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Update: Fri 00:55

Wednesday, 14 September

The M7 is a curious beastie. It can never quite decide what kind of a road it wants to be: single, dual or triple-carriageway. It remains busy, though, with endless streams of trucks to wind your way past or, depending on your and their mood and the number of lanes, for them to wind past you. There are plenty of cafes and, in the daylight, motels.

The trucks are very interesting as they, like so many of the cars, seem to have been bought (appropriated?) wholesale from Western Europe, Germany in particular. Thus most of the branding you see is German trucking companies all with Russian plates. Other countries are involved too and I've seen Norfolkline, Roadferry and an Asda, I think, truck go past. No effort is made to hide the original branding.

Truckers are great snackers. In the motels I've sat down and eaten a hearty meal (of whatever I could identify on the menu) and watched the world go by over a beer. Generally, the truckers will appear, order a single dish and maybe a tea/coffee, scoff it down then disappear. They might only be in the cafe for ten minutes before they're gone. Cakes are a great favourite and often it'll be a cup of coffee and a couple of brightly coloured cakes (as though they are some confused mix of small child and grown man). At the RAI there were two and a half large cakes cut into large slices when I started my meal at gone 9pm with no-one obviously tucking into cake. When I came down to breakfast there was half a cake left.

I headed into Vladimir to get some money in advance of giving it all away rather too quickly to some random people, as is the way here in Russia. I thought I'd exchange some of the USD I have on me for Roubles. I stopped at a bank advertising with an exchange board and waved my three $100 bills at the cashier woman. She promptly rejected two of them: one for having some writing on it and the other because it felt funny. Great.

I then stopped at another bank, not advertising exchange rates outside (but it did inside), and here the woman gave my remaining three $100 (including the two just rejected) a right old grilling before conceding that they were genuine. Hurray, I now have 12,000R to give away.

I then drove on until I was about 100km from Moscow and stopped for a coffee (and cake) to consult the LP guide to Eastern Europe (which has a few pages on Moscow and Saint Petersburg) to discover that the "Golden Ring" town it suggests you visit is about 20km north of Vladimir, ie about 80km back the way I've just come.

So I went back to the "idyllic village" of Suzdan which at 4km across is hardly a village and not really my idea of an idyll. Top spot if you like Russian Orthodox monasteries (generally hidden behind high walls) and churches and lots of traditional Russian wooden houses. The latter can be quite pretty but are not representative lacking the natural aging and decay of most villages you pass on the road.

Despite the lack of them today there's also a tourist trap feel to the place and I declined the option to stay. Instead I headed back to the motel where I'd stopped for coffee earlier, partly as it claimed a WiFi connection which has been rare in motels. As it turns out it had a rotten Internet connection and it was all I could (be bothered to) do to refile my Junk mail at a few minutes per page.

Currently at lat/long: n55 57.316 e39 36.513

Motel Zolotoe Kolco(?)

Thursday, 15 September

After I'd failed to communicate the idea that I wanted some zaftrak (breakfast) as there appeared to be none listed in the menu they called on the manager who could speak a little English who pulled out an English menu. Grr! They still didn't have any zaftrak section and the eggs with ham and tomatoes was hiding in the middle somewhere. At least the 80 Rouble voucher the motel woman gave me covered the cost.

I rolled into Moscow, with the GPS playing silly buggers. Either it or the map is 100m out whereon the GPS excitably recalculates the route every few hundred metres suggesting I take this alleyway or that to get back on the main road. Very annoying.

However, I made it to the lock-up where the bike man works. But he's busy -- he was expecting me tomorrow for reasons unknown -- but can deal with me at 5pm. That's good. I head off and get checked into the Souvenir Hostel where my little room is a trifling 2300R per night. $80 is something of a bargain...apparently.

Moscow traffic is very fun (as the delightful A would say -- she would also say it in the perfect Russian femme fatale accent which is rather harder to convey in prose). Most people get on and suffer the traffic in the usual way but a goodly proportion take advantage and zip about appearing from nowhere at speed and using every bit of tarmac they can. I started filtering through the traffic then followed the other bikers in zipping up the gap between the outside lane and the central reservation. Much more efficient as the traffic regularly ground to a multi-km halt when a prang in one lane would prove too much for the traffic load. In town I managed not to hit anything as I squeezed between the inside lane and the parked cars. Even then, the 19km still took 50 minutes. Much faster than Yekaterinburg, it has to be said!

Back at the bike shop everything was going swimmingly until the man said my chain was goosed. It hadn't felt good since the mud (only three days ago!) and I think some damage had been done. The rear sprocket wasn't looking very healthy either. It was decided new ones were called for and the tyre man could get them today. I agreed and then realised that perhaps I wasn't going to have enough money on me. This is a bloke in a lock-up, he won't be taking plastic.

The final bill came to 15800 Roubles which was generously rounded down to 15500 when it became clear that I would be paying about half of that in $50 bills.

Just outside the hostel is a little cafe/bar where they happen to sell some English beers. I'd ordered a Spitfire (travel doesn't improve it) before noticing the Hook Norton Gold on the shelf. Despite the fact the Spitfire was 290R (almost $10) I might try a Hooky Gold tomorrow or the next night to see how it travels. Soup, salmon steak and spuds and one beer...$50 to you, chief.

I think I've paid out close to 25000 Roubles today. This is the F-Plan budget in overdrive.

Currently at lat/long: n55 45.717 e37 35.505

Souvenir Hostel, Moscow

Tomorrow's business is seeking out a hero of the revolution in Red Square. Perhaps not what you think.

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