UB

We got in to Ulaanbaatar yesterday! It’s been a while since the last update, but we went from Moscow to Nizhniy to Yekaterinburg to Omsk to Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk to Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar.

Moscow was a good time. We met up with my roommate from Middlebury (hi Kate!) and walked around near Gorky Park for a while. Hard to get a feel for the place in just a couple of hours but we both are fans of the ‘cow.

Most of the way from Moscow to Irkutsk has been a very long and scenic blur. Again, we can’t stay put in one place for too long just because we’ve got miles to go every day.

Overall, Russia is fantastic! I love Russia. Russia is great. A few things about Russia:

Suzdal is sooo beautiful! We didn’t see much of the Golden Ring but I wish we could have spent more time there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that felt so much like I’d imagined it would. Tobolsk is beautiful too but very, very much out of the way. Though what is a few hundred miles here and there in the context of Mother Russia?

The Road to Omsk is horrible. It is full of potholes and devoid of road markings and it’s impossible to see anything when you are driving down it at 3 in the morning. We dramatically underestimated how long it would take to get to Omsk. (In reality, 10 hours.)

Russian trucks are horrible! They belch this thick black stuff and if you drive through it you cannot see anything and probably inhale bad things. There were a couple of times we were both sure a truck was on fire when in fact it was just operating as usual. The truck drivers are very polite and professional however.

Russia is very big. Once east of the Urals it is like a much larger, more interesting, and swampier Iowa (i.e. it is flat). The cities also get farther and farther apart, so pretty soon you are looking at a 600-mile drive from one place to another with nothing human in between. The good news is that it’s very beautiful. The Siberian sky has got to be the largest sky I have seen, and the sunsets/lightning/smoke/hills were all very dramatic.

We got a flat tire on the road to Krasnoyarsk, and our clutch has been making funny noises and is slippery, and something always smells like gas in the mornings, but our Micra hasn’t failed us in any major way.

The border crossing from Kyakhta, Buryatia into Mongolia was pretty silly. The Russian side was pretty efficient. The Mongolian side was tedious and long and they were sledgehammering something in their customs hall so there was a loud noise every six seconds and a crowd of very friendly shirtless Mongolian men gathered around our car. I think they were very amused by our yak logo? The language gap was wide indeed.

Much has been made of Crazy Russian Drivers but from what we have seen so far Crazy Mongolian Drivers are much, much crazier. It’s like bumper cars here. It’s ridiculous. The good news is that it is easy to get into the spirit of cowboy driving and it is a lot of fun. The bad news is that all those aggressive drivers with missing/dented car parts who almost hit you every day when you’re in your car or in a crosswalk have probably really already killed someone and wouldn’t feel too bad if you were next. There is also the risk of bringing reckless, illegal driving habits home with you, I suppose.

Mongolia looks just like the pictures! We’ve really only seen the northern part so far. Ulaanbaatar is cute and but there are very odd things about it. It is definitely a city built by people who historically have never done cities before. Cars hate hate hate pedestrians and honk at people if they don’t cross fast enough, even older ladies or people holding babies and things. It’s strange. People still walk down the middle of four-/five-lane highways holding hands or carrying children. And the construction zones have gers in them for the workers to sleep!

It is late already so we are going to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll be off westward.

Russia!

After a long an interesting trek across the baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia we arrived in Russia the day before yesterday. We crossed the border between Slovakia and Lithuania late at night on an unlit country road that looked like the way to Jethro’s hidden still. We saw the very moving Hill of Crosses in north central Lithuania and were relieved of 60 Euros by two Latvian police officers. In Estonia we had lunch at a great creperie in Tartu, a very pretty college town.

We crossed the border into Russia at Narva, Estonia from around 10:30 to almost 1 in the morning. We’d made a ‘reservation’ online, but when we arrived all the gates were closed and they were only allowing a few cars an hour across. So we scooted through the gate with another car before it could close and insisted we had a reservation. After 20 minutes of Estonian/English conversation and much shaking of heads we were allowed to proceed. Five checkpoints and multiple forms later we were in Mother Russia.

We spent a day walking around Petersburg and had a great Georgian meal then pressed on to Moscow. We scored a four star hotel room with a view on the 55th floor in the business district of the city last night for a very low price and are off to the Red Square today. We’ve just passed the 5000 mile mark!

Past the Iron Curtain

We’re in Poland! Last night we slept on a tiny couch in the most Polish guesthouse imaginable. All the walls were covered in humorous poems about beer and many, many photos of John Paul II. We had tomatoes and part of a large bowl of a mayonnaisy something for breakfast, which I guess is the Polish way.

We drove to Lublin, which was very cute, and then to Siedlec, which is where we are now. That isn’t actually very far for one day, but there is almost no freeway system in Poland (not even between Krakow and Warsaw) and there are more trucks here than I have seen anywhere else in my life.

So today we are pressing on to Lithuania. We considered Kaliningrad but the hours spent at customs at the border are not worth it.

A recap of the last few days:

We were stuck in Lille for a day to get new front tires, one of which was damaged by some hooligans. Then went through Bruges and Brussels to Heidelberg. The next day we made it to Brno, and after that to Zywiec, Poland via Bratislava and Budadpest. It’s a bit of a roundabout way but there is much to see.

Poland is one of the friendliest places I’ve been. People here are generally very polite and very Catholic. The food is sustaining.

It’s a little late so we are getting on the road. Will post some pictures soon.

-Sequoia

Launch to Lille

We woke up this morning at the Goodwood Motor Circuit near Chichester for the launch. We met a few other teams, decorated our car, and camped there. In a tent!

The Rally technically started today, but we bought the car a week and a half ago and had already driven about 1700 miles before today, all in England, Wales, and Scotland. We both liked Scotland. Scotland is really great. Here’s a picture of our pregame trip and where we are right now:

pt 1

Goodwood is one of the pins southwest of London. So we didn’t go extremely far today, just as far as Lille. We left Goodwood at around 11, stopped in Brighton and ate lunch, then pressed on to Folkestone and took the Chunnel to Calais. That was exciting and surprisingly short. Lille is only about an hour past that. I know some teams were planning on making it as far as Germany by tonight.

It’s almost midnight here so I’m going to sleep. My goal to update this every couple of days. In the meantime, here is our car and the launch from the racetrack!

launch day launch us and car

It begins

IMG_1357

Holy crap! We are leaving for the airport in half an hour. A fine time for me to actually start this thing.

I’m planning to use this blog as a sort of trip journal and to post most pictures on the Facebook page, unless I can figure out how to make a photo file on this site.

Besides the visas, a few road maps, international driving permits, etc. we’ll plan most of the trip while we’re in England over the next week or so. We’re set to check out and buy the car in Hereford from some guy who did the Rally last year.

It’s pretty hard to believe this is actually happening. Please send good wishes and happy thoughts our way, because it is extremely unlikely this trip will go off without a single hitch.

Thanks for reading!

-Sequoia

PS The timestamp for this post should read July 7, 2015