31/05/07

In Ufa, at the doors of Asia 

Dear all,

Here we are in Ufa at the doors of Asia. The real border will be the small range of Ural. It will be also our next « challenge ». Ouf  ouf, it’s going to be tchut tchut (a little bit in Russian) hard.

We left Nerekhta a month an a half ago and so far lived so many new stories. We biked 1500 km but once again we are not trying to do a new world record. We realized that main roads are not matching our objectives. They are dangerous with drivers driving so fast and very often in bad conditions. It is also not the appropriate place to meet people. We realized that villagers living on the side of big roads are not very welcoming, closed and suspicious. Therefore we chose small roads crossing nice villages, meeting nice people, crossing quiet nature and beautiful landscapes. This is not the most direct and fast way but this is what we like …

Let’s come back at the first day when we left Nerehkta. 18 friends of us were at the departure and biked a few km with us. After we waved good bye to everybody, being again just the two of us, we could feel the taste of freedom. Being back on the road after a bit more than 5 months was really good. What a great pleasure not to know where we were going to sleep the next night.

We also felt it was time to leave our winter town where we had good time but also where we felt a bit stuck.

As the weather was nice, we were planning to spend the night in our tent just after a small village where we bought some food. In the shop we met Svieta and Valere. They saw us on TV and recognized us immediately. 20 min later, we were putting our bikes in their garage. As usual we were very nicely welcomed and even had a banya before sleeping.

The next day, we knew where we were going to sleep. We planned to visit Andre and Liena. She is Russian and he is French. Maybe we talked about them before. They live in a lovely village called Plos on the side of the Volga. We visited them once during the winter and planned this stop in advance. We must thank them a lot because Cynthia wasn’t feeling so good and she could recover during few days.

Next big step was Nijniy Novgorod where we’ve been welcomed by Andrei. He likes also to travel by bike so it was easy to find common interest. Nijniy is the third biggest city of the country and at the entrance (when we thought we were close to the end our day after already 60 km) we had like 20 or 25 km extra to bike to reach the center and meet Andrei … and of course, the last street was a 17% slope. It is not the most beautiful place we saw but we could appreciate the relaxed atmosphere and enjoyed some nice walkings.

On the way to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan we had a great meeting with Anton !!! Anton lives in a village, drives a white car and his favorite hobby is drinking vodka and beer … We first met him next to a shop. He tried to talk to us but his breath explained us it was time to go, so we went … A few km further he was overtaking by car. After several tries, they finally could stop us in the middle of nowhere. Then they asked for money pretending we had to pay for the right to bike on this road. We refused and tried to show them we couldn’t understand them; but after some time they realized we were answering more and more. We were not consistent anymore. Cynthia tried to explain that Russians are nice and gentle people on what he answered they were not nice persons but « bandit ». The only threat we had was the risk to see our tires burst !! Finally, after at least 20 min of endless speeches, Cynthia put her bike in the middle of the road to stop a small truck that was arriving. One guy understood quickly the situation and asked us to go away while he was trying to deal with them.

They were not really dangerous (we think they saw us as a good opportunity to get some cash and to buy more vodka) but we never known and we prefered to go and hide somewhere in the forest during a full day in case of they were looking for us (with thirst of revenge) or because they told us they were going to call to some friends in other villages. Well, thank to Anton we could have good rest and we tried our filter due to the fact there was no water around except in a green pond.

Before reaching Kazan, we crossed a region where people claimed that we were not in Russia anymore but in the Republic of Mary El. What we can say and see are the changes of faces and eyes. They become more round and eyes get closer and closer to orient side.

For a few days, we changed time. Not a single hour but two at the same time, because some areas do not respect the standard time zones.

The last republic we crossed is Bashkorkostan. We really like it for its nature and landscapes. There are cattle and poultry in villages which we didn’t see a lot before and lots of harvests. And thanks to the spring it is full of babies … Plants are so green and smell so nice.

The only bad view is from the pomp to extract oil. Often we tell ourselves we are riding on oil. What a strange feeling …

Welcome in this area is great too. People are more curious, dare to stop us to ask questions and start chattering. Sometimes we even have to say we have no time, if not we won’t never reach the next village.

It’s very amazing how people will behave to be sure we are fine. They will do everything to make you feel comfortable. And if in the bottom of the garden there is a banya you can be sure it will be fired for us.

It’s spring over here and news from France say it’s cold and snowing in the mountains.

But this spring is particularly hot. Temperatures go over 45 (in the sun). The hard side for us is that there is no shade on the road and we endure sun all day long. The single little road will be clear from trees from both sides. It makes it nice but what a hell for our skins.

We are now in Ufa where we are hosted by Vladimir, his mother and his grand mother. Once again, they had to push the walls to put our 10 bags, two trailers and two bikes.

Vladimir took us in different places. He is historian and the city abound of old houses and buildings. But those days, the politic is to destroy them to build brand new buildings. Hurry up if you want to see them because it won’t last forever unfortunately.

Tomorrow we’ll be on the road again on the way to Chelyabinsk. But before this next step, we’ll have to cross the Ural range. It’s going to be hard but nice. Hope slopes are not too steep and weather will be a bit fresher.

Hope this mail will find you all in good form. Tell us about you, we still like to know where you are and what you do.

All the best

DoM & Cynthia

29/12/06

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year 

Hello everybody,

As you may know (if not, we tell you something is wrong …), we get closer and closer to the end of this year. Are you ready for parties and great food ?? or maybe you’re still on a big digestion that makes you not thinking about the next meal…

Sorry for being late but it’s still better now than never; so HAPPY CHRISTMAS to you and your entire circle. We were onle the two of us to celebrate, a bit sad to be away from our families. So not to stay too much down we decided to prepare a real French dinner…sushies !! oups…OK it sounds more Japanese than French but we really wanted to try to do it ourself and we did work so fine. Soooo delicious…

Maybe some of you know already that in Russia they celebrate Christmas the 7th of January. Does someone know why little Russian Jesus was born 13 days after our west Europe Jesus ?? It has something to do with the calendar. A bit of history: during the 16th century, the Tsar Peter the first decided  to change the calendar… that’s all for history, don’t worry. But we don’t know why he decided to change it. And anyway, regarding 2007 years back, 13 days difference is not a big matter !!

An other very important question: here we often see Father Christmas in a blue costume… where is the truth, is he blue or is he red??

At last, after a long period of despair and hope, our cold friend has come. Few days ago snow falled. Oh, not a lot, just enough to cover the trash… by the way, one of the big problems in Russia (from our sight) is ecology. It seems that people were used, during soviet time, to have a pretty good system to collect garbage but now it’s obvious that it’s collapsed. They were also used to be supported in many ways by the authorities which doesn’t happen anymore those days… consumer society came with its good things but also with the worse !! Well, it’s no need and not time to philosophize on this. But still, we feel very sad about it and we often dare to say it to our new friends in the hope that things could change one day…

We are now in Nerekhta, small town of 30.000 citizens. It’s about 300 km north east of Moscow and about 40 south west of Kostroma. We didn’t plan to stop that early actually. We arrived here less than two months ago. We could have done much more km so far but once again, the aim of our journey is not to accumulate km but to accumulate meetings. And we worked pretty well on it so far. This place was sounding good to our wishes as we quickly met people that could tell us we had something to do here. And they were right.

We started working in two schools (soon in a third one) by asking to some teachers (teaching French and English) to gather motivated pupils in small groups (maximum 10) we could meet once or twice a week for discussion. Not to teach them but only to make them speaking. We are not pedagogue. They are not used to speak at all and especially to speak with foreigners. Our idea was accepted by everybody and we could start our reunions for three weeks now. And things are going well. Of course we asked to discuss with the eldest pupils because we wanted to spend time with students who have a minimum of knowledge to be able to answer our questions. And of course we have different levels of knowledge, but they all have the wish to see us more and more.

We spent our second three days in Moscow last week. We had good time walking around in streets and visiting the Russian history museum (didn’t find the reason why Christmas is on 7th of January…but all information is in Russian…). We also offered a conference to the Russian Cycle Touring Club (RCTC). We met very interesting people who gave us good information about roads in Russia, good and unusual spots to visit and so on. We were hosted by Valery who speaks French and English (he is interpreter in English). Our new friend invited us to visit his club of morse… you know those people who like to swim in lakes during all the year, except when it’s too hot. Of course, Valery invited us to join them in the water… and I (DoM) did it. Very good experience…cold but good. The most difficult is to find again the heat in toes. But the rest is OK. And actually we don’t go for a swim but only for a 2 minutes dive. And I can say it’s even easier than go for a small dive in the north see (in France) the 31st of December. Here, in Russia, I didn’t have to walk for hundreds of meters before having the level of water to my knees…

Today, a new group of children will arrive in the holiday center that hosts us. They will be 27 for four animators. And as during the last camp, we will be the French touch available. We don’t know yet if we will be involved in the activities, but we certainly will have good time. We probably will celebrate New Year with them, at least for the beginning of the evening. This camp has for purpose give a guitar and skate (on ice) experience to the children. We will try to be part of the training.

As said before, snow arrived, at last !! We know there are some tracks for ski cross country and we do hope to take advantage of them… we put our bikes in the garage and after Christmas and New Year dinner we definitely will need exercises…

Hope everything is fine with all of you. A bit in advance, we wish you all a great happy New Year and even more and more… In Russian we say: S’Novim Godom !!!

As always thanks for following us…

DoM & Cynthia

 

07/11/06

News from Russia

Hello all of you,

first of all sorry for all the “French mails” you received so far. As we explained 4 months ago (when we left Brussels), we have about 120 addresses and most of them are French… I know some of you tried to use a translator on the web wich is not perfect but helps to understand what we mean. So this time it is only for you …

After 4 months we biked about 4.000 km and crossed 5 countries. We wanted to go to Helsinki only by bike but we had to rush a bit as we were meeting Dom’s parents in St Petersburg middle of September. So from Vilnius (Lithuania) we took a bus to Tallinn (Estonia). After what we spent 2 weeks in Finland waiting for our 1 year Russian visa. We biked from Helsinki to Turku (300 km) during a week.

Our first big change (regarding West Europe) was in East Germany. It was our first visit for both of us and we had a bit forgotten our lectures about the history and especially about the old borders. We could feel a very sudden real change in landscape (grey buldings, bad roads, less nice gardens etc.) after few km along a canal which was just on this old border. We had a stop in Postdam (near Berlin) in a family who could explain us what really was East Germany. Change has come so fast and today (only 16 years later)
behaviours and minds are not looking in the same direction…

Third country (after Holland and Germany): Poland. We heard many times that we would not be able to communicate inEnglish over there but finally we did not really encounter this difficulty, even in the countryside. We could also find fast internet in the middle of nowhere in farms and houses. The welcome was great and we had no difficulties to be hosted by lots of new friends.

Before Poland weather was just great and we took advantage of it to use our cosy tent. And then rain came… we had to experience our “supposed waterproof” bike-bags…supposed only… We got quickly tired of them by being forced to dry the plastic bags that were trying to keep our stuff dry in our bike-bags… So finally we had to invest in new ones (this time really waterproof) wich Dom’s parents would take with them in St Petersburg.

We are now in Russia (fifth country) and we have our one year visa :-)) We spent 12 days in St Petersburg. As real tourists we visited palaces, museums, gardens, … But what we enjoyed the most was just to walk around in streets. So many old buldings (most of them renovated, but well done) and nice colors.
We were fortunate to have a host who could welcome us in a great way as we had our own keys and our freedom to go and come as we wanted.

We left St Petersburg 24th of September on the way to Irkutsk…  to the east. So far we biked about 1000 km in Russia. We crossed large nice landscapes of forests and fields.
In a month we spent only 3 nights under the tent, not because we had to, but because we wanted. The rest of time, we are welcome in people’s houses. Not only by giving
us a roof, but also by feeding us (too much) and often by offering a banya… You may say: what is a banya?? Banya is a kind of sauna which is used in the countryside as bathroom. There is a fire (with wood) that heats the stones and a small tank of water (used to water the stones). There is also few pails of cold water wich are used to wash ourself at the end.
Before to be washed, there is this time during wich you use branches of birch to whip yourself or your neighbor. It helps to get rid of toxines…or something like that. We also experienced a public banya…in which you are naked with people you’ve never seen before. Men and women separate of course. We get used of it very quickly actually ;-)

We didn’t bike through Moscow but we will go there by train later on. We are now in a town of 30.000 citizens called Nierekhta near Kostroma. About 300 km east of Moscow.
This is where we certainly will stop for the winter. We didn’t expect to stop that early but circumstances make us choosing this place. We are hosted for free in a flat (just the 2 of us) and are just asked for spending some time with children who come to the camp during their holidays. It’s not very clear so far what they are expecting from us but it’s ok, we are open and have lots of free time to offer. Here we have free access to Internet, a large kitchen very well equiped, DVD, washing machines, etc. Much more that what we were asking for.
In the meanwhile, we met an English teacher with whom we will probably
work…work with the students by making them talk. We will also meet some other teachers (who teach French) in three other schools for the same purpose. So our winter time won’t be annoying, for sure.

Already so many more stories happened to us and lots lots are coming again. We don’t feel like going back home yet. Definitly not. Let’s see how long we will stay in this town and how things will turn out. So far we really met nice Russians and we can say that Russia is definitely not as grey and corrupted as media are showing us.

Our russian is not very good so far as we are learning words after words and are making basic sentenses, but we are waiting for a book-method to improve it and will find someone who will teach us as well. Let’s see in 10 months time…

Well, so many other things could be said. We thank you for following us and hope to hear very soon from all of you. Hope this mail will find you in great form.
Take care,

DoM & Cynthia

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