All bad what happened on our trip until now – happened during our one week in Russia. Why one week if we had 4-days transit visa? Police, closed border, police, car workshop, again police: they know the answer…
We were tired from the beginning, from the border. Crossing by ferry from Ukraine to the Russian town Kavkaz means a night without sleep: To get the ferry from Kertch (Ukraine) at 1:30h at night, you should be there round midnight. The controls on both sides take ages. So you will leave the Russian border station not before six in the morning and totally destroyed by mosquitoes.
We had four days to cross Russia from the Port Kavkaz to the Georgian border. The Russian embassy in Odessa gave us a transit visa with two possible ways: (first, officially, to make way longer and get more hours of visa) through Chechnya and Dagestan to Azerbaijan and (second, really to be taken) through Caucasus, to Georgia. We have choosen this way, because in March western media reported about the about the “first open for foreigners border crossing between Russia and Georgia”. Finally a way to get to Georgia without a ferry.
Four days, especially with a baby and willing to still see something, is not much. But let’s go! After long fights about Russian visa we will be happy about anything.
First (not problem) challenge: while taking a hitch-hiker just after crossing the border we lost Tom’s shoe (it fell down when opening doors). Unfortunately we noticed that a bit later. So we had to drive additional 150 km for getting the shoe back.
Second (already) problem: during this additional kilometers we were stopped by the police, for the first time. Long discussions, embarrassing paying not to give away Tom’s driving license.
Third (we will manage) problem: our car is getting too hot and we spend half of the day in car workshop.
Forth, fifth, fifteenth…: police, police, police.
NEVER go to Russia with a car which has foreign car plates, that’s the biggest lesson we learn in those days. Next blog post will be only about it. Stress, stress and hurry. No time for finding proper place for night, Tom was driving as long as he was not falling asleep.
But in sweet perspective: soon Georgia and everything will be different. Closer to border – more beautiful (nature and people), northern Caucasus Republics: Kabardino-Balkar and North Ossetia. Just the police still the same and the same. But we are close…
We arrived at the border station in Lars (near Vladikavkaz) after 7pm, at the day when our visa is expiring. The policeman happily announced that nobody will let us cross this border. Sure, another one which wants money – we think. But the border officers confirmed the sad truth: No EU citizen will cross this border. – Yes, it’s true that border is open for foreigners since March, but only for people from the ex-Soviet Union, and only with cars registered in those countries – they explain us. – “Your internet is wrong. And why did you believe Russian embassy in Odessa??” – we also don’t know.
Smiling, being sad, discussing, Hanna – really nothing can help to change the mind of the border officer. Very very tired, we have two choices. First is driving another maybe 700km to Dagestan-Azerbaijan border and not being so much late with visa (so maybe paying less..?) or driving almost 1000km back to Sochi and taking there a ferry to Turkey.
First option: very dangerous + one border guys confirms that of course nobody will let us cross this border either (!!), second option: we are three days too late with visa (which border guys count us around 300 euros fine each) plus we have to buy an expensive ferry ticket to Turkey.
Not an easy choice, but the decision is clear: we take the ferry in Sochi. How many policemen will still stop us? (average, each day on the roads there were 27 hunting cops). How many times we will be afraid? What will happen in Sochi, being in Russia without having a valid visa?
“But why the hell didn’t you take a ferry from Ukraine to Georgia??” – the guy at the border asked. – “Because we wanted very much to see Russia…” – we answered. – Haha, so you see…
Our first book is out!
We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
See, read and order here »
I am really sorry this happened to you guys…. This police … same as here, unfortunately…
I’m sorry to hear about your unfortunate trip, but I have another story which I really feel like sharing with other people.
The story goes like this: In 2013, I visited Georgia and Armenia for the first time, going there through Turkey on my old Suzuki motorbike. What I didn’t know at the time was, that the border crossing between Georgia and Russia (Verkhniy Lars towards Vladikavkaz, as you mention), had been reopened for non-ex-Soviet-citizens.
Despite my efforts to get a visa in time, I had to go back home through Turkey.
Anyway, in 2014 I completed the trip – got a visa for Russia in Tbilisi and passed through to Vladikavkaz, where I spent the night and then continued towards Rostov, with one additional night spent about halfway between these cities.
Since it was my first visit ever in Russia, I was quite anxious and full of expectations, for good or worse. I’ve read about the region and the instability, and also that the corruption there should be above average in Russia.
Everything – except for the long wait at the border crossing because of too few officials to take care of customer declarations – went surprisingly smoothly, however. The road was in excellent condition most of the way, not much to see when leaving the mountain region, but very beautiful indeed around Vladikavkaz and along the mountain range, and no harassment of any kind. Everybody I met were polite and hospitable, except for a somewhat aggresive and angry guy – dressed in an old army uniform – at the hotel, at which I spent the night between Vladikavkaz and Rostov (he was much more approachable the next day, however).
And I was surprised I wasn’t pulled over by the police at any time during my trip… even riding alone on a motorbike.
I do not doubt that my knowledge of the Russian language – although not yet fluent – is very helpful indeed. But then again; they don’t see that when they decide to pull you over in the first place…
Anyway, I feel the situation is improving throughout the region at a rapid pace, and I even feel like visiting Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan on my motorbike, as well! :-D
It’s always a good idea to stay alert of course, and nobody should rush into these regions without proper preparations and a certain knowledge of the area, the peoples and the security situation. When that’s said, I believe it’s perfectly feasible to travel there nowadays.
My best advice is to approach with calmness and respect, being humble and modest definitely helps – and if you genuinely show that you like them, their culture and countries, I believe that’s the best way to approach.
By now I’ve been in Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia and Russia – and the above mentioned concept has never failed to provide me with exceptional and unforgettable trips, with good memories way beyond the trip itself.
These are regions well worth exploring, and I think that both we “westeners” and the former Soviet Union deserves a better aquaintance with each other. These are brave people, who will treat you well if you treat them equally well.
Oh, and… I was concerned the first time I was in Ukraine, but I quickly realized it was misplaced – and since then, I’ve never been anywhere in these countries which made me feel unsafe, even when travelling alone on a motorbike (except for the sometimes hazardous traffic, perhaps…) c”.)
I hope this might be helpful to others, and I also hope many others will have great experiences as I have, visiting these countries.