Russia - Rubles or Protocol
We arrived at BMW St Petersburg at 10:30 – we were late as usual. Like the day before Natalie greeted us with a smile like long lost friends. Within minutes the bikes were whisked away for the pads to be fitted. The day was again getting hotter and whilst waiting for the bikes we used the time to take some photos of the bikes and our hosts at BMW St Petersburg. Like BMW Moscow, they automatically applied, without being asked, a good discount to our bill.
After asking advice on the best way out of St Petersburg and being assured we should have no problem, we set off with our bikes loaded once again. 45 mins later we had managed to get ourselves into a rundown industrial area where all signposts had deserted us! Even the GPS now read ‘don’t ask me I haven’t got a clue!’
We pulled over and within minutes an unnamed hero came to our aid. “Do you have a problem?” we were asked in pigeon English – we explained our difficulty and quickly came the reply “it’s no problem – follow me”. So we did and 23 miles later we found ourselves on the outskirts of the city with our new guide waving enthusiastically that our route lay straight ahead. Before we could even stop and thank him properly, our guide was already doing a u-turn and heading back into the city. We were left amazed that someone we didn’t know would put themselves out by a round trip of 50 miles! But this has been so typical of the friendliness of the Russian people we have met.
Our arrival at the Russian – Estonian border had been delayed by about 2 hours due to a small incident with......er.....um.....us and the local police!
We had, sometime earlier, passed a roadside police checkpoint and had seen a local officer flag someone down unsure as to whether he was directing his attention to us we rode on ...but 4-miles later we were being pulled over by a police car and a somewhat ‘pissed off’ officer! If ever there was a time to play the dumb tourist – it was now. Undeterred with our lack of understanding and with his right hand resting on his gun holster it was apparent we were to follow him back to the checkpoint. This took a little longer than we all anticipated and we thought our luck was in when his dated vehicle refused to start.
This didn't deter the officer who immediately jumped out in front of the next car heading his way, frightened the driver almost to death as he wielded his gun around and demanded that the stunned random driver help jump-start his police vehicle!
With the car now running and the nervous driver rapidly escaping with a massive smile of relief on his face, we now had to turn around and ride back the 4 miles to the checkpoint.
The next hour and a half was spent in the office with the officer now being joined by his colleagues – we were surrounded! It was like feeding time at the zoo and we were the menu.
We were informed that we had been doing 85kmp in a 60 zone (we had not as Simon had checked the GPS on the way back) but determined to get some roubles out of the tourist the officer stuck adamantly to the fact that we were both 25kmp over the speed limit. We would have to pay 500 roubles each as a fine.
We didn’t have 1000 roubles on us as we were within a few miles of leaving the country and this we explained to the officer. We were ordered to return to St Petersburg and go to the bank and draw out the money, (“bugger off” we both thought) but after he tried to explain this to us for around the fifth time stating “rubles or protocol” and with us playing dumb, he gave up. It was now just a battle of will as to who was going to get frustrated the faster. Luckily for us this turned out to be the officers.
In a mix of very bad Russian and english Simon explained that we had a very popular website called "www.2ridetheworld.com" and it would be our honor to photograph the officer and share them on the site.
"You av a vebsit?" the officer asked, making sure he understood.
Apparantly having your own website in Russia is like fiidng the Holy Grail. The mood changed dramatically and I swaer to God the officer actually lept with excitment. A few minutes later and we had agreed in a bribe of just 120 roubles (around £3) and we'd offered to take the officers photos and post that onto our website. And so, here we are.
I'm sure the officers were hoping for fame. Lisa and I are hoping to share their infamy!
Now resigned to play the game out, the mood broke and became lighter and we were issued our penalty paperwork. With a smile from the officer he handed over the paper saying ” soouuveneer, soouuveneer!”
Feeling infinitely more confident than we had a little earlier, we even asked permission to take a few photos with the officer and the penalty paperwork. When he found out that this was for our website and that he would be on the Internet – he suddenly became our best friend and happily posed for us after telling his fellow officers of his impending fame. We had been warned continuously about dodgy Russian police extracting fines at will and although this incident had proved a little tense, we both felt lucky that having ridden the length of Russia, this had been our one and only negative experience.
Exiting Russia at the crossing into Estonia took us 4 hours. We arrived at around 4:30 pm and joined the existing queue to enter the exiting Russian compound. As with most countries there are good and bad officials – and here at the border we meet a great one! Captain Vasili, with 5 stars on each shoulder he was clearly the guy in charge here. As our paperwork was being checked he left his office especially to come and talk to us and was keen to learn about our trip and our experiences in his country.
At one point he said to us ” my English is good no? I learn from the Beatles’ and then proceeded to give us a rendition of ‘Yellow submarine’......!?
Now bearing in mind that this is still a full blown Russian border crossing with all the officialdom and restrictions that come with this title – again we were allowed to take photos of the Captain with him barking an order at a fellow traveller in order to have his photo taken with, the poor guy nervously snapped away until he was told to stop by the Captain!
With a smile we were gratefully informed there would be no need to search our bags or bikes, even though every other vehicle without exception were being investigated thoroughly. It really is who you know, not what you know!
Before long we were back on the road and passing through the Estonian border without fuss. Heading towards Khotla-Jarve. The Estonian miles were already proving to be easier than the Russian ones we had left behind. The roads were smooth, traffic was calmer and rather bizarrely the countryside now resembled the Cotswolds. However, the day was taking its toll and we were both now feeling tired and worn – the day had proved to be much longer than we had anticipated.
Dinner was courtesy of the local petrol station and after a bowl of local soup and a bread roll we headed back up the road following the signposts to the Sanatorium. Now many of you may be thinking our visit to the Sanatorium is long over due but over here the sanatorium is a place of rest and relaxation as well as mental health. Cheap camping, great facilities and this one comes with a bonus – a beautiful beach view.