Sun at long last
5th August, Volgograd (SW Russia)
We have arrived at our last large city in Russia before crossing into Ukraine early next week. We are staying in the originally named Volgograd Hotel, which is a huge characterful building that has been restored to its original splendour after being destroyed in WWII.
We left Samara 2 days ago in the sunshine. The rain had decided to stop and Ants and I were thrilled to cast aside our ponchos and jackets to wear T-shirts again. Ants went off to get TT while I packed up and finished checking out. Ants returned after about 30 minutes with the bad news that TT had stubbornly refused to start. So, I stopped emptying our room and we both returned to TT determined to get her running. Of course I took my faithful 'Auto Repair for Dummies' with me.
We nearly got TT started, but in the end had to accept the kind offer of a pull start from a Lada. Drama over we drove TT back to the hotel. However, the drama was only 50% over as TT was misfiring like a trooper again as the old spark issues seemed to have returned with avengence. We decided to leave her in the sunshine to see if this would cheer her up enough to drive smoothly. In the meantime Ants contacted the local TV crew she had been in touch with and they came over to interview us. We gave an interview and farted up and down the street in TT, before parking her up again and heading off for lunch.
After lunch we went back to the hotel and loaded up TT. As we emerged from the hotel we were suprised to find a British hearse parked outside. It was a team from The Mongol Rally called The Hearse Flies. The aim of the trip is to drive a cheap car from England to Mongolia in a short space of time for charity- see www.mongolrally.com for more details. We would have loved to chat to the brave hearse drivers for longer, but were being shown out of the city by our new pals from the TV station and couldn't keep them waiting.
TT was led out of the city and seemed to be driving well again. We started the long drive towards Volgograd, planning to stop somewhere before Saratov and camp. In the early evening we pulled off the main road and drove about 1km into a field of newly harvested hay. I was a bit worried that we were tresspassing and might get in trouble, but our spot seemed pretty remote and we couldn't see any signs of civilisation. We parked TT behind a hay stack and set up our tent. We had been warned about the mozzies in Russia and Ants and I already displayed their successes on our faces, arms and legs. That field seemed to have an unatural concentration of large, fast and persistent mozzies, who attacked us until we finally retired to our tent a couple of hours later.
Ants set up the trangia and we had a typical camping meal of pasta and tomato sauce from a jar. Thanks to Ivan for finding us some meths, which is apparently illegal to buy in Russia. I couldn't taste a thing as I had caught a stinky Russian cold. After supper we had a game of badminton, before checking our emails and finally going to bed, covered in 100% DEET. If a local farmer had come accross us he probably wouldn't have believed his eyes- 2 foreign girls playing badminton in the middle of his field next to a bright pink tuk tuk.
We awoke the next morning to sunshine and another day of good weather. After a quick breakfast of porridge we packed up TT and tried to start her- can you guess what happened, she wouldn't start. So, we pushed her further across the field into a patch of sunshine and let her sunbathe. After about half an hour she did decide to start and we tukked off towards Saratov, with the intention of reaching Volgograd that night, some 600km plus away.
TT flew along for the first couple of hours but then started to misfire again. I checked that the boots covering her sparks were securely attached and found that one of them was not secure enough. She seemed a bit better but was still not driving brilliantly. We stopped for lunch and there happened to be a mechanic eating in the same cafe. We drove TT over to his garage and it was found that one of her 3 new sparks had already gone. They were all replaced again, thanks to the help of Rudy in Yekaterinburg helping to translate the problem into Russian over the phone for us-thanks Rudy, you're a star.
Off we went again and arrived here in Volgograd last night in the dark. It took us about half an hour to drive the 20km to the centre of the city and we were frequently flanked by cars and vans of jolly Russians, all relaxed and off for a friday night out. One of the cars was full of a group of rowdy young men who begged us to stop for 2 minutes to chat to them and told us that Russian men and Enlgish girls were good together. We politely told them it was late and we needed to get to our hotel and sleep. Thankfully, our room had already been reserved by Oleg (thanks handsome)and so all we had to do was find the hotel. This was not too hard and we finally arrived after one of our longest days on the road to date, exhausted but relieved to have arrived for a weekend of relaxation and hopefully some sunshine.