Showing posts from July, 2014

DAY 42 – 27 July 2014; Tallinn to Riga

The Hotel Viimsi Spa has many pools, saunas and treatment centres. Many rooms are occupied by those coming to the seaside Spa for treatment. The Spa is also used by short term visitors to the city for experiencing the numerous treatments on offer. I rued the fact that we did not have enough time to enjoy at least what was on offer along with reservation of the room. It was time to leave for the next country, the 9th in the itinerary. Breakfast consisted mainly of melons and cold cuts. The check out formality was restricted to collecting the invoice; payment was done upon check in. The taxi driver who had taken us to the Old City last evening had given me directions of how to get out of Tallinn and take the road to Parnu. With that under my belt and brilliantly sign posted instructions I did not find it difficult at all to get to the highway. It being a Sunday the roads were virtually empty and driving was easy. The border town of Ikla, on the Estonian side, was only 200 kms from Tallin…

DAY 41 – 26 July 2014; Helsinki to Tallinn

The reporting time for boarding the Ferry to Tallinn was given as 6.30 am. It was just a ten minute drive from the apartment to the Ferry Terminal of Tallink, the operator through who I had purchased the ticket. Viewing the glorious sunrise over the Gulf of Finland was another luxury I was entitled to from the balcony of the apartment. With the ‘music’ of the seagulls and the imperious movement of ducks in the water the sunrise was perfectly magical. I was ready before 6 am with bags packed and in the car. With salami, cheese and bread left over from the previous day I made a few sandwiches, trusting that they would become handy during the journey of the day.
I gave a call to Shaji Kafoor, to who Lal and I are immensely beholden, along with Anu Jacob, to tell him that we are ready. Observing the Ramadan fast in places like Helsinki is more than doubly difficult, for the sun sets after 11 pm and rises before 4 am; during the month of June, I was told that the ‘night’ is just a couple of…

DAY 40 – 25 July 2014; In Helsinki

It was a significant day for members of the Record Drive Team. Lal’s film Vikramadityan was being globally released on this day. Lal, naturally, was tense and anxious. So were all of us – he had done quite a bit of post production work during the drive. Reputations and finance were crucially intertwined in the project. I woke up early and went to the living room to begin the day’s work. I found Anu sleeping on the sofa; he had agreed to sleep over in the guest house so that he could take us around the city during the day. He had taken a day off from work to do that. I got through the backlog of the blog posts and went back to bed. By the time I came around again Lal and Anu were up and about. Anu had even made a few sandwiches of salami and cheese and boiled a few eggs too. Reactions to the film started coming in as we were about to leave for a walk around the Central Market. The first half of the film was accepted by the first show audience. Lal was sure that the audience would love …

DAY 39 – 24 July 2014; St. Petersburg to Helsinki

With Binoy piloting I soon hit M10 to Helsinki. At the start of the Freeway I took leave of Binoy to continue his studies. The speed limit varied between 90 and 120 kmph with excellent road conditions. At Vyborg I tanked up so that I could avoid fuelling in Finland. We also had breakfast of hotdogs and coffee. While at the fuel station I saw a desk where the Alliance representative was selling insurance for vehicles going to Finland. I approached the desk and was told that insurance is available only to Russian registered vehicles; others have to get the insurance after crossing over to Finland.
Pretty soon thereafter we reached the Russian border at Torfyanovka. It was under 200kms from St. Petersburg. The first delay at the border occurred in the Customs station. The officer asked for previously stamped Customs documents, which we did not have. I explained that I was not given any at the entry point. He vanished with my passport for an hour. He came back with his Supervisor, a lady,…

DAY 38 – 23 July 2014; In St. Petersburg

Binoy was our guide for the day; he would show us around as much as time permitted. He was experienced in this since he took visitors from India around the sights of St Petersburg as a means to support his stay in the city as a student. As the day progressed he proved that he was good at it. The first to be visited was the War Memorial that occupies a prominent location in the city. The memorial pays tribute to the valiant soldiers and citizens that withstood a 900 day siege of the city by the Germans during WWII. The centrepiece of the memorial is a poignant sculpture of wounded sons and citizens. The angst is vivid in all the reliefs of the memorial and the tribute exceptional.
The Pushkin place or the Catherine Palace was next. The Palace itself is in a sprawling complex.
It was a bit early for visit inside the Palace. Therefore, I admired the beautiful statues and the elaborately decorated walls of the Palace. A band of musicians in period costumes entertained the crowd in return…

DAY 37 – 22 July 2014; Moscow to St. Petersburg

There was so much to see and do in Moscow and little time. But the two days were used to the hilt. That also meant that documentation suffered a great deal. I was behind on blog posts. So I started that immediately after I woke up and was in the middle of one when Mr Cherian Eapen dropped in to see me in the room. He had come with the intention of sharing a breakfast table. He was surprised when I told him that I had completed my unvarying routine in the restaurant over the past three mornings – 3 cups of coffee starting at 7.30 am with omelette, sausage, cold cuts, crepes and cake.
As decided the previous day we got off to a 10 am start from the hotel. Rajhu had deputed his driver,
Rattan, to pilot us to the beginning of the M10 highway to St. Petersburg. Rattan, a Nepali resident  in Delhi, has been with Rajhu in Moscow for the past 5 years. He is ‘go to man’ for Rajhu. Rattan helped me exchange the left over RMB, SOM and some USD to Roubles to last us out for the rest of our stay…

DAY 36 – 21 July 2014; In Moscow

I was ready after breakfast with the blog posts updated and rest of clothes washed. Dattan had requested a couple of his friends to assist us with a guide so that we would be able to get by without wasting time for interpretation and asking for directions to the various places of interest. Finally Rajhu agreed to provide one of his staff who was conversant in English. Unfortunately, Lena could not be contacted as she was at her driving lessons. Instead, Rajhu asked Jana to accompany me to a visit of the Moscow Metro stations, which are called “underground palaces of Moscow” for its architecture. They have become popular sights for visitors to the city. The old, pre-war stations symbolise the industrialisation of Russia whereas the post-war ones were made to symbolise victory and pride of the nation. The first metro line was the Sokolnicheskaya, built in 1935. Most of them have a theme and are grand. The escalators in some of them are so vertical that a small jerk can knock one horizon…

DAY 35 – 20 July 2014; In Moscow

The idea of driving through to Moscow and resting the night here was one of the most sensible decisions in the journey thus far. It gave me a long night in bed and was rested well to devour a huge Continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The room we had checked into last night was small, though comfortable. The room lacked air-conditioning, but was great to dry the clothes quickly! Crepes were fast becoming a staple item on the meal plate. I have it with sugar/milkmaid, a variety of jams/freshly cut fruits or just plain and they taste yummy, whichever way it is had. The restaurant also served excellent coffee.
By 11 am Dattan Nair picked us up from the hotel. We had a few free hours before getting back to the hotel for a lunch organised by AMMA, All Moscow Malayalee Association. Duttan first took us to the Red Square and Kremlin. Being a holiday it did take him some time to find a slot to park the car. As we were walking to the Kremlin Duttan told us about EP Menon who, in 1962, …

DAY 34 – 19 July 2014; Samara to Moscow

It was bright, though not sunny, at 4.45 am when I came down from the room with the luggage! Geniya and Bek were already in the car, revving it up and making some last minute checks before the long drive. As I was cleaning the windshield Bek conveyed using his translator software that they would guide us out of Samara on to the highway and that we could be on our own after that. It was good news and bad – good, for we could be faster to our destination than we have been in the past few days; bad, because Geniya and Bek felt that we were complaining about them to Ali. Anyway, in a few minutes we were out of Samara city on the highway to Moscow. The sign board said 1068 kms to Moscow and Google Maps indicated over 14 hours to get there. I tested the Navigation software installed on my Android Phone and found it inactive. So much for being on our own! We kept looking out for directions to Mockba and M5. That was good enough and we never lost our way. The first couple of hours we had Geni…

DAY 33 – 18 July 2014; Miass to Samara

Sleep was difficult with events of the previous day playing snakes and ladders in the mind. Rationalising that the money may have been destined for someone else to put it to better use provided, at best, only temporary relief. I even kept asking Mother Mary, whose pictures were in the recess that housed the envelope in the bag, how SHE let such a drastic thing happen.
The non-availability of an attached bathroom and a WC severely affected the 3 Ss; S..t, Shave and Shampoo. The Inn that we were in had huge parking for trucks and private vehicles. It is a secure area and parking is charged with the room. Before we started out at 5.15 am we had a light meal from the Café attached to the Inn. I had Crepes and Coffee. The road ahead was meant to be tough with crossing the Ural Mountains. In the end it did not seem such a big deal. But the decision to stay in Miass certainly was the right one for taking the mountain road in the night would have been risky. Besides the road condition banditry…

DAY 32 – 17 July 2014; Kostanay to Miass

There are days you wish were not part of your life. But they are also the days that make you more mortal
and vulnerable. 17 July 2014 was one of those days. The day started off on the wrong foot. I had settled with Geniya, or so I thought, over dinner last night that we would leave after breakfast at 8 am. Even after we had finished our breakfast and loaded luggage into the car there was no sight of Geniya and Bek. I called their room to hear sleepy voices. A little while later they came down for breakfast; once they were done we got into the car. Then they went missing. I got the hotel reception to speak to them on their mobile and was told that they have gone to a garage to repair the car! I could have kicked the embedded stones from the paving outside the hotel and not felt the pain. It was frustrating. They had not told me about the repair, or so I thought. Later Ali told me that Geniya, in his inimitable language that did not signify the right meaning, had asked us to rest in the…

DAY 31 – 16 July 2014; Asthana to Kostanay

When I was in Almaty Ali connected me to the Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan – Ashok Kumar Sharma. It turned out that we are batch mates, with plenty to recall from the days in the Administrative Academy in Mussoorie. Ashok told me that I should drop into his house when I arrived into Astana. The early morning arrival spiked the plan. I gave him a call in the morning and he requested me to drop in at the Embassy after 9.30 am. Well that was also not to be since Geniya and Bek got ready early and suggested that we should get on the road earlier than planned. The late night, rather early morning, arrival into the hotel meant that much less rest. More bothersome was the gnawing hunger. I could not wait till the time we had decided to meet for breakfast. It was very cold outside and a couple of forays to the car to load my luggage and clean up the windshield and headlights made me hungrier. By 7 am I was already on the second cup of coffee. Pancakes, cakes, bread, boiled eggs, salami and …