Follow The Volga, Russia Week 25 3rd - 8th October 2011
From Zhiguli we headed back to the main road then west to Syzran. We'll follow the Volga for a couple of days.

We passed a village with several roadside stalls selling something.

We failed to conquer the cold and rain to look closer.

A few glimpses of the Volga from the road.

The road and farming are on the plain with the river valley below.

It feels quite odd to us as we are used to rivers in mountain enclosed valleys with everything in the valley bottom.


There's apparently a cathedral and a kremlin in Syzran but we failed to find them.

We couldn't help noticing the architecture had local variations on what we've seen previously. We do like the decorated window surrounds.

We had an address of a bankomat and hoped gps would take us there.

Before it did we found a small supermarket that had a bankomat, one of those machines for topping up the mobile phone, and of course food. Everything we needed, except diesel, in one place.

Usual palaver with the mobile phone machine. People really are helpful once they know what we need.

Must have been going round a corner when Ali took this.

Did I mention its been nice to be back on roads that have a camber.

We think part of grain or minerals loading gear at the port.

That would be a largish port for a river so far from the sea.

We'd become a bit casual obtaining money and fuel. Once we had the money we started looking for fuel. The first three fuel stations we saw didn't sell diesel. We hoped it wasn't the rule in this town - and of course it wasn't. Anyway, we had at least 100 km of diesel left!


Just a reminder to us to be careful.

The sides of the road look distinctly soft and slippery.

The yellow truck coming the other way was being very careful and was down to walking pace.

Most of the trucks on this modern day trading route, that we've been on since entering Russia, have been European built - Scania, Man, Volvo, etc. 

The local trucks are Kamaz, including the 6-wheel drive chassis that have a bus body added. Even 6-wheel drive front bits for the articulated trucks.

About 35 km south of Syzlan we were looking for another national park.

Now that we understand they are "all around" we pulled off down a side track.

This is the view of the river after about a 1km walk.

The campsite we had dreamed of was vacant.

It was reasonably solid underfoot, despite the water.

And a million rouble view.

The track headed down towards the river.
Unfortunately we chickened out.

This is the track we walked down. Nearly lost our footing a few times. The track seems to be raised a bit, with a lean to one side or the other, and those wonderfully inviting soft edges that would have enveloped Tardis wheels in sticky mud. The sort of potentially endless hospitality one tries to avoid.

And evidence that in drier times other vehicles had slid off to either side.

To be honest we didn't find any evidence of vehicles being stuck. Just of someone recently having started down the track and reversing out.

Just like us with our first attempt on a different track. We'd managed a couple of hundred very uncomfortable slippery meters before discretion became the better part of valor and we had second thoughts.

We think we are getting better at mud. We've been trying different gears and at times we can crawl through it in very low gear without the rear end trying to overtake us and a (perhaps misplaced) feeling of being a little bit in control. Hopefully finding the combination that maintains traction without slipping. But we can't yet predict the outcome with even the slightest bit of certainty.

We keep reminding ourselves that 4wd is to get ourselves out of trouble not into it.

So we reluctantly, but sensibly, settled for hiding behind the trees nearer the road, and walking to the view.

Probably best as its still raining.

Not the warm tropical downpours we have been used to. Grey. Just enough to make us wet and cold. Not even worth putting the buckets out to catch it off the roof!

Tea was chicken (again!). We thought we'd bought some frozen beef but it turned out to be a block of liver. We now know what the Russian for liver looks like in cyrillic! We are also wondering where all the good cuts of meat end up.

The autumn colours have been catching up with those we saw further east.

The reds are not the birch trees though. We've begun to see lots of sycamores and a few oaks. Generally a wider range of vegetation since Samara Bend.

Still miserable weather though.

Perhaps the two observations are related! 

Today's honey sellers brought their hives with them. I nearly said lives. They possibly do that too.

All very mobile.

We've been following the west bank of the Volga.

We figured we'd have a look at the east bank. Planned to cross at Balakovo.

We were pulled over by the police again.

This time a vague hint of a sense of humour. Definitely different to the authoritarian approach of previous encounters. He went through which language "french, german, angliski" and when I got that right he tried "brittania" to which I thought it useful to reply "australia".

He wanted to know where we were headed so I mentioned Ukraine. That was easiest down the west bank. So I waved my arms a bit to say we would cross over then cross back further down river.

Balakova is an industrial town, not the sort of place tourists commonly visit. But we parted friends anyway.

And then we failed to find a bankomat or recharge the mobile.

The east bank is flat. The west bank has hills and cliffs.

I guess its the hills that confine the river to flowing where it does.

Flat is agricultural and small villages. There's much fewer woods this side. Makes it a bit harder to find a campsite.

We fluked it by following a small road towards the river. It ended with a series of someone's favourite fishing spots.

We are just north of Marks. This is looking south, the hills of the west bank in the distance.

A closer up of the distant hills.

For a while we thought we would have been better off staying on the west bank. But we are happy now.

Feeling pleased with ourselves for absolutely no real reason.

Tardis is about 4m above water level. There's a drop then some sand and reeds.

We used river water to clean that rear window again. Not sure about using it to fill our water tanks though, its not the best looking water we've seen.

Position here is N51.74508, E46.83746

Weather forecast is for cloud to clear with a high of 22 deg C tomorrow. We've not needed the heater tonight. The baromoter is rising as I write. We are hopeful.

Not a hint of a dawn chorus, though we've seen the occasional bird through the binoculars.

Not quite a cloudless sunny day but it will do.

It was still and calm enough for this local fisherman to set forth. About 100m from the bank. It looked a bit precarious perched on top of an inflatable coracle.

We are having a pottering day. Ali a bit of washing, me a bit of maintenance. Yes, I know. Sigh. Pink and blue jobs!

In between the maintenance we watched some largish shipping near the far bank.

Just a handful that we saw during the day.

We are camped opposite the bottom end of an island. Its that clump of trees on the right at the edge of the photo. 

The shipping passes on the far side. We did see the locks through the weir at Balakova (we drove over them) but totally impossible to photograph. 

For now just pleasant watching the light change on the opposite bank.

We thought for a bit that this was to be one of those "the grass is always greener on the other side" excursions. But no. We are happy just exactly where we are. 

And to make our happiness complete the loo is now working as the designer and manufacturer intended. And as we require.

Dometic UK Technical Support were no help. After 5 days they replied with a standard email referring me to their website.

Experienced electronics designer Dave, of the satellite tracker, went straight for "edge connectors, there's your problem". And so it was. I cleaned them.

I also replaced one of the led spotlights that had shaken itself to pieces. Unfortunately there are four more that need a washers. And the squeak that developed a few days ago when the bed is raised or lowered responded to a bit of light lubrication. The "todo list" is now a bit shorter. At last!

While this could be a cruise ship it seems a bit late in the season so we'll settle for ferry.

Since following major rivers through Asia we've seen a mixture of river transport.

The unusual aspect of this ferry is that its not unusual (to us) at all. Just another indication of the transition from Asia to Europe.

Marks was a pleasant town. We missed a turn at a roundabout (gps is about 1km out on the map at times) and ended up in the middle of town.

Walked about a km to find a bankomat. Good news is it gave us R10,000. A bit more than we've become used to.

Success also with mobile phone recharge. Managed to use one of those only-in-Russian street corner machines without help.

And a supermarket.

Beyond Marks we saw heaps more dried fish for sale.

Smelled like kippers (which I like).

Onions, cabbages, spuds and melons.
Which country are we in?

The outskirts of Engels.

The minor (on our map)road with a bridge across the Volga looked quite major when the gps directed us past it.

The signposts also suggested it was the main route.

Too late, and we knew there was another bridge in Engels.

This street in Engels is the main road to the bridge over the Volga.

Observant people will note that there's only one set of overhead cables for the trolley buses. 

They travel in both directions.

There were lots of signs which suggested to us that trolleybuses coming the other way would be in that middle lane and we should keep right.

Fortunately we didn't get the chance to test the theory.

If we knew then what we know now ......

Just before the bridge was a police box.

And a well hidden sign with a 3.5 mt weight limit.

It took about 15 minutes of showing documents, playing dumb, pretending to be relaxed, appropriate look for "nyet dollars", and so on.

"Fine" was eventually R3000 (A$98). Ouch.

I guess it wouldn't be Russia if we hadn't had some incident like this.

They did at least let us proceed rather than turn us back. Even gave us directions.

Saratov on the other side of the bridge is a largish city.
Could be anywhere with developed waterfront.

It hides a bit of a maze of streets behind it.

Not too bad. A lot of concentration on the gps. Fortunately the map matched where we were.
With our new found respect for hidden signs we spotted this one. This limit is 8 mt.

So far through Asia that sign, without any numbers on it, has generally meant a 5 mt limit. Or so we have been told!

In Russia it got more complicated.

Traffic in town was interesting. Generally well behaved and patient with the normal small number of drivers who are impatient and want to push their luck.

Overtaking, and being overtaken, can be fraught.

The car and truck had "come together" as they say. The car got the worst of the deal. Its noticeable that once committing to something like overtaking there are no second thoughts. Even when its evident to all that something is about to go horribly wrong.

Our mirrors get lots of use. Including the extra convex mirrors we added in Brisbane so there are no blind spots.

Up to the Urals Russia has been generally tidy. Not quite round the major cities, but where we've been very tidy.

Not so as we've come off the Urals. Roadside litter in rest areas and likely campsites is atrocious (to us).

We'd also met it near our fishing spot campsite. Large piles of it.

This is our lunch stop south of Saratov.

About 30 km south of Saratov we turned onto a side road towards the river.

The river bank was occupied with a village so we opted for the ridge top.

Tracks running every which way so we were able to find a hideaway on the edge of the forest.

We were alone, until a passing herd of sheep and goats found us.

The track led deeper into the forest, slowly getting less traveled. until it ended where someone had camped.

The (now) usual litter to give us a clue.

Someone had camped here before but had left only the campfire remains.

More or less the view from the rear window.

I walked about 100m to take this pic, we are out of sight of the village.

We've seen a few mushroom hunters but, as we've come to expect in Russia, noone has the least bit of interest in us.

This from Tardis as the sun was going down over right shoulder.

Looking east. The Urals and Siberia are over there somewhere.

While here we've had good internet. Just as well as had to clean a virus of both my netbook and the website. All clean now. Apologies to anyone who was infected before we cured the site.

We've stayed 3 nights in our "room with a view".

This was mid-morning on the third day as the sun was breaking through.

Enough to fully charge the batteries every day.

We'll follow the Volga to Volgograd (once Stalingrad) then turn west. Towards Ukraine.

If we feel like it we'll look for the Volga - Don canal.

We are early at the border again. Ali's visa for Ukraine is for entry on the 14th.

Starocherkasskaya and Tanais, Russia Week 26 9th - 13th October 2011

BJ & Robyn Thu, 13 Oct 11 20:57:04 +1100
You managed to get all that way and only get one fine for 3000R, you did very well. 20 years ago it would have been different. Scenery all looks great, like Central Otago vegetation and Fiordland mountains only enlarged about 1000 times. We look forward to looking at more stories on your journey. Everyone here good.

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