Hi to all our blog followers:After having some of the best pizzas we have ever experienced in an Italian restaurant called “Pepperoni” in Semey, we awoke to a clearing morning, as it had been raining heavily the night before. We then began our drive North to the Russian border, our 11th controlled border since driving out of Brussels.
These borders have been the bane of our travels. The shortest ones had been in Bulgaria and Romania, only 30 minutes or so. Others, such as Iran and Uzbekistan have been 4 hours or more of utter frustration. Rubber stamps, filling in countless forms, going from one office to another, sent back without explanation if you missed one. Most border officials try to help as they understand the bureaucracy can be difficult. Others are just being petty, such as opening a brand new box of tissues by tearing away the side and tipping all the tissues out, then checking the photos on your camera, deleting what they do not like. Some others are out to get a bribe. They want to find something wrong, so you need to pay them off. Finally, there are those who steal things from your car. We watch them like hawks, as some have been holding personal objects they have picked up to inspect, and you just know that if you look away, they will pocket it. Luckily, we have been severely hassled, but nothing has been taken, no bribes paid.
What would this border be like?
We arrived at the Kazak border and everything went smoothly. They did their job, inspected, had their dog sniff our car for drugs, stamped, and we were through in 30 minutes after a long wait to get through the gates. Then we joined the queue waiting to enter Russia.
When this picture was taken, there was an orderly queue. Just as the border was to let the next group in, there was a flood of cars driving past from the back and pushing to the front. Our bullbar and aggressive driving had many of them balking and hanging back. Well done Jeff and Pete who were the drivers. The cars lined up behind the inspection bays on the Russian side and people were sprinting for the passport office. We joined the rush.
Were were processed quickly and efficiently. our cars were inspected and after 15 minutes we were through! Amazing. The whole process, including the long waiting times, was under 2 hours!
We were in Russia. Great roads, well signed, even if we could not read them, neat towns, and rich, heavily planted farmland growing sunflowers and what looked like a grain, possibly wheat.
We also saw something we had not seen for a long time, trees in a forest. Tall, rich and green. Looked great.
Arriving in Barnaul was a revelation. Trams, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants. What a wonderful city.
Barnaul is the capital of the Altai Territory and has a population of over 600,000. It has been a prosperous industrial city since it was founded in 1730. Our hotel was the aptly named Hotel Siberia.
A good dinner with wine followed. Off towards the Mongolian border tomorrow. It will take us 2 days to get there driving across the Altai mountains.
We will not be able to cross until the third day because, firstly, there is a sudden 3 hour time zone change between Russia and Mongolia, and secondly, the process of importing our car into Mongolia, as it is being donated, is a tedious one and may take all day!
Not sure when we will have internet again. Will try tomorrow night if lucky.
C-YA Andrew and Jeff