Day 11: Petersburg – Raudsilla

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
Distance covered: 354km
Driving: 10:30am – 5:30pm
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: Russia – Estonia (real border control)

We got up late and supported the Russian Highway Organization by some extra loops and associated payments at the toll booth. An hour later, we reached the Peterhof Palace, located at the shore of the baltic sea and enjoyed a walk in the beautiful snow covered gardens …

… and on the frozen Baltic Sea. At the horizon we saw big cargo ships, each following its Icebreaker towards Petersburg.

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On our further drive towards the Russian-Estonian border in Narva, we got introduced to real Russia, which is quite different to the golden palaces, shiny Petersburg and our last hotel.

Crossing the border took again more than an hour, but this time we were luckily not forced to get anything out of the car. Singing “Ode an die Freude”, we were happy to be back in the good old European Union and even Euro Zone.

Final destination of the day was the second BSC Winter party in Raudsilla, a rural and beautiful location in an Estonian national park close to the Baltic Sea.

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Accommodation was offered in heated tents and wooden houses.

We all met in a huge wooden Tipi with a massive fire place in the middle for food, drinks and stories.

Additional attraction in this beautiful and remote spot was a Sauna and hot tub.

 

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Day 10: St. Petersburg

Monday, March 5th, 2018
Distance covered: 10 kilometres by foot
Driving: NO DRIVING, yeah!
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: none

Sunny day, cold, blue sky – let’s go. We walked along and on the frozen Newa to the Peter and Paul fortress and visited the Peter and Paul cathedral with the tombs of the former Russian Tsars the Romanovs.

The entire complex was in perfect condition and well maintained. Petersburg felt like just another western city: tickets could be paid by credit card, “uber” available, etc.

As museums are closed on Mondays in Russia too, our touristic program was somehow limited. Next to the fortress we could take a look at the vast collection of canons, tanks and rockets at the Russian Artillery Museum

… and walked up to the cruiser “Aurora”, that initiated the November Revolution in 1917.

An uber got us across the river to the Grand Hotel Belmond Europe, where we had an appointment with David de Vleeschauwer at 2pm. David is a Belgium travel photographer, who joined the Rallye with different teams and will cover it in one of his next books. As we believed (see day 12) we could not make space for him in our fully stuffed Touareg, we met him in the “Belmond” for a photo shoot in the Caviar Bar.

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Unfortunately, or luckily (“travel budget”), the Caviar Bar is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we only had a Cappuccino and our first Vodka of the day in the hotel bar.

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David joined us for the afternoon and we first visited the “Blood cathedral”, a beautiful Russian church, erected on the place of the murder of Tsar Alexander II.

To get some proper Caviar pictures of team Champagne Supernova for David, we now visited Eliseyev Emporium, THE St. Petersburg food hall.

Next to its shopping opportunities, the Eliseyev hosts a small café around a real and massive palm tree in the middle of this two floor art deco “jewel”. Here, we got our Caviar, enjoyed the atmosphere and the sun was glittering through the huge windows.

While we ignored most of the “daily tasks” of the Rallye so far, we didn’t mind the task to find Petersburg’s only beach bar: Dunes of Ligovsky. After a 30 minutes walk through the real Petersburg, we reached an interesting hipster quarter close to the rail tracks of the Moscow Station. Many parked BSC cars on the street proofed that we were at the right spot. Soon we were in the bar at the bar and had a great time with some of the other teams like Latscho Tschabos, Power of Adventure and Show & Schein. Russian craft beers, many stories, some vodka, a great afternoon.

For dinner we went back to Eliseyev to the Mezonin restaurant and ended a great day in style.

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Day 9: Nurmes – St. Petersburg

Sunday, March 4th, 2018
Distance covered: 329 km
Driving: 9:30am – 7pm (border delay)
Weather: Sunny
Lowest temperature: -10C
Border crossing: Finland – Russia (real border control)

Another great sunny day. Listening to the SPD GroKo press conference, we drove to the frozen lake ice road, took a couple of pics and crossed the lake.

It feels scary at the beginning (I hate it to even walk on a frozen lake) but offers a great experience and special perspectives when driving close to some islands.

After some more hours of snowy forests and frozen lakes, we finally reached the Russian border. And yes, it feels different than driving to Italy or Austria or even Switzerland. The Finnish part of the border was friendly, professional and empty, but few hundred meter further we had to queue up in front of the Russian control post.

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When reaching the post, you need to stop your car, walk to the booth, fill in some immigration card (next to the up-front Visa in your passport) and some customs forms for your car. As my Passport was brand new and in the latest format, obviously unknown yet to the Russian border officer, it got looked at again and again. 10 minutes and a phone call later, I finally got my stamps and was ready for the next step of the Russian welcome committee. We were ordered to get all suitcases, boxes as well as the two winter tires out of the car and open everything. Great fun with -7C and super dirty tires…

Anyhow, it took just a bit more than an hour and we were on the road again, heading towards St. Petersburg.

Being the second largest Russian city and a major location for the 2018 Football world championship, many highways are brand new. The stadium looked impressive and next to it a new skyscraper was still under construction.

In the dark we reached our hotel: Trezzini Palace, a 5-star boutique hotel, located directly at the Newa and offered for just 104,- € on booking.com in the morning. We were hoping for a really nice hotel, but what we got was just great.

After being introduced to my 3 room Suite, I was searching again and again for the mistake regarding the price (wrong Rubel conversion, etc.). But it was real and therefore even better that we stayed for 2 nights in Petersburg!

We had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, hering as a starter and boeff stroganoff as main and made company with a nice Dutch couple, running an interesting charity project for the widows of Srbrenica. After some shared Vodka, we took a walk through beautiful Petersburg at night, enjoyed some more vodka in a student bar and finally went back to our very own palace…

… really looking forward to a day without driving!

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Day 8: Ivalo – Nurmes

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
Distance covered: 824 km
Driving: 9am – 8pm
Weather: Sunny in the morning, later cloudy
Lowest temperature: -21C
Border crossing: none

This was going to be a very long drive! As we wanted to spend a full day without driving in St. Petersburg, we had to drive through almost all of Finland today.

After a good breakfast with German Army souvenirs on the wall, we started our drive with a clear blue sky and -21C and a nice singing performance (from minute 4:30 to 08:30 in the video, don’t miss it).

Around lunchtime we reached the bigger town Rovaniemi, featuring a Santa Claus Theme park, which we avoided, but allowed us a brief stop at a nearby German Military Cemetery. It is located at a beautiful spot in a quiet forest, next to a lake.

While the first few hundred kilometres of this longest drive still presented a somehow interesting landscape, later the day it just got completely boring, dark forests, some snow, faceless towns.

We made a quick stop in Oulu, a larger town at the northern end of Baltic Sea, which was completely frozen with many ice fishers on it.

After some more hours driving in the dark, we finally reached Nurmes. We chose this tiny town with 7.000 inhabitants, as it is located at the northern shore of a frozen lake and with an official road of 7km from one shore to the other, which we wanted to drive on the next morning.

Though surrounded by the beautiful lake and next to a river, Nurmes turned out to be as ugly as many other Finnish towns and the hotel was no exception: classic “KGB chic”.

Until now, this seemed to be a “lost day”, but few hours later it turned into one of the highlights of our tour: from Champagne Supernova to Karaoke Supernova!

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After a quick and healthy dinner in the local fast food restaurant (the only open restaurant on a Saturday evening), we visited the local Pub and started a super funny David Lynch style evening.

The Pub was as ugly as in some remote East German places and at the beginning populated by people in their 40s and 50s, all looking at least 10 years older, already quite drunk, with bad skin and a very Finish fashion style. One after the other went up to the Karaoke screen, sang a Finnish song without any emotional expression, and went back to its seat. We just felt like being in a weird mixture of “Fargo” and “From dusk till dawn”.

 

But having said that, these people were extremely nice and friendly, asked us if we were test drivers and started some funny chats with us. And it’s no surprise, that Arndt and myself very soon ended up as well in front of the microphone. More and more people entered the bar, wanted to meet “the tourists” and we just had a great time!

THE PASSENGER

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

 

 

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Day 7: Russenes – Nordkapp – Ivalo

Day 7, Friday, March 2nd 2018
Distance covered: 542 km
Driving: 9am – 10pm (CMT +1) (Nordkapp and real dinner included)
Weather: Cloudy, some sun, later full moon
Lowest temperature: -8C
Border crossing: Norway – Finland (no border control)

After a healthy Tea and Cookies breakfast, we were amazed by the scenery around our cabin, which we had reached the night before in the dark. And after some quick pictures, we were heading north: direction Nordkapp.

The roads were very icy, just right for our 4×4 and Spikes Tires. After an hour, we reached the long and quite steep (down and up again) underwater tunnel that connects the mainland with the Nordkapp Island. Interestingly, most of the tunnels up here are closed by “doors”, that open automatically upon arrival.

Half an hour later we reached the gathering point for the Nordkapp convoy. In winter, you can only reach the Nordkapp in a convoy following a snow plow (again because of the strong wind blowing snow on the street). These convoys leave at 11:00 (the one we took), 12:00 (mainly busses full of elderly people from “Hurtig Routen”) and at 19:00 (in the dark). Many other BSC teams were already waiting in line and it was great to have a chat with other teams and learn of their latest adventures.

30 minutes later, we finally reached the (quite expensive: 50,- €) parking lot at the Nordkapp and were proud and relieved we made it up to the Globe, for our Champagne enriched picture!

Not reaching the Nordkapp due to car issues would have been a massive frustration. After making it here, everything else was a nice addition, but our Rallye clearly had reached it’s emotional climax.

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The landscape was again breathtaking: white hills, no more vegetation, the Arctic Sea ahead, a low sun and light snow showers with a strong wind at -7C.

We enjoyed a Cappuccino and Blueberry Cake in the modern Visitor Center, took a look at the small exhibition on the “Battle of the North Cape” with the sinking of the Scharnhorst and left the Nordkapp in another convoy around 12:30.

Long version

Very short and fast

Obviously, we were heading south, enjoying sun and landscape and heading towards Finland. As we were soon leaving the most spectacular landscape of the trip behind us and as we wanted to spend a full day in St.Petersburg, without touching the car, we had to make a good distance today and especially the next day.

We crossed the unguarded border in the dark. With a lot of snow and ice on the street, we commenced our drive on a long and straight street across shallow hills until we reached Inari. Being hungry and in the mood for good food (after last nights canned soup), we visited the best rated restaurant in town “Aanaar” and were quite surprised. The menu offered a wide selection of local food (reindeer as well as fish) and the wine list was promising, too. We decided on two different reindeer dishes which were both great.

After another 30 minutes drive, we reached around 22:00 our home for the night: an easy vacation resort with cabins close to a river, just outside of Ivalo.

This was the last stop with some realistic chance on Aurora Borealis. And as there where some stars visible between the clouds, we decided to spend some tome outside in front of our cabins, staring into the night. But the foam on our self-tapped Krombacher turned into ice within minutes, so we didn’t stay too long and gave up.

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No Aurora Borealis this rallye, but a good reason to come back.

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