Day 66: Reims to Paris

Number of tie wraps: 50 (final count)

Countdown: 8585 miles down, 0 to go. We’re in Paris!

Proof that we are really in Paris!

Proof that we are really in Paris! (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel in Paris this afternoon at 2:10, officially ending Leg 1 of the World Auto Tour. Congratulations to Jennifer Quam (who guessed 35 tie wraps) for winning the tie wrap award! I’ll let you sort the prize out with John.

In 1908, the German Protos was the first car to arrive in Paris, but the Thomas was declared the official winner when it came into town four days later on July 30 due to the 30 day penalty assessed to the Protos (15 days for using the train in the U.S. and 15 days for the Thomas to drive to and from Alaska). When the Thomas first entered Paris, George Schuster was almost arrested for not having a headlight, but a bicyclist offered his headlamp. When they couldn’t remove the light from the bicycle, bystanders simply lifted the bicycle into the Thomas between the two front seats and the problem was solved. The Thomas then proceeded to the Grand Hotel for a dinner reception. Click here for the original New York Times article about the Protos arrival in Paris, and click here for the original New York Times article about the Thomas arrival in Paris.

Our arrival into Paris was much less dramatic. We had a short, but wet, drive over from Reims, as you can see from the photo below of a bystander in Paris taking a picture of the Roadster as we passed by. No one was shouting, “Vive le car Americain!” as we passed by as they did for the Thomas in 1908!

Wet arrival into Paris

Wet arrival into Paris (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Our hotel is very close to the Eiffel Tower, and I even have “une petite” view, as described by the hotel receptionist when I checked into my room.

View of the Eiffel Tower from my hotel room

View of the Eiffel Tower from my hotel room (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The rainy weather limited our sightseeing this afternoon to a few views of the tower and the Seine River, but we still have tomorrow! We’re also hoping to get a photo op with the cars and the tower before John, Luke and Leo depart for Leg 2 of the tour and tomorrow evening we have a celebratory dinner at a traditional French restaurant. So stayed tuned for more pictures!

I fly back to Seattle on Tuesday, but I plan to continue blogging about the trip as Luke sends me updates.

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.


Days 42-43: Perm to Izhevsk to Kazan

Number of tie wraps: 29 (5 since last blog post)

Countdown: 5726 miles down, 2859 to go

Quote of the day: “Welcome to Russia!” (Izhevsk policeman to Luke and John yesterday)

In 1908, George Schuster and the Thomas Flyer had a much tougher time getting from Perm to Kazan than we did. The Flyer had stripped two gears just outside Omsk, quite a ways back, but a field repair kept them going until just outside of Perm, where the transmission gave up altogether as Schuster tried to extricate the Thomas from a gigantic pothole.

Schuster had ordered a spare transmission be shipped to Russia from the U.S. while he was in Harbin, China, because he was worried about the transmission even then. The transmission had arrived in Russia within two weeks, but no one seemed to know at which train station it had been off-loaded. Fortunately, just when the Thomas really needed the new transmission, it was located in Kazan, several hundred miles from the breakdown point, so Schuster took a wagon to retrieve it.

After repairing the Flyer, the U.S. team took a wrong turn and wound up in Viatka (modern day Kirov) several hundred kilometers out of their way before finally arriving in Kazan. Between the repair and getting lost, they were once again well behind the German Protos. The New York Times reported much confusion on the whereabouts and intentions of the U.S. team during their side trip to Viatka — click here for one article written during this period.

We had a little time in Perm yesterday morning while John and Natalia went to immigration one more time to try unsuccessfully to resolve John’s visa. Luke and I walked down a path that paralleled the Kama River and the Siberian Railway and we found a scary-looking but perfectly safe underpass that we took underneath the railway to a footpath right by the river.


Steps leading to tunnel under the Siberian Railway

Steps leading to tunnel under the Siberian Railway (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Later that day, we crossed the Kama River on the bridge below as we drove out of Perm. Schuster and the Flyer crossed the Kama by ferry, since there was no bridge available in 1908.


Bridge across the Kama River in Perm

Bridge across the Kama River in Perm (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Before we left Perm, Luke washed the headlights on the Roadster and removed a rather large deceased insect from the headlight grills (those of you who are Air Force fighter pilots will know why I used the term “deceased insect” — I don’t want any of you getting hurt from hurling your body to the floor).


Hitchhiker found on Roadster headlight

Hitchhiker found on Roadster headlight (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Roadster headlights before cleaning

Roadster headlights before cleaning (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Roadster headlights after cleaning

Roadster headlights after cleaning (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

On the drive to Izhevsk yesterday and to Kazan today, we saw many brightly painted roadside shelters for picnic tables, such as the one below. They seemed to come in all shapes and colors, and were located along the road every kilometer or so.


Colorful roadside shelter

Colorful roadside shelter (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

As we were heading to the hotel in Izhevsk, the police waved the Roadster over for a look. They were mostly just curious about the car and the paperwork, and one of them came over to the hotel later and signed the car.


Message from police in Izhevsk wishing us luck on our journey

Message from police in Izhevsk wishing us luck on our journey (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Today, we had great roads most of the way from Izhevsk to Kazan, so we made good time. During our final gas stop, the young man in the picture below admired the car and I couldn’t get the Bluetooth on my iPhone to send the picture to his phone, so I told him I’d post the picture on the website instead.


An admirer about 100km outside Kazan

An admirer about 100km outside Kazan (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

John also added another tie wrap to the turn signal flasher unit at the gas stop.


Yes, another tie wrap!

Yes, another tie wrap! (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

As we neared Kazan, many of the road signs became tri-lingual — Tatar, the native language here, as well as Russian and English.


Tri-lingual road sign -- Tatar, Russian and English

Tri-lingual road sign — Tatar, Russian and English (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Kazan is a beautiful city with a blend of modern structures and traditional architecture. We’ll be taking a tour of the city tomorrow morning, so I’ll post some pictures then.

After we arrived at the hotel, John decided to double-up the tie wraps on the radiator grill, so that added four more tie wraps to the total.


And even more tie wraps!

And even more tie wraps! (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow, after our city tour, we head to Nizhny Novgorod, 395 km. We’ll be arriving in Moscow on Sunday now so we have an extra day to sort out John’s visa.