Moscow/St Petersberg 2019

Moscow/St Petersberg 2019

The yellow Elan should have been good to go to Moscow after its abortive trip to New Zealand – but maybe being stuck in a container for so long was not good for it.

Ready to go

Everything about the rear nearside corner needed attention – there was movement in the drive shaft so I thought – Aah wheel bearings! But it wasn’t, the drive shaft had been worn away by the bearing so was discarded, then the donuts collapsed and the handbrake would not work and it seems all the moving parts are suffering from age so I’ll replace the rear calipers when we get back – and the engine leaks oil. Aside from that…. The clutch fluid was dirty so that along with both master and slave cylinders was replaced and the noise from the exhaust was old age so the downpipes were also out for scrap.

Sept 1st -our first night was in Kent, where we met James from Scenic for supper and collected shirts for us and for John and Helen in their TR5;they were starting from France so we met them in Brussels. I wasn’t happy with the way the ammeter was behaving in jams on the M11 on the way down so prior to taking our trip under the Channel Tunnel, we acquired a new Regulator box – after which, of course the old regulator behaved perfectly (so far)!

Sept 2nd – an uneventful run to Folkestone via Ghent and on to Brussels; enroute to Brussels we were overtaken by a red +2 with sunroof from which two waving arms emerged


By the rive in Ghent

Ghent town hall

Sept 3rd we started our run to Bielefeld by visiting Leuven – a hurried visit as this cycle friendly town hides its car parks away – but the Cloth Hall is remarkable on any length of visit

Cloth Hall Towers

. The tour operator (Scenic car Tours) suggest “direct” and “scenic” routes where possible. the direct uses main roads whilst the scenic should be just that but in this area it was just a slow and boring drive through small towns, taking a long time and seeing little – so we headed to Munster and TomTom took us the long route via Eindhoven! Anyway Munster is an attractive town

Munster Rathaus


Sept 4th to Berlin. We didn’t fancy visiting Hannover so took the “scenic” route to Hamelin – famous for the fairy story of the Pied Piper who is now the source of much tourist income for the town judging from the multitude of tourists and tour groups thronging the main street

Rat plaque set in the cobbles

Rat Catcher House pub

The main site today was Autostadt, the VW headquarters at Wolfsburg.


This is on the riverbank next to their factory and includes a museum and wo storage towers where customer cars are stored waiting collection and are whisked into storage bays by GPS guided rotary lifts

Wolfsburg storage towers

One of the few non VW cars in the museum!

The museum was themed on design, profiling designers who influenced change over the years – and there was one Lotus, a 1960 Elite. We were late into Berlin and encountered our first mechanical problem as we drove into the open-air, unsecured car park, catching the exhaust on a steep change of levels and pulling the exhaust pipe off the downpipes – the result was rather noisy! John helped as we did a lot of hammering late at night to reassemble the components -luckily undamaged; and no-one in the supposedly supervised carpark even came to see what was happening.

Sept 5th – rest day in Berlin; we had tickets for the Sightseeing bus and did that as well as visiting various sites, mostly Wall related.

Checkpoint Charlie leaving the east

Checkpoint Charlie heading east

East side Art on the Wall

East Side Art

Then the camera died!

Sept 6th to Warsaw. We reckoned we had time for one serious piece of sightseeing to go with our 350 miles of motorway and Poznan got the vote. Poznan has a lovely central square with old craftsmen’s houses next to the town hall, plenty of arches, old churches, a river, cathedral and a croissant museum with demonstrations of how to do it and how to eat it.

Town Hall

Craftmens houses

Baroque interior

So after a pleasant afternoon, it all went pear shaped! I had left the side lights on so the battery was flat, never mind I had jump leads but the attendant had no access to any cars and the only car moving had a lady driver who was not interested. Allison and attendant and a random stranger pushed and it started!! Good, problem solved? No, in my relief I forgot that the entrance had a raised kerb and pulled the exhaust part way off. It was not too noisy just rattling against the bodywork. We hurried along, checking the engine speed to avoid overcharging the battery and killing the dynamo (main concern as I can always get a battery which will do). The TomTom started giving odd route plans, increasing the distance and time and took us off the motorway. We took an executive decision (ie it was wrong!) continued along the motorway and stopped for the next three hours as there had been an accident ahead Driving at night was not part of the plan and driving at night with a dicey battery was a definite no-no. So we drove 80 miles at night, arriving at the hotel after 9.30. They still served supper, after which we went to the carpark and hammered the exhaust back into place. Bed time around 1.15 am!

Sept 7th – rest day in Warsaw? After our late arrival we had an early start as we needed to get a battery booster/jump start pack. Whilst we were stuck in yesterday’s motorway jam, the guy behind us came to chat and showed us his pack which we could use if the car would not start but it did. The hotel, uncertainly, directed us to a spares shop, which did not have one but in turn directed us to a larger firm who might. We took a taxi but no luck. The taxi driver now expressed interest and offered to jump start us with his pack. Only then did he realise what we wanted to buy – so back most of the way we had just been to a supermarket, where the shelf was empty! Our driver was not to be deterred and marched off, proudly returning with one. Then we could start our sightseeing if we could stay awake.

Warsaw Old Town

Allison, in picture, in deep conversation with a protester calling for the Norwegian Government to stop kidnapping children.

Warsaw Old Town with mermaid

Warsaw Old Town all rebuilt after the war

We managed the bus tour and the (1944) uprising museum.

Sept 8th to Vilnius, 310 miles along generally good roads. We unintentionally took the “scenic” route which had a better surface than the “direct” route and arrived in Vilnius around 2.30. The hotel carpark could not read our number plate (there’s a surprise!) so we had to reverse up the slope to the underground parking back onto the main road. The old town was packed with runners and crowds for their half marathon and the main square full of tents and marshals.

Marathon crowds

Vilnius Pilies Street

Old Vilnius display

Literature Street

Vilnius Upper Castle

Sept 9th – into Russia! We left early for a 300 mile drive and the border. Lithuania does not have a border with Russia so we went through Latvia – easy, an EU member? The roads were good and we were at the border by 12.15 then it all went wrong. Latvia takes its EU border responsibilities extra enthusiastically so they are a real pain. They asked for EU insurance (to check we had been legal whilst in EU) and our driving licences which they check against an EU database. Mine failed! I had reported my previous licence as lost/stolen 18 months ago and DVLA had issued a replacement. The Latvians claimed that my driver number, which never changes, showed as a lost/stolen licence – ignoring the fact that DVLA had cancelled the old and issued a new one. So for 1 1/2 hours we were held whilst they half heartedly phoned the police for instructions on what to do – was I a thief or a suspect? I had already found the lost licence and had both with me. So I showed them the old one and eventually they confiscated the old licence and gave me an official Schengen Information System form informing me of……. Compared to them the Russians were slow but peaceful – we had no expectation of a speedy crossing but the Russians were quicker than the Latvians. After the border we bought our compulsory Russian car insurance – probably not worth much but it looks good and is stamped and signed (no idea what it says!). Good roads took us to the overnight stop in Veliky Luki in the middle of a housing estate.

Veliky Luki car park

Sept 10th – Moscow here we come! Six hours through trees and more trees took us to the capital then we hit traffic. It was hot and we crawled for about 3/4 hour in heavy traffic and the car coped amazingly, didn’t overheat or stall just kept going. We were passed and photographed (constantly) by a girl in a RHD Mazda MX with pop-up headlights – I thought she would hit the side of the tunnel as she concentrated more on her photos than the traffic!

Moscow Mazda

On reaching the hotel, the car had had enough. Having stopped it would not restart – but with our jump start pack we managed – the battery had died through slow traffic with the lights and electric fan at low revs giving a continuous discharge. We were not alone, the TR5, arriving after us, had a completely failed battery and had to get a new one.

Sept 11th – the Lotus with Red Square and St Basil’s!

St Basil’s and the Kremlin

Tour cars at Metropol Hotel with the Bolshoi

Lotus and the Kremlin

Red Square and St Basil’s at 6.30 am

The Metropol Hotel is a huge rambling building a few minutes walk from Red Square and opposite the Bolshoi. First thing this morning, ours were the only cars parked outside – hopefully parking is included in our package! Breakfast was accompanied by a harpist which we’ve not had before. Today was to be a hop-on bus trip day but we spent about an hour waiting for the first to arrive, they crawled through the static traffic – no wonder smog hangs over the city! There are three routes but we had driven most of the city tour on our photo trip this morning – in about 15 minutes compared to their one hour.

St Basil’s at night

GUM store Red Square at night

Sept 12th – rest day in Moscow a late start today as there were lots of police and barricades round the Kremlin entrance and our plan to visit the museum there was thwarted as unusually it is closed on Thursdays. So we went on the underground instead. Catherine the Great’s Palace at Tsarytsino was never completed in her time but has now been finished and restored. Bunker 42 is a Cold War relic and as well signposted as you might expect of a secret bunker.

Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace at Tsarytsino

State Room at Tsarytsino Palace

Bar / Restaurant 65 metres underground at Bunker 42

Conference Room at Cold War Museum Bunker 42

Sept 13th and a 360 mile drive to Veliky Novgorod, one of Russia’s historic towns and one time capital of the Novgorod Republic. Now its a stepping stone between Moscow and St Petersburg with a pretty old Kremlin, an old Cathedral and a huge collection of Church artefacts. The drive was mainly on the new M11 toll motorway (I got bored driving through small towns on the old M10!). We drove in convoy with the TR out of Moscow then split as they wanted to follow the M11 and we the M10 (and then both changed over). We had to use our jump start pack first thing but for the rest of the day the battery was fine; John was unsure about his alternator but gained confidence as time passed. We reached Veliky Novgorod in time to see the Kremlin and St Sofia Cathedral. Then it started to rain – hope the car’s dry tomorrow.

Novgorod Kremlin Walls and moat

Novgorod St Sofia

Millenium of Russia Monument 1862

Gospel Cover – Archbishops Palace

Sept 14 there had been a lot of rain overnight but the yellow Elan does not leak too much! Our first stop on a short day’s drive was to a museum of wooden buildings a couple of miles out of Novgorod. Some buildings were 250 years old but many of the houses were only about 100. Then on to St Petersburg, a short, uneventful run. Our hotel is on Nevski Prospekt and we had a chilly walk down to the river before supper. Rain is forecast for the next few days so quite a contrast to the weather we’ve had up to now.

Inside the huge Kazan Cathedral

The Winter Palace under threatening skies

On Nevski Prospekt

Sept 15th – a cold wet day in St Petersburg. We started on the city centre Hop-on, hop-off bus but that was stopped as roads were closed for a marathon. We tried the other route and found the Peter & Paul Fortress as the wind and drizzle increased. Leaving that we were soaked by a passing bus and my feet didn’t recover until we got back to the hotel. The Faberge museum was another stop where we saw a couple of eggs…

Lenin’s cell at Trubetskoy Bastion Prison

Damp central courtyard at the Fortress

Coronation Egg and contents 1897

Anniversary Egg 1911

Sept 16th

Lotus at The Winter Palace (Hermitage) St Petersburg

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

After my early morning photo drive it was back for breakfast. Our 24 hour hop-on bus tickets had a little life left so we went to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881). Then to Engineers Castle, a palace built for Prince Michael as a safe place and where he was assassinated 40 days after moving in – some plans just don’t work! Its now home to various art exhibitions, including one on the Romanovs (family of the last Tsar) I got lost trying to work out who married who and how many wives/husbands each one had. The underground took us to Yelagin Palace (closed)

Engineers Castle

Inside the Engineers Castle

Yelagin Palace

Churchyard Alexander Nevsky

. and then to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Supper was on one of the many restaurants in this part of town; Russia seemed overrun with tourists and there is infrastructure to cater for them.

Sept 17th Now we head west to Helsinki and a border crossing – will the Finns make such a meal of it as the Latvians? No! We sailed through both halves of the border and arrived in time for some sight seeing before supper with Finnish rally friends.

Helsinki Harbour

Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral

Central Library

…..and the modern toilets

Land of water and trees


Sept 18/19th sightseeing followed by a 29 hour ferry to Travemunde near Lubeck, Germany, landing around 9.30pm so straight to bed!

Sept 20th coffee with friends in Lubeck followed by 6 hours drive to Hook of Holland and the ferry to Harwich. Leaving Lubeck, the smell of petrol told me that the carburettor fuel line bolts had come loose – a normal event and I carry a spanner in the glove box. South of Bremen it was road works followed by more road works. Finally the open road beckoned and we were deafened as the exhaust pipe sheered off, the exhaust dragged underneath the car and it was very noisy! As luck would have it we were approaching a slip road and as we got to the end of that, an old VW Beetle appeared and guided us to a workshop nearby. We were told to be patient and soon we were welded and on our way. We reached the ferry in time for a meal on board and an uneventful return home.

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