Archive for the 1 Category

Cue The Dancing Bear …….

Posted in 1 on May 23, 2009 by LaContra

Those of you that have been following this blog for sometime may recall, way back in March,that I was invited by the Moscow 4×4 Club and its President, Leonid, to attend one of their rallies on the outskirts of Moscow.

Now it was (supposedly) the last official day of winter and they celebrate with a bonfire and games for the kids…..Now in a previous ‘game’ I was deemed to have lost and as such I had to play ‘the bear’.

I must say that all of this was highly suspect…..hmmm, the foreign guest ‘loses’ and we get to take the piss outta him and gain some revenge for losing the Cold War (I figure)….anyway, I digress……

Of course I threw a well aimed spanner into their devious post-communist plans!……the bear suit was a tad too small for the likes of me….so the show had to go on….with just the head.

Now of course

(a)   I can’t hear a word they are saying with the bear head on….

and

(b)   I can’t understand a word of Russian anyway.

So the kids got to decide what the bear had to do….

First I had to pretend I was  drowning

Then I had to do a dance……

Follow the link…….if its in Russian, press the English option in the top right of the screen.

Hit download, it’ll take maybe 4 mins….

As promised….x

http://files.mail.ru/04QFK6

…roll tape.

A Bunch of Goddamn Junkies

Posted in 1 on May 15, 2009 by LaContra

So it would seem that my slaving away writing to provide you all with 4 months of high quality free entertainment isn’t enough….

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….some of you seem to  think that I should explain myself and my plans as such….

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Usually I’d just tell y’all to fuck off.

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But what the hell……so……

Contra presents:


Yalta….The Reprise Summer Mix

(No I haven’t taken up DJ’ing…..one Ben Parker is enough!_

You may recall that I have mentioned a chap named Marcus who owns the Hostel in Kyiv….Well ol’ Marcus has a few of these enterprises scattered around the Ukraine and has a wider informal network of Hostel owners.

Seems that Marcus offered me some work when we met in Yalta….but since nothing was concrete I continued to travel back into Russia and on to Rostov-on-Don and to Stalin/Volgograd.

When I arrived in Stalingrad I was left facing some hard choices

1. From Stalingrad, continue east and I’d be in Kazahkstan within a few hours…..

2. From Stalingrad head south to Astrahkan on the Caspian Sea,  then into Chechnya, and into Georgia……(War zones aside…this seemed the most likely option)

Until

3. Marcus rang..told me that if I wanted to come back to the Ukraine I could use the truck and trailer to deliver bunk beds all over the Ukraine as they are setting up some new hostels…..that didn’t really sound too appealing….

Until

He said that after the deliveries he needed someone to work in his new hostel in Yalta situated on the seafront for the summer season…someone who could also work in the Kiev hostel when he and his girlfriend wanted to work in Yalta for a break…..

So…get paid to drive my truck around Ukraine for a month or so?

Then, spend the summer holiday season in Yalta?

Free Accomodation on the beach?

With my own transportation?

hmmmm…….lets see

Summering in Kazahkstan

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…..Chechnya

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……Yalta?

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Well Duh!

So thats my summer taken care of….and I’m planning on maybe doing some 4×4 day tours to the Submarine Base (See Balaklava Post) and to to the Black Sea Command Post (See Object 221 Post)…just for a bit of fun and cash!

So…if any of you need an exotic vacation in the sunshine….please feel free to contact me for information about accommodation, travel arrangements, and tours etc…………


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…..in Bognor.

PS…If you leave a message here I’ll send you an email when travel resumes……………I doubt whether a blog about running a traveller hostel in a gorgeous ex-Soviet Holiday spot for the summer surrounded by young Russian tourists on the lash would be entertaining……….

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(but I might be wrong).

Pondering…..

Posted in 1 on May 8, 2009 by LaContra

Hmmmmm….

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It is said of course, that all good things must come to an end….

So be it…….The End

BTR

Posted in 1 on May 2, 2009 by LaContra

When I was in Kiev I needed the rear lights of the truck repaired. A mixture of off-road hooliganism and arctic temperatures has screwed up an earth or something…..

No rear lights

Only one brake light

No reversing lights

……..Unless the headlights and the fog lights were on

Or the trailer was attached…

…and if I put on the high beams everything went off.

Weird.

So if you recall Sergei (from Microsoft, had put his business card on my windscreen) well he put me in touch with BTR auto service

Boy was I surprised….

They met me at the main road and guided me to the workshop which turned out to be…….

Off-road Nirvana……

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And when I say Off-road……

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Fuck do I mean OFF-ROAD…..!!!

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Boy did my truck look outta place round this workshop!

So 2 guys spent 3 hours dismantling the rear lights, testing everything and then basically rewiring the entire rear of the vehicle

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….and then the boss (another Sergei) refused payment in lieu of putting their stickers on the truck!

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I am assured that this sticker is the equivalent of a 4×4 passport in Ukraine and boss Sergei is the Godfather of Ukrainian Off-Roading!

Lucked out again!

In the first week of July they are organising a 7 day rally from Kyiv to  near the Polish border, about 900km, in 7 stages….They have invited me to attend and all of you 4X4 aficionados who read the blog….Leonid!..Denis!…from Moscow 4×4….Landy Dave in Greece…Scrap Brad in Bristol….The Rally crew from BOAB 4X4 in Worcester ….y’all reading this?

….and if its too late notice this year…you should definitely ink it in for next year….the venue is great and the people at BTR are simply amazing!

Check out their 4×4 madness at

www.offroad.com.ua

For rally registration email Irina at BTR

comeup@ukr.net

Stalingrad

Posted in 1 on April 26, 2009 by LaContra

Stalingrad

You’ve read the books….

You’ve watched the movies….

You’ve seen the documentaries….

…Now read the blog…..

It’s a 600km trek from the Rostov-on-Don and the edge of the Caucasus Mountains, across the steppe to Volgograd….I never get used to calling the city Volgograd…seems not only disrespectful to history and the casualties of the Great Patriotic War but  I think Volgograd simply sounds rather mealy-mouthed and clumsy.

Here’s something you won’t see (in the UK anyway)….in the top left hand corner of your GPS Satellite Navigation is the directional indicator….(such as 150m turn left or 3.7km keep right) …

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Not often you see 303 km before the next turn!


Anyway…flat rolling farmland steppe mile after mile…not much to see

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Except for the guys who were slowly replacing the old electricity pylons

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And the memorial to the huge tank battles fought on the plains for hundreds of kilometres beyond the raging hand to hand combat of the  battle for the city of Stalingrad.

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A fantastic example of Socialist Realism sculpture….if you look carefully you can see that this is a huge metal hand hurling a ‘javelin’ of tanks at the enemy……and its 30 metres high!

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Then the outskirts of the city are reached

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You can tell because the shell holes still pock-mark the landscape creating a barren zone surrounding the city…

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…. and then it couldn’t be more different.

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Of course there Battle of Stalingrad left the entire city as rubble with hardly a building left standing and thus the entire city has been rebuilt in that depressingly familiar Soviet ‘block’ style which seemingly forgoes aesthetics of any stripe.

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And it will take more than some retroactively applied creative paintwork to make a difference I’m afraid

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Those who are fed up with memorials on this blog can click on some internet porn or something now because the city has little else to offer except for one of the most important war memorials in all of Russia

Rodina-mat….Mother Russia

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The sculpture is called …The Motherland Calls

With a sword some 33metres long and and at a total height of 85metres, she dwarfs even Aloysha silently standing guard up there in the frozen north of Murmansk at a mere 36metres in height.

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Like Aloysha she dominates a hill overlooking the city….Unlike Aloysha you can’t miss finding her…the surrounding memorial park is huge and well signposted.

The plaza that leads to the memorial

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Chicks with big hands

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and big feet

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aren’t my type……

And she hardly has an inviting expression…

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But she’s got presence…I gotta admit

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As you walk up the steps from the plaza you are confronted by this impossibly perfect ‘new Soviet man’

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hewing himself from his granite plinth.

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With ‘her’ dominating the skyline beyond….

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Then you follow more stairs, walking further upwards through this man-made “canyon”….. revolutionary slogans and war-cries blare thru hidden speakers and then the chaotic sounds of machine guns, explosions, and dive bombing planes fills the canyon in a deafening din…..

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The walls depict rough brickwork and rubble, the figures seemingly incorporated into the ruins of the city…

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with the ever present Lenin serenely hovering above the din.

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These ghostly images are the spirits of those comrades forever one with the remains of the city…

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Onto the Avenue of Heroes

As noted in a previous post on Socialist Realism: to be heroic, patriotic, looking to the future, inspiring strength, brotherhood, and fraternity amongst comrades….

Banishing the serpent of fascism….

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Stepping over the fascist invader….

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Onward……

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Carrying your comrade forward…..

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After the din and confusion of the canyon sculpture, Robert Schumanns ” Dreams” echoes hauntingly as you move towards the base of “Rodina Mat” to the memorial rotunda.

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The outside the rotunda is a vast bas-relief mural telling the story of the Stalingrad battle

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even displaying German prisoners of war in bondage (though never referred to as “Germans” but “Fascists” in Soviet history so as not to offend their communist comrades of East Germany)…..

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The inscription says……”so the Fascists wanted to reach the Volga? The Red Army gave them their wish”

Inside the rotunda Schumann continues to swirl around the eternal flame and the names of the fallen inscribed on the walls…

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The honour guard is a 24 hour presence and the guard is changed every hour on the hour in a highly choreographed display of high stepping and rifle twirling.

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If this display, in this place, is designed to stun the viewer into contemplation and reverence…….

It succeeds.

You enter the rotunda on the lower level and emerge at the top of the rotunda plaza to be confronted by one more sculpture before arriving at the base of Mat Rodina herself….

This is the final hit to the solar plexus, and if you have managed to hold your emotions in check thus far, most would find this to be an image too far…..

There is no need for an inscription…..

There is no need for an explanation…..

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The universal comprehension of a mother’s loss…a mothers sorrow.

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It takes pride of place at this memorial….in stark contrast to the expected patriotic triumphalism one would expect from the Soviet Union in such a place……

……and finally to the giant on the hill….

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The huge but ancient lighting system which illuminates Mat Rodina at night….

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(looks like something my mate Jantzen would rig together!!)

There is a ongoing conversation within Russian society to reclaim the name of Stalingrad for the city…..perhaps enough time has passed that the name Stalin no longer instils the fear, revulsion, and horror of his rule from 1928-1953……

The nearby Stalingrad Hotel and Bar certainly thinks so

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with Comrade Stalin’s portrait hanging proudly on display

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To Krasnodar then Rostov-on-Don

Posted in 1 on April 20, 2009 by LaContra

From the border the next stop is Krasnodar, regional adminstration centre… and probably where the regional customs commander who says ‘Nyet’ is based.

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If you ever wondered what the USSR did with all its old military hardware……

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I mean even old trucks get a plinth in these parts

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Located on the Don river at the top of the Azov Sea, the 8th largest city in Russia and one of its fastest growing…Rostov-on-Don…..not just ‘Rostov’ mind you….there is a Rostov just outside Moscow…..apparently plays merry hell with the postal service.


On the way there I came across this huge monument in the middle of nowhere….a memorial to the history of the Cossacks who hail from this region

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Even through to the Soviet times

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As you arrive at the Don on the outskirts of Rostov-on-Don there is a huge bronze sculpture of a military cart with an attached horse team

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It dwarfs my little truck!

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The mighty Don

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Lined with large river ferries that provide river cruises in the high season…though the wharfs provide a focal point for casinos and entertainment all year round

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Typical parking scene…Rostov-onDon style

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53 Hours Doesn’t Sound Like A long Time…

Posted in 1 on April 20, 2009 by LaContra

…..but it is when you are detained at the Kavkaz border port by the Russian authorities.

I arrived at 12.30pm on Wednesday.

“I am serene like surface of the lake at dawn…..I will be as the rock, immune to the breaking of the waves over me……Like the willow tree I will  not break but bend and sway to the rhythms of the wind”

Yes Grasshopper…

Close eyes, breathe deep and recite,

oh I dunno…maybe 9000 times?

Fuck me this lot would try the patience of Job.

In the UK…there is no separate registration document for a private car trailer…..you just put the same registration plate as the tow vehicle on the trailer and off you go.

In Russia there is a separate registration document.

When I entered Russia at the Murmansk border in February they asked for trailer documents….and since the registration was the same as the truck…you may recall that they merely noted and photographed everything…..and cleared me thru.

With every police stop, at every checkpoint….no trailer document? No problem…….trailer/truck registration the same.

Get to Kavkaz…..

Trailer documents?….I explained as I did in Murmansk.

“Nyet!….you cannot enter….you must go back to Ukraine”

“Excuse me?”……WTF?

If this was my first entry to Russia I would have  surely complied….but I explained that I had already entered Russia at Murmansk…and had been driving the length of Russia for 6 weeks!

“Nyet…..you must go back to Ukraine”

As I mentioned in my post on the Shraf, my confidence in dealing with the authorities has risen as the trip has progressed. At this point most people would meekly turn and leave.

Not your intrepid correspondent….not anymore.

“Nyet…I’m not returning to Ukraine”

“Nyet?”

“That’s right Boris…fuckin Nyet.”

There was a woman border guard who spoke fluent English (thank god)…I explained that even if every police department, every government department in Russia had different rules…..that at least the Customs and Immigration rules MUST be the same for the entire Russian Federation….so if I was cleared thru Murmansk they better just do whatever Murmansk did and let me enter…..my 12 month visa and all my other documentation was in order.

They said they would call their regional commander.

I settled down to wait.

After a few hours they said they had 6 bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs and would I like to have a wash and a rest as I waited?

This was more like it!….that inherent Russian aversion to stubborn/bolshie/confident foreigners was kicking in……

Upstairs…..nice comfy double bed……hot shower…..and its free?…there was even a 24hr kiosk and café outside for food!

They come back a few hours later…the regional commander says….

“Nyet”

Free bed and hot showers?

24 hour food?

I explained now that I had settled in I wasn’t going anywhere but into Russia and with these conditions I reckon I could out wait them….checkmate.

“Back to Ukraine?…still fuckin Nyet”

I told them if the regional commander said no…they better call Murmansk and if that don’t work I don’t care if they have to call Moscow…..I’m staying here until this is sorted.

“Oh”

“I’ll be in my room if there is any news”

“Da Adam John”

Ok so the way this way unfolding I didn’t expect this to be over quick.

Nice sunset over the border port though

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Off to bed.

Next day…..no news but lots of conversations about what to do with me….read my book all day…..had a nap….cleaned the inside of the truck…repacked the trailer…..

The truck was still parked smack bang in the middle of the compound with every other vehicle having to negotiate their way past it

“Adam John…..can you move machina (vehicle) over to the side of the compound?

“Nyet”

“Nyet??”

“Yeah Nyet…..I figure while its there, in everyone’s way, right in front of the boss’s office…..you won’t forget me….you’ll all stay on the case”

“Oh”

By now I know all the guards by name……Mikhail Ivanovich has just rushed home as his wife has gone into labour……I wonder if they will call him Adam John?

Nice view of the Azov Sea from my border post bedroom though..

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and another nice sunset….

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Off to bed

Next morning its action stations.

Moscow called Murmansk….told them to sort this out …Murmansk called and told them what to photograph what to write…..so I spend the morning unpacking the truck for another photo session and then fill out dozens of forms…in Russian.

They’re doing it but they ain’t making it easy.

Their boss then notices that the truck has a white registration plate on the front and yellow on the back……

Apparently he said he had watched British movies and that this was not correct….so I showed them the photos of my Mercedes cars back in the UK…..

“Oh”

“Yeah Boris that’s right….fuckin Oh”.

After arriving at 12.30pm on Wednesday I passed thru the border gates and into the Russian Federation at 4.45pm on Friday.

The mantra had worked

Bizarrely all the border staff jostled around the gatehouse to wave me goodbye…

“Dosvedonya Adam John…..!”

“Yep…Dosve-fuckin-donya Boris”

(Mikhail Ivanovich called his son Ivan Mikhailovich)

….and yes….i still love this place.