We leave Elista pretty early. Tatiana, Constantin’s wife prepared a nice breakfast – a sort of porridge and fried eggs, tea and a salad.
Today we have to ride for about 300 kilometers to Volgograd. Not so much riding today, we wanted to get there as soon as possible and save some time to visit the city.
The road was pretty dull... from time to time we would run into sections of road under construction. We were making slow progress having to get past long car queues stopped at traffic lights in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately there was an off-road lane – a one-meter unpaved strip along the main driveway – it helped us overtake the countless queues of cars stopped and be first at almost every traffic light.
We reach Volgograd on heavy rain. After crossing the city we find the guest house and go in circles for a little while. Looks like the hostel is in a pedestrian area. We park somewhere close to the sidewalk and look for shelter to pull up Google Maps and see what’s the deal with the hostel.
As we pull over, a 60-year old guy approaches us, it turns out he is the owner of a nearby terrace. We show him where we needed to get and he claims it’s closed. Booking though, our source of hope, contradicted him. Google maps also knew about the place but it was even more pessimistic – “Permanently closed” did not sound too encouraging.
While we were looking for the address of the guest house, this guy invites us to have a seat, and offers us a delicious cup of coffee without accepting any money for it. One word leads to another and we find out that in fact he is Bulgarian, born in Ruse (a city near the Romanian border).
After some google-ing we find that the hostel has changed address and moved a few kilometers further down the road. Once we finish our coffees, he offers to drive his car to the hostel, we were to follow with our motorbikes.
Right after we reach the new address, he proposes we unpack, get in his car and drive to one of his friend’s restaurant. Ten minutes later, we were in front of a locked door. Apparently, his friend was sleeping as he was not answering the phone, the restaurant was closed. He takes us somewhere else in a sort of fast food place where we they also had and beer. Cold beer. Baltika 7.
We bid our farewell to the friendly Bulgarian guy who came to our aid. He was in the middle of something when we showed up – cutting some bars with an angle grinder – and he left everything behind to come help us. Spasiba!
As we parted ways he offered us small souvenir - a “Mother Russia Calls” pin and a flashlight. His gesture left us speechless. Are these the scary Russians we were afraid of? Ok, this one was only half Russian.
We have a snack and we drink a few beers at the “fast food”. Before leaving, Adi had read about a Motorcycle club named Ferrum, located here in Volgograd. We walked back to the guest house and asked the reception lady to call us a cab – we wanted to pay them a visit.
The cab takes us somewhere in the city suburbs, on a lateral street. We look around - the place seemed deserted. Some buildings apparently fallen to ruin, weeds grown here and there. No motorcycles or anything that would look like a moto club are to be found.
Adi goes off to inspect the gate indicated by the driver – a high metal gate behind which one could see something looking like a yard. I remained in taxi so he wouldn’t leave thinking that if it left, the chances of getting another taxi in this part of the city would have been slim to none.
Just as Adi walks up to the gate, the taxi driver becomes nervous and asks me to get down for he is leaving. I try to convince him to stay explaining that we might have to return, but he doesn’t listen, he just wants me out of his car. I try to buy some time pretending I don’t understand what he means, I tell him we are leaving now anyway. This seems to further aggravate the driver, he starts the car and wants to turn it around. The message is clear “You either get down or we leave together to my next client”. I finally get the message and hop off before he drives away in a hurry.
We knock on the locked gate, ring the bell but nothing happens, no movement inside. Right before we decide to leave and head out to the main street, we hear a door opening in the yard. A 50-ish year old man opens the gate and welcomes us in. Behind the metal gate we find a pretty large yard with all sort of disassembled motorcycles, spare parts, wheels, and in the middle we can see the trike belonging to Victor, the guy who opened the gate. He was all alone there, after all, it was basically mid-day. He gives us the tour of the “complex”: we start off from a large living-room with a sort of bar, a pool table, a guest book where we also leave some thoughts, all kinds of pictures, artefacts from the Second World War – long story short, a real museum.
Afterwards, he takes us in the garage, which is basically a full-functioning service with a lathe, press, welding machine, all kinds of tools piled up in there.
Finally, he takes us to his workshop and we are left speechless. The guy was hand making all sort of objects, from ornaments for motorcycles to miniature statues to half-meter tall statues. There are a lot of metal ornaments worked by him from scratch – from the sketch on paper and mold until metal casting and polish. Everything was made right there, in his small workshop.
After the tour is over, he get out in the yard to see the trike. Built by him, all road-legal and registered.
When we decide to leave, we ask him about a taxi. What taxi, let’s go have a beer, he says. Beer? Let’s go!
We get in the trike and I find a spare helmet there. Adi puts on a tank driver helmet from the Second World War and start rolling on the streets of Volgograd, to the Ferrum pub.
En route, we get to see the famous “Mother Russia Calls” statue, we do a quick tour of the city and cross the river Volga, before getting to the pub located in a forest near the city.
The pub was nicely decorated, with pictures of the club members, a concert hall with all instruments already prepared and what I liked most - a black, blackboard-like wall.
After we enter the “concert hall” with the blackboard wall, the bartender comes with a wet rug and a large piece of chalk. He asked us to leave our fingerprint on the black wall from the concert hall.
30 minutes later, after several rounds of laughter and repeated tries to hand write decently with same-size letters, after countless corrections and adjustments, the masterpiece is ready. Somewhere in Volgograd, next to the stage, above the drums, lies the name of our moto club, “V-STORMANIA”. Job well done.
Victor is also trying his artist talents at the blackboard. After we finish drinking our beers, he takes us back in the city, to our guest house. We get parted after taking some pictures together, with our motorcycles, with his trike, with some passers-by, everybody joins in.
The sun is about to set, so we start walking to the central park, where a sort of festival is taking place. A few scenes are set up, all hosting mini-concerts, a teenage dancing contest, lots of people, music, kids, there’s a lot going on there.
We eventually get to the guest house around 2 AM, have the last beers and turn in. Tomorrow we have to start off early and get to Samara, 850 km away north-east.
Needless to say, the preconceived image we had about Russia and Russians was quickly falling apart by this point.