• sa
  • Highlands
  • K
  • H
  • MNE
  • F
  • R
  • Roma
  • SA
  • Un
  • a
  • 1
  • Transalpina Pass
  • Transalpina Pass
  • Romania
  • Riding....
  • Moldova....
  • My shadow...
  • Ukraine
  • In Evinos river reservoir, Greece...
  • Curving...
  • Montenegro...
  • Croatia...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • In Graz, Austria...
  • In Montenegro...
  • Ljubljana...
  • Bled lake
  • Bled lake to Bohinj lake
  • Nockalmstrasse, Austria
  • Bohinj lake, Slovenia
  • Triglav National Park, Slovenia...
  • Triglav National Park, Slovenia...
  • Grossglockner, Austria...
  • Grossglockner Pass
  • Grossglockner, Austria...
  • Don't drink and drive...
  • Nockalmstrasse, Austria
  • Graz
  • Nockalmstrasse, Austria
  • Nockalmstrasse, Austria
  • Nockalmstrasse, Austria
  • A1, Croatia
  • Curving in MotoLeonidio Race...
  • In a Gas Station in Serbia
  • On the road...
  • On the road in Hungary...
  • On the road in Belarus...
  • In Minsk, Belarus...
  • In Russia...
  • Borders Belarus - Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Riding in Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Crossing a bridge in Latvia...
  • On the road in Latvia...
  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
  • In Trakai, Lithuania...
  • On the road in Poland...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Trigrad Gorge, Bulgaria...
  • In Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria...
  • Morocco...
  • Morocco...
  • Morocco...
  • Morocco...
  • My son Konstantinos
  • Falkirk, Scotland...
  • Biogradsko Jezero, Montenegro...
  • Fez, Morocco...
  • Rabat, Morocco...
  • Transfagarasan Pass, Romania...
  • Careterra Austral, Chile...
  • Unpacking my new baby...
  • Leonidio, Greece....
  • Transalpina Pass, Romania
  • Transalpina Pass, Romania
  • In Romania...
  • Riding...
  • Moldova...
  • In Evinos river reservoir, Greece...
  • Curving...
  • Montenegro...
  • Croatia...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • In Graz, Austria...
  • Keeping notes of the trip, in Montenegro...
  • In Ljubljana, Slovenia...
  • In Bled lake, Slovenia...
  • On the road from Bled lake to Bohinj lake, Slovenia...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse, Austria...
  • In Bohinj lake, Slovenia...
  • Triglav National Park, Slovenia...
  • In Triglav National Park, Slovenia...
  • In Kaiser Franz Josef Hohe, Grossglockner, Austria...
  • Crossing Grossglockner Pass, Austria...
  • In Kaiser Franz Josef Hohe, Grossglockner, Austria...
  • In Benedikt, Slovenia...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Walking in Graz, Austria...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Heavy rain while crossing A1 Highway in Croatia...
  • Curving in MotoLeonidio Race...
  • In a Gas station in Serbia...
  • On the road...
  • On the road in Hungary...
  • On the road in Belarus...
  • In Minsk, Belarus...
  • In Russia...
  • Borders Belarus - Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Riding in Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Crossing a bridge in Latvia...
  • On the road in Latvia...
  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
  • In Trakai, Lithuania...
  • On the road in Poland...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Trigrad Gorge, Bulgaria...
  • In Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria...
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Greece to Russia (August 2016)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

Click here for the map...

When I was young, I was fascinated by Dostoevsky's atmospheric novels, I didn’t think that the moment would come to travel in the places where many of the characters of the top Russian author acted. When I began to read Solzhenitsyn at a younger age my desire to explore Russia a little grew. The different Russian culture from the European was another reason that prompted me to organize a trip to this vast country. And the time has arrived when I returned home from my previous trip to the Slovenian and Austrian Alps. Then I thought... where is next? So I started preparing...

Preparation... 

I decided that the trip will take place in August when the weather is good to visit the northern countries and I began to think about what I needed to do ... So I started making the trip plan and preparing the trip. I decided the mileage I will make, and the route as well. I made my mind according to what I had chosen to do in this trip. Two days in Belarus Minsk, three days in Moscow and three in St. Petersburg and finally three days in Brno, dedicated to motoGP and Valentino ... The rest of the days would be a simple overnight stay. A total of 20 days travel, crossing 17 countries. Of all these countries only for Belarus and Russia, I would had to take visas for me and my girlfriend Efi. My friend Adrian from Romania, who would join and travel with us for a part of the trip, would take care of the visas of his own.

I booked the hotels, and I asked from the hotels in Moscow and Minsk to send me a letter of invitation to use them in order to get the visas, since simply booking the booking was not enough. The hotel I booked in Minsk did not respond to my request and I had to cancel the reservation and make a new reservation to another hotel which sent me an invitation letter.

A big problem was that Belarus has no embassy or consulate in Greece, and the closest embassies are in Sofia and Belgrade. So I chose to issue the visas in Belgrade. There were two choices... I could pass by the Belarusian Embassy in Belgrade (which was on my way) to do the process that would take me 1-3 days or the consultation would be done by phone and I would send the documents with a courier to issue them to me. I also add that after contacting me with the Greek Embassy in Minsk, I learned that there is no way to take a visa at the country's border and thus simply enter... There are two types of visa for Belarus that were fitted in my case. The transit visa but you must get out of the country within 48 hours, that is, an overnight stay, which I was not interested in and the tourist visa which is for more days. So I had to get a tourist visa. I spoke by phone with the Belarusian Embassy in Belgrade and after telling them that I was interested to get a visa for the dates I would be in their country and that I would travel with my bike I was told that we should send them our passports, the invitation letter from the hotel, applications for visas that I downloaded from the embassy's website, a passport photo, a 60 € fee for the cost of each visa and travel insurance for the days we would be in the country. In order to get the insurance coverage I contacted two companies initially and after explaining that I needed cover for the 3 days we would be in Belarus, they wanted to cover my entire trip... So I ended up with AIG, which insured us. The cost for the three days was € 16.50. Having collected all the documents, I packed them and sent them to the Belarusian Embassy in Belgrade with DHL, which charged me 49 €... After a week I contacted the embassy by phone and told me that the visas were ready and so I gave a mandate to DHL to pick them up from the embassy and bring them to me. The cost? 72 €... !!!

The adventure of issuing a visa for Belarus ended in a good way! We got our visas!!! As far as the visas for Russia, things were easier, since there were travel agencies in Athens and Thessaloniki that undertake the process... It was not the first time I had to take a visa for Russia and I knew what It should be done. I contacted by phone an agency in Athens and sent them with a courier, our passports, a photo, the applications I downloaded and I filled in from the website of the Russian Embassy and the invitation letter from the hotel. The insurance coverage for the days we would be in Russia would be taken out by the insurance company that cooperates. Within one week the visas were ready. The cost was € 95 for each visa plus € 13 for each insurance coverage... I deposited the money into the agent's account and he sent me our visas with passports and other documents.

After finishing my visa, another issue that worried me was whether the European driving license to Belarus and Russia was due ... I read on several websites that other motor-travelers traveled with their European diploma and that they had no problem. However the fact is that Russia is outside the European Union and this led me to ELPA (Automobile and Touring Club of Greece) where I obtained an International Driver’s license which includes Russia and Belarus. At the instigation of my friend Zisis, who had lived for a while in Moscow, I made a translation of my driver’s license and another for the documents of my motorcycle. I got a green card from my insurance company and finished with all bureaucratic... I exchanged a few euros in rubles to have for our first needs when we enter Russia and later we would exchange more euros  there...

I loaded the maps of Russia into my GPS (BMW Navigator V), I tested it by choosing some routes (in Russia) to be sure that everything works and ... ready! I had prepared my daily routes on my computer, others with the help of Garmin's BaseCamp and others with GoogleMaps. I printed and plasticized them, because in the transparent case of the tankbag they are not waterproof and the paper with the maps in a few minutes of rain would become trash either with the water that will pass in or with the moisture that will have after the top of the tankbag . Inside the tankbag I put the road map of Russia, because without a map we don’t go nowhere... We must always have a view of where we are. The GPS is an excellent tool, it helps in the route and further more helps to navigate through the cities but the map is necessary, because in the end if the GPS goes off, then what?

My dealership BMW Andriopoulos took care of my bike and it was ready of service and other travel checks. A few days before my dparture I changed tires in my moto with DUNLOP Trailsmart for the first time, which my friend Sakis Dimopoulos introduced to me with the All Terain Tyres, Tyre Shop. Although I am a fanatical user of Michelin, due to the lack of Anakee tyres, at last I chose the Dunlop Trailsmart and I checked them driving my moto a little before I leave to feel the driving with them in my moto...

So everything was ready and in the afternoon of 4th of August I started to load the motorcycle... After loading it carefully to share the weight correctly, I kissed my moto and let her rest because in a few hours we would head in new destinations ... !! !

 

Travel log...

 

Day 1    Patras - Zrenjanin 1.150 km

 

Always before the trip there is this delightful anticipation of the moment I will start the engine of my moto to depart... The sleep is light! I awaked at 03:00 as we agreed with my girlfriend Efi, so at 03:30 would be ready to depart. The morning espresso at home wakes me even more! My ready-loaded beauty was waiting to start the engine to begin another journey! In the display of the instruments of the motorcycle was written... August the 5th. We wore our uniforms without any interior layer since the temperature was over 20 ° C at that moment. The interior layers were in the suitcases ready to be used in the northern latitudes...

I regulated the electronic suspension of the motorcycle as a passenger and suitcases added weight and we departed for the country of Fine Arts and Orthodoxy, the incredible natural wealth and unprecedented natural beauty, the largest country in the world that spreads on two continents. We crossed the Harilaos Trikoupis bridge (Rio-Antirrio) and continued on the Ionian highway which was under construction and needed special attention especially during dark hours driving. I hoped that when this construction project finishes, this important road will be safe for its users! First stop before Ionian junction with Egnatia Auto-Highway for another espresso and a little rest and continue on the Egnatia Highway with next stop at Platanos station (a few kilometers after Veria) for refueling.

We hit the road again and after a few kilometers we were on the Athens - Thessaloniki motorway heading for Thessaloniki and a few minutes later we went out to follow the E75 for the border station of Evzonoi, 60 km away ... Shortly after eight o’clock, we had passed the frontier and we were on the Skopje E75 motorway that led us to the border with Serbia. I had been refueled my moto before crossing the borders to FYROM, because in one of my previous trips, I filled my moto with gas  in Kumanovo, a bit before I entered in Serbia, and that has caused a serious problem in the engine of my previous motorcycle... (due to bad quality of gasoline) and so I’m very cautious ...

Crossing through FYROM is about 180 km (south to north) and the most of it is on a motorway. In FYROM tolls a motorist could pay with FYROM dinars or euros. Of course, the euro transaction costs more than paying someone in local currency. The policemen didn’t give me any problem but I was always cautious and I was driving a few kilometers above the boundary with my eyes sweeping the road for a police blockade on the right...

At about eleven o'clock I had reached the Tabanovtse border station to get out of FYROM. A long queue of cars patiently waited to enter in Serbia, and more and more we found at the Serbian side border station. Entering in Serbia we filled the fuel tank and continued north... A few kilometers later and while we were on the unmarked track, we found an unbelievable traffic jam and after passing the trafficked cars carefully I found myself in front of a GS 1150 that had a frontal collision with a car in the opposite direction lane. Although there was no one participant at the scene, the spectacle was shocking...

It was three o'clock when we passed Belgrade, and we left the motorway A1 (or E75) and headed through road 13 to Zrenjanin where my good friend Ernest lives. We traveled a beautiful flat stretch of 80 km until we reached our destination, a route that I have done several times in the past. Zrenjanin is the sixth largest city in Serbia, in the Vojvodina region and has about 75,000 inhabitants. I had put Ernest's home in my GPS as a destination, where he was waiting with his wife Yelena. After settling in our friends’ home, we drove to the center of the city where the main pedestrian street after the construction works had been upgraded and made the center more beautiful than I had left it the last time I was there. The good company, the talk, the coffee, and later the beers made us feel beautiful and after that we returned home to relax, because the next day we had morning waking and several kilometers to go...

 

Day 2 Zrenjanin (Serbia) - Hungary - Slovakia - Lublin (Poland) 950 km

 

Early morning wake up and coffee with Ernest and Yelena. We loaded our stuff in the moto and on the road again towards to Novi Sad and then following the A1 to the Horgos border station (near Szeged) to enter in Hungary. The dawn found us on the Serbian highway, and a few minutes later the drizzle made it’s presence known on my helmet’s vision screen. It didn’t got too much time and it began to rain... After a while the rain developed to thunderstorm (one of those who made our trip more adventurous ...) and we searched for the nearest gas station because the asphalt paved with enough water and was dangerous for aquaplaning and in addition to this I hadn’t worn my raincoat over the trouser of the uniform... We waited about 45 minutes until the storm calm down and we continued our way to Szeged. We arrived at the Serbian - Hungarian border at 07:30 in the morning and as soon as we entered Hungary, I stopped at a kiosk selling vignettes and bought one for one week, which cost me 5 € (1,470 HUF)...

We continued on the Hungarian M5 motorway and after about 150 kilometers we detoured Budapest and continued NE following the motorway M3 and then E79 to Miscolc and after I drove on Road 3 which get us to the border with Slovakia. In the largest part of our route in Hungary, we had seen huge plains of corns and sunflowers. Flat surface, and as we got to the eye, we saw the yellow color of the sunflowers gleaming in the sun.

It was twelve o'clock when we passed the Miscolc and we stopped for a snack in Szikszo where we stopped for a snack and we tasted a delicious soup accompanied by a local beer... We took our time of relaxation, and after a while we were ready to hit the road again. We crossed the border to Slovakia following the road E71 initially to Kosice and then road E50 to Presov. I had done that route route up to that point several times in the past and after that point I was in "uncharted waters" which was something very exciting to me! The Slovakian landscape did not differ greatly from that in Hungary. Fields with the same crops as those of the neighboring country... The crossing of Slovakia was a total of about 130 km, and after Miscolc in Hungary the highway had given way to a good provincial road, so the kilometers started to go out more difficult due to the reduced speed...

Entering in Poland the scene changed and the large flats began to take their place in wooded land and the country road was between forests that were interrupted when we entered  in a village and the same again... The last 250 km was like that. The clouds had thickened and a drizzle got us in until we arrive to Lublin. We arrived at Campanille Hotel, the hotel I booked by booking.com at 7 pm... The temperature it was close to 15° C made us to forget the hot days of August in Greece... We got rid of the motorcycle uniforms, we wore our light jackets and we went to discover the old town of Lublin. The ninth in the population city of Poland has about 350,000 inhabitants and I chose it because it was near the border station that would be in Belarus. The old town seemed a little abandoned in my eyes, having pictures of Krakow and the old town of Warsaw I have visited in the past. Lublin, of course, does not belong to Poland's tourist attractions and it seemed normal to me to be “B class” of the aforementioned... The lack of maintenance of the old buildings was obvious and very few people could speak English. The conciliation with the locals was a bit difficult but by the end of the evening we ended up in a beautiful restaurant tasting some food from the local cuisine ...

 

Day 3 Lublin (Poland) - Minsk (Belarus) 520 km

 

The next morning found us in Campanille's cafe to have a travel chat with a couple of Spaniards from Asturias, traveling on a Camper... We shared traveling experiences and we were ready to live our dream. We loaded the tireless moto and departed at eight o'clock towards Terespol border station, from where we would enter to Belarus. The distance that separated us to the borders was only 160 kilometers and everything was beautiful during those last kilometers in Poland. On a provincial road through forests, crops, small villages, and bliss... It is bliss to live all this and to see the world in its simple everyday life. Stopping at a coffee in the small village to drink your coffee, and fill your mind and your soul with this simple, unobtrusive and beautiful everyday life of the locals!

A brilliant sun had dried up the road and created no sliding problem when I drove into narrow provinces in the forests... The day was very beautiful in all aspects! At this point I have to say that the Polish drivers had excellent behavior when they realized that a motorcycle was behind their vehicle. They corrected their path on the road a little bit in order to let us pass safely... Around eleven o’clock we arrived at Terespol border station. An hour and a half driving after changing the time zone and going one hour in front of our watches (same time with Greece) !!!

At the Polish border station, the Polish policeman was quite strict and authoritarian... Her ancestors probably worked as wardens in Auschwitz... In 15 minutes we were on the motorcycle towards Brest border station in Belarus. That's where the security measures were tight! Increased military presence and control required, among other things, to fill in forms that were in Russian but for which they gave us English language standards to help us complete them. After checking the visas in our passports and finding them all ok, they gave us the papers sealed together with our passports to go to customs control. They had forbidden me to take pictures but my cameras were open and they filmed the whole procedure...

In our customs control he took over a young man who, with his poor English, picked up the forms that I had filled during the police check and checked them, as well as checking the frame number of the motorcycle. As soon as he finished this kind of check I paid 8 rubles and I opened the suitcases of the moto to check their contents and after assuring him that I had no alcohol with me, the check was over. In the meantime, a Belarusian guy, close to thirties, had approached us, along with his son, who, as he said to us in fluent English, was living in Munich (Germany) and he going on holiday to his hometown, in Minsk. He said he was a fellow motorcyclist, owning a 990 KTM and helped the customs in translation, so I learned how toll roads on Belarusian motorways, motorcyclists do not pay tolls, and we informed him that we would not go back from the Belarusian border to another country in EU, but we will enter in Russia after Belarus and we will get out of a Russian border to Estonia. Belarus is a country of the Russian Commonwealth and there are no border stations among them...

We warmly saluted those two Belarusian guys, and we jumped on the moto and we saw... the bar of the border to open... and Belarus was all in front of us!!! Our emotions were beyond any description!!! Our dream came true!!! I started driving on the Belarusian highway with the closest city to be Brest. We stopped for a morning coffee and refueling at the amazing price of 0.51 € per liter... Here I have to say how to get gasoline, go to fill (the liters you have in mind) and then go to the pump and put the fuel you paid... !!!

So from that moment on, I figured out how many liters had remained in the tank of the moto and then I paid for what I figured I wanted to fill in!!! That was a good one, huh??? Not that much... Still though, 51 cents per liter were amazing! Half a liter of water in Greece costs that much... Imagine... !!!

The motorway had two lanes per direction and the divider in the middle for most of the time was a lawn with a width of about 4 meters. Our trip to Minsk was easy and we arrived at 5 in the afternoon. A flat route without mountains and no landscape diversity. On our way we did not see much police but every 25-30 kilometers they had cameras - photographic radars - controlling speed overrunning. The maximum permissible limit on the motorway was 120 km/h. What made us particularly impressed was the cleanliness of the motorway... We didn’t see any garbage...

With the maps of Belarus and Russia installed in my GPS, we didn’t delay to find our 40-let Pobedy Hotel, which was close to the center of Minsk. Our room was on the 10th floor of the hotel's twelve, having a nice view of the city center. The hotel was reminiscent of a Soviet Union building and the old women at the reception were kind and willing to help with each and every one of our questions. My friend, Adrian, who had started the same morning from Braila, Romania, arrived at the hotel at seven o'clock p.m., having crossed the wretched streets of Ukraine ...

 

Day 4 Minsk (Belarus)

 

A day for rest and sightseeing in Minsk... The breakfast in the hotel was not good and so we went out to the city to drink a descent coffee... The cleanliness in Minsk was something that impressed us from our first steps to the center. In our walk we saw countless employees of the municipality dealing with cleanliness, greenery and other works that shaped the city! At some point he started to drizzle and the workers kept their work unsteady! In my mind I made parallels with possible similar cases in Greece...

The temperature at 17° C made our summer walk in Minsk comfortable... The old big communist buildings "filled" the huge blocks of the city. The city's main boulevard, Nezavisimosti (Independence Avenue), is part of a large road that starts from Brest (on the border of Belarus with Poland) and reaches to Moscow... A 4-lane avenue in each direction provided relative comfort to car drivers who at no time of day saw traffic congestion.

The city may have been in tact, clean, with its flowers, but at no point did it impress us. I could call it indifferent. Interpreting in English was a bit of a matter, but in the end we always found our way. People walking on the streets were poor but decent. The shops showed the effort they made to escape from the communist era and go into modern times. As much as we searched, as much as I had read before going, as much as we asked, we did not find a central pedestrian street where coffee shops, restaurants and shops had grown around and attracted locals and tourists. Only some cafeterias on the main boulevard pulled us to a coffee.

We visited the old town, which was just a few meters away from Nezavisimosti, but we were not impressed... Old residences and shops had been restored but nothing interesting compared to other old cities in the rest of Europe. We didn’t see people circulating in her narrow pedestrianized alleys. For those two days we stayed in Minsk, we went to Rakawski Brovar Restaurant "Rakovski Brovar" and Kamyanitsa (Kamianitza) restaurant, both of which were excellent! Rakawski is an old brewery with its own micro-brewery. In Kamyanitsa I drunk my first shot of frozen vodka accompanied by a buttered thin slice of bread, caviar and a lemon peel on it... Unforgettable! The main dish I ordered... a beef

Stroganoff ... Gastric orgasm !!!

Taxis were much cheaper if calling by phone came to pick you up rather than stop someone on the road... Way different from Greece, ah?

Minsk and generally Belarus are not yet ready for tourism as it has been done in the other former Soviet countries, and therefore it is not a tourist destination. The world is quite reticent with the strangers... It's a little behind the modern time... However, at no time we felt uncomfortable with an incident and we were walking comfortably everywhere.

 

Day 5              Minsk (Λευκορωσία) – Moscow (Russia) 735 km

 

We departed for Moscow at 7am, with Adrian together. Two motorcycles on the road... Adrian had bought my previous BMW GS1200 Adventure, mod 2007... The weather was cool with a few clouds and the temperature at 15° C... The motorway was the same as it was from Brest to Minsk. The imaginary borders with Belarus-Russia abstained 260 kilometers from Minsk. The kilometers went smoothly and when we reached the signs saying that we were entering Russia we stopped for the usual photos. Just at the border there was a great monument that reminded the friendship and solidarity of the two countries (Belarus and Russia). Entering in Russia, there was no border control but only one lane that controlled the lorries (weight, cargo, etc.).

On the Russian highway now, cameras (radar photographers) controlled for speeding, and some were mounted on pillars to the right of the road while others were set in the frieze. The maximum speed limit on Russian motorways is 110 km/h. The lagoon with the lawn that existed in Belarus did not exist there. There was no barrier to separate the two directions, but 3 low lanes of wire ropes to about a meter height... Driving demanded special attention as Russian drivers changed lanes sharply and ran into dangerous hurdles this habit. In general, as soon as they saw us behind their vehicles, they were quite friendly and were trying to make it easier for us to overtake them. In Russia we normally paid tolls that were not expensive. The Russian motorcyclists we met on the road 99% greet and made me think of some motorcyclists in Greece who do not have this spirit and many times while they greet them don’t pay the greeting... Probably shocked by the gesture...

The gasoline at 50 cents per liter... I was thinking to continue driving till to Vladivostok... but I didn’t have much time... Haha... In a point of our way we stopped at a café on the edge of the road and a few meters further there was a kiosk where a Russian company was sitting. As soon as we stopped short of the gazebo, we felt their hostile gaze crossing us... Adrian encouraged me to leave and do our stance elsewhere to avoid problems... We said, we must avoid to get ourselves into problems!

We arrived in Moscow and the destination I had put on my GPS was the Red Square and not the hotel. The day was bright and no clouds were in the sky, and I had an enormous desire to see the Red Square and the temple of St. Basil with its creamy dome and take inspirational photos of my moto, Efi, Adrian etc etc ... Andrian of course had a selfie-stick and he took nice pictures of himself... A police officer told us that we could approach the square with our moto and so we followed his instructions and we were there, close to St. Basil church! In the central square of Moscow! The delight that I felt in my heart and my body at the time when I stood on the Red Square, the Kremlin but more the church of St. Basil was awsome... !!! After the infinite photos, the GPS led us to our hotel (Hanzer Hotel), which I’d chosen to offer us in addition to its quality as a hotel for its price, to be near to the center to walk around the city on foot or by subway. And of course private parking for the motorcycles.

As soon as we unloaded the motorcycle, we got to our rooms and we went out to visit the center of Moscow!!! With Adrian, we roamed the streets to discover Moscow... After we walked through the pedestrian street leading to the GUM shopping mall and the Red Square, my Moscovite friend Konstantin came by and we went by his car to Biker's Café on Arbat street. We stayed there till late at night discussing future moto-travels from the highlands of Pamir to Vladivostok and Magadan via Mongolia... Late in the night, he returned us to our hotel to rest after an exhausted day because next day's program was pretty loaded...

 

Day 6                          Moscow (Russia)

 

The next morning, after we had our breakfast, with my notes on hand, we walked to the Red Square and the first attraction in the program was Lenin's Mausoleum. We also waited in the already long queue to visit the pile of the Soviet Revolutionary leader. The building of Mausoleum is the work of the famous Russian architect Alexey Sutchev and when we arrived in front of the entrance guarded by Russian soldiers we walked in and descended a few stairs to find ourselves in the area where the pile is exposed. The low temperature chill was the first thing we felt down to the hall where Lenin's pile was located, which was placed inside a coffin enclosed by a glass structure to keep out of touch with the atmosphere. The people silent and curious was making the round of the exhibition and exiting of another door to lead outdoors. Outside the Mausoleum and at the side of Kremlin Wall there were tombs of other eminent Russians.

We took the road to the Cathedral of the Savior by the banks of the Moskva River. We stopped first for a coffee and a small rest in the beautiful café-restaurant next to the church at Academiya, which might have been one of the best coffee shops in the city... We finished our coffee and we were in the enclosure of the temple built by tsar Alexander. The exterior of the temple was very impressive, whose 12 entrances adorn statues of saints, but the highlight is certainly the impressive dome with the imposing gold plaques. We lighted a candle in the church and we left to visit Kremlin.

We waited quiet a time in the queue to buy our tickets to enter the Kremlin. The cost was 500 rubles, about 7 €... The control check at the entrance by the police officers was airport type, scrutiny! We passed the entrance gate with the excitement of what we will see in the interior space surrounding these red walls. The tour was out in the Kremlin, in the yard, not in an interior building. The most important point in the Kremlin is the Cathedral Square, which is geographically the center of the Kremlin area and at the same time its highest point. The vast area surrounded by the red wall! Here are the five surviving individual church buildings of the Kremlin: the cathedrals of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Archangel and the Annunciation, the Temple of the Assumption of the Episteme, and the Bell of the Great. In the southern part of the Kremlin, which “looks” at Moskva river is without historical monuments, the largest green lung in the fortress, the Secret Garden. After wandering over 2 hours in the Kremlin area and looking at the largest cannon and the largest bell in the world, which were never used due to weight and cost (Russians are crazy), we came out of the exit gate that meets Red Square heading towards the temple of St. Basil, who was the next one on our agenda to pay a visit. A few meters away from the Kremlin's exit gate came the colorful domes opposite us. We crossed these few meters and tried to find the entrance door to get inside, but as we found it was closed due to maintenance works. So all we had to do was to observe the exterior and take countless photos...

 

It was already afternoon, and the kilometers we had walked were quite many... So we chose a restaurant on the GUM pedestrian street to have lunch. Efi ordered a beef tartar, and she was disappointed because it was raw meat. I ordered a beef Stroganov that was great and we finally shared it. It is very nice to try something new and local (like Efi the beef tartar) because you built an opinion about local food. It doesn’t mean that you will always like all the food you will order. Some will disappoint you and some you will love for their taste! So... you get an aspect on local food!

After our lunch we spent the rest of our afternoon on the pedestrian street of Arbat str, where we went by using the subway. We returned exhausted to our hotel late and we were ready to sleep...

 

Day 7                          Moscow (Russia)

 

Impressive, arrogant and enigmatic, an aristocratic beauty with well-hidden secrets, Moscow combines the most extreme luxury (GUM shopping center, Bolshoi Teatr, Tverskaya Street) with history (Kremlin, Red Square etc). We started our day with a coffee in the historic Pushkin café on Tverskoy Boulevard. An atmospheric coffee shop whose the decoration resembles a Russian novel. We enjoyed our coffee and its guests. We sat at a table near the window and we saw out in Tversköy street, people arriving at the luxury cars from where the chauffeur was coming out of the car, opening the back doors, leaving young couples coming in for their coffee or lunch... Perfect! This is the one face of Moscow...

Moscow's subway stations are attractions and I'd visited a lot of them in the past through internet and I was very impressed. The time has come to visit them in flesh... We went to the subway station near the Pushkin café and we entered in a train that would lead us to another station crossing the line 1 which we were most interested in. Four of the most beautiful stations are on line 1: the Ploshchad Revolyutsii station with the emblematic bronze figures, Mayakovskaya Station with the extraordinary mosaics, the Teatralnaya station with the porcelain creations of Natalia Danko, and the Kropotkinskaya station that shares common elements with ancient Egyptian temples. We thought we were walking in a museum below ground level! We finished our tour at Komsomolskaya Station one of the most impressive metro stations. It has a baroque style, chandeliers on the ceiling and mosaics that steal the show. The mosaics are inspired by Stalin's famous speech in 1941...

If somebody wants to cross the road, must not ignore the sign of the underpass. There is no other way to cross the capital's vast avenues. We saw roads that had up to seven traffic lanes... After finishing our underground visit to Moscow, we took the direction to the GUM shopping center. It is located across the Kremlin in a building with an impressive glass ceiling that magnifies your gaze! In 1520 it was completely destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1893 by two famous Russian architects. By the end of the 19th century it was Europe's largest shopping center with more than 1,200 shops. Something like Harrods in London... A paradise for those who love shopping and here we found boutiques of great designers at the famous high prices... The only affordable was the ice cream that you could find in a kiosk on the ground floor of GUM and it was delicious!!!

We took a break for a little rest in our hotel and in the afternoon we had an appointment with my Moscovit friend Konstantin, at the famous hangout, at the Bikers Café on Arbat str. He knew that I had tried to try some traditional Russian food and he presented to us a bag that had in different kinds of chibureki warm to try. Along with a beer we ate them in a few minutes... there were delicious!!! After chatting with Konstantin he enlighten us on several things about the Russian way of life and not only. After that, he took us to a night tour by his car to take a glance of Moscow by night...

We started from a "balcony" across from the University, where about a hundred motorcyclists were gathered and made small gatherings and talked to each other... Some motorcycles had have on neon lights that seemed impressive at night... I named that space as a balcony because it was on a hill and below you could see the Moskva River and Moscow from a high altitude... Impressive sight! When Konstantin started chatting with friends and acquaintances, it began to rain and we scattered immediately... We got in the car and we headed back to the center. We walked in front of beautifully lit buildings and our friend explained to us what was each of them. So we saw the old building of the former KGB, the Bolshoi building, the TSUM shopping center, the defense ministry building, and more. And of course, from the very first moment we were in Moscow, the seven sisters (buildings) had caught our attention... They are called the seven skyscrapers so which Stalin built after the World War II. Buildings dominate today in Moscow and are visible from many parts of the city. At the time of Stalin, there were the regime privileges: party executives, prominent artists and members of the youth, famous athletes and nuclear scientists. After we thanked Konstantin for everything, we enjoyed our last sleep at our hotel in Moscow...

Surely what impressed us most in Moscow was the presence of numerous expensive cars that were in circulation. I do not think there is another city in Europe with such cars like the ones there are in Moscow... Cars of luxury car brands that I hadn’t seen these models before, and I certainly didn’t know their existence... Even Adrian, who has enough knowledge on car models, seemed impressed!

Moscow was very neat and it was something that surely impressed us. Ashtrays and bins for garbage were outside all the buildings. You did not see either a cigarette butt!

The inhabitants showed calmness in their routine, and when we wanted some information, someone who knew English was eager to help us. We didn’t feel uncomfortable about our safety while staying downtown, but we didn’t go anywhere far from the city center that could be different. Only at some point down to a metro station I fell on a scene where two guys in front of the station's counter had exchanged some punches, but this incident could be found everywhere...

 

Day 8              Moscow to St. Petersburg (Russia) 730 km

 

It was time to leave Moscow to go up north... Around eight o’clock in the morning we were on the bikes and with St. Petersburg as a GPS destination, we got on the streets of Moscow to get to the M11 motorway that would lead us up to North Venice  (as St Petersburg it is called)... I couldn’t say that we encountered a traffic jam as we left the city, although it was Friday morning. But what was intense was the presence of several Harley motorcycles on the road and not only... They were in the same direction with us, since, as we were already informed by Konstantin, the weekend we would be in St. Petersburg was a Harley Davidson motorcyclists’ meeting...

One hundred kilometers after Moscow, it began to rain, and we found myself with other motorcyclists under the roof of a bridge to wear our raincoats... The rain accompanied us for the next 150 kilometers when the clouds began to dilute and sun started a hide and seek game with them. The perfect conditions to drive! The road to St Petersburg was three lanes in total. One lane for each direction and a   third one in the middle, was given alternately in each direction for about 500-600 meters... The road passed through towns and villages, so the speed limits there fell and we should pay extra attention to drivers in front of us where they intended to turn (left or right)...

Konstantin had instructed us that we should stop at kilometer 444, at the kiosks to eat a chibureki and drink hot tea from a samovar... It was a great and tasty experience!

There was no dividing line between on motorway M11 till St. Petersburg... On the way we met several motorcycles that were in the same direction with us. All the motorcyclists greeted us and have had good time on their motorcycles... Arriving in the suburbs of St Petersburg, a heavy rain welcomed us. My amazing GPS led us straight to our hotel (Hotel Cameo), which I had booked through booking.com, and we unloaded our stuff from the moto to make a rebuild as we would stay for 3 days in the city.

We settled, freshened up and at six o’clock in the afternoon we were in the streets of St Petersburg heading for the famous Nevsky Prospekt Boulevard ... First we took a coffee and then we started for an idyllic walk in Nevsky. Large and impressive buildings adorned the great avenue. The reason why St. Petersburg is often called Venice of the North is because it is built on a cluster of small islands separated by natural and artificial canals and communicating with bridges. Inspired by Amsterdam and compared to Venice, this city combines culture and aristocracy, modern with traditional, history with modern civilization. It is the only large city in the world (about 5 million inhabitants), which has been included in UNESCO's World Heritage List as a monument of architecture and culture, reflected in more than 4,000 sights and monuments, 250 museums, 50 theaters and 80 art galleries.

We made a visit to Harley's meeting point to check the upcoming event... just madness! Countless motorcycles, different models from each other, in a large space, and many people like bees around the motorcycles! We explored a bit on the site admiring these structures and a little later we returned to our hotel to relax after a long exhausting day as we had to take on forces for the next day because we had a lot to do and see...

 

Day 9                   St. Petersburg (Russia)

 

We woke up early, we had a coffee and a rich breakfast that besides the usual goods we had pancakes with blueberry jam that we both met almost everywhere in Russia! There are plenty of blueberry, raspberry, cranberry and other such fruits in the Northern European countries and we have seen in many highways, villagers sell them in bulk or in glass jars... Perfect breakfast and... ready for an excursion into the city!!!

Our first visit was to the church of the Savior of the Blood. This particular church is the dream of every photographer that becomes reality. It looks very much like the St. Basil in the Red Square of Moscow. The spectacular exterior look with the Faberge onion dome is incredible, but the inside of the temple left us speechless. Each centimeter of the 7,000 square meters of the church is covered with mosaic. The "blood" in the name of the church refers to Alexander II, who was assassinated at this point, next to the Griboedov Canal, in 1881 by anarchists. His son Alexander III built this colorful impressive church in the memory of his father starting in 1883. Inside the temple stands the point of Alexander's murder and is surrounded by a ribbon to isolate the “point” by visitors...

Later we went to Kazan's temple, which is located on the Nevsky Prospekt (main street) and is designed to the standards of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The interior is impressive, with the granite-lined pillars...

After Kazan's temple, we crawled in Nevsky and across is the old Singer building which now houses a large bookstore. On the first floor there is the famous café... but we preferred to go for a coffee break to Literatura kafe where they were drinking their coffee well-known old Russian writers. Literatura kafe is located also on Nevsky. At that time we saw the Harley Davidson parade that crossed the stately avenue of St Petersburg...

After that we took the subway and we went to a suburb of St. Petersburg to go to the Udelka flea market where Efi wanted to take a look at antiquities of another era (Soviet era). By the time we got out of the metro station we came in contact with a different picture than the one we saw in the city center... The people looked poor, the buildings were abandoned of maintenance and some vendors had set up their mobile shop the outside the station. I saw a grandmother who was selling two pairs of children's shoes and a plant in a pot... Just these !!! We really cracked thinking about what we would see next... We asked some locals how we would go to the flea market and after a short walk, we found that the flea was starting next to the train lines. In the beginning there were some kiosks that closed in their ware when the day was over. Then, we went to an open space where the vendors had put blankets on the ground and deposited their goods for sale there. You could see on sale, a vast variety of goods... Old porcelains, Soviet-made radios, old books and discs, used clothes and shoes, tools, used glasses in piles, used household items and all that and many more for a few rubles... Damn poverty!!! There we saw the other face of Russia, the opposite of what we saw in Moscow. Elderly people, struggling to make their living lying on the ground, selling their past to a flea market... What dominated us was sorrow!!! We spent more than two hours walking around this hive of people, observing people and materials. We felt “lucky” because we succeed to see the other side behind the scuffling showcase that some upstarts Russians have created in our minds.

It was late at noon when we returned to our hotel for some rest. We went back to Cafe del Mar in Nevsky, where in the morning we drank our coffee and met Alexey, a 33-year-old, as he told us, a merchant broker, and when we went out of the café to smoke (in Russia smoking in the shops) he proposed to us if we want to smoke marijuana... Efi didn’t realize that this guy meant something different from what he suggested and started telling him that we ate a good breakfast and thanked him for his kind proposal... Hahaha!!! We laugh a lot after thinking over that incident!

Cafe del Mar at night hours demanded on the door a deposit of 20,000 rubles to get in and sit on a table... (Café del Mar runs as a club at nights). So we politely refused to discuss this prospect. Del Mar had an unbelievable interior decoration, the classy patrons dressed flawlessly and the music was very good! But another time... We went to another café-bar-club in Nevsky and enjoyed our drinks...

 

Day 10                     St. Petersburg (Russia)

 

Sunday was our last day in St. Petersburg and was devoted to the Hermitage Museum. We departed from our hotel at nine o’clock in the morning and under rain we went to the nearest metro station to go to the museum. We went to Administral Station and first we visited the Cathedral of St. Isaac. It is one of St. Petersburg's most important attractions. The colonnade of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the best viewing point in central St. Petersburg. 43 meters high above the downtown provide a 360-degree-panorama with major landmarks and marvelous landscapes below. The French architect, Auguste de Montferrand, built this impressive cathedral, the third largest in the world, dominated by a colossal dome covered with 100 kilos of gold. The imposing Church of St. Isaac (1818), which was built for 40 years and for 40,000 workers used to its completion. His interior decoration is extremely rich, and the look immediately attracts the gigantic columns of malachite and lapis lazuli. Impressed by our visit we took a break and we took our morning coffee in a coffee shop across the temple, commenting on what we just saw...

We enjoyed our coffee overlooking at the Cathedral across the street! As soon as we left the coffee shop we went to the square of St. Isaac, where we marveled and took many pictures by the bronze statue of the equestrian monument of Tsar Nicholas I. After that followed a beautiful walk to Hermitage Museum. It took us ten to fifteen minutes walk. We had booked the tickets from the museum's online webpage to avoid long queues buying our tickets at the entrance, and that was a great idea!!! The online ticket costs more than buying it at the ticket office but it was worth the hassle that we didn’t have to wait on a queue wasting time...

We focused more on the wing of works by the Flemish and Italian painters we were interested in. Late in the afternoon, we came out of the museum and walked by the river, observing and admiring the surrounding... We took one last walk at Nevsky Prospekt and we returned to our hotel to get some rest after all those long walks all those days.We found ourselves in the huge square in front of the winter palace of Tsars, where the Hermitage is housed, painted in green pastels and white tones. The museum is housed in six historic buildings, including the winter palace of the Russian Emperors. We found the entrance for those who booked tickets over the internet and after the necessary entrance check in the museum, we were at the beginning of our tour in history... Hermitage is unrealistically large as it houses more than 3 million works of art. In order a visitor visit all the exhibits by dedicating only one minute to each exhibit it will take 7 years to do so!!! As everyone of you imagine, we didn’t see all the exhibits...

In the evening we found in a very nice restaurant, next to the bank of Neva river, and enjoyed a delicious dinner with local specialties. Outside the restaurant, there was a sudden outbreak of wind and a thunderstorm that flooded the streets of the city...

In closing our visit to St. Petersburg, I would like to say that compared to the standard of living in Moscow, St. Petersburg surely "showed" a category below ... The people looked poorer, shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. seemed to have the "class" of the Moscow counterparts... Undoubtedly the former capital of Tsarist Russia has demonstrated the endless wealth of the palaces and the majesty of the Russian Orthodox temples, and is a huge open exhibition of monumental, decorative and with magnificent buildings, gardens and parks, wide avenues, carved bridges, statues and monuments, but it is (for us at least) a step below Moscow. We certainly liked the city and impressed us and we enjoyed our stay and we would go again... The above comment was just our comparison between these two cities... We didn’t visit all the attractions in St Petersburg just to have a good reason to visit it again... !!!

 

Day 11            St. Petersburg (Russia) - Tallinn (Estonia) 370 km

 

The packing of our stuff and loading - unloading of the moto had become again, almost everyday. Once again with Adrian, we loaded our motorcycles with the escort of a drizzle... So we said goodbye to the wet and hospitable St. Petersburg and we headed to the motorway E20 towards the Russian - Estonian borders. Motorway E20, a provincial road, had one lane per direction with very good quality of asphalt, was the one we traveled our last 160 kilometers to the Russian territory. We arrived at the border and fell on a Russian old lady policeman who was quite hilarious and created a big issue because I had the camera attached to my helmet (not recording). He asked another policeman to force me to erase the camera files. I did my magic with GoPro and I gave them to understand that I was erased the files, but I do not... After this that lady was overtaken by us, we went through customs control, where we had to open our suitcases, and after all that wasted time at the Russian border we went to Duty Free that existed and we bought some vodka...

We crossed the bridge across the Narva River, which is the natural border between these two countries, and we were at the Estonian border station where within twenty minutes we were done with the procedures and we retreated to the European Union... We continued our route on to the provincial road E20 and covered the remaining 215 km which remained from the border to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn. The route was in a flat green landscape, and in some places the road was close to the Baltic Sea and in the last 90 kilometers it became a motorway. The sky was covered with heavy clouds that didn’t gave us any trouble.

It was the second time I visited Tallinn, and its old town (since the 13th century) and its happy inhabitants, as well as its cheerful people, had won me and left a beautiful memory in my mind! We arrived at our hotel, the Tallink Express, which was very close to the old town and so we left the moto and after we got ready, we went to the streets to seize the rest of the day, since we would only stay one night in Tallinn. Our first stop was in the square of the Town Hall, where the buildings surrounding the square date back to 1400 AD. approximately! The building of the Town Hall is in Gothic style and dates back to 1.404 AD!!! The oldest pharmacy in Europe, which has been operating continuously until today, is close by. The records indicate that its third owner took over 1,422 AD.!!! After having enjoyed our coffee and observed at the people who walked and photographed in the square, we started walking in the narrow streets of the Old Town. We walked in the alley of St. Catherine and it was like entering in a time machine and the surrounding was full of cellars, burrows, roofs, lofts, old stairs and wooden beams... This setting turned us back to the time of the Hanseatic Union, like a real Middle Age scenic!!!

We went up to Toompea Castle, which I visited again in 2010, in my way back to Greece, from my trip to North Cape. I couldn’t say that I saw a change in the city in these six years... For dinner we preferred the medieval restaurant Olde Hansa and we tasted medieval dishes that it was something way different from our usual meals and we liked a lot! I highly recommend it to those looking for something different than an ordinary meal! At the time we were done with our dinner the shops were closed and it started to darken for good. After a while we returned to our hotel because the next morning it would find us again on the road.

 

Day 12                 Tallinn (Estonia) - Riga (Latvia) 305 km

 

Rain and strong wind was the hallmark of the day. We took our breakfast, we wore our raincoats over our uniforms and we started going downhill... Next stop of our trip it would be Riga, in Latvia. It was not many kilometers to be covered, but the weather began to give us hard time on driving from the first kilometers... It didn’t stop raining all the way! Not a minute, to take a break... Always on my trips I get three pairs of gloves for me and two for my co-rider, because as much as waterproof it is and as manufacturers say they are, after a while of driving in the rain, they soak... My rain jacket began to bear witness to its age (It was almost 10 years old) and it began to absorb water, and the water soaked my uniform jacket... It's time to buy new gloves...

The road 4 (E67) was not a highway, but a two-way provincial road with one lane in each direction with very good asphalt. The second time I had driven in this beautiful route. Through a verdant landscape with forests at intervals and with a road that deserves special attention, since beyond the rain, we had to be alert with many truck drivers who drive on this very busy road leaving spray behind their trucks. After Parnu, the road became coastal and we had a view of the Riga Bay. Sometime we stopped with Adrian at a gas station for a coffee and when we walked into the coffee shop, we were so wet that I was ashamed... Too much water! Of course we didn’t get a photo on the road, only videos with GoPro...

After we crossed the Estonian-Latvian border, we were only 115 km away, and all that distance covered under with the company of rain... We arrived in Riga shortly before one o'clock in the afternoon, and we went to the hotel where we asked the receptionist to give us a radiator to dry out our gloves and our helmets, since at the point where the helmet rests on the shoulders, the lining absorbs water from what is on the waterproof but also from the water that sucks from the helmet itself...

We put our soaked gear around the heater, we took a hot shower to get well and called a taxi that took us to St Peter's Church in the city center. I could say that the fare was not expensive... From the visiting bell tower of the church, you have a very beautiful view of the city, and we didn’t miss the opportunity...

It was my second visit in Riga... The Latvian capital is an ideal destination for a long weekend. On the banks of the Daugavas River, surrounded by towering walls, the Old Town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After our visit to St Peter's Church, we went for coffee shop near the Cathedral... The morning rain didn’t stop there! As we were close, we started the second part of our tour of the Cathedral with its characteristic red bricks. Inside, we have admired one of the largest ecclesiastical instruments in Europe, which is close to 7,000 lumens!!!

We continued walking on the labyrinthine paved paths of the old town and went to the home with the cats (statues) on the top of its two towers (Kaķu māja) and then to the 42 meters high Monument of Liberty, where at the top is a young girl holding 3 stars, in honor of soldiers who were shot during the Liberation War (1918-1920). After our tour of the Old Town center, we went to a restaurant to fill our stomachs that had begun to complain intensely... We returned to our hotel in the evening and found that the wet gear had dried out and was ready for the next day...

 

Day 13                        Riga (Latvia) - Vilnius (Lithuania) 315 km

 

The rain hadn’t be done... All night was raining and on the same pattern continued in the morning! We had our breakfast and started to load our motorcycles. The rain did not make us lose our mood! We would enjoy our trip either way or other!

We departed form our hotel at nine o'clock to heading to Lithuania. The asphalt pavement at any point did not make us feel uncomfortable! Worry and anti-slip did not allow for slips... What we had in mind and especially watched for was that at some points the road had accumulated water and we got aquaplanning. We were constantly alert, but there were not many such points. The Nordic countries due to the weather conditions (snow and rain) ensure that the road network does not pose a risk to the users.

The Latvian border with Lithuania was only 85 km away and following the provisional road A7 (E67) in less than an hour from the time we started to drive we entered in Lithuania. A7, a two-way road with a lane in each direction and a very good asphalt carpet did not create any issue in spite of the constant rainfall. Crossing the border, the E67 was renamed to A10 with the same specifications and in the past 160 kilometers, after Panevezys became a motorway (A2) with a frieze in the middle and two lanes of traffic per direction.

 The last time I visited Lithuania I had gone to Kaunas. Now the capital of the country, Vilnius, had its turn. We arrived at our hotel (Grata Hotel) which I booked it by booking.com and it was very good and at a very reasonable price. We freshened up and we headed towards the Old Town of Vilnius. The Neris River divides the Old Town from the new one. The historical center of the Old Town is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town closes the oldest part of the Lithuanian capital, and is one of the largest preserved medieval cities in Eastern Europe. We found the central pedestrianized street of Pilies, with dozens of small shops and cozy café-restaurants, which are basically the heart of the Old Town. We walked in Pilies, which is also a street for shopping. Here we met our Lithuanian motorcyclist friend Konstantinas, whom we had met with Efi on our previous trip, on the roads of Croatia... Our friend is a skipper and a motor biker!!! He gets his moto from Vilnius and drives to the Dalmatian coasts (Split or Dubrovnik), embarking on the sailing boat and touring his cruise passengers in the Mediterranean. He has come to Greece several times and declares enchanted by the Greek islands! We drank our coffee, exchanged our news, and he started touring us in his town. We started from the whitewashed cathedral with the towering tower that dominates the square of the same name. Dedicated to Saints Stanislaus and Ladislaus, it is the main Roman Catholic temple of Lithuania and was built in 1783 in the place of an earlier one, which was destroyed by a fire as our friend explained. Then we took the cable car and went up to the green hill that hosts the Gediminas tower. Built by red bricks, the three-level tower is the historic symbol of the city and its top is the ideal spot for a revealing Vilnius photograph and rivers flowing through it. Just a short distance from the redhead tower is the medieval castle of the city. We walked on and walked through green parks with lots of flower-filled flowerbeds... It reminded me of Athens... just joking... We walked to the Roman Catholic church of Santa Anna, which has been built with 33 different types of bricks and has been painted red making it very impressive!

After we said goodbye to Konstantinas we got our information about where we could find good food and good beer we went to taste local specialties... at Leiciu bravoras (brewery) where we tried (we always try, we don’t eat, we don’t drink... ) local beer from their brewery! Everything was great!!! After this wonderful dinner, we told to waiter to call for us a taxi to return to our hotel. The taxi entered the streets of the Old Town, came out of the beer garden, took us back and returned to our hotel...

 

Day 14            Vilnius (Lithuania) - Warsaw (Poland) 490 km

 

It was the morning that we would say goodbye to Adrian... His own trip was from Minsk to Vilnius. He didn’t have more days to travel with us and he had to return to Romania. So we would continue for Warsaw and Adrian would enter Ukraine to drive to Romania. After we said goodbye, Adrian’s motorcycle (and my previous own) did not respond to start the engine... I thought that the problem could be the antenna ring (immobilizer), but it did not had have indications on the dial sometimes... When the ignition was ON and we were turning the steering wheel from left to right we observed that the indications on the dial come and go...  Then we realized that something was up with some electrical problem under the steering wheel... A phone call at Konstantinas solved the problem of Adrian... We started our journey, and Adrian with Konstantinas loaded Adrian’s motorcycle and went to a workshop where our Lithuanian friend repairs his own GS... After an hour Adrian was ready to continue his trip... A cable under the switch didn’t make contact... We saw it happens!!! At the end everything was ok  thanks to Konstantinas!

We (Efi and I) headed first to Trakai, where Konstantinas lived and had given us information about that beautiful place. I had read about Trakai and I had seen a lot of photos before we started the trip and it was on our way so we couldn’t miss it... Just 55 kilometers southwest of Vilnius... In less than an hour we were in the most popular tourist resort of Lithuania. It is a city literally built on the water, surrounded by more than 200 lakes and 21 small islands. Undoubtedly the trademark of Trakai is the three medieval castles located in its wider area, which have been linked to a multitude of legends and traditions of the region. Most important is what it is on the islet of Lake Galve, aged from 15th century. We stopped across from the castle of Lake Galve, which looked very beautiful in red, a contrast to the blue waters of the lake and the lush landscape surrounding the lake and the castle! After a few minutes from our arrival, tourist buses stopped and the tourists crowded the place. Fortunately, we had the chance to admire the scenery and take out our photo with no many people around... We departed by discussing with Efi how beautiful and picturesque was the place where Konstantinas and his family live!

We continued west to the A16 and then we followed the provincial 132. Sometime before Alytous the rain appeared and we wore for one more time our rain gear... Crossing a flat green landscape we reached the border with Poland. The Polish forests took the place of the scene we had been accustomed to in Lithuania... We passed the town of Augustow and continued our course on the  Road 61 till the Ostrow Mazowieska and then the E67 to Wyszkow. The last 60 kilometers from Wyszkow to Warsaw I drove to S8 motorway. We arrived to Warsaw at 4pm and we went to the apartment that I booked by booking.com where our gentle owner and his grandson waited for us. He showed us the apartment that was very close to the city center and the whole consultation was done through his tablet with the help of a voice translator, since he didn’t speak English... However, it worked!

Efi took her nap while I took a shower and went to Hard Rock Café to drink a cup of coffee and keep notes of our travel day in my diary I keep in my travels... It was the fourth time I was in Warsaw and I knew how to move comfortably in the city center. So after a few minutes I was enjoying my coffee and I was writing... An hour later Efi arrived I Hard Rock Cafe. Having made her shopping at the mall next to the Hard Rock Café, we went to the old town with my cousin, which lives in Warsaw. After we walked a lot we ended up in a restaurant that she knew and ate delicious dumblings !!! After this gastronomic treat we returned to our apartment...

 

Day 15            Warsaw (Poland) - Hustopece (Czech Republic) 600 km

 

A sunny Friday dawned in the capital of Poland a proper condition to ride my motorcycle... We had left the rain for good back in Lithuania. Around eight o’clock we had loaded the motorcycle and we were out to the streets of Warsaw to "go down" to the Czech Republic and specifically to Brno to watch the motoGP, since it was the weekend that the motoGP calendar was "showing" Brno!!!

 I followed the directions of my GPS that took us to the motorway E75, which we followed till Katowice. A good motorway helped us to cover quickly the kilometers and we had a lot to do that day... After Katowice we followed highway A1 and shortly after in the afternoon we entered in Czech Republic. The route didn’t have anything special to show... After the border we followed highway 1 and after arriving in Olomouc we entered for a short time in road E462 and then again at 1 until we reached Brno's perimeter, and then we got the road E65 that went NA the village of Hustopece where we had booked our accommodation, almost 30 kilometers far from Brno. Our hotel in Hustopece abstained 53 kilometers from Automotodrom Brno... So we arrived at our hotel at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Our accommodation was surrounded by vineyards, it was recently constructed and it also had a closed garage for my moto!!! It was perfect!

That day, when we left from Poland, at the same time, two of my friends from Greece were driving their motorcycles to Brno with whom we were going to watch the motoGP together, and we had all our tickets bought through internet from Greece. My friends arrived just before the evening and they went straight to their hotel in a nearby village.

 

Day 16            Hustopece (Czech Republic) - motoGP Brno

 

When the sun rose I went out to the window and saw the perfection! We were in paradise and the sun was smiling at me! It was exactly what we wanted! In the middle of nowhere, quiet, calm in a beautiful inn that was run by an elderly couple who was chatting with us through a pantomime because none of them didn’t speak English... Everything was great!

We went at the dinning room to get our breakfast, and a little later, as we drank our coffee with Efi in the yard, my friends came after several hours of sleep, having traveled straight from Belgrade the day before... We changed clothes wearing our moto gears, I got my photographic equipment, our tickets and we hit the road... We left Efi in the center of Brno, since it was too much for her to watch the motoGP tests and qualifyings on Saturday... Brno AutoMotodrom was 20 kilometers away from Brno! As we approached in AutoMotodrom, traffic was a lot more and more intense. When we started to enter the outskirts of the track, passing through the beautiful forests surrounding it, I began to shiver with the thrill of what we were going to see. We parked our motorcycles along with other motorbikes at the appropriate parking areas and left them to find the stand that we would stand to watch the motoGP... A lot of people!!! Okay, I've been to a Formula 1 race and I've lived a similar scene, but the scenery of motoGP does not exist!!! It was way different!

The fans were dressed with different colors depending on the colors their favorite teams dominates in motoGP, but the one that dominated more was, of course, the doctor's yellow (aka Valentino Rossi)! We found a spot on the slope where we sit waiting it to start... As soon as it started and we heard the sound of the engines and exhausts, all this flooded us with an incredible bliss! We lived a tremendous experience and we were anxious for the race!

In the afternoon we drove back to Brno. Czech police officers were regulating traffic and "detoured’’ us on side streets to decongest the traffic jam. Many people leaved the Automotodrom after the event. So we arrived in the center of Brno, we parked our motorcycles and we went to meet Efi who had been having fun and was sitting on a lawn chair on the central square (Freedom Square)... It was already late noon, and the temperature was at its 30s, and it was the right time to enjoy a local beer at one of the coffee-restaurants that were around the square.

Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic after the capital Prague and is located in the southern part of Moravia. Efi had already made a tour around the city. But what made her great impression was the Capuchin Crypt. One of the most interesting sights in Brno is certainly the Capuchin Crypt, with its pink exterior not pretending for its contents at all. The crypt dates back hundreds of years and includes dead, mummified monks and members of the Holy Cross Church with their arms crossed, with their clothes and an ancient robe hanging from their hands. It's a bit creepy but it's one of the must do in Brno. The Cathedral of Peter and Paul had pulled our attention from the morning we went to the city to leave Efi. The cathedral of Peter and Paul had pulled our attention from the morning we went to the city to leave Efi. The Gothic temple was built in the 14th century and steals the look of those who approach the city, as it stands high, next to the old brick wall that protected Brno. What we left for the next time we visit the city of Brno is the underground labyrinth "LABYRINT POD ZELNÝM TRHEM"...

We returned to our lodgings for a little rest and when the sun went down we were ready to go to Boretice, in the village where my friends hotel was, to have dinner and drink good local win. I could say that we had great time!!!

 

Day 17            Hustopece (Czech Republic) - motoGP Brno

 

The big day was on!!! Race day! But... The rain was something that spoiled our plans... We took our breakfast, drank our coffee and waited for the moment that the rain will stop... But the weather didn’t change... We wore (Efi and I) our rain moto gear and we left towards the Automotodrom as my friends didn’t like the prospect to watch a rainy motoGP. When we got to the track, it stopped raining and that was something that pleased us very much. We headed to our stand (slope) and found a spot with a good view to watch the motoGP race. Behind us were two Greeks who had come from Greece only for the race. We had a little chat, and when the race started, we commented the race. The “Doctor” eventually finished second, having a good performance in the second half of the race. With satisfaction from the race painted on our faces, we went to the parking lot and got the moto to go to Brno, where we had an appointment with my friends. We walked in the city and late in the afternoon we returned to our hotels. In the evening, we had dinner at our hotel’s restaurant, which was excellent, as well as its wine.

motoGP mission - - - Accomplished!

 

18th day        Hustopece (Czech Republic) - Karlovac (Croatia) 520 km

 

In the morning we got ready, we loaded the moto, we met with my friends and started our route of the day following on the first kilometers road E65. We turned west and got road 55 to the border with Austria and then road 47. The provincial road we drove through small villages and cultivated farmlands. Entering in Austria, we bought the vignette to be safe on a probable police check. Vignette for 10 days, cost 5 euros. We met the A5 motorway that led us to Vienna, just 115 kilometers from Hustopece, which was our first stop of the day. Coffee in Sacher Hotel and of course Sacher torte...

After got sweetened enough, we continued on the motorway for 200 kilometers, for our next stop, in Graz. It was my third time in Graz in the past two years. Very beautiful and picturesque city that is always overwhelmed by tourists. We walked to the main pedestrian street of the city and we got a beer on the square where the wonderful building of the Town Hall is...

On the road again, for the capital of Croatia this time, Zagreb. Just 190 kilometers... The motorway E59 was going straight in Zagreb. We crossed all of Slovenia, and of course we also bought a vignette there... One seven-day vignette cost us 7.50 €! We arrived in Zagreb just after 7pm. We drank a coffee, and my friends walked around the city center and a little later we departed for our final destination, Karlovac, 50 km away, but we hadn’t book a hotel so we had to have in our minds to find an accommodation. We followed E65 just before Karlovac, where we turned left to road 1. Provincial road 1 is the one passing through from Plitvice lakes which was one of the next day's visit. Shortly after Karlovac we stopped on the road where we had several rooms to let and Efi arranged for us an accommodation – an apartment - for 50 euros... Perfect! We left our stuff and we drove back to Karlovac, where after the information of the sympathetic owner we went to a very nice restaurant next to the river Kupa where we ate Cevapi... we drank local beer and then with the smile of happiness we headed back to our beds.

 

Day 19            Karlovac (Croatia) - Podgorica (Montenegro) 680 km

 

A difficult day started. Difficult because most of the kilometers would be taken in provincial roads with heavy traffic (due to summer vacations) and two stops in Plitvice and Dubrovnik that would take us some time because we had 680 km to drive that day... Anyway, a new day had come. The weather was good and our landlord had made for us coffee which we drank thankfully in her flower yard where two workers had brought a saw blade and they were ripping the woods that were cluttered for a hot winter in their fireplace! After we thanked the friendly owners of the apartment we stayed, we took road 1 in the south direction. The Plitvice Lakes, the most beautiful lake complex I have seen, were only 75 kilometers away from our guesthouse. It was the third time I would visit this Croatian National Park and the first for the rest of my company and I could feel their excitement because everyone had seen pictures of this incredible landscape. Among the eight Croatian National Parks, it is considered to be the country's biggest attraction and the most popular. It is literally a miracle of nature, a place of such indescribable beauty that was proclaimed in 1979 by the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Plitvice lakeside is particularly well known for its many large and impressive waterfalls that create 16 large and many smaller, turquoise, spotless lakes where are fishes and grow water lilies and orchids. Walking in the park is most often done on wooden walkways - paths that cross the park over the water, which is sometimes stationary and at other times it runs below. A two-hour was enough... (was it?) For a short walk in the park...

Full of nature images, we left Plitvice for Dubrovnik... After 50 km in the provincial road 1, we took A1 (or E75) motorway. There was a lot of traffic and the traffic was getting intense and intense. At some point there was a big traffic jam. We passed the cars in front of us slowly and fortunately there was no accident. Police officers had stopped the traffic and were leaving only a few vehicles to pass because as they explained to us there were strong winds in the next few kilometers. The wind was already beating us. We started to drive in tilt and after Sveti Rock tunnels hit us with great force that made the stability of motorcycles difficult. We were driving in an angle against the wind... It reminded me moments I lived in Nordkapp as well as in Patagonia... The Adriatic seemed whiter because of the waves. This situation was a shock for Efi. It was her first time on the motorcycle with strong winds trying to throw us over the motorcycle... We traveled a few kilometers in such conditions, and a bit before Sibenik the wind began to lower its strength... One stop at a gas station for fuel and a hot coffee made us feel better.

The motorway lasted shortly after Split and the last 130 km to Dubrovnik we covered them in the coastal provincial, 8. A few kilometers before Dubrovnik we stopped at a seaside tavern and enjoyed a warm soup and a good beer. We entered Dubrovnik and parked the motorcycles on one of the parking spaces next to the walls of the medieval city. How many times have I been to Dubrovnik? Too many I could say. Efi and I chose a nice coffee shop and we settled down(we paid that coffee as gold as always in Dubrovnik!) Dubrovnik’s coffee shops and restaurants are waaay expensive! It was late in the afternoon when we left behind Dubrovnik. Another 150 kilometers remained to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, and many of them were on the mountains in the darkness.

Ten kilometers after Dubrovnik we entered in Bosnia-Herzegovina and following the mountainous provincial M20 we reached Trebinje and then road M6 to the border with Montenegro. This crossing of Bosnia was only 50 kilometers but they demanded attention, especially in the darkness... We headed to Niksic and a bit before arriving there, at the side of the road there was a tavern of our taste. We had dinner with delicious local delicacies and drank a beer.

We just passed Niksic, and we got E762, a few kilometers out of town with a police blocked down... We agreed with my friends that whenever if anywhere a policeman make a signal to stop the first motorcycle, the other motorcycles will overtake and stop a kilometer away waiting for the one who was stopped. It would be stupid to stop all three motorcycles. So as I was driving into darkness (no lights beside the road), I was behind of two cars. I overtook the one that was quite right on the road and so I didn’t step into the opposite direction lane or maybe I just was behind a FIAT Cinquecento which its driver a few meters later steps on the brakes and I reacted immediately and we didn’t have any issue. Stopping in the middle of the road... I tried to look closely in the dark and I saw two police officers and I was very surprised... My friends overtook us we were stopped at the right of the road and continue their way to stop later in a small distance after. Then an elderly policeman came to me and without talking to English I realized he was asking me for the documents of the motorcycle and my driver’s license. A little later brought and gave me an alcohol test machine and shows me how I had to blow to it through my mouth. Because I had never been through this procedure, I didn’t blow hard enough as he asked for and he continued to shout at me more and more in his language (Montenegro)... At some point the other policeman approached us, a young guy who was speaking poor English and explained to me that I had to blow hard for the test. I did it and the level was below the limit so there was no problem. Then he told me that when I was driving I had crossed the middle line (between the two directions) and fe had to give me a ticket. I explained to him that I overtook that car but I didn’t go to the opposite stream crossing the line because there was enough space in my lane and so I drove a motorcycle not a car! He accepted it, he gave me back my documents, and I left to meet my friends a little further, so we continued on Podgorica without any fine. We arrived in Podgorica close to midnight (the difficult day I said at the beginning...), and within a quarter we found a hotel with parking for motorcycles. Efi arranged everything about that night’s lodging! We went to our rooms and after a we rejuvenating shower we slept immediately... Such a fatigue! We were about 16 hours on the road... I do not get used to it (to be on the road all day long till late) on my travels but it happened...

 

Day 20            Podgorica (Montenegro) - Patras (Greece) 665 km

 

Last day of our trip... sniff - sniff!!! At 9am we left our hotel and we went downtown in the central square of Democracy, to a coffee shop to drink a coffee. From a pastry shop next door we got some butter croissants to accompany our coffee...

Podgorica after all the cities we had visited and lived in the past days of our trip looked to us as kitsch and dirty. The poverty of the inhabitants was evident and was in sharp contrast to the coastal towns of Montenegro on the Dalmatian coasts, such as Kotor, Budva etc. I was expecting that Podgorica as a capital to be in a good level but ...

The border with Albania was away just 23 kilometers and so, following road E762, we entered in the neighboring country towards Shkodra. There was heavy traffic and driving was a concern because Albanians are a bit unpredictable as drivers... After Shkodra, on the road to Tirana, we were in a big traffic jam because, as we found out a little later, there was an accident (a golf with a van).  After a little we stop for refueling and a lady in the gas station told that a couple of Italian tourists were killed... Driving in Albania needs a lot of attention. We stopped shortly after Fier in a cafe-restaurant where the owner spoke Greek after having lived in Greece for some years. He was very happy because we stopped there drinking our coffee and had a chat. At the time we enjoyed our coffee, a thunderstorm made the road to look like a river... It was that asphalt on the road very slippery when it was dry, imagine how worse became after that rain! We wore our rain gear, we got our motorcycles and after a few kilometers towards south the road became better and a little later the rain stopped...

At six o'clock in the afternoon we entered in Greece from the border station of Kakavia. We stopped at Ioannina for a coffee and then I drove the last 200 kilometers to get home. Just before ten o'clock we returned to our base after a twenty-day trip! I gave a kiss to my motorcycle and got off the moto to unload the panniers etc.

Another journey ended without any problems, with many pictures in our minds and peace in our souls! I had traveled to all the other former Soviet countries on the European continent, but I had never traveled to Mom-Russia... A trip that was centered on Russia so that we could get a little bit into the Russian culture. We would certainly want more days to understand more things about life in Russia, and further more to travel to the Russian provinces and not only to Moscow and St Petersburg. The province of any country is the one that puts you in the into that country’s everyday life... I hope soon to go back to the streets of the Russian territory and at that time to travel across the eastern border of Russia (Trans Siberian)..

So those twenty days...     The cost of the hotels reached 820 € for (Efi and me) and the gasoline for 8.250 kilometers, to the surprising amount of about 500 €!!! The rest expenses for food, fun, etc. are subjective and depend on each person’s budget. Throughout the trip we didn’t run into a danger and we didn’t feel insecure in any case.

Adrian's tranquil power, he enjoyed our riding and the moments our trip together. My girlfriend Efi, like a toddler who's put on a playground! She enjoyed every moment and was always with an undefined smile of bliss on her lips. We all walked a lot in the cities we visited because, as you know, if you don’t walk in the city you visit, you don’t get an aspect on it. Regarding me, I enjoyed every detail of the trip, small or big. It's a great thing to know some locals where you visit their countries, because they help you get to know the place you are visiting. We are very grateful to Konstantin Morozov in Moscow and Konstantinas Kozlovas in Vilnius for the time they shared with us (and their help) and we hope to meet them again soon!

Something different on my bike  in this trip from the past, was the tires. This time I put on a set of Dunlop Trailsmart II, which until the moment I started to feel good with them (I’m a fan of Michelin Anakee for some years...), I drove a few kilometers. The tires had have very good traction and I didn’t feel uncomfortable with them on either a dry or wet asphalt, and my return home I concluded that they have a longer life than Michelin...

Otherwise, I had a problem with BMW's tankbag, which when rained the humidity made the transparent blurry. In the interrior of it, I had put my stuff (as travel books, my passport, other documents etc.), there was no problem, but when I returned back home I searched and bought a cover to avoid future issues...

I traveled with three cameras together, GoPro Hero3, GoPro Hero2 and Contour Roam. I had photo cameras Sony DSC-HX20V, Sony DSC-HX60V and a Nikon D3200 DSLR. Unfortunately, I had a loss... Outside of Hermitage Museum, GoPro Hero2 fell and its lens broke, and it went out of use... Shit happens!

My bike? As always... a MAGIC CARPET... is looking forward for the next trip...

Because our best trips have not be done yet!!!

 

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