Once bitten, twice shy, is a saying one remembers when confronted with a mishap. So it was me this morning. I was apprehensive about the car battery as it had drained once. I had been extra careful last evening while parking the car to ensure that all the lights are turned off and the doors closed properly. When the Ford Endeavour had been shipped from London to Cochin after the London expedition the car battery had drained because one of the doors of the car was improperly closed. It had taken a long while to kick the battery to life with cables. However, this morning I had no such problem. The engine kicked to life with a gentle turn of the ignition. Before leaving the hotel I collected the receipt and a very large breakfast pack.
With the last minute change in the program for the day I had a few more hours on the road. The M5 is called the federal highway. In all fairness, I expected the highway to be better than what I had experienced so far. And the first 80 kms was glorious – dual carriageway with six lanes and a large median, fresh road markings and excellent surfacing. If this road condition would last till Moscow I even pondered the possibility of hitting Moscow this day. After all it was just under 1500 km from Ufa to Moscow. Remember I had done 1470 km on the Amur highway in about 15 hours. So if the road conditions held I could change my pans en route. These remained just pipe dreams after the initial show piece. In some place the conditions were fiendish and the many stretches that road works were on slowed down the drive considerably. It looked as if the entire stretch of M5 will ultimately become a 6 lane dual carriageway. But when? Added to that was the many police squads that seemed to be doing overtime. I was stopped four times for checking of documents. The tightest security seemed to be at a dam over the Volga after Samara. Even freight trucks were being checked there with many squads working in tandem. I didn’t have any problem, except that I had to produce the car documents again and again and explain the reason for my drive. When I mentioned tourism, a couple of them even remarked, “ Good luck”!
Kuznetsk is almost halfway through to Moscow from Ufa. Booking.com turned up with a hotel reservation in one of its suburbs called Yasnaya Polyana. I am okay with small hotels. All that I want is a clean room and secure parking for the car. The hotel, by the same name as the town, promised both. And I found it so. Most importantly it was just 6 km from the highway. At the reception of the hotel the lady could speak just Russian and more Russian. Initially I thought she was refusing me accommodation because I didn’t have a reservation. Mogocha being replayed, I thought. Finally she showed me to a room and asked if I was comfortable. When I looked at the confirmation from the booking site I was aghast to find that my reservation was for the day before! All is well that ends well, I suppose.
At the check in desk I found that the town was in the +3 GMT time zone. I had gained two hours in the passage from Ufa to Kuznetsk, which follows the Moscow/St Petersburg time. Travelling from Vladivostok to Kuznetsk I had gained seven hours! Vladivostok is at +10 GMT. That was brought home rather very well by Andrey when I asked him for a favour with the mobile service provider at about 4 pm. He said, “But, its night time here”!
The hotel has a very large dining hall. From the way it’s decorated I felt that they do parties and theme meets. The receptionist doubled up as the waitress for lunch. The menu was completely in Russian. After many minutes of staring at the menu and then for some time at the lady I asked if I could have a cutlet. I shook my head to whatever she asked after confirming I could, because I thought that must be the add on. They were. There was mashed potato, lots of greens, bread and a thick grilled meat cutlet. It was tasty and filling. I took refuge in the room after the meal as it started raining. Anyway, there was no place to walk to. I wanted to walk around and appreciate a bit of the village life. But that was not to be. When I went over to the restaurant for dinner the story was the same. The only difference was that there was a young girl helping out for dinner. She only smiled when I asked if she could give me a chicken dish. Later, after ordering a beer successfully, I out my finger on an item beneath which was written, “New”. I raised a thumb asking the young lass if that was good. She shook her head and I confirmed the order. The presentation of the order was excellent. A flame danced in a small metal container with plenty of greens and a chicken fillet with stuffing and a few pieces of bread. It was surprisingly very good.
The premises has WiFi. But the connection is so bad that I was unable to get most of my work done. Nevertheless, I have kept everything ready for uploading in Moscow, as soon as I reach the hotel there. The last bit of the Ural Highway will be done tomorrow, hopefully and then the final stretch from Moscow to St Petersburg the following day. I have done over 8500 km on the Trans-Siberian Highway thus far averaging over 650 km per day.