London to Magadan – On the road with the Road of Bones Expedition 2018 #5 – by Allana Goldsworthy Back to News List

Chapter Four – Moscow Awaits

Story by Allana Goldsworthy

Images – Allana Goldsworthy, Azar Farahmand, Hugo Penasco, Bayne Morison and Dennis Grothues.

Well here was a surprise. Tambov. Where? Who? What?
This was a 515 km ride – a long day. And the ride was not inspiring – We had a lot of kms to eat up and it was long straight distances on overloaded highways. Wheat fields to the left, wheat fields to the right, with the occasional thousands of acres of potatoes.
Paul and I arrived by ourselves in this city with a few riders arriving before us, and a group behind us.
Tambov is a city southeast of Moscow that is noted for yet again being a fortress from the 17th Century to protect the southern borders of Russia. The locals have a colourful history of antagonism towards the Bolsheviks – hence their motto “A Tambov wolf is your comrade” meaning you show your distrust in the person you are talking to. I try to drop that phrase into my conversations with the locals here – and it doesn’t seem to mean so much to them! Actually, on close reading – it makes no sense to me either.
Anyway – back to modern day business.
We had a rather odd routed dictated to us by our Garmin once we hit the outskirts of town- but after a few wrong turns and some tense intercom communications between rider and pillion – we accidentally found ourselves at the hotel. A large imposing building looking out over the main thoroughfare in downtown Tambov.
Where we headed out into the balmy evening in search of sights and food.
What an abundance of both!
Hermann and Azar, Paul and I trekked down the main road.
Now just to pause for a moment here. We had endured a whole day of strict adherance to a ridiculously low 90 kph limit on the really long ride to this place – with police radars galore. And we get to this place -to discover that the locals use the main road in front of our hotel as a drag racing stretch. Literally. There were motorbikes and cars screaming as they pelted along at more than 120 kphs as we watched with our jaws dropping – not a copper to be seen!
We continued our walk – crossing the road VERY cautiously – and we were staggered to come across vista after vista of the most gorgeous buildings, churches and gardens, and then the beautiful Tsna & Studenets rivers which meet here.
And the place was pulsating with activity and fun. We made our way first to a fun park in the middle of a shady well kept public garden. Live music entertaining the locals and lots of fun fairground rides for the kiddies
We were hungry. After a moment’s reflection we decided to buy some snacks at this place. Not a healthy option – but a convenient one.

No one speaks English. And to give you a taste of this – to say “hello” -you say Zdravstvuyte” – how easy is that?? Although this city should feature highly on lists of places you should visit in Russia – it was only local tourists.

We had local people telling us about their city. We are still struggling with basic Russian phrases! Once again the friendliness of the locals was notable. And just to test you out – to say “hello” – can you try to say this word “Zdravstvuyte”.

We had local people telling us about their city. We are still struggling with basic Russian phrases! Once again the friendliness of the locals was notable. And just to test you out – to say “hello” – can you try to say this word “Zdravstvuyte”.
We had identified what looked like onion rings on a large poster. Hermann, a man of enterprise and ingenuity drew a picture of an onion (try that yourself – it ain’t easy). Then he mimics crying, boo hoo. The girl looks puzzled, and a little amused. Finally she comes around out the front and we point to the rings. She looks confused – she points at 2 different pictures of rings. We all nod enthusiastically – da, da.
She retreats. Finally the snacks are produced – and we realise that, as we are mimicking crying, and pointing at the sketch of the onion – we are pointing at calamari rings!
We continued on our walk -to discover not only the best collection of churches with fantastic minarets and domes – but also vibrant activities and gardens along the river.
We took bazillions of photos. The whole place was celebrating – not sure what. It was a Saturday night. There were big groups of young people picnicking, with loud music playing as they danced at various locations on the other side of the river. Coincidentally – one cafe was belting out Boney M’s “Ra Ra Rasputin”. It was very atmospheric.
Paul struck up a conversation of sorts with a guy who is selling boat rides on the river. We got aboard for$5 a piece and motored down the river for about 30 minutes. As sun set over the city it was the perfect time for seeing the beauty of our location in fabulous light.
Upon returning we got serious about the business of finding food. The onions rings and calamari were wearing off.
We found a ‘pub’. A lot of Russian establishments are calling themselves Pubs and have installed huge big tv screens and show the World cup non stop.
This one was pretty quiet. A couple in the corner, a bloke by himself and a pretty blonde girl sitting at the bar. She was perched on a high stool slowly delivering mouthfuls via a fork. Very deliberately. With a huge tankard of beer in front of her. She was so drunk. With her hand mid way to her mouth – she would fall asleep – her head lolling forward as we watched in awed fascination. Her fork would clatter to the floor.
She lolled and lent to the side. Almost sliding off her chair. It was awkward to observe. She would jolt awake, clamber down off the stool to retrieve her fork, and recommence her feeding process.
We then had to order – and once again my soup eating charades worked a treat. Paul accosted the couple nearby – and upon deciding that their meal looked good – he pointed and ordered. The guy a little concerned that he was pointing at his wife.
He ordered well – delicious pork. Our soup and bread (and here’s a challenge for you – use charades to indicated ‘bread”) was very good too.
We set off for the hotel – the drunken girl had retreated to the ladies toilet – and was probably fast asleep on the floor – as I had dared to go in there and tried the door of the cubicle she was occupying. She yelled out in a high pitched scream and yelled other stuff at me when I tried the door- oops. She was still in there when we left.
We had almost got back to our hotel – when Paul thought he’d left his phone at the ‘pub’. Well, to be absolutely truthful – he thought he’d given it to me to put in my bag -and I couldn’t locate it in the depths of my cavernous bag. I checked all three compartments. Nope.
Paul decided to quickly return to the pub.
He had gone about 120 metres when, upon rechecking – I found the pesky contraption.
I called out .This was useless. He was running like Forrest Gump, across America, arms pumping and head up high. He was running like the wind. I took off after him – and I ran about 1 kilometre – petering out about 100 metres from the pub as Paul crossed the road in the distance in front of me – narrowly avoiding being run over by Daniel Riccardo and Alain Prost.
I panted and puffed across to meet him coming out of the pub – futilely waving his phone. And that’s the only real physical exercise I’ve indulged in so far this trip! Whereas Paul has been running 4-5 kms most days. No wonder I couldn’t catch him.
(A random Selection of Images from the riders and Crew of the 2018 Road Of Bones Expedition – Ed)
The Reluctant Pillion
Tips for the uneducated
Now some of these relate to bike riding – others to travel in distant places.
Weight loss
I had high hopes of being in tip top physical shape before clambering aboard my Singapore Airlines flight. This was impossible. I had too much to do in too little time – so my regular gym and running schedule was cast aside in favour of hours on the keyboard arranging ongoing payment of bills etc. However – there are some benefits to perching on a bike with a large helmet on your head for several hours a day,.
I think the science of isometric exercise can be adapted to this pursuit. You hold a fixed position for several hours – and at the same time – the jiggling of the bike as you head forwards, and then brake, and then surge forward, and joggle up and down as you go over rough surfaces and the occasional speed hump – has a similar effect to that of those machines they advertise on late night tv – jiggling your fat all about and, if you believe the manufacturer -the weight just disappears. I hold high hopes for continuation of this incidental weight loss.
Probably the effect of not being able to eat whilst on the bike is of a major assistance. I can just extract a mentos from my pocket – if I take my glove off – and then using two fingers I can carefully poke it up between my chin and the helmet – and squeeze it into my mouth. Chewing then is limited as the helmet squishes your cheeks together, so they last a long time.
The other isometric exercise is the constant tension of your butt and thighs as you hold on and balance. This has got to see results – surely.
An unexpected side effect too of this trip has been my socks on my calves. You sit so still for so long that I am concerned about DVT. So I try to exercise my legs a bit – but at the end of a long day – when I pull the boots and socks off – there are ridges in my calves which have swollen over the day. Not a good look – although I can say that my calves are very strong at present – what with the isometric pose and a lot of walking when not on the bike!
Hand and Foot rot
The other aspect of long distance bike riding is the impact of long periods of time on your feet and hands with no exposure to sunlight or fresh air.
Not quite ‘rot’ per se – but my hands and nails are in need of a decent manicure and my feet are really unpleasant at the end of the day – the couple of tubes of L’Occitane hand cream I packed are used in abundance each evening. A day off the bike does wonders as well.
Forehead Dents
No matter how hard I have tried over the years to get the best combination of helmet, bandanna and hair style – at the end of a day I have the indent of the helmet across my forehead. On occasion it feels like it is forming a very ugly callous – and I hope that by not too much longer in this trip – I will have devised the best combination of the above elements to resolve this issue. Readers of my past missives will recall my efforts to instruct as to how to experience this syndrome – involving folding a tea towel, placing it on our forehead and pressing your head against the fridge for 3 hours.
Management of Fluids
The ongoing issue of availability of toilets is not as significant as in our African travels. Yet.
But it still calls for careful managment of balancing the intake of fluids in the morning before depositing yourself on the bike, with the need for proper hydration on sometimes very warm days. You are subjected to scorn if you are in need of a WC stop only 10 kms down the road!
Time and space management
Part 1
Hotel rooms
The hotel rooms can, at times, be cozy. But none so cosy as the one at Moscow. Paul could barely find enough room to do his daily regime of pushups. And I stubbed my toes three times trying to walk between the bed and the desk. There was no room for the chair at the desk.
We worked out a regime where if either of us had need to actually move around the room – the other one stepped outside the room.
Part 2
I had, I thought, very frugally packed my bag for this trip- reasoning that I needed to have clothes that would not only cater for 3 months, but also for temperatures ranging from negative degrees to 40C
My bag weighed up at 16 kgs – and I thought I’d achieved a pretty significant goal. Apparently not, as mention has been made a number of times about how heavy my bag is. But our travel ‘capsules’ are working a treat. Given that we have a new hotel every night – when we bring the bags up – we can quickly identify the capsule we need (eg., shirts, or pants, or underwear etc – rather than tipping the contents out and having to repack every day!
Part 3
Be sure to follow the rule – where the towel rail is located directly above the toilet – keep the lid down at all times when not in use. Soggy towels are not pleasant at the best of time!
And as we leave beautiful and unexpectedly wondrous Tambov – we are headed to Moscow!

(A random Selection of Images from the riders and Crew of the 2018 Road Of Bones Expedition – Ed)

We had well and truly prepared ourself for a difficult day in difficult traffic. Only 250 kms to travel from Tambov but again this would be on only 2 lane highways with 90 kph limits and a cop around every corner with a radar set up. We set off at 7.30 am.
We experienced the same frustrations of long lines of traffic with little opportunity to pass (legally). I think the ear plugs worn by Paul are getting thinner due to my shouted instructions as we are out on the wrong side of the road looking towards the oncoming traffic “get back in, get back in – oh my lord!!!
We hit the ring road. With firm instructions to get off at exit 84 – as it would be impossible to navigate the Moscow traffic as a group. lt was every man or woman for themselves.
And the traffic was gridlocked for long sections. This then left the option of ‘filtering’. Moving the bike slowly through the stationery or slower moving lines of vehicles. And this one of my not favourite manouevres. Rev, stop, creep, rev, creep stop rev …. you get my drift.
I have found myself both holding my breath, and closing my eyes – or both. They seem to work.
Then we hit up on the (entirely illegal) idea of using the left running query emergency) lane. About a metre wide – and the only ones we saw using it were speeding rev head motorcyclists. Why not?
We got in there and away we went. Wheeee! And with speed comes breeze and cooling yay!
Oh, I see that we are now past exit 84 – and looking at exit 89. How did that happen. We are perplexed – but nevertheless we grab the next one – which of course involves navigating to the right over 4 lanes of unhappy commuters – and head off following a set of navigation lines that again saw us temptingly close to our hotel destination – but meandering around frustratedly in some car park or lane nearby.
Our hotel – whilst a goodly distance out of the city – was a short walk to the metro station – therefore only about 25 minutes.
The metro was fantastic- a dichotomy of extreme efficiencies = trains EVERY 2 minutes, modernistic stations, but some of the most crazy outdated rolling stock – rattling – screaming, shaking, lurching – no aircon, doors that slammed shut and could almost sever a limb if you dared to dance the dance of the last minute lunge to get on board. We think they had drivers – but they were like automatons – and there would be no tolerance for commuters trying to get on board as the door closed. Whilst there may be another one along in a minute or two – we didn’t want to be separated! Goodness knows what the locals thought as they watched three of us wrestle the doors apart so two of us could make it on!
We did travel on some of the newer trains – which were great – airconditioned, electronic information and English as well as Russian. None of the trains had any graffiti on them, nor any sign of vandalism.
Anyway – the whole place was pulsating with World Cup fans – naturally.
The first night I carefully unfolded my little black dress – threw on a pashmina shawl and headed to the opera! This time – Cosi Fan Tutte at the Bolshoi Theatre, with another couple – Marius, and his wife Carin who had flown in to Moscow that day to spend a few days with us. I had obtained tickets in Australia before leaving.
Our journey there was not as planned – as our google map had given us a bum steer on the Metro – instead of a 10-15 minute walk after getting into the city – it was more like 40! So we performed all sorts of gymnastic feats to find a taxi driver interested enough to pick us up- and when he did – he held his cigarette out of the window most of the time – and depositing us eventually near to the theatre -when asked ‘how much’ he gave a shrug of his shoulders. We didn’t know what to make of it – getting out of the cab – still no indication of the fare (the meter not switched on of course) Marius supporting the “walk away and don’t pay” strategy – and Paul and Carin eventually thrusting about$40at him – he was most unimpressed – but we headed off with our suspicions about big city taxi drivers confirmed.
The show was in a magnificent theatre – THE Bolshoi Theatre – opened in 1825.It is divine, We had seats 4 rows back – and it was a lavish production – and without the lighting enhancement of mobile phones and IPads as we had experienced in Tbilisi! What a relief.
We had not, due to the transport issues in to the the theatre- eaten. We had a couple of pieces of chocolate and decided to have the usual delicious offerings at intermission.
We stormed out of the place as the curtain fell to get to the counter – where one rather harried young man was attempting to deal with the deluge.
Marius and I stood back and watched as our partners negotiated the purchase of 3 glasses of champagne, a water, and 4 appetising looking salmon on bread canapes. Next thing we see further delays, with about 50 people queued behind them as they are shaking out their wallets – no credit card facility – and the costs exceeded their combined finances. So they handed back a champagne and forked over 7,000 roubles – about$150!!
We were now skint of ready rubles.
We returned to the opera.
It really ramped it up by incorporating about 10 tiny children into the production – we were totally distracted by their cuteness as they appeared as fauns and little angels! Not too sure about the plot and their role – but they stole the show.,
Now to get back to the hotel
We needed an ATM. Paul and I had loaded a card for the Metro – but wanted the security of cash. Marius and Carin needed cash – and a Metro card . As we headed out – the crowds were amazing – triumphant Mexicans galore. The street decorations and lighting were dramatic. Our whole experience of Moscow (and indeed Russia) has been overlayed with the pulsating exuberance of soccer fans from all points of the world.
We couldn’t find an ATM. The others decided to get a cab – Paul and I located an ATM around the corner- but by then M and C had disappeared. We had a relatively uneventful trip back – although we almost went the wrong way on the ring track – which would have meant we had to travel through 39 stations – as we would have been going the wrong way – so we then went the correct way through only THREE stations. The locals on the train were so keen to assist us. Saving us from a disastrous decision.
Marius and Carin – in the meantime – had become separated from each other. After searching for Carin for a while – an impossible task as her phone battery had expired – he found an ATM and caught a cab back to our hotel.
Carin was in the city – with no phone, no cash – and no ATM nearby. Also – she did not have the address of the hotel!
She found the one friendly cabbie in Moscow – and convinced him to drive her to an ATM “Look ” she says ” I have a card – I can get cash!”
He drives her to one. She then asks him to take her to the hotel (having the name only ). They set off = they arrive – it is not the right hotel. He kindly goes in with her – and they find the other hotel with the right name. Now that is one gutsy lady!
Paul looked ruefully at Carin and Marius at breakfast the next morning as they were happily chatting away. He had a fair idea of what his existence would have been like if he had left me alone in Moscow in the middle of the night!
Our next two days in this huge city were spent touring – and I won’t go through the details here – a lot of famous squares (Red), churches, icons, Gorgeous hot sunny day – excellent for photos. We also took a trip to see the Vadim Zadoroshny’s Vehicle Museum. What? Yawn, I hear. No. This was fascinating. A private museum of of old time vehicles, and military equipment. We spent a couple of hours there.
The second day saw us again take on the Metro and head out to spend time in the famous Gorky Park. This huge park is so well kept, and user friendly that we spent a couple of hours there, and had lunch.
But the big evening highlight on the second day was our trip to, of all things – a circus. The Monte-Carlo circus.
We had no idea what to expect – and it was a great night. The highlight was actually the fabulous clown – who was the link between all the acts, including acrobats, high wire, juggling, etc. All done with amazing expertise and showmanship.
And when the two performing bears walked out on their hind legs I physically cringed! I thought, hopefully, for a few minutes that it may have been people dressed up as bears. But they were the real deal. They danced and wrestled and performed amazing manouevres.
It got worse.
At intermission – a huge cage was set up. Then out stalked a woman dressed as a dominatrix, and 2 blokes, 8 tigers, 1 white tiger and a lion followed. The usual stuff of getting these magnificent creatures to do ridiculous antics – which is fascinating – but hard to watch.
I kept feeling just a little bit dirty watching it!
Our mate, Mick, accidentally caught a taxi to the wrong circus – and was a bit bemused when he arrived, admittedly 30 minutes late – to find the place locked up. It was a long trip back to the hotel for him.
Many of the bikes were serviced, or had tyre changes on this day as well – our bike’s tyres are holding up well, and the plan is to change to off road tyres later in the trip when we are closer to spending more time on dirt and gravel.
We have found Moscow to be a much more vibrant city than we had expected – and the Russians are relishing in the attention and excitement of the World Cup.
We are looking forward to the prospect of seeing more of rural Russia.
Cheers and do svidaniya
(A random Selection of Images from the riders and Crew of the 2018 Road Of Bones Expedition – Ed)
We have only a couple of places left on the next expedition departure in may 2020. Get in quick if you would like to experience this life changing adventure.
Stay tuned to our blog and social media posts for Allana’s next edition to their journey from London too Magadan.
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