September 8, 2003 - Mozajsk 126k/78m***

9 September 2003
Mozajsk, Russia
126 km, 78 miles ***

After a miserable night in a most miserable hotel (I have maybe 15 bites, no telling if they’re from mosquitoes or what) we launched aggressively into a cold, wet, miserable day. We saw a bit of sunshine at the very end of the day, but the pavement was wet throughout thanks to rain, mist, and what we affectionately call spit.

We rode on the M1 (the main road from west out of Moscow) almost all day, a 4-laner without shoulders, with semi’s passing every minute and cars in between. Half the way the road was under construction. We got caked with sand, mud, soot and other road surface miscellanea. I did, of course, take some pictures….

The weather didn’t stop the roadside vendors. We pass by two or three “truck stops” (larger collections of vendors) and a dozen or more individual vendor sout in the middle of nowhere each day in Belarus and Russia. Today the most interesting was this strip of dried fish vendors.

The individual vendors sell from buckets, and today we had the largest group of them by far – standing there selling potatoes, mushrooms and vegetables – getting all wet.

For some reason we had a hard time getting our support (Alexandr and Yuri) to stop at a gas station, bus stop or some other shelter where we could sit down out of the elements. We’d say that we’d meet them in 40km and they’d pass dry spots at 38 and 42 and stop in the rain at 45. Here’s the second break – they stopped just short of a gas station mess.

That’s Yuri and I in front with the bikes and Charlie around behind the Lada. I was so angered by the elements and inanity of the situation I actually didn’t stop for a food break all day (and didn’t realize it until the end of the day). I did, however, stop and take two little rain breaks by myself, one in a bus stop and the other at this police checkpoint.

Amidst the muck is the Russian flag and my bike is leaning against the police car. We pass through a couple/few of these each day too. The police seem to stand out front and randomly wave trucks and cars over to talk to people, but they never hassled us at all. We continue also to pass by a couple/few monuments each day. They’re getting rather repetitious (WWII) but this one was interesting enough to stop in the rain and photograph –not that I could tell you what it symbolizes.

After 96km we finally got off the highway onto two lane country roads. The reduction in traffic noise and mist made for much nicer riding, even though the rain kept up. Along these roads on the way to Mozajsk I stopped for pictures of a rural church that looked kind of boarded up and of a train.

The train was going really fast and I’m surprised my trusty old well-beat-up Sony almost 3 year old 2.3 megapixel camera took such a good shot of it. This stop also explained the metal plates in the road before and after most of the RR tracks we cross in Russia. As the gates come down the plates hydraulically lift up, preventing vehicles from interfering with the train. The dynamics of all this coupled with the threatening clouds makes this one of my favorite pictures of the trip.

Alexandr had a reason for our particular routing to Mozajsk. He wanted us to visit Borodino (sp), site of a major French-Russian battle in 1812. There were also major battles there in WWII between the Germans and Russians. This memorial are covers 209 sq. km. and has a museum, a monastery and literally dozens of monuments, as well as a bunch of regular roads and villages. Below is a map of the place.

The Russians (revisionists) claim this to be a major Russian victory over the French. Among the 250,000 troops that fought the battle in 1812, the Russians claim fewer of their soldiers were killed and injured (say 70,000) than the French (say 80,000). This may have slowed down Napoleon Bonaparte some, but shortly thereafter he took Moscow and burned most of it to the ground. (We’ve heard three stories on the burning of Moscow: the Russians did it on purpose, Napoleon did it on purpose, and some drunken -vodka- French soldiers did it accidentally). Here’s the exterior and one interior shot of the museum:

It was a very well done museum, and busloads of Russian children and adults were being ushered through the place. We walked some of the grounds and I photographed a WWII pillbox and the main monument.

Yuri drove us to the monastery while Alexandr watched the bikes. Here’s an exterior and interior view (of the inside of the dome).

The monastery itself is a complex with its own museum. The Russians didn’t take up Christianity until 1000 A.D., but they went for it in a big, unique way – but with the exception of the rounded domes, it all looks fairly familiar.

We then put the bikes on the top of the Lada and drove the last 12km into Mozajsk to find our hotel. Charlie sent me (and Alexandr) in to check it out. It took all of about 15 seconds to realize it was another fleabag dump, but this one without hot water or showers. We spent the next two hours driving around (Russian style) to try to find any acceptable place to stay and got lucky – really lucky.

We found a Russian Military Hotel (no kidding) in the forest about 12km north of town. Alexandr and Yuri (former Russian Army Captain) talked our way into the place with the help of a bribe of a huge chocolate bar to the lady administrator. I took this picture of Charlie and the Lada just outside the entrance (those are anti-terrorist barricades) while the negotiations took place.

We (for about $40 each) got the nicest rooms we’ve had since entering the former USSR. Separate living and bed rooms (make your own bed) and nice bathrooms with showers. Mine even came with an exer-cycle!!

As it’s been every night this trip, with the exception of Minsk (say 10 of 11 nights) we washed our own clothes in sinks or showers and hung them up to dry in the room. They never really get dry overnight, but there is much satisfaction to be had in watching all the mud flow off of them.

After that, we all drove back into town to get dinner – at a decent Russian restaurant with a Greekish décor and more staff than guests. Alexandr always wants to order for us, but Charlie prefers doing it himself. I’m not sure which takes longer or results in the better meal, but it was more fun watching Charlie negotiate with the 3 waitresses.

Tomorrow’s our last day on the road. I may have mentioned this before, but the combination of weather, road conditions, traffic and accommodations put a future trip across Asia/China into question. This is an interesting experience and good exercise, but otherwise not too enjoyable. Alexandr says accommodations are far worse on east of Moscow…

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