Our Tours - 2010 Beijing to Paris - Daily Diary
DATE: 20/08/2010 LOCATION: PARIS
|The 100 series camel herding in the Gobi Desert
Last but not least on Saturday the 21st August we have to complete the last and the longest 10km of the journey from the hotel to the finishing point, the famous Eiffel Tower. This is sometimes a challenge for some and this year we almost lost Bob and Jill in the Prado in the myriad of Paris boulevards. Fortunately they reappeared to join us again to make it a perfect arrival in convoy at our ultimate destination. This of course was also the conclusion to the 1907 Peking to Paris Raid which is what we are emulating in this present day. The weather was perfect for the finale and lots of lasting photos were taken of the moment which will be long remembered. "Congratulations one and all on completing the 2010 version of one of the great road journeys of all time"
DATE: 19/08/2010 LOCATION: TRIER
We were on the road by 7.30am this morning and on a mission heading for the town of Trier. Rally Tours is a supporter of the current NZ Rally Champion, Hayden Paddon. Today Hayden is competing in the WRC Rally Germany. We have slightly modified our itinerary to be in Trier to see Hayden compete in his Pirelli sponsored PWRC Mitsubishi Evo 10 on this tarmac event. We caught up with Hayden on his second run through the Shakedown or practice run and also managed to locate his parents Chris and Jackie also out from NZ to see Hayden run this event. For most of our P2P team, this was the first time that they had witnessed the worlds best rally drivers in action and most were suitably impressed with their skills. Trier is another historic city and our hotel overlooked the famous Porta Nigra ruined city gates which just happened to be the location of the Rally Ceremonial start. The fan-fare associated with these ceremonial starts was enjoyed by rally fans from all over the world. We did in fact catch up with several of Rally Tours regular clients that have attended other WRC events with us in past years. It was good to meet up with them.
We moved out of town this morning just before 7.30am and made our way out to Special Stage 1 of Rally Germany once again locating Chris and Jackie Paddon and their NZ liveried camper van in a remote German paddock. JK and Chris found a good spot to watch the competitors which involved a 2km walk in the German forest. The spot was great and two NZ flags dominated the scenery which according to Hayden were clearly visible even at race pace. We however needed to move on to Paris and be there by 5pm so after the 1st stage headed out of the German countryside bound for France.
Right on schedule we convoyed into Paris in relatively light traffic. The hotel Marriott Rive Gauche is not too far off the Paris ring road or Perfifirique and easy to access. The highlight of Tom and Murrays trip will be, being reunited with their wives who have flown over to welcome them to Paris (and do some shopping) and they will help us celebrate our arrival in Paris after the 45 day 12,700km adventure from Beijing. To celebrate our achievement we organize a few drinks in a private room show a few memorable photos and generally tell lies about how tough the journey was. We had a great night and a nice dinner at the hotel followed by a comfortable nights sleep in one of Paris better hotels.
DATE: 18/08/2010 LOCATION: HEIDELBERG
Our exit from Prague was relatively easy heading toward Germany on the E30. There was a temptation to stop off and visit a local castle not too far out of Prague but knowing that we had almost 600km to cover today on a busy autobahn kept our convoy moving westward. However it is very difficult to pass anything of an automotive nature when you have Tom Andrews, Will Selles or John Kilpatrick travelling with you. The temptation of a small obscure car museum sign and the view of a Concord aircraft looming behind a motorway fence just out of Heidelberg was too much to resist. We just had to check this place out. This had to be the find of the trip with amazing displays of aeroplanes, military equipment, race cars and a host of classic and historic cars from every part of the world. Our 3 hour visit just did not do this place justice and I would rate it as one of the best auto museums in the world. We will check this one out again next year for sure. We made our way up the Neckar valley running alongside the Neckar River which passes through the delightful but busy city of Heidelberg. We elected not to stop but to carry on to our destination Ladenburg just 15km further up the river. The historic town centre of Ladenburg is a 30 minute walk from the hotel and was one of the best finds of the tour in 2009. The architecture of this quant village is something out of a fairy tale and lets you experience the quiet German village life for a few hours as this is definitely not a tourist destination.
DATE: 17/08/2010 LOCATION: PRAGUE
The next morning dawned clear and warm as we followed the most direct route through central Krakow to the famous W. Salt Mines As we had a reasonably long 500km drive to Prague today we wanted to be first on the doorstep at this busy attraction for the 9am guided tour in English. This visit is another one of Rally Tours discoveries. We had not had time to do this tour in the past so we were looking forward to investigating one of the prime historical attractions in this part of the world. Needless to say no one was disappointed and the 600 metre underground excursion into this wonder-world of salt and the art of salt carving was indeed intriguing and well worth including on next years itinerary.
Now travelling on good quality motorway systems, the kilometers are soon gobbled up and it is easy to average close on 100km per hour. Some of the group had visited Prague on previous occasions before, but not for several years. Our accommodation on this occasion was the Crown Plaza, a unique building with an interesting Soviet history relating to its design and purpose. The management of the hotel were keen to take photos of our expedition vehicles and team out front of the hotel before leaving. These photos will eventually grace the IHG hotel groups international newsletter. Prague is a popular tourist destination for Europeans as it is on the Eastern boundaries of their comfort zone and they flock there in the summer in huge numbers. The Old town centre was buzzing as usual and the best way to explore Prague is on foot. One of the many walking tours on offer from Wenceslas Square will escort you to the many corners of the town including, in most cases to the historical Charles Bridge and to Prague Castle reputed to be the largest castle in Europe. You can spend a whole day just exploring the castle. Prague has a superb public transport system with a good tram and underground system. Mastering the public transport network is part of the fun when visiting Prague. This meant that the location of our historic hotel was not too much of an issue.
DATE: 15/08/2010 LOCATION: OSHWIEM
The short journey to Oshwiem, the closest town to Auschwitz is just 277km. The plan to arrive at Auschwitz at 12.00 went according to plan except the weather had turned bad and we now had to endure steady rain during the 3 hour guided tour of Auschwitz and Burchanau concentration camps. The group was a little apprehensive at the start of the tour about what to expect and rightly so. A visit to Auschwitz is a pretty sobering experience and puts into perspective what we may have learnt or were taught about this dim period in history. The local Polish guides also do an excellent job at portraying the atrocities from a local perspective. Fortunately we have a bright and cherry historic hotel to stay in this evening. The place a quite luxurious and its reputation for serving good food persuades us to all stay out of the lousy weather and dine in tonight to test the great food.
The food was excellent and rated as one of the best meals on the entire tour.
DATE: 12/08/2010 LOCATION: TALLINN - VILNIUS - WARSAW
12th, 13th and 14th August. Tallinn (Estonia) Vilnius (Lithuania) to Warsaw (Poland): The Eastern Bloc countries have been added to our P2P itinerary to add variety. Many of these countries have lots of interesting modern history much of which is not familiar to us down-under. Like Finland we probably wouldnt bother to visit these places unless we had a good reason. As it turns out nobody on the past tours have suggested that we should not visit these interesting countries and cities. We departed Tallinn in light rain heading for Vilnius in Lithuania and would travel 600km in 3 countries today. The roads are obviously better than what we have been used to in Russia but the fuel is almost 2.5 times more expensive when we fuelled in Lithuania just short of Vilnius. However we managed to clock up 770km on this tank of fuel in the green 80 series and managed to get in 92 litres into a 90 litre tank!! We were staying at the Crown Plaza in Vilnius and for some reason there were lots of gorgeous ladies in the hotel that caught our attention. Could this be normal? No. The hotel was hosting the Mrs Universe competition. We ventured into the old city area for dinner to explore this charming town that was nominated the Culture Capital of Europe in 2009.
Warsaw was our destination today. We always start the day with a radio check to ensure that everybody has radios on, trip metres zeroed, lights on and have all their belongings including passports, wallets and have not escaped with the hotel room keys. It was John Kilpatricks to realize that his passport was not in his possession but after pulling the car apart and checking the room the offending passport was located and we were on our way to Warsaw. The exit from Vilnius is a tricky one and GPS instructions generally have to be ignored and over ridden otherwise you will end up in Belarus which is on the way back to Russia. Arriving in Belarus without a visa can be a little problem (ask Nelson and Margret Marshall) so we annoy the GPS lady and head for the Polish border by way of a small A road. The old Polish border post is huge but now just a memory and the derelict building do seem to serve any useful purpose other than bring back memories as to what it used to be like not quite 20 years ago. It is however a welcome stop for toilet and money exchange before moving on to our lunch stop. We pass through a small picturesque town called Augustowe and this time decided to explore the town centre. It turned out to be a real gem with cobbled streets a large town square and a nice quiet shady river side park to rest the vehicles for an hour or so while we explored the town and found some lunch. It proved to be a hit with the team. The remaining journey into Warsaw was on mostly narrow dual lane highway with lots of trucks and weekend traffic exiting the capital. On a couple of occasions we had to call on all our driving expertise to avoid interesting situations. Once again we made up an hour on the time change and arrived into Warsaw at 17.00 (new time) and found our hotel, the Novotel Centrum without a problem.
Warsaw is again a surprise package with it being a very pretty city with a lot of not so pretty recent history. The best way to explore and learn about Warsaw is to take a city tour with a guide. The bus picked our group up at 10am to do the 2.5hr tour taking in most of the important sights and bringing the realities, horrors and the rebuilding process stories of what Warsaw and its population have endured over the years. Indeed an interesting place. Tomorrow morning we depart for Krakow and visit Auschwitz concentration camp in the afternoon and then the old city of Krakow in the evening.
DATE: 10/08/2010 LOCATION: TALLINN - HELSINKI
10th and 11th August. Tallinn and day trip to Helsinki (Finland): Everybody was intrigued with Tallinn as I knew they would be. Some joined a bus tour that Rally Tours regularly use to get a good look at the new city and for-shore and to have the benefit of a local guide to see the old city by walking tour. Long lunches in the town square are a nice activity in this town to observe how it very successfully caters to multitudes of tourists flocking in to the town off the ships visiting this Baltic port.
We too planned to cross the Baltic from Tallinn to Helsinki on day 3 in Tallinn. This is an easy 2hr crossing on a huge ferry called the Superstar. We left Tallinn at 7.30am and arrived in Helsinki, caught a local bus into the Railway Station then walked to the city centre to catch the 11am Helsinki Expert audio bus tour. This 1.5hr orientation tour of the main attractions is a great way to get to know Helsinki. We had a great day exploring the city doing some shopping, testing the food and investing some Euros into the local economy. Everyone suggested it was a good day and not to be missed and a chance to visit a city and country not on every bodies bucket list.
DATE: 9/08/2010 LOCATION: ST PETERSBURG - TALLINN
09th August. St Petersburg (Russia) Tallinn (Estonia): We departed St Petersburg a bit shell shocked to be leaving Russia after being here for 23 days. We had possibly seen more of Russia than most Russians and travelled 7,400km from one side to the other. We had got quite accustomed to using the currency, Russian Rubles and had even picked up a few words of the language. We had learnt about the road rules and how to negotiate our way out of a traffic ticket with the help of our valuable Get out of trouble document. We were sad to leave but still had to cross the notorious Narva border. It has a reputation for being extremely busy and slow. However it all happened according to plan for us and we were in the town of Narva on the Estonian side by 12.30 and heading for Tallinn. The smiles at the Estonian border post and the interest in our new style NZ passports set the scene for Eastern Europe and everybody was set for a new part of the adventure. Tallinn the capital of Estonia is a real surprise package. Our hotel is located in the Old City and is a true 13th Century building. Once you have got over dragging your large bags up 3 flights of narrow stairs you really get to appreciate what Tallinn is about.
DATE: 7/08/2010 LOCATION: NOVGOROD - ST PETERSBURG
07th - 08th August. Novgorod-St Petersburg and St Petersburg Day: The drive into St Petersburg is an easy 200km and even finding the hotel is not too difficult in this sizable city. There are lots to see here so once the cars are parked and we are checked a plan is made to see the prime attraction in this city, the Winter Palace also known as the state Hermitage. This magnificent building is the home for many of the countries art treasures which one can see displayed in a natural state. It is however a busy place and the best way to bypass the long ques are to buy a package tour with transport and a guide included. That is what we arranged for the following morning. St Petersburg also hosts the Russian ballet and this is also a must see. So after a Hermitage tour a wander around the streets to view other sights or a water ways tour, Bob and Jill did one of these we packed almost everybody off to the ballet which was held in the magnificent..theatre. You could say we packed a lot into our visit to St Petersburg.
DATE: 6/08/2010 LOCATION: MOSCOW - NOVGOROD
It took some time to get from the hotel on to the M8 link road, on to the outer ring then finally on to the M10 heading in the direction of St Petersburg. Our destination tonight is Novgorod just 200km short of St Petersburg and a charming town well worth the visit as our entire group will verify. The town has a devastating history and has been destroyed several times during the last 10 centuries by almost all the notable conquerors that passed through the area. However the 10th century fort and the town has been rebuilt to a high standard and the focal point, the Volkov River that runs through the town make it an extremely attractive place to drop into for a one night stop. It has good restaurants and menus in English and the service is great.
DATE: 4/08/2010 LOCATION: MOSCOW
04th / 05th/ August. Moscow: The day dawned reasonably clear as the group capitalized on the clear air to head for Red Square to pick up a bus tour of the city. This is always the best way to orientate you with a location on arrival. During the afternoon everyone spread around visiting the Kremlin, enjoying river cruises and generally enjoying Moscow, although the smoke was still irritating and the views restricted somewhat.
Day 2 in Moscow was a free day to do whatever. We were due to meet at the NZ Embassy for a BBQ and ale however due to the smoke and possibly the extra work load at the Embassy the function had to be cancelled. In hindsight it may have not been a good idea to crank up a BBQ and add to the smoke hazard. In the mean time a serious front hub issue had been diagnosed with the Unimog probably necessitating an extended stay in Moscow for the Dickersons as they would have to wait for parts from Germany. That night as a replacement for the Embassy function we located a nice local (air-conditioned) restaurant and had one of our more memorable evenings with great food, good company and Vic Dickerson was kind enough to sponsor the food as it would be their last evening with us.
It has become a tradition that we beat the sun to rise on our morning of departure from Moscow and drive at 5am to Red Square to get the team photo of the men, woman and machinery of the P2P expedition outside of St Basils cathedral (another product of Ivan the Terrible). It is actually illegal to take photos of a commercial nature so part of the plan is to beat the constabulary. However the boys in blue were on the case this year suggesting that we move on. It took just a bit of persuading and a little explanation of what we were trying to achieve and one of Murray Porters NZ caps and we were allowed to get on with the job. The result was some nice photos as the sun came up in the smokey haze.
DATE: 4/08/2010 LOCATION: MOSCOW
STOP PRESS: MOSCOW REPORT
We arrived in Moscow mid afternoon yesterday and are aware of the international publicity surrounding the extremely hot temperatures in Russia and the devastating forest fires throughout the country.
Just in case our followers, supporters and interested parties are concerned about out well being the following update hopefully will ease any anxiety.
Until we neared Nizhny Novgorod two days ago and just 400km South of Moscow we had seen very little evidence of the forest fires, the air was clear and things were quite normal. However the city of Novgorod was very smokey and the visibility was down to about 2km. On the journey to Moscow yesterday (3rd July) the severity of the fires became evident with fire-fighting and military equipment being transported to the fire sights. We did see on a couple of occasions flames close to the road and the remnants of recently extinguished fires.
We did not experience any road closures yesterday although the driving conditions resembled driving in thick Waikato fog necessitated turning on the rear fog lights on the 100 series so that we could keep track of each other. Interestingly enough the smoke disappeared just south of Moscow on our arrival and the air was quite clear until early this morning. A small amount of wind has blown the smelly smoke into the city and the visibility for most of the day has been less than 2km.
Although the smoke is a bit irritating on the eyes it is the high temperatures which are about to hit +38C at 18.00 that are making going out of the hotel a bit unpleasant. The Rally Tours group has been out in the central Moscow since 9am this morning enjoying a city sightseeing tour and not letting the unpleasant conditions deter activities.
Tomorrow evening we have been invited to attend a BBQ at the NZ Embassy in central Moscow to share our Beijing to Paris and Central Asian trip experiences.
DATE: 3/08/2010 LOCATION: NIZHNIY NOVGOROD
We left Novgorod hoping that we could find Moscow in the smoke cloud later in the day. En-route we did see numerous fires beside the road and lots of equipment and man power being deployed to help fight the fires. We were not held up at all and only made one brief lunch stop during the journey into Moscow. (See the photo in the gallery) Interestingly enough just before arriving in Moscow the smoke cleared and the skies were normal. We considered ourselves lucky as the city was visible and easily appreciated although the temperatures were an uncomfortable 32C. On our arrival we reunited with Vic and Michele Dickerson and their Unimog which had been travelling a few hours ahead of the Landcruisers for a few days. The Unimog was due for a service and had been delivered to the Mercedes dealer for the work to be carried out. The Dickerson s were expecting their daughter Julia to fly in from Dubai to join them for a week this evening and John Kilpatrick, a Rally Tours guide was also due to arrive from Helsinki. John had just completed a Rally Tours trip to Rally Finland and had decided to join the P2P tour from Moscow through the Eastern Bloc countries to Paris. Our numbers were swelling.
DATE: 2/08/2010 LOCATION: KAZAN - NIZHNIY NOVGOROD
Before leaving town this morning we traditionally make our way into the city to visit the Kazans fantastic Kremlin. This is a world heritage listed site and has an interesting leaning tower built by Ivan the terrible and a new blue mosque opened only recently in 2007. The Kremlin also is the home to the government buildings for the state of Tatarstan. By 11.30 we hit the road and negotiate our way out of Kazan and onto the M7 heading for Novgorod a short distance of 417km. For some reason the skies are bleak and very misty, not unlike some (most) parts of China. Unbeknown to us we are heading into smokey skies that are the result of the numerous forest fires south of Moscow. By the time that we arrived in Novgorod visibility was down to 500m. The normally beautiful view of the Volga River when entering the city was nonexistent. The lack of visibility was just incredible. As a result most of the group elected to stay and eat in the hotel. Pete and I ventured up into the town to give Pete a familiarization of the normally picturesque city on the Volga River.
DATE: 1/08/2010 LOCATION: PERM - KAZAN
After a series of two night stops we had some serious ground to cover before reaching Moscow. Todays drive from Perm to Kazan (Tatarstan) was one of the longer drives for a while at 714km. One of the big advantages of travelling in a westerly direction is that we are extending time on a regular basis. Today we had to wind our clocks back 2 hours so our 6pm arrival translated into 4pm. The day had been again extremely hot but in the vehicles with good air-conditioning the unusually high outside temperatures were not causing any grief. The swimming pool at the hotel Regina was a welcome sight and got well used on arrival.
DATE: 31/07/2010 LOCATION: YEKATERINBURG - PERM
Not far out from Yekaterinburg is the Asia Europe border. This is a point of some significance for our tour as it was with the 1907 Peking to Paris Raid competitors. As well as the new modern version of the crossing monument, the original sign post is still on site which installs some nostalgia to this point which we all took photos of. (See the photo on the gallery) We continued toward Perm for a further 150km before turning off and heading for the Kangur Ice Caves. This popular Siberian tourist attraction was added to the inclusion list of the tour this year. The temperatures today were in the high 30s and some doubt was cast on my recommendation that warm clothes and perhaps a jacket should be worn while in the ice caves. The 1.5 hours caves tour is popular with local tourists and today we had to wait 2hrs to get an entry time. However it was worth the effort and it was cold at -5C inside the cave during the 2km walk and enjoyed by all, especially the relief from the outside temperatures. We arrived in the city of Perm to our delightful Hilton Hotel in time to see the All Blacks deal to the Aussies which really sealed the day for us.
DATE: 30/07/2010 LOCATION: YEKATERINBURG
This is an exciting city which is a mix of old and new. The Russians moved a lot of industry here during World War 2 so to that it was out of range of the enemy bombers. It is also an attractive city with internal waterways, spectacular buildings and pedestrian walkways. Yekaterinburg is however best known for the place where the Russian royals were murdered in 1918. Today a spectacular cathedral sits on that site that effectively changed Russian history. To appreciate this interesting city Rally Tours includes a private tour. In this occasion we employed the services of Veronika who was well versed in the history of the city and the Romanoffs. We ventured out to 20km out of town to the historical location where the royal bodies were finally disposed of, now a monastery with lots of interesting buildings. Our remaining time in Yekaterinburg was quickly spent visiting other interesting parts of the city and generally enjoying being in back in a very civilized city.
DATE: 29/07/2010 LOCATION: TYUMEN - YEKATERINBURG
Just a relatively short drive today of 236km on reasonably good roads. The object of the exercise was to arrive in Yekaterinburg before the busy traffic. We had selected a new hotel this year, the Moskovskaya Gorka. Although situated in a central city location finding it was going to prove to be a bit of a challenge. The location proved to be excellent with only a 20 minute walk to most central city attractions and the hotel staff were very helpful. It is always nice to be back in Yekaterinburg.
DATE: 28/07/2010 LOCATION: TYUMEN
The day dawned fine and warm and most of the group headed out to walk the riverside promenade to visit the 17th century Kremlin walled Trinity Monastery. This is a pleasant stroll through the old part of this progressive city. Since last year huge amounts of money have been spent on tidying the banks of the Tura River and improving pedestrian access. The river is historically important to this Siberian city as it was the location of the building of the first steam boats that worked the rivers in the area.
DATE: 27/07/2010 LOCATION: OMSK - TYUMEN
Although it is a 651km drive today the roads are good and the distance is covered with ease. The first part of the day, leaving Omsk is the most interesting crossing the Irtysh River and carefully following directions for the E30 and not the M51 that we have been driving on for the last few days. The reason being that the M51 shortcuts through the top of Kazakhstan and this is not an option for us these days with only single entry Russian visas. Our lunch stop today is an interesting diversion off the main highway to a series of sizable three lakes. The surroundings are not quite like that of Lake Taupo but the drive through the remote Siberian village is very interesting and the outlook over the vast lake makes a pleasant lunch stop, although it was a little windy today. Just on the outskirts to Tyumen there is a very Soviet style town sign which makes a great photo and has become a regular stop in the last three trips. This is an interesting introduction to this oil rich city which has some interesting traits. Our accommodation is the Quality Tyumen hotel, one of the best hotels on the Siberian sector and a welcome two night stop.
DATE: 26/07/2010 LOCATION: OMSK
Most enjoyed a walk across the Yubileyny Bridge to see the recently rebuilt spectacular Khristo-Rozhdestbenskiy Cathedral. Lots of money is being spent at the moment on the river side promenades which are well used by locals and boat operators. The city has lots of restaurants located around the junction of the busy Irtysh and Om rivers and we selected a nice bar and grill overlooking the rivers for dinner tonight.
DATE: 25/07/2010 LOCATION: NOVOSIBIRSK - OMSK
25th July. Novosibirsk Omsk: Today we are heading for Cossack outpost of Omsk. This city of 1.5 million was the seat of the Siberian Governor General up until 1824. The city warrants a two night stop so changed the itinerary this year to do the longer drive to Omsk bypassing one of our more memorable (for all the wrong reasons) stops of last year, a town called Barabinsk. We did however drop into a pretty little Siberian village for a drive through and a close look at village life. The locals must be getting accustomed to us now after visiting three years in a row and waved and smiled as we negotiated the dusty track through the town. It was lunch time so borrowed one of their fields for lunch stop. (See the photo in the gallery with the derelict grain silo in the background). By now the summer temperatures are making their mark and this afternoon the outside temperature gauge on the 100 series hit 42C!! So as we arrived in Omsk on a Saturday afternoon it was not surprising to see half the population on the beach enjoying the sun and keeping cool in the busy Irtysh River. The town resembled a Mediterranean Sea side resort and the area remained busy until the sun set at 10.30pm.
DATE: 24/07/2010 LOCATION: NOVOSIBIRSK
Saturday, Novosibirsk is an important stop on the Trans Siberian railway. Consequently the rail station is worth a visit and is easy to find as it painted a bright aqua colour. It has some impressive statues on the platform depicting families fare welling their men during WW2. The city square is huge and has one of the better Lennin statues and regularly civic events take place. It is also a great place to people watch and study the locals go about their daily work in this quite remote Siberian but interesting locality. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built in 1898 in the red brick Byzantine style is worth a visit. Will and Ainsley were fortunate to visit during a church service and witnessed some beautiful singing by the congregation in response to the chants of the Russian Orthodox priests. This was quite mesmerizing according to Ainsley. I always enjoy visiting Novosibirsk and our Russian travel agent is based here so an obligatory visit to their tour office to put faces to names is always important.
DATE: 23/07/2010 LOCATION: KRASNOYARSK - NOVOSIBIRSK
23rd July. Krasnoyarsk Novosibirsk: We departed Krasnoyarsk before the traffic got too busy. We had 857km to travel today but yet another two day stop was waiting in our destination in Novosibirsk, the Siberian capital. We tackled this long drive last year but it is easily achievable due to the mostly good roads. The only incident to report today occurred late morning when we were traversing the small town of Marinsk. The Selles and Porter / Andrews Landcruisers got separated from the lead vehicle due to heavy truck traffic. They missed a crucial turn in the town and added 30kms to their already long day. At about the same time the Dickinson Prado also drove by the morning tea stop, missed the convoy and Bob and Jill disappeared into the distance but fortunately in the right direction. By the time that we needed to negotiate the sizable town of Kemerovo we were all together again and our destination was just two hours further on. The Sibir hotel in the centre of Novosibirsk was a welcome sight. As we travel west we loose time so today we made up an hour so still had plenty of time to wander into town to a bar and grill type restaurant which was a nice finish to a long but interesting day.
DATE: 22/07/2010 LOCATION: KRASNOYARSK
Rest Day: This year we have allocated a lay day to explore this interesting Siberian city. For me it was a chance to organize the shock absorber repairs and give the vehicles a much needed clean. For the rest of the group the rest day provides an opportunity to explore the sights. Will and Ainsley Selles discovered the Surikov Museum Estate Ainsley describes this as a little oasis in the middle of the city. The Museum was the home of the 19th century painter Vasily Surikov and this lovely old wooden Siberian building still has a little vegetable patch as well as many of his belongings as well as his amazing paintings. Most of the other interesting churches, cathedrals and museums are located in the central city area and close to the hotel. Krasnoyarsk will remain a two night stop for future tours by popular demand.
DATE: 21/07/2010 LOCATION: TULUN - KRASNOYARSK
This is one of the toughest days of the tour with rough roads, heavy truck traffic and 687km to cover. We had plans of getting off to an early start and sacrificing breakfast. However it became evident that cancelling the pre arranged breakfast at a local restaurant was not an option and as I suggested it was part of the local experience. A curd of some description along with eggs as you like and very strong coffee was the breakfast experience and we were being guided out of town by 7.30am. It had rained overnight so the mostly gravel roads were muddy and slippery. Ironically the place that the lead vehicle selected as a morning coffee stop was exactly the same spot that we stopped at last year. Earlier on in the morning the green Landcruiser developed a knock in the front suspension which could not be immediately identified. At the stop we discovered that the LH bottom shock mount had pulled through the bottom mount necessitating the shock to be removed to avoid further damage. This made for some interesting driving on the rough roads. Later in the day at the afternoon tea stop we noticed that oil had sprayed around the inner LH guard of the 100 series which initially rang alarm bells. After a closer inspection we discovered that its LHF shock had also failed and a blown shaft seal had allowed oil to escape in a big rush. The hotel Krasnoyarsk was a welcome sight as we arrived early evening. The hotel overlooks the large Yenisey River. The river bridge actually features on the 10 Ruble bank note. The river bank promenade Prospekt Mira features lots of tented summer restaurants cooking and selling a tasty concoction of Shashlyc Kebabs and Russian beer.
DATE: 20/07/2010 LOCATION: IRTKUTSK - TULUN
Today was the first real day in darkest deepest Siberia. The road conditions deteriote and civilization is further apart. Progress is certainly a lot slower that other areas that we have passed through so far. Our destination tonight is Tulun, the only sizable town between Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk. The group members have already been warned that our accommodation is basic in comparison to what we have enjoyed so far. The day is not a long one at just 408km so a 9am start is quite ok. The exit from Irkutsk is not difficult although the increase in vehicular traffic compared with 12 months previous is evident as we cross over the River heading west. For the majority of the day the road is not too bad but it is a day to learn the finer art of driving in Siberia as especially the heavy traffic flows increase. Our arrival in Tulun is by late afternoon. The hotel Centralnaya, located in the towns main street is basic but clean and tidy. It has no restaurant but below the hotel is a great supermarket which provides us with a nice variety of food or a picnic style dinner which we all share in one of the larger rooms. For some reason we had 2 cigarette lighter socket failures on two of the Landcruisers today. These are probably one of the most important accessories on one these trips as without this power source the fridge, the phone, the RT charger or the GPS dont work. Without too much trouble the sockets were removed, repaired with the resources at hand in the gravel hotel car park while an interested dog looked on.
DATE: 19/07/2010 LOCATION: IRKUTSK
Irkutsk Layday. The team headed out into this fascinating Siberian city that has lots of unique history and old log buildings, some of them somewhat dilapidated. The local markets which are close to the hotel are fascinating and busy. The gun shop featuring some well know Russian brands like AK47 were worth a visit to see what was on offer. Pete visited a local hairdresser to get more than just a haircut and received a head massage in the process. The Angara river runs through Irkutsk and out into Lake Baikal and is used extensively for water transport, pleasure and entertainment and has a great Russian style beach and recreational areas which are well utilised. I received an email from Nelson and Margret Marshal who did the Silk Rd trip with Rally Tours just weeks earlier. They joined the Trans Siberian Rail trip in Beijing and were in Irkutsk until later this afternoon before moving on so caught up with them at the Angara hotel to compare notes and reminisce the Silk Rd experience. On return to the hotel everybody had a variety of tales to tell about their days experience and all really enjoyed Irkutsk.
DATE: 18/07/2010 LOCATION: IRKUTSK
Ulan Ude to Irkutsk. Traditionally our passports are whisked away to complete the obligatory registration process. This normally happens this morning meaning that our departure is slightly delayed. However as we arrived at the hotel marginally earlier last night we have our passports back and our departure is set for 9am. The first of many lessons this morning about Russia is at the gas station on the outskirts of Ulan Ude. In Russia you have to pay for your fuel in advance and no change is given. So you need to know how much you need in Russian Rubles. Once the money is paid then the fuel pump is turned on. This is truly an interesting exercise for some and peculiar to Russia and some of the old Soviet central Asian countries.
The big attraction and focal point today is Lake Baikal which holds 20% of the worlds fresh water. In the freezing winters it ices over and can be driven on. However the air temperature prior to reaching the lake was in the low 30s but as usual dropped to 22C at the South end of the lake. Someone who shall remain nameless lost a bet to day concerning the lake water capacity and the penalty was a dip in the cool lake waters at lunch time at our regular lunch stop. The lure of swimming in this famous lake was one that others could not resist and Jill was first in closely followed by Bob, Peter and Will with the bet loser not too far behind. Our new hotel in Irkutsk is centrally located and the facilities were excellent. A time change had occurred during the course of the day and consequently the days are now getting longer with daylight stretching out until 10pm.
DATE: 17/07/2010 LOCATION: ULAN UDE
Into Russia and onto Ulan Ude. We passed the Germans still sleeping in a field just short of the border and arrived at 6am to line up at the Mongolian exit gate which opens at 8am. The trick here is to persuade the border officials to let us through the gate before the multitude of local traders pushing and shoving to take produce across into Russia, which they do on a daily basis. The campervans arrived boldly drove up to the exit gate only to be told politely to reverse to the back of the line in behind our convoy. The border exit was busier than expected but with expert help from Tamir and our previous experience the exit from Mongolia went smoothly and we had beaten the Germans to the gate. The Russians only process 3 vehicles at a time and I was surprised at how quickly and efficiently the entry into Russia seemed to be taking place. In previous years the crossing from Mongolia into Russia had taken up to 10 hours with the processing of especially the vehicle paper work being a long slow repetitive process. So to my surprise I was cleared and ready to proceed away from the customs are by 12.30 and the others not far behind. The Unimog, being classified as a truck was diverted to the truck lane but their formalities also were completed almost as efficiently as ours. We were all in Russia and ready to tackle the 250km journey to our first night stop, Ulan Ude. Having passed through the border as quickly as we did we were looking forward to arriving at the Geser hotel at a respectable hour.
DATE: 14/07/2010 LOCATION: ULAANBAATAR
14th, 15th and 16th July: In Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. This is a city that didnt immediately appeal to me on my first visit here in 2007 but like a lot of places once you get to experience it then you can appreciate its finer points.
This year we are staying in the Bayangol Hotel which is only a 1/2km from the central square meaning that most sightseeing activities and eateries are within walking distance. Our 3 night stay in UB is a chance to catch up on domestic chores like laundry, emails and more importantly vehicle maintenance. From a previous experience I suggested that having laundry done in the hotel was a costly exercise, so with that in mind the ladies, with the help of our guide Tamir found a very efficient back street and inexpensive laundry service. As always we had a bus arranged to do the standard orientation tour of UB which takes in the Buddhist temple and a great viewpoint overlooking the town. This stop also doubles up as bit of a modern history lesson on the Soviet occupation of Mongolia. While in UB most of our meals including lunches are part of our package. UB has a surprising range of excellent restaurants and a lunch visit to the Modern Nomads was a filling experience, enjoying a tradition Mongolian meal of soups and mostly meat and fish dishes followed by a traditional shot of vodka and a taste of fermented mares milk.
UB is Landcruiser heaven as far as parts and accessories are concerned. Some of our vehicles, especially P2P09 were showing some battle wounds from navigating the Northern hemisphere twice. We had to find a windscreen, the internals of a LH side mirror and replace a missing LHF park light that had been blown out in a sandstorm in Western China. The Green 1996 80 series that I am driving for a long time has had worn wiper spindles so I was looking for a complete wiper system to fit. Our agents here in UB are also bus operators so they have a workshop facility and are always very willing to help with any mechanical work and let us use their wash facilities. After a trek around the back streets of UB in ankle deep mud all of the bits we needed were sourced for less than $US200 and quickly and efficiently fitted for a small contribution to the workshop social club fund or whatever they call it in that part of the world. We were now ready to tackle Siberia.
It is only a short 335km run to the Mongolian border town of Sukhbaatar. The drive is a pleasant and easy traverse through mostly rolling country not that dissimilar to some parts of Central Otago. Our lunch stop in Mongolias 2nd largest city Darhan breaks the journey and this time we had a chance to look at one of the cities local monuments which was at the same time being visited by locals in traditional dress. A photo was a must. Despite our hotel not being the best on the tour the food is always good and we use the restaurant for a Border protocol briefing and a farewell for our hard working Mongolian guide. Some of my words of wisdom may have got lost in the translation as someone had produced a bottle of very smooth Mongolian Vodka that had Bob Dickinson reciting his extensive repertoire of grubby jokes. We had to bring tomorrow mornings hotel departure time forward to 5.30am due to the fact that we knew that a group of 12 German campervans were also looking to cross into Russia in the morning and we definitely did not want to be behind them at any cost.
DATE: 13/07/2010 LOCATION: ULAANBAATAR
We headed off in a north easterly direction this morning literally following a set of wheel tracks through a now flat grassy plain keeping the high mountain pinnacles to our left. Theoretically if we followed this course for 70km we would come across a main highway which would take us back toward Mongolias capital Ulaanbaatar. The 150km jaunt on nicely build Japanese highway was a welcome relief for both cars and drivers. Just before lunch we headed off-road again and ventured 17kms into one of the localities premier tourist attractions, the 13th Century village. At the gates we were met by two fearsome Mongolian horsemen dressed in full battle dress, just checking our credentials and probably wanting to collect our tour voucher. This village is quite something special with several visits to replicated villages portraying the various aspects of life at that time. There is also a chance to participate by dressing up in the period costumes and being a fearsome warrior a king or a queen for a moment. After visiting the postal service camp, the calligrapher, the camel and horse stable and sampling locally made milk and curd it was time for lunch at the palace. Great food, rice whiskey and local music all add to the experience at the 13th century village, this year an included excursion on the tour. Not too far down the road toward UB is what I believe will become one of the wonders of the world, the 45 metre 250 tonne stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan and his horse. Progress has been made in the twelve months on completing the grounds around the statue and it looks good and the sheer bulk of the structure impressed all on the day. With only a short distance left to travel into Ulaanbaatar the driving fun was about to begin. The roads are rough and with holiday traffic the driving local habits were predictable with some pretty shocking overtaking maneuvers witnessed all the way into the city to our central city hotel. First impressions of UB probably were not that great on a dull day with rain threatening but we had 2 full days to get to like this interesting city in the heart of Mongolia. We had survived the Gobi crossing and the vehicles were all running well and everybody was looking forward to a couple of non driving days.
DATE: 12/07/2010 LOCATION: DELGER KHAN
Some of todays itinerary is a development as a result of client feedback from last year. We planned to divert off the main highway into Ulaanbaatar and head north east across the desert to another remote Gur village which is en-route to the replicated 13th century Mongolian village that we visited last year and enjoyed. We made our way back through Sainshand (population 50,000) and took on fuel before heading back into the desert. Almost immediately we came across large wet areas with lots of mud at water, a reminder of lots of recent rain in the area. The Landcruisers had no issues with the sticky wet areas and the Unimog made easy going of the conditions. This was a bit of a contrast to previous years when thick dust was more the issue. The new track that we had not previous used out of Choyr was in great condition and reasonable average speeds could be maintained easily until we got to the first of two frail bridges. No real issue for the Landcruisers but the Unimog was too heavy and we had to find a suitable point for it to cross this fairly large river. This was not an easy task as the river was fairly deep. Vic plunged the Mog into the river and was crossing easily until it found a soft spot and the 8 tonne machine came to a grinding halt. Bugger!! It has a winch so we tied three Landcruisers together to form a ground anchor and the Mog winched itself out slowly but surely. A happy scenario but it could have been very interesting. We arrived at the Gur Camp Khuduu-Khan at 20.15 near the remote town of Delger Khan. As the Nadam festival and national holidays were in full swing the camp was fairly full. The car park was full of late model 4x4 type vehicles and Bob from Nelson commented that we could have been turning up to a 4x4 safari anywhere in NZ except for the presence of the Porsche Cayenne, the Range Rover Sport and a couple of latest Lexus LX540s. Not a bad look for being in the middle of a desert.
DATE: 11/07/2010 LOCATION: SAINSHAND
We hit the desert at 7.30am bound for Sainshand just 200km in a straight line. The golden rule in the Gobi is to keep either the power lines or the rail track in view. The many tracks in the desert have the vehicles sometime a couple of kms apart each driver selecting the smoothest track and keeping out of the dust raised by the car in front. We had an Urvu stop fairly early on with a lesson on Mongolian etiquette at these spiritual rock piles. Tradition says that you must walk around the rocks in a clockwise direction and on each occasion a pebble is to be thrown on. This is good luck for travelling. In this modern day fast pace of life if time is of essence 3 successive beeps on the horn as you pass to the left of the Urvu is acceptable!!
We continued on enjoying the splendors of this amazing desert witch does change character on a regular basis. A stop at a watering well to assist a horse herder water his animals was a one of the highlights of the day. Our intention was to visit a Buddhist Monastery on the way to the Sunrise Gur village. This proved to be a bit of a mission when we had to circumnavigate a hill range adding several kilometers to the journey. However the monastery was well worth a visit as was the Energy Centre which is one of only 3 locations in the world which is reputed to revitalize the bodys energy and mysteriously recharge cell phone batteries. The days drive was truly spectacular and our arrival at the Sunrise Gur Village at sunset signaled the end of a fabulous day.
DATE: 10/07/2010 LOCATION: ZAMYN-UUD
Just a few days ago we had been informed that Mongolia was about to celebrate a 3 day Nadam festival which means a national holiday and that the border may be operating shortened hours. Our Chinese supervisors were a bit nervous about this and were keen to get us through the Chinese exit procedure as soon as possible. That process went very smoothly other than the fact that my passport was falling to pieces after a fairly tough 3 months of being thrown over many desks in remote Central Asian regions. The Chinese immigration authorities suggested that it was time to renew as soon as possible. The crossing into Mongolia went smoothly with the assistance of our Mongolian guide Tamir who met us at the border and will see us through Mongolia. Although a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to facilitate bringing foreign vehicles into these countries the level of beau racy between any of the other countries that we have traveled through in recent months and that that experienced in China is very different. The Mongolian border town of Zamyn-Uud is typical of many remote border towns. This one is located on the outskirts of the Gobi desert resembling a sand pit with a few houses and a busy railway station. After checking into our basic but comfortable hotel we ventured out in the vehicles to check out the road into the vast Gobi desert and the direction we would be taking tomorrow morning. We also stopped at the rail station to see the 21 carriage train that runs to Ulaanbaatar daily. The numerous hostesses dressed up in 1960s uniforms with little peaked hats that resembled an Air NZ hostesss dress code of that early era.
DATE: 9/07/2010 LOCATION: ERINHOT
Rain greeted us this morning which is unusual at this time of the year. It did bring some relief as the warm temperatures dropped about 10 degrees C for most of the day. Our run today was on mostly very good expressways and covered the 350 km easily arriving in the border town of Erinhot by late afternoon. Erinhot is the dinosaur capital of China and located on the China side of the Gobi desert was one of the last places to see these sizable animals. Some preparations were necessary for tomorrows border crossing into Mongolia, especially as a 3 day national Mongolian holiday was about to start. Of main concern was the sourcing of Mongolian money for the 3 day journey across the vast Gobi desert. In this part of the world it is not difficult to trade currency money and Erinhot is a trading town. However buying Mongolian currency certainly tests the accounting skills as there is 1000 Mongolian New Togrogs (we call them toe-rags) to an $NZ. It doesnt take long to spend a million and it is difficult to sit on if it is stuffed into your wallet in small denominations.
DATE: 8/07/2010 LOCATION: BEIJING
Traditionally we have been fortunate to have had the NZ Ambassador to Beijing, Karl Worker flag us off on our epic Beijing to Paris journeys. This year was no exception and the embassy and staff were pleased to host us again to coffee and scones before our departure. However this year they had arranged for our NZ Prime Minister John Key to drop by to publically wish us luck. Our team had almost 30 minutes of quality time with the PM who expressed a lot of interest in the trip that we were about embark on. The first stop of the morning was the Great Wall at Badaling and a traditional photo stop with our Chinese escorts who ensure that we dont stray en-route to the border. Eating is something we do well in China and the arranged lunch stop at the halfway point to Jining was accompanied by a local song dance performance emphasizing that we were now heading into Inner Mongolia. The Dinner at the Jining restaurant is always memorable with us partaking in a traditional Hot Pot meal with liberal quantities of a very strong rice whiskey as part of the menu.
DATE: 7/07/2010 LOCATION: BEIJING
A city condensed tour of Beijings highlights started this morning at 9am, arranged and guided by our China guide, Tony Fan. The group saw the Olympic stadium, the Summer Palace and participated in a Hutong (old city) tour using bicycle rickshaws. The highlight of the Hutong tour is the chance to lunch at a local familys residence. Needless to say by tonight everybody is looking forward to leaving Beijing tomorrow morning and heading north.
DATE: 6/07/2010 LOCATION: BEIJING
Having obtained our Chinese driving licenses the group returned to Beijing by bus this morning with the Prado in close pursuit. Vic and Chinese agent Gin returned to the port to patiently complete the necessary paperwork to release the Unimog. Now back in Beijing most of the team took the opportunity to see an early evening Kun-Fu concert which also happened to be close to a Peking Duck restaurant.
DATE: 5/07/2010 LOCATION: TAANGU
We still had 2 additional vehicles that had been shipped from NZ to be up-lifted from Taangu port, 200km south of Beijing. Rally Tours this year decided to add yet another experience to the itinerary and the group travelled by the Super Fast Train Beijing to Taangu, the 200km journey taking just 30 minutes as opposed to a 2.5hr road journey. This trip was amazing and a real experience and soon will be common practice in China as similar train links connect other main centers throughout the country.
Bob Dickinson and Vic Dickerson, the drivers of the 2 arriving vehicles were taken away to collect their vehicles, the Prado arriving in a container and the much larger Unimog by roll on roll off ship. The Prado cleared quickly but landing the Unimog which was carrying a lot more equipment was going to prove to be a little more complicated. By late afternoon the Prado had arrived at our hotel in Tiangin but news of the Unimog was still vague and Vic and our Chinese agent would return to Tianjin without the yellow Mercedes.
DATE: 4/07/2010 LOCATION: BEIJING
Our intrepid overlanders arrived in 2 shifts into Beijing on the 4th July. The first wave, Tom Andrews from Hamilton and Vic and Michele Dickerson from Auckland flew in on the early morning direct flight from AKL. The others, Will and Ainsley Selles (AKL), Bob and Jill Dickinson (Nelson) and Peter Franklin (CHCH) had spent a couple of days at the Shanghai World Expo and arrived mid afternoon with Murray Porter (Hamilton) arriving off an SQ flight at about the same time.
Our Centrally Located hotel, the Qianmen Jiango is close to Tiananmen Square so most of our early arrivals made the most to the time and headed off for some local sightseeing. Prior to dinner an orientation of the three Rally Tours rental Landcruisers was in order and those driving the vehicles were presently surprised at the presentation of the vehicles considering that they had just completed a 16,000km run through Central Asia on some very challenging roads.