We left Monino bound for Nizhny Novgorod (about 400km North-East). Nizhny Novgorod is home to the confluence of the great Volga and Oka rivers, making it a prosperous town since the 1200’s in terms of trade via water.The roads to get there were pretty shit, but you could still crank 100km/ph in the main. They were narrow, single lanes with loads of trucks which had worn deep ruts into the road. This made overtaking pretty sketchy, and this was compounded by the inpatient and dangerous driving habits of the Russians.
We quickly learnt to overtake trucks whenever the opportunity arose, as you could face being stuck behind one for up to an hour at a time if you weren’t brave.
Overtaking was a joint effort as we are driving on the wrong side of the car.
I decided to overtake a truck on a solid white line over a long, slight corner with good visibility. Unfortunately the traffic police were waiting and I was pulled over along with 3 other cars doing exactly the same thing. This was the first time we had been pulled over in Russia, or anywhere on the trip for that matter! I stopped the car, hopped out and handed them my international license. They took it and gestured that they were taking it from me and to walk away and make Jerome drive. No more driving in Russia they said. I refused. They pocketed my license and walked off. I followed and waited until they called me back over 20 minutes later and made the same gestures. With a variety of gestures and pigeon Russian I communicated that we were traveling around the world and that Jerome was in a wheelchair and couldn’t drive the car (A white lie obviously). I knew that it was all a game for money. Eventually they wrote down $100 US on paper. I refused and wrote down 1000 Rubles (Less than $30 US). I grabbed my purse and slid the money across the bonnet of their patrol car. They refused. I stood my ground and after a few minutes they reluctantly agreed and swapped the money for the license. Considering I had actually made a traffic violation, the ‘fine’ was minor. Happy days! Back on the road again.
We hit Nizhny in the evening and quickly found a vantage point for an overview of the area, up a steep little road around the back of a mosque. Just off the road we stumbled on a small flat grassy patch with a perfect view of the town and Volga River.
No need to search for a place to camp – this was it for sure. We spent the evening messing around with the camera, trying to capture the beauty of the moment.
We left Nizhny the next morning and hit the road for Kazan. We had a brief stop-over on the Island of Sviyazhsk (It has a road going to it so kind of an Island) and hit the beach for a bit of off-road action before sunset.
The next day we got to Kazan. Kazan is pretty damn interesting. It was predominantly Islamic and Russian Orthodox up until the rise of the Soviet Union, where all religions were quashed. After the Soviets demise – a lot of raised mosques and churches were re-built and Kazan became a city known for its multiculturalism and mufti-faith values. We headed straight for the Kremlin and after donning a headscarf (for me only) we were allowed into the Kul Sharif Mosque for a look around.
The mosque is beautiful and different. It was built in the mid nineties and features pencil-thin minarets on the outside, and a beautifully detailed interior. It is actually the first religious building that we have entered in Russia as all the rest have been totally inaccessible by wheelchair.
After the mosque we spotted a huge cup shaped building across the river. We drove over to see what it was and it turned out to be a huge venue for hire, mainly for weddings by the looks of it.
There was ramp access and a lift leading to a viewing platform overlooking the river and city.
We left Kazan and drove 10km west to Staroye Arakchino, purely to take a peek at the Temple of All Religions. The building has 12 spires, minarets or domes – each dedicated to the main 12 religions of the world. The place is still under construction by a chap who has built it privately, relying on public donations. The world needs more of these people, that’s for sure. What a peaceful and harmonious idea.
Our last city in Russia was Samara, which promised to be beautiful due to it’s city beaches sitting on the Volga river. When we hit the town – it looked very poverty stricken and not at all scenic. We found what looked like an abandoned set of buildings used for paint-balling and as a shooting range on the outskirts. The camp may not be to everyone’s taste but for us it was different and really cool.
As we pulled up five young mongrel puppies emerged from one of the buildings so we spent the evening encouraging them over with bits of food. So cute!
The next day we headed over to the Samara Space Museum which featured a 50m high Soyuz Rocket marking it’s location. So cool!
In fact – Yuri Gagarin (the first human in space) landed in Samara after his space mission. The museum was fully wheelchair accessible with lifts, and really friendly and helpful staff.
We didn’t pay anything and inside we got the chance to see the pods that detach from the rockets containing the astronauts as they re-enter Earths Atmosphere. The info text was all in Russian but the displays were fantastic none-the-less.
We left Samara with just a few hundred km’s separating us from the Russian-Kazakh border crossing (heading towards Uralsk). It’s worth noting that it we had just 48 hours before our Russian Visas expired. Apparently it can be a lengthy process to leave Russia so we were apprehensive. We drove all but 50km’s to the border and decided to take a day to clean the car and check it mechanically before our next leg of the trip – Central Asia. I guess that’s enough writing for now, you will have to wait until the next post to hear about our border exploits. Thanks for reading!