I look on the map of Russia, as I am writing this, and even though I already rode 2600 km in Russia, it looks like I have done nothing of my total route to the East.
This is the first thing that hits a traveler like me when visiting this country: the sheer magnitude of the land! When I manage to come to a higher point on the road, the horizons stretch so far, even the sky seems to bend to be able to encompass this size.
I left Moscow riding East, still sore from my encounter with the Russian truck driver. The road to Nizhniy Novgorod was busy, full of trucks and cars and not in very good shape. It is patched so many times that the result is a pitiful mix of tarmac and very uneven bumps that rattle your brains out. I felt sad to leave Moscow, because I made my first friend in Russia and it felt lonely again on the road to the unknown East.
As I approached Nizhniy, I was trying to guess my way to the coordinates of the Fabrika hotel. My amazing Garmin can only show me where the destination is, but not how to get there, so I was riding up and down the hills in Nizhniy in order to get closer to the flag on the GPS' screen. Somehow, after a while, I managed to arrive right in front of the hotel. As I pulled in, a few young people that were outside the hotel got very excited to see me and surrounded me, looking at my bike. I am not the prettiest sight in the world, especially with my muddy, torn apart gear, full of dust and smoke, but these young people didn't seem to care. They helped park the bike behind the hostel, then helped me with the bags into the room. Over the next 2 days, I got to know them all and we became good friends. The night before my departure, they organized a party with Shashlik (meat skewers) and drinks, they took photos with my bike and we had a good time. I got to understand a little better how brilliant these young people are and how amazing dreams they have. Some are artists, others engineers, all very educated and pleasant. Again, I was heading out of a new town in Russia leaving new friends behind. Next was Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan, Alex's place. Here, Alex already arranged for a friend of his to meet me outside of the city and guide me to my accommodation.
This would become a habit for Alex, to arrange things for me in advance. He is still the reason I met so many friendly people here.
I arrived in Kazan and waited at a gas station for Vasya, who arrived on a Yamaha bike, shaking my head and admiring my bike. He then lead me to my hotel in Kazan and I went to rest. I was getting chronically fatigued and stressed by the Russian roads and I was still weak from Moscow. My elbow was healing nicely, but I was still swelled up on my hip and my whole body ached (probably due to the impact when I hit the road and all the vibration after).
The next morning I woke refreshed and I headed for a town walk at 7:00 in the morning. It was cool, the sky was clear and I was alone, walking all the way to the Kazan mosque, the Kremlin, the cathedral, without any tourists or other people. Kazan is a spectacular city, on the banks of Volga, amazingly designed and very clean. Photos will speak more... In the evening Vasya and his wife took me out for a stroll in town and we spent some time getting to know each other.
On the way to Ufa, the Republic of Bashkortostan, my GPS lead me to a completely deserted road in the middle of a forest, showing me a very large highway in front, where there were nothing but trees. I turned around and got lost again, until I managed to find a policeman that showed me how to get to the road to Ufa. I wasted 3 hours in the process so I rode for 12 hours that day, instead of 9. I arrived in Ufa and I stopped in town next to a McDonald's. I called Alex (once again) and before I told him where I am, he said: "I found a friend of a friend in Ufa to guide you to accommodation and take you around. He used to live in Canada". Few minutes later, a car pulls in and two guys come out: Dennis and Tim. Tim spoke perfect English, he lived and studied in Hamilton, Ontario for few years. I couldn't believe that I met someone in Ufa with such close connections to Canada. They found me a hotel, helped with the bags and we decided to meet the next day. I was so dusty and weird looking that I believe they thought I am a crazy man.
The next day, Tim and his wife, Polina took me to see a great airshow and reenactment of a battle between Germany and Russia in 1942. There were soldiers dressed in the uniforms of the day, old motorbikes (my favorite), planes, parachutes and lots of people.
We ended up the day having a splendid time at a ski resort on top of the mountain. I am truly shocked of the developed status of these Russian cities, the education of the young people, their view of life and their friendliness. It has nothing to do with the image the world has about most of Russians: mega rich (even though some of them are), loud and uneducated. Their hospitality and friendship showed me the real spirit of Russia.
Thank you Alex for your friends, and friends of friends. Thank you Yuri (several Yuris actually), Yura, and the rest of the gang in Nizhniy, Vasya and his wife in Kazan, Tim, Polina and Dennis and Fareed in Ufa. You made me feel welcome and made me feel sorry to leave you behind.
7000 km to go... By passing the Ural Mountains, I will enter Asia and a different kind of culture shock altogether.
UFA, during the air show reenactment of German battle here