Driving to China (ish) - Day 10

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May 10th 2015
Published: May 12th 2015
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Day 10 - Moscow to Nizhiny Novgorod

Our three night stay in Moscow was over and it was time to get back on the road again. Traffic was heavy for 10 miles leaving the city, perhaps from those returning back east after the holiday weekend. Navigating was easy......it's a 35 mile straight shot along the M7 highway.

Once out of the Moscow suburbs, we fell into a familiar pattern of overtaking trucks and slowing for the many villages that lined the road. One such village, about 40 miles out of the city, was really strange. Lining the road on either side, perhaps 70 yards apart, were a series of long market stalls selling gigantic toy teddybears. Each stall was two storeys high and 50 feet long, and some of the bears at least 5 feet tall. I counted 14 such stalls as we passed through the village, but with no other apparent shops or services. Against the dusty roadside and worn wooden houses, these brand new multicoloured toys looked totally out of place. We thought that perhaps there was a factory nearby trying to cut down on supply chain costs (akin to the zonal systems still used in S.E Asian cities like Bankok). Either that, or an enterprising villager decided to open such a stall one day, and everyone else in the village wanted some of that action too.

After that it was a short 90 miles to our sightseeing stop of the day. In keeping with our other stops, Muromtzevo Castle is a strange place.

It was built in the 18th century by a wealthy Russian nobleman who, having had an argument in Paris with a French lord over whose country had the grandest castles and palaces, decided to put his money where his mouth was. He returned home, bought a piece of land just outside the then village of Murom, and commissioned PS Boitsov. Boitsov, considered to be the best architect in the land, designed a glorious castle borrowing the styles of medieval German castles and French chateaus. Whether the French noble travelled to Russia to acknowledge the castle is only rumour, but it is known for certain that the Russian Khrapovitsky died in poverty, having abandoned the castle during the revolution.

The castle was a school for a time, and later a hospital, but then was again abandoned. Now partly derelict, and vandalised and looted inside, the castle can still be visited. Locals can take you to it, hidden amongst the trees, for a small fee, but we did some prep with google earth and hit it first time. A metal fence has recently been erected around it, and a security guard has a portocabin at the back, so we couldn't explore the building, but did get some great shots.

John even sacrificed his chance at ever having kids when scaling a tree to get a better view. He almost died. He says.

With such a backdrop it was the perfect site for hole 9 of T.L.C.E.P. Despite giving the other guys a chance by only hitting the ball forward one metre at a time, I still hit the target tree stump in fewer shots than John, and tied Dave F for the win. Scores after the front nine: DP 17, DF 20, JR 20.

The rest of the journey to Nizhiny was uneventful but for one thing: Dave F got caught by one of the many police speed traps that had appeared along the route. One this occasion we got no prior warning from other motorists, and it really was a fair cop guv.

We pulled over, the cop with the speed gun came over to the window and, seeing that his Russian wasn't understood at all, guided Dave F over to the senior cop sitting in the police car. Dave got inside, and two minutes later got out. We were free to go. Dave won't talk about it. We haven't asked.

The place I'd booked in Nizhiny was in a dingy housing estate, with no sign and a thick locked metal door. No one greeted us, so we unanimously decided to drive into the old town, find wifi and another place to stay.

Nizhiny old town is lovely, with a long pedestrianised street of bars and restaurants leading away from the kremlin (a Russian castle) on the hill. The hostel we found was nearby, and brand new. So new in fact, that everyone staying there was asked to wear blue plastic bags over their shoes to keep the floor clean. This was too weird for us, so we ignored it.

We ate like true backpackers at a delicious local restaurant, ordering "black lard with more lard on top" as a starter that turned out to be something like prosciutto (see the the pics, and read the rather lovely quote about food from the back of the menu). I had a whole banzino fish, and tried the eyeballs for the first time, making Dave turn away out of queasiness. The food was so good, we came back for breakfast the next day, but that is another story.


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