Sunday 30 August 2015

“Let’s be glad there are still a few crazy men in the world”.

We are sitting in bright late-summer sunshine on the lawns of the home of Risto and Marja-Liisa Heiskanen, confronted with a groaning table of Finnish hospitality. The Vice President of Finland’s Automobile Historical Society (Autohistoriallinen Seura), Markku Pellinen, is welcoming Ian and Bill, the two crazy men who thought it would be a good idea to drive a couple of vintage cars halfway across the world, with no sponsorship, no arranged publicity, just a set of cheap T-shirts and caps, a backseat full of tools and spare parts, and a few mates.

The President of the Finnish Vintage Machinery Club (Wanhat Masiinat), Kari Kaartama, also presented a club emblem to the by-now swollen headed crazy men. The lawn was graced by the presence of a veteran 1952 Mercedes Benz, Citroen and MGB (Kari Kaartamas is thus also a very good mechanic to take on any British car).

The day before we had been honoured with a raising of the Finnish flag at Kari's sister Anniki and brother-in-law Matti's lake-side "cabin", and more local gourmet produce, this time a fabulous salmon soup plus trimmings, followed, in the Finnish tradition, by a wood-fired sauna, including a plunge in the lake. I should add that the Finnish sauna tradition is not at all prudish, but not a single photo has survived this particular ritual.

It only remains for me to sign off for 2015. The Dodge is waiting in Helsinki for a ship to Sydney. The Whippet is in a shed, pending a possible sale to one of Finland's many car collectors. The faithful Land Cruiser, now with over 360,000 km on the clock, will come home too. And Michael Noyce has invited us to a re-union at Wollombi in November to bore each other even more.

AND we will live again, briefly. We have been invited to present at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in Bright, Victoria, on 12-14 February 2016.

Thanks for following us and for the almost 46,000 hits in the 2 years, and for all the encouraging comments.

“Tell me again, why are we doing this?”

Michael Leggo asked me this question a dozen times as we shared the wheel through Russia. I now know the answer.

People say the Finns are very reserved people, but when they befriend you it’s for life. I believe it. The reception in Finland for Ian and Bill has been more than mere ceremony (more on that later) and respect for a serious achievement. They worked with Kari Airas and Risto Heiskanen at Outokumpu Mining in Australia and Finland and the depth of this friendship has been a key factor in the degree of audacity of the project, and the quiet determination by Ian and Bill to see it through. Of the full crew of ten who took part, they were the only ones who saw out every kilometre from Australia to Finland. (A full crew list is on a separate Page).

The reception has been both formal and personal. We returned to Outokumpu, the company’s home, now an ex-mining town with the old copper mine property creatively transformed into a museum and community education and art facility.

Kari, the company’s former Australian Manager, who lived a couple of decades in Australia, joined us and showed us the church where his grandfather preached and led his community, and where the neat little cemetery is a reminder of the Finns years of fighting first the Russians, then Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945. Fallen soldiers were brought back to their home communities. The church itself is large, wooden, solid, and no-nonsense, in the way of most buildings here inside 60 degrees north. Risto and his wife Marja-Liisa hosted a real reception at their home. More about that in the next post.

In each town we stayed before Helsinki the local newspaper had heard of this remarkable trip and wanted the story. Why Finland? Why Outokumpu? Why Lahti? Why Mantyharju?

I know why.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Public apology

It has been brought to our attention, here in Finland, that Finland is washed on the south by the Gulf of Finland, and on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia. The Baltic Sea provides the shoreline for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and they are called, logically enough, the Baltic States. Finland is not one of them.

So our attempt at a catchy expedition name, and blog title, not to mention T-shirt and cap logo, has produced a clumsy geographical solecism, one that may have caused some discomfort or hurt to our many new Finnish friends.

For that we apologise.

When "Hanoi to Helsinki" was canned due to Vietnamese intolerance of right hand drive cars we thought we were clever coming up with such a snappy replacement alliteration. However it seems that, despite our skills at Trivial Pursuit, we hadn't actually had a proper look at a map. It's a bit like calling a Canadian an American, or even worse, a Kiwi an Australian. So we hope we can set things right with this public backdown. We will try to make it up to you all.

Headlining in Finland

Well, maybe trailing the headlines. The Bondi to the Baltic expeditioners have had a wonderful welcome in Finland, thanks to the the great friends made by Ian and Bill when they worked for Finnish mining company Outokumpu. For four consecutive days we have met local journalists, and even had national network coverage. Here Ian is caught for national TV, while Bill briefs the motoring journo in the background. Look at this 2 minute clip to wind up the national evening news.

And the local Lahti daily ran this:

We will also get a feature in Mobilisti, a local magazine for car enthusiasts.

And stop complaining about your lack of Finnish language skill. Google Translate makes the world quite small.

Just look at this pair of media tarts lapping up the attention.

Monday 24 August 2015

Spectacular St Petersburg

No traveller can spend 5 days in St Petersburg and not post at least one comment. Its palaces, museums and galleries are a splendid reminder of the glory days of Tsarist Russia, and how they set out to match their cousins in the Royal houses of Europe, and even the Roman Empire (the title Tsar is based on Caesar). The treasures housed in them are now the property of the Russian people, and the Hermitage attracts about 3 million visitor annually. But it's just one of many palaces, both royal and merely aristocratic, many meticulously restored after serious damage in WW2.

There's gold, marble and rooms full of Rembrandts and Titians in the Hermitage, the old Winter Palace. Each room in the Yusupov Palace museum, which the Yusupov family mysteriously walked out of in 1919, would be worth millions. Peterhof, built 300 years ago for the Tsar to rest on the journey from the port to St Petersburg, has been extended into a magnificent palace on a couple of thousand hectares, with over 200 fountains and goodness knows what else. A handy B&B for old Pete

This is the Hermitage, across the Winter Palace Square, where about 1,000 men, women and children were killed by authorities as they tried to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas in 1905 for poverty relief. The gathering was well publicised in advance and the presence of children evidence of its peaceful intent.

Best quote from our expeditioners: No wonder there was a revolution.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Russian media coverage

We stayed in Kirov en route from Perm to St Petersburg, and got a little local media notice, with a link back to some of our photos.

For our Russian readers the link is

For others, Google Translate will help. Worth looking for the photos.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Russians getting on with it

We’ve all heard of the Russian oligarchs, these cronies of powerful politicians. It’s part of the Western pejorative view of successful Russians. S-class Mercedes with tinted windows, Italian sports cars, yachts on the Riviera, conspicuous consumption abroad, must be something shady, but we in the West are above all that.

But today I hear from home (Australia) that our own dear Abbott government is now trying to exempt 800 large private companies from publicly reporting their taxable income and the amount of tax they have paid, a privilege not enjoyed by the rest of the business world. Goodness me, could some be more equal than others?

However an interesting conversation with long-term ex-pats here in St Petersburg debunks some myths. Yes, there are some very rich people with connections (show me a country without, see above). But there is also a big number who have worked hard to build businesses and do well – by our own standards. The cafe / restaurant scene reveals a prosperous market, not just tourists, being catered for. Our local bar is packed with 20 or 30-somethings each evening.

Russia is a country with enormous resources and potential. We drove through hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres of rich agricultural land. Our on-board geologists swear by the minerals present, and we know that Russia supplies 30% of Europe’s gas. It’s a country in transition from state-run to more open market enterprise. We saw the signs every day. Uneven service levels and adherence to paper warfare, obvious inefficiencies, but all done with a genuine, unapologetic, open confidence and generosity. They don’t know or care what the world thinks of them. They won the last war and don’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to start another one (quoting yesterday’s guide).

So they’re just getting on with business.

First Impressions, Nigel McCombe

After 36 hours flying from Melbourne, via Singapore to Helsinki, then train to St Petersburg, a jet-lagged participant failed the test of “don't take the first taxi you see out front of the train station as they may drop you in the city some 5 kilometers from you hotel”. Despite this setback, and a further flight to Perm to join the B2B party, these first impressions are not lasting.

The people are very friendly and helpful despite the inadequacies of my Russian language. In every town there has been someone to help, advise, or just smile, cheer or give a thumbs up as they fly by the Whippet or the Dodge at considerable speed.

For example, as the Land Cruiser limped into Cherepovets at 4pm and stopped at a local mechanics yard last Wednesday, with generator and battery issues they obliging called their motor electrician friends, Alexander and Alexei, who then shepherded us at a poor 10-15 kph to then fail right at their garage door.

John disappears with Alexei for an hour to find a replacement generator, I suspect in another town, Nigel deploys his considerable pigeon Anglo-Russian language skills to entertain the gathering crowd of mechanics in the back blocks of Cherepovets, somewhere down a back alley in a small line of garages, hidden from public view, as to the purpose behind B2B.

John returns triumphantly (and thankfully from my perspective) and these two young men then build and install, in their small workshop, a new generator into Cruiser. We apply the skills of iPad, Google translate, and other English-Russian translators, to thank them profusely, award two kangaroo pins and give Alexander’s pregnant wife who arrived back in tow somehow with John, a special Koala award. Back with the rest of the team by 8pm. These young men pictured with John after the successful fix was made asked no special thanks, would not accept any extra gratuity, but exemplified the very warm and welcoming nature of many people along the road who bent over backwards to help.

I look forward to more encounters and my view and expectations of Russia and its people have changed and been overturned by the friendly nature of Russian and its people.
Hotel staff loved being photographed with cars (and so do Bill and Ian)

Being photographed as we are passed now is the norm now always with a smile or thumbs up.

Nigel McCombe

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Saint Petersburg traffic

In a previous post, Driving in Russia, we praised Russian drivers. On the last 200 km into, and within St Petersburg we have changed our view. Many drivers from this splendid city, and its beautiful surrounding countryside, have expensive cars and drive them very fast, faster than their driving capability, and faster than is suitable for the quality of the road and street.

Todays road was the best so far, something like the Geelong to Warrnambool track, but it seemed that the entire population of St Pete was leaving town for the weekend. Outward bound they were bumper to bumper, thousands of them. And almost as many were on their way in, to fill the gap, and flat out, too fast and too close together. A rear-ender was inevitable and happened right next to the parked Dodge which was lucky to survive the evasive path of the next speedster.

Saturday 15 August 2015

One planet: a Russian view

We have mentioned our Russian hitchhiker, Sergey. He travelled with us for a week as part of his mission to see his own country, hitch-hiking 8,000 km from the Black Sea to Lake Baikal.

Here is his view of our adventure together.

Hello my name is Sergey and I am hitchhiker from Gelendzhik (south part of Russia on the Black Sea). All my life I do not leave my region. But one day I decided that it is bad for me. I realized that I live in the biggest country in the world and do not see anything. I bring my bag go on the road and put my right hand up. My goal, visit more than 15 cites. And my destination, Lake Baikal.

After 8 days of my trip I stay on the road near Kamishin. Then I see one old car and I think that it is about 35-50 years old maybe, no more, so nothing interesting. Since couple of minutes I see another old car. Later one car stop near me open the door, I ask may I go with you, but one guy ask me too "do you speak English?". Like this start our combine trip.

Later, when we got acquainted, I asked the guys about the purpose of their journey, and why they travelled by historical cars. The answer was - "just for fun". I was deeply struck.

I was also surprised that the guys could stay both at the expensive hotels and just in a tent on the bank of the river. I was astonished by the fact that they were able to move around a lot of countries without knowing local languages. And, of course, I was astonished by their cars. It was a real holiday on the highway when we were passing by towns they attracted (like a magnet) people with cameras. They made everybody happier, and it was unforgettable to go by such cars!

I am very glad that I have met them. I think this meeting was useful for everybody. And the main thing that I have understood for myself is that it's not important where you are from - from Russia, Australia or any other country, we are all people and we live on the one and the same planet, and the only difference between us is the language, but this difference will disappear soon.

Friday 14 August 2015

Russian Hospitality with the Common Person

We have been overwhelmed with examples of hospitality and generosity from the people we meet in our travels in Russia. We are given time and an ear and nothing is too much trouble.

I went into the science museum in Yarislavl and was told they took groups through, so go and have a cup of coffee until the next group is ready. So I did and the staff in the cafe were having coffee and pizza and they invited me to join them. I had a chat to Julia and Helen. Paul, a science teacher, decided that as he spoke English he would give me a tour as it’s really a house that tries to explain some of the laws of physics to kids. So he did.

In the City Museum the same happened. I could not leave until I had seen it all this way then that. Look, we are putting on a film in a minute, here’s a book in English. Ekaterinburg city museum was similar.  So was Kirov and Perm.

Road side sellers are just as friendly, wanting to know why and where we are going.

I had some postcards I had been carrying for a day or two looking for a post box. I spied a post van stopped beside the road. The driver was having a rest in the sun. Would you put these cards in your truck please? No problem.

Cheers Ian

On the Road.

Major roadside negotiations. Michael Leggo

Intense, high level commercial negotiations were conducted by our battle-hardened B2B leader with an entrepreneurial capitalist at an impromptu roadside meeting near Tikhvin. When asked why the cost of berries had gone up 100 Roubles since yesterday, the vendor said it was because it was now Friday. Following this quite compelling response the deal was consummated amicably, as can be seen.

We are very fortunate that this is both the berry and mushroom season and that we have such skilled negotiators in our team.

Michael Leggo

Driving in Russia

The web is full of horror clips of Russian traffic incidents – lorry rollovers, appalling roads, careering speedsters, bodies flying, grim statistics – so we arrived with trepidation. China had been a breeze with European-standard highways, if somewhat inexperienced drivers in new powerful cars. We enjoyed driving there.

So here, with 2 days driving to go, is what we have found in Russia. Yes there are fender bender accidents. We have seen several with forlorn drivers and weary police exchanging details. The Lada driver wondering where he will get parts for repairs, the BMW driver anxiously checking her insurance.

ALL drivers have a mobile phone to the ear. All drivers stop at pedestrian (called zebra here) crossings, even without lights and even out on the highway next to bus stops. Trucks don’t pass over unbroken lines. Cars sometimes do, and oncoming traffic, blind corners or crests don’t deter. The oncoming car merely makes room. Although here in the tourist zone where roads are better, and traffic faster, lights are flashed with some rancour.

Police are very visible on highways. There are random checks, and not many days go by without us being pulled over. The standard routine is a stern but curious approach, a lot of questioning in Russian to which we usually answer “Australia” and sometimes pull out car documents or offer licenses to further puzzlement. Then the head starts to shake, the palms go up, and we are waved on with a laugh and a handshake, but not before his mate arrives and they snap each other next to the cars. Next day it’s the same. We’ve never detected any attempt to extract a bribe.

Support for our classic cars is universal. Waves, photos, thumbs up, fist pumps, smiles, toots (from very close trucks), flashing lights, hanging out clapping. When they pass there is a salute of flashing hazard lights.

Roads and streets are well signposted, uniformly throughout the regions we’ve seen, ie south to the Caucasus, east to Ekaterinburg, and now in the north-west. Roadkill is rare, and only foxes so far. There is a genuine attempt at road maintenance and the roads are well-built initially, but the volume of heavy traffic as well as the size of the country highlight the inevitable budget inadequacy at all levels. See some of our previous posts about roads and vehicle damage.

“Service stations” generally provide fuel only, pre-paid through a small exterior window. No water, air pump, oil, paper, anywhere to clean diesel hands. The exceptional tiny minority offer oil, snacks, ice cream, but no iced coffee (where is Parmalat when you expect to see them everywhere?). As we get nearer to the tourist zone between Moscow and St Petersburg we have seen one Shell servo. As these spread hopefully it will put pressure on the rest to shape up.

For Sale: A Whippet with Provenance

One well travelled 1926 Willys Overland Whippet.

Originally owned in Western Australia by Stan Perry of Kalamunda for 50 years, its current owner Bill Amann has taken this original car and driven it from Australia to Finland see blog - Bondi to the Baltic at:

This treasure has been driven overland starting in Thailand in May 2014, travelling through 12 countries over 20,000 km and, at 89 years of age, has provenance and capability. An original vehicle, the Whippet will finish its trip in Helsinki, Finland on 25 August 2015, and can be purchased as is in Helsinki (or St Petersburg)

Owner Bill Amann can be contacted on



Our first and so far only brush with dishonesty, or entrepreneurial opportunism as it would be termed in the West, did not occur until Perm. A car park attendant at our hotel charged an excessive amount to release the Toyota for the trip to Ekaterinburg, probably not realising that we would be coming back. A complaint was lodged on our return and a meeting was convened between a hotel manager, the "accused", myself as witness for the prosecution and one of the front desk staff as an interpreter.

The car park attendant was also selling "old" Russian coins, presumably to gullible foreigners ( over the years I have become truly expert at purchasing counterfeit coins from shady characters - on the dubious basis that they are souvenirs). Whilst complicity is acknowledged, this is inappropriate behaviour on the attendant's behalf given his position. CCTV was used in evidence. We do not know the outcome of the "trial", but we were impressed by how seriously this matter was dealt with. A significant discount was also applied to our parking fee in reparation.

Michael Leggo

The Russia of the people

When the cities are too far apart, or we decide to skip big places like Nizhny Novgorod, despite the temptation to be able to say it, we either camp in a forest or find a Гостиница (gostinitza/hotel) along the road.

This day, after hours of light rain, rough road, endless birch and pine, and a fruitless detour to a village with a derelict hotel and no apparent purpose, a big, muddy truck-stop appears. It has a gostinitza, complete with столовая (stolovarya/cafeteria), душ (douche/shower) and туалеты (toilet), all used by the several dozen truckies overnighting there. I know what you’re thinking but you couldn’t be more wrong.

For 500 roubles per person (about $AU12) we get 3 twin rooms, thereby half filling the place, and it is spotless. The rooms, the cafe, the showers, toilets, the handbasins used by the truckies, all of it, spotless. The staff constantly mopping and cleaning, the kitchen staff washing hands and wiping down benches, no sign of mud tracked through, and the truckies from their truck-cab beds, carefully shaving, teeth cleaning, and wiping down the basins.

Most trucks had gone by the time it was light enough for a photo.

We ate well, had a few beers and a laugh in the busy, friendly cafe. The whole night cost us one tenth what we had paid in the big city hotel the night before.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Far from me?

Not all our travel lands us in the cities. We dodge the main highways occasionally and lob into a ‘small town’. This one looks to be in transition from reliance on a state-owned factory to a foreign investor, in this care, Swiss. Job numbers are lower and education and skill requirements higher. The local school now teaches English and German. Streets and footpaths are crumbling, the market area is rundown, but the kids still enjoy their summer holidays in the modest playground and long grass of the schoolyard.

The main drag boasts a fast food joint and bar, just up from the old supermarket and new mobile phone company, all tightly fronted for the long, tough winter ice, snow and wind – function over form.

Our navigation app shows a Гостиница (gostinitza / small hotel) in the town centre. The usual crowd gathers round the cars, and one, a programmer at the local factory, speaks English. This gets us to the town’s restaurant, run by a couple of young women, plus one extra phoned in when we arrive. They tried hard, even to dimming the lights for the entrance of Bill’s pork flambée. After 10 pm, as we were leaving, their usual mob entered, armed with their re-corked vodka and brandy bottles. It looked to be what happens here.

There are plenty of places like this in this big, changing country. Russia is not unique. Bob Hudson could have written “Girls in our Town” here, or John Prine* “Far From Me”.

* Look him up. If you need to, you've been missing out for about 5 decades.

The roads are starting to take their toll on the cars. Are we going to make it? Ian Neuss

The roads of China, some good, some rough, with free floating concrete slabs, started it off. The hills and mountain passes were not a problem. We took three to four thousand metre passes in our stride. Kyrgyzstan’s back roads were rough to very rough and took a toll on the wooden wheels which needing tightening and some care to minimise the wear. The rear wheels spent the winter in Almaty in turps and linseed to swell the wooden spokes. The photo shows a blade retrieved from INSIDE a tube of the Whippet in Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan added to the wear. The roads in the more remote parts could turn to crap at the drop of a hat, pot-holes you could hide a car in. Azerbaijan roads took more toll on the tyres with the Dodge doing two tubes as the roads, and the corners were deceptive. Georgia was a breeze, nothing but fair wear and tear, although the cobbled roads in the old city were a bit rough.

Russia has been good until the M5. Good roads to the outskirts of a city then there is some jurisdiction problems or shortage of taxpayers. The M5 meant we dropped our hitch-hiker Sergei and detoured north to Naberezhnye Chelny and a new adventure. From Perm west to Saint Petersburg has meant we have taken some diverse roads to take the shortest way.

The roads in Russia suffer from the presence of large areas of swamp, and very large trucks, which means the roads are rutted and sinking. The heavy trucks make tracks in the road and the old cars go wherever they want. It takes a bit to keep them on the road. It also knocks them around.

The Dodge has split a steel rim in the last two days. It needs attention. The rear wheels have needed tightening and straightening to get them to run true. The tyres are showing considerable wear. The front ones on the Dodge are not too bad as all the weight is in the rear and those tyres are bald from carrying the weight and doing most of the work. (Photos)

The Whippet has had big problems with the roads. On the M5 it snapped a front spring. Coming west on the P98 from Kirov it’s done a front spring again. The rear wheel is getting loose too. We had repacked the loose spokes with grommets but these fell out and are now trying steel paste to keep them tight. The photo shows Ian's expert supervision of Bill and local mechanic at Kostroma.

Not to be outdone, yesterday the Toyota’s generator packed it in and ran down all 3 batteries, just making it to the door of an auto electrician in a back lane on the edge of Cherepovets. The local mechanics and electricians really rallied to the cause, tearing across town for parts, and working odd hours, and absolutely refusing to take a cent more than 2300 roubles for the job, about $60 AUS. Thanks Alexei and Alexander.

Are we going to make Helsinki? By road or on the back of a truck? Either way we will.



On the road

Perm-36 labour camp. by Michael Leggo

Perm-36 has five perimeter fences, two topped with barbed wire and the external one being two metres high, and two intermediary barbed wire fences which were very fine and difficult to see. In addition there were sound detection devices buried at various depths to deter any tunnelling efforts. There were of course the mandatory sentry posts plus rigorous security checkpoints when entering the camp and when moving between different sections. A diagram of the camp is provided.

Perm-36 was one of 150 prison camps in the Gulag system in the Perm Oblast or region and it operated from 1946 to December 1987. Initially it was a logging camp with its common felons prisoners and contracted labour providing timber for re-building after the war. The camp housed up to 1000 prisoners. From 1972 to 1987 it gained particular renown as the harshest of the labour camps housing key political dissidents and other adversaries to the Soviet system.

In addition to the general barracks (pictured) there was a special facility with twenty four hour closed cells to punish selected prisoners and rebellious inmates (also pictured). Executions have been documented (see photo), but I could not interpret the official reason for these. We were told that two visits per “ordinary” prisoner per year were permitted and one short visit for special prisoners, but even reaching the camp would have required a huge effort.

The prison camp is located in a forested area in the Urals in the village of Kuchino, about 120 km from Perm. Buildings have been well preserved and reconstructed, with the interiors in some re-created and furnished with large graphic photographs and artifacts to provide an understanding of the harsh living and working conditions which the prisoners endured. The preservation of this prison is unusual, most camps having been destroyed, and with Russia’s evolving political stance its future is contentious and therefore uncertain. Certainly earlier criticism of Stalin and this repressive era have been substantially reduced. Even the use of the term “forced or slave labour camps” is being rejected.

On a lazy summer day, capturing the sense of privation, isolation, and despair in the camp was beyond my ability, particularly under winter conditions. It is an important and worthy memorial illustrating the application of this barbaric, repressive approach to controlling the general Soviet population over more than forty years.

Michael Leggo

Monday 10 August 2015


We’re 58 degrees north, just west of the Urals, and it’s still hot in the middle of the day. At night we aren’t complaining that the hotel hasn’t bothered with air/con. It’s comfortable with the windows open.

Perm is home to one of the best Ballet and Opera companies in Russia, but, being mid-summer, they’re closed. They’re on tour somewhere (else) in Europe. So it’s back to the rocks.

The Permian Triassic geological boundary was defined near here by English geologist Murchison in 1841. It is a significant time line as mass extinction occurred at that time. The Paleontology Museum 500 km away in Kirov, which we visited, has a fine display of reptile fossils from exposures in the nearby river bank that they claim better defines the boundary of extinction.

Mind you the mass extinction of the Permian took 90 million years, contrasting with our modern rate which will see us lose 50,000 of the world’s 250,000 plants in the next few decades as we humans drive the sixth mass extinction.

Perm is an industrial city, famous for its copper and with a revolutionary history (according to a mention, possibly fictional, by Tom Keneally in “The People’s Train”), on the Kama River, above Naberezhnye Chelny, and can ship goods right to the Black Sea in the South, via the Volga and Volga-Don Canal. It has a large fine arts museum in the Spaso-Preobrazeheensky Cathedral with old and new Russian paintings and the largest wooden church altar in Russia plus a floor of finely crafted, ancient, wooden, religious sculptures.

So that’s Perm.


Ian & John

PS: Here we were joined by the final member of the expedition group from outpost WA, Nigel McCombe (still digging for a connection) who was glad to talk and think in English after 36 hours traveling alone to join the "travelers" and began to enjoy true Russian friendliness and hospitality in the Urals.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Welcome Stranger

Visitors to Russia often report on the warm, open hospitality of the Russian people. We have already experienced it but today we were in for something that will be hard to top.

Pyotr (Peter) is, or was, a gold miner. He knew a few English phrases, and the most used became: “What would you like to see?”and “Let’s go”. We met him when we wheeled the Toyota into the front yard of an old gold mine head frame and he walked out to meet us, showing curiosity rather than suspicion.

The Mineralogical and the Geological Museums in Yekaterinburg had both been closed but Bill was still keen to see a gold mine. He suggested a vacant spot on the map at Beryozovsky might be one. Armed with the computer we set out for this blank space. It turned out to be a park but further research suggested there was another space which might be a gold mine. A statue of a miner suggested we were in the right area.

Then we met Pyotr. What do you want to see? Rocks and gold mines we suggested. Ok let’s go, in typical Russian fashion. No secrets here, look around. What else? You want to see museum and maps? When we showed that we knew about rocks the doors opened. Ok! Lets go. Leva (turn left). Naprava (turn right). Priyama (straight ahead). He took us to his home and offered us old geological maps of the region. Then to the Gold Museum. This was closed but he knew the staff so he found them and they gave a us a tour of a well appointed gold museum. Then to another head frame that was hauling rocks from underground and producing aggregate.

We wanted to take him to lunch at a local restaurant but he insisted on us having a miners lunch. So we did. It cost us $2 to buy him 3 courses at the stolovaya, the miners’ canteen (even the suits eat there).

We wondered on the drive back to Perm what sort of reception a bunch of old Russian rock-hounds would get if they just drove into an Australian mine.

Cheers Ian

On the Road