Yesterday, we were walking around Samara in t-shirts. When we left this morning it was snowing – and very cold! It was a long day on the road today – over 11 hours – and we encountered several bouts of snow along the route as well as hail at one point. The temperature has dropped significantly and the forecast suggests daily lows in the 20’s F for the next few days. That may dissuade us from the camping we had planned for this week.
The snow was settling on the ground in Samara but further north it seemed to be melting as it landed. It is certainly cold enough to get more snow in the coming days.
I found another interesting toilet at a fuel station today. After filling up the Defender, I went to use the station’s facilities and was sent around the back to an outhouse. The wooden structure had a distinct lean to one side. Inside was a shaky wooden floor that had a hole in it, through which you could see the ground and a pile of ‘stuff’ a few feet below. Interesting!
We also had our first encounters with Russian police today, when we were pulled over by two police checkpoints, about 5km apart. Before the trip, we heard several stories of how the Russian police lay in wait for tourists to extract bribes for fictional transgressions. So far, our experience has been very different.
Law enforcement is very active in Russia. Permanent police checkpoints are placed on the major roads and are encountered quite frequently, with a number of checkpoints being passed each day. The presence of the checkpoints is advertised on road signs and speed limits reduce on the approach to them, so that the officers have time to select vehicles for checks and indicate to their drivers using sticks/batons that they hold in their hands. For the most part, the officers seem to be more interested in trucks than cars. Prior to today, we have passed a good number of these checkpoints, at a reduced speed, and the police have had ample opportunity to select us for checks had they wished. They didn’t.
Speed traps are also commonplace, usually where the speed limit is reduced from 90kph to 50kph, either on the approach to towns/villages or at road works. As with the checkpoints, we pass speed traps every day. I’m sure that on occasion we’ve been slightly above the limit but we haven’t been pulled over. I suspect they’re interested in the bigger fish – those who significantly exceed the limit.
We’ve also found ourselves alongside, or in front of, mobile police patrols. Any of these officers could have decided to pull us over, but did not.
As mentioned, today we got two pulls in a fairly short distance. On the first stop, the officer approached us with a smile and said ‘Good afternoon’ (in Russian). I produced my passport, migration card, driving licence and vehicle registration. When we said we were tourists, he smiled. After checking my documents, he sent us on our way. A brief and pleasant experience. The second stop was even more brief. The young officer approached my window and I handed him my passport with migration card. At the same time I told him we were tourists. After a brief look at my passport, he handed it back, waved away the driving licence I was trying to hand him, and sent us on our way. Brief and cordial.
Neither of these officers gave any indication of being interested in bribing tourists. To the contrary, when they realised that we were tourists, they were friendly and sent us on our way fairly quickly. We’ve only been in Russia for a few days but, based on our experiences so far, I’ve been impressed by the Russian police officers.
The Defender is looking particularly scruffy at the moment, after two dusty cities and driving through snow and slush today. She could do with a good wash, but she tends to blend in well looking as she does 🙂
We are now in Kazan, a UNESCO Heritage Site. From the little that we saw driving in at sunset, it is an attractive city that is neater and more organised than the previous Russian cities we’ve visited. We were scheduled to leave Kazan tomorrow and start the journey to Perm. It would be a shame to leave without seeing Kazan, so we are adjusting the schedule and staying here for one more day. Whilst long driving days are a necessary part of the trip, in order to reach the places we want to see, I’m mindful not to let the driving schedule control the trip. We’ll make adjustments, as necessary, so that we can find time to enjoy the places that we pass through. Looking forward to seeing Kazan in daylight!