Sunday, June 26, 2005

First night in Petrozavodsk

While we were waiting for our passports to be registered, we dropped by the hotel's cafe. The coffee served there was the best I had ever tasted anywhere. And this was just the appetizer for tastes to come.

We have this theory that the quality of food and drink has something to do with keeping things natural - such as the natural beauty of the women. Take Olga, the waitress who served us the coffee. She could easily have participated in the beauty pagant and won! It was quite tempting to mention this to her, but there was a natural reason why she wouldn't compete in the first place: She had nothing to prove. Natural beauty does not need to be proven, it just is. Only the most insecure actually NEED to compete for these titles, which is ironic, since self confidence is ultimately the one thing that is most important for winning.

We had dinner at Deja Vu (or "Dyezhavyå" as the Russian sign actually read). We had no luck getting their sandwhich with beef or beef "jal de gaule" which both wore supposed to be excellent. Indeed, they didn't have any beef in at all, so we landed on pork chops instead.

I was warned ahead of time about the mosquitos in Karelia. Either the rumours are highly exaggerated, or this one mosquito has a hell of a reputation. Because we could see only one.

While we were dodging this one particular little vampire, we declared "Babe Overload" at 22.49. This means that beautiful women had become the norm. Even the renown mamushkas were fit and looking good.

Amongs us ignorant westerners, it is frequently thought that the slavic gene pool should be credited for this. Upon arrival of our dinner, another revalation came to us: The food was pure. Unspoiled. Natural. And in correct proportions. Healthy yet naturally tasty. No monosodiumglutamate, not too much salt, only natural fat from the animal we ate, a good balance of vegetables. This could certainly play a large role.

After all, western food producers use chemicals to modify our food in order to gain an advantage on competitors. In the old Sovjet Union, this was not necessary, because food was delivered through the same system anyway.

For now, the food seemed to be pure still. We just pray that it will stay this way for years to come.

What makes Petrozavodsk a pearl is the lake front. While it's no beach, it features a mile long (or longer) promenade, lined with trees and monuments. Most of these monuments are gifts from friendship cities (or "twinned cities" as they say themselves) around the world. It was not without reason, that we decided this to be our first stop in the morning.

But first, a good night sleep was in order. And for once we got decently sized pillows, another Sovjet leftover. Quality pillows so heavy you need both hands to lift them, and please watch your back.

And into Russia...

After a delicious breakfast buffet at Hotel Valjus, the day begins at 8.40 am. Getting out of the parking lot seemed to be difficult, until the receptionist came running downstairs to give us a token.

With Klemet behind the wheels, we refueled outside Kajaani, before we pushed on and arrived at the Russian border at 10.45.

Crossing the border to Russia

Not too unsurprisningly, it took two hours to get through customs, passport control and military control. And with Russia an hour ahead of Finland, we had actually lost the three horus we thought it had taken.

At 13.32 West Russian time, we were officially in Respublika Kareliya, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Half an hour later, we almost missed Kostomuksa, as the intersection was small and anonymous, not to reveal that a large city was located just down the road. We would have missed it, if I hadn't looked down the side road and seen the city limits sign.

The road to Kostomuksa

This lack of information along the main roads is not only in great contrast to what we're used to in the west, but it is something you need to get used to if you're ever going to drive in Russia. Then again, who cares about these tiny details when another Babe Alert goes off at 14.08?

Kostomuksa is Karelia's free economic zone, and therefore seems to be quite prosperous. There was no lack of stores, though it would prove difficult to get a map of the Karelian Republic. In the end, we had only a map of Kostomuksa, which was of little help when we wanted more details for our current 660 km leg to Petrozavodsk.

The A134 highway gives you quite a bumpy ride. The road is of varying quality, from soft gravel to humongous holes. The holes are easy to avoid, though, as the dark water that fills them up contrast the grey asphalt. It is harder to notice the large grey rocks piercing through the tarmac, knocking the wheels through the floor of your car. With a little exercise, you still manage to miss the worst bits. Just don't even consider learning from the Russians, who zoom by in 150 km/h. While old Ladas seem to be built to withstand this treatment, your modern CD player is not. Not you Toyota either, but I'm not going to experiment with that, unless they sponsor my future car trip to Krasnoyarsk.

After several hours of driving across Karelia, we arrived at the M18. This is the main connecting highway, running from Murmansk to St Petersburg. Of course, the only reason we found the M18, was that we stopped in the otherwise unmarked intersection, and wondered why everyone else were running left by a gas station. It turned out that what looked like a parking lot was actually the beginning of the on-ram for M18, as far as you can call a full stop intersection an on-ramp.

It would turn out that most of these intersections were fairly anonymous, except in the one instance, where a huge sign with a very long name was pointing towards a single lane gravel road that could barely be seen from the driver's seat.

A few hours later, we arrived at Petrozavodsk, flowing with the traffic, hoping they were all going downtown. We kept going, until we crossed the river, and therefore decided that we must have missed the hotel.

I pulled over and let Klemet out to ask the first young attractive girl (Babe Alert) for directions to the Severnaya Hotel. This spurred a discussion on the definition of "delicious" when it came to women.

The western advertisement industry will have you believe that a delicious woman is covered with chocolate and filled with caramel. We tend to disagree. While a fine body may have its virtues, this alone does not make a delicious woman. Equallt, if not more important, is a specific quality of a radiating positive personality, and a truly honest smile. Interestingly, we found Russia to have a higher than usual rate of delicious women.

Hotel Severnaya (Northern Hotel)

Once we found the hotel, the babe alerts were reaching the top of the charts. There seemed to be a wedding or five going on, as well as a beauty pagant. This meant that the hotel and the streets were flooded with probably the most beautiful women in Karelia. And there, in the middle of it all, we were looking for a room.

did I mention that we didn't have a reservation? When you're travelling in limited time, without really knowing anything about the places you go, reservations only lock you to a schedule that you will regret a million times later. Perhaps you wsh to spend more time here and less time there. Therefore, no reservations. And it is when you have no reservations that you end up in weird situations, like looking for a room in a hotel where they are obviously filled to the rim with beautiful - nay - delicious women.

They had one room for one night available.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

And the trip has begun

After a slow breakfast and testing the spare tire (it is good), we were off at 9.15 am, with me behind the wheel. Because of a wedding the day before, we were already a day behind our original schedule. Therefore, our stop in Finland has been reduced to one night in Kajaani, which in turn means that our first leg of the trip is the longest one.

Driving down Finland is typically quite eventless, and at 13.25 Finnish time, this boredom prompted us to stop, stretch our legs and switch driver at Pello, only 298 km from the start of the trip.

Nothing to report on the way, except Klemet's sudden exclemation "Babe alert!" at 15.35. Two minutes later, we drive by what looks like a burnt building where the fire has been picking up again. Dark smoke was coming out of the entire roof. Then we realize that it is a gas station.

We arrive at Muhos at 17.07, where we stop at the first place it is possible to buy food. It's a small place called Grilli Pizzeria. The owner speaks very little English, and Klemet speaks very little Finnish. In his own words, it is strange to have a language so similar to Sami, and it is still impossible to understand a word. Somehow, we managed to order bacon burgers, although we found this out only after he was done making them. So here's the review for Grilli Pizzeria in Muhos, Finland: The burger was fairly flat, bread too crusty, too little salad, but tasted good.

We push on, and at 18.08 and 623 km, the tiring nature of Finland makes Klemet drowsy, and I take over the driving again. After looking at the map, we decide to drive on the south side of Oulojarvi (Lake Oulo) instead of the north side, so that we didn't have to drive on the same road twice during this trip. This turned out to be more difficult than expected, as all the signs were designed to trick you back to the main road on the north side.

After a bit of trial and error, we eventually found the right way, which gave us an arrival in Kajaani at 19.50 and 762 km of driving, only to find the youth hostel closed because of the summer solstice. This can happen only in Finland.

After driving by Hotel Valjas three times, we finally see it at 20.04. It is cheap, has excellent quality, indoor parking and is situated dead in downtown. And I would like to emphasize the word "dead".

The dead centre of town - literally

After walking around for a while, passing 3 or 4 ATMs, we finally see one at 20.58. We were wondering how there could be so many stores and restaurants and no ATMs. Turns out, we diidn't know they were supposed to look like yellow phone booths.

We still havn't found out how there could be so many pubs and restaurants and so few people. The number of pubs and restaurants far exceed what is sustainable by the number of people we saw out (about 20, of which 8 were under age and therefore rolling around on skateboards). Our timing mght be a reason for experiencing Kajaani as a ghost town, however. It was the end of June after all, and everyone must have left town to celebrate summer solstice.

Trip so far: 764 km.


the trip has begun!

Packing list

Updated packing list. (This post moves upwards as we update it and get ready to go.)

Stuff to pack
Camera, lenses, charger
Sleeping bag, flash light
Clothes for 1 week
Toothbrush etc
Business cards (might add 25 more)
Tent, tissues, water gun
Money, Passport w/visa
Maps, HI Handbook, HI membership card
Russian dictionary
Travel insurance card, Cell phone, Cell charger
Portable cooking gas burner, music, log book,
pen, pencil, tool box
green card
Pans for cooking

   Other preparations
Clean car, oil, radiator fluid
braking fluid, windshield cleaning fluid,
pack, visa for Russia, green card
travel insurance, new passport
relocate cats

Stuff to buy on the trip
Clothes for 2 weeks
Roller blades
CF reader
Local music
Tooth paste
Cat 5E cables
New tires for bike
New backpack that doesn't smell

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ready... set...

Car ready, just checking the spare tire in the morning, to see if it will hold the air. We'll need to buy fire extinguisher and first aid kit on the way, as these accessories are compulsary in Estonia and Poland.

Departure in 9 hours 20 minutes.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Business cards

The official Barents to Baltic 2005 Road Trip business cards are ready. So far, we have 25 each, but we didn't quite like the math; at 21 days, that's 1 card every day, with four to spare. At 9 legs, it's three cards for seven of the legs, and two cards for the remaining two legs. At 8 destinations, it's three cards for each destination, with one card to spare. We should probably double these numbers - we never know who we'll meet and wish we weren't out of cards.

We plan on having one business card design for every trip we make. Your mission, should you accept it, is to collect them all. :)

Tour schedule

Updated schedule:

June 25th - (Sat) Trip starts in the morning, ca 700 km to Kajaani, Finland. Midsummer night celebration.
June 26th - (Sun) Cross border to Russia, drive 660 km to Петрозаводск.
June 27th - (Mon) Spend full day in Петрозаводск.
June 28th - (Tue) Spend full day in Петрозаводск, possibly visit to TV station.
June 29th - (Wed) Drive 410 km to Санкт-Петербург.
June 30th - (Thu) Санкт-Петербург.
July 1st - (Fri) Санкт-Петербург.
July 2nd - (Sat) Cross border and drive for 372 km to Tallin.
July 3rd - (Sun) Spend full day in Tallin.
July 4th - (Mon) Cross border and drive for 312 km to Riga.
July 5th - (Tue) Spend full day in Riga.
July 6th - (Wed) Cross border and drive for 309 km to Klaipeda. Mindaugas Crowning Day in Lithuania.
July 7th - (Thu) Spend full day in Klaipeda.
July 8th - (Fri) Drive 319 km to Vilnius.
July 9th - (Sat) Spend full day in Vilnius.
July 10th - (Sun) Cross border and drive for 583 km to Gdansk, circumventing Калининград.
July 11th - (Mon) Spend full day in Gdansk
July 12th - (Tue) Gdansk. Get on ferry at 18:00.
July 13th - (Wed) Arrive in Nynäshamn at noon. Continue driving north.
July 14th - (Thu) ...and on to Narvik, 1421 km from Nynäshamn
July 15th - (Fri) 602 km back to Kautokeino via Alta.

Total distance covered: ca 5700 km
Total days spent: 22
Number of legs: 10

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Well, isn't that Murphy

The rules of Champagne

For those who recall my old web site, I have a set of rules and requirements that need to be met for me to consume any form of alcohol, and what to drink when. One of the rules is "A glass of Champagne at the spear ball or dome roof in Riga with Kristin." (Referring to a specific Kristin with whom I have this deal with.)

She travels to Latvia fairly frequently. So I sent her an SMS, asking if she'd be in Riga on July 4th-5th, which is when we're supposed to be there, according to our schedule. The reply came back, "I'm going to Latvia on monday, and leaving for home on the 3rd," and my first thought was IT'S NOT POSSIBLE!

That being said, her ferry to Nynäshamn is not until late in the evening on the 3rd, so if we're able to cut one day somewhere between Kajaani and Riga, we should be able to meet her in Riga. But will there be time to execute the drinking rule?

Cars and cars

I got me new tires, but the spare parts needed to pull up the slack was not possible to get until tuesday. I'm supposed to be in Petrozavodsk on tuesday, so that's a no go. We came to the conclusion, that the mechanic will be fixing the alignment with the new tires as reference, and we'll then just cross our fingers and hope it stays the right way for the entire trip.

Klemet's Citroën failed the EU test for the third time. The chances of it being ready by saturday morning are minimal. I'm preparing for using Gardmobile II for this trip, which was my plan in the first place (before learning that Klemet was planning on making the same trip).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tires, cats and weddings

They were out of tires of my particular dimention, but they're going to Alta tomorrow, so they will definitely try to have my car done by friday.

The trip might have to wait till saturday morning, and going straight to Kajaani, as Klemet was just reminded that he's supposed to be in a wedding friday night. Kautokeino-Kajaani directly is 722 km, approximately 9 hours 13 minutes.

As for the cats - all three weeks have been covered. Just had to buy plenty of food and litter today. Just - the store was out of cat litter, so that will have to wait until tomorrow, assuming I have my car tomorrow night. Friday morning is last call on that one, however.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Almost ready to go

I got my passport with visa for the Российкая Федерация today, so I should be set to go. With emphasis on should. Because apparently, the car we've been planning on using didn't pass EU controls today. We migh have to use my car, but before we do that, I need my front tires changed and alignment checked, most likely modified. Going to talk with the mechanic about this tomorrow morning, so that we can have my car as backup plan.

Housing for my cats are partially confirmed. That is, the first and last weeks have been confirmed, the middle week has yet to be confirmed. Hopefully, it won't be too traumatic for them to see three other homes during the three weeks I'm away.

My backpack has been washed, it is drying - time to start packing. Now, where did I put that check list?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Close shave?

I know I could do with a shave right now, but not this kind of close shave. It's 5 days left until the trip is supposed to begin, I don't have my passport with visa yet, and the car is supposed to go through the EU test tomorrow. We can't be completely certain that the car will pass, but we're crossing our fingers.

Above is the official logo for the trip. It's based on the symbol for the cancer zodiac, as the trip will be taking place entirely during the time frame of that star sign. Attached to it on the sides are two b's, an abbreviation for "Barents to Baltic." They also represent wings, symbolizing the freedom that travel is.