I just continued my push, past him, to the door. It was cool on the front steps. I worked on the zipper and got the rest of the bags tied down while Cat and Alex checked out. The front desk didn’t mention the late checkout.
We have 50 Km to ride and a lot of it will be in city traffic. Alex immediately headed for the busy street. I called him back and insisted that we ride the sidewalk. He did the little hand fling thing but fell in on the walkway.
We have devised a communication plan with Alex regarding where each of us ride. We like him to lead when we are in Cities where reading street signs is useful. He likes to ride sweep, in the back best and he also likes to ride up next to us and talk. This makes both of us nervous because it exposes him to traffic. We really think safety, I know that may be hard to believe since I keep getting run over, but we do. He likes to talk but we can’t understand him very and talking is tough with the road noise. Also, we have noted that he is a little hard of hearing. The plan is to appoint him to #1 or #3. We want to keep Cat between us. When he rides up next to us we say, okay, you take #1 or #3 which ever is appropriate. He gets a little frustrated but is finally getting the point.
St. Petersburg gate, an imposing stand of columns, sits square in the middle of the street. It may once have but today it definitely doesn’t signify the end of the city. The streets are still full of cars and trucks and lined with stores and apartments. We asked Alex to look for a store where we could get some food. He pulled over and I asked what he wanted? “Magazine here,” he said. A store? We were on the street in front of apartments? He turned and rode through a tunnel driveway into a parking area. There, at the back of the lot, was a little store. The ladies working inside were curious and helpful. We bought cheese, bread and meat then took chairs from inside and sat outside. The afternoon was cool and breezy but we were in the courtyard and the sun felt great.
There is a huge war memorial in a traffic circle. I stopped to take a picture and Alex leaned his bike and ran across the busy street. He went into the center and took pictures with the same reverence he has always displayed. I got a good one of him near the massive monument.
There are some open spaces finally then we were at the St. Petes Airport. A huge jet passed just above us as we continued south. The deafening roar lasted only moments but the hill ahead of us would set the pace for most of the rest of the day. One thing of note, this is the first day we have cycled that the road hasn’t been lined with snow. And, the fields are brown, a total lack of snow. Cause to celebrate but it wasn’t long before we were tired of brown and wishing for green.
Ups and downs, brown fields and cool breezes. There were several places where people were selling potatoes and apples along the road. We pulled up and I tried to buy 3 apples from one lady. She told Alex that she would sell a whole bucket full for 30 Ruble. I told him to tell her that we couldn’t carry that many and just wanted four. After another intense conversation Alex said that she would sell four apples for 10 Ruble. The deal didn’t make financial sense but I liked her look and the look of her apples. She let me pick the 4 then I took out a 10 Ruble note and gave it to her. As she handed the apples I gave her another 10 Rubles. She smiled and said something, Thank You, I hoped. Strange how money clouds issues, I thought that she asked too much considering what she would sell the bucket full for. Then I remembered that 10 Ruble is only 31 cents. That made it easy to hand her a second 10 Rub. Note, just for fun.
The late start and hills slowed us to the point that we were in gathering gloom as we pedaled into Gatchina. Alex stopped to ask about a Hotel. One of the gals on the corner spoke a little English. Another heard them and joined the chat. Cat had some new Russian friends. The cool was getting thick and damp. Another surprise, Alex led us out of the town area down a residential looking street lined with apartments. We turned a corner and were on a street full of potholes and mud holes. Weaving our way along we began to doubt, then Alex turned a corner and waved. There it was, the Acadamia Hotel.
It is a Soviet style building and the number 1983 is inlaid in thin brass on the step as if to confirm it. I thought that it must have been updated in ‘83’ because it looked like 1950. Alex and Cat checked us in. The lady behind the glass wall said something to Alex. Cat thought she was scolding him because he hadn’t telephoned. He told her that we had no phone. Funny, almost every one here but Alex and WorldRiders2 carry cell phones.
I watched the bikes while they did the check-in. A couple of schoolboys drifted up and sat, staring. I said hello and they both answered. I asked if they spoke English and they both nodded then one held his hand out and said, “Money?” I broke into my sermon about how they are young and I am old so why should I give them money. They listened then talked between themselves. I got two of our cards out for them. They looked and I explained, slowly, that we were cycling around the world. They shook my hand and we did a couple of high fives. Then they called another student over and told him the story, he sort of asked so I gave him a card, too. From beggars to braggarts in just moments, actually they seemed like nice young guys.
Once we were checked in we started the process of trying to get the bikes up to the rooms. Alex rammed and jammed his in and away he went. I tried to get Cat’s in but it was just too small, even standing it up. We needed to find a place to store them because the rooms were on the 7th floor and there was no way we were going to try to push them up 7 flights. Alex came back down and tried to convince us that we could jamb them in. Yes, we could take all the bags off and maybe Cat’s would make it but my bike is just too big. I suggest that we ask for a room but Alex seemed adamant that there was no storage downstairs. I insisted that he ask at the desk. He really was hesitant, maybe because of the confrontation when we checked in. I almost had to drag him t the window and he kept insisting that there was no storage. The lady turned nice, very nice, and led us to a room off the lobby. The door would lock but there were two big round holes to the outside. We took a bucket and some cardboard and jammed them into the holes. When we took our bags with clothing I decided to leave the computer on the bike. I knew that I wouldn’t use it at this hour.
It was 9:00 PM so we just stowed our things and met in the Restaurant. Dinner was very good and very inexpensive. No bottle of wine, however the waitress found 2 glasses. Cat sipped on one then gave it up to me and switched to Piva (Beer) with Alex. Back in the room, Cat decided to take a shower, I have a tough time bathing at night, it wakes me up when I’m sleepy so I just crawled under the Russian douvet. Cat showered and put the lights out.
April 17, 2003
Gatchina to Luga
I awoke with a start about 3:00 AM in a dream that the boys who wanted money had crawled in through the holes and stolen our computer. I was tempted to go check. The thought of losing all our pictures and stories really worried me. I was just too tired and besides, if they were gone, they were gone. The first thing I did when I awoke at 6:30 AM was go down and look. They were fine, just a bad dream!
I did take a quick shower this morning. Quick because there was very little hot water. We met for breakfast at 7:30 in the same restaurant downstairs. Same nice lady and great music. The food was good, too. Though the room and ambience was lacking in our room and the restaurant the price was right. We spent only 1200 Ruble for both rooms and 600 for dinner with two glasses of wine and two of Piva. That’s just a little over $60 for the whole package including the very nice breakfast. Back up stairs, we packed and prepared. Alex came knocking at 9:00, ready to go.
There was a guy sitting in the Lobby, smoking and watching us. We were worried because he seemed to be watching so intently, as he slowly puffed. He turned out to be the gardener. He stood and leaned on his shovel as I pushed the bikes out the door, onto the porch area. Cat and Alex posed for a pic and we were on our way.
Alex rolled out and turned left. That didn’t make sense to us as we had come in from the main road in the opposite direction last night. Well we are the babies, he can read the signs so we followed. There were a lot of people walking in both directions along the road. It was a cool damp morning and the tall trees that lined the road made it even colder in their shade.
We came to a dead end, bus turnabout, in front of some large buildings where the walkers were coming from or going to. Alex was busy asking how he had goofed when a guy walked up and asked where we were from. He was quite intrigued with our story and spoke good English. He had spent 6 months in Seattle last year. The buildings are The St. Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics. He is a Nuclear Physicist and Professor here.
Without a word, Alex reversed direction and we were soon back where we had started from. To the right, we backtracked into town then headed south on the main highway, M20. Out in the countryside, we came upon trees full of nests, Black bird nests, they swooped and screeched and let us know that they owned this area and we were strangers here. Then, nearby, we saw a stork’s nest sitting safe and high.
Storks House and Others
Lunch at a Village Café off M 20 down a bumpy little road that was once the main highway. Pelmini, those wonderful Russian Ravioli and equally great, village bread. We stuffed ourselves then bought a bag full of cookies. This is the same kind of place that Alex says was devised in the old days, to make sure that everyone has food at a very reasonable price. The room is very plain, some of the chairs are old and wooden, others red plastic. Other people drift in, eat and leave without much notice of this strange looking group of cyclists.
For some reason Alex chose to stick with the old road. It was even bumpier than before. A couple of times we had to go around piles of dirt that were there to keep motor traffic out. A Railway crossing was completely destructed. We had to lift the bikes over 5 sets of train tracks. Alex and I took our bikes across then he went back to help Cat. I was taking video of the process as he lifted and she struggled. Finally she said, “Can you stop taping and help me, please?” I knew by the tone that I she was out of patience. I tried to get Alex to just push but again failed. He just has a mind of his own about how to lift and doesn’t seem to get the message that it is easier to roll than lift. Fortunately, the old road soon took a turn to the left and merged back in with M 20.
Finding the Hotel in Luga was simple. Continuing to apply his ask, ask system, Alex soon had us at the door. I stood guard while they checked us in. A woman came out the door of a perfume that is next to the Hotel, looked at me and tripped over a ridiculous door stop and fell down three stairs on her stomach. I rushed to help her up. Both hands were skinned and here coat was dirty. As bad as the fall looked I think she was more embarrassed than hurt. It was cold so I stepped into the hallway and watched the bikes through the window. There is a great Deli there, through a door inside the ground floor. They have a big selection of semi gourmet foods.
The Hotel Front Desk is on floor two. Alex struggled up the three flights with his bike, Cat asked and the lady came down and opened a storage room for ours. Though our room is fairly large the women’s toilet is down the hall and everyone seems to use it. Every time I passed it the same guy was standing over the last sink, puffing a cig and blowing the smoke out the window. The shower, that costs 10 Ruble more, is down on floor two. You do get a towel in the deal. Cat thought you would get soap and shampoo for that much, too but it was not to be. She ended up just rinsing down. Alex did the bath thing too but I was lazy. I decided that I would shower tomorrow night.
It must have been my turn to cook. I went to the Deli and bought a Spit Chicken, Chicken leg and salads, We ate, drank wine and laughed. We toasted to “A beautiful Life” several times. Alex has taught us how to toast while holding the stems of the glasses. It really makes them ring.
Our TV came through with an American movie. It was an action thriller but the Russian over voice made sense to Alex only. I always get hooked on movies then can’t quit. So, I guessed what they were saying as Alex enjoyed the entire plot. Cat gave up, that’s when she hit the shower.
April 18, 2003
Luga to Idonia
Overcast and cold, we ate all our leftovers for breakfast then pedaled to the Police Station. It is 140+ Km to Pskov and we don’t think we should try to go that far. Alex really wants to push it. He told us why this morning, he has to leave on Sunday to get home for work? This 71 year old ball of Russki fire has a job?
The local Police were of no help at all. Pskov and most towns between here and there are in a different State or County. They only knew that the roads would be worse there. A quick stop for a bottle of water and we were off. Luga is a pretty large city, it took a while to finally get out in the country while ducking trucks and dodging pot holes. A brief stop at a bus stop and we tried to talk with four young guys waiting there. Alex sort of helped but we found the best communication was sign langurage. The forest is like all forests. There is very little snow left here. Just under trees, in the shade.
Another Village Café for lunch, the bread wasn’t as good as yesterday but the Fish Soup was great and Alex and I also had goulash. A sweet roll full of jam was heavy as lead but good, heavy and good. I even had coffee with Alex, quite unusual for me. These places are left over from the Soviet days. This one is on the ground floor of a three story building with apartments above. There are several more of these low-rise buildings scattered around in some form of symmetry. Alex told us that it had been a Collective or Commune in the old days. The Cafes are austere and the food is tasty but plain. The idea is that every one can have an affordable meal. Alex said, “They just come here, eat and leave.” He was right, most people don’t even talk amongst themselves. They just sip, slurp and wolf it down. Our meal cost 103 Ruble, an incredible $3.00 for three stomachs full of good stuff.
The sun finally broke through and began to warm the air. It was a wonderful spring day for a ride in the country. Alex did get a lead on a school where we might be able to sleep tonight. The afternoon was sun, countryside and small plain villages. We see a lot of people selling Kartofski, (Potatoes) Apples and other produce. The sometimes just look, occasionally wave, and if we yell out, “Hello,” they laugh and answer like an echo.
Idonia isn’t much more than the dozens of other tiny villages except for the two restaurants across the road from each other. Alex went in and asked about the school then had us follow him down the street and out a dirt road to an old broken down looking gray brick building. We cycled up in front of the school and he went inside. Two guys came back out with him. One grabbed a young boy and told him something then he and Alex went off down the road. We stood and tried to talk with the younger of the two. The elder left us to struggle with language. The younger, Vladimir, finally got the point across that he is the teacher of Physics. The kids came and wanted a soccer ball. He said this is the first day it is warm and they want to play. It is 5:00 PM and we are still waiting and wandering what has happened to Alex. Vladimir’s English got better as he struggled. Their school is ages 7 through 15. Several students came so we took pictures of them. This brought several more once they saw the pics and spread the word. It was great fun.
I really had to find a toilet. The boy’s toilet is stark and stinky. The toilet is the type where every thing drops on porcelain then hopefully flushes away. Problem, after a large deposit I pulled the rope attached to the tank above only to find that there was no water. Panic, I used toilet paper to push the solid waste down to the hole that should take it to the sewer. It just sat there. Then I realized that they don’t flush paper, it is placed in a basket sort of thing to be burned later. Though my droppings didn’t find the drain they were covered by the ill placed paper.
Alex returned with The Director, Galena who has invited us to stay the night in her school. We are home for tonight. She took us to her classroom and we helped re-arrange furniture. Vladimir and I carried a bed in from another room for Cat. We also brought in two tumbling mats from the gym for Alex and me. The Director left and I asked Alex to invite Vladimir to have dinner with us. He was delighted. He wanted to show us the schools computer and he asked us to visit his home to meet his mother. He says that she loves English language and he wants us to meet her.
I asked if we should see the computer first and Vladimir answered in English, “First, eat.” We walked together back to the road and he chose the smaller restaurant across the street. He told us that the larger one is called Mother in Law Restaurant because her daughter and Son in law own the smaller one. Business must be good.
Again, we had Pelmini, this time covered with a thick sort of sour cream that Alex likes to have for breakfast. Followed up by bligny with meat and washed down with beers. A real feast for all four of us for only 217 Ruble. ($6.50)
Vladimir lives with his Mother just 300 meters down the road. His hobby is agriculture. He raises goats and cattle. His Mother, Vala, is proud of him. She too was a teacher, of Mathematics. Her English is pretty rusty but it was obvious that she was enjoying the effort. The house was a treat for us to see. It is one large room, like a living room with a single bed against the wall and another room at the other end of the house with desk and bed. The two are divided by the kitchen and eating area.
Vala served tea with cookies and honey from their hives. She also had us try some tomatoes that were sort of pickled. They were soft and when I bit into mine it squirted all over the table. They laughed as I tried to keep the juice contained. What a wonderful treat, to be in a Russian home. Then came the icing on the cake, Vladimir left the room and came back carrying a baby goat. It was bleating, for it’s Mama. How strange, a goat in the kitchen. He invited us to see the barn. It is attached to the house, just out a door near the side entry and we were among his animals. He tried semi successfully, to get his prize Ram to come meet us. It was strong and determined not to be led by the horns. Of course they have a few cats, too. All forms must have them to keep the mice from taking over. Though it doesn’t seem too healthy the reason for attaching the low roofed barn is probably for ease of access during those –40 degree days of winter.
Back at the school, Vladimir spent an hour demonstrating the computer that is a great teaching tool for Physics and other subjects. Alex was drawn to a CD about the Great War. He took it, looked it over then left the room with it. He came back with a pen and paper, he had taken the name and we assume he wants to buy one. He did tell us that he and his wife have a computer but no Internet Connection. We have decided that he must have lost family in the war because he always stops, takes pictures and makes the sign of the cross at the big memorials. He did tell us that they have a daughter 46 years old and twin daughters 24. One of the Twins has a daughter, they are Grandparents.
As we finally prepared to bed down the Director Galena came back and brought another big pail of water for us to bathe with. I re-emphasized that the toilets wouldn’t flush. I knew because the one I had used still had a large load of evidence there. I took the bucket and used 1/3 of it to flush my waste away. By the way, there are no toilet seats on the toilets, they smell and the water in the sink doesn’t run, either. Funny how they learn Physics at an early age but can’t make the water run or the toilets flush??
Cat hated the bed, it sagged and was too soft. Alex didn’t like the tumbling mat so he rolled out his two layers of old, beat up styrofoam and Cat took the mat. We were in for the night. What a treat, sleeping on the floor of a school that was built in 1875.
Cat & Alex had already drifted off to sleep when I heard the key turn and voices. We had visitors. I think the Mom worked in the kitchen here. She wanted her daughter to have the opportunity to meet us and speak her limited English. It was a strange, I think the daughter felt a little embarrassed but Mom was pushing her. We shook hands, I gave them our card and invited them to visit us in California. The daughter looked perplexed, Mom looked proud. It was 11:00 PM, I told them that I was going to sleep, they left.
April 19, 2003
Idonia to Pskov
Woke up at 6:00 AM, dozed then slept hard until 7:00. No shave, no shower. The Director came to make sure that we were okay and to lock us out. She asked me, through Alex, to write our story in English so the students could learn from it. This is the kind of thing that really makes for great memories. I told of our cycling around the world, even invited any of them who get to California to stop and visit us. Alex added a little about his part of our adventure but of course he wrote it in Russian.
We put the room and our bags back in order and pushed to the Café across the street for breakfast. Good food and really cheap, 107 Ruble, just over $3.00 for all three of us. That even beats Denny’s Grand Slam!
The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day but Director Galena had warned Alex that the wind would come from the south later today. Alex was driven to beat it. He told us that he would go home from Pskov which means that we will be on our own for a long, 105 Km day, spend a night then cross the border the next day. We have been studying the map and have about decided to cycle straight across and visit Riga, the Capital of Latvia. We will cut across a corner of Estonia, too.
After an hour of riding we pulled up at a Café. I wanted a little snack and rest. Cat and Alex were still full from our Russki Grand Slamski. As we sat in a gazebo 3 guys and a gal came up and sat next to us. The youngest came over to me and held out his hand. He said, “Money?” I pushed back his bill cap and touched his hair then pulled on my gray and said, “You’re a young guy, you can make money, I’m old, why should I give you money?” I don’t know how much of that he got but he was sort of surly as he stood near the fence and watched us. The others began asking Alex questions, he answered but it was obvious that he was uncomfortable. He whispered to me, “Keep your photographic equipments inside.” Finally he stood and abruptly said, “Let us go.”
Out on the road, as we mounted up, he told us that they had been asking about how we afford a trip and how much money we had. He was sure that they would rob us. We rode for 15 minutes then he tried to tell us something. Impossible to understand, we pulled over. He urged us to go fast then I got the point across to him that they have a car, they can catch us easily. “He said, “Da they have Machina, da they can come for us.” I’m not sure whether that made him feel better or worse. I said, “If they’re coming, they’re coming, there’s nothing we can do about it.” I did put together a defensive plan and share it with Cat. If they did drive up we would go to the middle of the road and hope for some traffic before they beat us and took our things. Alex continued to talk about them as we rode.
For lunch we found a small store and bought meat, like bologna, cheese and orange juice. Sitting in the sun was relaxing and a blonde haired lady named Vera, from Belorussia. I could understand some of her conversation with Alex. He told me that she wanted to know if life was any better in Russia than where she lived.
Alex stopped and asked directions a lot. At what we think was a state border we sat near two tough looking soldiers carrying Uzi type machine guns. They stop all trucks and some cars. Probably looking for contraband or Chechen terrorists. Alex waded right into the midst these two and three others toting side arms. He looked up at them and stared them down. They all looked at his map and voiced their directions.
We rolled into Pskov at 4:30 PM. Alex was nervous about getting on a train so our first stop was the station. Sitting in the sun, we waited only to hear some bad news for him and us. The only train leaves at 7:00 PM and he has to fold his handlebars down, remove pedals and tie the front wheel down. He would take tonight’s train which meant he had to start the process now. We had hoped to have a little party tonight with Champagnski to celebrate. He suggested a quick beer or wine at the station but we didn’t want to drink and ride. It was handshakes and hugs then he pushed through the doors and out of our lives, at least for now. He is one strong, feisty little 71 year old Russki!
Cranks and Cops
We cycled off on our own. Within a couple of blocks a guy ran out into the street and pushed on Cat’s bags sending her swerving. He was yelling something at the top of his lungs. Cat wasn’t too shook up and just continued on. I stopped and looked for him in the crowd. He was with a girl, he had returned to her and put his arm around her. I think he did something stupid just to impress her? She saw me looking at them and looking like I was going to come after him so they jumped up on the bus just before it roared away. I was probably saved by that bus.
In just another two blocks a Policeman waved his little wand at me and blew his whistle at Cat, who had ridden on by. I pulled up and he spewed Russian at me so I spouted back in English. He took a piece of scratch paper out and drew a circle with a square in the middle of it. I knew what he was trying to say, that we had ridden the wrong way on a street that we had passed. I shook my head and waved my arms and gestured as I told him that we had ridden straight down the main street. He tried to argue so I started asking him to find someone who spoke English or come to Intourist with me. He was pointing toward a police van but I kept pointing in the direction we were heading. I think my bravado came from watching Dima handle his Policeman. I knew this one wanted the same, a few Ruble, but was damned if I would give in. Finally, he waved his magic wand with a look of disgust and dismissed us. Two encounters in less than a kilometer. Alex had been worth his weight in Ruble.
That one shook Cat. She wanted to get a Hotel and off the bikes. We made the left onto the street that Alex had said the expensive Hotels were and across the bridge over River Velika and raced a bus. He was stopped, we passed him then he pulled out and roared by only to stop again. As he passed for the second time we pulled up and asked a Taxi driver for Intourist or Hotel. Only Russian came forth from between his solid gold teeth but he gestured ahead then on the right. It was less than 100 meters to a park with the Hotel Rizhkaya behind. Cat said it looked like the Russian Ritz to her.
The woman at the desk was a treasure, she spoke pretty good English and was personable. The cost of the room in this expensive neighborhood, according to Alex, surprised us. They have a Visa card sign on the wall but only accept cash. We had to hit the BankhoMat for cash but the room was only 1000 Ruble. (That’s less than $35 and the room is really cute, small but cute.)
The shower was the best part of the bargain, especially for me because it had been three days since my body had felt water on its skin. This shower had power, it was hot and it felt wonderful just to stand and let it pound down as it loosened the road grime.
The Orange Phone
Dinner in the Pectopah (Restaurant) downstairs with Pere Patriarch wine that we found in the little store in the lobby. The lady who runs it doesn’t speak much English but is friendly and smiles. Dinner was a bit of a struggle but good once we got the order in. Cat had a stuffed chicken dish I ordered two dishes, a baked Pike Perch and bilgny with herring eggs. All was GREAT!
Sunday April 20, 2003
Day of Rest in Pskov
Six days on the road and we’re not goin’ back today! Cat really is ready to move on, out of Russia. I don’t know how much change has come to The Baltic States, they were under Russian rule for 50 years. Even though they have been accepted into the European Union, change is slow? We talked about our options, I really am tired of riding, my legs and butt are sore. We’ve cycled 6 straight days, we need a rest.
I woke up thirsty and out of water. The tap version is pretty brown. We have been drinking bottled water most of the time. I went down to the little store, the door was open but nobody there. The sign say’s that it is open 24 hours. The girl at the desk is the same one who checked us in last night. I asked if she works night and day and she replied with a yawn, “I sleep 2 ½ hour.” When I told her there was no clerk in the store she said “There must be.” She had the lurking guy go in and there she was, the same girl who sold us wine last night, sleeping on the floor behind the counter.
Breakfast isn’t included but it’s cheap. The room is small and crowded. Typical Sunday morning crowd. Four guys from Cypress but definitely of Indian heritage and their very Russian girl friends or fellow workers. One of the girls sat at our table. They currently work together in Moscow but the guys are here just setting up this branch of their electronics company. She told us that they were going back to Moscow by train. Cat asked when and they confirmed Alex’s finding, there is only one train. It leaves at 7:00 PM and arrives in Moscow at 7:00 AM, poor Alex!
Life in the Flats
It is a beautiful morning. We can even see the grass turning green before our eyes. The river here runs muddy, probably high water time. We walked across the bridge and over to the Kremlin, the Fort surrounding the old Church. I tried to get 4 military officers to let me take their picture with Cat but they refused. They did offer to take out picture in front of the church but were shutter shy. The church is wonderful, inside and out. There were people along the wall near the entry selling pussy willow. Today is Palm Sunday here and Easter Sunday in the west. They must use the pussy willow instead of palm fronds? There was a service in progress and I raised the video camera to try and catch the wonderful sounds of the Priests and Choir. A guy standing near the door cautioned me not to take pictures. I obeyed, too bad.
There were several pour souls holding out their hand, begging, at the gate. We had seen this character as we entered and I vowed that I had to have his picture. He was wearing a Russki Fur hat and had a white beard that seemed to flow right out of the fur. He was wearing a coat and scarf that was tattered and worn. I raised the camera and held a 10 Ruble note out. He immediately went digging into his pockets and pulled out a hand full of change he had collected. It was a fist full and a 10 Ruble note flew out onto the ground. Everyone around, the other beggars and church goers started laughing. The
biggest laugh came from the guy, himself. He finally pulled a comb out, tucked the hand full of money safely back and commenced combing his beard and hair. When he was satisfied he turned toward us and his face lit up. Cat wanted him to put the hat back on but we couldn’t get that point across. The lady in lavender begging next to him sort of motioned that she wanted a picture, too. I gave her all the change I had and took the shot. Quite nice people, we decided that they were probably retired and on fixed income so they have these ragged cloths and hit the church door when they need spending money. (By the way, my extravagance wasn’t that great, 10 Ruble is 31 cents, US.)
Our search for an Internet Connection took us on a bus ride. We were told there was one next to the Museum but a nice lady, on the bus, who spoke some English, tried to explain then her son spoke up in halting words and said it was closed, not just today but for good. They did tell us about one at the central telegraph office and arranged for the ticket lady on the bus to tell us when to get off. A Grandmother, daughter and young kids, boy and girl got on and Grandma sat next to us with Granddaughter on her lap. The little girl kept looking at us then talking with her Mom. Finally the Mom spoke up, “She hears you talking English but she’s too shy to try to talk with you. They were a real find. She told us which stop to get off at and how to find the Telegraph place. They had lived in Calgary, Canada for a year. They liked it but it was expensive. She complained that it was getting just as bad here. We thought about how cheap most things seem to us but my Social Security and our payment for the Company are probably more than she and her husband’s combined income and they are feeding 4 or 5 mouths.
Everything takes more time than it should, here. We walked, took pictures in a little park then on to the Central Telegraph. It was open but the Internet Connection was locked up tight. Closed on Sundays and there is no other connection in Pskov.
We tried to have lunch in a small café but the women there didn’t speak English and didn’t want to play charades. It’s strange, in most places people are curious and want to know about us. Here they seem not to care and are almost bothered by our not being able to speak Russian. We ended up back at the Breakfast room of the Hotel having sandwiches.
Our decision to eat lunch in the restaurant downstairs led us to the Breakfast room and the discovery that the Restaurant is closed on Sundays. The front desk told us of a Restaurant across the street and a Super Market just 5 minutes walking so we walked. Setting out to get snacks and wine, we ended up getting enough for dinner in. The thought of struggling with language and the menu was too much to bear. On the way to the market we checked the Internet Connection. The girl was friendly in fact cordial but still had the same message, “Not vorkingk.”
We lounged, ate and drank our wine and watched American movies with voice over the American actors voices. We needed the rest.
April 21, 2003
Pskov to Estonian Border
Blinzky for breakfast then loaded the bikes and went to the elevators. Those began to look like a Communist plot. I got Cat’s bike down and as she waited in the lobby I went back up and waited for an elevator on floor seven. And waited, and waited. Then a guy who worked there came up on the elevator and sort of suggested with sign language that I should push the bikes down the stairs. Well, there was no way that would work, not 7 floors! A group of military guys filed through the door as he talked with me. Again, I waited and waited. I could here the tone sound when the elevators hit floor 6 but they didn’t come up from there. I left the bike and ran to floor six, caught an elevator and rode up then blocked the door and got the bike in. Whew, we were on our way.
Pskov is an industrial city. There are row after row of flats, most of the Stalin era. The road toward The Baltic States was flat to rolling and bumpy at times. Traffic was moderate but courteous and we made pretty good time. After about 15 Km we stopped for a rest and Cat had a bite of food, the ham, cheese and bread we had on board.
Onward, through forested area, some farms but most of the day was in the woods. Even small villages were rare. We reached the border at about 2:00 PM, Russian time. Not wanting to miss another
Border photo, we stopped and used the telephoto to get a shot of the strange building and line up of cars and trucks. There were two guys with a horse and wagon looking every bit the part of Russia in the 1930s, off to the right, I snagged their pic, too.
After 32 days of cold, ice and snow of Finland and Russia we were ready for change. These 21 days in Russia had been as interesting as it gets. It’s not easy but then the lives of those who live here are pretty tough, too. It is one of those experiences that you wouldn’t take a million for but you wouldn’t do it again for a million. (That is an exaggeration of course, in fact I wished that we would have had a couple more days so that I could have visited all the people who helped with the trip back in 1989.) We seemed to be caught in time frames of others makings. The 30 day Visa, Alexey’s need to get back for opening day of cycling season and Alex’s job that required his presence. Some times, no matter how much time you have the forces of nature and schedules of others just won’t mesh.
Exiting Russia was quite a different experience from that near Vyborg, when we entered. Oh, there were the layers of windows to stop at and each took our passports. The Guards though not personable, were at least courteous. Customs took the declaration cards we had filled out and just waved us through. In fact unlike the 2 ½ hour ordeal when we entered Russia, we were pedaling toward the Estonian Border Guards in just a half hour. We crossed a Border and time zone all at one line in the sand. It was only 1:30PM Central European Daylight Savings Time, and we were off, into our Baltic States Adventure.
So, we survived the cold, the ice and The Evil Empire. All in all a great chapter, in our lives and this Odyssey. The experience points out, once again, that the more we learn about people of the world, the better we understand our feelings that there are more similarities than differences among those of us who live on the crust of this thing we call The World. Our visit to Moscow gave us visual proof of the huge changes that have occurred in Russia since I last visited in 1989.
The only thing constant in life is CHANGE!
The war was pretty much over by the time we finished riding Finland and Russia. The good news is that only about 100 19-year-old Americans and Brits gave up their lives there. The bad news is that the total number of 19 year olds will be in the thousands when we add in the young Iraqis who followed their leader, fought the good fight in the name of GOD and perished there, too.
In keeping with my feelings that some good comes from all things, I look forward to the day they unearth the stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction that pose the threat to our country and uncover the link between Saddam and Osama. That may be the GOOD that comes from this thing?
In Vietnam, we learned that the average 19 year, 3 month old already had 20% blockage of arteries due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Though they didn’t live to know about that or by-pass operations they did affect change in many of us.
As for the loss of Ronald Jerry, it was the event that made me want to know more about our WORLD and the people in it. The loss of Ronald Jerry set me off on this crazy lifestyle of discovery and knowledge from the seat of a bicycle.
The true hero in this adventure is CAT. She rides, rarely complains and brings a whole new dimension of love and caring to our Odyssey. It’s often difficult for me to get up, get on the bike and pedal. She keeps us laughing, dancing and loving.
YOU KEEP READING, WE’LL KEEP RIDING AND WRITING!