Turn the page. Vladivostok. The final chapter. The end of the line for both the Trans Siberian road… and the Trans Siberian railway. Although, as Vladivostok has the mile 0 marker, then it’s actually the beginning..
I’ve had a word with Yuri the agent in Vladivostok and he says if we can get there before midnight then we can get the bikes on the train back to Moscow tomorrow. They’ll take 9/10 days where the passenger train will only take 6/7 so we want to get them on ASAP. It’s a long slog. We’re nearly there, you can smell the sea on the air. Vladivostok. This place was closed to everyone for a long time, and even in the 90s you couldn’t come here. We descend into the city and ride along the water with the sun setting on the day and our long journey east. The city traffic is a bitch as usual, but with the added feature of the biggest fuck-off pot holes I’ve ever seen in city roads. We’re filtering through very slow traffic and it’s really fucking dangerous. Imagine you’re walking down a packed pavement at Christmas and you’re trying to work your way through the lines of people. Imagine a selection of these people are members of the ‘avoid the cracks’ society. You’re coming up behind one and they’ll just suddenly lurch to the left right in front of you to avoid the joins. That’s what it’s like in Vladivostok. Without any warning cars will just suddenly just pull into the middle of the road then just as quickly go back on their side. Like the driver has just done a meganormous sneeze or something. They’re all at it. It’s weird to watch and it’s bloody scary.
Get to the hotel. We’re all here. We’re all in one piece. We’ve made it…
Get to the hotel and the agent comes round to meet me and my old mate and take us down to the station. We ride into a small warehouse right on the platform, strip the mirrors and screens off, take most the fuel out and get measured to crate and freight. It’s 6000 miles back to Moscow. They will build a crate for the bike and essentially post it on the postal trains. So… 6000 miles… 9 days .. plus crating .. how much? 15000 rubles + $50 to the agent. So that’s about £200 to post a motorbike to Moscow – fuck – I’d have trouble getting to Manchester and back for that! Amazing. Say bye to the bikes and bugger off back for dinner and drinks. Well… the bitch has made it this far at least.. now I just need to get it 8000 miles home..
We’re in Vladivostok for a few days – we want to give the bikes a good head start on the train, and my Aussie mates need to organise their bike through customs ready for the ferry to Japan a day or two ahead.
But first we need to celebrate… Now I don’t drink, usually. But my Aussie mates have introduced me to their friend ‘Honey Jack’ and things have changed. Jack Daniels and honey, one of the most delicious liquids known to man. I’m thinking of putting it in the bitch at the next oil change. We ask one of the waiters to recommend a club and take a taxi down late Saturday night. I’m easily the oldest in the place, at least 100% too old to be in here really but Jack is telling me its fine… Jack is telling me to just let go … jack is telling me to close my eyes .. listen to the music .. smile .. dance and sweat…. I always listen to Jack. Fuck what a night that was. My body had forgotten 4am even existed. Bleeding ears, an empty wallet and clothes wet with perspiration. The perfect ending.
We spend the next few days just knocking about avoiding the subject of time… we’ll be splitting up soon and going our separate ways. The Aussies are really good friends of mine and we don’t see each other often enough. I’m going to miss them.
Go to the station to buy the tickets back. This is mile 0 on the Trans Siberian railway. Another lovely ornate place. We’re wanting to go 2nd class as it has separate double bunked rooms but all the trains are booked for about a week ahead.. so we go for 3rd class … this should be interesting … still… 6 days/7 nights/6000 miles = 10000 rubles, that’s about £120. That’s further than London to New York and it costs the same as a peak time return ticket from Southampton to London. We’re so used to getting royally arse raped for everything we do in Europe that we don’t even think about it any more.
There is a bugger-off typhoon coming in and it’s proper twatting down. Someone turns the saturation down and the whole world goes grey …
Good old Russian ingenuity
But you can always find a reason to smile …
Smiles are very hard to find when you’re saying goodbye to close friends. I look really hard but I can’t find one as I wave goodbye to my Aussie mates and watch their ferry leave. One minute we’re 6ft apart, in a couple of weeks we’ll be 9000 miles.
Our train leaves at 1:30am. It’s 12pm and we’re in the station waiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttting room. 13 hours to wait just watching the world go by. In the evening we go up to the canteen for our last supper. We get chatting to a bloke with an American accent, who is in fact Swiss, living in San Diego, but with a Russian wife. He’s taking the train as far as Irkutsk then flying to Switzerland via Moscow. He’s telling us we need to be on the lowest number train, and make sure we have bottom bunks. He’s on train number 1. We’re not on train number 1… we’re on train number 99 .. and we have top bunks. We knew that when we booked though. We’re not expecting much for £120… We’re rough and ready .. and we’re ready for rough.
1am comes eventually and we make our way down to the Mile 0 marker, find our home for the next week, carriage 6.
There are 2 ‘nanas’ [a generic Australian term for any woman over the age of 18] on each coach. They work like slaves believe me. The duty nana takes my ticket, gives me some sheets to make up my bed plus a small towel to wash and on I get. I’m such a dog I just don’t care about sheets or who has slept on this mattress before or who has used this pillow .. I just climb up onto the bed and fall into a coma…
Wake up and I’m hungry .. errr .. “Can you direct me to the restaurant car please? Perhaps you could phone ahead and ask them to get the kippers on?” No restaurant car on train 99! That’s right – no catering at all except for a samavar with hot water. No showers either. Just a cold tap in the toilet, and a hole in the floor so you can wash as much as you want .. or piss on the floor .. whatever takes your fancy .. There is however a ‘trolley service’
The trolley has been nicked from a nursery I think.. it has a cardboard box on which contains whatever they could find at the last station. Yummmmmmy. To be fair, everyone on the train knows this and they all bring big bags of food with them. Loads of tea bags and coffee and cakes and biscuits, pot noodles and bread, cold meats and cooked rice. All sorts of stuff. To be fair we knew this too, so we bought a couple of bottles of yogurt that goes sour 15 seconds after leaving the fridge, a bar of chocolate (big), and a bag of apples …
Anyway… that’s breakfast sorted .. .what about the next 6 days … looks like we’re going on a Trans Siberian diet ..
So .. .each coach has 2 nanas that keep order and handle the people getting on and off, cleaning the floors and the toilets, giving out bedclothes, and standing guard whenever the train stops. They really work hard these girls.. they never stop. If they do, then they have to answer to MegaNana
I think they have a couple of these on each train to push start the train if it breaks down ..
So, these carriages have 54 bunks in each and these are constantly being rotated as people get on and off. Sometimes they’re all full and sometimes some are free. It’s all a learning experience. Take a look at the timetable ..
The train stops for 15-20 minutes at least 3/4 times a day and you can get off and snag some food. Most the stations have little shabby kiosks and shops selling the basics, and a lot have other nanas selling food they have made. See these red pots… they’re full of caviar.. not the Beluga stuff but caviar none the less. All for about a quid. Pity I don’t like it!
I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 2/3 hours on a train before so 7 nights .. 7 nights feels like a prison sentence. My old mate has always wanted to do this ever since he was a kid, back in the 1750’s, but even he can see this is going to be a mission ..
The novelty soon wears off but surprisingly it’s not as bad as I thought. Everyone is friendly, everybody shares with us and invites us to sit with them when there is no room. Don’t believe what people say about the Russians, they’re not a bad bunch. The travellers are from all over though. Kazakstan , Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all over. They’re not stupid these people either. Lots of the kids speak 2/3 languages including English and they know what’s going on in the world. I think the Russian education system is pretty good, probably better than ours nowadays. The train is full of families too but all the kids are well behaved (otherwise they have to visit MEGANANA) and come 9pm it’s lights out and everyone beds down. You quickly get into a routine… just counting down to the next stop where you can get a lovely cold potato pasty .. or some battered fruit .. or anything to fill the hole in your stomach ..
When it comes to the food situation we quickly discover we’re complete amateurs. We stop at one place in the middle of nowhere… no shops .. nothing .. and all these people are over at the fences looking like they’re buying drugs or something .. they’re all furtively handing packages through the fences and running back to the train .. WTF? Get back on the train .. and everyone is stuffing their faces with boiled potatoes! Jesus.. what I wouldn’t give for something hot .. It seems at some of the stations this trading is not allowed so it has do be done quick and dirty like a drugs deal over the fences. Next time …. knowing my luck I’ll probably be handed a big bag of hash or something … “but … I only wanted potatoes?”
More stations come … more stations go .. more hours go by .. still a bloody long way to go ..
At some points the carriage is 100% full and you just have to stand up in the aisles, and we have to make our tea on a tiny platform by the samovar.
Days and days go by .. are we there yet .. no mate .. not even half way .. JEEEEEESUSSSSS this country is big. The train though.. runs to the minute.. amazing. Every time you get off the nanas all stand guard and gather their flocks back on the train in time for departure.
Half way in and we feel like lifers … I go into a little shop and I think I’m so hungry that I’m having apparitions. I’m sure I see a HUGE packet of pistachio nuts .. OMG .. Ohh my actual GOD … so I buy it and run back to the train, salivating like Pavlov’s dog … get to the train and I’ve been fooled ..
Fucky fuck McFuck .. they’re fucking sunflower seeds!! Now anyone who has eaten sunflower seeds will see the problem with the picture on the front here. The fucking seed is too big to fit in the fucking shell for a start. If I had advertised the contents of my underpants in such a manner, then there would have been a few women even more disappointed than they actually were … FUCK!
What is the deal with sunflower seeds anyway? Why do we eat parrot food? Do parrots eat our food? Do parrots tuck into bacon and eggs for breakfast? No they fucking don’t. By the time you open a bloody shell the prize inside is so microscopic it’s just not worth the bleeding effort. Have you ever wondered why parrots live to be 300 years old? It’s because it takes them 3 years to eat a decent breakfast… sunflower seeds .. what a fucking stupid idea…
So… on with the diet… after what seems like a lifetime we get to Novosibirsk and get out in the cold morning sunlight. I can see our hotel from here… ahh my lovely bed .. I wonder if they’ve fixed the lifts yet ..
There are loads of people on the platform, kids running about, smokers head down in the cold .. and there is a small snowplough driving down the platform through the people.. and , true to form … he’s on his phone ..
We’ve made a big dent in the journey now.. we’re counting down the days. Leave the big cities though and it’s still lots of little isolated communities. Piles of wood everywhere… chimney’s smoking .. fires that won’t go out for months..
We’re on a random station somewhere .. no shops .. I’m proper hungry .. my nose has come so sensitive I can smell someone opening a hot oven door 500 miles away and tell you what is cooking .. when suddenly my stomach lurches and my nostrils flair right out like an angry horse .. there is something in the air … it’s .. it’s … it’s that nana over there with the bag .. quick .. grab her! Turns out we’re right and she’s a dealer .. she’s dealing in warm chicken and potatoes. HOOOORAHHHHHH … “How Much? Here take it all .. I don’t care .. JUST GIVE ME CHICKEN” £1 later and we’re sat in the train like 2 dogs that have just raided the christmas dinner table .. Oh yea… hot chicken. “Why didn’t we get more?” “Fuck… what a pair of idots!”
I’m convinced I’m a fully trained nana spotter now… we’re approaching another station later in the day and I’m proper excited. What can I get this time? Hot borsht with fresh warm rolls.. stew… dumplings .. christ this time I’m going to by the whole bag .. here we go..
WTF is this? I’m bloody starving!!!!! No food? What am I going to eat? I guess I’ll have to make do with a small teddy bear, an A4 pad of paper and a ball of pink wool .. that should keep me going … NOT! Bollocks..
We’re getting close now .. only a couple more days .. I’m getting seriously hungry and I even get up at the 2am stops to hunt but with no luck..
Just as I’m about to expire .. the trains slows down .. the signs start to slide ever more slowly past the windows .. Moscow .. we’ve made it .. truth be told I quite enjoyed it..
Priority No 1… feeeeeeeeeeeeed meeeeeeeeeee… As usual there is a cafe at the exit of the station overcharging massively for soggy luke warm meals that were prepared about 2 weeks ago and taste disgusting … I eat 4
When we dropped the bike at the freighters in Vladivostok he scribbled an address on a piece of paper and said it was somewhere near the station. There are 4 major stations here all very close together – it could be anywhere. I knew this would be a bastard but I’ve been putting it to the back of my mind. We ask someone .. who asks someone else who calls someone else who then arrives in his Porsche like Mr Big Potatoes and tells us he knows exactly where it is. He gives us some instructions and off we plod in our gear, carrying our luggage. After an hour we’ve gone in a big square and ended up where we started.. and nobody knows where it is. So I ask a taxi. He’s not interested .. so I raise his interest my waving a big bank note under his nose .. we get in and he just goes for google just like we did… and takes us to a hotel down a series of back alleys … fuckwit! So he asks someone else and they direct him to another road and somewhere that looks like a depot… we’re definitely getting warmer.. go in the front door and they direct us to another back entrance a few minutes walk away… so we get to that entrance and there is a grubby little bloke at a turnstyle. Show him the paper we have and it doesn’t register on his bovvered-ometer. Nothing. Not a twitch.. He’s going to have twitch in a minute for sure .. I can feel my sense of humor packing up and getting ready to leave .. I can feel the dummy being loaded .. ready to fire ..
I call Yuri and ask him to speak to the fuckwit in front of me but he won’t even take the phone .. so I embed the dummy in his frontal lobe and go outside in search of someone with more than one brain cell that he shares with he stupid mate, and that he forgot to bring to work this morning …. anyway… just as my sense of humour is about to open the door and leave, a young woman grabs the phone, has a chat, and directs me to a door. The door is 3 ft away from the fuckwit wearing a dummy in his forehead ..
In we go. Show them our paperwork. They have a look at the computer, then through a scrappy box of paper … “NIET”. Ahhh, my favourite word… Looks like we beat the bikes back, that’s a shit. “Ring in the morning”.
No choice then. Find a nearby hotel, with a Thai massage. 7 days without a shower has left a serious crust and showering is like pealing a hard boiled egg … skin that hasn’t seen hot water for over a week .. simple pleasures … So.. another evening in Moscow it is ..
We’re at the depot early the next day… they’re on the computer.. it’s not looking good .. they go for the box .. last chance .. I see them single out a sheet and look at me .. result. Thank God for that. One of them walks us round to the other end of the depot and has a chat and we wait… until they appear, like magic..
All nicely wrapped and crated. Excellent.
Excelent… if you have a breaker bar handy. “Anyone got a breaker bar?” I get the same response as if I’d asked if anyone fancied sticking their dick in a bottle of beach .. everyone just turns away and ignores me… Right…. RIGHT…. I’m rapidly approaching the point when I’m going to “Do a Basil”. Anyone that watched Faulty Towers will remember the sketch when he looses his marbles, grabs a branch off a branch and beats seven bells of shit out of his car … well I’m getting close … very close .. until I spot this ..
Perfect:)) I go and disassemble a postal cage and remove the pulling handle, then use it to smash and lever my way into the crate and free my metal mate!
Perfect:)) As they’d all been so helpful I just leave the crates in the middle of the room and we fuckoff-ski towards home.
We’re on a mission. Its about midday now and we’ve got about 300 miles to the border. We want to get out of Russia tonight so off we go. All is going well. The weather is bright, the traffic is light, we’re going to be alright .. until I get to a corner and the angle of steering isn’t consistent with the amount of turn .. and my arse clamps like a submarine door. I’ve got a puncture – fuck! It’s a big one too. A big split. I bung a fix in, pump it up and we head for the border.
We get to the final filling station and the repair is clearly not working. It’s going down pretty quick, and the bike is refusing to start again until I threaten to just park it horizontally in the middle of the road and film it getting reduced to it’s component form by a big truck. I’m really NOT in the mood for this .. We get to the border and I’m down to about 15psi again already.
We get to the border about 8:30 .. this should be quick. The cars are all moving through.. we get to the front and … and … and nothing. Everything just stops for 90 minutes .. get through to the Latvian border .. just fill in these 9000000000 questions please… we really appreciate your patience … and could I see your insurance please? I dunno … can you? How good is your eyesight?
My insurance has had a big bath at some point and looks more like a bar code. I’m expecting a ‘delay’ at this point but the bloke just takes pity and makes something up. Pump the tyre up and give it my best shot the 70 miles to Rezekne and a nice hotel I’ve stayed at before. I’m not stopping … just taking it easy … we arrive at about 11:30 and I’m reading 10psi.
Next morning I put a can of puncture fix in and pump the tyre up again.
That lasts about 50 miles – can someone tell me what exactly is the point of these cans of completely false promises? Anyway – the tyre goes down really quick and I think I pull an arse muscle in the wiggle down to low speed. Crawl into a petrol station. Glue is the answer.. lots and lots of glue….
That works for another 50 miles and spits the whole lot out leaving me with no option .. see a professional! We’re in a small town and we’re directed into an industrial area where there is an off-road shop. Leave it in his capable hands and go and stuff our faces to try and catch up with our appetites ..
Get back .. the bloke has put a mushroom in and it’s still not sealing. Fuck. I the more observant of you will have spotted that I’ve got a spare tyre on the back.. but I’m such a tight bastard that I’d much rather risk my life riding 1000 miles at high speed on a dangerous punture repair than waste a new knobbly on the tarmac.. you know it makes sense.. but in this case I’ve got no choice so on it goes… and off we go… badly behind schedule and running into the dark..
We make it as far as Bialystock in Poland and head for a cookie cutter IBIS for the night. We book in, go to move the bikes… and my fucker is really taking the piss now… we’re both convinced this is the time… it’s not going to start .. I can almost hear it laughing … “Only joking …. ” as it catches on the 5th or 6th attempt. Yep … very funny.. very funny indeed …
This is planned to be our last day together and we’re heading for Germany where my mate can split and go to the Hook to catch a ferry to Harwich when I go to Calais. It’s a bloody long day.. we get about 500 miles in and we look for somewhere to stay but everywhere is full or 600 euros. Fuck that, so we head off into the night towards Dortmund. Dive into a motorway hotel after about 800 miles. Pay about £1/ml for a coffee and £5/gram for whatever they have at 11pm and hit the sack.
This is it then.. this is goodbye. Always a sad time. I’ve ridden a lot of miles with my old mate. He’s always there in my mirrors, all day and night without fail. Never late, always happy, doesn’t snore, the perfect travel companion. Goodbye old friend .. until the next time .. and I’m alone again. Just me and the bitch. I point her west just let the wheels turn … to Calais
Tunnel… tarmac … home … back to the beginning… back where I started. Only a hole in my bank balance, a broken bitch and load of new memories to show for it … but what else is there in life .. what is there apart from memories.. when I just think … or see a stone trapped in the bike .. or find something I picked up along the way …or feel a scar on my hand .. hear a train .. see a sunset .. smell warm chicken .. get in a lift … off I go to some place far far away .. to me that’s worth every bloody penny …