Friday, June 17, 2016

Day 34 – 15 June Kuznetsk to Kolomna

The facilities provided in the Yasnaya Polyana Hotel were much below par for the price charged. There was not a bottle of water, or a dispenser in lieu, nor any arrangements for coffee. As a stop gap arrangement it proved ok. The locality had no other stay facility. At least the lunch and dinner yesterday had been good. I was ready earlier than scheduled to leave this morning. Then I found the gate locked and I had no means to contact anyone. I remembered just in time, before despair set in, that the receptionist had mentioned something about lifting the phone in the room to call in case of any requirement. I did that and a voice answered. I mentioned that I am ready to leave and the line went dead! But things started happening. A man appeared to open the gate and a young lady handed over a breakfast pack, which turned out to be very sparse – four small slices of bread with slivers of salami and cheese.

It was only 6 km to the highway and the condition of the road was very good. The M5 was becoming better as Moscow neared. Massive road works are also on. There were some delays attendant to that. But what amazed me each time was the discipline with which the control regulations were accepted by the road users. Not once did anyone want to overtake or cut the lanes, or anything bordering on something that would put others to trouble. Never. Even when the road is empty people obey signals, at whatever time of day or night, and the lane discipline is total. Therefore, even with the single carriageway the throughput is maximized. Honking is unheard of. Unless it is to caution. However, there seems to a problem with drunken driving because there are large number of warnings about the same. The best warning I saw was a smashed up car mounted on a concrete ‘bottle’ with VODKA written on it. A very forceful warning indeed. Another interesting thing I noticed were thick cutouts of police car at intermediate locations that were vulnerable to excessive speeding. This not only served as a ‘speed breaker’ but also gave details of who could be contacted in times of need. I have seen this in Kazakhstan too.

The distance to Orekhovo Zuveyo – to where I was originally destined for the day – was over 700 km. That overnight halt had been chosen in combination with Kazan. With Kazan dropped from the itinerary I had to rethink Orekhovo too, which I should have the day before. However, it is only when the mind was free in the car that I started thinking about the need to go to Orekhovo. It would mean a diversion from the Trans-Siberian Highway because Orekhovo was on M7 and not on M5. I took a break from the drive and seriously started mulling changes. It struck me that Bonnitsy or Kolomna would be good places to halt on M5. Bonnitsy did not come up with many options for accommodation, whereas Kolomna gave me a fabulous option of staying in a floating hotel on River Moscow! I plumped for that and confirmed the booking. The beauty was that I had just about 50 km to do for the rest of the day after the booking was done!

I could not believe my eyes when I drove into the beautiful city of Kolomna. It had a paradisiacal look to it. I could make out at the outset that the city was very special – a large number of heritage buildings and good signages. Alas! All in Russian. The Arbat 40 Meridian Hotel was a classic. Even though I did not have a river view from the room it was large and very aesthetically done up. The added bonus was that the young receptionist spoke fluent English. This has a terrific advantage for a traveler like me because with little time for sightseeing there should be someone to guide you to the absolute must sees in the area. Two other issues I got sorted out with her. The first was the case of my MTS sim connection. I had loaded on 2000 RUB for voice at the time of activating the sim and had never used it, because my only use was the data pack. Now when I wanted to use the voice to contact Egor in Moscow to arrange the car shipment the call would not go through and message after message started coming in, all in Russian, of course. The girl told me that there was just 6 RUB balance in my account and hence, the connection was not being put through! Then it struck me. The connection was taken in Vladivostok and all incoming, which I thought to be free, was being charges as roaming! Anyway, with the mystery solved the girl told me where to get the top up done. Next I had to speak to Egor and she got the connection done from the hotel phone. With that conversation the first step towards containerizing the Champion in St Petersburg, after the expedition, began. All the above happened only because the young girl was proficient in English. Undoubtedly a Guardian Angel.

As I was driving into Kolomna I drove into a fuel station to tank up. When that was being done I asked the attendant if I could find a car wash somewhere. He asked me to take the car to the facility just behind the fuel station! There the lady in charge did a most thorough job seeing the condition of the car. She asked about the details of the trip and gave the Champion more than normal attention. In the end, she was gleaming and ready for the final assault of the summit. In a short while many cars lined up for wash and most of them came to the car and took photos.

The evening was reserved for a walk in the historic and heritage old part of Kolomna. The hotel was so well located that the entrance to the historical part of the city was just 5 minutes away. It was surprising to note that the city had been closed to visitors till 1994 since the city was producing missile components. The well preserved ancient city is said to have been founded between 1140 and 1160 on a sharp bend of the River Moscow and that gave the city its name. The churches, monasteries and many places of worship, remnants of the old fortress and walls, old residences, even its Kremlin and the modern speed skating rink and the fine square call for a leisurely walk, with each demanding time to take in its history and architecture. I was most fascinated to see two young boys on bicycles stopping at a water sump to slake their thirst! Something we don’t find in India these days, even in villages. I did a cursory walk and reached the square to top up the MTS sim, which was done without any hassle using a machine. Later I walked around to shortlist a restaurant. I came across one that was highly recommended by Tripadvisor. The local beer, homemade noodle soup and the pork sirloin was worth every RUB I paid for them.

I went to sleep in the comfort that tomorrow would, hopefully, be the last lap of the expedition, which was about 800 plus km. It had been a wonderful expedition with its share of tensions, challenges and great experiences.

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