Friday, July 27, 2012

Tomsk and the race towards Irkutsk

After our adventures in Omsk we decided to leave ourselves enough time in Irkutsk just in case we had some problems with the Mongolian visa. Everybody said it's a formality, but then again they said the same about the Kazakh one. And too much time is not a problem as we know we will be able to spend it nicely on lake Baikal. We were even wondering if we should go to Tomsk at all or just drive further towards Mongolian consulate, but so many people told us what a nice city it is, that we decided to give it a try. And I won't be exaggerating if I say it changed our journey for good.

Tomsk really is a nice city. Small, sweet and with this unique atmosphere only student cities can have. And it's full with wooden houses we came to love so much. We were really having some good time there. And then it got even better.

We decided to find a hotel as it was finally time to take a hot shower again, but the first one, the Sputnik Hotel didn't really convinced us. The building and the interiors certainly remembered the times when Lenin was still a baby, but the prices where on quite a modern European level. Unfortunately it is a very popular combination in Russia. So we decided to trust Lonely Planet again and went for another place. When we saw their parking we already knew we're staying there. There was a Toyota Hilux parked just in front of it with a self-made world map on one side. As a overland traveler you develop a strong curiosity for other peoples cars and that was the first foreign one we saw, so few minutes later we were watching the car from all possible angles. The sticker in the front was saying it's owner plans to circle the world in 800 days and that was enough for us to stay in a hotel and try to find out more. Even if the hotel was at the 5th floor without a lift and we knew we will need to carry about 60 liters of water to fill out tank again.

We didn't need to wait long until we heard some noises downstairs. 2 people unpacking the car. We haven't seen any foreigners since we left Moscow so we raced down to talk to them without much thinking. And so we met Emma and Andy two Brits with their perfectly equipped car “Bee Bee”, who are really planning to circle the world in 800 days and choose Asia to be the first step (for more check, choosing a similar route to ours. I can't even tell you how nice it is to talk to people who actually share your plan and ideas. And they told us there is one more guy from Germany a day or so ahead of us, trying to do the same thing. We finally felt we're not the only crazy people in this world Since I have to say that not only some of our friends and family found our idea a bit strange, the Russians are regularly laughing at us too. Every time they see our car they want to know if we really did drive from Germany on our own and they always find our answer hilarious. When we want to make them laugh even more, we tell them we're actually heading to Mongolia and then they are already laughing so hard they can hardly breath. And if we think they can handle a bit more we add, that it's actually our honeymoon. You should see them then...

Anyway we decided not to spend too much time in Tomsk and meet Emma and Andy again in Irkutsk, hopefully with our Mongolian visa sorted out.

We decided to take the shortest way to Irkutsk, sleeping along the highway (if you can call it this way) to save the time. We already tried it once or twice so we knew we'll be fine. There are always quite a few guarded parking spots with 24h restaurants along the main road where you can sleep and grab some nice Russian food. When we were stopping at one of them that evening we couldn't expect what's awaiting us. The place was run by 2 very friendly ladies, Natalia and Nadjezda, who welcomed us warmly and told us to park the car right next to theirs so that they can keep an eye on us and make sure we sleep without problems. But it took a while before we could actually go to sleep. They too wanted to know where we are from and what our plans are and they too laugh a bit when they heard we drove all the way from Germany. We decided they can handle the honeymoon part too, but this time the reaction was different. They found it brilliant! And wanted to know how long we are actually married. Funny thing is, it was actually exactly one month. Racing to Irkutsk or not they decided we need a proper celebration. After few minutes there was chocolate and a bottle of Russian cognac on a table and we spent a lovely evening using our limited Russian skills to discuss politics, family plans and all other issues. David even got some clear instructions about buying a house, planting a tree and having at least 3 children.

We also got to know the local truck driver who helped us plan our way to Irkutsk, providing us with information about the road conditions and helping us pick up a place for the next night. The general rule is: follow the truck drivers. Sleep where they sleep and eat what they eat and you won't have any problems in Russia. I have to say it worked for us. If you enter a bar with a huge menu ask any truck driver which food he can recommend and you will end up with a list of 3 or 4 dishes. Later on you will notice that every driver entering the place will order one of those things without even looking at any other food. And the list changes from place to place. But as the guy said, if you are driving the same way all the time for 10 years or so you know pretty well who makes the best pancakes and who makes the best soup.

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