Day 50: St. Petersburg to Pskov

Number of tie wraps: 49 (confirmed, holding steady)

Countdown: 6902 miles down, 1684 to go

This morning I confirmed that 20 tie wraps have indeed been added to the Roadster, 10 on the left front shock absorber and 10 on the right. Apparently the nuts for both front shock absorbers were needed to repair the ailing rear shock absorber.

Tie wraps on left front shock absorber

Tie wraps on left front shock absorber (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tie wraps on right front shock absorber

Tie wraps on right front shock absorber (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We left St. Petersburg about 9 a.m. to drive to Pskov, which is about 100 km from the border with Latvia. For once, we had a totally boring, completely uneventful trip, and we arrived at our hotel about 1:30 this afternoon. The highlight of the trip was when we caught a glimpse at 50 mph of a very large dacha that once belonged to Vladimir Nobokov, author of Lolita. I also had a brief moment of excitement when I spotted a small orange airplane, mostly obscured by weeds, parked in a field. We went by so fast that I couldn’t tell what it was, but it might have been a Cessna 150. I have no idea how it got there, if it is still flyable, or even if there is a landing strip or airport nearby.

After a quick snack at our hotel, some of us walked to the kremlin in Pskov, shown below in a picture taken from a bridge crossing the Velikaya River.

Kremlin in Pskov

Kremlin in Pskov (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The church shown in the photo is a working church that was fully restored in the last few years after being demolished by Germany during World War II. The cross in the photo below stands on the site of the original church inside the kremlin.

Cross erected on site of original church

Cross erected on site of original church (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After we left the kremlin, we walked further into town and saw additional views of the kremlin, as well as a row of restaurants along the river, shown in the picture below. The weather was a bit rainy, so we decided to eat dinner at a German restaurant across the street from our hotel instead of walking back down to one of the river restaurants.

Restaurants on the river bank

Restaurants on the river bank (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving about 7:30 to drive to the border, which should take about 1.5 hours. Once we cross, we’ll have another two hours or so of driving to reach Daugavpils, Latvia. It could be a very long day, so wish us luck! I’d also like to note that we aren’t crossing the border at the same location as the 1908 racers. In 1908, the Baltic states did not exist as individual countries, so the original racers crossed out of Russia into Germany at Eydtkuhnen, modern-day Chernyshevskoye, which is located just east of Kaliningrad.

Day 49: St. Petersburg

Number of tie wraps: 49 (20 added since last blog post, unconfirmed)

Countdown: 6693 miles down, 1892 to go

While Cathy and I were visiting the Hermitage, dining on vegetarian entrees, and hunting down Starbucks mugs this afternoon, Luke and John allegedly added 20 more tie wraps to the Roadster. This information was relayed to me by John at dinner tonight and is currently unconfirmed. I’ll investigate further and post additional details tomorrow after I obtain photographic evidence of said tie wraps, which are reported to be holding one of the front shock absorbers in place because a part from the front shock absorber had to be removed to shore up one of the rear shock absorbers which had some sort of failure involving a U-bolt … well, you get the picture. Stay tuned!

In addition to the beehive of tie wrap activity today, we had a relaxing tour of St. Petersburg, also known as “Venice of the North” due to its many rivers and canals. St. Petersburg was established in 1703 by Peter the Great, who wanted to create a new European city and, from what I saw today, I think most people would agree that his expectations have been exceeded.

In addition to stunning architecture, many of the city’s buildings hold world-class museums, with the crown jewel being the Hermitage, which contains over three million works of art and other cultural items. Our tour guide told us that if you viewed every item in the Hermitage inventory nonstop, with no breaks for food, sleeping, etc. it would take you seven years to complete your mission.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Most of the old cathedrals we visited today are restorations that now house museums, but the Church of St. Nicholas shown below is still an active Russian Orthodox Church.

Church of St. Nicholas

Church of St. Nicholas (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I’ll leave you with this message I spotted on a post outside the Church of St. Nicholas.

Message of peace/Mir

Message of peace/Mir (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we drive to Pskov, 336 km, for our last full day in Russia until we go to Kaliningrad on July 2. Saturday we make our border crossing into Latvia.


Days 47-48: Moscow and Moscow to St. Petersburg

Number of tie wraps: 29 (holding steady)

Countdown: 6693 miles down, 1892 to go

In the 1908 race, the German Protos arrived in both Moscow and St. Petersburg ahead of the U.S. Thomas Flyer. The Protos reached Moscow on July 18 after driving 13 hours from Nizhny Novgorod; it took us nearly 13 hours to make the same drive — you can draw your own conclusions about what that says about Russian roads!

Despite our struggles driving to Moscow, we covered the 743 km to St. Petersburg in 14 hours today. The Protos team took two days for the same drive, stopping overnight in Velkiy Novgorod and arriving on July 20 to claim the $1,000 prize offered by the Imperial Automobile Club to the first racers to reach St. Petersburg. In the meantime, the New York Times was still confused about the whereabouts of the Thomas Flyer, although the U.S. team had apparently made it as far as Nizhny Novgorod. Click here for the original New York Times article on this portion of the race.

Leo, Luke and I started yesterday with a tour of the Russian Federation Air Force Museum located in Monino, about an hour from Moscow. The museum houses pretty much every airplane the Russian Air Force has ever flown. Most of the collection is outdoors, but the earliest equipment is housed in two hangars. Our English-speaking tour guide was Alexander, who flew dive bombers after World War II. He’s shown in the photo below with Luke amidst some of the many airplanes we saw.


A small part of the outdoor collection at the Russian Federation Air Force Museum

A small part of the outdoor collection at the Russian Federation Air Force Museum (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We started in the first hangar, where we saw about a dozen World War II aircraft, including the Po-2 bomber shown in the picture below that was used by the “Night Witches,” a famous regiment of Soviet women pilots who earned many honors flying against the Germans.


Night Witches Po-2 aircraft

Night Witches Po-2 aircraft (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The second hangar we visited housed all sorts of very old and unusual flying objects, including balloon gondolas used for high altitude research similar to that done by Joe Kittinger and the recent record setting jump by Felix Baumgartner.


Gondolas used for high altitude research

Gondolas used for high altitude research (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We also saw this collection of flying oddities that includes a helicopter with a jet-tipped rotor, a model of a reusable spacecraft similar to the U.S. Space Shuttle, and a vertical take-off and landing vehicle (the thing that looks like it was made from a giant erector set).


Collection of aviation oddities

Collection of aviation oddities (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Outside, we saw a who’s who of Russian aviation history, including a gargantuan V-12 helicopter/vertical lift aircraft, a MiG-25 Foxbat, several MiG-29 Fulcrums, the Russian version of the Supersonic Transport, and an AN-12 transport aircraft that probably required one crewmember just to synchronize all the propellers. These pictures are just a tiny fraction of the several hundred airplanes on display.


V-12 aircraft

V-12 aircraft (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

MiG-25 Foxbat

MiG-25 Foxbat (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

MiG-29 Fulcrums with the Russian SST

MiG-29 Fulcrums with the Russian SST (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

An-12 transport aircraft

An-12 transport aircraft (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

In the afternoon, we took a tour of Moscow. On the way to the city center, we drove by the space sculpture shown below, which is near the building that John and Luke pulled into when we lost them the other day.


Space sculpture

Space sculpture (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

At Red Square, in addition to St. Basil’s Cathedral, we saw the high-end shopping mall and icon of Christ that lie directly across from Lenin’s tomb, although I don’t know if he appreciates the irony.


St. Basil's

St. Basil’s (Eileen BJorkman photo)

The view from Lenin's Tomb

The view from Lenin’s Tomb (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After Red Square, we headed to Novodevichy Cemetery, where many famous Russians are buried, including Artem Mikoyan, one of the founders of the MiG Design Bureau that produced the MiG-25 and MiG-29 aircraft shown above, and Boris Yeltsin (I assume he needs no introduction).

Grave of Mikoyan of MiG fame

Grave of Mikoyan of MiG fame (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Boris Yeltsin's grave -- the Russian flag

Boris Yeltsin’s grave — the Russian flag (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Last, we drove to a vantage point that gave us panoramic views of the city, where we saw the unusual ramp below, which is used to practice ski jumping in the summertime.

Ramp for summertime ski jump practice

Ramp for summertime ski jump practice (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

This morning, we left the hotel about 7:45 a.m. to drive to St. Petersburg. The highway was the best we’ve seen in Russia so far and we only had two delays, one getting out of Moscow and the other one around lunchtime, although we did have to stop for Luke to make a quick tire swap on the Roadster. He rotated the tires yesterday and the tire we had repaired several weeks ago wasn’t properly balanced and was shaking the steering wheel out of John’s hands when he tried to go more than 40 mph.

Quick tire change

Quick tire change (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We also welcomed a new team member, Cathy, a friend of Luke’s who will be riding with us until Berlin.

Tomorrow we spend the day in St. Petersburg and then head to Pskov on Friday to prepare for our border crossing into Latvia on Saturday.