Thursday, June 7, 2012
Day 1-4, From Riga t o Velikie Luki
Now i decided to call day 1 the day I left from Riga. There my travel began for real.
Janis, the guy I visited in Riga, lives with his parents in a quite big house in a lovely surrounding near a plant school. There you can see about hundred different sorts of pansies; they are working for a famous German factory to find new sorts.
When I arrived at about 8 pm they immediately invited me for supper. He put a huge bowl of “salad” on the table. It was not a salad I was used to eat in Sweden but a Russian-like, very nutritious with a lot of mayonnaise, cheese and all kind of juicy stuff.
Janis planned to ride a bicycle “marathon” downtown Riga the next day. Since there were no good bicycle roads to go downtown (when I went there in the afternoon I only found a highway with 6 lanes and no vägren, so it was a bit scary to ride there in the rain) I decided to join him and take the bicycle n the train.
Day 1. Riga-Jekabpils, 150 km
Next morning Janis mother was really worried about my plans to go to Russia. She told me that she was born 1953 somewhere in Siberia, when her mother was deported there. I regret that I did not ask her more about it but she could not speak English and my Russian was not so good. Janis gave me some advices. He told me that I should be careful and avoid guys in a group of more than two. Especially if they had been drinking alcohol.
It was not so easy to get the bicycle with all its panniers upon the train. The platform was very low and the train very high. Without the help of Janis and his father I think I never had managed to lift the 60 kg!
In Riga I said goodbye to Janis and rode towards southwest. Again there was a big highway going this direction. I was not sure if I was allowed to ride on it. Sometimes there was a sidewalk which I used but often it was impossible to predict where and how it ended. Often there was no ramp to get down or the sidewalk ended at the last house of a suburb. It was annoying to go back several hundred meters to come to the highway again.
Once I saw a police and thought I could ask him if it was legal to ride on the highway. He did not understand me, so I asked instead in Russia if this was the right way to Moscow. He repeated my question and looked at me as if I was an alien. He could not believe he had heard right. Then he said I should go back downtown and take the exit towards northwest. He showed me on a map of Riga how I should go. I pointed on a map of Latvia how I planned to go. Then he admitted that it was the right way to Moscow. He wished me good luck. The funny thing is that the street we were on was called “Moscow Road”. And the police did not know at once which road was going to Moscow!
I continued towards SW and there was blowing a western wind. Together with the wind from all the big lorries which passed only some decimeters left of me I could ride quite fast. At noon I passed a town with many restaurants and since it just began to rain, I decided to eat there and then continue. At five o'clock I had ridden 100 km which was my goal. The wind was still blowing and I was still strong so I decided to continue 50 more kilometers.
In a place called Jekabpils I found a calm place near a farm. Because of all mosquitoes I unfolded my tent rapidly and threw in all bags except the one with my clothes.
Now I was really tired. I just eat a little and then I fell asleep. But It was not a good place. Many trains came and disturbed my sleep. I was a clear night and it became colder and colder. I considered to go out and get more clothes but the bicycle was laying on the bag, the grass was wet and there were many mosquitoes. I reached the bicycle computer and checked the thermometer. It was -0,6 degrees! I took it inside the tend, there it was 2,5 degrees. I fell asleep a while and dreamed that it was winter and I was inside a tent surrounded by snow... Then I was wakened by a barking dog. It was only six o'clock but I understood that the farmer was taking out his cows. I stayed inside the tent and the dog calmed down, I don't know why. Finally I decided to ride away and rest and eat later, when it was warmer.
Day 2 Jekabpils - Rezekne, 100 km
But this day I was quite tired because i had not slept properly. In the afternoon at 5 i came to a town called Rezene. I only had ridden 100 km but felt for a brake and to check my e-mail. I asked somebody if there was a tourist office I was very close to it. I asked the two girl there if there was an internet coffee or some wifi anywhere in the town but they said unfortunately not, but I could use their computer. So I checked all my mails. As it became 6 I asked when they were going to close and they answered that they should have closed at 5 but they were not in a hurry. (I suppose they seldom got a tourist in that little town and now they were very happy to have one).
I was really tired now and did not feel to ride more, so I asked them if they knew a cheap hostel. They showed me one at a free-map and called there. But they were told that unfortunately this hostel could accept guests who had paid at a bank in advance. They could not take any cash. I asked the girl if I could pay with my internet bank and she called there again to get the bank information. Then she said she could pay for me if I paid her in cash because I could not transfer the money from a foreign bank (so fast). While she was doing it the other girl asked me about my travel plans and gave me brochures and free-maps of Moscow . She even made some copies of a map for the first 50 km after the border.
What a service! I decided that I always should ask for a tourist office when i came to a new city.
The hostel was situated in a common apartment building (you see it on the left side of the picture) behind the central station. To pass this station you had cross about ten rails. Many people were walking there and many trains were coming and there was no safety arrangements at all!
There was no wifi at that hostel so I could not update my blog but I could make some good food and take my bicycle into my room.
I also prepared some russian-style salad with raw rice and tuna fisk for the next day. I slept much better in that hostel than in the tent.
Day 3, Rezene - Sebezh, 130 km
On the third day after Riga I passed a beautiful national park. It was a huge wetland. There was a big parking lot with a informative description on a board. You could read about a lot of birds and 2900 different species of evertebrates of which more than 1300 (!) butterflies that had been found there. But there were no paths inside it! My bicycle pants together with my sandals were a perfect combination to investigate it. Many of the flowers an bushes had blossoms.
The road now became even more narrow. Before I only had go down on the roadside when two trucks were meeting next to me, now i also had to go down when a truck and a car met. It was not so easy to do it because in the roadside there often were deep potholes and loose gravel or big stones. To come back on the road was even more difficult because the pavement often was 5 or 10 cm higher. All time I had to look at the traffic from ahead and from behind, in case two vehicles would meet next to me. My mirror was a good help. But I was not the only slow vehicle and trucks usually showed consideration, at least thee blew their horn before they passed.
I came to the Russian border at noon. The queues of lorries were some kilometres in front of the border.
I think I had to show my passport at six different places but because I had no car I never had to wait. I just passed the queues of cars!
this sign welcomed me into Russia:
After the border I decided to take a little longer way so I could pass a town called Sebezh. I thought that I already had seen the worst roads in Latvia but these were even worse. there were potholes everywhere (even on the highway, E 22) which slowed down my speed from an average of 20 km/h to 16 km/h. Sometimes I could not avoid them, but if they were filled with water (it was raining almost the whole time), it was difficult if they were 5, ten or even 15 cm deep. If you were lucky they had been filled with bricks.
The town Sebezh was bigger and more beautiful than I had expected. In the south there was a square with a statue of Lenin at the beach of a big lake.
I wanted to change some money. On the way to the bank I even found a post office. I was told that I could register my arrival in Russia at a post office but decided to go to the bank first. When I came there I suddenly could not remember where I last put my cellphone and was worried I could have lost it through my bicycle basket. At the same moment I found it I heard somebody locking the banks office. For me it felt as if it was early in the afternoon and the bank was supposed to close at 6 pm. I looked at my cellphone and understood that I must have changed time zone again. Now I had missed the banks opening hour and the post office too!
So I decided to continue some more. I rode some more hour and slept in my tent in the wood. Before i stopped I thought about the best strategies to avoid the mosquitoes. Should I first put on my rain-clothes an then unwrap my tent or should I unwrap my tent at first? I decided to do the second way. Although it did not take more than 60 seconds to pop up my tent and throw in my seven bags a black cloud of mosquitoes gathered around my bare legs. When I myself jumped inside and had closed the zip, the first thing I did was to kill about 50 of them. Now I think I have 100 mosquito-bites all over me.
Day 4, Sebezh - Velikiye Luki, 130 km (of which 25 searching for a hotel)
There were more woods in the Russian landscape than in Latvia. In Latvia you could find many farms and houses that were abandoned. In Russia they looked like they were but still lived people there. All houses are placed quite close to the road and typical is that there is a public phone
in almost every village.
I tried to get some water but often you had to bring your own bucket.
and filled my bottle in the tap in the restroom. It tasted like iron but not so bad. Anyway bought a cup of tea (it costed only 15 RUB = 3 SEK) and I asked if the water from the tap was good for drinking. They told me that it was not good, I had to go to the well and fetch some water there!
In this well actually I found a bucket and the water was cold and fresh and did not taste iron. I do not know why they had not drinking water inside the house, only 20 meters away.
When I continued a little more I came to a signpost for orientation of the boarder region. It must have been designed for people going from Moscow towards Latvia, but it was standing on the road going towards Moscow.
Suddenly I thought for a while I had lost my orientation in the rainy weather and I must have got back to the border two hours ago when I changed from the old road to the new one. Or might it have been at the coffee? It was good to have an old compass, it showed me that I was still going east...
I thought Russia was a bit of the Taiga and had expected conifer forest (trees with needles). So i was surprised when I, so far, mostly found deciduous trees (with leaves). It looked like in the middle of Europe but there were almost no fields (agriculture), just huge meadows with high grass and blossoming flowers. The song of the birds often was stronger than the sound from the traffic!
There were almost no fences, sometimes there were more lupins than grass. If you saw a cow it almost always was bound with a chain in the middle of a huge meadow.
Sometimes there were wetlands (you could see that it had been raining a lot the last weeks) and I also crossed beautiful rivers were people were fishing.
Already at four o'clock I arrived at my goal; a town called Velikiye Luki. i knew it was very important to register in Russia within 72 hours from arrival.
To do it you either have to check in at a hotel or (as my Russian teacher told me) you also could do it at the main post office of a town. My plan for the afternoon was to do that first, then to buy a internet sim card for my smartphone, then to change money and finally find somewhere to sleep.
I asked people if there was a tourist office (after my good experiences two days before) but there was none, although there were more than 100 000 people living in the town.
But soon I found the post office. I queued in one of the lines and when it was my turn a girl told me if I wanted to register, I had to queue in one of the two other lines. Finally it was my turn again. The girl looked at my passport and its visa, searched for some forms and asked where I planned to spend the night. I told that I did not know yet. She returned my passport and said I had to register at the hotel.
My batteries were empty and my mosquito-bites were itching, so actually I thought it was a not so bad idea to sleep in a hotel. I understood that she did not know how to register me (or maybe she was to lazy?) but I did not want to argue. I asked instead if she knew where I could buy a sim-card for internet. She could not tell me but a guy in the queue showed me the way. It was around the corner!
The card was very cheap (150 RUB=30SEK for 500MB, valid one month) but the guy in the shop had to register a lot of things, e.g. my passport number, my visa number and even the place of birth(!).
The card worked with Skype but not with internet. We tried many times and finally we found out that it worked all right on most pages but not my homepage and not on hotmail. The guy told me that hotmail does not work in Russia and I thought that maybe my homepage works if I use my smartphone as a modem for my laptop. (I still do not know it because I write this with a wifi-connection of a hotel).
When I had paid for the sim card (with my credit-card) I found out that all banks were closed again. I knew I could get money at the bankomat but I wanted to get rid of some Euro I brought with me.
So instead of changing money, I asked at the phoneshop if they knew e cheap hotel. They gave me a name but when I found it I realized it was next to the main square (also here Lenin square). I asked for the cheapest room and it costed 1700 RUB (340 SEK). I thought it was quite expensive for Russia and asked if they knew a cheaper hotel. They gave me a name and pointed on a map. It was on the edge of the city, about 5 km away. I rode there and when I thought I got close to it I asked an old man who lived there. He said he did not know this hotel but he knew two other which he could show me. We walked together back the street I was coming from for about 15 minutes.
On the way we talked about everything I had learned to talk about, the weather, his family, his life and history. Then he found the first hotel, which looked quite expensive. I said it was not the right name but it did not matter as long it was not too expensive. At the same moment two cops passed and he asked them if they knew the place. They told him it was almost were I had met him, so we had to go back. He looked really ashamed that he did not know that. I tried to tell him that I could ride there by myself so he could go shopping as if he had planned, but he did not understand. Or he did not want to, anyway he insisted to follow me back. After another 15 minutes of small-talk (I told him about my travel-plans), we found the hotel. It was in the same block were he lived, only 100 meters away from his home, where I had met him! I said good bye to him and he wished me good luck and I went inside to get a room. Unfortunately there were no more vacant rooms at this hotel!
I rode back to the other hotel and asked there. It was full too! I remembered that the old man told about one more hotel in the neighbourhood, which I soon found. Even this was full.
I asked the lady if she knew any other hotels and she told me about the three I already had been to. I said that all were already occupied except the one in the middle of the town, but there were only expensive rooms left and asked if she knew any cheaper place. Finally she gave me a name of a hotel about 12 km away (she did not know exactly where) . I did not dare to ask her to call them but I asked her to write down the name. She gave me a small sheet of paper and a pen and said i could write it by myself. Russian service!
I rode back to the entrance of the town and asked people walking around there. Everybody told me that there were no hotels around there and said that I should go back down-town. Sometimes it was difficult to convince them that I wanted to continue because I thought I remembered I had seen a hostel there some hours ago. Finally I asked in a coffee and they did not know either.
There was a couple sitting at a table who heard that I was foreigner. They came to me and I realized that it was not a couple but father with his teenage daughter. The father said that the daughter maybe could help me. She talked English quite well and soon she understood my problem. Actually they were the first people i met in that town who could speak English (her father talked English even better but it seemed like he wanted her to practise) .
All hotels she knew I had already been to. She did not think there were any more. I told them that in that case I had to go back to the central hotel.
When I came to the expensive hotel even the last room was occupied! The girls at the desk were astonished to hear that all other hotels were occupied too and they could not tell me some more place.
It was 9 pm and I was really tired so I asked if I could sit down in the foyer and use an electric outlet to search on the Internet. My plan was to see if there were any couchsurfers living in the town, to go there and to register next day at the post office. After 20 minutes (I had not checked all my e-mails yet), suddenly a girl from the desk came and said: now there was a room for me if I was interested! Of course I was and the fact that it was cheaper than they had in the afternoon did not make it worse. I checked in and paid but then I continued for a wile to read my e-mails in the foyer.
After five minutes suddenly the couple I had met before stepped in and asked how it was going. I said that I finally got a room and that I just had paid for it. They introduced themselves as Victor and Lena and told me that they had come to tell me that I could stay at their house if I had not found another place.
I told them that it took me five hours to find this place but that I was very happy with it because I did not need to register the next day. I also told them that it was much easier to find a place in the woods (I did not mention the mosquitoes though) and they hardly could believe that I did so. They told me that they had been to Helsinki before and that they were planning to go to Stockholm this summer. I gave them the address to my blog and they gave me their number. Really nice people! I hope we will meet again some time!
I went up to my room and discovered that there was a bathtub. Instead of writing my Blog I took a bath and thought I maybe could do it next day.
So I did. Now I am still laying in the bed writing this although it already is noon. I have paid for the room for 24 hours and I am using them to rest my bones. Maybe in the afternoon I feel to ride a little more...
I realized that I did not take ant pics of this town. I think the reason is that I was very tired yesterday and desperately searching for a hotel. Anyway, this is not a beautiful town I think it looks like all towns in Russia. Grey, worn and incredibly shabby.
Even the room where I live has a standard far below the standard of western European hotel rooms. Right now I got an idea: I try to make a short clip of a video of my hotel-room and the plumbery in the bathroom and put it here: