Like most who love their 4×4, I have always personalised my vehicles to suit my needs and I’m not at all shy in pushing ARB products. I’ve been using their gear long enough to appreciate that it’s well designed, user friendly and high quality.
By the way, it should be stated that I’m not affiliated with them in any way other than the fact I’m Australian!
So when some months ago we were contacted by ARB Moscow and offered the use of their facilities should we require any assistance whilst on our journey, we responded with a definite “yes thanks” and we would be in touch.
We advised Dmitriy from ARB of our arrival in Moscow and 30 minutes later Dmitriy arrived at the RV Park, ready to escort us into their facilities for a look around! I was keen to use the workshop for a service and was in need of a replacement tyre! One of our Cooper ST Maxx’s had developed a large vertical split in the sidewall of unknown origin that was obviously spreading and fast becoming a candidate for a blow out. This is my third set of Coopers and the first to have any issues but I am aware of other Cooper tyres failing in the same way so I’ll keep an eye on them.
It’s now early Thursday afternoon and hence I was thinking we were to have a look around ARB and meet the staff whilst organizing a time for me to perform a service. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Following Dmitriy across the city to ARB made the drive much easier and upon arrival we were greeted by another Dmitriy whom is head of engineering. The 2 Dmitriy’s had a conversation that eluded me and subsequently I handed over my keys to Dimitri number 2. For the first time since leaving Australia I wasn’t in control of my Patrol!
It was brought in and placed on a hoist whilst I was being asked what oil I would like and is there anything else that requires attention? Well yes actually! I needed to adjust one of the rear coil spring rubbers and in addition to the aforementioned tyre, needed a rebalance of all the others as we had a consistent run of lost wheel weights.
Slowly the penny dropped! I wasn’t even going to get dirty; these guys were looking after everything. I couldn’t believe it!
Leaving the mechanics to it, we wandered upstairs and had a look at all of the products; it was a little like dejavu wandering around the showroom! Photo’s of Australian 4×4’s and the exact feel that an ARB store in Australia has! The obvious change from Latin to Cyrillic the only real give away that we were on the other side of the globe.
After a look around we were directed to the in store ARB café overlooking the showroom and would you believe, treated to a 4-course meal prepared by an actual chef! Patrol being serviced we spend our time chatting with Dmitriy and enjoying a range of sensational food, does it get any better? I learnt here that ARB were also doing specific products to suit the Russian market, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised but I hadn’t really thought about it.
Apparently the local market was keen for ARB to produce an air locker to suit their old faithful, the UAZ, and ARB responded by doing just that! I think that’s fantastic, no doubt an expensive exercise for the company but to me that shows commitment to your consumer!
During our time in the café we were fortunate to meet the CEO from ARB Moscow and express our gratitude for all they were doing for us! We really felt like royalty.
Dmitriy number 2 arrives at our table; service complete, spring rubber re-seated, wheels balanced and our new tire will arrive tomorrow! Just too efficient!
We truly cannot express our gratitude to ARB Moscow strongly enough. Not only did we have someone to assist us when we were really at the mercy of a language barrier but also an organization that knows what we required and bent over backwards to assist. But wait, there’s more….
The following morning saw us arrive at the Metro for our first visit to Red Square and the Kremlin, but we weren’t going alone! Dmitriy #1 met us at the Metro and was now our personal Moscow guide.
Red Square, St Basils Cathedral and the Kremlin were to be our first points of interest. Just sensational to be standing in Red Square in front of such iconic buildings!
The whole experience was made even more memorable by the guidance provided by Dmitriy whose knowledge of the city and warm persona were again characteristic of the warm Russian welcome that was again being lavished upon us!
A visit to the Armoury at the Kremlin was an amazing experience, it’s easy to quickly become museummed out, so to speak, but the collection available here for your perusal is truly phenomenal, if you visit Moscow then include it on your itinerary!
As with any experience revolving around good company, the day was quickly dissipating and as the evening loomed, we met up with Dmitriy’s partner Nadya who was just lovely. After a fantastic meal in central Moscow we wandered along the Moskva River and looked at too many sights to list.
Late in the evening, we walked into a little bar and with the easy flow of conversation filling the air, we all managed to slightly over indulge! We all had a wonderful time and that was easily expressed by the fact that we fell into a cab at somewhere between 3 and 4am for the trip back the campground!
Half a dozen Danish RV’s were now on site but I was a little underwhelmed with the 24 hour security as we crashed our way to the camper in the darkness without challenge! Anyway that’s another story!
Surprisingly fit and able the following day albeit arising quite late(proves practice is important!) we checked out before again being met by Dmitriy and led back to ARB where we picked up our replacement tyre.
From there we headed to the VVC Exhibition Centre and parked the vehicle before heading into the amazing landscaped grounds, which contain a multitude of pavilions from Soviet times. Each one was used to display the achievements of the soviet states and we wandered amongst the incredible fountains and generally had a lazy day enjoying the sun and fresh air.
We’d been invited to spend the night at Dmitriy #2’s Dacha (weekender), an invitation that had to be accepted! Again following Dmitriy we headed southeast around the MKAD ring road and about an hour later saw us in lovely forest around a fire with beer in hand. (Dmitriy’s beer! It seems whatever we arrive with we also leave with! Russian hospitality!)
We met Dmitriy #2’s wife Julia and over the time we spent there found her always smiling face to be intoxicating, she is just one of those lovely people!
There were 17 people at the house that weekend; apparently that’s a regular occurrence! The previous night with Dmitriy #1 had seen us wind up at around 4am, now I’m in the company of Dmitriy #1 and #2 and it was going take some stamina!
Jen managed to slide off to bed unnoticed and the rest of us must have had some great discussions as it was a 5am finish this time! What’s happening to me??
A sleep in was required and enjoyed, we wasted the day sitting around chatting and drinking coffee before heading off late in the afternoon to take some photo’s of the Patrol for Dmitriy. As a press attaché he will be putting together an article on our travels.
We’d originally planned to leave Moscow that afternoon but time had gotten away from us as we’d been enjoying ourselves way too much, I asked Dmitriy #2 if it would be OK to spend another night and leave in the morning? His response was – I have a full fridge! That made me smile.
Most of the 17 weekend inhabitants had, at this point, departed as it was Sunday and work called. That meant an earlier night of about 1:30am !!!! Oh those Russians!!!!
Again we had trouble saying goodbye in the morning, I’ve had family members do less for me than these people who were mere strangers a few days ago! Words fail me.
Dmitriy and Julia spend a lot of their time travelling and being like minded, had given us some great advice on travel destinations and varying routes. It would seem our plans really are fluid as we are being strongly drawn in new directions. You will have to stay tuned and see where we end up!
We parked up just outside the MKAD ring road and caught the Metro back into Moscow central. We just wanted to have another wander around Red Square and soak it up a little more!
The whole area was fenced off as it would seem there had been a parade of some sort over the weekend. Lucky we’d visited previously as that would have spoilt the experience.
Wandering into the famous and very expensive shopping plaza, GUM, which runs along the side of Red Square, we were intrigued to see a queue of around 40m in length terminating at a small shopping stall in the middle of the Plaza. There were large TV style cameras and people sporting microphones, we thought it was possibly an appearance by some one rather famous or a book signing or the like!
When close enough I was a little lost for words, Putin certainly has strong support here and I was left in no doubt just how popular! The queue of people were attempting to purchase there own T-shirt sporting a characterized Putin in different settings such as wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sporting the caption “greetings from Crimea!” Make your own judgment on that one.
Once we’d had enough we departed toward Volgograd and after around 100km found a camp along a forestry track. Definitely an early night!
The next few days saw us visit towns such as Rostov and Yaroslav before turning West at Volgograd for St Petersburg. It’s always nice to arrive in a city and see the sights but it’s also exhilarating to wander the countryside. Finding hidden bush camps in such foreign lands is a challenge that I thoroughly enjoy!
Jen located an RV park to the west of St Petersburg and that suited our needs perfectly. Sat-Nav loaded we departed the ring road and arrived at the park located on the gulf of Finland! It was the first time we’d seen ocean water in 23000km and the sight and smell was nothing short of tantalizing. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy living by the sea!
The park was a little unusual, basically a car park next to a Government Conference center. Showers and amenities were inside the main building and were absolutely first class, whilst a restaurant occupied the second level. All of the staff were super friendly and more than keen to be of assistance.
It was easy to pick a spot as we were the only residents! Wandering in to the restaurant for dinner was interesting – a flashy affair exuding fine dining and silver service and once again we were the only inhabitants. It was actually quite simple food such as shashlik with ketchup and we couldn’t quite work out the silver service connection to the meal! Anyway it was tasty and I didn’t have to prepare it.
Russian hospitality was again about to burst forth in all its splendor! Ivan and his wife Natalia had contacted us via email after a mutual connection with Vitali and Galena whom had looked after us way back in Khabarovsk! Ivan had offered us an apartment in St Petersburg – can you believe that!! Anyway we’d ended up staying at the campground as it was a little easier with the Patrol and saved any unpacking and finding secure parking.
Now on Ivan’s home turf we were to be treated to a tour of this amazing city once again by strangers soon to become friends. But first we would meet for dinner the following evening.
Bus and Metro delivered us to down town St Petersburg and we spent the day trying to take it all in, an impossible feat. It has to be said that St Petersburg’s Metro is an artistic gem with Avtovo station the highlight. The city itself is magnificent, home to the Hierarchy in times gone and absolutely no expense has been spared in making sure it fulfilled all of their desires. Today it’s a masterpiece of architecture and a plethora of tourists.
We really have slipped from expedition mode into tourist mode quite suddenly!
Evening approached and we met Ivan and Natalia. Easy conversation ensued and we soon found ourselves submitting to Ivan’s charms as he ordered a host of tasty treats! The restaurant even had a resident piglet that was walked around on a lead!! The evening rapidly slipped away and we found ourselves back in the camper at around 11:30pm totally satisfied and with tentative plans for the next day.
Wasting the morning in the relentless pursuit of chores we eventually made our way back into the city and met Ivan and Natalia. A boat cruise of the local canal’s and waterways was the plan and we were fortunate again to be in the company of such knowledgeable locals. The tour that Ivan found for us to enjoy was not even worth comparing to the brochures and information we had, it was fantastic and about an hour after setting sail, had an extra 1000 photo’s to sort through!
Dinner at Zoom café, number 1 on Trip Advisor was quirky and really Kruto!!
We’d been treated to another wonderful day and were now being chauffeured back to the camp ground.
Arriving at the campground we were excited to see 2 RV’s parked near us. We had some company! Those who know us will realise we’d generally avoid crowds for the solitude of the bush but in this case we were hoping for a conversation in English. After months of struggling with language you really do long for an easy chat!
Ivan and Natalia had a look over our little home and after another round of goodbyes they departed, more people that we can’t thank enough for their hospitality! Hope to repay them one day when they visit us in Perth…. Thanks guys!!
So 2 RV’s were parked along side us. One with English plates. The closer of the 2 whilst proudly sporting Netherland plates was however occupied by Tom and Pam from Brisbane!
What were the odds of that, 4 and a half months on the road from Vladivostok and our neighbour’s in St Petersburg are Aussies! We could once again sport our own version of the Kings English along with all of the slang and sarcasm that we love to use.
Apparently a similar reaction had occurred in their cab as they realized our vehicle was Australian registered!
Purchasing their motorhome in Holland, these intrepid travellers had spent a couple of stints of around 6 months each touring Europe and were on their last leg and heading via Moscow back to Holland were the already sold RV was to meet it’s new owners! These guys had some serious travel destinations ticked off and a long list of locations still to pursue. A couple of nights in their company and we departed St Petersburg, once again with a lot less red wine than we’d arrived with! Great people to meet and hope to see them again.
An uneventful run to the border and a large queue met our gaze as we approached the crossing into Estonia, Jen tried to obtain compulsory third party European insurance here but was met with cold disdain from the Russian working the insurance booth and so we gave up for the moment.
Fortunately the line was reasonably fast moving and around an hour saw as at the front! It rapidly slowed down for us at that point as all manner of confusion broke out amongst the border control staff as to how to process us. They thought our vehicle registration document was fake and we moved the vehicle off to one side and waited around an hour for them to confirm the validity of our registration. Why they thought we’d drive from Vladivostok via all the other countries and try and cross into Estonia with fake rego is beyond me but whatever!
Finally we were free to go! Yay…. We headed into the Town of Narva as we’d been told where we could buy the compulsory third party insurance for Europe. Fortunately it’s only about 1km from the border, long story short and neither of the 2 companies would sell us insurance! Now we had a problem.
In the end we gave up for the day as it was nearly 8pm and made our way north and found a bush camp a few km’s from the town. We had to get insurance immediately and discussed our options!
The following morning we headed back into town and found some WiFi. We emailed the Dutch company, Alessie, whom we knew would provide Green Card insurance and asked for a quote along with also emailing the head office of one of the previously approached insurers in an effort to find out if they could insure us?
Of course this was all going to take time and we would also need to provide digital signatures and the like to the Dutch company before we would have a valid printable policy.
It was all getting really tricky so we parked the Patrol about 500m from the border where we’d previously crossed and went in on foot. After explaining the situation they were astonished on 2 points! Firstly, we shouldn’t have been let out of border control without the required TPL insurance and secondly that the local companies were refusing to cover us.
Anyway upon realising that we had tried to obtain the TPL insurance on the Russian side without success, because the sales woman couldn’t be bothered dealing with foreigners, and again tried in town before returning to the border they had quickly decided we were doing the right thing and did all they could to assist us.
They couldn’t understand why the local companies were refusing however!
We returned the vehicle to the border control area and they organised a one month policy for us, which they did with great efficiency and we were on our way.
A few days later and we had a response from the local companies main management saying there was no problem and they would be more than happy to take our money, just go into a local office! Work that out…. The Dutch company by contrast responded within hours…
Estonia, what a change! How is it possible to cross a river and enter another country and it be so different. We loved our time in Estonia and especially enjoyed the city of Tallinn. I had no expectations of this country and hence found it all the more enjoyable.
No problem finding free camping, driving through quaint little town after quaint little town filled with the ruins of medieval forts along with lovely café’s amongst forest settings! We really are tourists now…
After a few days we headed south toward Latvia and our first border crossing that only required us to drive across and keep going, I can’t tell you how nice that was after 10 very and at times invasive crossings that actually totalled 19 border experiences. When you leave one country you have to enter the next so it’s always twice the fun!!
Latvia proved just as enjoyable to the eye as Estonia. We stayed true to our likes and, where we could, travelled the back roads. Again the smattering of ruined castles persisted and the scenery remained stunning. One night’s camp saw us deep in a National Park where there were a few locals camped. Upon running into one of the locals whilst walking along a river, he asked how we had found this place? He’d lived in Latvia for 37 years and had only just discovered it! To say he was amazed to see our foreign Patrol would be an understatement.
South and into Lithuania, not much time spent here as it was continual rain and the terrain had flattened. We ended up crossing this tiny county in something like 4 hours. It was late in the day when we crossed into Poland and it took some effort finding a campsite. After being told by one obnoxious local that there were no free camps in Poland we managed to find one about 500m from where we’d received that gem of information!
As we’ve travelled south from Estonia there is an obvious regression back to the more Russian style of driving, in Estonia it is very ordered and more like you’d expect in Western Europe! There is a general slide in the quality of infrastructure and the like as well, I don’t want to talk it down it’s just that it’s obvious that there is more money in the north!
We decided not to bother with a visit to Warsaw, instead heading for Krakow. The further south we travel, the previous slide in quality of infrastructure and the like has halted and once again things are on the up! We are now in an RV park in Krakow and again seeing quizzical looks on faces as they see our number plates and try and work our where we are from. We even have people taking photo’s of our vehicle through the nearest fence!
The following should make you laugh!
Our clothes storage area was looking rather spartan when we reached Moscow, every piece of clothing we owned was sporting some sort of erroneous smell generally combined with a stain of some sort. We had worn everything we had available to the point of it being rather feral! So finally in the campground in Moscow we had an opportunity to wash some clothes and advantage of the washing machine we took!
Now with all our clothing soaking wet as tumble dryers seem to have slipped off the requirement list for RV parks we strung numerous ropes around our camper and hung everything out to dry in the nice sunny conditions!!
We’d been doing the odd hand wash along the way but you never really get that clean feeling do you? As for Laundromats, it would seem they just don’t have them in Russia!
So with everything hanging out to dry we headed off for our initial meeting with ARB in Moscow. Following was pretty much 3 solid days of rain and our clothes never even came close to drying! So when we left we were back to a few basics that we were able to dry along with what resembled a wet dog in a rubbish bag!
St Petersburg included a nice session of thunderstorms everyday we were there and so didn’t prove to be our clothing savior. I had actually bought some new clothes at this point! I can’t stand that wet dog smell..
With enough to get us through to our friend Terry’s house in Slovakia in a couple of weeks, we decided that was the easiest option. We would avail him of his washing machine and all would be good!
Arriving in Krakow yesterday we were greeted with warm and sunny blue skies, something we’ve not seen for a while. So sunny in fact that we decided to do all the washing here so as not to bother having to use Terry’s machine. We hung it out yesterday afternoon whilst wearing shorts and T’s and during the night the clear skies gave way to solid cloud and it’s rained pretty much ever since!
There is really something weird going on with the weather and us!!