Day 23: Voronezh – Kharkiv ( 364 km )

This morning we did not have a start time from our hotel but instead needed to be at the Belgorod circuit in order to complete the trials at a designated time. We were worried about the amount of traffic we would face on the road and as a result we decided to leave Voronezh at 06:30 as we had around 300 km to complete before 11:00.
When it was our turn we had to complete 2.5 laps of the circuit in the quickest time possible, followed by a 4 km off road track. In order to be more competitive we tried to be as light as possible by taking out all our luggage and spare parts from the car ( including the snow chains!! ) There was a very noticeable difference in the way that the car handled, which made it a shame to have to load it up again once the sections were over.
We then headed to the border for what we and the organization had anticipated to be a lengthy crossing out of Russia. However, to our great pleasure the crossing was quick and painless taking a total time of 30 mins. The officers seemed far more interested in photographing the cars than checking our passports, but the long line of trucks indicated that not everyone had it that easy today.
Once in the Ukraine, the short drive to the hotel was very straight forward with only two turns, however somehow we still managed to enter the hotel car park through the back entrance, thus missing all the spectators who had gathered in the square. We walked around a little later in the evening and were able to see the main square with the Lenin statue where we should have entered. It is amazing just how many Lenin statues are still around and the prominent positions where they are located.
Now that we are quite a way into the journey it has gotten to the stage where we are forgetting our hotel room numbers. Taking the elevator down to the lobby we met other competitors who had also forgotten what their room number was so we most certainly aren’t the only ones!

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Day 22: Saratov – Voronezh ( 545 km )

Luckily the temperature was a little cooler today which made it an all round more enjoyable experience. In the morning we had an exciting time trial which was on a mud track that ran through grass meadows. There were some tight corners which made the car squeal but at the same time it was great fun!
Today we felt as though we were making good progress so we decided to stop for lunch rather than just eat a chocolate bar on the go. We ordered traditional borscht soup as well as pelmeni, which are small meat dumplings. We chose a cafe by the side of the road where a lot of truck drivers had stopped so we figured that it must be good and it was.
When we arrived at the hotel there were many spectators in the parking lot and a couple of them helped to push our car into the right spot. Since the gear mount broke in Mongolia and we lost reverse, Noele has taken over its role, pushing the car back whenever we need to park! Mario thinks having Noele do this makes more sense as being female others will help, whereas whenever Mario pushes the car no one comes to his assistance!

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Day 21: Samara – Saratov ( 435 km )

Three words to describe today: hot, hot, hot! The temperature seemed to drastically increase reaching the high 30s, which inside the black car felt even warmer. Our cooling system which consists solely of lowering the windows did not help to prevent us from slowly baking.
Although it was wonderful to experience the real Russia by driving though the countryside and the small villages, the scenery has been getting slightly monotonous. Whereas in Mongolia we would drive through sand one day and grass fields the next, it is fair to say that we have not experienced the same diversity here. However the Russian people with their enthusiasm and friendliness has really made this part of the route stand out. Often when cars went to be fixed in local garages, the mechanics would be up all night helping them and in the end not charge anything.
In order to get to our hotel in Saratov we had to cross the Volga which was over 2 km wide. Whilst driving over the bridge we saw that one of the islands had been turned into a beach where many people were relaxing and trying to cool down.
Fortunately we did not have any mechanical issues today, but because of the heat over 20 cars broke down, which is more than on an average day in Mongolia!

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Day 20: Samara ( rest day )

The third rest day of the Peking to Paris rally took place in the city of Samara. We had been told that it was an extremely beautiful city, however it appeared to have less to offer than some of the other Russian locations we visited on our journey so far.
Mario decided to once again spend the rest day in the garage, tinkering away at the car. As the brake pedal was getting very long, he decided to take the wheels and drums off so that he could grease the brake adjustment mechanism. Whilst doing this he discovered a significant amount of Mongolian dust in the drums and brake shoes. Although the back two shock absorbers had been replaced in Novosibirsk, Mario decided to also use this rest day to switch the front absorbers, which needed to be changed for quite some time already.
Noele on the other hand joined another father-daughter team and their tour guide in order to see what the area had to offer. We drove a little outside of Samara and walked to the top of a hill which gave us a wonderful view of the Volga river and the city in the distance. Here our guide explained the different periods in Samara’s past. Due to the indistrial importance of the city, its location was omitted from maps and foreigners were banned to visit it during the Gorbachev era.
In the evening we met up again and went for dinner with some of the other Swiss competitors at a restaurant overlooking the Volga. Although the interior was very modern we ate traditional Russian cuisine which included smoked fish, differently prepared cold meats and honey cake.

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Day 19: Ufa – Samara ( 461 km )

Another day another drive. The scenery today was again very similar to that which we had experienced up until now in Russia. What did however stand out was the number of derelict agricultural buildings which would pepper the landscape. Falling apart, these large structures would dominate the landscape and could be seen from quite a distance. Interestingly though we very rarely passed any new structures to replace these old ones.
Another feature which would also often be seen close to villages are water tanks. These however also appear to be rusting and not in particularly great shape, yet still in use.
Although we had quite a large distance to cover, we ended up arriving at the hotel early afternoon. This didn’t have anything to do with Mario tinkering away at the engine and finding some additional speed, but instead with the fact that we entered into a new time zone and thus were able to gain two hours. With the longer than usual wait until dinner everyone found one another in the hotel lobby tucking into club sandwiches. Compared to the previous rest days which were located in Mongolia and Novosibirsk, the competitors as a whole seem more relaxed about the up and coming one and in less of a need to fix major problems. 20130620-010058.jpg20130620-010108.jpg

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Day 18: Yekaterinburg – Ufa ( 481 km )

The drive to Ufa was most memorable for the flies and mosquitos which would constantly splatter on the windscreen. Every few minutes there would be one or two new additions and by the end of the day it is fair to say that the glass was well decorated.
The drive was very similar to those that we had already experienced in Russia. The scenery was in general very flat with the long roads snaking through vast fields and the occasional village. There were quite a number of other cars and in particular trucks sharing the roads with us today. We witnessed a number of hairy overtaking maneuvers, with no real consideration being given to solid lines and instead with much being left to fate. In Russia driving generally appears to be done at great speed. We were traveling relatively quickly, but were quite surprised that we would repeatedly get overtaken by trucks, powering past us.
On our drive we also saw a monument that signified our passing out of Asia and into Europe. It is amazing to think just how dramatically our drives have changed from when we started in Beijing a few weeks ago! Although there have been a couple of cars which have left the competition for good, we are constantly being surprised by cars turning up that we haven’t seen for over a week. As we are driving such large distances, missing a couple of days is extremely difficult to catch up!
We have been fortunate to not have had any real reliability issues since we have arrived in Russia. Hopefully this will continue…

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Day 17: Tyumen – Yekaterinburg ( 360 km )

As a result of the tragedy that occurred on the previous day, the rally organization decided to cancel all scheduled timings on the drive to Yekaterinburg. Instead the competitors decided to join forces and form a single file procession with black ribbons attached to our cars. Although practically speaking it proved impossible to keep everyone together as other traffic would weave between us, it was a small gesture to show our respect.
We arrived in Yekaterinburg mid afternoon and decided to make use of the fact that we didn’t have to work on the car. We visited the Church of Blood which is the Russian Orthodox church that was built on the site where Tsar Nicholas II was executed along with his family. Upon walking inside the church, the first thing which strikes you is the very strong smell of incense. The inside is also heavily decorated with icons and gold is generously applied. Noele was wearing shorts and she was given a skirt to wear to cover her knees and also something to put over her head. We then walked back to the hotel, along the river, where people were relaxing along the bank and playing around in small, rowing boats. Even when heading to the room around 23:30 it was still light outside.

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Day 16: Omsk – Tyumen ( 632 km )

This morning the route began in a normal manner with everyone starting in their designated 1 minute interval, however today did not turn out to be a normal day.
About 2/3 of the way to Tyumen we were flagged down by some of the marshals who told us that the third time trial had been cancelled because of a nasty accident. Only later that night when we were back at the hotel did we discover the tragic incident that the marshals had been referring to. Sadly there had been an accident involving the Chevy truck taking part in the rally and a local car. The incident was a horrific head on collision which led to the loss of three lives, Emma Wilkinson who was driving in the rally, as well as the driver of the other car and a baby passenger.
It was a shock to us all to discover the news, especially as over the past few weeks we had gotten to know Emma and loved having her and her bubbly personality around.
Although we know the risks, it is easy to forget that we are not driving in normal cars, that they are not very safe, don’t have great breaks, airbags and in some cases even seat-belts.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Emma’s family and in particular her two young children.

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Day 15: Novosibirsk – Omsk ( 668 km )

The rally organizers decided to make today a free day which meant that we could cover the distance to Omsk at our own pace and didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time. We decided to leave Novosibirsk at 09:00 as it would take quite some time to cover the distance. In order to get to Omsk in the most direct and quickest manner we decided to take out our secret weapon, the tomtom, which led us perfectly to our hotel. We arrived around 19:00 and were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd who had gathered to look at the cars.
It was quite astonishing just how late it stayed light outside for. Only around midnight was it starting to get dark which meant that no one wanted to go to bed early although there was another long day of driving ahead of us. 20130614-231728.jpg

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Day 14: Novosibirsk ( rest day )

Mario used our second rest day to get some work done on the car. Although everything was largely functioning there were bits and bobs which needed to be sorted out. The biggest of these issues was the lack of shock absorbers. Both the front and the back shock absorbers had given way and as we had already used our spares in Mongolia we needed to find some new ones in Novosibirsk. Mario found someone who said they could get them for him, however as it turned out only two shock absorbers were found which were used to switch out the existing rear ones.
Noele on the other hand decided to explore the city. As Novosibirsk is a relatively new city though, there weren’t many historical sites to visit. In general it is fair to say that the buildings were designed with practicality rather than aesthetics in mind. Novosibirsk does however house the largest ballet in Russia which is located right behind the main square with its prominent Lenin statue.
In the evening we also had a number of our belongings sent home in order to bring down the weight of the car and finally be able to look out the rear window. This items included our tent, sleeping bags and the warm clothes we used in Mongolia.

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