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.

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