Crossing into Russia

Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
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Trip End May 28, 2011


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Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 5 and 6 From the sublime to the ridiculous

We did spend another relaxing day at Toila. We relaxed and did email and laundry in the morning, and rode our bikes to a bigger beach a couple of kms away. There was some remnants of a "palace" there, with a nice garden. The area seems to be small cottages, some of which are oldish. It reminded us of Crescent Beach in some ways.

On July 6 we packed up and headed East toward Russia. We expected it to be an adventure getting into Russia, and it did not disappoint us!

As we arrived in Narva, the border town in Estonia, we ran into a lineup of trucks almost a kilometer long! We pretty quickly observed there were no cars with them so concluded we did not have to wait there. As we entered Narva, we noticed a sign to the right saying something about a Border Station, but it did not seem to be in the right place, so we heeded into town and had coffee at a MacDonalds (!).We did find an info centre, and she was very helpful. She did indeed send us back out to that Border Staion.

The crossing turned out to have 6 different checkpoints! It felt like the Iron Curtain still existed.

First we had to register the van. This was at a totally separate locale about 2 or 3 km short of the border. Not much problem there and it only cost about $2.When we found the real Border Station we drove up to the gate thinking we were the only car. But no, he pointed toward a line of parked cars along the road and indicated that was the lineup! There were only about 10 cars ahead of us, but they moved only about 2 cars every 10 minutes., Luckily the lineup was in the shade because it was quite a hot day.

It turned out the first checkpoint was exiting Estonia. They stamped passports and did a bit of a search of the van. We then moved forward down a hill and over a bridge toward Russia. We did have to wait another 20 minutes or so before the bridge, not moving at all.

The next stop was the Russian immigration office. We were handed a whack of papers and declarations, and waited a few more car spaces to get to the booth. That took a good 20 minutes more… and because there were only two booths, we were holding up the whole of trade between Russia and the West! But, indeed, everyone seemed to be taking that amount of time they were very fussy about how the declarations were to be completed, and I had to re-do them a couple of times. Meanwhile they searched the van rather carefully. They seemed particularly worried about Pat's guitar case. One agent stood aside watching, while the other one nervously watched me open it. Pat plays a hot lick, but it did not blow up!

Finally we thought we were cleared, but, no, one more checkpoint where an agent just checked to see if we had all the paperwork done. It took about 2 hours altogether, which it can easily take going to the home of the free, the USA, so we weren’t complaining.

The first glimpse of Russia was rather depressing…  a few dozen rundown souvenir shops, exchange agents and gas stations, reminiscent of entry into Mexico (not that we have done that).

And then we were off…. But slowly, as the road was abysmal. The main highway from Estonia to St.Petersburg from the border, was the worst we have seen since Kenya, at least for the first 30 or 40 kms. Potholes, broken pavement, untrimmed verges, and lumbering trucks. It did gradually get better, and much of the drive to St. Petersburg was through rural fields and towns, but obviously very poor. Some of the residences were old wooden houses and dirt roads, and some were huge cement soviet apartments.

Traffic got more dense as we approached St. Petersburg. We were nervous as we had not bought a map book, but relied exclusively on a Mapquest download I had on my iPod. Pretty soon though, we found the “Kas” which is a beautiful multi-lane ring road roaring around St. Pete’s. And, much to our surprise, we were able to find the appropriate exit, and the right road toward downtown. Luckily it started with an “O”, which in the Cyrillic is “O”, so we took the first road starting with “O”, and it was the right one.

It was a main road, paralleling the river, so hard to go wrong. We found the address which was supposed to be the hotel, and had to bypass it as it was on the wrong side of the road, and was not recognizable. We did turn back after just a couple of blocks, and found the hotel with its parking lot campground, in a lovely quiet square behind the pinpointed address.

In the evening we unpacked our bikes and took a test ride toward downtown to see how it would be to ride into the old town. It was fine, with wide sidewalks and crossing lights, so that is the plan for tomorrow. More to come….
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