Hi everybody, a thousand apologies for my absence. My reasons, or excuses if you like, are many and will probably continue until the book and film relating to the journey have been completed. The prostate crisis is now behind me, apart from the shouting, so I am hopeful that I can set aside some time to continue to write about what happened as we journeyed around the world. I won’t drag it out but I think that I should review briefly what happened up to the last entry at 26-01-14. If you need to refresh your memory you can read the details on earlier blog entries.
Early in the journey we visited Bruxells and the European Parliament and when driving away we realised we had left our camera equipment case behind. We completed our drive around the Nurburgring, attended a photo-shoot at the Suzuki dealership at Brenshiem and received a cheque on behalf of Save the Children. We then drove north 770 miles to Gdansk Poland to meet and talk with Mr Lech Walesa retired president of Poland (that was something special, a great man). Driving south to Budapest, Hungary, we visited Auschwitz to pay our respects, descended underground at the Zarbrze coal mine at the town of Gliwice and squeezed in a day of sightseeing in Vienna before arriving at our destination, Thursday 11th April day 12 . The following day we received the V.I.P treatment with escorted tour of the Suzuki European car manufacturing plant at Esztergom, 40 miles outside Budapest. We had had a problem involving our cameraman Tom, if you have been following our progress you would have read about the unpredictable and unstable Jekyll and Hyde situation that developed with Tom, well there’s a lot more of that to come!
To recap when I was trying to get the crew together and at short notice I was notified that the stage one crew couldn’t make it. I was well and truly in the Poo!! at that point. Thankfully Roland Spencer and Keith Twyford saved the day by stepping in at short notice and drove with me from Southampton on March 31st, the start of stage one through to Budapest Friday 12th April. As part of the arrangement they had organised for their wives Jill and Chris to join them at Budapest when they arrived. What I didn’t know was that Vi my wife had also decided to join them, a real nice surprise for me. While at Budapest we got Tom our cameraman sorted out. Tom failed to mention when being interviewed for the job that he had not worked for 8 months and that he was taking medication for depression. Tom also failed to mention that a few days before arriving at Budapest he had run out of the pills that kept the depression under control. Tom was examined by the hotel doctor who supplied a prescription so we were able to purchase medication that would last him until he returned home. In the meantime, he had agreed to drive 03 from Budapest to Warszawa and stay with me until we met up with Mariusz, a Polish friend, who would drive 03 during stage two. The start now to be from Warszawa leaving Tuesday 23rd April and finishing at Novosibirsk Russia 9th May.
Saying our goodbyes, especially to Vi, was a sad moment for us both as we would not see each other for some time. Tom and I left Budapest on 16th April heading for Warszawa Poland. We met Mariusz on the 23rd April as arranged, and drove that afternoon to the border town of Chelm, ready to cross the border the following morning into Ukraine. Once across, we drove to Kyiv, passing close to Chenobyl the site of the Nuclear reactor disaster. Staying overnight, not at the reactor, but at Kyiv, we arrived at Luhans’k and Donetsk Ukraine- Russian border at around 5pm the following day 26th April day 27. With no accommodation available at Donetsk we had to drive a further 50 miles to Kamensk- Shachtinskiy. Next morning we were on the road again, a 222 mile 7 hour journey to Volgograd to complete, better known as Stalingrad, scene of some of the fiercest fighting of WW2. While at Volgograd I found out why the camera batteries didn’t seem to last long. Taking an opportunity to have a close look at the battery charging kit, I noticed that we had been charging the camera batteries with the wrong charger. It was under powered so would only charge to half capacity. I asked Tom why we were not using the correct charger. Looking embarrassed he said it was in the bag we lost at Bruxells. We not only lost the main camera charger that day, we also lost whole lot of equipment that he didn’t tell me about! Luckily I was able to replace the lost equipment which was brought out to me by the guys who were to join me at Novosibirsk for stage 3. Sunday 28th we were on the road once more leaving Volgograd mid-morning, heading east to Saratov, a 232 mile 7 hour journey. I remember Sunday 28th very well, the standard of driving was so bad I started to drive the way they do, particularly when overtaking and tailgating occasionally. I got a bit too cocky for my own good and during the afternoon there was a line of cars driving to close to one and other. I guess I was thinking about everything other than my driving and suddenly there was a bang ahead somewhere, tyres screeching, vehicles hitting each other and I came to my senses instinctively turning to the right just missing the truck in front ending up on a bit of rough ground and stopped. I turned the engine off and just sat there for a moment looking at the mayhem that somehow I managed to avoid. I continued to drive along the rough ground until I was clear of the carnage then re-joined the road once more. You were lucky that time, I said to myself, let that be a warning. The dressing down I gave myself about the standard of my driving that day was one of far too many I had to give myself before the journey’s end. Arriving late at Saratov we managed to find a sort of lodge that served food and had a few cool beers, can’t be bad. Here is where we pick up from where I left it last time.
Monday 29th April, day 30, On our way to Samara, a 257 mile 8 hour drive, the road was real bad. Potholes and deep cracks everywhere, trying our best to miss the potholes, but by avoiding one you ended up driving head first into another. I mentioned previously that 02 carried about 120 kilos more than it should have but seemed to handle it fine. At some point during the morning one of the potholes claimed 02 as another victim. We stopped at a rundown roadside service area for a coffee break. Tom noticed that the rear left shock absorber on 02 was hanging down, the bottom bolt had sheared. Not surprised at what had happened, I had to make a decision as to whether to carry on to Samara and fix it there or get it welded where we were. There was a small workshop attached to the petrol station and Mariusz explained what had happened to the young lad who ran the workshop, pointing to the dangling shock absorber. He said he could weld it together but it would take an hour, indicating that we should and wait in the rundown building they called a café. To check the damage I crawled around under 02 to get a closer look, making myself a bit grubby. I indicated to the lad, by rubbing my hands together, that I wanted to wash my hands. Laughing, he pointed towards the café. It was getting near lunch time so Mariuzs, Tom and I sauntered over to the café. It was a bit of a dump but the coffee and pies looked safe. There were a few people sitting at a table and indicating with my hands that I wanted to wash them, they started laughing. A young guy with black teeth, still laughing, pointed to a door at the far end of the room. Turning the grime encrusted door knob I entered a passage with three or four doors leading off each side and a partially opened door at the far end. The whole place was painted fire engine red and smelt of stale sweat. There was no indication as to which door was the washroom so I went to the end of the corridor and pushed the door open a little and looked in. Instead of a washroom it was a small room with an iron framed bed and mattress that had seen better days. Sitting on the bed was a plump round faced lady clad only in bra and knickers looking strong enough to pull your head off if you tried to pay her with a credit card. At that point it dawned on me, it was a Brothel! Realising I had spent too much time in the room I held out my hands to indicate I wanted the washroom, but she must have thought I was going to grab something. Startled, she stood up ready to start throwing a few punches but seeing my hands were dirty she realised I wasn’t a customer. She gave me a cheeky wink and pointed to a door along the corridor. I cleaned myself up and passed more scantily clad ladies on the way out. Everyone in the café was laughing as I said to Mariuzs ‘that’s one hell of a washroom’.
The young lad welded the shock absorber back into place. The job looked a bit amateurish, so with fingers crossed, we headed to Samara, finally arriving around 5pm that evening. I’ve already mentioned the potholes as we drove to Samara, well the city of Samara was something else. The roads are in such bad condition you couldn't drive in a straight line, even though there are two lanes each way. To go forward you join a single line of traffic that resembles a snake as it twists and turns across two lanes avoiding unbelievably huge potholes. We checked into a small hotel in the centre of the city and I contacted Ksenia Grebenkina the Suzuki PR Manager who had been awaiting our arrival. She told me the arrangements for the Press conference and photo-shoot for the following day at the Suzuki dealership.
Tuesday 30th, April day 31. As the press conference wasn’t until late in the morning we had a leisurely breakfast, checked the vehicles and gave them a clean for the benefit of the cameras. A courtesy car arrived and the driver asked if we would follow him to the venue. On arrival we were manoeuvred into a position in front of the show room, then the press and photographers went to work, the session lasting a little over an hour. After lunch we visited a local orphanage to hand over the presents given to us by the Suzuki Management at the production facility at Magyar Hungary. I was a bit apprehensive about visiting the orphanage but I was glad I made the effort. The children I met didn’t want for anything materially, the presents we brought were of momentary interest as they had lots of toys. I could see in their faces what they wanted more than anything was the love of a mum and dad, I felt real sad when I said goodbye.
I thanked the Suzuki team on behalf of Mariusz, Tom and myself for their kind hospitality, then we turned east once more for the 72 mile 2 hour drive to Sukodi and the Russia- Kazakhstan border crossing. From here on events really start to liven up. Until the next time ........ Les