The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I've really enjoyed Moscow

My riding companion, Djin Sital, and I rode from St. Petersburg to Moscow through some of the worst traffic I've ever encountered. The roads were chock-a-bloc full of lorries going 45 miles an hour, all supervised by police who had portable cameras installed a quarter mile before their "gotcha sucker" checkpoints. It must have been rush hour, although it was only about 2:30 pm, when we got to Russia. I heard from one source that there are 14.5 million people in Moscow, and from another source that there are 20 million people. Whichever number is right, that is a lot of humanity jammed into something like an estimated 9 million cars, each car wanting to drive right in front of us.

To add to the city traffic, there is a lot of construction going on. There are two reasons for this, or so I am told: First, they are getting ready to host the World Cup Games and are expecting tons of visitors; and secondly, it snowed here two weeks ago, and is expected to snow again in just 4 months, so they have a short working season.

I have to report though, that Moscow is far from the bleak, drab city of unhappy folks I had heard it was. Instead, it is super clean and very dynamic.

Everyone is hard at work, including the ladies who are willing to do somethings people in America won't: to take a broom and a dust pan and sweep sidewalks and gutters for minimum wage.

One of the first things Djin and I wanted to do was visit Red Square.

At one end of Red Square is the famous St. Basil Cathedral.

Basil was a homeless person way back during the time of Tzar Ivan the Terrible. He wandered around naked, even in winter, but was well respected, even by that cruel Tzar, because he could tell the future and perform miracles. No pictures of him, of course, but here is a icon of him from inside the Cathedral.

They buried Basil and started building churches over him. I think there are nine churches inside St. Basil Cathedral. With that many churches inside, you can imagine that they are little things, and that the Cathedral is a cut-up affair.

They say that when a Tzar did something bad he had to build a church. There must have been a lot of bad guys back then, because Moscow is a city absolutely teaming with churches.

Another famous landmark on Red Square is the Kremlin. The word "Kremlin" simply means fortress, and just about every city in Russia worth being on the map has one. The one in Russia is by far the largest and most famous.

Directly across Red Square from the Kremlin is the GUM (rhymes with loom) department store.

Back in the Communist Era, the GUM store was turned into a state run store that was infamous for never having anything on the shelves. Today, it is a mall with a bunch of upscale shops like Gucci and Armani and so forth.

I think Moscow has a bunch of trendy malls. I happened into one near the train station when I stopped in to sample their food court for lunch. I am not very good at posting videos, but I am going to try this one. You may have to turn your monitor sideways. It shows all the activity in, around, and over a central restaurant.

I have very much enjoyed my time at Moscow -- touring the Vatican, visiting Gorky Park, riding around on the metro and buses. I also had some fun trying to take night pictures at Red Square.

But all good things eventually come to an end, so this morning, early on a drizzly Sunday, Djin and I got on our bikes and headed East toward Mongolia. After and hour we were out of Moscow (finally -- whew, what a big city). The longer we rode, the colder it got, and soon we could see our ow breaths. After a time, Djin signaled me over and told me he had decided he wanted to head toward the warm climate of Turkey, and from there circle back to Holland. I think the traffic and the temperature were both big factors in his decision. Also, he knew he was going to have to get his bike back to Holland someway, and although his original plan was to ship it back on the Trans Siberian Train, more research had convinced him that option was simply going to be prohibitively expensive. He had been talking about doing this split-off toward the south for several days, so today's decision was no great surprise. We will follow each other's ride on FaceBook, and I wish him a safe journey home.

By early afternoon the drizzle stopped, but I have to say my heated clothing felt great. And by 6:30 I was crossing the Volga River. Only a month or so to go before I reach Vladivostok. Gads, what a vast country.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Palaces of Saint Peterburg

I have been going out each day looking at the many, many palaces here in Saint Petersburg. They are what make Saint Petersburg one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, or so I'm told. The nobles who built these things were rich beyond imagination. This one is Peterhof.

Inside, the palaces were absolutely stunning.

And while the royalty lived like this, the peasants were thrown in jail for life if they stole so much as a loaf of bread to feed their starving families. Of course, this was true not only for Russia, but throughout Europe back in those days.

I guess I might have qualified as a peasant myself because I could not even have afforded the floor in a single room of a palace.

And look at this library. Of course, since the books were written in Russian it would not have done me any good. Still, I'm jealous (not really).

Catherine the Great, who had been dead a long time before the Bolsheviks took over her castle, had a beautiful home with about a thousand rooms in it. Now, it is the famous Hermitage Museum. This was the main entrance for Catherine, and it is still used for the museum today.

I enjoyed looking at the beautiful rooms in the Hermitage, but there were some art works in there also that I had to pay a little bit of attention to. This is, I guess, the most famous of them. It is by Leonardo Da Vinci.
  I was a little surprised that there was nowhere inside where I could not take a picture.

Outside, there were lots of people dressed up in period costume. They were willing to pose with you for a fee.  There were also a lot of carriages from the period. I especially liked this one -- Look out Cinderella, you might not make it to the ball tonight without your carriage.

I've been having a little trouble with the language here. Not only are the words alien to me, but I don't really understand the alphabet.  Look at this sign at a fence around a fountain.

Fortunately I downloaded a translation app to my phone, and if I point my phone at a sign it will give it to me in English (sort of). Here it is telling me not to jump the fence and get into the fountain.

Speaking of fountains, what do you think of these at the Peterhof Palace?

And here is another great picture at Peterhof.

The fountains were pretty, but I was possibly more taken with this squirrel. It is not a species I have ever seen before.

Here is one last picture of showers, and then it is time for me to hit the shower myself here at my hostel, and then it is off to bed. Djin and I have a long ride ahead of us tomorrow. We want to get half way to Moscow, and are looking at staying near a national park. Vladimir Putin also stays at that park, or so I am told, but I bet he won't want us to drop in for a visit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saint Petersburg, Russia

After a long vacation from motorcycle travel, I have decided to ride across Russia, going from Saint Petersburg in the far west to Vladivostok in the far east. It is a long way; about the same as riding from New York City to San Francisco and then turning around and riding back again.

I am riding with Djin Sital who spends half the year in Suriname, South America, and the other half in Holland. Suriame is, or was, a Dutch colony, and so Djin is both Dutch and Surinamese.

Djin and I met up at my daughter, Jessica's, house in Holland and started our trip from there early in the morning. We rode the autobahn through Germany and got to Berlin in the afternoon after a long and tiring ride.

Djin and I had both been to Berlin before, so we did not spend a lot of time there. I didn't even take many pictures, but here is one of Checkpoint Charlie. Remember that place? World War III came close to starting there, even closer than it did during the Cuban missle crisis.

I also decided to take a picture of part of the Berlin Wall still left standing. I took the picture only because I wanted to remember how the wall was rounded on top. The reason it was rounded was because, had it been topped with barbed wire a person might be able to grab on and swing over. That was an impossible thing to do with the rounded top. The escapee couldn't get a grip.

Leaving Berlin, we rode up through Poland. We both wanted to get off the autobahn and take smaller back roads. Along the way we passed huge fields of golden Rapeseed Oil plants (called Canola -- for Canadian Oil) in North America. The fields made the air heavy and floral so that it smelled like a funeral parlor.

The road we chose was twisting and narrow. Sometimes we were wishing we had stuck to the autobahns so that we could make faster time. Rounding one bend, we came upon a wreck. It had just happened. We were the first on the scene. There was a man trapped in the small car, and his baby in a car seat in the front seat. Both were alive, and the baby was hurt and crying. We got him out of the car first because everyone was afraid of a fire. A lot of fire extinguishers were produced by the peopl who stopped to help. The baby had a huge gaping hole in its head and was covered with blood. Of course, neither of us could speak of word of Polish and felt totally inadequate at trying to help. The women who showed up at the scene immediately tried to help the baby, while the men worked at trying to get the trappd man out of the car. We left just as the energency fire trucks arrived, 20 minutes later. I don't know what finally happened, but we drove much more cautiously for a while after that.

Finally, after a long couple of days riding up through Lithuania and Latvia, we got to the Russian border. Three hours later, after going to about 5 checkpoints, we were in. After a night in a nice hotel hear the border, we got to Saint Petersburg the next day.  Now we are in a hostel and going out each day to explore the city.  Today, I went to the huge Saint Peter and Saint Paul fortress where Saint Petersburg (and some say Russia itself) began.

They fired a huge canon from the rooftop just as I arrived. I wonder if it was to announce to everyone that I was finally there. Nah. Probably not.

The fortress is huge, and one of the best things in it is the beautiful church.

The church is beautiful inside.

All the Tzars are buried here, every one of them starting with the first, Peter the Great, down to the last, Nicholas II who as executed, along with his family and most of his servats, by the Bolsheveks. All those people, family and servats alike, are buried in a common grave in the church.

After spending a long afternoon at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul fortress, I walked across a bridge to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  It was really pretty from the outside; very different than I was used to seeing.

Inside, however, it wasn't much.

Djin and I are here for two more days. That might be too long. Tomorrow we are going to take a bus tour of the city just to get our bearings a little better. After that I am going to the famous Hermitage Museum.

More about that later,