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NW Russia

Not for the first time I’m enjoying my time here. Having spent a week in the remote wildness of NW of Russia, I rode south from the Murmansk region to St Petersburg. I started out north of the Artic Circle with cold, wet weather, sparse forest and wetlands, as I rode south blue skies emerged and it slowly warmed up. The people didn’t smile much in the north, but as the days passed, whilst nobody spoke English (why should they!) the smiles appeared, and curiosity led them to approach me and engage. It’s all about the people! Half way to St Petersburg the small sparse trees and wet landscape turned into dense forest. I was told there were large deer and bears, I didn’t see any!

People, cars and building were few and far between, but when I found a small village or town I would turn off the main road, and ride down dirt roads and explore. When I stopped to rest and get food, people would always stare, I wondered what everyone was thinking, no smiles, until I stare back with a big smile, they generally reciprocate.

I’m in the best mood today. I love these days…

From my limited time here over the years it seems that people or the authorities don’t care for the upkeep of building, roads or infrastructure, whether this is post Soviet Union or it has always been this way I couldn’t speculate. However, when I ventured inside homes and shops the vast majority of places were really well kept and welcoming. Maybe when the climate is so harsh in winter there’s no point? What I have experienced is people getting on with their lives, the same the world over, making comfortable homes, going to school and work. Life in this remote area is ok for those Russians that live there. I think?

I really like Soviet architecture, what could be considered very dull concrete apartment blocks and municipal buildings, has an honesty about it that gives no impression of what’s inside. Towns feel tired and do not inspire me to think of greatness, and then there’s the odd statute that has the complete opposite effect! Lenin standing proud and resolute, astronauts standing tall and confident. Both the buildings and statues are bold, not ‘fluffy’.

I saw massive deserted factories and often turned off the road, rode up to the closed gates. They are always in such disrepair.

I have difficulty finding shops and restaurants, more specifically, what’s behind the doors in the main street. In most of the world the ‘shop window’ informs us what’s inside. In Russia there is always a sign with Russian words but the shop or restaurant windows are covered up, so if your command of the Russian language is as poor as mine, when I walk down the main street I have no idea what’s inside. Whether you understand Russian or not is not the point, looking through a window gives a great idea as to whether you want what’s inside. Not all restaurants are the same and a quick glance through the window gives a good indication as to whether you’ll try it or not. Anyway, I’ve had to enter so many shop doorways, just to realise they sell nothing I want! Moan over…

When I was through the Murmansk region and a couple of hundred miles north of St Petersburg, everything changed, no longer was I alone in the wilderness. Buildings lined the road, cars everywhere. I somehow missed the sign when I approached Petrozavodsk saying ‘usual road rules don’t apply in the city’. Crazy overtaking, cars, buses and lorries coming straight at me on my side of the road! I’ve learnt over the years that its safest to behave as the locals do, that way they know what to expect, if you ride slowly or in a different way, they don’t know what your about to do! 

I arrived in the city of Petrozavodsk, and as I tend to do, I spend 20 minutes or so riding around the city, getting my bearings before I get a hotel, as after I’ve checked into the hotel my bike rarely moves until the next day. The city had grand buildings, wide roads and so many people enjoying themselves. I got a central hotel in the city, and went ‘walkabout’. I really liked Petrozavodsk, the grand soviet train station with the obligatory red start towering high in the sky for all to see. 

It’s getting hot at last, I’m not sure how I’ll cope with the African heat!

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