Hello again from the Chiang Mai to Vladivostok Blog, reporting from Birobidzhan (pop. 78,000, elev. 107 meters).
We finally hit a sizable city, and a pleasant one, after a 586 km. 5.5 hour drive down our old friend, highway M58. We are around 75 kilometers east of the Chinese border and nearly parallel with Harbin, which is one hell of a cold city.
Nearly 10,000 kilometers are under our belts with approximately another 1,000 to go. Two more days of riding left.
The landscape we rode through was not at all exciting, just like yesterday and the day before; just M58 heading dead-on straight in a mostly SSE direction.
I had the 4×4 up to 165 kph today on a long straightaway and I am scared to ask the riders what speeds they are hitting.
This region geologically has been shaped by the Amur River, the border between Russia and China in these parts. We are mostly in a floodplain with dozens of Amur tributaries that needed to be crossed. The land is boggy with stands of trees that are beginning to display their autumn colors. Very few towns along the route in what is considered Russia’s poorest region. Few town = few people = few vehicles = few petrol stations and eateries. But no one fainted from lack of nutrition and no one ran out of gas. The eateries we did manage to find all had great food and I am definitely going to buy a cookbook in Vladivostok to recreate some of the dishes I have been dinning on on this trip.
Towards the end of the day we skirted rain showers and lightening storms. We could see curtains of rains falling all around and the road was wet in places, but no precipitation spoiled our ride. It has been several weeks since we encountered any rain.
For a change we are staying in a decent, if old-fashioned hotel. Everything works in our bathrooms; our room is air-conditioned though we barely need it; and there is even is an elevator!
For dinner tonight, Sergi, Albert and myself went to a supermarket and bought 2 pieces of different smoked salmon, a couple of varieties of salads, black bread, peach-flavored vodka (which did not taste at all peachy) a bottle of beer for me, found a park bench and had an impromptu meal that was excellent and fun (because of the vodka).
The Russians of the Far East seem to be a friendlier and jollier lot than the ones we first encountered, and we are beginning to have some fun with them instead of receiving stares or blank looks.
Birobidzhan’s claim to fame is that it almost became the world’s Israel. There was serious talk of bringing all the displaced Jews of Europe after WWII to live here. The minus 40ºC winter temperatures convinced most of them to choose the Negev Desert region instead. Plus no one really trusted Stalin. But there is a sizeable Jewish population of around 5% and this number is growing as Israelis are starting to hear how safe and pleasant Birobidzhan is.
There are two synagogues in Birobidzhan. Sergi, Albert, and I went to visit one but it was closed. Services start at 10 in the morning so we will have to miss that also.
The city’s street signs are written in Russian and in Hebrew but in the Yiddish language. Our hotel is on Shalom Aleichem Street. The railway station sign is in Hebrew and Russian.
And of course there is always the ubiquitous Russian Orthodox Chucrh. the one below was made from wood and is especially pretty;
That’s about it for today. I would have had more photos to share, but when I started to download them from my camera, I realized there was no memory card inside. Oh well,
Until tomorrow, Reed, reporting from Birobidzhan in Russia’s Far East.
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And just one short commercial announcement: Our next tour into China is a 23-day ride in Yunnan Province to Shangri-La. Dates are October 6-28. We still have some spaces left if you want to join. Most of the participants are taking a pillion, so their will be lots of female companionship if you want to take your significant other.
If you are interested in doing this Vladivostok tour in the summer of 2016, we are taking reservations. Participation is limited