July 4: I’ve never been a flag-waving patriot, or a flag-waving anything for that matter, but this 4th, I can tell you after our travels through China and Kazakhstan, I really do appreciate our freedoms. Just as starters, China blocks Facebook and some blogs, and the traffic police in Kazakhstan can stop you on a whim. We expected more problems with police in Russia, but not so. Russia has its own history of repression, but right now this feels very European, in fact, I even have free guest service laundry in the hotel. No washing clothes in the bathtub tonight. Even in the US you have to pay washers and dryers in hotels.
We celebrated US Independence day Russia style. Our Russian guides brought us red, white and blue balloons and vodka! We toasted to the US and Russia and our trip in Russia up to this point. We will tie these balloons to our cars when we leave in the morning. How great that they realized the significance of this day for us.
So we entered Europe today. We are, of course, still in Russia. In fact, we have 1800 km. just to get to Moscow. We traveled today on the Trans-Siberian highway, which is not one highway, but many highways across Russia that link the West with the Far East. This part, the E22, is a two-lane, poorly surfaced, pot-holed road. It was exciting to say the least. I admit, over all the secondary roads we have driven on rallies in the US, we have never driven this many miles (or kilometers) on such a bad road. True, none of this compares to the worst roads we encountered in China, but also doesn’t come close to their best ones their either. Even John, our Russian guide, said, “How do the elected officials travel? Must be by air. They would never put up with these road conditions!” It feels a bit like one of those computer driving games where you have to dodge around pot-holes and bumps in the road, pass trucks and watch out for on-coming traffic. It does keep one awake but makes my hands and shoulders sore from gripping the wheel.
OK, so here’s Stewball with the front wheels in Europe and the back wheels in Asia. This is the same spot where George Schuster stopped on July 6, 1908. Kind of cool. Jeff took a photo of himself in the exact spot where his great-grandfather stood when he carved his initials in the monument. Jeff didn’t carve anything in the monument, the monument has been replaced since 1908 and the base is granite, but it was symbolic just the same.
This is also a spot where newlyweds come to celebrate their marriage.
As evidenced by the many champagne corks. We figured after 35 years we’re still newlyweds, so sat on the wedding bench and had our picture taken.
Our drive today took us through the Ural mountains, really “just bumps in the road”, as Kyle says in our novel. Really lovely rolling hills and pasture land. Now we are in a Hilton hotel for the night in Perm, home of Boris Pasternak when he wrote Dr. Zhivago.
Update on Clay and his Ford. Last word was they left Astana yesterday about 4:00 for the drive to Petropavlovsk and border crossing. They will take a bit of a shortcut and hope to catch up with us by Kazan where we have our next day off. All this depends on all the new parts working as they should and no additional car problems. We hope we see them there, that is much sooner than anyone anticipated.
Tomorrow on to Izhevsk, homeland to the Udmurt people.