Russia started ok. The border crossing was a bit strange, we thought there may have been a problem as there was a lot of discussion that we couldn’t understand, one guy spoke a little English, but not enough to explain the delay. Ultimately though after standing patiently waiting, we got stamped through, and told we were right to go. It was a quiet border crossing and we sensed they weren't quite sure what they were doing, and found out 3 weeks later that they didn't get it right!
We rode about 200km to Kurgan, intending to stop overnight and continue west. Unfortunately something Vin ate wasn’t good, so we were forced to stay a bit longer. We also got to experience the Russian health system. Visited by what we assume was a doctor and 2 nurses, who came to the hotel in a van with a driver. “Consultation” via translator app with a couple of people from the hotel standing in the room, a check of temperature, blood pressure and blood glucose and a couple of injections for nausea and headache. The total cost – nothing, despite our objections. Told via interpreter that all doctors are free.
After recovering , we headed west towards Moscow. We travelled through the Ural mountains which were picturesque but not striking. Not sure whether we really had pre conceived ideas about Russia, but we were surprised by the road systems, the modern car fleet, the fertile farm lands and the huge amounts of pine forests. We were also astounded by the trucks.....we went about 3000km across Russia and it was a continuous stream of trucks the entire way!
We had heard stories about bad Russian drivers, but generally found them to be safe and courteous. Some do drive very fast on the freeways though.
We stopped at Chelyabinsk, Ufa, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod on the 2000+km trip to Moscow. They are all big modern cities with long histories. We visited the Kremlins in Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod. We were particularly taken with the architecture in Kazan.
We spent a few days in Moscow. We had organised to get new rear tyres as Vin preferred the Heidenaus over the Shinko we had bought in Almaty. We had some difficulty locating the guy, we found him after being directed underground to a massive underground structure which looked like a small shop above ground. We also got new helmet visors, again finding a large bike accessory shop in an underground complex.
We left the bike and took the underground into the Red Square to see the Kremlin, St Basils and other touristy sites. Wandered back to our hotel through the streets. Lots of building works going on and the streets are noticeably clean. The underground is fast, clean and efficient.
Moscow has a system of ring roads which makes driving around such a big city quick and easy. We also went through a couple of tunnels, presumably taking us under the city centre.We found a reasonable amount of English spoken and mostly people went out of their way to help us. A lot of the road signs are also in Roman letters as well as Russian (cyrillic).
We stopped at Lake Valday on the way to St. Petersburg. It is a pretty lake, surprisingly untouristy considering the setting. Maybe still a bit cold.
The road from Moscow to St. Petersburg was good. Part of the way was toll roads, several lanes wide with very little traffic. A lot of the way was two-way with continuous overtaking lanes one way or other. A bit frustrating, but at least the traffic kept flowing. The scenery remained much the same, green farmlands, pine forests and small villages.
St Petersburg lived up to the hype with its elaborate old architecture set around canals. There are a lot of parks, fountains, statues and elaborate buildings. We visited the massive Hermitage museum which is housed in part in the Winter Palace. You would need several days to see the whole museum. The palace itself is worth the visit. The opulence is astounding, you can understand why the starving peasants of Russia felt the need to overthrow the monarchy!
It was hard to get used to the “white nights” of St Petersburg. The sun sets about 11.30 and rises about 4.30, but it never really gets dark, just a sort of twilight. Living here in winter when it is the reverse must be difficult.
St Petersburg is full of tourists at this time of year. We ran into several Australians who were on stop overs from cruises ships. There are a lot of English signs, and a lot of English is spoken, even by those who say they only speak “a little”.
Last stop in Russia was Vyborg, close to the Finnish border. A picturesque town with a statue of Lenin in the town square. We ran into some French people on BMW's, one with a side car. Nice to see people older than us touring around, maybe we aren't so crazy!
It was a short ride to the border. We were asked for our customs papers which we didn't have! Apparently we were supposed to get this on entry. No big drama though, the customs guy was very helpful, a bit of a delay then we filled out two papers and he was happy to stamp us out.
Russia had been a surprise. While we saw plenty of traffic police, we were never stopped or questioned. Hotels have to register you, but apart from showing our passports to hotel staff it was no concern to us. In the whole of Russia the only other time we produced our passports was at a checkpoint leading to the border. The western (European) part of Russia seems more affluent than the eastern (Asian) part, and the cities are more affluent than the rural areas, but there is a lot of development going on. There is a lot of road works, the car fleet is generally modern with a few noticable exceptions, and the cities had shops and supermarkets where you can find whatever you need.