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RUSSIA and our first police chase:

The border area was pretty good– car registration papers and passport check first, fill in your immigration cards– be sure to ask for them– then onto insurance and customs.  Insurance cost £38 for 15 days– that was the shortest policy we could buy. The customs were very friendly but they wanted each cupboard to be opened for inspection.

Astrakhan is a short drive away and is a very pleasant town to stroll around. The Kremlin was being heavily restored when we were there but was still very beautiful. The town is full of lovely crumbling old town houses but cheap accommodation is non existent. Police check points continue but they seem disinterested in us which is good news as Dave has got into the habit of running them– not an advisable hobby in Russia as these guys are armed, serious and used to being obeyed!

We meet a couple of lads on a rally to Mongolia with a SERIOUSLY overloaded escort with almost no ground clearance– it will be interesting to see how they manage Kazak roads!!

We subtly don’t ‘notice’ requests to pull over by the police and seem to get away with it.

We push our luck too far and end up being chased by the police on a countryside stretch of road. The policeman had pulled out his baton then turned away again, so we continued to drive slowly away– it was a mile later that we heard the sirens! When they pulled us over the policeman had a twinkle in his eye and we suspect he had enjoyed the ‘chase’- something to break his monotonous daily routine. He pretended not to speak English as we exclaimed, to each other, that we thought he had changed his mind about wanting us to pull over by turning away from us. It turned out he understood and spoke English perfectly and we had to be escorted back to the check point.

On arrival Dave was taken into the building to be shown a photo of us doing 87km’s /hr instead of  the legal 80km’s/hr– it was a fair deal. He asked Dave what we wanted to ‘do about it’ and Dave replied, ‘What do YOU want to do about it?’ A walk to the rear of the building and a handful of Roubles left the policeman smiling and us relieved. Total cost– 750Rb = £16. It would have cost us the same in a speeding ticket and we would have had to drive into the nearest town to pay the fee. It turns out that this is a huge money making speed trap with a radio/ remote controlled camera hidden in the grassy verge– very clever. Other drivers had flashed their lights to warn us but, because we never saw a car or camera, we sped up again! 

GPS co-ordinates for speed trap area: N 48.23042  E041.31621

 Richard and Dan in their Renegade Taxi                      SIGN WARNING OF POLICE CHECK POINT AHEAD          One of Astrakhan’s Kremlin buildings

The Russian route we took had very good roads, was well sign posted for amenities and had friendly drivers. The police were friendly and polite but there seems to be some rule about driving with lights– we came to the conclusion that it’s a lights on when out of town, lights off when in town. Other overlanders have been fined for getting it wrong. Heavily tinted front windows may get you into trouble– the cops like to see who’s in the front seats.

On reaching the border the guards insisted that we show insurance valid for the Ukraine– we had to insist that we didn’t have it and we could buy it at the Ukrainian border. All the forms we had to complete were in Russian only but the staff helped us to fill them in, a quick look in the back of the car and we were out of Russia.

UKRAINE:

We arrived at the Ukrainian border to be met by a locked gate– the Ukraine guards were demanding a green card, although we know that our carnet and EU green card are NOT valid for the Ukraine. We insisted that there was a insurance office at the border, we could see it just beyond the gate, but they would not let us walk over to purchase some. Maybe this is what the Russian guards were trying to warn us about– Is there an insurance office that sells Ukrainian policies on the Russian side??? Either way– we were NOT getting in and it was suggested we go back to Russia– not on a 5 day single entry transit visa! There is no polite way to say this, so here goes– the Ukrainian border guards were corrupt, nasty little sods and the only way they would let us into the border area was for us to empty our pockets of roubles!!! £36. Ba*****s. AND they want to get into NATO and Europe??!!  We were stunned. We barely had time to fill out our forms, which were printed in Russian, the guards insisted that we write TRANSIT on our visa, and the customs were telling us to, ‘GO!’ We only just managed to get our insurance, ( all written in Russian language) and we were being harangued to get out of the border area. Maybe the boss was due to arrive and they were scared we would tell on them?? Who knows, but we were glad to drive away. Insurance cost  £10. So we enter the Ukraine with NO IDEA how long we are allowed to be here! We know that the normal visa allows us 90 days but having been ordered to write TRANSIT on our visa could have completely changed that and no-one was going to tell us. Oh well– we are on a fast track to Poland so it doesn’t really matter.

Richard and Dan had moaned about the roads here but we found them to be okay– some bumpy sections where the surfacing had rutted with trucks and the odd pot holed section. All were surfaced so it was a big up on the Kazakh standards. We found a couple of lovely places to stay and relaxed.

The police were not interested in us but do enjoy speed traps and using powerful long range binoculars to catch drivers overtaking on solid white lines– You have been warned. Sign posts were frequent and most were in English. Rolling sunflower fields and stork nests abound in the east.

Leaving was far easier– the border guards were relaxed and asked what we had done in their country a curt answer of, ‘Drive’ was accepted. We had entered and left within 48 hours!!!!

POLAND:

We entered the border area at 4pm and it was very busy plus raining like hell– welcome to Europe! The Polish are strip searching some vans and even using pen lights to search door frames. We are asked, for the first time ever, to open our roof tent. It’s raining, we’re tired and our backs are killing us– we are not in a mood to co-operate so we ask if showing a photo would be enough. Lucky for us they agree. We tried to get our carnet stamped for our end of trip re-entry to Europe but no-one would do it– they all politely refused point blank. We think they didn’t know what to do and wouldn’t believe our instructions. We enjoy a few days relaxing in Poland, visiting Krakow, Auschwitz and Birkenau. We had developed an electrical ‘problem’ on the Kazak road and had been driving with no indicators for 2 countries now! We found a Bosch auto electrical workshop who took us in immediately, spent 3 hours working on her sourcing the loose connection, fixed her and charged only £15! Fantastic. We are finally legal on the roads!

BEAUTIFUL    KRAKOW

AUSCHWITZ

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GERMANY:

We stop at a customs office on the autobahn shortly after entering Germany, as our carnet is German we anticipate no problems getting it stamped. It was stamped by a rather grumpy official– job done– bond refund guaranteed!

TOP TIP: Visit the museums in Dresden– absolutely stunning exhibitions, one of the top 3 museums we have visited on the whole trip!!

We caught the ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle and were in Scotland by late lunchtime.

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