Brought to a Kazahkstand Still

So last we spoke AJ and Zack had sank several gins, had a lovely day doing the tourist thing in the mountain backed Almaty and were revelling in having the necessaries to fix the car ahead of the last leg of the trip.
Fast forward 4 days and 3 of them have been spent not moving. About 100km out of Almaty, and after taking a fist sized boulder to the windscreen causing a huge crack, Sarah had a hot flush that came on so rapidly the engine had seized before we had time to realise and pull over. We let it cool down and spoke to 2 other Rallyers who had stopped to help, emptying a bottle of Kseal into the coolant tank and filling it back up with water in the process. This did not fix the problem and after coasting down a hill, avoiding several crash sites and a massive oil slick, we staggered into a small town called Kirovski and mercifully found a mechanic immediately.

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Broken car. Broken man

He was stumped, but was able to communicate to us the engine was buggered. As the problem would take a few days to repair, the mechanic, who later introduced himself as Ira beckoned us to follow him to the hotel across the road. However there was no room at the inn. Eventually he acquiesced that we could pitch the tent in the garages compound, weighing the guy ropes down with bits of old bumper under the watchful glare of a mangy mutt lying amongst the oil spills and broken pieces of engine.

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This, we must admit, was a desperate moment. We wouldn’t know what was wrong with the car until the morning. There was no wifi in the entire town and no one who could speak any English. It was roasting hot and immediately adjacent to a freight train track – a busy freight train track.

The morning of the 14th greeted us with a glimpse of hope. AJ’s dad had managed to put us in contact with a Russian speaker, Innokenty, and after letting Ira and him shoot the breeze, two choices faced the MMC. One – we go back to Almaty, specifically to the VW garage and wait 2 weeks for it to be fixed. This would definitely mean the end of the trip. Work and university commitments aside- our Russian Visas run out on the 21st of August. Number two was we give Ira a shot at replacing the engine from scratch. It would be $500 but would be our best shot at getting to Mongolia. It was an easy decision in the end.
Checking into the worst hotel of the trip for 2 nights Ira took us for lunch (on us) and told us the engine would be delivered by 5 o’clock that day.
We arrived back at the designated time to Ira happily exclaiming the problem wasn’t as bad as first thought. We needed new pistons and a new head gasket that we could go and buy the next day. It would take slightly longer (another 24 hours) to be back on the road but it would be significantly cheaper and less risky. We headed back to the hotel in high spirits, had some dinner, watched long way down and fell asleep yet again to the sounds of traffic and freight trains.

The next day was spent going from car shop to car shop looking for piston heads for a VW Polo. A Golf would have been fine, but The Polo question was greeted with sad eyes and head shakes. Eventually in the 7th shop we tried with Ira and his mate we asked to see what the Golf Piston heads looked like. They were remarkably similar, the right diameter but too long. This wasn’t a problem however because Ira had another friend who ran a metal shop. We visited him and he was able to shear them down to size, much to our mechanics delight.

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We left Ira to it, hoping he would be done in the next 24 hours and went off to get drunk and fed. Upon leaving this particular kebab house we were accosted by the entire management team and waitering staff each wanting a photo with us on their phone. Not so much red carpet as brown stained walls, but it was a laugh and they didn’t require the tedious act of an autograph, which we know to be a terrible bore…

We watched the Avengers in the hotel, keen to stay downstairs next to the ongoing wedding reception and away from the noises upstairs. Ira had informed us our hotel was a regular haunt for the truckers passing through to take their prostitutes. Sadly we had to save our money for fixing the car…

The next day dawned with a sense of optimism, quickly dampened when we spent the entire time waiting for Ira to finish. At 6 o’clock in the evening Ira eventually, in a cry of mixed fury and triumph, screamed POLO and spat viscously on the ground, downing tools in the process.

We didn’t hang about, whisky, money and hugs exchanged and we hit the road, eager to put any distance between us and there – a largely symbolic gesture considering the light was quickly fading. We pulled off the road into pitch black scrubby moorland around midnight and pitched the tent under the glare of the battery sapping headlights – falling asleep to the sounds of yelping dogs that thankfully did not appear to be getting any nearer.

We awoke to the sound of goats. Goats and dogs. Goats and dogs and a crying human child. Odd. Opening the tent door we realised that had we driven 50 metres further we’d have intruded on a Kazakh croft, the minder of which seemed highly confused as he watched us hastily pack up the tent.

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After around an hour we pulled into a petrol station and were joined by the lads that we had shared a great evening with in Buchara. It was fantastic to see them again and to be part of a Mongol Rally convey after 3 days of enforced inactivity. The scenery moved from dusty fields and moorland and turned into green(ish) flats, snow peaked mountains on the horizon and a million miles of impossibly blue sky. Unfortunately it was all too good to last for poor, poor Sarah.

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Turning onto the road to Semey (we know) sharp gravel that collected in banks at the side of the trail faced us, as did dust clouds from the cars in front that made the terrain impossible to negotiate with the faculty of sight. Pulling out to drive and make sense of where we were heading we hit one of the aforementioned gravel bank with a horrible scraping, crunching sound – immediately feeling like something should be wrong.

The damage took about half an hour the materialise, and dreadfully it was in the form of the engine temperature spiking again. We crawled into Semey, having covered 450 miles that day, had a horrible pizza and found somewhere to stay, praying that all we needed to do was flush the radiator out.

The following morning we did just that, paying a gardner fae the cooncil to borrow his hosepipe. We continued on the road to the Russian border around 50km away. Alas with a heavy heart the gauge flirted between unacceptable and stop the car now and cover yourself in asbestos. We stuttered into the first garage we could find where a blown head gasket was diagnosed. It would take at least 3 days to fix. We didn’t have the money and, most debilitating of all, our Russian visas expired in 2 days.

It is funny to face the trip of a lifetime ending in a week long funeral procession rather than a blaze of glory and novelty photographs.
We were happy with the pragmatism of our decision but absolutely gutted with its consequence. We shook hands, had a beer at a nearby cafe and vowed solemnly that we will be back before we are 30.

We felt okay until, in the cruellest twist so far, Sarah transported us back to Semey without incident. The mechanic, alarmed at our intention to drive back had given us his personal number for when we broke down, not it and it was an absolute wrench to let cooler heads prevail and not make a last gasp sprint for Mongolia.

So here we are now in Astana- a capital built for that purpose. Convenient, modern and soulless. We decluttered and destickered the car yesterday leaving it to a friend we met along the way outside an abandoned cinema and proceeded to get drunk and watch Harry Potter. With great difficulty we booked a flight to Astana with an airline “blacklisted” by the EU for its poor safety record as it was our only option and managed to book another flight home. It all feels very surreal and we’re struggling to shake off the feeling of disappointment.

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We have had such a good time it is largely impossible to articulate. That feeling will return soon we are sure, however right now- as we sit in our 4 star hotel in white robes deliberating the mini bar- hollowness prevails.

We would like to thank everyone for their kind words and keen reception of our updates. Also on behalf on CHAS we would like to thank everyone who has donated and urge all generosity to an unbelievably worthy cause.

Rest assured, this Mongol Rally attempt represents trip 1 of many for MMC.

To be continued…

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Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan (again)

7,033 miles from Edinburgh.

Bukhara ended up being a two day stop for MMC. Spent most of the day wandering around Mosques and Bazars before stumbling across a 16th century bath house. Not one to miss an opportunity to treat himself, AJ headed straight in for a massage. Emerging an hour later feeling and smelling glorious, he urged Zack to take one too, advice he quickly heeded. The process involved first sitting in an ancient looking stone sauna for half an hour before being subjected to a peeling, rubbing and cracking. All of which was carried out on us on a stone slab in the centre of the room, bollock naked. Finally he smeared us in ginger and honey, which really stung before washing it off and handing us a cup of tea. An afternoon well spent.

Woke the next day feeling ill however. Probably more to do with the last nights dinner. This was bound to happen at some point, just unfortunately it happened to us both at the same time, with only one toilet and limited paper. Reluctantly leaving the safety of our hotel, we payed a taxi driver to show us to a petrol station. The car was not behaving at all by this point and we were running on fumes. Arrived at a decent looking petrol station only to discover (after they’d filled the car) that they didn’t take dollars and we had no Som. To make matters worse the car stalled and then refused to start again. After a lot of confused babbling, the taxi driver bailed us out and agreed to take AJ somewhere to exchange our last $50., leaving Zack in the petrol station desperately trying to revive the car. Long story short AJ went on a small adventure round Bukhara to a market and managed to exchange money with a large gentleman in the back room of a shoe shop. He did not receive a receipt. Flush with cash, we paid the taxi driver for the lift and fuel and he promptly buggered off and left us in the petrol station. After several woeful attempts a stranger hopped into the front seat of the car and the 3 of us managed to bump start in 2nd.

Made it 60 miles down the road before getting stopped by the police for no real reason. After 30 minutes of arguing over a $50 (which we couldn’t afford) he gave up and let us go. Several police check points later we crawled into Samarkand, wheeled into the first hotel we saw and went to bed without dinner.

In the morning we discovered that this 4 star hotel did not take credit card. “Not to worry” said the hotel receptionist, “there’s a bank just down the road”. He drew us a map and off we went. Unfortunately as it later transpired, he’d marked the hotel on the map in the wrong place. After 30 minutes of wandering around and miming “bank?” to strangers, we found one. This was not a bank that gave out money we were told by the man behind the desk however. He helpfully pointed us down the road to more banks. The next bank was the same. And the next one. After 5 different attempts to find a money bank (god knows what they hold in the first 5) a policeman took pity on us. He took us to 2 more banks and then finally a hotel that had an ATM. Hugging the machine we thanked the policeman who didn’t even ask for money as we’d expected, stocked up on cash and headed back to the hotel.

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Next up was car repair. We’d figured our problem to be due to the shitty fuel we’d purchased from the two chaps on bikes and decided to get some injector cleaner to try to flush it out. The receptionist directed us to “car shop” that was on the way to Andijon. This turned out to be an entire market place devoted to cars. You could literally buy everything from replacement sunroofs to furry dice. Found what we wanted and headed off. 390 miles and countless police check points we arrived in Andijan, by the Kyrgyzstan border late at night, found a hotel and again went to bed without dinner.

Determined to have a less stressful day we arrived at the Uzbek/Kyrgyzstan border early the next day to avoid the rush. We bumped into our Scandinavian pals again. Uzbek side was all going fine until the customs official asked AJ to produce our car insurance. Knowing full well we had no such thing he tired to suggest that our British insurance covered us. It did not replied the official.
“Our Kazakhstan insurance covers us?”
” It does not”
“Hmm, I guess we don’t have that one. Oh well no problem”
“Yes problem”

The official paused for a minute and then said “You have two options. Option 1, you drive back into Uzbek and buy insurance. Option 2, you pay here.”

Seeing where this was going AJ asked “I pay to you? How much?”
Turned out the boy was only after $20 and considering insurance was $24, all in this was a good deal. Handing over $20, AJ paused for a second, expecting an insurance certificate to appear before noticing the dollars slip into the officials pocket. Accidental bribery over, the Kyrgyzstan border was no more hassle than a high five and thanks for visiting. We headed into Osh in a good mood in search of an American pizza joint.

Determined to achieve some significant miles the next day we set off early with the Swedes through Kyrgyzstan only to get separated from them early and then lost. After driving right up to what was clearly and a border fence and deciding not to jump it, we found the right road through the mountains. This proved one of the best days driving of the whole trip so far. Magnificent lakes and desert gave way to rugged mountains dotted with cattle and yurts. Pulled over towards a yurt to ask if it would be ok to camp for the evening around 7.

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Chapping on the door of the nearest hut we asked the girl who appeared if it would be ok to camp. Just as she seemed to be agreeing however she gasped and pointed. Turning to face the main road we saw to our horror two cars collide at 70 mph head on (where we ourselves had only seconds ago pulled off). One car bounced off to the side of the road while the other rolled over several times towards us. As none of the passengers were wearing seatbelt so two flew through the front windshield and one through the back. Immediately we sprinted over to help. AJ helped rip open the front door and pull out the driver but after that both of us stood back feeling useless. Ran back to the car to grab our first aid kit, from which we able to offer antiseptic wipes and not much else to one of the people who had gone through the windscreen. A small girl of about 6-7 with a large gash on her face. The whole thing was an awful experience but in the end none of them were mortally injured. One woman had suffered a broken leg but that was the worst of it. After 30 minutes we removed ourselves for the scene and decided to just set up camp. There was nothing more we could do.

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After a quick dip in a nearby stream we set about making dinner. Before we had a chance to rustle up a single pot noodle however a man came came over and beckoned us to follow. He led us into his nice warm yurt nearby and gestured us to sit. Obliging we kicked our shoes off, sat on the floor around his table and were presented with what turned out to be horse milk. This was of course disgusting but we pretended to enjoy our bowl each and politely declined a second helping. The man the insisted we stayed for dinner and we were presented with some sort of delicious soup and bread. We thought it would be nice to give him some whisky although he didn’t really seem to fussed about it when Zack presented it to him.

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After a couple of hours he threw us out and we proceeded to have a freezing cold night in the tent. We woke late the next day to some spectacular views for breakfast. Our good mood however did not last long. AJ opened the bonnet to check the oil, only to discover it had leaked all over the engine. We topped up the oil only to discover that the car would not start at all. At this point we took the rather foolish decision to try to bump start the car down a hill into a field. Zack volunteered to drive and after AJ pushed him down a hill almost succeeded in revving the car. Almost. After a few minutes of coughing and spluttering the car died completely. At this point we decided to phone AJ’s dad, who can usually be relied on for some mechanical knowledge. Unfortunately Russel had not had much sleep and at 5am GMT was not much use. He was however able to suggest removing the air filter. Undoing the cover it transpired this was covered in oil from the leak. Removing it entirely enabled us to finally start the car.

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We limped along the the road to a mechanic, who after an hour and a half of tinkering, removed our thermostat and announced we could no longer use the heater. Well that’s fine we replied, we’re in a desert. But what about the oil pissing out of the engine? To this he had no reply. Irritated we headed to Bishkek, not daring to exceed 40 mph. We found a communism themed hostel and headed to bed.

Deciding our best bet was to cross the border back into Kazakhstan and fix the car in Almaty. After a few FaceTime calls to Russell we knew what we had to do to repair the car. Had to offer the Kyrgyzstan border guard a “present” as we had apparently lost some form but apart from that made it across the border in good time. We did get briefly stopped by the Kazakh police, who tried to demand $1000 for overtaking a lorry. After a fair bit of arguing AJ managed to get the dowry down to 50 and 4 bottles of whisky which is still daylight robbery. Feeling pissed off we made it to Almaty by 3.

We decided to take a rest day here to recharge the batteries before the last 2 weeks of hard driving In far eastern Russia and Mongolia. The first problem however was that AJ was unable to withdraw any money from cash machines. This was sorted after phoning RBS via FaceTime to unblock this card. We spend the rest of the day wandering around the sights and treated ourselves another massage to prepare for the rough roads ahead. The plan is to smash out a good 400 miles tomorrow and get well on our way to Ulan Baator. We now have parts to fix the car so hopefully she can hold out as long as us.

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Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

5,843 miles from Edinburgh.
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After buying bread and water and bumping into (almost literally) our first fellow rallyers – 2 lads from Ireland, we shot the shit with them for a little while and then ploughed on through the treacherous roads splitting the sun scorched plains, oil filled fields of Kazakhstan.
Camp for the night was behind a scrubby mound about 200 yards from the side of the road. It is extremely difficult to be out of sight on these huge expanses of flat land. We laughed watching Long Way Round on the iPad with our nightly pot noodle when we realised Ewan and Charley did the exact same thing, probably camping within 100 metres of us, 10 years ago.
In the morning we packed and took a slight detour to go and investigate a huge herd of camels crossing the road. These beasts’ stink, but selfy etiquette dictated we exited the car and snapped away.

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We drove into a town about 50km down the road which we were reliably informed had the finest ATM in all of Kazakhstan. Once our pockets were filled to the brim with tenge we set off again only for a police Lada to immediately pull us over doing 15 mph. This may very well have been their first bribe with MMC holding their hands the entire way through it. Round faced and young, their tone switched to jovial when, after inspecting Zack’s driving license, one of the two policemen realised they shared a birthday. They milled about the car for a while looking at the countries written on the bonnet and Zack eventually proffered two miniatures of whisky to make them bugger off. Delighted with their lot, we left them drinking the whisky in the back seat of their car.

Mercifully the road improved and we arrived in the early evening in Kulsary looking for a hotel. After inadvertently crashing a wedding reception in a function room we had confused for a hotel, we got directions and found our bed for the night.

Kulsary is a tiny place, akin to a shanty town. Dilapidated shacks and beggars on the street led us to believe that the hotel would be basic to say the least. We were surprised therefore to encounter a massive, gleaming glass fronted building which gave us a suite, a power shower and free slippers for $25 a night.
We were the only people in the place, yet as we crossed the billiards room (!) we realised there must have been around 20 people working. At the bar none of the bottles looked touched never mind opened and dinner seemed to be thrown together when they realised people were actually expecting to be fed.

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Looking back there is not a doubt in our minds that it was a front for something and we were relatively eager to make a quick getaway in the morning. After establishing that we hadn’t broken a wheel bearing and the ominous rattle was just the window loose in its bracket, we set off again only to be pulled over by the first cop who saw us, also wanting a bribe. This guy was far more seasoned than his contemporaries of 24 hours previous. Using google translate, he asked for five whiskys but AJ managed to haggle him down to three. This was just pure greed and left a sour taste in the mouth.

We ploughed on to the Uzbek border without any more major incident, aside from the fact that the road was comparable to driving on a massive rusty, dusty cheese grater and reached the Kazakh border at around 5 o’clock in the evening. Despite the officers here playing solitaire in full view of everyone we passed through into no mans land relatively painlessly. Here we thought it would take a couple of hours at most. We were about 8th in the queue and had been told that the Uzbek border was fine.

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8 hours later we woke with a start. Finally we were moving, leaving the compound of razor wire, lorry fumes and urine with just a solitary can in beans in our belly.
We eeked into the security checks proper and immediately had no idea what to do. No one came to our rescue.

The van in front carrying at least 20 people who all had shrink wrapped microwaves, fridges, DVD players and the like had emptied every single item for it to be inspected and passed through the XRay machine in customs. This was not what we needed. Our car would take 20 minutes to fully unload, and double that to put it back on nae sleep.

We guessed that passport control would be a good place to start and sailed through. Customs was a little tricker. After waking the guard who was in charge of scanning passports and paying 5 dollars for the privilege, we realised he hadn’t bothered to do AJ’s. Exhausted, frustrated and incredulous at being in this unexpected situation we decided to take matters into our own hands. Rewriting the Uzbek border process as we went.

As we had no intention of emptying the whole car, we only declared 2 bags and eased through the luggage check. Then came the dreaded car check, where our declaration would be proved to be a lie.

Having watched the car in front have to empty every single nook and cranny for inspection we decided we didn’t much fancy that. Making our guard unlock the boot and open all the car doors himself, as well as encouraging him to get in to inspect all glove compartments etc the idea was to turn his authority and discretion on its head and ‘be foreign to him ‘ into submission. It was a risky strategy but we managed to not come across as being uncooperative as the language barrier and our obvious exhaustion afforded us a veil of ignorance. It worked. He decided he couldn’t be bothered explaining we had to empty the car and clearly didn’t want to do it himself. After a couple of minutes of humming and hawing he returned our passports and waved us through. We got off very, very lightly. In fact the most extensive search was through AJ’s iPad photos, he seemed to enjoy the camel selfy at least.

Around 6am, 13 hours after moving into no mans land we drove into Uzbekistan. 10 km down the road we watched the sun rise in the desert and then passed out in the car until 9am.

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The first place that did food was our breakfast stop. Horrible as it was, after ordering ‘meat of chicken’ and frites we felt better about everything. That was until 3 fried eggs dripping in oil and salad turned up. Regardless, it was demolished and we carried on driving, taking in the Aral Sea – dried up after a Soviet river diversion in the 50’s and had lunch at a much better stop around 2 o’clock.
Here we bumped into an Azerbaijani man who was having the worst 2 month of his life, but who thankfully spoke fluent English. He explained there was virtually no fuel here and that if you see people at the side of the road making a hand gesture which looks like shaking the awkward turtle from side to side, then they were able to facilitate a refuel. This was invaluable advice as we required just that service from two teenagers on bikes at the side of the road 2 hours later. 50 dollars later we had a full tank of petrol decanted from eight 5 litre water bottles and we set off for Nukus, our stop for the night, feeling relieved. This was to be short lived however.
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The grade of fuel was appalling and Sarah, who only drinks the finest, now makes a horrible rattling noise when the revs go above 2000. Listening to the other cars we realised that this was par for the course and we were just going to have to adjust our driving style whilst here.

We reached a hotel in Nukus and were delighted to receive that last twin room in the building, bumping into a fellow Mongol Rally team from Dunbar completely by accident. We had a great ‘meat of cow’ dinner after our waitress phoned her mum to ask if she could exchange dollars and we went to bed for a blissful, uninterrupted, 10 sleep in a proper bed – banishing the memory of the previous night.

The next morning we plotted a course for Bukhara, 340 miles away, and set off after an unsuccessful attempt at finding a bank. The driving was almost identical to that of Arizona and Nevada, with added craters in the road and fewer lanes on the highway! Sand dunes loomed on the horizon and an impossible amount of clear blue sky accompanied them. We stopped for a lunch of fish (worrying as we are in 1 of only 2 doubly landlocked countries in the world- most of which is desert) and salad eaten on what can only be described as a double bed cot and continued on our way, bumping into the Dunbar lads at the side of the road. Their exhaust was hanging on by a thread and their sump guard had become spectacularly dislodged.
Refusing help, they told us they’d hopefully see us in Bukhara and we carried on, finding our hotel and checking in for the night, exhausted but happy with the days work.

We freshened up and went out for tea, bumping it to 3 other rally teams including, thankfully, the lads from Dunbar. A fantastic evening was had exchanging stories and team names for monitoring future progress and the night ended with 6 of us watching a hotel attendant compulsively set up our Shisha pipe, voluntarily and unsolicited, with the same intelligence, dexterity and intrigue as Heisenberg. He took fucking ages in other words and declined a drag himself proclaiming to have nearly got lung cancer the last time he went on a 2 week Shisha bender. Highly believable.
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Slightly worse for wear the next day dawned with the pair of us nearly missing breakfast and setting off to do the tourist thing – allowing ourselves a well earned day out of the car.

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Tomorrow is Samarkand before departing to the mountainous Kyrgystan. So far from home and each day takes us further into the unknown – absolutely fantastic.

Kazakhstan

4,890 miles from Edinburgh.

Woke up in Volgograd with brutal hangovers. We might have been vodka drinking Russians last night but this morning we were back to being miserable Scotsmen. Truly miserable. After walking shakily along the road to get a kebab for breakfast and then spending an age packing we crawled out of Volgograd at 1 o’clock, heading for Astrakhan. After only 4 hours of driving we pulled into a field, rustled up a couple of pot noodles and went to sleep.

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Woke the next morning feeling substantially better and set our sights on Kazakhstan. Managing to get packed up and away by 9 (early by MMC’s usual standards), AJ was cheerily predicting Kazakhstan by lunchtime. This was not to be. Astrakhan proved to be a maze and at one point we ended up in a wooded area we think was a paintball arena. Backtracking we came across the bridge we wanted only to find it blocked off by three 12 year olds on bikes and some concrete blocks. Luckily, a taxi driver sprang from his car and seemed to know exactly where we trying to get to. He helpfully drew us a map of how to get back to the main road. At this point he enquired as to whether we had any dollars or not and we realised that his presence at this bridge was maybe not such a coincidence. He was more than pleased with his whisky anyway.

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After getting lost twice more, almost crashing, and then not being able to find anything to eat more substantial than a snickers each, we arrived at the border. Predictably this took ages for no reason, arriving at 12 we reckon they were just eating their lunch. Made it through ok after an hour and a half of waiting listening to Order of the Phoenix. The Kazakh side was a ludicrous 9km further down the road which makes this by far the biggest no mans land we’ve encountered. Presumably Russia is so big they’re not that bothered about hanging on to every little bit of it.

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This was not our finest border crossing. Firstly we failed to get the ticket upon arrival that gets stamped to show you’ve been through passport and then customs control. We also didn’t bother to collect or fill in a migration card. Zack doesn’t have a visa for Kazakhstan partly because of time constraints but luckily due to a recent change, UK citizens do not require one for a period of less than 15 days. He was still a little apprehensive the border guard might not know this however. Sure enough AJ saw his face visibly fall when the woman behind the desk flicked through his passport and said “Vsia?” For about 30 seconds we stood there fearing the worst. Then out of nowhere one of the soldiers strode over and in perfect English said, “Don’t worry boys, I’ll sort this”. Not only did he sort out Zack’s visa issue, (which was totally fine) he also filled in all our forms for us and walked us through the whole border process.

Our faith in humanity restored we rolled up to the gate behind which lay Kazakhstan and got stuck behind a lorry. AJ overtook it and bam, a policeman pulled us over. Must have covered less than 100 yards. Apparently we’d gone through a stop sign, which didn’t exist and no one else seemed to be observing. A Russian behind us did the same thing and was also pulled over. While being fleeced of the last of our Russian cash AJ complained to his fellow law breaker who just shrugged and said, “This is Kazakhstan”

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A slightly sour taste in our mouths we pressed on along the truly awful road In search of oil and that all important Camel selfy. It can only get better from here.

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Mother Russia

4,381 miles from Edinburgh.

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Zack displaying the torso pigmentation of a newborn fish

The executive decision was taken to have a rest day in Kiev. The last few days had been a little gruelling and Zack and AJ decided to take the advice of spending as little time as possible in the Ukraine, by making it the 3rd country to have been stayed in for more than one night.

The capital was/is perfectly safe however. After a well needed lie in and a brunch of bolognaise for Zack and a flirtation with yet another bout of food poisoning for AJ thanks to a rather rare turkey steak, we set about really exploring a city in earnest for the first time since Zurich.

Independence Square was the first stop. It is a strange feeling to see somewhere that mere months before had been plastered all over the news, with people dying amid scenes of total chaos.
Whilst considerably calmer there were still echoes of the madness. Makeshift compounds enclosed by tyre walls still housed gaunt looking protestors wearing no shirts and cargo trousers.
Barricades of litter and detritus were piled 10 feet high in places and towers emblazoned with propaganda for pro EU and pro Russia juxtaposed with the gilded towers and statues of the square.
There is clearly a lot of anger here, and sadness too. This was not lost on us and we were glad of the chance to have a better understanding and appreciation of not just what happened here, but what was happening in the South East as well. It is so much more than an inconvenience to our route and we felt a tad guilty for even thinking that way in the slightest.

We explored a couple of churches after that. AJ ended up in a wedding photograph and Zack couldn’t work out how to use the toilets in the church of st Andrews. There were shades of Hotel Gloria in looking for the Chenobyl Museum, but it was eventually found on the last attempt. This was a very tactful tribute to a disaster that still affects people today. The theme of the day was having our eyes opened.

It was onto the underground to have a quick deek at the Olympic Stadium and look for the Kiev Fort. We never found it, choosing instead to get lost wandering through a military hospital and eventually gave up and headed back to the hostel to freshen up before dinner.

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It wasn’t a late one as the Russian border loomed on the morrow. It was this fact which made the worst nights kip of the entire trip all the more miserable.
There was a lad in our dormitory who’s snoring sounded like a faulty fan belt being sexually assaulted at 70 mph… over cobbles. It was impossible to sleep.

Border day dawned bleary eyed and flat tailed. We checked out, stopped a supermarket to stock up on provisions for the long wait ahead and had breakfast of coffee and croissants on Sarah’s bonnet.

Things were going well – almost too well, until around 35km from the border. Failing to notice the signs for a 50 zone and road traffic police, Zack ploughed through the restricted zone at 110 km an hour. No faster or slower than the car in front, but we we’re flagged down, stopping a little further up the road than we were meant to as we didn’t know what was going on. The officer in question bolted into his car and tore up the motorway after us bringing us back.

However the fine wasn’t too bad and 2 positives came of this encounter. One- technically MMC had been in a police chase which is banging and two- Zack and AJ were now one all on speeding tickets (and pigeons killed).

After that we proceeded the rest of the distance in a more leisurely manner and arrived at the Ukrainian border at around 1, passing through easily, buying a green card on the way and taking our place in the queue for Russia.

We were there for 9 hours. Books were started and finished, naps were stolen, food demolished, water constantly flowed and queue skippers were reprimanded with the severity of a love child between Mrs Weasley and Joseph Stalin.
Eventually, mercifully, we reached the security checks proper and it was all going to plan until they asked for the MOT certificate – something no other border has even mentioned let alone required. AJ let out a groan that told Zack it was somewhere on his bedroom floor. We tried in vain to communicate this to the guards and settled in for the even longer haul. However the restless natives, who we had struck up something of an accord with, as much as you can when you share neither a language or propensity for gold teeth, started venting their frustration to the uniforms, presumably telling them to hurry up and let us in. It seemed to work, 15 minutes later in a blaze of “Fuck it, get out of my sight”, our passports were returned and the barrier was lifted.

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In exultation we drove through and found a motel 10 clicks down the road. It looked appealing as it had showers, food and wifi and you could pay with card the deeply Russian attendant explained.

There was no wifi, the food was finished and you couldn’t pay by card. So began the charade of explaining we were 200 roubles short but had dollars. 30 minutes later he relented, swapping ten dollars for 300 roubles and taking 2 back. This informal and rude attendant then showed us to our room, flicked on the pornography on the television in our room, the kind soul, then demanded a pot noodle from our boot.

We were asleep almost immediately.

Sunday was an easy day. 220 miles to Voronezh driving through golden farmland of hayfields and sunflowers. Again we bastardised a McDo’s wifi, booked a hostel and sourced it after yet more Moldovaesque scrambling around one way streets and belligerent local drivers. Thankfully it was only 6 o’clock. We had the dormitory to ourselves and chicken pasta was made consumed and cleared away before any interruptions from arriving guests were made.

‘The Way’, was the evenings entertainment – described as ‘birthday caird pish’ by Zack and diaries were caught up on. There was just enough time for a hammered Russian by the name of Vladimir to show us a picture of his communist uncle who did not like Putin at school before retiring for the evening. We’ve passed the 4000 mile mark today.

Monday was also undemanding on the mileage front. Continuing through the farmland of the day before we passed petrol stations selling irn bru, survived more ludicrous displays of driving by locals and Soviet space shuttles mounted on plinths by the side of the road. We ducked off the road and found a nice sheltered and secluded spot for our first bit of rural camping.

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A dinner of rice and beans, whisky and long way round on the iPad followed, as did an evening of looking at the Tsars (sorry stars) and writing our diaries. At one point a man in a tractor threatened to derail our plans to stay for the night but he soon veered off and we were not bothered after that.

Up early and a two and a half drive hour to Volgograd. Unbelievably we found a McDonalds in this sprawling metropolis at the first time of asking and our preferred hostel was a 1 minute drive from there. Marvelling at our luck we decided to go on foot. We booked a bed and were assured that the power would be back on by 5 and that we weren’t allowed to wear shoes in the hostel. She kindly showed us the touch we should use if we needed the toilet. All very surreal.

Out we went to see Russian statues and the like and ended up getting blind drunk. Volgograd is not a nice place so that helped.

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AJ’s new thing is to copy statues…

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We ended up joining someone’s birthday party. Vodka flowed and many requests at our email addresses to ‘ask question of western way’ were expertly dodged and it was home on no dinner to pass out ahead of heading further south east towards Kazakhstan tomorrow. Well AJ did, Zack stayed up and made some new friends.

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Still happy, safe and well, Zack and AJ can’t quite believe how good a time they are having.

Romania, Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine

3554 miles from Edinburgh.

The boys of the Myreside Motoring Company awoke early Tuesday morning so that we could fully explore all that Sofia had to offer and go through the now familiar daily routine of trying to find a shop that can fix AJ’s camera. The sky was over cast and foreboding, Sofia was a little dilapidated and disappointing, although we did find a rather nice little coffee shop for breakfast, only for AJ to put his feet right through one of the tables and had to leave swiftly.

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Zack wasn’t too impressed with Sofia

After successfully finding a camera shop that had clearly been shut for years, we headed back to the hostel, said goodbye to the drunken landlady and our overly friendly Malaysian room mate and packed up the car. We fired up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on audiobook and prepared to leave, just in time as the rain had started. It was it this moment that a passing stranger pointed at our front right side. Assuming he was indicating the impressive list of countries we’d visited in the past 11 days Zack leaned out the window to explain, only to realise in horror that there was a large yellow clamp attached to the wheel. Various expletives were issued. AJ tried kicking the dashboard, neither method worked.

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We headed back into the hostel once again to summon our drunk land lady. Luckily she had sobered up somewhat. Snatching the ticket from our hands she headed down the street in her dressing gown fashionably tucked into her briefs, in search of the warden. Head in hands we sat in the rain waiting. Eventually she returned, phoning the number on the ticket and moments later two Bulgarian chaps wheeled round the corner in a van. They removed the clamp for the very reasonable price of 30 lev (£12). Laughing this event off as cheap parking and soaking wet, we headed for Bucharest.

At this point the heavens properly opened. For the next 6 hours we drove first through the Bulgarian countryside then into Romania amidst flashes of lighting, and howling winds that attempted to persuade us off the road.

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The highlight of this journey was when AJ nipped into a service station toilet only find it occupied. Apologising and asking if he was finished the man replied “Aye”. Curious, AJ inquired as to where this man was from.

“Bulgaria… But I live in Edinburgh”

Turns out this guy lived in Dalkeith. Stopping short of asking which school he attended, we chatted with him and his daughter about Scotland for a few minutes (outside of the toilet), took a quick selfy and headed on. It was all very serendipitous.

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Bulgarian Selfy

Bucharest was unconventional to put it mildly. Some very nice places mixed in with some really quite grim ones. Explored the city in the morning, visited a fountain, failed to find a camera shop, AJ narrowly avoided getting pummelled by a range rover and we headed off again.

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Now the original target for that day had been Odessa-Ukraine. Anyone who follows the news however may be aware that there’s been a spot of bother in the country in general recently. Upon reaching the Moldovan/ Romanian border, a Romanian man took us under his wing. He explained at length to Zack while helping us negotiate the bureaucracy how we would be foolish to go into Urkaine, especially Odessa. We’d be robbed killed etc. Now while we certainly appreciated the mans help (as he spoke Russian and we do not), after an hour this had put the fear of death in us.

After describing us as like his children, he persuaded us to stay in Moldova for the evening rather than pushing onto Ukraine. First however we needed to buy a green card to get Zack’s passport back, which was being held hostage at the border. AJ was directed towards a series of small huts at the side of the road just past the border. Approaching them in the still pouring rain, a not unattractive women poked her head out and beckoned him inside. Upon entering the hut he saw a computer, a till and a bed. The woman was sat on the bed and indicated that he should do the same. Now bearing in mind that only minutes before the men at the border had been bragging about the value for money of Moldovan girls, alarm bells started to ring. Making the conscious decision to see how this panned out, he sat down on the bed.

Unfortunately at this point another much older woman entered the hut and it did genuinely turn out to be the place to buy insurance. This took 30 minutes as the two women had never even heard of the United Kingdom, never mind Scotland but eventually we had our green card, retrieved Zack’s Passport and were on our way to Chisinau.

Moldovan roads aren’t great. After 3 and half hours of gruelling snails pace pothole negotiation, MMC arrived in the city. Driving around looking for a hotel proved futile after an hour so we popped into McDonalds for some wifi, found a nice hotel two miles down the road, grabbed a McChicken sandwich and headed off again. Got lost, found another McDonalds, more wifi, were directed towards an alleyway by google maps and discovered that this hotel simply did not exist. We drove round for another hour in vain looking for it. By 12:30, we gave up. Heading back to McDonald’s now for the third time and found another hotel. To our immense relief they had a room left upon arrival.

So this morning after several espressos, we decided that to skip Ukraine entirely would be foolish. The spirit of this trip is an adventure and what adventure is complete without risk? We would head to Kiev, and from there head north into Russia, thus avoiding the badlands in the east. Setting out at the leisurely time of 1 o’clock, we headed up through Moldova towards Ukraine.

Now not many people may be aware that shortly after the end of the Soviet Union in 1990, a sizeable chunk of Moldova decided to separate from the rest of the country (look it up). Being the Economist enthusiast that he is, AJ did in fact know this and had just completely forgotten. The “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic” is not recognised by any other country and is therefore not really a place. In other words, breakdown here and nobody is coming to get you. After about an hour of driving through Moldova, we reached two military check points either side of a bridge and two Russian tanks loomed into view. “What the hell is this?” Zack asked. “Ah shit, this is Transnistria” replied AJ.

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Genuinely Terrifying

We approached the barbed wire in slight terror only to discover that the men guarding the border to this non place were extremely helpful. After merely 1 hour, 7 forms and 12 dollars, they decided to let us pass. For approximately 25 minutes we were driving through nowhere, along an empty road in the sunshine. To our great relief we reached the Ukrainian border without being thrown in a gulag.

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The border was quite literally over that hill, luckily there’s only one road in Transnistria

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The guards here were equally as friendly and marvelled at Sarah and the thought of us driving her to Mongolia. This must have been one of the quicker border crossings as we were only held up for 20 minutes. Safely entering our 20th country we headed north towards Kiev.

We are pleased to report that (Western) Ukraine is perfectly safe. We passed two military check points in the first hour and then continued unhindered for the rest of the journey. The most dangerous thing that happened to us was driving through a massive thunder storm in blinding rain.

So here we are safe and sound in Kiev. We’re having a day off tomorrow before pressing onto Russia on Saturday. 20 countries in 13 days is not bad effort, 5 more in 4 weeks should be easy…

Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria

2707 miles from Edinburgh.

Well, well well. Zack and AJ have managed 5 more countries since last we spoke.

Kings Landing (Dubrovnik) was indeed the destination on Friday the 19th and was found with relative ease by mid afternoon after a breakfast of ham and eggs at a pub by the side of the road. On the way we managed to bump into a laddie from Edinburgh at a petrol station who lives in Luxembourg and who was holidaying in Croatia. “Yous are a long way fae hame”, he informed us, knowledgeably. We agreed.

Dubrovnik was very beautiful, with hundreds of swallows dive bombing against a backdrop of turreted city walls, terracotta roofs and the gleaming Adriatic.
We parked the car and squeezed down a side street that was extremely steep and narrow, only to climb straight back out again when entering the main turret to walk the city walls that encircle the entire town. The photos do it more justice than we ever could. (2 of the best photos)

We returned to the car to find our very first parking ticket and celebrated by getting lost looking for the coast road again. AJ vented his anger by murdering a pigeon under the driver side wheel and 2 centurion guards (presumably authentic) helped us reverse out of yet another dead end.
Eventually we found our way to the camp site 20km away in srensomething.

Here Zack swapped 2 miniatures with a Dutch couple for 2 maps that we needed and a hammer that we needed more for hammering tent pegs. Old shovels and sheer will power only gets you so far.

Once settled there was time for another dip in the Adriatic and a fish platter at a neighbouring restaurant. MMC unashamedly on a budget.

Saturday the 20th dawned (which was a relief considering the winds the night before) warm and bright and Sarah was packed with the minimum of fuss and a course for Podgorica was set. The driving here was fantastic, hugging an inlet and then scaling mountain passes resplendent with tunnels hewn straight out of the rock.

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Montenegro represented the 13th country we have passed through and the setting for Casino Royale did not disappoint. The collective navigation skills of MMC did however. Hopelessly lost down yet another mountain track 2 hours went by until AJ proclaimed “Fuck it, I’m turning my roaming on”. The boys were on the right road to Serbia 40 minutes later and entered said country with the minimum of fuss.

There was barely enough time for AJ to pee before we were entering yet another country. This time it was Kosovo, as as the sunlight was rapidly fading, shattered from 10 hours in the car, it was the complete antithesis of how they wished this particular leg to go.

Kosovo saw MMC indulge in their first act of bribery. Zack shat himself when he saw a copper standing in the middle of the road holding a gun. Thankful it was only a speed gun and after AJ shouted over for “enough dolla to bribe this lad” we set off again, the Kosovan police force 20 euros up.

Plunged into now total darkness the headlights illuminated several youth crowded around 2 chainsaws, decimated Serbian flags hanging limply from lampposts and at one point a field that was just on fire (photo). The road surface had degraded significantly as well so by the time the boys reached the Macedonia border at 23:00, the car and it’s inhabitants were broken.

Once into Macedonia, a hotel was sourced (budget severely flouted this time out of desperation and panic) and a fantastic nights sleep followed by breakfast was bastardised.

Skopje, the economist informed it’s most dedicated mascot- AJ, has had a lot of money thrown at its town centre. This manifested itself mostly in Alexander the Great Statutes but was still cool to walk around. There was just enough time for AJ to ride a lion and Zack to molest one of these statues before getting into the car again and setting off for Sofia, which is were this blog is being codified.

Sofia is dilapidated, shaggy and composed almost entirely of one way streets where trams and cars terrify tourists and locals alike by swapping.
McDonalds was the saviour here and a hostel was booked on their wifi whilst eating their Big Macs.
Hostel is generous, Zack and AJ are in a room just off a drunk lady’s kitchen. But she seems harmless enough and MMC are safe, well and ready for Romania on the morrow.

Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia

2064 miles from Edinburgh

Zack and AJ have made it to Croatia, where the women are gorgeous, the flies are evil and the motorway system is designed to confuse Scottish people.

Firstly a big thank you to the Harshbarger’s for sheltering us for an evening. A bed was a nice relief from the oven that is our tent plus it was lovely to see our old pal Minna. Being the old men that we are, plans of a wild night out on the town in Zurich faded away after a few beers with dinner and the evening was instead spent relaxing in front of the TV, telling stories and trying to hold our breath whenever the dog farted. Lovely.

Woke early the next day, packed the car, thanked Minna’s parents with some whisky, hugged Minna and headed off. Before we left Minna wrote a little message on the car (the meaning of which we’ve already forgotten) and started a new tradition of writing the name of each country on the bonnet as we pass through it.

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The spirit of the trip being to head into the unknown, we headed east for Liechtenstein, a country that takes longer to spell correctly than it does to drive through it. Zack decided he would like to spin the car around for a video, promptly curbed it, blocked off someone’s driveway and then let AJ drive again.

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Liechtenstein's glorious hills and valleys gave way to Austria's magical valleys and hills. We were briefly distracted by a sign that promised "Bungee Jumping" from a bridge but unfortunately/ luckily the place was shut, we paused for some moving photos of men and mountains and then pushed on to Italy.

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Our target that day was Lake Garda in Northern Italy, just south of Trento on the suggestion of the Harshbarger’s. This turned out to quite spectacular and prompted some moving photos of AJ staring into the lake. Perfect cover photo material.

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Headed into town for some proper Italian food and a large carafe of wine, then grabbed another bottle, passed the disturbing scene of a man interfering with his dog…seriously, and headed back to the lake. Watched the sun set and chatted shit about life until late. All in, a pretty decent way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Woke early Thursday to watch the sun come up behind the hills, quickly face timed a few loved ones and headed south again. This days driving proved to be rather gruelling in the heat of the riviera. Italian motorways are not only expensive, they are also populated with nutters. After almost being rammed off the road for the tenth time, AJ swore at a van full of Germans and regretted it immediately when they turned into the same service station he was heading for.

Things improved slightly once we reached Slovenia as the sun went behind clouds and the temperature dropped. Stopped briefly for a coffee and some petrol and got chatting to a local. He asked where we heading and took some convincing when we said Mongolia. He suggested we head south of Rijeka if we wanted to find somewhere to camp that night and go swimming. He wished us well and we headed in Croatia.

At this point we were both tired, hungry and far too hot. This was compounded by the fact that we initially got lost in Rijeka, which turned out to be horrible and then managed to get onto the Croatian motorway without taking a ticket. Mistake. After realising that we were once again heading in the wrong direction, we attempted to pull off, only to be told that we would have to drive all the way back to Rijeka, get a ticket and then drive back again. After being assured by the guard that he was boss by pointing at his badge importantly, Zack was forced to 3 point turn on the motorway and back we went. After about another hour of driving in despondent silence, we came to a little town which had an information centre. They sent us to a nearby campsite, and after trying to set up the tent in an ants nest, we collapsed onto our sleeping mats exhausted.

Today has been a much better day. In The light of day our camp site was a lot less grim than the night before, found a decent place for breakfast and then finally discovered the costal route we’d been aiming for. AJ stepped it up as DJ for a change and we were in much better mood. This turned out to be some of the best driving of the trip, beautiful coastline that stretches for miles. After pausing for some photos by a castle, we blasted our way to Split, got lost looking for Lidl, ran over a pigeon, whistled at some locals around the marina and found a campsite. Took a dip in the Adriatic before cooking a proper meal for the first time.

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Dubrovnik (Kings Landing) tomorrow for our last night in this country. Croatia is winning us over.

The Opening Stages – France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany

Greetings from Zurich!
Zack and AJ have stopped here to visit a friend from their trip to Kilimanjaro, Minna, and have spent the day luxuriating by the lake, drinking beer and diving off the 5 metre board. The Trip has truly begun.

AJ arrived in Manchester last Friday and after an evening of Fajitas, botched sticker applications and packing the Polo to the brim it was early to bed in anticipation of setting off proper.

Saturday came in a wave of rushed showers and bacons rolls and before they knew it, it was time to go. Brief emotions and they were off…unspectacularly to the Asda around the corner to get fuel.

The boys managed to get lost immediately looking for the M6. AJ’s phone decided to play ‘here’s what you could have won’ when informing them of what corner to take, but eventually we found Birmingham signs and, barring roadworks at the Dartmouth crossing the MMC reached Folkestone in worryingly good time. There was just enough time for the Mona AJ to smirk enigmatically and it was on board the euro tunnel ahead of dinner in Dunkirk.

France was very French. Motorway is motorway regardless of what side you are driving on and the boys arrived into Dunkirk (which later turned out to be the Blackpool of Northern France) in a haze of weather from home. Once the car was parked Zack and AJ set out to find a local restaurant serving indigenous fare. Through no fault of their own they ended up in the one restopub that had a cartoon of a man in a kilt on the menu. Typical.

For Zack it was a ‘traditional’ Flemish stew. Essentially lumpy bovril with a stale bit of gingerbread on top. For AJ, it was a ‘Royal Welsh’. This was ham on bread absolutely flooded with melted cheese in a medium sized oven proof dish and topped with a fried egg. Watching him eat this rapidly congealing mess was both pitiful and hilarious.

Leaving, somewhat unsatisfied, there was time for a quick deek at the main drag before rinsing the wifi in a local McDo’s to find a campsite.
Once sourced the boys were there in a jiffy, stopped only by a security guard who didn’t know how much it cost and tried to write the receipt with a lit cigarette.

Tent pitched for the first time beautifully and there was just time for a quick dip in the adjacent Channel to the backdrop of a massive factory with flaring plumes of smoke.

Covered in a thin film of sludge, it was teeth, shower bed – reflecting happily on a highly successful first day.

Mileage – 532. Night Stop – La Licorne

Day 2 started with a breakfast that couldn’t have been more French if it was wearing a beret and surrendering. Croissants and pain au chocolat demolished AJ nipped to les toilettes to finally banish the salmonella poisoning that threatened his graduation and Zack started chatting to an elderly Swedish motorcyclist who insisted Aberdeen was beautiful. Once rid of this nutter Sarah was aimed for Frankfurt for the World Cup final, and she performed her task faultlessly. The same cannot be said for Zack who left his travel mug on the roof of a Gent service station.

It was Luncheonburg in Luxembourg. Not much to report aside from this found in the world smelliest portacabin, truly provocative stuff.

Driving into Germany was very organised and very green. Frankfurt has a stunning skyline and the hostel was sourced relatively easily. Time just for a quick walk in a desperate bid for shampoop and a quicker shower. The fact that it was a Sunday and the WC final featured Germany seriously tested the legendary Bavarian efficiency and it was off to the street bar to get prime position for football and Frankfurter teller.

Zack and AJ will remember the rest of the evening as long as they have puff in their lungs. What started a civilised couple of steins between friends escalated drastically once Germany scored and The boys realised the Bitburger came in jugs.

What followed included breakdancing in front of a hastily assembled and poorly rehearsed brass band, conducting traffic in grid locked streets to a cacophony of blaring horns and flag waving and jumping on top of something tall and metal with many other Germans. There were flare selfies, chucked cameras and at one point Zack was fully in someone else’s car. The joy and debauchery was something to behold and there was definitely the feeling that once Zack and AJ eventually crumpled into their bunks that they had experienced something they were unlikely to ever do so again.

Mileage- 913 Night Stop – United Hostel Frankfurt

Day 3 started tenderly. The boys evacuated the room to the guttural piggings of some over indulgent Americans and it was across the road to the bakers for breakfast. A photo stop in the Skymall eased the hangover slightly and it was back to the hostel to pack and get going on the way to Greswiller via Strasbourg.

Zack and AJ bid goodbye to some Swedes who we’re debating who got more ‘bang’ for their buck re last nights Romanian prostitutes and Frankfurt was left easily but with a heavy heart. Go if you have the chance.

The company headed south for the campsite in Greswiller, 20k south of Strasbourg. Strasbourg itself was beautiful, it looked almost too French to be allowed. And finding the campsite was only made possible by storming into a hotel and essentially forcing the owners to show Zack and AJ the way after deeming their prices too high. Lovely people, after piling the whole clan and a kitten into an Espace, they drove us straight to the entrance which would never have been found otherwise.

After that there was a check in where the attendant had a conversation with himself in broken Dutch and pot noodles and beans for tea. Tin opener forgotten, strategic use was made of a pairing knife and a shovel and it was whisky and long way round on the iPad before sleep prevailed.

Day 4 was and is Zurich to see Minna. After all hello’s were said and wurst consumed it was down to Lake Zurich for diving into glacial water and drinking beer whilst sunbathing. And that is pretty much where we are. tonight it is drinks in town and tomorrow…who knows. Zurich marks the end of the planned stops and it is rag doll in a washing machine time from here on out.

The boys can’t wait.

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The Final Countdown

Well here we are. It’s 11:40am on the 5th of July which means that in exactly a week, assuming no more mishaps, Zack and AJ will be sauntering out of Manchester trying to find the M6. That magical motorway that of course as we all know leads more or less directly to Mongolia (at least according to the maps i bought).

The maps have indeed arrived, they are all in foreign which will be entertaining but then who doesn’t enjoy a challenge.

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“Men read maps better than women because only men can understand the concept of an inch equaling a hundred miles.”

In other news the good people at Edrington have been kind enough to supply us with a small stash of Famous Grouse for the trip to use as gifts for locals, travelling nomads, highway robbers etc. We’re extremely grateful for their contribution and hopefully we’ll win over some new fans to Scotland’s favourite whisky.

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“Will 36 bottles be enough?”… “Yes i think that might just cover us”

The Eurotunnel is booked, if Germany, Belgium or Holland keep it up we might be able to watch a World Cup Final in a country that is actually playing, friends have invited us to stay in Zurich, the centenary of the beginning of WW1 coincides with our passing through the Balkans, a route is very organically coming together.

Thats the good news.

Unfortunately AJ seems to have contracted some awful stomach virus whilst in Portugal. Not having left himself anytime at all really in-between his holiday and graduation in which to run final prep on the car, buy the tents, stoves, water containers, camping equipment and basically everything else important for the trip, this is of some concern.

Luckily Zack is able to take full charge down in Manchester while AJ lies in bed and does not a lot for the next few days. Lets just hope neither of them get ill while they’re away.

So its one graduation, one more week of work and (assuming AJ can stomach his) one last supper on Friday

Wish us luck