August - October 2015
August 27, 2015
packing & fixing our various suitcases..
... and we're on the road
on the ferry from Meilen to Horgen
ready to board the train in Lörrach
enjoying a late nightcap at our 1st class train compartment - too small to place our suitcase and leaving us less than a sqft to move but designed for 3 people
Still live at DB...
in the middle of morning travelers at Hamburg Altona
meeting with Sandra & Christoph in their Mercedes 280SL Pagoda
back from Shanghai they plan their next trip in the Bernese Oberland
Packing skills are crucial!
Our suitcase - not as stylish as in the old days, but practical and fairly light - containing our sleeping bags, wardrobe, toiletries and hopefully everything else we might be needing during the upcoming 6 weeks.
Welcome Drinks and presentation of the tour.
The Bao Bao rally mascot
Start in Hamburg at the historical gas station on a gray, drizzly Sunday morning
Aug 30, 2015
Drive to Posen was quite a stretch yet the bright sun in Southern Germany & Poland made our day, until Marco heard that disturbing noise, hardly ever a good sign for a car. Turns out our exhaust gasket was partly leaking and as we didn't have a spare we naturally turned towards our MG friends back home - thank you Martin, Max & Martin!! for your instant advise and the DHL package that will hopefully be delivered tomorrow and contains one more gasket spare.
Aug 31, 2015
Colorful & picturesque center of Posen is worth a visit, but..
we didn't have much choice than to focus our time on the melted exhaust gasket
Knowing our spare would not reach us until Warsaw we tried a few options - sealing paste with & w/o melted gasket which both didn't work out and required a fair bit of cleaning of all components involved.
Only thanks to a dedicated receptionist of the NH hotel who tracked down a gasket maker and a truly wonderful cab driver, who insistently explained to this experienced gasket maker that we needed absolute priority treatment over all his regular clients - it was his first day at the workshop after a 2 weeks vacation! - as we were on our way to Shanghai and needed to catch up with the other teams that very night in Warsaw...we finally made it there, late at night, new gasket mounted.
Reunited at the Polonia Palace Hotel in Warsaw with the 4 other teams!
Sep 1, 2015 - Warsaw impressions - a stunning, lively city with its modern sides next to its beautifully restored palace and old city center.
One of the many fameous Canaletto paintings of Warsaw.
Throne of Stanisław II August, Poland's last king, reigning till Jan 1795
Great French coffee shop
Traditional dances at our last dinner in Warsaw.
Some among you might be surprised, but yes, the little black dress had its first catwalk on this trip
Sep 2, 2015
Once Vincent and Pierre's MG ZB had been jump-started successfully we headed for the highway - not an easy job given all the construction going on.
Vincent and Pierre's MG up and running again!
The drive was easy, we found a spare battery for said MG and arrived at the border of Belarus, requiring all our patience to finally entering that country
After almost 3 hours of filling forms , pulling passports, waiting for who knows what and whom, we finally made it to the next counter to rent our highway toll devices for the next 2 days to cross Belarus. Marco patiently listens to one of the regular by-standers admiring our MG cherrfully asking 1000 questions in Russian.
Sep 3, 2015 - starting early to cover another 550km from Brest to Homel
At the outskirts of Brest
Weather forecast - sunny and hot.... reality chilly and rainy. No choice we had to put up our top for a few hours.
Heard a strange noise from under the hood!!
What could it possibly be!?!
Yup, that must have been it, all resolved let's move on!
Homel with its magnificent park areas and some interesting architecture
Sep 4, 2015 - our first target on our way to Orjel is the Belarus - Russia border!
our walky talkies - what a fun gadget, let's see if and how they work
ready to go!
Crossing the border from Belarus to Russia - not as demading as entering Belarus, but still the usual hassle to hand over the right docs and purchase a car insurance
another long drive thru the immense Russian countryside along corn and sun flower fields and long stretches of scrub or simply bare soil
and some pretty, colorful, rural homes
Sep 5, 2015 - no border x-ing, but a fair bit of Saturday traffic incl. enormous trucks and a few toll stations that markedly slowed us, i.e. the two MGs down on our way to Voronesh. After these few days it's been firmly established that the 4 of us are travelling together and assist each other if needed. Yesterday, Vincent had to sort out a puncture, today it all ran smoothly.
Taking advantage of our early start we've got plenty of time to scout the city and watch the numerous weddings taking place on this perfect early autumn day.
Grocery store displaying their vegetables and fruits temptingly in a large window, encasing a small counter, where the goods are sold.
Sep 6, 2015 - Clearly the most unpleasant drive despite of the gorgeous Indian summer day
Today's target of 580km (360mi) was clearly designed for Team 4 & 5 with their cars dating from 2003 and 2013. Not that the never ending stretches of bumpy & cracked road were an issue per se, I bet the roads back in 1952, when our RedBull (MG TD) first rolled out of the factory in Abingdon, weren't in much better condition. A rather temporary add-on was the heavy traffic, countless trucks bumper-to-bumper and the on-going maneuvering of every vehicle continuously ready to overtake and be overtaken - well I guess that's modern times. However, covering this leg at top speed was quite strainuopus on our two MGs - we were again travelling with Vincent, Pierre & their MG ZB, La Grosse. Our RedBull performed beautifully all along, but La Gross started overheating, so our travel speed dropped from 100km/h to 70 km/h. Well, in the end we all reached our day's destination.
Seems a good time to give you all a brief update on practical matters! Hotels so far have been nice, the Polonia Palace, Warsaw, being #1 on my personal priority list and as I learned during dinner, on some other prio lists as well. The Atlantida, Orjel, rather resembled a brothel. Dinner is commenly served at the speed of light, so those who like to order a bottle of wine usually get it served after desert. Should maybe start ordering the night before?!? In general dinner was quite tasty, not so tonight, so we all decided to change our main course as we weren't too sure what either fish or potatoes had lived thru b/f they ended up on our plates. The à la carte dinner proved to be a much better choice.
Another heatedly discussed topic prior to our departure - certainly among us ladies - was 'bathroom situation' en route. Well, so far we were spoiled, but today rural reality kicked in!
Vincent chooses some gas station to refill his MG ZB...
I spare you the insigts etc.!
Yes, you got it, Vincent successfully located a tree next to said establishment
But in the end we all survived the day with a big smile!
Impressions en route - flock of sheep - shepherd lagging too far behind to make it on the pic
Today the police stopped our MGs 3 times ... just to take a closer look at our cars!!
Usual procedure: they shower us in fast Russian, we smile and 'answer' back in English, French, Swiss German or whatever else comes to our minds and shortly after we're dismissed with a friendly wave
Our RedBull remains an on-going center of attention wherever we drive, park or queue, below we're waiting at the traffic light of one of today's various road construction sites.
Straight roads for 100 of miles thru endless Russian countryside
Lined with small stalls offering all sorts of food - below honey pots!
Thanks to great team spirit and the understanding of the 2 temporary car teams & Ella, our travel companion for Belarus and Russia, we all rescheduled tomorrow's excursion from 9:30am to 8am, so also the MG and the Mercedes teams can join the sightseeing tour of Volograd and hopefully arrive in Astrachan - another 420km - b/f the night falls in - thank you Team 4&5!!
Sep 7, 2015 - short visit of Wolgograd (Stalingrad)
On the Mamajew hill the tallest Mother of Russia, measuring 85m, reminds us of the second world war.
students dormitory along the streets of Wolgagrad
Only after lunch we start our long drive thru stunning, vast Southern Russian countryside to arrive at Astrachan 7 hrs later, just in time to locate the hotel b/f the night falls in. Days are getting shorter as we approach the next time zone in Kasachstan.
We're staying at the Grand Hotel Astrakhan, another truly nice place with friendly staff - not a given in Russia!
Dinner started off in high spirit with decent wines and nice starters...
... yet, when after 1.5 hrs we were still waiting in vain for the main course, Vincent opted for one of the last pâte out of his car fridge.
Sep 8, 2015 - Astrachan
Rather than enjoy Astrachan and relax in the beautiful Spa at the hotel, China Tours, our tour operator, had prepared a 9 hrs trip (mainly by bus!!) incl. a short visit to the local Kreml and a boat trip to admire some lotus flowers - quite an unnecessary time consuming undertaking.
Thanks to Vincent I can share with you one of the few pink lotus flowers we've admired today.
Sep 9, 2015 - Atyraun - our dance on a dragons back....
Short drive towards the Kasachstan border over a iron pontoon bridge past colorful homes. For a change we only needed 2 hrs to cross the border and were in high spirits when all the fun started!
Our dance on a dragons back!
None of us had ever seen such roads let alone traveled them in an oldtimer - it felt like dancing on a dragons back over cracks, potholes, craters... for hours we moved at a speed of 20-25 km/h!
That was b/f the MG ZB fuel pump broke down, holding our two teams for an hour. Once the car was supposedly running we took off, as our cabriolet moves even slower than the more compact MG ZB coupe...Well, we could always rely on the China Tours travel agents car behind us.. or not?!?
We started a risky race against the falling night thru stunning landscapes of all colors from greenish, yellowish, ocre, red and purple, passing flocks of camels.
We got to Atyrau shortly b/f 10pm in the pitchblack night and learnd that Vincent and Pierre were still on the road 120 km away, struggling again with their fuel pump. The China Tours guide, Elmira, had not followed the roadbook, but chosen a faster and much better road followed by with the two modern cars, so the MG ZB team was on their own on the road, in the rain.
The Chagala hotel, former employer of above Elmira, was so filthy that we had to unpack our sleeping bags - their staff unfriendly. When Vincent & Pierre got to their room at 1:30am it wasn't even ready! Well, a few personnel & hotel changes by China Tours are urgently required!
Sep 10, 2015 - Kulsary
Today's drive was shorter and less dramatic, the two MGs staying close, passing numerous Moslim cemeteries and oil pumping facilities scattered across large fields.
Another day of endless flat, yet stunning, colorful countryside.
Sep 11, 2015 - Jazliq - crossing the border to Usbekistan
We got up at 5am - it was still dark outside and packed our car. Taking off under the light blue morning sky at 7am it soon started to rain, but knowing that it would take us a fair bit of time to put up our top, we simply accelerated to the extend possible. Although we quite smoothly entered Usbekistan the procedures to leave Kasachstan were overly heavy and asked again a lot of patience. Again the roads were mostly so bumpy that it took us forever to arrive at our tea house in Jazliq.
Yet, we all made it in time to enjoy a quick drink before dinner - good they had plenty of rooms for our small group - non of us felt like camping on the hotel grounds or parking lot at the front.
Our very nice and experienced guide Larissa and her driver October, who had taken over at the border, enjoying a tipical Usbekan dinner.
Sep 12, 2015 - Nukus
A large herd of camels and dromedaries crossed our path midway - an awesome and certainly unusually beautiful sight as they majestically stride across the desert!
In the afternoon we visited the Savitsky Collection - simply stunning!
The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky - also known, simply, as the Nukus Museum - hosts the world's second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). It is also home to one of the largest collections of archeological objects and folk, applied and contemporary art originating from Central Asia. Igor Savitsky (1915-84), a Russian born in Kiev and the Museum's founder, first went to Karakalpakstan in 1950 as the artist in the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition led by the world famous scientist, Sergei P. Tolstov. Fascinated by the culture and people of the steppe, he stayed on after the dig (1950-57), methodically collecting Karakalpak carpets, costumes, jewelry, and other works of art, a total of 90'000 items.
The incredibly art was unfortunately not the only adventure of the day. Usbekistan is an oil exporting country, but low on gasoline! So you end up buying whatever you can get - every seller cheerfully confirms the octanes you're asking for - although you know upfront, that the quality is way lower. To go easy on our engine we ended up driving at a max. 2'500 revs ... Not exactly boosting your travel speed!
Sep 13, 2015 - Khiva
For the first time since Poland a slight elevation in sight! Poor MG ZB - another puncture, but the team is climbing up on the 'experience curve' at the speed of light and 15' later the 2 MGs and our tour guide Larissa are back on the road and by 2pm - 6 hrs later!! - we have sucessfully covered the 200km to Khiva passing cotton fields - harvest in full swing. It seems these cotton fields are one of the main cause of the accelerated shrinkage of the Aral lake, one of the most serious ecological tragedies of the last and the current centuries.
South entrance to Khiva built in the 19th century. In old time the only access to this Silk road city - primarily caravans - was the Eastern gate.
View across Khiva - its stunning palacies, mosques and schools.
Sep 14, 2015 - Bukahara
Getting up at the crack of dawn - all that know me - I love it!! - at 5am it's pitchblack outside - we get our car ready, skip the shower, as our Asia Khiva 4* hotel provides no hot water and drive off at 7am. Cherry on the cake: China Tours roadbook is outdated and we circle an extra 20' thru the Khiva maze - may be that's why I don't believe in getting up early - it's hardly ever worth its while! The reason therefore was to cover the 450km in the desert on the usual moonscape roads!
Travel companions on our way - cheerfully waving and shouting
Fortunately Vincent and Pierre had opted for a coupé... After our 10' break for our little 'breakfast sandwiches' we take off again. The hotel parking is packed with RCVs mainly from CH on a 6 months journey from Amsterdam to Peking on the Northern route and back thru the South!
Sep 15, 2015 - Bukahara
First easy day on our journey! Great city tour by Larissa in the morning. On the left one of the few 'real' minarets - serving among others as lighthouse of the desert for the caravans in early ages.
Tolmas is running around Bukahara - his hometown - to track down some gasoline, get a punctured tyre of the MG ZB repared, money changed ...
Wish I were a millionaire... that will not even cover our refuelling over the next few days!!
I gave our car a good wash - our RedBull turned into a croquette over the last few days hobbling thru the endless desert and Marco took her for an oil-change.
I decided to treat myself to a massage and it turned out to be one of the best I ever had!
Tempting market right around the corner - too bad are car is sooooo small and already heavily backed!
Dinner at the Old Bukahara was charming and we got a chance to taste some delicious local food. Our 2nd night at the Asia Bukahara was rather noisy, people checking in and out all night long, screaming, shouting and slamming doors.
Sep 16, 2015 - Samarkand
For a change the roads were of amazingly good quality - for local standards - and leaving again ahead of the other teams our two MGs reached Samarkand first - refuelling right b/f we got to the Registan Plaza, a truly nice hotel with large rooms and again within walking distance of the city center.
Again we were passing cotton field after cotton field, reminding us of the old South of the USA.
Time to quickly update our followers on the Usbek traffic: Quite contrary to the common Western views that you should avoid driving in Usbekistan - prior to our departure my dad had furnished me with a 5 pages aricle on Usbekistan partly warning us of the horrific traffic situation - driving is amazingly easy and most drivers easy going and tolerant. The roads are broad, the left lane often in much better condition than the right lane - so we meander from right to left and back wherever we get least shaken, while the locals overtake us left and right, waving, honking, while we wave and honk back - part of the local ritual. They pull up alongside take pics, ask from where we are - supposedly - at least they're always quite content when we tell them Swiss or Switzerland and we all drive happily on, honking farewell.
Another smart invention are their minibuses loading and unloading their passengers every few yards.
Samarkand is a buzzing city, great mixture of modern & antique quarters, its historic sites scattered all over.
Of course we tried the Oriental Sweets, a quiet green courtyard in the midst of the busy center, unfortunately their only sweets was an 'oriental cheese cake'.
Even for little girls streaming out of school money counting seems a favored pastime!
Bazaar is a must! Full of exotic flavors, colors, sounds..
Sep 17, 2015 - Samarkand
Today we focused on the stunning historic sites Samarkand has to offer, while Larissa, our tour guide, provided us with the crucial insights of the city's history. The latter was founded ca. 750 yrs. ad, yet nothing's left of this period. Today's history starts with their famous ruler Emir Temur, 1336-1405, conquering vast areas throughout Central Asia, not to build up an empire, but to provide all relevant resources granting Samarkand's immense glamor and wealth. His regency was taken over by his favorite grandson, Ulugh Beighi, a renowned scientist of his time, who erected the first of 3 important madrasahs, Ulugbek. Jointly with the other two, Sher-Dor and Tilya-Kori madrasah they decorate Samarkand's central square, the Registan square.
Today after meticulous restoration
Courtyard of Bibi Khanum Mosque
Sep 18, 2015 - Tashkent, Usbek capital
Today we're lucky - we literally glide over quite decent roads and advance at considerable pace, halted only by the regular police controls - couple of handshakes, a bit of 'chatting', smiles, hand signs - if these monologues drag on for too long we hand over a few ChocoGreets and tell them that Shanghai is still a long way to go and take off!
On our way the usual companions - donkeys and storchs - the latter unfortunately too high up on their stork's nests to get a focused pic.
Tashkent is foremost a modern city with broad avenues, large park areas and numerous monuments, museums, concert halls, theaters, opera etc.
“Shakhidlar Hotirasi” (translated from Uzbek as “In Memory of Victims of Repression”) is locatd opposite the Tashkent TV tower, measuring over 300m.
Park in front of the Usbek parliment.
We all needed gasoline badly, but weren't able to find anything better than 80 oct. and so we abstained from refuelling b/f getting to the hotel. Tomsal was markedly shocked at our decision - his credo being 'if 80 is all you get you take 80' - but ended up understanding that this 80 reduces the power of our 1'250 engine tremendously, in fact it slows our engine down to 2'500 rpm. This would make it pretty much impossible to climb up the Kamshik pass of 2'650m to get to Fergana tomorrow. So late at night we were all filling up our tanks with the canisters Tomsal had managed to recuperate from his friends - supposedly 95 oct. - we'll know more tomorrow...
Sep 19, 2015 - Tashkent - Fergana
It had rained during the night and the sky was still overcast when we took off. Expecting our first pass, Kamshik, of 2’276m and being reassured a good number of times that it was going to be cold Marco & I were wrapped up to our noses. Driving thru the vast Fergana valley, while the sun was getting out from behind the clouds we started stripping off layer after layer. After the never ending flat countryside a few first mountain ranges started to show at the horizon. Starved for such diversity we shot pic after pic – I spare you most of them – as you’ll soon find out – there was a lot more of truly stunning sceneries up the sleeve of Kyrgyzstan!
As the roads were quite decent our RedBull easily climbed up not minding the thinning air. For the first time ever on this trip we had time for a lunch break and while ensuring that not all the 200 people around our MG climbed into the car to get their pictures taken we enjoyed a delicious freshly barbecued meet skewer.
Driving down the clouds gradually pulled in and a light drizzle accompanied us for the rest of the day – just not enough to go thru the exercise to close the top. The Fergana valley is known for its fertility providing the surrounding Uzbek areas with apples, quinces, grapes incl. wine, more cotton etc.
Our hotel was simple, but ok – no wifi – and for the first time we could savor a tasty Polov, an Uzbek national dish.
Sep 20, 2015 - Fergana - Sarytash (via Osh w/o overnight stop)
Another early start, as we’re to cross the border to Kyrgyzstan.
For 80 km out of our 320 km we passed countless villages mostly lined up along the main street sheltered by a wall with large portals leading into a courtyard and to their homes and as we noted recently, in some places nicely decorated with vines.
After the forecasted never ending procedures at the Uzbek side we were nicely surprised by the relatively smooth exit and entry, no doubt largely facilitated by the professional handling of Uzbek matters by Larissa and Kirgizstan formalities by Altni. Reaching Osh we were all largely relieved to find some decent gasoline again – as most of our cars had started to suffer from the Uzbek 80 oct. or worse - two cars found water in their tanks! Past Osh the scenery changed drastically – remote countryside, some yurts, flocks of cattle, horses, sheep, donkey pulling carts or wandering around on their own, while we started climbing towards the Pamir mountains up the Taldyk pass at 3’615 m!
Our RedBull performed outstandingly – w/o a singly cough we wound up the narrow serpentines – while our French MG, la Grosse, obviously quite fed up with all the lousy gasoline she had been fed – stopped a few times along the road. Luckily, Vincent, being one of the most cheerful and innovative mechanics I had ever met, it took never long to have her up and running again. The sceneries changed to scarces mountain ranges and despite of heavy clouds the colors were amazing. Climbing up the air got thinner – a battle for our cars – and chillier and we were all happy to reach the Taldyk pass, the highest point of today’s journey save and sound…
After a short break, some playing around in the snow we had to jump start Vincent, i.e. la Grosse – good we were on our way down!
Still suffering badly from the gasoline our fantastic rescue team, Babs and Achim, jumped in a pulled her for the next bit.
Reaching our guesthouse at Sarytash the night was just about to fall in and after a tasty dinner at the next door yurt we called it an early night.
Good I had my arctic proven sleeping bag ready to slip in as outside temperatures were freezing already.
Tomorrow we cross the Chinese border - the last one on our trip! From now on you'll find our adventures under 'Hamburg-Shanghai in China'