A fantastic ride yesterday up Grass Mountain in the Santa Ynez Valley with wonderful friends! Happiness at its finest!
A fantastic ride yesterday up Grass Mountain in the Santa Ynez Valley with wonderful friends! Happiness at its finest!
14 November 2013
Although Zion national park is one of the smaller parks, it makes up in beauty. When people were recommending places to visit en route one of the names that came up on a repeated basis was Zion...... Now I can see why. Driving through the park you will notice the red sandstone as the road cuts it way through tunnels and into the canyon where you will just see why some people say it's Americas most beautiful national park.
Zion National Park is located in theSouthwestern United States , nearSpringdale, Utah . A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (590 km 2 ) park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles (24 km) long and up to half a mile (800 m) deep, cut through the reddish and tan-coloredNavajo Sandstone by the North Fork of theVirgi River . The lowest elevation is 3,666 ft (1,117 m) at Coalpits Wash and the highest elevation is 8,726 ft (2,660 m) at Horse Ranch Mountain. Located at the junction of theColorado Plateau , Great Basin , andMojave Desert regions, the park's uniquegeography and variety oflife zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Numerous plant species as well as 289 species of birds, 75 mammals (including 19 species ofbat ), and 32 reptiles inhabit the park's four life zones: desert , riparian , woodland , andconiferous forest . Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths , rivers, slot canyons , andnatural arches .
Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups ofNative Americans; the semi-nomadicBasketmakerAnsazi (300 CE) stem from one of these groups. In turn, theVirgin Anasazi culture (500 CE) developed as the Basketmakers settled in permanent communities. A different group, theParowan Fremont, lived in the area as well. Both groups moved away by 1300 and were replaced by the Parrusits and several otherSouthern Paiutesubtribes. Mormons came into the area in 1858 and settled there in the early 1860s. In 1909, U.S. PresidentWilliam Howard Taft named the area a National Monument to protect the canyon, under the name of Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918, however, the acting director of the newly createdNational Park Service changed the park's name to Zion. According to historianHal Rothman, "The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience." TheUnited States Congress established the monument as a National Park on November 19, 1919. The Kolob section was proclaimed a separate Zion National Monument in 1937, but was incorporated into the park in 1956.
Thegeology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area includes 9formations that together represent 150 million years of mostlyMesozoic-agedsedimentation. At various periods in that time warm, shallow seas, streams, ponds and lakes, vast deserts, and dry near-shore environments covered the area. Uplift associated with the creation of theColorado Plateaus lifted the region 10,000 feet (3,000 m) starting 13 million years ago.
10 June 2013
Life in the Wilderness
So here I am, back in the wilds of the Yukon after a fantastic trip down south. I must say being asked to stay the summer and work was the best thing that could have happened as I knew I had to find work asap to earn some fuel and food tokens to enable be to sustain life on the road. With the Land Rover enjoying itself in the sun down in Arizona it enables me to get on with life up here in the North.
The Yukon is around the size of Spain with a population of 35,000 people with 25k of whom live in Whitehhorse. So with so few people and huge distances between towns, the Yukon is some real unspoilt wilderness. It works out to be 13.8 km per person. It is one of the least populated places on earth.
My life consists of Flying in and out of fishing camps preparing, maintaining and generally looking after clients. I must say they call it work but when it’s a laugh a day in this unspoilt beauty with truly wonderful people it’s really hard to look at it in that way. Amongst all that, on the rare occasions that I spend in town it’s still all gogogo from preparing for the next trip to helping out looking after Bernard and Amanda’s 4 children with everything in between, again its all hard work but so much fun at the same time…..
I will be back on the road at the end of the summer but funds come first.
Thank you so much to everyone for your support.
Sunday, 21 August 2011 East side Baikal
On the 16th Of August I drove up thу easten side of Lake Baikal. I drove up with Tanya, a girl I had met in Ulan-ude hostel. We left late morning and by lunch time had our first veiw of the lake.
Just the sheer size of it is just incredable with it holding 15% of the world's fresh water. With the waves rolling onto the shore and even a slight tyde mark in the sand but yet we were standing by a lake.
We arived in the Natinal park late evening.
With a clear sky we camped on the beach right next to the lake. Even better there were NO mosquitos.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
D18 Astrakhan – Atyrau 229Miles 9 hours
Good morning all, well what a change it was today. After a fantastic night's sleep and with the sun shinning I was feeling good. We had an early breakfast said goodbye to the girls running the guest house and hit the road. Still, leaving the city was a sight to see. Typical rush hour and at one junction we thought we were on a one way street. It wasn’t organised chaos, it was just ignorance with gridlock with queues of cars on our side of the road facing us…. Now how does that work? Still glad to be out of there!
We drove through some beautiful countryside on the way to the border and being amazed at the flooding all around. We passed over a very strange bridge seemed a little make shift to me crossing a very swollen river.
It was only 40 or so miles to the border. It was very easy indeed being very relaxed and the border guards being very light hearted even making the odd joke. We passed both sections in only a matter of hours.
That’s it. WE ARE IN KAZAKHSTAN!!!!! As mile after mile went by with not such great roads, we noticed the remoteness of the country with the scenery becoming almost desert like. We were driving across the Kazakhstan steppe! It wasn’t long befor we had to stop… as to the left of us was our first camel. I know it may sound strange but it was great to us.
As we were driving across this vast country and being shaken to bits by the road conditions I started to notice how few cars were on the road at this point. I'm not saying there weren't any by all means, there were every now and then. I think its just comparing to Russian traffic. Still to me anyway it felt good heading out into the sticks.
We made good time as we rolled into Atyrau. It was a strange sight as all the way we had never been too far away from a train line and seeing the odd mile long train we soon realised why. This was an oil town, it looked like a small Dallas if you like, a city in the middle of a desert. We had a British contact here going by the name of Mike who pointed us in the direction of a couple of places to stay. We found one third time lucky with needing guidence from a taxi driver to find!
Not a bad place but got scalped on the price for what it was, but all was made better by the very king generosity of Mike, his wife Charlie, Mark along with their friends who were all British ex pats working on mostly 4 on 4 off rotation. They were kind enough by not letting us buy any beer or dinner. This will never be forgotten.
At we got back to bed that night but beer and tiredness mixed I could barely see my diary let alone write in it, although I did see in the morning at my attempt! Apparently no sooner than I had put it down I was asleep.
14 May 2011
D20 Beyneu – Atyrau
We woke feeling refreshed and ready to get back on the road. We were warned the road to border wasn’t very good as it was all dirt and we were to be careful. We set off around 9:30 but not before saying goodbye to Locha and taking a few photos.
We brimmed the tanks, and I’m pleased to say at 28p a litre I was quite happy.
Well they weren’t wrong about the advice on the road. With the rain yesterday and yet more last night the road was thick slippery mud! We had done around 20 miles when disaster stuck…… Simon fell off his bike, he was ok but he had damaged the bike.
I had picked up a card from one of the British expacks in Atyrau, so we decided to give him a call and explain the situation. He understood and was able to make a few phone calls. In the meantime some passers by had stopped to see if they could help.
We flagged down a passing flat bed transit type sized truck. So with a bit of heve-ho we got the bike on the back.
We arrived back at Lochas who was very surprised to see us again. We unloaded the bike and a mechanic had a look at it. We herd back from mark telling us that his friend Shaun had sent a van on its way to pick the bike up to get it back to Atyrau.
It was around midday now Simon wasn’t very happy as I can imagine but there wasn’t much we could do until the van arrived.
When the van did get hear and got the bike loaded it was around 6pm. Simon road in with me along with most of his gear and we set off following the van…. Well trying to follow the van as I was driving a fully even more so now loaded Defender! The van was off well not to worry there was only one road to Atyrau. On the drive back the rain came in yet again and with the road having no run off it soon turned the road into a river! It wasn’t to last long though and soon enough it was clearing up. I was able to witness one of the most amazing sunset’s driving back to Atyrau I had ever seen.
We soon caught the van up as it had to stop for fuel. It wasn’t far from the city and so we then followed it to Shaun’s house.
We arrived around 11pm at Shaun’s house; it was a beautiful Finnish log cabin. Shaun couldn’t have been more welcoming. We got the bike off the van, parked the landy on the drive and had a cold beer put in my hand.
So we were able to unwind drink a few beers and just to have a good old chat about life. It was around 3:30 am when I finally went to bed.
13 May 2011 Atyrau – Beyneu
268miles 6hours 11minutes
Waking a little later than planned I and feeling like I could have stayed there a little longer! Still after a fantastic shower I was feeling good. Full English was on offer for breakfast but thinking my stomach couldn’t take this I just opted for some cereal and pancakes.
We were off leaving the city behind us heading out back onto the steppe. Miles passed the scenery didn’t we were in the desert. Even though we were miles from anywhere we were never far from a train line. Its not a desert is hard to explain, with tufts grass all over the place but was just incredibly flat. I must admit I do love this feeling of remoteness I’m getting at the moment.
We stopped at a small group of morsaliams that were in fact very grand and just unbelievably in the middle of know where. I would later on in the trip find out that this was common across Kazakhstan. I t was a relatively easy drive with the roads being considerably better than Russia… well for the time being anyway. After a few hours on the road the rain came in and did it just. It was my first taste of what the rain was like out hear but at least it didn’t last that long but even so it turned the road into a lake. It was early afternoon when we arrived in the small town/village of Beyneu. We had some details of a local man who was expecting us as Walter (a seasoned traveller) had stayed with him before. It was a small yard with a few buses and cars about all being worked on by a couple of mechanics. It was hard to work out whom who was around hear but Locha was such a kind man who was very hospitable. It was a great place…. well I thought it was anyway. There were a couple of girls running around the place who ran the kind of dinner I suppose you could call it. They did local food that was really filling and was so good.
We were put up for the night in a small bunk room which turned out to be one of the best nights sleep I had.
11 May 2011
D17 Volgograd – Astrakhan
267miles 7 hours 34 minutes
I woke after having to be honest a rubbish night's sleep. Breakfast was at 8am and we were on the road waving goodbye to Volgograd by 9am. As we left the city, the weather and traffic was rubbish. Once out of the city it was a bizzare landscape; almost post apocalyptic with the abandoned buildings, some new that they had just left halfway through the build, along with the endless miles of power lines. After a wile all this changed to nothing, yeh that’s right, nothing! For 200 miles or so with the exception of a few villages it was all just open plain.
Still, the roads were better and fewer cars so all in all a relaxing drive, by the end with it being sunny and hot too. As this is still westen Russia and not the best place to camp as being advised by other travellers we picked our way through the streets of Astrikhan to a small guest house.
Even though it wasn’t a hard drive and maybe it was because I had a bad night sleep I’m just feeling exhausted. Just reflecting over the last few weeks but also realiseing that I am indeed missing family and all my friends back home. You are all with me through my travels.
I had a beer and dumplings for dinner and Simon had gulash. Feeling so much better with a good feed it was time for bed!
10 May 2011
Last day in Volgograd
We didn’t have much on the agenda today, so after a lie in and breakfast we had a little catch up on the diary front. Ilya came around at 11am and with his help I was able to go shopping for supplies for the next few days.
We sorted a few things out including our Russian SIM cards before the afternoon.
As Ilya had to go to university for a few hours from 2pm. We spent an hour or so checking over the vehicles levels, greasing most things that move.
That night we were to say our goodbyes to Suzie who was leaving to fly back to the UK. To Ilya and Sophia who had both been so welcoming and giving up so much of their time over the last three days and to Dan the Norweigen journalist who has a 7am flight.
It was a wonderful way to say goodbye over dinner and all being together was a special way to say goodbye.
It was just Simon and I now, both feeling tired it was time to hit the hay.
Volgograd May 9th Victory day.
9 May 2011
I woke reasonably early with some excitement with the wonder of today’s events. It was a little bit of a shame that the weather was a little wet, cold and cloudy – especially as it had been such a gorgeous day yesterday. We went into the street straight after breakfast. Crowds were beginning to gather and the soldiers were getting together in their battalions. After a while and as Simon and Susie had a room overlooking the square we made our way upstairs to see the parade from above as we saw what turned out to be the dress rehearsal on Friday evening.
It was an incredible sight to see, despite the rain. It all started at 10:00 am – by which time the crowds must have been 15 deep. So we were quite lucky we had the room as we may not have been able to see much on the ground. The parade lasted around 2 to 3 hours in the square. Just the sight of all the troops in their dress uniforms on the most symbolic day of the year gave me an incredible feeling.
Around 3pm Ilya returned to be our city guide once again. He took us on a Volga River boat trip. We did get a little shock as the Russians do like their music and they do like it loud. So the boat trip lasted just over an hour – loud music and some interesting dancing by the other travellers – still we did get some interesting views of the city and had fun.
After the boat trip we met with Sofia as by now it was early evening and we headed for dinner. We were joined by a Norwegian journalist that Sofia was translating for. After dinner, around 10:00pm we walked to the river to see a firework display. There was a fantastic atmosphere – a fantastic end to a fantastic day.
Sunday 8th May 2011
Day Off In Volgograd
It was around 8:30 when I woke, such a good feeling to have a little lie in. The morning started in a relaxed way – with no rush. After breakfast Simon had a contact here that we were going to meet. Sofia came to the hotel at 10:00 am. She had organised for an English student – a very polite, friendly guy called Ilya.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the city as we walked round. We started in the square and headed down the avenue of heroes. As we walked by the Red Army Monument and the Eternal Flame there was a group of soldiers laying wreaths. There was a huge number of people laying single and bunches of flowers at the monument.
Further down there were lots of signs the Victory Day Celebrations would soon be under way. We soon reached the River Volga – the huge river that helped save and resupply the troops and the city.
We walked along the river bank to the Panorama Museum and next to that the shell of the old flower mill – the only building from the old city of Stalingrad left standing. It was around this time that Sofia had to reluctantly go to work – Ilya took us into the Panorama Museum. It was a little like the Tardis inside – it was spectacular to see the displays of weaponry and uniforms. It was easy to see the poorly equipped Germans with their thin uniforms compared to the very thick warm clothes of the Russians. There was a stunning 360 degree painting and display of the Stalingrad battle.
It was now around mid afternoon and Susie had to go to the airport to see if her bag had arrived. The decision was made to have a quick bite of lunch first before Susie and Ilya left for the airport. So Simon and I went for a wander through the park, up to the beautiful grand building of the city railway station. We then headed back to the hotel to do some photos and blogs.
One very happy Susie arrived with her bag and early evening al lfour of us decided to go and see the statue of Mother Russia. Ilya was kind enough to take us on Volgograd’s underground tram. As we mounted the steps we saw the statue for the first time – she took my breath away. Even though we still had a fair walk up the hill she had such a presence, standing 84 metres high with an almost goddess feel.
As we walked up the steps we were climbing between two walls which had battlefield carvings of soldiers and scenes – it felt to me as though the soldiers depicted were embedded in history. We passed through the Stalingrad Memorial with a sculpture of a hand holding the eternal flame with all the names of the soldiers around the building. The stairs followed the inside edge of the building in a spiral to exit at the top. As we exited we turned to our right and there she was – towering above us into the sky. Just sheer magnificence is the only way I can describe it. Apparently she faces west with her sword held high.
There was a happy feel that night as we had dinner with lost luggage returned and a pleasant feel to the evening.
Looking forward to The May 9th Parade tomorrow…
Saturday 07 May 2011
Voronezh – Volgograd
354 miles 8hours 32 minutes
It was quite a pleasant night on this little gastinitsa (truck stop) witch looked like your typical movie knocking shop with the fake purple silk curtains etc.
We got an early get away being on the road by 7am and put a few miles down – well I say we but I think I was a little more keen than Simon after last nights banya escapade.
It was around 9am when we had our first fuel stop and breakfast Twix. It was back to the hard drive, it wasn’t so much the trip but the shocking roads and even more shocking Russian driving skills or lack of… But hey it’s all part of the experience I suppose. It was amazing to see the scenery change from woodland to farmland as far as the eye could see. It was strange as we were driving through a section of forest that reminded me of the new forest back in England.
We did a pit stop to have a drink and stretch our legs at a small memorial of a plane crash of a jet fighter. It was a little odd with the tail of the plane sticking out of the ground and the picture of the pilot on the side as the memorial.
We had great delight when we were stopped by two police men at a check point. We had been stopped for supposedly doing 61kmh in a 60kmh zone. Both were very friendly with one being larger character it was hand shakes all round. They wanted to know what we were doing so having a map on the side of the land rover I was able to show them, the amazement in their faces was a picture. So with a good luck and a hand shake they sent us on our way. They seemed keen to move me as I was in the way of the speed gun. Once away we had a good laugh about it over the radio and how they didn’t want to see any paper work so they probably just wanted to see what we were doing.
We were passing through small town and villages, amazing to see they were still using all the old wells maybe around 5ish scattered through each village.
We arrived around 3:30pm in Volgograd and finding the hotel with ease and with relevance a small amount of traffic. It just felt good to be hear and on such a special weekend. It put both of us at ease being able to put the bike and landy in secure parking as it was such a big city and with the thousands of tourists about to embark on the place this weekend.
We both went for a short walk and even down to the river Valgor. As we were there standing looking across the river in amazement in the size of it there was a group of women dressed it traditional clothes singing and soon came up the steps where Simon and I were standing.
Our stomachs were rumbling and as neither of us had much to eat today. As Suzie was due into the city around 9pm we found a small place called bar & grill well the name says it all a great place to wait as it was in the square too. Wile we ate we had some entertainment provided by the local police department. The were all hanging around closing off the square to all traffic, now wile they did this one of them had a motor bike (a Jowa) with all the others taking it in turns to have goes. So in their smart short sleeved shirts and shinny shoes so off they wobbly well went with a few stalls and sudden breaking. I don’t know who had more fun them or us watching them.
We were lucky enough to see the final dress rehearsal for the victory day parade to give us a little taster of what was to come. It wasn’t long before we hared that Suzie had landed, but disaster Suzie was hear but her bag wasn’t. She was quite upset as I’m sure any of us would be and I’m sure it’s happened to most of us I know it’s happened to me before. Still we popped back to the bar to reassure her and get a drink in to reassure her. It was a pleasant evening with smiles all around.
06 May 2011
Bryansk – Voronezh
309 miles 9hours 53mins
I woke this morning after a great nights sleep; I was woken once or twice in the night by the rain and couldn’t believe how heavy it was. Oh well it was now morning, still a little damp around. We packed our things and I gave the landy a level check and top up and all before breakfast. There was a very kind man there who was so so kind, all he wanted to do was help.
We rolled out a little later than planned but hey that’s just the way things are sometimes. Once again we were on the so called motorways being over taken by Ladas with no care for road rules or oncoming traffic. It wasn’t long before we had a quick fuel stop. The roads seem to get a little better as time went on. We passed through Oryol, the town that we had planned to reach but as we passed through we were both so glad we didn’t push on the night before.
We stopped at a small trucker’s café to get a something to eat. We had a small salad or should I say chopped vegetables that were very filling…. I even had my first long drop experience; well it was an experience that’s all I will say. Around 20 minutes or so later and we were back on the road. As we drove along the sun broke through the clouds. Around an hour later we came across a war memorial and so decided to stop. As it happens a wedding party had gathered and were busy taking pictures, at the same time the memorial was having a coat of paint, guessing in preparation for Victory day.
Around 30 or so miles down the road we witnessed the most amazing thunder and lightning storm and thought we were going to drive straight into it. We pulled into the next fuel station so Simon could batten down the hatches on his riding gear. Its always the way because as we were doing this the storm blew through so we didn’t get much more than a shower.
We had a small miracle or it felt like it to us. We turned on to the M4, it was a wonderful smooth duel carriage way with most of it being a toll road but who cares it made a pleasant change. We were able to sit happily at 60mph I know not a lot but I am driving a 3 tone land rover that is my home for the foreseeable future.
It was late afternoon as we approached Voronezh and time to find a place to sleep. After battling through the city rush hour traffic we found a small truck stop gastenitra. It was a funny little place a little place with a little strange taste. We had dinner at a little café downstairs with me having borscht a type of Russian soup. I was offered a banya (sauna) I happily said yes with having them through Scandinavia. But on seeing it and being offered to be oiled up by the owner – thinking this sounded a little more than odd and was in no way like Norway I retreated back to dinner.
Safe back in my bunk its time to say good night!
5 May 2011
Belarus – Russia
Gomel – Bryansk
We both woke a little excited for to day’s adventures as to day we were hitting the Russian border! After breakfast we got going around 8:30, it was a rather pleasant morning – not being to cold ad dry.
We drove around 40 mins to the border or rather first border. It was a little strange for us as this was an open border so Belarusian’s and Russians can pass with ease. It was for us – not so good as the guards just looked at our passports and waved us through. So hear we were in what we thought was no mans land between Belarus and Russia but it wasn’t – we were in fact in Russia…. This could spell disaster as we had no Belarus exit stamp and no Russian entry stamp! The decision was made to go back to the guards and ask once again, they showed us another border on the map around an hour south of this one.
Off we went in search of this mystery other border crossing, yes that’s rite we are back in Belarus! We stopped in a small village as Simon needed fuel and rather risking carrying on he decided to go back to one that we passed a couple of miles back.. I waited wile he went back. The village was very quiet with only the odd car and passer by. One man did come over to say hello and with a little signs language we got by. Still wile I was waiting for Simon I managed to get a little more of my diary done. It wasn’t long before I heard the rumble of the BMW motor bike carrying Simon. We were back on the road and continuing our search.
We seemed to be driving back and beyond down small farm tracks. We arrived at this small border crossing and I mean small, but still it looked official. As this was the Belarus exit border we didn’t even sit in a queue… in fact there weren’t even any other cars there. It was quite funny as the border was a little bit of paradise with mowed grass, nice fences all around, they even had bird houses all around. Almost seemed to me as when the border guards they made the bird houses as there were so many around.
It was a very straight forward border crossing only taking around 40 mins or so. We then learned it was a three way border, turn right for Ukraine and left for Russia! So after much thought ha-ha we turned left! There is was the Russian border queue, not as bad as a couple I’d seen but still bad enough. It seemed everyone was passing from Ukraine to Russia. It was your typical border with everyone out of their cars standing around. We relaxed for a wile and even had a drink (of water) and some munchies. After a wile a man came from what seemed out of the blue but was in fact parked behind us. He was very keen to chat and with no English and with us with minimal Russian but after a wile he just wouldn’t leave us alone. He seemed keen to chat to Simon as I took a step back and sat on my bonnet to observe and take a few pictures. I looked to me Simon had made a new best friend.. Simon to excape wondered off down to the front of the queue. He returned around 15 mins later saying we were able to go to the front of the queue.
Its quite difficalt to describe this border crossing as there were no big buildings, just 3 or 4 sheds almost like a road cheak point. Once again running around doing paperwork getting stamps, copies of passports ect. And around an hour and a half later we were through. One of the guards said “you come from Belarus, just go” he bdidnt have to tell us twice… we were off! We were in Russia… with a quick pause to get the insurance sorted we were on the road! Well hear we were on the russian roads ant to be honest we didn’t get the feeling we were expecting, the roads were terrible the driving even worse. They called these motorways or main roads…. Yeh right!
After a few hours dealing with the tramlines (groves trucks make in the road) we could go no further. We reached a town called Bryansk were we got a cheap motel where we got a bed for the night. Both exhausted and straight after dinner it was time to hit the hay.
Wednesday 4th May 2011
Brest – Gomel
It was a very cold damp morning in Brest, quite a difference to the last time I was here. We got on the road around 8-8:30 but after a few false starts so Simon could turn his radio off after a lot of interference. We got going, waving goodbye to Brest and making our way toGomel. At the start there was a big sense of déjà vu as I was on the same road out of Brest – the very long straight M1 as I was on last year. Not long after this and only within 30 miles or so we turned off to the M10 which would take us all the way to Gomel. The road was very unadventurous but with changing scenery and ever changing road surfaces it did give me something to admire.
We knew today was going to be a long one so we stopped off around every 100 miles or so. At one of our stops we had the rolls that we had snaffled from the Etap hotel in Krakow. While we were there we befriended 2 stray dogs where they seemed to have made the rest area their home. Hungry ourselves we were still happy to share our lunch with them both. While we were eating a truck pulled into the rest area and a friendly Byelorussian called Andre climbed out to say hello.
After about 20 minutes we were on the road again. Still it was after noon and the sun came out and everything started to warm up – including Simon who had been so cold this morning he was almost an ice block !
It was a pleasant afternoon as we drove into Gomel – that seemed like a lively and busy town. But mind you it was near rush hour.
We found a hotel called Paradise near the city train station. Simon went to see if he could secure a room and I guarded the vehicles. I have never had my photo taken so many times; I don’t think they get many adventurous like us in this neck of the woods.
Still I can’t complain – I enjoyed it. On Simon’s return he came with the good news that he had secured a room. And a none too shabby one at that! Apparently he had secured the last room at the inn – a VIP Apartment style one. That evening we had a brief walk to see a bit of the city. We had a beer in a small beer tent near the hotel. Dinner was once again very nice and cheap – I had what looked like chopped meat and potatoes served in a very hot pot.
Another day to another day on the road.
For tomorrow is Russia…
Tuesday 3 May 2011
Krakow – Brest
10 hrs 36 secs
It was 5:50am my alarm is ringing, yes an early start indeed but with all good intentions. After breakfast and with snaffling a couple of rolls and making a couple of sandwiches each for the intention of lunch at the anticipated long queue for the border from my previous experiences.
It was 7am when we left the very practical etap hotel. I would love to give you a long drawn out adventurous story of our last ride in Europe to the Belarus border but I cant!
The drive was long cold, colder for Simon on the bike as it was only 6c. We had around three stops to stretch our legs, empty our tanks and have a coffee type thing. We even had 5mins to chat to save us from the boredom. Here we are at the Poland / Belarus border, sum 6 hours 300 miles after leaving Krakow this morning.
I was amazed as we rolled up to the border…… NO QUEUE!!!
I have done a fair few border crossings last year with everyone sitting in long queues for hours on end.. Oh well time to get stuck in with all this tedious gruel of it that I have come to know so well after last years adventures. The first half where we were leaving Poland was very quick indeed, with the help of a very kind young border guard. She checked over the vehicles and processed our paper work all in the matter of about 20 mins.
The next step was to cross no mans land as we call it, about half a kilometer to the other side of the border, this is the half where we will be entering Belarus. This as you may well be able to imagine took quite a wile longer. This I had done before and all my memories came flooding back to me, with the numerous form filling with no English (always makes life fun) running between buildings and cabins etc, still its all part of the adventure and just something that has to be done.
This part as you can imagine took a little longer - but still we where in no great hurry. I’m sure when we finally get everything sorted and we left the border guards where glad to see the back of us as there were a few that helped us with nearly our every move but still they all seemed friendly enough, maybe because it was such a quiet border and they didn’t have to deal with people like us everyday.
We have arrived – finally we are in Belarus, for me the second time in under a year and Simon his first but with both of us feeling the excitement and the achievement of the day!
As we came into Breast and as I had stayed hear before I said I know of a hotel. So I led Simon the ummm scenic route to the hotel, my excuse being they’ve moved the f***king hotel.
Its an odd feeling of being back hear and in the same hotel as last year, a place I never thought I’d see again. We checked in and took our things to the room.
We put the landy and bike into the secure parking. It was as we did this there where two local guys taking pictures, keen to chat ask about ourselves and even take pictures of us…… I know who would have thought it!
Anyway a brief walk and to find a bar it was, a nice local place just around the corner. We even ended up eating hear. We had two good meals two deserts four beers and two coffees all for the equivalent of under £15.
Both exhausted from the days adventures and milestone border crossing its time to hit the hay.
Until tomorrow…… night night all.
Monday 2 May 2011
Oswiciem to Krakow
5 hours 40 mins
As we knew it was going to be an easy day’s drive we decided the night before to have a lie in. Well “Good Morning” at 7:30am – if you can call that a lie in, still the sun had come out to say “hello” again after hiding for the last 36 hours !
We got going around 9:00am for the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was just after 10:00 when we arrived so with time to have a quick coffee and then join a group for the 11:00am tour.
I didn’t know what to expect but the excitement grew as we walked downwards from ground level the 52 floors to the first underground level. The mine had an incredible 300km of tunnels running over 9 levels and going down as far as 327 metres – but we were going nowhere near this today. But still we walked 3 km through the tunnels over 2 levels and down to 135 metres. Still this was enough to open my eyes to the incredible engineering factor of the place with a huge chapel and an array of many shrines for praying.
We were told that it was important to all the miners to have high spirits and to have a laugh and have fun while they worked to keep them in a good frame of mind whilst they worked. It was important to them to have the chapel and shrines as they liked to pray to keep themselves safe as it was an incredibly dangerous job as every year 10% of the workforce lost their lives in an array of many accidents.
The mine opened early in the 13th Century and continued to produce table salt until 1996. The company continued to trade until 2007, this made the Wieliczka Company the 4th oldest trading company in the world.
The mine became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 with an incredible 1.2 million tourists passing through the doors each year. We certainly felt that as we were almost herded like sheep through the mines tunnels.
Around 2 hours later we emerged from the mine, all feeling a little rumble in our stomachs and with a considerable thirst. We decided to have a small lunch. While I had a Hamburger Simon & Susie shared a Pizza, it was your typical tourist attraction lunch.
We saddled back up and made the short journey to the Etap hotel in Krakow.
It was the end of the holiday feel because Susie (Wilma) my co-pilot and navigator through Europe who was far better than “Betty” my Garmin SatNav, was to leave us that evening.
We had an early farewell dinner and popped Susie in a cab to the airport. That was it. The boys were left on their own. So let the adventure begin…
So what do we do first ? Straight to the pub..? No !! Find the nearest Strip Club..? No !! We headed back to the hotel to write our journals and have an early night for an early start the next morning…
Yes..! We know how to live life on the edge..!
Good Night All…
Sunday 1 May 2011
Even though today was a day off from driving, we were all up early to get started first thing. Breakfast was wonderful with pancakes on the menu!
We arrived at Auschwitz by 8.30am and it was reasonably quiet (for now). The feeling of this place having such a terrible history was apparent as soon as we arrived. I would say it was hard to describe my feelings as we wandered around the camp if this were true, but it is not, my feelings became very easy to describe. At first it was just pure horror that 1.1 million people of all ages (men, women and children) lost their lives through murder (being gassed, shot, tortured, or having experiments done on them), malnutrition (starvation) and many health reasons or through the way they were kept. Then there was the very apparent sense of feeling sick to my stomach and anger at what had happened here. The sadness that I felt and how one human could do such things to another, as everything that happened was on such a personal basis, from torture to being stripped before execution, either in the gas chamber or before a firing squad.
We drove 2 minutes down the road to Birkenau camp (Auschwitz II), the world’s largest extermination camp covering 425 acres of small wooden or brick buildings with every 4 being fenced off from the next together with barbed wire. It was incredible that such a huge place with one thing in mind – to kill, murder, wipe-out, to end life no matter how you look at it, it was there....
That afternoon I wrote and as I write now I think we all left with sadness in our hearts and sombre thoughts. If I sat here now and wrote down all my thoughts and feelings I would end up writing a book. I am going to leave you now with those thoughts in the hope that tomorrow is a happier day.
For all those who read this please give 1 minute’s thought to all those who lost their lives in the ‘HELL ON EARTH’......
Thank you , Benjy
Saturday 30 April 2011
Prague – Oswiciem (Auschwitz)
7 hrs 37 mins
It was once again a bright and sunny early Saturday morning in Prague. It was very pleasant looking out over the river Voltava that runs through Prague - chance to reflect and admire this beautiful city in the morning sun for the last time. By 7.30am the wheels were rolling through this very quiet city, it was a short 43 miles to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, or the bone church as it is more commonly known as. We arrived quite early and for the first 30 minutes or so had the place to ourselves. 40,000 people made up the decorations, a very surreal feeling and all because a bloke going by the name of Mark went to the Holy Land and brought back some soil to scatter over the church yard. Because of this people (generally wealthy) wanted to be buried here. With so many bodies to be buried in such a small graveyard, insufficient space to do justice to the burials was available. Consequently corpses had been piled up and buried in a random ad-hoc manner. The monk in charge gave the instruction that something had to be done to provide a fitting resting place for these poor souls. One individual given the task found a novel use for the piles of bones when he not only re-buried many of the bodies, but used the bones from several thousand individuals to create bizarre decorations within the crypt of the church.
The feeling came that it was time to leave when the coach load of tourists turned up, we got rolling eastwards with a brief but seemingly regular stop to fill the tanks, empty ours and grab a bite. With what seemed like a short run we were in Oswiciem, a quiet Polish town but with a dark and sinister history – Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi extermination camp. We got to the hotel early afternoon but after being quite busy, all feeling exhausted. We had a quiet afternoon and opted for an early dinner and an early night as were to be up early the following day to go and Auschwitz museum.
We were discussing over dinner how the trip so far seemed to be revolving all around death (so if you are reading this and are to thinking the same, then yes we are aware of this!). We all knew the history of Auschwitz but were all uncertain as to what we would feel the following day.
Friday 29 April 2011 (Royal Wedding Day!)
A day in Prague – a city worth losing yourself in……
After an almost leisurely lie-in, apart from being woken by the refuse collection, we had a beautiful view across the river Voltava in Prague the perfect way to start a day in this historical and almost fairytale like city.
After much discussion on the days plans we headed out to wander the streets. The city is almost overwhelming in beauty with each building being different to the next. The sculptures and paintings on the houses high above the streets, we learned later in the day was because instead of an address (as at this time few could read and write) it was a way of telling people who lived there.
The first thing we did was to head up the Bell Tower to see Prague from above and what a view of the worlds largest Cathedral in the distance, and the spires of many churches standing high above the red terracotta roofs. We took a city tour in a beautiful red 1928 Ford Model A 3.5ltr 25bhp 4cyl that did 3 miles to the gallon. The tour weas wonderful lasting almost an hour, the surprise halfway in as we approached the castle, there was a parade of Willys Jeeps and WW2 army American trucks with a couple of Harley motorbikes thrown in. This parade was to mark the freedom or a liberty parade to celebrate the ending of the war for the Americans holding the line. It was great fun as we drove straight into the middle of it. At the same time it was the changing of the guard.
After the tour we continued to see the city and had a coffee while the famous Astronomical clock struck 12 noon. As we wandered the city it is hard to describe the feeling you get, it is so easy to lose oneself in it.