Russian encounters

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Marina from Yekaterinburg

The first contact with Marina was before our trip. We were looking for a solution to ship our sidecars from South of America to Russia. As she is in charge of the importation of the spare parts for Ural in Irbit, we were expecting she will have a solution for this import. Unfortunately, importing vehicles by sea and then leave the country by land is impossible in Russia. A sad statement but with all the kindness she has, Marina asked us to contact her again when we will be closer to Yekaterinburg.

Therefore, the previous day before our arrival in the city and after 6 months without any news, we sent a message to Marina. We have been surprised to receive a cheerful reply. Marina did everything in her power  to plan our arrival. She arranged to meet  her for dining in the historic town-centre of the city. Therefore, the following day, we met her at 8pm at the Double Grill and Bar, with her husband and one of  her colleagues. After this great meal with delicious burgers and a couple of good local beers, she kindly offered us 4 stripped sweaters inspired by the official outfit of the Russian navy. They became quickly the official costume of the team.

The following day, Marina organised a visit of the city of Yekaterinburg with a great guide, Lubov (her contact details just here). The perfect opportunity to discover all the amazing secrets of this pretty Russian city.

Jenya, Sergei, Masha & Eugene

Upon our arrival in Irbit, our first aim was to find a “gostinitsa” where we will stay for a few days in this symbolic city, the place of birth of our sidecars. In the town-centre, close by the place with a big monument celebrating the victory of the great patriotic war, we parked in front of an old building. The satnav showed a hotel just there. The girls went inside, hoping to find information about rooms. Parked in front of the building and while debriefing with Julien about the road of the day, Jenya and Sergei arrived. Also bikers and intrigued by our trip, we had a chat thanks to the Google translate app on our phone. Before to discover the city with them, we settled in a flat with a vintage decoration, on the last floor of the old building.

The stroll began with an ice cream made in the local dairy. We walked in the city and reached the “square of the lilacs”, a wide place surrounded by the post office, the monument of Catherine 2nd and a few shops. A couple of steps further, we shared a beer on a bench. The place was lovely. On our right hand side, there was an old wooden watchover which was the reconstruction of the one built by the colonists at the beginning of the 17th century, date of the construction of the city. Behind us, a lovely suspension bridge spanning the Irbitka river. Pedestrian the bridge is the entry gate of the ancient park and its abandoned paths. Built by Vasily Nikolayevich, at the beginning of the 20th century, the place shows all the work of this man. During 55 years, he brought over than 50 varieties of flowers. Thanks to him, the lilacs are now used to the Russian weather and decorates beautifully the square.

Once our beer finished, we continued our city tour until dusk by heading to the Ural factory. We went through the ancient gate of the factory. We strolled between the closed down buildings and the ancient railways. During the sovietic time, the factory built up to 150,000 sidecars per year. In 2010, there were only 800 sidecars built. It looked like an abandoned city, in a city.  

The following day, after a great day at the factory (read all the details of this day in our previous article here), we met Jenya and Sergei in front of our “gostnitsa”. They came with friends, also bikers wearing leather jackets. They invited us to a barbecue, named here “chachlik” due to the name of the skewers with marinated meat cooked on ember. We followed them, by foot, up to the way out of the city. There, an area full of garages built in the 60’s. Step by step, the social life has been developed in the “garajniki”. Each one is helping each other for cooking bread, fixing white goods or smoking fish, all of this in a friendly atmosphere. Old motorbikes and cars of European brands are also being repared in these garages. According to Sergei, it’s also behind these gates there are the most of Ural sidecars. A few of them are still in good conditions to be ridden, but there each family has stocked the old family “tractor”.

We took a seat on the sofas at the bottom of the garage of Jenya and Sergei. Outside, the marinated meat skewers were cooking slowly on the barbecue. To wait patiently, our friends shared one of their favourite dishes with us: smoked fish. Each one of us took a little fish and had a bite. We grabbed the fillet and needed to be cautious to avoid biting in the offal. The phones were going from a hand to another. Our new favourite app: “Google translate” helping us to tell our stories and share a few jokes. With magic tricks and discovery of the Russian famous songs, the time was flying. The evening ended at 4am on the square next to our hotel where there was a 24/7 supermarket.

For our 3rd evening together, Jenya, Sergei, Eugene and Ivan, met us in front of our hotel. We crossed the city to reach an old industrial building. Inside, a bowling which was empty for this evening. It looked like the one we have in UK or France. There was a clubbing atmosphere. The manager of the place did a DJ demo specially for us. While tasting a new ice cream made in the city and sharing a shisha, the bowling ball hit almost the pins each time.

During our 4th and last evening in Irbit, we met our friends a last time to share the “last” beer together. It was freezing outside. As we already bought some beers at the supermarket, Sergei asked to Eugene if we were able to meet him at the gymnasium where he works as an athletics coach. Once agreed, we headed to the gymnasium and met Eugene in his office. We took a seat on the sofas next to his desk. Once the beers finished, Eugene gave us a few medals and flags as souvenirs. He took out a vodka bottle from his cupboard. We were not able to refuse some shots served with gherkins, meat and cheeses…

The waking up was, again, pretty hard. While sorting out our cases on the sidecars, a journalist arrived. 5 minutes before to leave the city, we were finally in front of a camera recording an interview made with Google translate. Eugene, Masha and one their biker-friends met us. Eugene helped us a lot with the interview and became quickly our press attaché by telling our story and explaining perfectly our trip to the journalist. Once his job done, he offered us the sticker of Russia, that we were looking for, to put on our suitcases next to the previous countries visited, plus a nice IMZ (the Ural factory) badge.

We took the road, with a beautiful sunshine, accompanied by them. On the first 50 kilometres towards Yekaterinburg, they were very patient. Indeed, our speed was not very high with our “tractors”  while they were riding sportive motorbikes. Half way through, we run out of petrol, in spite of the clock showing “100 kilometres” since the last time we filled up the tank (meaning we were supposed to have used only a third of our tank). But we forgot we lost some petrol when the Ural technicians worked on our sidecars. By chance, our spare cans of petrol were full! A few kilometres further, we reached a coffee place. We enjoyed a Salenka soup with a meat sandwich. A last magic trick with a cigarette, before a goodbye hug. The Irbit bikers went back home while we continued our road towards Yekaterinburg before to reach Kazakhstan. For the first time, we headed home! In addition of the sadness of leaving our friends, we were a bit nostalgic. For the first time, the end of the trip was actually getting closer…

Ivan & the Motorbike club of the “night wolfs” of Orenburg

Arrived in Orenburg, the last main city before the Kazakh border, we were looking for engine oil for the service. But in the different shops we have done, impossible to find the 20w50 grade. It was too cold there and the best we found was the 10w50. Most of them were even selling the 0w50. By keeping in mind the heat we will have in the deserts of Kazakhstan, we will definitely need the 20w50.

In front of one of the shops, we met Ivan. A passionate of motorcycles, he helped us and rang a last shop named “Motokrug56”.  The owner on the phone said he should have that in stock. We followed Ivan and his Daewoo car in the city. At a busy time with a lot of traffic, we sometimes had to force the priorities to be able to follow him.

The owner of the shop was the president of the Night Wolfs club for the branch of Orenburg. This motorcycle club is well represented in the country and in East Europe as well, where it plays an important political game alongside the President Poutine. At the end, he did not have the oil required. He tried a last thing. He called a Motul seller in Uralsk, the first city we will pass by in Kazakhstan. On the phone, the person confirmed the reservation of 6 litre of mineral engine oil 20w50 for the “Frenchies” who will arrive in the next few days. With the “Google translate” app we discussed about motorbikes and travel.ling We visited the underground warehouse of the shop where is sleeping in the back, an old sidecar Ural with the bolted tires ready to race on ice, a tradition in Russia. Then, we took a few group photos. 

The next day, with the missing oil and the wind blowing too much dust, we postponed the check of the valve clearance. No excuse for greasing the transmission shaft, but it will wait the next service. We preferred to visit the city with Ivan. We visited the “Frunz” Garden where are exposed various vehicles showing the Russian engineering skills. One of them was an old Ural. We continued the visit of the historical town-centre by strolling on the quay of the Ural river. Then, we went to the bridge separating Europe to Asia by spanning the Ural river.

It was in front of an aerospace company that we met Ivan’s girlfriend, her job there was classified. We wend to the statue of the famous Yuri Gagarine. The astronaut studied there before to do his achievement in the space. At the statue, we have been joined by Peter, one of the young members of the club. We went together to a restaurant next to the Motokrug66 shop, where we have been invited by our friends to enjoy a “chachlik”. The night finished at the workshop, where the motorbikes of the club were stored. The next day we left Ivan, the moto club members and Orenburg to go back on our way to the Kazakh border.