[YEAR 7!] Quit our jobs, sold our home, gone riding...

Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/254.html

Today we're meeting up with our Russian friend Varvara. We met her when we were riding around Iceland a few years ago. It's been exactly four years ago to the day! Varavara was still in high school at the time on vacation with her mom. We took a tour of the Golden Triangle with them and really got along with her. We've kept in touch ever since and now that we're in her hometown, what better way to see the city than with a local to show us around!

A happy reunion!

Varvara met us at our hotel in the early afternoon. She's so grown up now! She's just finishing up her university studies. Wow, how time flies! Ugh, I feel so old.

She took us on a little walking tour of Nevsky Prospekt, and we caught up with each other's lives

Walking along Griboedov Canal to check out the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood again
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And then suddenly, some excitement breaks out in the square in front of the church!!!

Ah, it's just a movie being shot here on location.

Around the church, girls in mini-skirts approached every male in sight. You could take a picture with them in front of the church for a fee...

The church is so striking amongst all the old European buildings

Russia is only one of a handful of trans-continental countries that straddle Europe and Asia. St Peterburg is firmly planted on European soil in terms of location and architecture, but when we saw this church, it really stood out because of its Middle-Eastern stylings. The exterior is so colourful and ornamental, with over-the-top decorated onion domes that would not look out of place in Persia.

Blue skies above the church

Varvara says we are quite lucky to be having such nice weather in St Petersburg. The city is typically blanketed by high cloud cover, experiencing only 75 sunny days per year. That's 1 sunny day out of every 5 days. And we've had great weather the whole time we've been here! Wow, perhaps our streak is finally over?

Varvara teaches Neda the Russian Macarena

Not really. Varvara wasn't even born when the Macarena came out. Ugh, I feel so old...

It was very interesting talking with Varvara about present-day Russia. Obviously she doesn't remember anything from the Soviet era aside from the stories that her mom and grandmother tell her, but she gave us precious insight into how young people in the most Western city in Russia feel about the politics and how their country is perceived on the world stage.

There is a nostalgia for the old Tsarist days when the Russian empire included all the current Baltic states, Central Asia and Finland. Many old-timers see the annexation of Crimea as a return to those heady times.

Boat cruises on the Neva River

Lots of weddings this weekend, they lucked out with the weather just like we did!

We walk towards the Winter Palace and pass the arch of the Grand Staff Building

Young people congregate at the Winter Palace grounds doing young people things

Longboarding is popular all around the world

Winter Palace - home of the Russian monarchs from the 1700s till they were evicted by KGB after the Russian Revolution

If I made movies, I would make KGB the bad guys in every one of them. They're totally ************ and they don't take any Bolshevik from anyone.

Just like in Hollywood, St Petersburg has a Home of the Tsars tour...
We asked Varvara to teach us some Russian words. Most of the Russian words I know I learned from Piotr Nikolaievitch. He was Colossus in the X-men comic books. The only complete Russian phrase I know is, "Spacibo. Do svidaniya, tovarisch!"

Those two brown columns in the distance, the Rostral columns, marked the spot where St Petersburg's main port was once located

The Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel in St Petersburg

And yet another Russian wedding. This guy brought his own hashtag for their Instagram wedding pictures. So not Soviet-era...

St Isaac's Cathedral

Enjoying the weather with a ride along the canal, cathedral in the background
Varvara asks us if we've tried any Russian food and what was our favorite. We both replied, "Syrok!" She laughed at that and Neda asks embarrassingly, "Why is that funny? Is that like kids' food?" Varavara was expecting that we would mention some Russian cuisine, and not a candy bar... :) *shrug* We're hobos. So she offered to take us to try some real Russian food.

Because of my interest in anything Soviet, Varvara knew exactly where to take us. The name of this restaurant is called "квартиpка." (Kvartirka.), which is Russian for "small apartment." The name actually has a period at the end of it. It's decorated inside like a typical Soviet-era apartment. Kinda kitschy, but I really liked it.

You have to read the menu with a Russian accent, then the grammar makes total sense! LOL!

Everything inside the restaurant was decorated with items from the 70s and 80s.

Russians love to put carpets up on the wall. Google "Russian Carpets On Walls"! It's actually a thing. We saw these all over the restaurant. Haha! This is what I came to Russia to see!!!

You know it's a thing when there's a meme for it!

Little bits of Russian kitsch decorating the walls of the kvartirka.

So nice to hang out with a local that knows where to go!
I asked Varvara what was typical, and she told us that she really liked пельмени (Polmeni), which are dumplings filled with cheeses or meats, kind of like ravioli. The thing that makes it regional are the sauces that it's served with.

Pelmeni! Yummy! The sauces are served on the side, I ordered cheese sauce.

Well, at least I got a little bit of the Soviet experience, even though it was kind of set up for tourists! :) We thanked Varvara for showing us around St Petersburg. It was nice seeing her again and she was such a great guide - so knowledgeable and insightful about her city and country! I wish we had a local guide every place we go to, it really enriches the experience for us.

Leaving the Church on Spilled Driveshaft Oil

I had some time the last couple of days to research and poke around my bike to see if the loss of power at high revs was something I could diagnose myself. Google searches strongly suggested a sparking problem. I just had the spark plugs replaced 15K ago, so that's probably not it. Lately, I've been resting my feet a lot on the crash bars below the cylinder head and I strongly suspect I've kicked an ignition coil wire loose. So I run out into the parking lot, checked the plugs and the wiring. Nothing.

So I'm stumped. I'll have to limp it out of Saint Petersburg since we're on a timeline to exit the country before our visa expires. Hm.

Saying "Do svidaniya" to St Petersburg!


Gene could pull the ultimate prank and just never post again. We'd all have to assume that he and Neda had been marched off to the Gulag, never to return... :yikes:

(And don't you dare even think about it, Gene...) :ylsmoke:
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/255.html

We're leaving Russia today. Part of me is kind of sad that we're only clipping the very north-west corner of this vast country. We made the decision not to ride towards Moscow because we heard the traffic was terrible and that it was just another big city. But also because, yes you guessed it, it was the home of KGB.

I sense there's a lot more of the country to discover on the Asian continental side. But another part of me is kind of relieved because we're heading towards our first real rest break in months.

The trip to the border crossing at Narva was uneventful. I was still limping my bike on the road, keeping the revs under 4000 rpm so as not to trip whatever it was that was cutting the power. I'm also glad that we're heading to a place where we can take our time to fix this issue.

The lineup at the border to get out of Russia and into Estonia was long. We baked under a late summer sun, peeling off all our layers and pushing our motorcycles a few meters at a time closer to the Schengen Zone where our EU passports would let us back onto home soil again. The Russian exit procedure was uncomplicated, just understaffed. A quick check of our visa to make sure we hadn't overstayed and then we were let out into No Mans Land to wait at the Estonian border control. And here was the big difference: nice shiny modern booths in Estonia, multiple checkpoints that processed everyone in line so quickly and efficiently.

The customs person looked mildly interested that we were riding our Canadian-plated motorcycles in with Euro passports and then just like that, we were back home. Funny, I've never been to Estonia before but as far as our passports were concerned, it was home.

The capital city, Tallinn, is just a few hours ride west from the Russian border. We have an AirBnB place booked for a week, should be long enough for the local BMW shop to fix my motorcycle.
Week 1

There are quite a number of chores that need to be done before we can relax. Laundry from Russia was first on the list. So was stocking up on groceries for the week. Neda has a number of health issues that have popped up in the last month or so - she has a toothache that needs to be looked at, as well as a mole on her back that has grown quite rapidly that also needs to be examined. Well, we've got the time.

Because we were shut out of the service centres in Finland, we were sure to book ahead for an appointment at the BMW shop here in Tallinn, so they were ready for us. We brought my bike in first, so we could still use Neda's bike for runs around town. I explained the power loss on my bike and relayed to the Service Manager my suspicions that it was a sparking problem. He nodded his head in that patient manner that doctors have when you tell them what you found on the Internet about your medical symptoms: "Thank you, but let the experts determine what the real problem is..."

First on the list of things to do. Laundry...

Well my chores are over. I'm not leaving the apartment until the bike is fixed. I really want to get the blog caught up. At this point, we're close to three months behind where we really are. It's kind of daunting going through all the pictures I've taken.

So in between procrastinating on working on the blog, I've started watching the new Doctor Who series (well new from 2005). I used to watch the old series back in the 80s. Tom Baker was my Doctor. This new guy Eccleston will take a bit of getting used to.

TV is my new hobby. Neda with her favorite downtime activity

Neda now has an opportunity to start another cross-stitching pattern. She's finally found a hobby in the downtime that occupies her time in an engaging fashion. She's also enjoying having a real kitchen again and is trying new recipes all the time.

The BMW dealership e-mailed me back and said the diagnostics pointed to an ECU failure. They recommended replacing it. Damn, that's going to be expensive. But what to do? They said that it would take a week to order one in from Germany. But I wasn't really in any kind of rush to leave Tallinn. And there are eight seasons of Doctor Who, so...
Week 2

Neda is getting restless. That didn't take long.

She's signed up for Yoga classes. Our AirBnB rental was up and there was another tenant moving in. This is high season for Tallinn, so we have to scramble a little bit to find another AirBnB rental. We book for another week in a place just 10 minutes away.

Estonian Pasteet. Yummy! Unlike the French "terrine", the Estonians willfully acknowledge that this is pâté

From what little I've seen of Tallinn and Estonia, I'm very surprised at how affluent this country is. The language is not Slavic, and although it was under Soviet rule for some time, the people and their language and culture seem to have more in common with Finland. Lots of blonde people in Estonia. But, like Scandinavia, no need to learn Estonian. Most people speak English here.

The BMW dealership e-mails me to let me know that the ECU came in from Germany. But when they installed it, it turned out that it wasn't the ECU that was the problem. It was a faulty ignition coil. Which is what I originally thought. But I don't know how to say, "I told you so" in Estonian, so I just authorize the repair. At least it's going to save me close to $700, the difference between the ECU and an ignition coil.

The blog is slow-going. I haven't really written anything. But I have made a dent in Doctor Who though. Starting Season 3 now. The David Tennant years. I like this guy better than Eccleston. The stories are kind of hit and miss though.

We've got a few weeks before our last scheduled appointment in Europe. After that, we still haven't decided what we want to do or where we're going to end up. I'm just content not doing anything and not going anywhere right now.

Neda's first completed cross-stitch! She's so proud of it. She's going to send it to Eva in Belgium.

A couple of days later, the BMW dealership lets me know the ignition coil is installed and everything works perfectly. They took apart the shaft drive and the problem wasn't a seal, but a worn bearing that has to be replaced. So I was up $700 briefly and now I'm back down again. Dammit.

And also, it's going to take another week to order the bearing from BMW in Germany. Why they didn't just diagnose everything all at once and then order all the parts at the same time, I don't know. But oddly, I didn't mind one bit. I really wasn't done vegging on the couch watching Doctor Who. I don't know how to say, "Take your time" in Estonian, so I just authorize the repairs.
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Week 3

Wow, that Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever.

As expected, Neda is overcoming her travel fatigue a lot faster than I am. She's taken to exploring Tallinn on her own while I watch the summer pass quickly by from the window of our apartment. I feel like one of those old Croatian grandmothers staring out the window onto the street...

I don't feel guilty at all wasting such good weather holed up indoors.

Medieval old town of Tallinn

Souvenir stores line the cobblestoned pedestrian walkways in the old town

Playing up the Medieval Theme.

Some of the original preserved structures in the old town date back to the 1300s

Still haven't updated the blog. So many pictures to wade through... I'm going to leave a post-it note on the camera that reads, "Don't wear out the shutter button, FutureGene!" A few people have sent concerned e-mails because of the lack of updates, which is so nice. Thanks guys!

One afternoon, Neda comes back to the apartment and exclaims, "Estonian women are so beautiful! I was in the back of Yoga class today and couldn't stop staring at all the gorgeous women!" She looks at me expecting some kind of response.

I've been married for 11 years now and I know a trap when I hear one. So, after carefully measuring out my words, I look her straight in the eye and reply with a steady voice, "I think the Pula Arena is the most beautiful amphitheatre in the world."

Crisis averted! ******!

The dealership called to inform me that the shaft drive has been repaired. I ride over with Neda's bike and do an exchange. Her motorcycle just needs regular maintenance, but there is an intermittent Check ABS light on the dash that needs to be looked at.

Riding back through the city streets of Tallinn, the bike rides and sounds healthy once again. I love my bike. We've been married for almost 210,000 kms. I whisper quietly to her, "Don't tell Neda this. I think you're way better than the Pula Arena."

...And we have to move again. 4th place in Tallinn. All the AirBnB hosts in the city know us by name now...
Week 4

Both bikes are now done! The service guy just cleaned the ABS sensor and the light on Neda's dash went away. Cheap and easy. Our time in Tallinn is coming to an end, and I still feel like growing roots on the couch. We're only a week away from our final appointment in Europe and we need to have the talk: "Pack it in, or continue?" We both shrugged our shoulders. We're not really that keen on travel anymore. Just looking back, I haven't left our apartment(s) in the last month other than picking up the bikes or switching places. I think that's kind of telling.

The thought of planning border crossings, finding places to stay, etc is as daunting as restarting the blog. The only thing I really want to do is watch more Doctor Who and the only dilemma I want to ponder upon is: Amy Pond vs Clara Oswald?

Neda has started a new cross-stitch pattern. This one is going to take a while to complete. Can you guess what it is?

All the service is completed on our bikes. I guess I have no more excuses to stay in Tallinn anymore...

Our time in Estonia was not very productive. We got the bikes done, but it was difficult for Neda to find a dentist to fix her toothache, and she still hasn't got the mole on her back checked yet. It's grown quite rapidly in the last couple of weeks, but we're out of time and we need to move on. Really, the only things I accomplished were riding the bikes in to get serviced and watching 8 seasons of Doctor Who. The new guy, Peter Capaldi is interesting. Looking forward to Season 9!!!

Okay. Getting ready to leave Estonia and on towards our final scheduled appointment in Europe. And then...?