We’re up and no Clemo. It turns out that his 5 day visa is actually a 3 day visa through one of the myriad visa screwups. In order not to incur the wrath of Russian immigration by overstaying his visa and potentially having problems acquiring visas in the future, he’s decided to take a train to Atyrau, Kazakhstan and wait for the rally to catchup with his. I’m sure that a 16 hour Russian train ride will generate plenty of “Clemo” stories.
It’s a long grind to Astrakhan but the road is decent and follows the Volga. The country side is flat as the proverbial table top and looks like the high plains of Wyoming. Occasionally, we see large areas of planted crops, mostly corn, milo and sunflowers, probably remnants of the old collective farms.
We pull into Astrakhan which is our first arrival during the day since early in the trip and start looking for the Gold Jin hotel which is on the GPS but GPS is giving us as much help as it did during the search for the infamous bunker. We keep closing on it but we’re having trouble finding our way in the rabbit warren of streets and alleys. John has had the foresight to get a picture of building (red brick) so we circle about looking for a red brick building.
We pull into a gas station that has a taxi filling up. I show the driver the address which is written in English and, not surprisingly, he can’t read it. I try to translate it to Russian which his, surprisingly does understand. I ask him to lead us there us there. He refuses and points, gesturing over the buildings but indicates with gestures that we have to go around the block to get there.
Back in the car. Out of the gas station. Up th road. First right. Right at the next street. There it is on a side street. Well, it’s on a nearly impassable alley way that someday will aspire to becode a passable alley way – maybe even bumpy but passable side street.
One of our teams has already arrived and is driving into the secure parking area(!). We follow, park and head up the stairs to registration. The building seems brand new and isn’t quite finished. Marble everywhere. Dark wood molding. We get our room key.
Open the door and the room just reeks of smoked fish. I though I had noticed the smell when we were at registration and someone opened the fridge to get a beer. Fridge with smoked fish smell is not the biggest surprise in Russia; a room with it is a bit over the edge. We know that trying to get another room is going to be a real battle so we agree to try it out.
John closes the fridge door in our room and we crank up the air-conditioner. A beer each to ponder the situation. We leaving soon to go out for dinner so we clean up and head out.
There are 11 of us in the group and we walk up to the gas station where w first got directions. Guv is with us and he flags down one small Lada taxi. He convinces the taxi driver that we won’t fit in one small Lada taxi and he calls someone who shows up in about a minute with his wife in the taxi. She’s thrown out at the gas station and four more of us climb into the now empty taxi. While we’re sorting this out still another taxi literally screeches to a stop (I’m not kidding – screeches) and the rest pile into the third taxi. Off to the Kemlin.
Yes, the Kremlin. Everyone knows the famous one in Moscow but Astrakhan has a Kremlin, too. Kremlin in Russian, literally translates to fortress and many ancient Russian cities are built around a kremlin. We start heading a restaurant that the the Luxembourger team has found and have tweeted the address. It’s the Beer Academy. How fitting for this rally.
More people show up. We keep adding tables and chairs and the staff keeps bringing the beer. John and I call it an early night – a beer and food for each of us. We leave the group. Walk back to the park in front of the Kremlin, flag a taxi, back to the hotel and sleep.