I had been a bit nervous about coming to Russia – the previous border experience had intimidated me with its new language, stern guards and lots of men hawking for business and eyeing up Hercules and all my equipment. My experience this time couldn’t have been more different and my entry into Russia yesterday stands out as my favourite country arrival so far.
Having been stamped out, I cycled through the Ukrainian post and on to the Russian one, a little nervous but trying to look in control and like I did this sort of thing all the time. It’s hard to look cool though when you don’t speak the language and so don’t understand which barrier to go to, and everyone is looking at you – so I did my Sarah Outen thing and smiled, toning the grin down to a gentle and slightly nervous ‘bite the bottome lip’ sort of smile. A huge Alsation barked at me from behind metal bars and there were guards everywhere. The lady guard on the barrier smiled at me and beckoned me past the queue of cars to the kiosk where I was soon stamped into Country #9. Woop woop and woop! I could feel less nervous now and couldn’t help but grin.
I was walked through the Declarations point, wished good luck and wheeled Hercules forwards to the final barrier, where we were met by singing and dancing Cossacks, all dressed in traditional costumes, the men waving swords and a lady holding out the prettiest loaf of bread I have ever seen. A photographer and cameraman captured it all as I grinned and grinned, and tasted the bread and danced with one of the Cossacks. It was wonderful.
After interviews and photos we were given a blue light escort to the next town for lunch – traffic lights and junctions meant nothing with the police car on side! It was all the sweeter because the panniers had been put in the car. They would have had Hercules and I too until I explained that I would need to restart from the same point – so we cycled along instead.
After lunch we had another blue light escort out to Kahmesk and the next region – I was handed from one police car to another – and met again by local officials and dancers to welcome me.
Having a police escort definitely has its advantages – when we reached the level crossing opposite my hotel to find it was due to be shut for two hours, the police officer did his bit and our little convoy was allowed to pass through. Sadly for the queue of cars on either side – they were not.
I have been put up in a lovely hotel and looked after very well indeed, including dinner of local fayre and in true Russian fashion with vodka toasts to everything and everyone (I drew the line at four shots).
My impressions of this country so far are warm and wonderful. It is vast – rolling hills and wide plains stretch forever, and it certainly seems that the hearts of those I have met so far do the same.
Huge thanks go to the lovely Evgeniya from the Rostov Administration Department for International Affairs for her work in coordinating my welcome party and all the people who played a part in it. I shall be grinning for a long while yet.
Photos etc to follow ( I am on the hotel owner’s laptop without a power supply and the battery is about to go)
From here its another police escort for the first half of today I think, then its back to me and Herc. we’ll then continue East to Volgograd and then turn right to follow the Volga river down South towards the Caspian Sea before swinging left into Kazakhstan.
From me, Hercules and Country #9,