So yesterday Plodd left Thailand for the very last time and we drove into Laos, the Laos border authorities would not let us use our passports that have our Chinese visa’s in, saying that they could only put a Laos visa in the passport that we have a Thai exit stamp in, so I do not know what the Chinese will say when we arrive at there border tomorrow without a Laos entry stamp.
The journey from Pattaya to the Laos border was pretty un-eventful then after we crossed into Laos the roads were not great and at one point we had to stop because our front disc brake pads were smoking, however, we arrived at Lauang Namtha at about 4.30pm and met up with the 2 guy’s Sylvan and Baptiste that we are going to drive in convoy through China with. They are driving an ex-French army vehicle that is 35 years old, and it looks 35 years old, when we agreed to share the Chinese guide with the French people it started out as Les and I and a married couple and 1 child however, that has now changed to 2 blokes.
So tomorrow is the big day and we have planned to start as soon as the border opens (8am), we will enter China together and it may not be possible to post on plodd.net, as we are told that the Chinese authorities sometimes block web sites. The info was correct the Chinese Authorities had blocked Plodd.net, Hotmail, Google, facebook and many other western sites so that is why no one has heard from us.
Problems started as soon as we all tried to exit through Laos customs at 8am, the French vehicle documents for exiting Laos were not in order so the authorities held the French guys up about 1 hour then we all carried on into” no man’s land” and parked there overnight. We had dinner in a small restaurant. Lesley had to throw away the cheese and lots of other things out of our fridge as it had stopped cooling. The next morning we all set off for the Laos immigration, another problem, the Laos customs had taken the French guys green paper that they needed to complete exiting Laos, so they had to go back 7km to the customs to retreive the paper, in the meantime Les and I continued to the Chinese border control, our guide was not there so we waited 30 mins for her to turn up, she then informed us that we could not go through into China without the French people as we were a team, so we waited another 45 mins and then they turned up.
We cleared Customs and then headed for a town called Mengua to collect our paperwork for the vehicles, the lunch time for the Chinese office is 11.30 am to 3pm so we had to wait until 3.00pm (15.00) our guide organised Sim cards for us and we bought bread and salad to use for our evening meal.
At 3.30pm we got our driving licences and then headed to another place to have the vehicles tested (like a m.o.t) Plodd first the examiner set off as fast has he could in Plodd and then slammed the brakes on, I thought Plodd was going to tip up, anyway Plodd past the brake test first time and Lesley went inside Plodd and swept up the broken wine glasses! Next the French vehicle’s test, well it failed, so they retested and retested and retested it, 7 times in total, each time in-between tests the 2 French guys would get under it and adjust something or other, the retest’s took about 2 hours and eventually it passed, so we collected our Chinese number plates and set off at about 5.30pm (17.30). The driving was pathetic the French vehicle was averaging about 45mph (67km), it was 8pm (20.00) when we stopped driving and parked up for the night in a large deserted area in the time we were driving we had covered about 100km.
Les made a corn beef salad with cheese and crackers, had a couple of beers and went to bed, this was day 7 of the trip.
Thursday 15th June 2017.
Up at 6.30am we had a cup of tea and then we set off at 8am filled up with fuel, what a bad day! Before we agreed to allow the French couple to join our party they told us and told the Guide agency that their vehicle would travel between 80km and 90km depending on the road conditions this was not the case, so we called a meeting and it ended with everybody shouting and the French guy Sylvan doing a lot of swearing in English it was ridiculous, not a holiday atmosphere.
Green our guide took Les and I in to a crappy café ordered the food and then disappeared without telling us or eating what she had ordered.
We went back to Plodd and discussed the next day.
Friday 16th June 2017
It was decided that the French vehicle would leave at 6.30am and we would leave at 8am, we actually left at 7.45am but got lost in Kunming until about 10am because of all the height restrictions around the city, it was hard work as we knew that we had 530km to cover, we stopped for a quick toilet stop had a sandwich and threw the rest of the food and milk from the fridge out as it was still not working, we meet up with the other vehicle 67km from our planned overnight stop Xichang then drove together to Xichang.
When we arrived at yet another shitty car park that our guide had chosen we had another meeting at which I pointed out that we and the guide company had been told lies about the speed that the French vehicle could travel at and that NAVO the guide company should do something about the problem as they had given us an itinerary that said that for this day we should have reached our destination in 7 hours and instead it had take us 11 hours, the guide by this time had been traveling with them for 11 hours and had taken their side 100% saying if we wanted another guide we should pay for it!
So I spoke to the girl in NAVO’s office that we first booked the trip with and she agreed that we should travel at 80km and they must keep up (no chance).
Les and I walked to the lake and found a restaurant and had dinner, slow cooked beef and shrimp with Sechuan sauce with string potatoes, it was nice, then we went back to Plodd and sat in the cab and had a beer before going to bed.
Saturday 17th June 2017
After securing everything we set off with our guide in Plodd at 8am stopped at 10am for a quick toilet stop etc., We decided not to have a lunch break, but to soldier on to Ya-an, our guide wanted to stop for the toilet so we stopped and the other vehicle surprisingly decided to stop for lunch, when we arrived at Ya-an we were looking for the West Tea Hotel I spotted it and we found that it was now fully booked so we found another hotel in the city called Yu Du Hotel it was £55 per night. We booked in and the others said they would go and wild camp, however, the guide spoke to the receptionist at our hotel telling them that we were staying in the hotel and would it be ok for the other car to park and sleep in the car park, the receptionist said yes and then told me that our room rate included breakfast I said Ok, then turned to the guide and said Les and I don’t eat breakfast so she then said would it be OK if she came to the hotel from her guesthouse and had our breakfast I said yes that would be ok.
The room in the hotel was huge and nice,Les washed our bit of washing.
We went out and had a look round and found a little restaurant by the river and sat and ordered a couple of beers, the owner showed us a menu but we could not understand a word of it then out of the blue Phoebe turned up, it was the owners teenage daughter her mum had called her to speak to us in English, she was very very good, she was lovely she helped us with the menu and added something that was not on the menu for us to try, her mum cooked the food. Phoebe sat with us and had a little food but mostly talked to us, we had a nice night all down to Phoebe and her family, her dad called us a bicycle taxi and paid the taxi before we left for our hotel.
We managed to speak to Natalie and she said everything was ok at home.
Sunday 18th June 2017
Our guide took the French guys and had our breakfast in the restaurant, we then left the hotel at 9am. It had been raining all night and in Plodd there was water coming in from somewhere on the roof, we refuelled and booked a nice hotel in Xian for 2 nights the Unikue hotel we stayed there last time we were in Xian with our guide Spring (our guide in 2014). In the evening we went first to watch the dancing then found a nice restaurant and had dinner before returning to the outside dancing, we had only been there 5 minutes when a guy called Spencer asked us to join him and his party of friends (all Chinese) they made us so welcome and we sat and had a few drinks with them before returning to our hotel. The owners wife gave Les a jar of her homemade Sechuan sauce which is really spicy she will use it in Thailand for her and Natalie (count me out!)
Monday 19th June 2017
We left the hotel with our guide Green to meet up with the other vehicle at the Panda base and wait for Abby and other NAVO staff to say hello, take publicity photos and chat and bring the radio’s (Walkie Talkies) that the guide should have had with her from the start of the trip. These would enable us to talk from one vehicle to the other. One of NAVO’s staff was 40 minutes late so we had to hang around until she arrived which annoyed us as we had a long way to travel and we was averaging about 50 to 55 km per hour because of the French vehicle. Abby from NAVO’s office told us that a vehicle from one of the other tours had been involved in an accident and it turned out that it was in fact our friends Robyn and Tristran that had stopped at Plodd Stop earlier in the year. We had made arrangements to meet in Mongolia, so I asked our guide and then the NAVO office if they could give me a contact number for our friends or there guide so we could speak to them and ask if there was anything we could help with. They said that the company policy was not to give personal telephone numbers out and I said then could you get your guide to ask them to call me the answer was no, end of conversation, I also asked for one of the managers from NAVO or directors to call me. It never happened, I called Natalie in Thailand from China and asked her to try to make contact with Robyn. She managed to contact Robyn and asked Robyn to call me, which she did after a few days, they and their car was ok but the other car had suffered.
That night we wild camped yet again on another bloody car park we had lots of Chinese people come to look inside and outside of Plodd, Les made dinner in Plodd and we went to bed at 9.30pm (21.30)
Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st June 2017
Firstly I would like to say sorry to anybody reading this Plodd.net as all I have gone on about is driving, our problem is that because of the other truck being so slow we are getting to see nothing, we get up early in the morning and drive all day then stop in the evening have dinner then go to bed.
Anyway today we started at 7am, we are driving to Xian, the plan it to stay 2 nights (great) in a hotel in Xian. When we arrived the hotel staff had blocked off space for Plodd as promised and before arriving at the hotel we dropped off the French truck and its contents in a car park somewhere outside the city, so they did not have to pay for a hotel, now the party should start! We went to an area in the city called Defu Street where there are lots of drinking bars with music playing, had a couple of drinks there then found a very nice Chinese restaurant, the price of a small beer in Defu street was 20 yuan (about £5 each) and the price of a large beer in the restaurant was 6 yuan a little confusing but never mind, we had great food a good night then went back to the hotel.
Next day I got up at 7am and spent 2 hours walking the streets of the city and found a Walmart (Asda in the UK) so later that day we went to re-stock the refrigerator as it had decided to start working again. I had great fun trying to tell the butcher how I wanted the meat cutting into pork chops and beef steaks etc., later that day we visited the Muslum market that sells every kind of food imaginable, from Kebabs to Scorpions on sticks! Then in the evening we had a great Chinese hotpot at a restaurant opposites our hotel before going to bed early ready for another full day of driving.
Thursday 22nd June 2017
We got up at 6am as we had unfortunately arranged to meet up with the contents and the French truck at 7am, we were there on time and guess what? the truck had another problem that took them 1 hour to rectify at the side of the road, anybody that knows Lesley’s sleeping habits would know that she would not be amused getting up at shit o clock for no benefit.
We were driving to a really nice City called Ping yao a walled city that on the last trip I bought my electric bike, I was hoping to have new brakes fitted to it and some other jobs done on it. We booked into our hotel at 5pm (17.00) absolutely knackered so we just went for a bite to eat and then walked about 2 miles (3km) to find a ATM machine then returned to the hotel, where the owner sat and chatted to us for a couple of hours before going to bed.
23rd June 2017
I arranged to meet the owner and she said that she would take me to a place to have the repairs done to my bike. It turned out it was cheaper to buy a brand new electric bike so I gave the old one to the hotel for the staff to use. The new bike has 2 seats so both Lesley and I spent most of the day riding it around the inner city, it should be great for later on in the trip as it will travel 30km before needing charging, we will be able to park Plodd and then go off on the bike together. (only problem I foresee is HRH yelling at me to “slow down!”).
24th June 2017
A really bad start to the day, about 4am I was woken by Les jumping up and down in bed, she had found a rather large beetle in our bed,so that was it, at 5am we got up and went back to Plodd I first took our suitcase on the new bike then went back for Les, so we sat and had a cup of tea, then set off at 7.00am.
As soon as we reached the first toll the French man came flying over to Plodd and said in a bad attitued voice that he did not want to stop over between Ping Yao and Beijing as agreed and wanted to go all the way to Beijing. OMG we thought it would be midnight before we got there so Les said we will never make it that far in a day (590km at 50 to 55km) his answer was yes we will! Green the guide told him that no matter what his plan was we were stopping driving at 4pm (16.00), I see a change of sides for the first time from the Guide. The french man was F…ing and more F…ing at us and now also at the guide. He pulled away from the toll station like someone possessed, his truck was now traveling at between 85km and 95km and at points I found it hard to keep up with the blue heavily smoking truck.
As we got closer to Beijing we could tell, provided he did not blow the thing up and we did not get carbon monoxid posioning from all the blue smoke coming out of the back of his truck, we would probably make it to Beijing, so the guide contacted our 5 star hotel that we had booked to ask if it would be possible to bring our booking forward a night, they said yes it is OK. We were very annoyed at this as we had had to follow and wait for the other truck all the trip but now because he wanted to get to Beijing it suddenly sprung into life, and to add insult to injury the guide asked reception yet again when we got there, as we were paying for a 5 star hotel would it be ok for them to park in the carpark free, talk about riding on someone else’s back.Obviously today was not on his agenda to conserve fuel!
We arrived in Beijing 4.30pm (16.30) and our hotel at 7pm, nearly 12 hours from setting off, what a waste of our first evening, instead of our proposed trip to our favourite restaurant we were lucky to get a rather splendid Roast Peking Duck close to the hotel as it was almost 9pm by the time we had showered and changed.
Sunday 25th June 2017
I got up at about 8am and went for a walk for a couple of hours whilst Les had her first lie in, later we walked into the city centre, taking in the sights of the Chinese food stalls and lunch before getting ready for an amazing meal at one of our favourite restaurants in the world TRB, the meal was up to there first class standard and hugely expensive, so what, Champagne,lobster and caviar, Steak, Duck and a nice bottle of wine. Not to mention the vast array of imported cheeses to choose from.
Monday 26th June 2017
We left the 5 star hotel in the centre of Beijing at 10am and arrived at the Great Wall where the other 2 had made there way to late on Sunday, to find they were not where the guide had told them to wait, so Green the guide went crazy with them.
They were traveling behind us and we had to stop and wait for them at every toll and at each services, there vehicle was back to its old tricks, the driver continually thinking only of himself!
I insisted we stop at 4pm so we could have a rest before driving again tomorrow. Les made dinner on Plodd and we listened to smooth radio Manchester, whilst the others went God knows where nor do we care, by this time they are seriously trying our patience!
Tuesday 27th June 2017
Today we drive to Erenhot (border town to Mongolia) next to nothing here but we are spending the extra day here so they can yet again repair the poor flogged out truck (apparently they have a buyer for it in France-heaven help him or her!)
We saw Robyn and Tristran en route and met up again in Erenhot for a drink at the “hotel” we were both booked into by the guides.
Walked into town found a nice place to eat Sinotea then walked back to “shittyroomsforrent” and watched Tristrans videos of China.
Wednesday 28th June 2017
Took Plodd to Supermarket and bought as much as we could ready to enter Mongolia (Fridge now working).
Generally getting truck ready for border crossing tomorrow. Green wanted us all to have dinner together for the last night, i won’t bother typing out what Les said about that, but needless to say we went alone with her.
Thursday 29th June 2017
Leave China, border crossing took two and a half hours (not bad). Drove to nearest town and took a room in the Crown Hotel, we had intended to stay on Plodd but at 40 degrees it would be impossible without electric for aircon.
Walked to the bank and with the help of the hotel owners daughter we were able to buy insurance for Plodd.
The hotel was a strange affair with beds as hard as nails and pillows made from sacks of rice,(as you can imagine my wife required bedding from Plodd!)
In 2014 we had dinner in the Green Corner Restaurant,(Restaurant=painted Green+on a corner) wild imagination these Mongolians! So we repeated the experience and it was very acceptable.
Early to bed, one of us on a rice pillow the other on pillows filled with duck down !
Friday 30th June 2017
Looked at the maps and decided to go just over 200kms to Saynshand in the desert.
Nothing here only a small supermarket selling cold beers, that will do, since the fridge has packed up again….(fridge really getting on my nerves as much as the bloody frogs!)
Les made Roast Pork and stuffing dinner and I sat outside Plodd with my cold beer, didnt get away with it though as after dinner I learnt it was me washing up whilst HRH sat with her cold beer.
Slept on Plodd which was so much more comfy than “shittyroomsforrent”!
Saturday 1st July 2017
Set off at 7am for Capital city Ulaanbaatar, stopped at 10am for a cup of tea and were caught in a swarm of bees, luckily neither of us suffered.
Lunch at 1.30 sat outside Plodd we noticed a rather large scorpion like insect, it went in the opposite direction so we carried on eating then we saw another and another and yet another, HRH did her impression of John Cleese running to Plodd whilst I was left to put the chairs/table/HRH’s cutglass glass etc., away.
On route we saw all five of the desert beasts the mongolians think of as sacred;- Camels, Horses, Cows, Goats and Sheep. we arrived at the Oasis truck stop at 3pm (523 kms).
Had nice showers and feel human again after being so hot on the travel.
Oasis staff did our large bundle of washing and hung it out in the gardens to dry.
Les made dinner on Plodd, mixed grill tonight, as fridge not working!
Sunday 2nd July 2017
HRH cleaned out the fridge, threw all the cheeses and meats we had managed to get in China but darent risk eating. I spoke to the staff at Oasis and as we would need early visas for Russia booked us in including electric for a week whilst we sorted it all out.
There is a small supermarket just around the corner so we can buy what we need daily.
Had showers and flagged a private taxi to the town centre, where we had a drink in the Khan Irish Bar and then walked to Restaurant California, we ordered a salad and Kushoors for starters and were so full (enormous portions) we could eat any more!
Monday 3rd July 2017
Today the Russian embassy, our visas to enter Russia do not start until 20.7.2017 so we are now having to apply for Transit visas to Russia/Kazakstan/ back to Russia. nothing is ever simply is it? “Go to internet cafe, fill in E-form, send…Print E-form, bring back to Embassy, with Holiday insurance, Passports, Vehicle documents ,two photos and a letter requesting such Transit papers” OK we reply….simple…..NOT! Office closes at 12 lunchtime, its now 10.30am we have done everything as asked and are now back in the embassy. “Wrong document he says, how,says I, none for you….two for your wife!!!!!!,says he, bloody hell says me.Back to internet cafe to give the woman in charge of the printer a piece of my mind when she tells me that when we left she deleted all data! Start again……. finished…….yes youve guessed it 12.05pm!
We went to Burger King and pigged out, knowing that tomorrow we shall have to come again to the embassy.
Dinner in town, feel a bit weary with all the red tape, so home early.
Tuesday 4th July 2017
I took all relevant paperwork to embassy and went to the bank depositing their fees for the transit visas $140.00.
We decided to do a few jobs on Plodd, the heating pipes needed adjusting under the bed as HRH has so much stuff under there they got squashed.replaced the cupholders and sorted out the cupboards.
We sat outside Plodd and were visited by a tiny little tom cat, he is so adorable Les wants to adopt him.(no way).
Had a nice evening in UB Jazz club, and a spicy mongolian lamb casserole.
Wednesday 5th July 2017
HRH has pulled a muscle getting things from under the bed, so shes in a right mood, i went out on my bike for an hour to get out of the way.
After lunch we went to the hairdressers for a much needed trim.Then to the supermarket for provisions as the fridge is now working again!!!
Taxi to Los Angeles (Restaurant) for dinner, HRH had faijitas and a mojito, i had a rather large steak and a cold beer.
Thursday 6th July 2017
We had to wait in Oasis 4 days for the Russian Embassy to issue the second visa’s, we spent our time there relaxing for the first time since we left home in Thailand, visiting some nice restaurants and generally giving Plodd a good clean (not sure why as we were going to the road chaos that is Russia
Saturday 8th July 2017
I collected the visas on my bike and we were ready to leave Mongolia, We left Oasis with memories of many new friends and headed for the Mongolian/Russian border. On arrival we were 8 hours to early to enter Russia as the starting date of our new visa’s was 9th July and it was only 4pm (16.00) on the 8th July, At the border there was a queue of about 150 cars waiting to exit Mongolia, so I decided to park Plodd and have a look for someone that could speak English, I found a Land Rover that was only 2 or 3 cars from the front of the queue with Polish number plates on and the people in the car spoke very good English, I asked them how long had they been in the queue and they said 8 hours “oh my god how many more problems will we have before we get back to Europe” anyway I said to Les we had better join the back of the queue as we will be waiting about 8 hours, then a Mongolian Officer came over to Plodd and instructed me to join the lane with the trucks in, there was now only 6 trucks before it was our turn to enter the Mongolia Immigration queue, (We thought wow what a bit of good luck). Within 1 hour we entered immigration and found ourselves in front of the Polish Land Rover heading for the Mongolian Customs Department, knowing full well that our Russian visa’s were not valid until midnight but we felt that luck was on our side and there was nowhere for us to go other than to the Russian side. We joined the queue to enter Russia, went through the first gate where the official checked our doc’s no problem, then onto the Russian immigration office, everything was going fine until the girl in the office realised that we was now 6 hours early so she picked the phone up and spoke to someone, then asked us to wait. A high ranking officer came to the office and started looking at our passports then asked us to follow him to a large office block behind the one with the original girl in, he took us upstairs and gave us 1 chair between us to sit on in a corridor, we sat there for about 1 hour then he returned with 2 other people, one of then explained in English that we had broken Russian protocol and for that we would be fined 2,000 Rubels, (77.36 rubels to the UK pound) each, also we would have to return to Mongolia until after midnight. We sat in the corridor for another 30 minutes then another officer led us to a machine that looked like a old fashioned photo copier, it turned out to be a finger printing machine, he explained in Russian showing us how he wanted our finger prints and set about taking our finger prints then a photo of each of us from the front and then the side (mug shots). All we had done was to ask if we could enter the compound and stay in our vehicle until our visa became valid! After the mug shots we were escorted back to Plodd and told to return to Mongolia, I told the officer that we no longer had visa’s to enter Mongolia but he said well it is only Mongolia NOT RUSSIA so we returned to the Mongolian side of the border where we were met by a female Mongolian officer, who then called a high ranking officer who then called his Russian counterpart , they then met each other face to face in no man’s land. I watched from a distance, this was really unbelievable we had caused a international incident on the border between Russia and Mongolia by asking if we could enter a few hours early, I just hoped that it was not going to start a war, the Mongolian officer returned and told us that he would issue us with new exit stamps at 12 midnight and then the Russians would let us through the border. So we waited in Plodd until 12midnight.
We arrived at the Russian side and I went into an office to show our Passports/Visa’s and car documents and after they opened every cupboard and every compartment in Plodd we left at about 2.45am, we drove 2km and found a Truck stop where we slept until about 8am. We felt very badly treated by these officials and Les has vowed never ever to enter this Country again!
Sunday 9th July 2017
After the performances at the border with the fingerprints etc., we decided the sooner we left Russia the better so we set off driving towards Kazakhstan. We drove fast and long days the maximum we did in 1 day was 945km starting at 7am and finishing at 7pm (19.00) so we really have nothing to report about Russia other than the road conditions as we just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.
For the next few days, we drove and slept each evening a different Truckstop, at one particular place the girls cooking/serving were quite pleasant (for Russians), and they had a collection of number plates on the wall so I added Plodds to their collection.
On two separate days we didn’t realise until we stopped for the evening that the time had changed, which was of immense benefit to us as we had driven for long stretches.
Thursday 13th July 2017
Up today at 7am, we set off for the Kazakhstan border at 7.45 and arrived at 11.30, we purchased insurance just 100 metres from the crossing and took one look at the roads! OMG, never ever seen anything like it before, we couldn’t turn around as we had given in our Russian transit visas and so it was ‘one way to go’.
Plodding on so slowly made progress barely minimal, and small towns appeared and disappeared as we concentrated on the terrain. One large town on the map didn’t feel to hard to reach and so that was where we headed for. On arrival I knew we had no Kazakhi cash and that would have to be our prime concern followed by somewhere to park. A police checkpoint was up ahead so I stopped and asked for directions, the policeman did so much more than that, he took me in the police car to an ATM then gave us a police escort to secure parking where we could stay for the night and as we had no small denominations of currency he paid for it! Across the road was the towns best eating establishment “VaVa” where we enjoyed to rather large steaks with a bottle of Chardonnay. Result I would say!!!
Friday 14th July 2017
Left secure parking at 9am, what a mistake we have made, we should have asked more questions on the Overlanders Sphere/Forum as to the road conditions, they are dire.
Finally finding a parking lot at 4.30 where we met the “Toyota Silk Way Support Vehicle”, bloody hell, where is our support vehicle?, we have just done the Silk Road with a map and a compass, and funnily enough the three techies in the cab were consulting their three sat-navs trying to decide which way to go the following morning, so I put them right with the help of HRH and her map reading.
Dinner tonight was a microwavable disaster, so we had cheese and biscuits on Plodd.
Saturday 15th July 2017
Terrible, terrible roads today, huge craters everywhere, roadworks sending us off-road up sand dunes and dust and gravel everywhere, only managed 200 kms in 5 hours, so had lunch whilst driving. Minus 1 hour again.
We had set our target for the day at 774kms away, so we are now aware this is totally impossible and stopped at 5pm at a place called Aktobe. We had dinner in a small place and were both aware we were swaying whilst walking, unfortunately not due to the alcohol but the motion of the vehicle all day.
Sunday 16th July 2017
I got up at 7am, which turned out to be six as we forgot to change in clock. Threw out the milk again as the fridge has gone off again. If it was possible to change it I would but we have neither the time nor the contact to be able to do so.
At different points on the trip we have seen many things being transported on the roof of cars, today being the most memorable…………a small very old car looked similar to the old style fiesta, with two old guys inside smoking were holding on to 5 double glazed windows stacked on the roof, each person holding them through the window, Les pointed out that one hand was on the glass the other on the cigarette, so how are they steering?, to top it off the craters in the road were huge, she said maybe it would just be single glazing or “painless” when they got home, we had such a laugh about it. Another 200 kms down the same enchanting road was a settee and two chairs balancing on a sofa bed attached to another car roof. Maybe Kazakhstan dont do a delivery service due to the quality of their roads!
Monday 17th July 2017
Filled up with fuel and set off towards Atyrua, where we are hoping to find a hotel of a certain standard for HRH.
Nowhere to do the ever mountain of washing we have accumulated, but found a hotel which wasn’t marvellous but was ok, clean and tidy. Walked to a local restaurant called “PORT” and met a very lovely young girl called Gaby who helped us with the menu and kept us entertained throughout the evening with tales of her family and son.
Tuesday 18th July 2017
42 degrees today, made enquiries as to where we might buy a new fridge but no one knew of any camping equipment stores. We decided enough was enough and we MUST have Plodd cleaned she has never looked so bad. We wandered around the one way system looking for a place big enough to accommodate Plodd, which we eventually found and were surprised it was run by mother and son, who were more than happy to spend two hours cleaning and drying, they even did the wheels and tyres all for £7.
Shashlik for dinner, where Gaby arranged for her brother to come to hotel tomorrow to assist me to find a garage to have Plodd serviced.
Wednesday 19th July 2017
Roma was punctual, in fact in reception at 8.30 so we set off to find a garage, all to no avail as they didn’t have garage large enough or with access to any parts we might need, so it will have to wait until Russia again.
Les had been in touch with Andrea Gattingher on Overlanders Sphere to ask about the road conditions to Astrahman, she in turn had put out a search and Gareth Griffiths had answered in no uncertain terms that the road was “Shite”.
He was 100% correct, it was horrendous, cupboards unhinged themselves, fridge contents all over the floor (beers mainly as we were using it as a storage shelf by now), cushions, bedding, clothes everywhere, I thought Les was going to cry (again), dust and wood splinters all over the floor. The tempered glass top over the cooker shattered and there was glass everywhere, a million little pieces at least!
Spent the evening clearing up ready to cross the border tomorrow.
Thursday 20th July 2017
Up at 6am, noticed the mobile phone, and we had gone 1 hour back again so now 5am. Decided to set off straight away.
Smooth crossing into Russia so miracles do happen!
Going west using maps and compass again, worked so far so don’t knock it, HRH is getting good at knowing East from West. Listening to Smooth radio as we managed to top up SIM card and drinking coffee, at first we paid no attention to quite a few flies, until one got in the cab, bloody hell it was huge, then they were coming from all directions, by this time Les had ran in the back and left me to deal with them. I shut all the windows and it simply got worse you could hardly see the road for them, I noticed vehicles coming in the opposite direction were absolutely splattered with them, they were a plague of locusts and were with us for about 10kms. Very strange thing to happen.
We then found a bank and paid our fines from our custodial experience, the ATM maximum withdrawal was £80, so fines being £60 didn’t leave a lot, ridiculous, apparently it is to stop overspending……good job HRH isn’t Russian, they would have an uprising!
Found a Greek restaurant where the owner said we could stay and park Plodd overnight, had showers, poured a beer, stung by a bee, (anymore insects in this day?) and guess what?, another hour back!! At this rate we will be on the road at 4 in the morning.
Victor (owners son) filled all our fresh water bottles from the nearby spring.
Friday 21st July 2017
Up at 4.30am made myself go back to sleep then up at 6.30, Les had already made tea, I think this is the first time I’ve ever had tea from her in all of our married life, she doesn’t do 6/7 in a morning!
Unfortunately we had left the storage compartment (fridge) on 12v and the batteries were flat. The trucker parked close to us gave us a jump
start thankfully and we set off for the Georgian border.
Fuelled up, went to supermarket, bought LPG and reached border crossing at 4.30pm.
It was very very busy and we did well to clear it by 6.30pm, which turned out to be 7.30pm as one hour added on now.
Drove a small distance and found a beautiful little town hidden on all sides by the mountains full of quaint little shops/bars etc., we had some typically Georgian cuisine which was delightful and slept like logs!
Saturday 22nd July 2017
Up at 6am and left for Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the scenery is amazing after the pour views in Russia, mountains in the morning sunlight absolutely breathtaking, we stopped for breakfast and koffee.
Tbilisi is huge, a total metropolis, we were unaware of what to expect as it hadn’t been on our agenda to come here, we knew that it would prove impossible to park Plodd anywhere within the city and so decided to carry on driving and maybe next year we will fly into Tbilisi from somewhere close as it looks a fabulous place to visit.
We took the coast road and it started to rain, and rain, and rain. We found a small place and had dinner.
Sunday 23rd July 2017
I used the internet and booked the Radisson hotel in Batumi, which was a very welcome change and a bit of luxury for HRH.
When we arrived at the hotel the reception staff were very interested in our trip and then upgraded us to a business class room, very nice too.
After having a bath, never realised it would feel so much of a treat to have a bath, we walked to the Piatza, where there was live music and people dancing. We shared a board of tasters and a nice rose wine.
Monday 24th July 2017
Looking through the seaview window on the 13th floor of the Radisson I noticed about six rec vehicles parked on the promenade, so we decided to join them where we stayed for two days, repairing Plodd and the damage that had been encountered throughout Kazakhstan.
Each evening we walked to the Piatza and watched the people dancing but tried different places to eat, one night a Ukranian restaurant which had delicious veal casserole.
We also managed to get the mountain of washing done.
Wednesday 26th July 2017
Off we go to Turkey, smooth crossing at Georgian side, nightmare in Turkey.
Apparently every 25 cars or so, one gets put to one side for x-ray, guess what…………yes that’s right………..its us! Only problem being here is that this border doesn’t have an x-ray machine so the customs official sat in the front of Plodd and we drove in convoy with several articulated trucks to Hopa to the customs compound. Long story short, 3 hours later, and we can go.
Stopped on the road for Koffee and the waiter put down a small bowl of ‘stones’, I was curious so I tried one which turned out to be chocolate. Les had all the rest.
Found a small hotel on the coast road with a beachfront restaurant where we had Lamb koftes and whitebait with a hearty block of homemade bread and salad.
Thursday 27th July 2017
Left hotel and drove on the coast to Samsun where after quite a few u –turns we found a campsite. We got hook-up and they have showers/toilets and a swimming pool.
We walked two miles into town where we had some lunch and bought some grocery’s.
In the evening we got the security guy to arrange a taxi for us and went to Baliki restaurant, (No 1 on Trip Advisor). How? Why? First comment “we have no menu, I can tell you what we serve” We chose a Caesar salad and Calamari to start, when the salad arrived Les told the waiter it cant be for us as it was the wrong salad. He said no, it is for you this is Caesar salad! The bowl of salad was carrot, rocket, whole cherry tomatoes and a rather large gerkin sticking out of the top! She asked him how is this what we ordered, and told him the ingredients of what should be Caesar, to which he shrugged his shoulders and took it away, she suggested that perhaps it would be better he re-named his creation a house salad!
Next course Fish, served with half an uncut onion and three leaves of Romaine, (why didn’t they use that in the bloody salad?!) Needless to say it was a disaster and one we wont be repeating. The bill was a total rip-off as no menu indicates they can charge what they want….and did!
Friday 28th July 2017
Up early, took the electric bike off the back and gave it a good clean, Les decided to clean out Plodd and rearrange all under the bed as she is hopeful that all bad roads are behind us, I only hope she is right!
The whole campsite is very quiet and yet full of people, we saw a few using sign language and were then told it was the Samsun 23rd Deaflympics, and there were hundreds of them in the town.
Took the bike into the shopping centre and bought meat, salads and stuff for dinner which Les cooked on Plodd, we sat talking to a lovely couple called Marcus and Tamara from Germany who we hope to see again someday. It was Tamara’s Birthday so Les put a few little things and a birthday card together for her.
Saturday 29th July 2017
In the morning I went to get a much needed haircut on the bike., when I got there the barber decided to put molten wax on my cheeks, in my ears and up my nose, it brought tears to my eye’s it was very hot (pic to follow on plodd.net) then he left it a few minutes, when he decided it had been on long enough he just ripped it off, wow it was like ripping a well stuck plaster of your ears nose and face. He then preceded to give me a very good hair cut.
That night Les cooked dinner again and we had an early night ready for a early start to get on the road to north west Turkey.
Sunday 30th July 2017
We set off for north west Turkey at 8am so we could get as close to Geliboilu, we only stopped once for quick sandwich, we got to a place just south of Istanbul called Gemlik a small fishing port, we quickly found a nice hotel with parking for Plodd , we had showers in the room then went to the harbour side to a small restaurant with a balcony upstairs over looking the sea, the food was first class, couple of cold beers and back to our hotel by 10pm, we were both shattered.
Monday 31st July 2017
Up again at 8am and our plan was to reach Geliboilu, we knew to get to there we would need to cross a small section of the Agean sea by ferry from Lepski to, so we were well on our way when the indicators stopped working. I quickly found a fuse that had blown and replaced it, it blew again so it meant me tracing the wires. I decided that as we were only going to be on the motorway that we should push on until we got to Geliboilu and try to fix the problem there. We arrived at the ferry and got straight on, there was a very strong wind and Plodd was rocking from side to side most of the crossing, 45 minutes later we were off the ferry and heading for our camping spot that we used in 2014. We arrived and there were about 6 or 7 vehicles wild camping in our spot, HRH took up residence for our overnight stop. That evening we went to a great little restaurant across the road that we had used in 2014 and the head waiter remembered our names and even showed us some photos of us sitting in the restaurant in 2014, amazing.
Tuesday 1st August 2017
We decided as there was a lot of people at our camping spot we would try and get to Varna in Bulgaria for just after lunch, that did not happen as Plodd decided that she was not going to use the fuel from tank 3 and just ground to a holt on a upward bound hill on the motorway. It was on with the lime green safety jackets and out with the hazard triangle, luckily for us only a few minutes pasted and I managed to flag down a recovery truck, he told me in fluent Turkish (that I did not understand) that he had no tools and no tow bar so he could not help, he then jumped back into his truck and left, some recovery vehicle!
HRH and I then decided that somehow we had to get the fuel out of tank 3 and into tank 1, however tank 3 was on the side nearest the passing traffic and tank 1 was on the other side of Plodd, so I found a small plastic water bottle at the side of the road I made it into a funnel and we had a 5lt water bottle and a piece of plastic pipe, so we syphoned the fuel from tank 3 into the 5lt water bottle then went to the other side of Plodd and used the home made funnel to put the fuel into tank 1. We did this until we had about 30lts of fuel in tank 1, I turned the engine over and over and over again then eventually Plodd burst into life, when I was turning the engine over I was praying that the engine was self priming as I knew that if it was not then I would have had a big job trying to prime the engine manually with all the motorway traffic passing. So we were back on our way again. We arrived at the Turkish/Bulgarian border and it only took us 45 minutes to clear both sides, great, we then travelled until 5.45 (17.45) to reach our destination, Vladimur’s parking place right in the centre of Varna, the road to his place is very narrow, last time we drove there in 2014 I managed to knock off a wing mirror so we had to go very slowly down the street, when we arrived we were disappointed to see Vladimur’s shop all closed up, so we now had to find another place to park, I remembered that there was a very large car park by the port so we went and parked there for the night.
Wednesday 2nd August 2017
With the disappointment of Vladimur not being there I decided to get up at 7am and go and have a look at his shop. I talked to a guy that told me that Vadimur was still living close by but he did not know where, he then pointed to another guy in the street and told me to ask him, he did not know but he told me that Vladmur’s wife worked at a hairdressers across the street, I went to ask but the women in the shop did not speak English.
So that is the end of the line trying to find Vlad.
We went shopping in the afternoon and I managed to lose my telephone with all the pictures of all the trips that we have done in Plodd including the current trip, I am now hoping when we get to Hungary that the Apple Shop will be able to help me get the photos back so I can post them on Plodd.net.
Thursday 3rd August 2017/ 4th August 2017
Time to move on, we packed up and said goodbye to Varna and its port. We planned to meet the Kids at the same campsite in Romania we met them at in 2014, S Camp. When we got there they said that the camp was full and we would have to wait in the holding area, so I parked Plodd where they told me and then they realised that I was blocking most of the entrance, so the manager told me to go and look on the site to see if I could find a spot for Plodd. I did and we got parked up. We went out for dinner that night to the restaurant on the camp site, the food was OK and we went to bed at about 10.30pm , the next day Mihai and Roxy turned up about 11.00 and we sat and chatted about the trip, in the evening Simi and Lili arrived at around 8pm (20.00) we had a barbeque by the side of Plodd, the weather was so hot, in the cab of Plodd it was 48c but in the cabin it was more like 27c as the Aircon was working great.
Saturday 5th August 2017
We stopped on site and visited the beach/sea every so often it was just so incredibly hot, Les sat in the cabin doing long overdue neglected paperwork as we had shared Mihais internet.
Late afternoon we walked to a nearby restaurant that Rox and Mihai had enjoyed the previous year, but we were refused entry because we had Sasha with us, even though we were to sit outside! It is not uncommon to take your pet with you to restaurants around Romania.
We left (their loss), and along the same street there was the “Mayflower” a converted old ship, here we enjoyed there grilled meats and salads so were pleased the first place wouldn’t accommodate us.
Sunday 6th August 2017
Again incredibly hot, Simi and Lili left at noon, Rox decided she was having a morning on the Pepsi what she failed to tell us was that there was copious amounts of Bacardi being added liberally throughout the morning. We decided to go shopping whilst Rox slept it off, snoring loudly with Sashas lead wrapped around her ankle.
Mihai drove us to Carrefour and we got food and water for the rest of the trip as its so much easier to park his car that to take Plodd.
We woke Rox and then went for a walk on the beach, we were surprised just how many people ignore the warnings for skin cancer as there were so many burnt bodies.
We shared a XXL Pizza between the four of us, actually four and a little one, as Sasha really liked the cheese.
Decided to have an early night as Mihai was concerned about roadworks and the distance we had to travel tomorrow.
Monday 7th August 2017
Left at 7.30, got fuel and Varnette for the motorways so M2/M1 at 8am.
After 50kms Rox and Mihai went on in front and we continued alone, it had been lovely to be all together again.
Seeming to take a long time on a windy road we realised that somehow we had missed getting back on the same road and were now on the A1, I flagged down a driver who was very kind and drove in front of us through a large city for about 45 mins to get us back on track, when I spoke to him he said he worked in England as a HGV driver and lived in Wolverhampton! Maybe we shall see him again.
We continued until 7pm the mountain views were stunning. Stopped at a small truckstop and Les fed a three legged Golden Retriever.
Tuesday 8th August 2017
Border crossing is 250kms so we left at 8am, the Romanian office just checked our passports and the Hungarian side was not even open, so easy time was had. Made a sandwich en route and headed for the capital.
The Sat-nav (rediscoverd for Hungary) brought us into Budapest but took small narrow roads, finally we reached ‘Niche Camp” where Judit had booked us in for 5 nights.
We took the bus into town, had a look around found an open air beer garden with live music so stayed there for an hour before returning to Niche where we had a very hearty authentic Hungarian Goulash which was delicious.
Wednesday 9th August 2017
Waiting for Judit and Adele to arrive, when Judit came she said Adele had an appointment and would see us later, I thought that was strange as Adele is always there to greet us. As we arrived at their home Judits telephone rang, “Adele has passed her driving test!” We are delighted for her as it was my idea she take up driving at an early age.
We went looking for somewhere to buy ramps for Plodd to sit on in the winter months. Adele using Google found a camping shop which we then visited and were hopeful that they could house Plodd undercover for 8/9 months but unfortunately we were too late as they were fully booked for 2017.
In the evening we ate “Chicken Paprikas” prepared by Judit and drank Champagne to celebrate Adeles success and the end of our driving.
Thursday 10th August 2017
Drove to Judits workplace, the Post Office Van Shop where they accessed what required doing on Plodd after her arduous journey – quite a lot apparently, so we shall have all that done in November as we will be returning to Hungary to attend Adeles graduation ceremony.
Whilst they were looking Plodd over Adele suggested Les may like to look around the designer mall, (big mistake!) We had some lunch there and then returned to the post office garage with one of us carrying quite a lot of shopping bags, one was definitely a shoe box – how many shoes does a woman need?
In the afternoon we spent almost three hours trying to reschedule flights with BA, they are super helpful, and even though they are a little more expensive HRH refuses to travel with anyone else, I am inclined to agree with her.
We took the “Grumpy bus” to town, so named after the miserable driver, to West End gardens and had Roast Duck with Ratatouille for dinner at Meatology.
11th August 2017
Whole day spent emptying cupboards/fridge/ suitcases packing for our flight to England/Thailand, and generally getting ready to leave on Sunday.
We are going for dinner tonight on the Boat on the Danube which is HRH favourite place in the world, the views are beautiful.
So we first went for a beer in the London Pub then on to the boat, they had a couple of guys playing guitars and we sat in the very same seat as the previous year, the food was first class, we sat talking with Judit and Adel most of the night then at the end of the evening Judit took us back to the camp site and Plodd.
We enjoyed the atmosphere and company on the boat very much.
12th August 2017.
So today is our last day on the camp site, Plodd is ready to go to the parking area tomorrow that we have booked close to the airport, all we have to do when we get there is put the cover over Plodd and plug her into the electric supply. Our flights are booked and we leave tomorrow evening at 7.55pm so this is the end of our trip for this year and next year our plan is to tour Europe for a few months.
Summing up this trip, it was not the best trip we have had on Plodd, Plodd was great but with the Chinese part of the trip being so frustrating having to travel as slowly as we did so seeing very little, the Russian border problem, me loosing my phone and the roads in Kazakhstan.
No it has not been a great trip,but we did enjoy many parts of it Oasis, the Kids at S camp, seeing our family in Hungary and many of the people we met along the way.
Lets hope our trip in Europe next year is a little different.
Dave & Les.