Alexey Moskvin

Baltic Exchange and beyond

Jakobstad to Oulu

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Another quiet day. But with Oulu Finland comes to life. Buzzing and young, it feels nordic and different. I end up in the middle of the Nallikari seaside resort village where Karoliina welcomes me at the hotel, giving an information pack. Oulu is known for it’s air guitar festival and music bands? Well, I don’t think Liepaja can compete in air guitar but they also grew many famous musicians there. There must be a link – they are just on the other side of the sea.

The day was hot. It seems to get hotter the further north I go. Once I felt the sea getting close as the temperature dropped by about 5 degrees but the sun is doing its job very well up here.

On the way I found out what wooden piers are used for – beating out rugs! Easy answer really and explains why there are rugs and some cleaning stuff always lying around. A woman brings some but didn’t want me to take a photo of her. Fair enough. I didn’t.

Smoked sausages and cheese that mum gave me still bearing well, alongside with cookies and water. Finland is great for sitting around in just your underwear at lunchtime – no one minds. Water is still a bit numbing though, so I didn’t go further than dipping my feet.

Sat nav kept directing me into cycling lanes – I don’t think cyclists want to see me there. Not that I want to see them that close either, so I keep looking for other ways to get out on roads.

I meet Elina Ursin, the journalist, at the hotel at 7pm, we chat a bit about life and projects and I’m thoroughly enjoying her company. Elina’s gift is a pen, silver, with a black tip and Kaleva written on the side – that’s the name of the newspaper. She says it’s just like 20 other pens that she sometimes gives away but I explain that this one is different. To me it is unique, I know that with this pen she was marking something in her diary and the day before she was making notes about the new stadium and the interview with an archeologist when they found some 5000 year old tomb. Elina is amused that Santa will receive the pen.

For the rest of the evening I just wander around the beach. People have to go very far to get to the swimming depth and I’m quite content with my earlier swim at the hotel’s pool, so not very tempted by the water.

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Written by Alexey Moskvin

18 July 2011 at 10:21

Jyväskylä to Jakobstad

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We part at a car park. Now I’m on my own again. As with anything, too much of a good thing is taking its toll. I think I am having a hangover after a monthly overdose of family and friends. In other words, I’m feeling lonely.

The landscape is pretty much unchangeable – the red wooden buildings are scattered in between trees, expands of water in between forests. I wonder whether it’s possible to name all that – the water systems seems to be one and many – everything is interlinked, flows in and out of each other. Just look at the map!

Closer to the sea landscape changes to less ever greenery and more leaves. Lakes have the wooden mini piers for… I don’t actually know if they are for anything else but swimming but they have benches so I have my lunch on one. Interesting how Finns use wood and man made structures looks elemental, close to the nature.
I can hardly see any people. Even in towns and villages streets are empty. Maybe it’s a wrong time of the day or just a massive exodus to some place in southern Spain or some equivalent. Or, one might suggest, there’s just not many people in rural Finland.

An odd device by a river.

Jakobstad greets me with hotness, beautiful sunlight and annoying teenagers on cars and scooters. Everyone who has some half decent two or more wheels seems to think that everyone enjoys hearing their tires scream when going around corners and the sound of exhaust should be used in a national anthem.

I am thinking about the crowd of people doing aerobics outside of the hotel in Jyvaskyla.

I unpack in the hostel and go to explore the town. The park bit at the west part of town looks particularly appealing as it goes out to the sea. I take a wrong turn and end up going through a cemetery, how inappropriate my coffee feels in this place…

Wooden houses and gravel roads. I peek into someone’s window.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

14 July 2011 at 23:20

Take 2: St Petersburg to Jyväskylä

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Leshka picks me up from the flat. It’s so cool to have him near. He was the one to meet me at the border, he is the one to take me through it this time. We’re setting off early in the morning to beat the crowds.

It’s terrific to be on the road again. I’m thrilled by the road lines. Anticipating getting being reunited with the bike. Great. Inspiring. It’s been restarted. I’m awake and my senses are on again. Thank you all who didn’t let me come back on a ferry.

Thank you Richard
Thank you Mark G
Thank you Michael
Thank you Jon
Thank you Edward
Thank you Oded
Thank you Mark D
Thank you Frances
Thank you Olivier
Thank you Stephen
Thank you Susan
Thank you hubs
Thank you Nigel
Thank you Peter
Thank you David
Thank you all who participated and supported me.

It’s funny how the first couple of weeks were dragging along and felt like it would take forever to get to St Petersburg. Now the rest three weeks of the journey feel like nothing. There is nothing that I couldn’t deal with, I am calm and relaxed, even if some of the rebuilding and re-planning isn’t finished due to everyone seems to be on holiday. But at least Lesha is with me and the first night we are staying in a hotel in Jyväskylä.

After a chat, handshakes and paperwork we are setting off from Lappeenranta towards the depths of Finland. The bike handles well, sounds slightly different, probably because of the new exhaust manifold. I am feeling a bit tense but get better as the miles ticking by.

Mixed roads, rocks, evergreen forest and plenty of water. Beautiful but does get samey after a while. One can only be entertained by the colour of the rocks – any possible combinations from gray to bright orange and purple.

Jyväskylä looks like… well, it doesn’t really look like anything. Nice waterfront, railway lines, pedestrian roads, cyclists, over and underpasses (the waterfront seems to be cut off from the center of town by a motorway). We’ve done quite a lot of miles today and just wandering the streets looking for beer, food and wi-fi. And we end up in a pub after all where I have breaded raindeer liver and a pint of Kilkenny. I still wonder why I can find that beer everywhere in the world but not in London. A reason for a journalistic investigation, no less.

A bunch of teenagers stop me on the main street, asking to take a picture of them. Cheeky and shy at the same time, they probably didn’t expect me to seriously respond and line them up in the middle of a street. I leave them my email address to get in touch for pictures. Annalee shakes my hand and Tanya shouts thanks when we part.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

10 July 2011 at 11:24

Launched this… for now.

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Written by Alexey Moskvin

15 June 2011 at 14:29

Posted in Baltic Exchange

St Petersburg to… WTF?

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The sterileness of the trip is shattered, blown apart and the whole thing is swirling up in the air. The only thing one can do is to jump up, collecting pieces and trying to glue them together. The ‘everything according to plan’ is no more. This is the thick of it, this is the Ultimate Riding Experience and not some BMW slogan. Just a couple of minutes ago I was sliding down the road, caught between the truck and my motorbike, yelling out and waiting for the bone to snap. It didn’t, thank you the unhealthily, by Russian standards, smooth tarmac and the Dainese boot that can be added to the list of victims as the second worst.
I unzip the boot, sliding my hand in, expecting to see blood – I can almost feel warmth filling up my right boot. A surprise: fingers are dry, there’s only a smudge. The truck’s driver is coming towards me, walking slowly. I yell ‘What the fuck was that?’. He just glances at me and looks away. I explain to him who he is. ‘What are we supposed to do now?’ ‘Call the police’ and walks away to his truck.
I dial 112. Blah blah for police press 2. No answer. I dial again. No answer, just tones. Is that an emergency number? And this is the emergency, is there anyone alive or is that part of town is already eaten by some postapocalyptic monster?
Dial again. No answer. A police car passes by slowly, I wave at them, they look at me but don’t stop.
Well, ok, I’m not lost in the debris of Finland but just before the ring road on my way out of St Petersburg. There is a great comfort in being able to call ‘Dad, I’ve had an accident, I need help’. ‘Fuck! Are you ok?’ Yeah, I’m fine, leg hurts but I’m ok’. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Industrial’ny, just before the viaduct’ ‘Wait for me there’.

It’s raining and everything is slowly being splattered by dirt – it’s a busy road. Someone’s running towards me, he stopped his red Volkswagen on the opposite side of the road. ‘Do you need help?’ I limp towards him ‘Yes’ ‘Ambulance? Have you called the police?’ ‘I’m fine. No one answers at the emergency number. A police car just passed by but they didn’t stop.’ ‘They never do. Calm down, I’ll sort everything out’. And he does: police, an evacuator. ‘I’m a biker myself, it’s always a good thing to stop for such things. I’ve had my misfortune today too – some bastard crashed my ass’, he points at his smashed car boot, funny I didn’t notice that before. There must be something about today. Someone else stops. ‘Do you need help? I’m a biker too, so I thought I’d stop to ask’ ‘No, I think we’re fine, just waiting for the police now.’ ‘If you have nowhere to take it to, I’ve got some space in my garage’. ‘Thanks! I’m not sure what to do yet’.
They look at my number plate. ‘Where did you come from?’ ‘London, all the way by land’ ‘Wow’ ‘Yeah, 3500 km, just to meet the bloody truck.’

I’m sitting in a mini van taking me to Sortavala – the town in Karelia, where I didn’t manage to get to a week and a half ago. From there I can get to Valaam – the island where in Soviet times disabled people were sent to, away from public eyes. Maybe, now my bruised leg now fits the purpose better than the fully healthy me, I don’t know. Since the rude interruption there’s always a strong feeling that I was left here on purpose and now, each day, I’m trying to figure out what it actually might be. There’s something left to do and I have to catch up – trips, meetings, something ought to point me in the right direction eventually. The girl in the opposite seat is eating sunflower seeds and I’m thinking of Ai Weiwei but the whole thing is so far away now. Pretty, slender, slightly cold features, a small bruise on her right wrist, next to a tangle of silver bracelets. Yellow t-shirt and a purple mobile phone.
‘Hunting by permission only’ posters are flying by ‘Keep fire away from forests, in an emergency call 112’ aha, we know that one. The driver has three orthodox icons glued just above his head and Pet Shop Boys are playing on the radio.

Back on the road a blue green van is pulling over, a guy jumps out ‘What happened?’ ‘He got cleared off the road’ ‘I can take him in’ ‘Thanks, we’ve already called an evacuator’ ‘I’ll call Alekseyich, he’ll help you’. The police comes. Taking photographs, measuring everything ‘What happened?’ ‘The guy decided to stop suddenly and reversed into me.’ I say ‘Wet road, fast traffic on the left so I did emergency braking too, managing to stop just before him. Just as I started to move backwards to clear and move out to the left he reversed into me, destroying the front, flipping the bike on its left side and do you see that white line? That’s where he dragged me backwards from, all the way down. My leg got caught between the bike and his bumper, so I couldn’t get away. I guess, he missed his turn and panicked but instead of going a long way around just decided to stop and reverse…’ ‘Well, you can celebrate today as your second birthday, looks like you were born in a very thick shirt, as they say. A couple of bumps along the way and you would’ve been minced. Your luck the road is so even. Come to…’ he gives me an address ‘we’ll sort it out there.’
But we have to get the bike to Alekseyich first. The evacuator comes and so does my dad. I thank the guys that helped ‘It’s fine’ they say ‘that’s what brotherhood is there for.’

Alekseyich, smiley eyes, trimmed beard and blue fingers from spilt ink shakes my hand and shakes his head: ‘I can put it back on the road if we bypass the smashed immobiliser but to get it back as it was would be too complex. Don’t go to the dealers here – they’ll rip you off and it will take ages with customs and all. It’s only for rich kids. I’d suggest we take it to Finland – BMW there will do a better job and new parts are cheaper and quicker to get in Europe. I can pick you up at 4am tonight’.

We exchange phone numbers and I head for the GIBDD where we wait and wait and wait in the company of other losers. The trucker is there too.
I call Finland to find out where and how to repair the bike. They recommend the one in Lappeenranta and I set up a meeting ‘Ok, we’ll take you in but if parts are coming from Sweden it might take 2-3 days, Germany – 5-7 days.’ ‘Fine but please do it asap, I have to carry on’, I tell them about the trip around the Baltic Sea.

We fill out the papers and then carry on waiting. Everyone’s friendly, we chat a bit. An officer comes out for a cigarette. ‘What’s next?’ I ask. ‘Well, we finish with the paperwork today, then, in about a week, you both would have to come back for questioning before we can do a statement and close the case.’ ‘I don’t have a week. In fact, I don’t have any time, can we do everything today? I have to put the case to the insurers and get out of here, transport the bike to Finland and start repairing it.’ He looks at me. ‘Ok, let’s see what we can do’. He reappears in about 10 minutes and lets me through to a back office.

A guys is sitting at the desk. ‘Hello Lyosha. So, the nearest available time we have is for the 9th of June.’ ‘No way, sorry’ I say ‘I can’t stay in St Petersburg for that long. Can we organise everything today? Both of us are here.’ ‘Sure’ his voice gets quieter ‘How much have you got?’ I get slightly lost for words ‘I don’t know’ ‘So, how much can you pay?’ ‘I’ve no idea – a thousand? Two? I don’t think I’m your first so, how much do you take?’ ‘Ok, I feel for you, you’ve been through a lot today.’ he smiles ‘Two thousand. I need to make a call, put all the stamps and the case is closed, you’ll have the paper for the insurers now’ ‘Fine’ I say and hand folded notes under the desk. Later I find out that the usual price is 3000 roubles.

The rest is a regular case of bureaucracy – the insurers are not the friendliest kind. Not the most generous either, the limit on pay outs is about £2000 but hardly anyone saw even that – the ‘experts’ look for the part prices on the cheapest US websites and labour is valued for next to nothing. The agent comes in a couple of days later to note the damage. He doesn’t know anything about motorbikes, so I just point at the damaged bits and he takes photos.

Phew, at least the next morning we can set off for Lappeenranta where, despite the bank holiday of sorts, Mikko is waiting for us at the workshop.

5am, the sunrise and Alekseyich and I are in the blue green van with the bike wrapped in rags. We talk about all kinds of paranormal stuff that sounds very real when he talks about it. I believe him but there is a lot of googling to do… Plasmoids, ends of the world, extra senses, faiths, evolution, planets, places – everything is arranged in an orderly fashion in a bottomless pot that is Alekseyich’s head.

Apart from being a brilliant technician. And spending two months in Chernobyl, saving the Earth. ‘Did you go there at your own will?’ ‘Who did?’ ‘I thought some people did’ ‘Of course not. Everyone was drafted. They looked at your age, family, social status. And I was an exception – young, with a kid but they didn’t care – they needed numbers…’

Written by Alexey Moskvin

10 June 2011 at 16:03

Liepāja to Jūrmala

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Dragging all this out of my memory is more fun than taking it out in one piece. Use it straight away and you get a brand new, shiny, sterile story… Leave it in there and it will mature, get covered in moss, crack and the cracks will get filled with other memories and influences. Try to untangle that and you’ll have a fuller, rounder memory. The crust of ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ gets softer so one can break through to see what’s inside…

In the morning I collect the bike from the car park. Antoha, the guard talks to me about his life and… well, he had a fight with someone, after which the guy ‘got a little bit dead’, so Antoha spent the last 5 years in jail. But now he’s on the right track again. ‘Let me help you’, he says and wipes the dirt off my number plate and lights, ‘you never know with police’.

Dace’s gift is a light grey rock with a hole in it. She found it on the beach and those are hard to find.

Liepaja reminded me of Rostock. Different to put one’s finger on it but it does have a similar feel to it. Or, maybe, it’s just me being able to connect to it in a different manner than to other places.

The abandoned, falling apart buildings on the sea shore. They were left from the soviet times and the sea was slowly claiming the land back, just as it happened in Kolobrzeg. Gordon Matta-Clark would’ve had an orgasmic fit if he saw those. The boy sitting on one of the pieces, drawing something. He lifted his head when he noticed me but only for a couple of seconds. Staircases, gaps of windows, bricks and concrete, straight lines and curved ones, the sea is digesting it all. It will take a while before everything will turn into a selection of rocks similar to the one that Dace gave me but they are well on the way.

I stop in Ventspills for lunch and walk the streets until I find a bakery. The road after is long and very straight… until it turns into no road at all. Roadworks seem to be taking over most of the way along the coast and I’m slowing down. Sand and gravel. In the evening I noticed that a stone chipped my helmet, right above the visor. I did remember a knock but didn’t think it was that bad.

Kolka is worth all the non-roads. The spit of land, where the waves from the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic sea meet, creating a line and I’m thinking of the Turtle beach in Dalaman, Turkey. Some bricks are piled up on the shore but otherwise it’s only dead trees and gorgeous sand. A small cafe surrounded by pine trees where I managed to get a coffee just before the lady called it a day. Earlier, because of the wind and lack of customers. ‘No wonder’, I say, ‘The road is completely taken apart almost all the way from Ventspills’. Lunch is on the shore, watching a couple of people wandering about… After them there’s no one else around.

When I get to Jurmala, the sun is setting and covering the tall pine trees in orange light.
Anita says that most of famous musicians came from Liepaja – she likes that town too. She has a great sense of colour and interior design. Nearly everything in Anita’s kitchen is pale green and orange. I am offered a massive room on the second floor, it’s in blue tones.

After a lovely dinner of potatoes, pork and sauerkraut I’m off for an hour to wander the streets of Jurmala. Or a street rather – the excitement is the pedestrian street with everything included. It’s totally empty because it’s Monday.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

29 May 2011 at 07:37

Kaliningrad to Liepaja

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‘There’s no hot water on Mondays,’ says Dace, ‘You better take a shower today.’ She has a beautifully done up flat in a 9 story soviet estate, the staircase reminds me of my childhood. The elevator squeaks and shudders as we get to our floor, the light is yellow and dim. I got to Liepaja quite late – rain and the Lithuanian border and the ferry in Klaipeda slowed me down quite a lot.

Tanya’s gift was a ‘The Simpsons’ poster. Vadim is very much into them, socks and all. I gratefully accept and set off for Liepaja after breakfast.

My way goes through Kurshskaya kosa (Curonian Spit), that narrow bit of land that goes between the lagoon and the sea and it’s a natural reserve.

Quiet road. Another rainy and miserable day. The rain isn’t strong but it’s the one that just runs along with you, all the way. Probably, just as annoying as ‘are we there yet?’.

The sea shore is almost as melancholic as the weather, it’s difficult to imagine it with a blue sky and warm sea. I finally find a coffee sign and stop. This is Efa heights, with two viewing platforms overseeing the dunes and the lagoon side of the spit.

This is where Kin-Dza-Dza was filmed, an iconic Soviet movie, we grew up with it.

Dima, Yulya and Sasha at the Efa heights. We have a nice chat about everything. I leave a few coins as souvenirs and Yulya adds me as a friend on Vkontakte, I promise to confirm when I get to wi-fi.

Borders with Lithuania. I have to pay for entering the Lithuanian bit of the Curonian Spit. ‘Why’ I say ‘I’ve just been through a half of it already and didn’t pay there. How much?’ ‘200 roubles’ ‘I’m on a motorbike and I’m not sure how many roubles I’ve got left’ ‘Ok, a hundred’ she smiles and teaches me how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘bye’ in Lithuanian.

I carry on and so does the rain. Eventually, I stop at some petrol station to put some more clothes on because it’s getting pretty unbearable. Some miles down the road the wet misery is taking over again and I give up, deciding to stop anywhere I can to have dinner and get warm. And I am so happy to see a guest house by the road. Birutes Uostas, between Sventoji and Latvian border. A couple of people standing outside, smoking, they look like they are working here. I try Russian ‘Can I get some dinner here?’ ‘Sure, we’ll cook whatever you want for you – meat, fish?’ ‘I don’t know, what can you make?’ ‘Tell you what – we have a beautiful cod, was caught today. The whole fish, we’ll do it for you – go inside’. I walk up a few stairs, Igor, the owner, meets me at the entrance and showing to a table. ‘I’m all wet’ I say, pointing at the water dripping all over their carpets and feeling apologetic. ‘It’s ok, it’s only water’ ‘I think I’ve just spoken to your cook – she recommended cod. I’d love some tea to warm up first too’. So I’m sitting there feeling mellow, sipping tea and waiting for the promised cod. Which looks awesome when it arrives. I leave after about half an hour, shake hands with Igor and apologise again about the wet sofa. He tells me about the area, how special the landscape is and that he was sailing for 27 years before he decided to build his own ship – that guest house.

Border with Latvia is nothing but potholes and an abandoned post. But the road afterwards is ok.
The guy at the car park, his granddaughter is studying in London. He calls his wife trying to find out where but I don’t know the name of the street he tells me.

The empty, almost abandoned city, traffic lights flashing, almost no people or traffic, the sun is almost set. The fog is descending and happens often, says Dace. She is a prominent art savvy and is organising a music event for the end of August. She also tells me about the Latvian version of Glastonbury, for which people flood the town, putting up their tents where ever they can. Locals get amused, especially in the mornings.

From my window I can see the block opposite. Window lights scattered across the building. The halo. The fog.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

26 May 2011 at 00:12