Friday, 17 August 2012

From Russia with Love

When we were in Mongolia, we contacted Yuri Melkinov, in Vladivostok, who is ‘Mr Shipping’ there. We asked if he could book us onto the ferry going to South Korea (SK) on August 8th and the reply we got was ‘unfortunately not, all ferries booked for next 4 weeks, first space available on August 29th’ – there was no way we wanted to wait that long to get on the ferry.  Also, that was only a week before the APEC Summit starts (Vladimir Putin and others are in town) and everything will stop in Vladivostok while this is on which would mean another 2 weeks to wait. Also, we’d heard that Vladivostok was expensive to stay in so didn’t want to be there too long. We decided that we would take a chance and go to Vladivostok in the hope that we got a cancellation for the ferry.
We set off and made good distances the first few days. We left Chita one morning and on a fuel stop later that morning, we struck up a conversation with the fuel attendant. As we chatted, he was looking at the bike and saw a sticker for Motocamp Bulgaria and said’ Oh, you’ve been to stay with Doug and Polina’ – we were like ‘What????’ There are folk in the next town to Motocamp Bulgaria who don’t know that Doug and Polly have it yet this guy, in the middle of Russian nowhere knows this. We were astounded. As it is, when Doug has been travelling in Russia, he has been in to this garage a couple of times and obviously made an impression on this guy. Later that night, we were struggling to find somewhere to stay and had looked at a couple of possibilities but decided to keep moving. We stopped in one small town and the local kids showed us where the hotel was but again, it looked pretty shabby and there was no parking for the bike. As we sat pondering our next move, a Police jeep went past so we called on them and asked about a hotel with safe parking. They took us back to the hotel (which was in fact the building behind the one the kids showed us but was still not so good) but still no parking. One of the cops said we could leave it at the station, so we followed them there. When there, Iain chanced his luck and asked if we could sleep there too. Guess what, they said yes! So we had a room next to their gym and snooker room, with no bars on the window either! The next night, we were again helped by the police but he wasn’t taking Iain’s hints of a night in the station.

Lovely Lisa

The following day we headed for Khabarovsk. In a fuel station about 700km from there we met Lisa, a biker (and Doctor) from Khabarovsk. We chatted and she gave us her mobile number and said to call her when we got to the city and she would help us find a hotel. Great! As we arrived into Khabarovsk, about 5km from where Lisa said to ring her from, the rain started so we pulled into a side road to put our waterproofs on. As we did, a car turned in and stopped. We thought he was just looking at the bike but he said ‘hotel?’ and started to use his phone. I said ‘thanks but we have to ring a friend who will help us’ to which he replied ‘your friend is Lisa?’ – ‘Yes’ I replied – ‘I am Lisa’s brother’ – so he called her and she came to meet us. What are the chances that driving into a city, where we’ve never been in our lives, that the very person that turns onto the same road as us, at the same time, would know who we were. Again, we were astounded. I know I keep saying about it being a small world but it’s instances like this (and the fuel guy who knew Doug and Polly) that reinforce this view. So Lisa gave us the option of a hotel or one of the local bike clubs, so we opted for the bike club. She took us to meet the president of the Lynx Amur bike club and he let us stay at their clubhouse for 2 nights while we cleaned the bike up.

Ivanich - Lynx Amur Bike Club
 She also took us sightseeing each day and we liked Khabarovsk that much that we stayed another 2 nights but moving to a hotel as we needed internet access. We emailed Yuri and he came back and told us that there was a cancellation available for the 8th and they would get the tickets for us. Khabarovsk is built on 3 hills and each hill has its own church. In the dip of each hill runs a tributary to the main river –the Amur. It’s a beautiful city with lots of monuments, parks and attractions. In one of the parks, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, there is a dancing fountain show which was quite spectacular to watch. It’s quite an expensive city but well worth the visit – apart from the Harley Davidson Saloon where 2 pints cost us £12!! The beer was good but not that good!

'All bikers welcome' at Lynx Amur

 We headed for Vladivostok on the Sunday to be there in plenty of time to get organised for the mid week sailing to SK. It was a long ride and at 8pm we were still looking for somewhere reasonably priced to stay. We were outside one expensive hotel, using their free wi-fi, when a guy pulled up in his car. He made a phone call and gestured for us to follow him, which we did.  He took us to another bike club, the Russian Samurais and one of the guys, Dmitry said we could stay at his house. This was great news.  It is a huge house with 4 floors, high up in Vladivostok and each level has a balcony with great views overlooking the city.
Vladivostok at night
The new bridge will be open soon
The next day, he took us to see Yuri and Svetlana to organise the tickets for the ferry. At night we went out for a ride with a group of other bikers from the city over the bridge to the Russian Islands. We’d never heard of these but we saw a beautiful sunset before riding back to the city.
Dmitry on his Harley

On the Russian Island with Vladivostok in the background
The next day we took the bike down to the port and left it there to be loaded then finalised the customs etc. In the afternoon, Dmitry offered Iain the use of his Honda Pan European (the same bike as the Brit cops use). So with me on the back of Iain and Dmitry on his Harley we set off for a ride out of the city and some lovely food in an Armenian cafe. On the way back, we pulled into the gun club that Dmitry is a member of and Iain was able to do some shooting.  At night, along with a few other bikers, we rode to the local beach ‘Shamara’. Again, we were not expecting what awaited us.  It is like a beach resort on the Costa Somewhere - bright lights, beachside restaurants, cafes and arcades. Right up until the last night, Russia kept on surprising us.

Iain on the Pan European

Iain on the Harley

When we entered Russia on June 1st we were both a little bit anxious. When we were growing up, Russia was always the ‘bad guy’ so we really did not know what to expect but we are so glad that we came to Russia. The people have been outstanding with their generosity, taking us into their homes without question and being so very kind to us.


  1. Debbie and Iain!
    I am very glad that you could cross Russia without loss.
    You proved that Englishmen and Scots were and remained surprising travelers and openers of the new worlds.
    Now I will wait for news about your successful return home.
    I hope that you will write to me by e-mail and I will give you additional information on that artist about which we spoke on Altai
    Good luck!

    1. Valery - great to here from you! It was great to meet you and I hope you and your grand daughter enjoyed your trip to the canyon. We will contact you as we would be interested to learn more out this man, who by the way looks even more like Iain's father.
      Best wishes to you!

  2. Good to see some more photos and great to hear from you - enjoy your next bit and keep the blog up to date Jake.

    1. Cheers Jake, although your curse struck again ;)

  3. Cor Blimey...sounding good. The Mosquito's are forgotten?
    Loving hearing about it, slowly slowly here - but it will all happen (Fritz doesn't fancy the consequences - foundation for new patio?)Keep on keeping on ;-) FyB XX

    1. Haha, yes those good old foundations!! Mozzies seem to be less ferocious outside of Siberia thankfully - still bitey but I'm less swelley!! Take care ;) x x

  4. Deb and Iain
    Mark on the Harley. It was so great to hear all your stories this weekend and I feel honored to have met you guys. You are a big inspiration! And not just for traveling but for knowing there are really kind people out there. I hope you guys can make it back down this way for a few pints. If not, maybe there will be time on your return for your South American adventure.