Blagoveschensck - July 8, 2015
Have had two very nice days of riding since leaving Khabarovsk. Sorry to leave that hotel with their absolutely cruise-ship quality buffet breakfasts. Fantastic. Compare to this place, with 1 cup black coffee and a half-piece of bread, with three rounds of sausage topped with cheese... microwaved. Win some, lose some.
The first day's stop was in Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous zone. I guess it was Russia's attempt to establish a Jewish homeland in the 30's. Nice thought. But they located it in a swamp so not many people stayed. That and the fact that Yiddish was outlawed. So not much remains of the Jewish past there. I saw a few indications, but not much. I think I must have walked right past the synagogue. Pretty low key.
But the hotel's breakfast was served in a restaurant next door. So as I was getting in the elevator to go downstairs, some woman squeezed in and asked if I spoke Russian. Not so much, so she started struggling in English. It got better quite quickly. So we went to the restaurant and with a meal ticket you could order up to 250 rubles of food. Unfortunately, the menu was hand-written in cursive Russian. I have a hard enough time with printed Russian and italics, but cursive is nigh impossible. Like English, cursive letters don't look much like the printed versions. A two-humper I guess is a 'p', a three-humper a 't' and a four-humper an 'm'. Anyway, she helped me with the menu and we had breakfast together. Her name was Natalya and she was from Irkutsk. An epidemiologist studying transmittable diseases hosted by mice. She said that they carry something here very similar to plague, although not quite as deadly. OK. But she did say that the bugs here were the worst, and not so many west. Great. But when I asked her where she had been, she really hadn't been anywhere near where I hear the bugs are bad, So who knows. She did say that Lake Baikal was beautiful and best visited in July. June is too cold and August is too cold. I'm thinking that this place is warm only for a very short period. No wonder the bugs are bad. The bugs did change yesterday, however. Not so many blackflies, now horse flies about 3 cm long. Bigger splat on my windshield, crotch (which seems to scoop them in) and helmet. Disgusting.
Coming to Blogoveschensck yesterday, was another glorious ride. Perfectly blue skies, cool, breezy and perfect roads. It really was like driving across Alberta or Kansas in parts. Large farms, low hills, green. Gorgeous. The roads yesterday were exactly like home. Same markings, same guardrails, same reflectors. Identical. Only when I got off the main road to come the last 150 km to town did things deteriorate a bit. But hey, it's a rural road. Same as home. I did have about a 300 meter stretch of construction which was almost impossible to get across. Large, sharp crushed stones, all at least fist-sized, some two-fist-sized or larger. Nothing smaller. I just had to put both feet down and inch the bike forward a foot or two at a time. Pretty sweaty and tired by the end but I didn't dump it and no flats.
Also, I met a couple of guys at a gas station... Dmitri and Vladimir. Dmitri was a a medical student/health worker and I don't know what Vladimir did. Vladimir spoke only Russian, Dmitri spoke quite a bit of English so it was quite a mixed conversation. Dmitri was at the station on a job. Since losing his real job, he was working cleaning out gas station fuel tanks. Anyway, he has a small bike and said that his dream was to ride the length of South America. Awesome. Vladimir said that he would give me something for the cold... so got in his truck and came out with a full, unopened bottle of vodka for me to take. Whoa! That was nice. I'm not really a vodka kind of guy but it might come in handy. He said it was good on mosquito bites. It was hard cramming that somewhere on the bike.
So today, I'm just headed into town for a look-see. It's right on the border with China so I should see that. Also, this is supposed to be one of the best cities here for Tsarist-style architecture. Problem is that the hotel is pretty far out and I don't want to take the bike in, find parking, lock up my helmet somehow... so I'll have to figure out either the buses or how to get a taxi. The hotel staff speak no English at all and asking how to get a taxi uses more Russian than what I'm able to muster. I'll figure something out.