When we prepared our « sidetour of the world », we first thought that we would have a 6 months visa for Russia, and leave France by the end of may 2000. But with all the problems in Tchetchenia, it's getting very difficult to have long visas to go to Russia. So, in the end, we had only 3 months of visa, and it was awfully long to actually get them. All in all, we at last said bye bye to everybody on the 4th of august, and on that very day. it suddenly felt really strange to be leaving for good at last, and for so long. !

After 2 days in a bus, we were in Moscow. We had learned a few words of russian with CD-roms before leaving, but when it got to speak in russian with real russian people, that was another story ! ! It was a long time along the « starri arbat », the big shopping street , before we dared to speak our very first words in russian. To buy a sandwich. Then we played the basic tourists for a couple of days, between the red square, the Kremlin, the beautifully decorated subway, . before embarking a train this time, for the last part if our journey to Ekaterinburg, near Irbit, where we would pick up our motorcycle.

There, in this trans siberian mythical train, we began to feel more in Russia, than formerly in Moscow, in which, at least when you remain in the city center, looked just like another big city anywhere in the world. Now in the train, we kept watching the kilometers of taiga and forest of birch through the windows, quite fascinated. We had our first « conversation »in russian with Zulia, an elderly tatar lady who shared the compartment with us and had the patience to try again and again when we couldn't understand a word, while drinking tea from the samovar and eating some cookies that she had prepared for this long trip.

When the next day, our train stopped at Ekaterinburg at 10 p.m., we weren't so proud : all alone on the quay in the middle of Russia at night . Our contact at the Ural factory had only told us on the phone a few days before that he would come to pick us up at the train. And to recognize him, he would have a black gilet. But around us, all those who would correspond to that description just looked like mafia gangsters to us, which did not really reassure us. But in the end, after waiting for 10 minutes, just enough to get a bit scared (« what if they never came. ? »), there they came, Anatoly, our contact, a short guy with a broad smile on his face under his dark mustache, and Roma, a young chauffeur. We were quite relieved, as you can imagine : at least, we wouldn't have to sleep there. And off we drove through the night in a big Lada to Irbit, on the unequal roads of Russia - but way better than anything we had imagined - with loud german techno music on. We were still a bit uneasy, and especially when they stopped to have a kebab, and asked us if we wanted a Vodka : what did that mean, a bottle or a glass ? But in the end, everything was fine, it was only a glass and we arrived safe in Irbit.

We spent one week there, each day more intense and incredible than the other : we were having lunch everyday with the export manager, who happened to be nearly the only person of the plant who could speak english... We met the mecanicians who had prepared our sidecar, and then, at last we met it, OUR side-car ! That was indeed a great day ! In Irbit, we also met our first russian friends, who told us more about Russia, the difficult living conditions today, their dream to emigrate to the US... They gave us a lot of tips on how to drive those side-cars, and we made some nice tours together around Irbit. But still, even though every day in Irbit was full of surprise, new things and excitement, we were also quite eager to hit the road at last... So, by a nice morning, we said bye-bye to all our new friends, tied together all our bags on the boot, and a little bit nervous, we left on our brand new vehicle on the road leading to Tyumen. And, that was really the dream come true, inside our helmets we couldn't stop smiling, happy to the utmost : Here we were, riding our russian side-car on the roads of Russia !!!!!

Japan Siberia