Geographically speaking, ‘Wits-end’ is surprisingly close to ‘Care-free’, but from a position on the ground that proximity is often difficult to see. Beyond observing the interaction between a drunken Russian gentleman and a ‘lady of the evening’ in the restaurant, the Hotel Tourist did nothing to lift our spirits. We were worried that tyre issues would be the end of Poor Circulations journey across Russia and even if not, then the cost of police cooperation would be prove far too much for our meagre budgets to handle. Both of us were mentally exhausted and Alan was suffering from long days on the bikes in the heat of the Russian day. Just when we thought that the low point had been reached, we woke on our first morning in Volgograd to find that the laundry we’d painstakingly washed the previous evening and then hung on the balcony to dry, ….. had blown away and was lost to us forever. This sad loss was then followed by the Hotel Tourist’s ‘complimentary breakfast’, … oh how we laughed. To be fair, .. we did see the funny side of the situation and if we do happen to see a local guy wearing one of Alan’s Nike Tent-Shirts, then imagining the final destination of our ‘Trolley’s’ will no doubt provide more comedy moments to brighten our day.
As promised on our hastily scribbled note of the previous day, we arrived on foot at the temporary bike showroom in the car park of the shopping centre at around 10am. A young man became busy on a mobile phone as we approached and remained so for several minutes. We inspected the collection of bikes with feigned interest and wondered if we had chosen to head for the wrong cross on our map when an aging Honda CB1000 arrived with an English speaking pilot. He explained that they’d received our note and sadly expected that such tyre sizes would not be available in Volgograd, .. and then he too was busy on his own phone.
A Landrover Discovery, incongruous to the area with every available extra including blacked-out security glass screeched to a halt. Slowly a man emerged, .. cropped hair and large frame, .. he announced himself as ‘Roman’ and shook our hands firmly before talking loudly to the others in fast Russian. Within seconds we’re racing through the streets of Volgograd towards destinations unknown with Roman, … a man that we had never before met.
At a motorcycle workshop close to the main railway station we’re invited to use the Internet at Roman’s desk. We have an email from Igor, a man that we’d briefly met in Rostov who is offering to introduce us to his friends in the next city up the Volga. Another email from Chris, another stranger to Poor Circulation. Chris has provided us with a telephone number to use if further police harassment takes place for which we are eternally grateful. But still no news on tyres from Blighty.
Another arrival, Slava, a stocky younger friend of Roman. He drives a black Mitsubishi, cropped hair and more blacked-out windows, …. he has more English than Roman, … they are best friends. Slava’s telephone rings, .. the ringtone is unusual in these parts, …. ‘Hey dickhead, … answer the bloody phone’. Slava laughs and jokes that they are ‘Volgograd Business Men’ and whispers that in Moscow they call Volgograd Businessmen ‘Gangsters’, … but we’re actually not sure which part of the statement is the joke. In this city Roman and Salva know everybody, everybody knows them, …… they live on their mobile telephones, …. we decide that our cross on the map had been in exactly the right place.
We search the Internet for tyres, we’re whisked at speed down side roads to an anonymous building that sells imported Taiwanese scooters and tyres, .. we find perfect tyres but none in sizes that we can make fit our own rims. Back at Roman’s garage,.. people come and go, .. doors are closed and voices are often hushed, …. business is taking place ‘Roman Style’.
It’s lunchtime, we’re taken to another anonymous building behind who’s doors we find a dark yet inviting restaurant, .. Restaurant by day and ‘Gentleman’s Club’ by night. We’re bought lunch by our new best friends. Then, once again back at the garage, we find suitable tyres are available in Moscow. Not a problem, …. Roman has family in Moscow. They will collect the tyres and pay for them, place them on transport to Volgograd. Roman will have them collected from the terminal in Volgograd and fit them to our Tigers on Wednesday. We must find a bank quickly,. Roman must transfer money to Moscow for the tyres, … once again we race off into Volgograd.
With financial arrangements completed we’re then taken for a tour of the city by Slava whilst Roman conducts a little more ‘business’. As evening falls we must eat. We’re taken to a traditional Cossack Restaurant, ‘Trolley Wally’ which is fantastic. Roman and Slava are known there, the staff and customers hush and watched as they enter, …. deference is shown, …. our table is dealt with immediately, … Roman and Slava have ‘Influence’. The food is endless, the vodka flows, a group of suited Russian ‘Businessmen’ rock on their benches as small square glasses clink together in toasts, … a group of traditional Cossack’s entertain us with songs and music. ‘Trolley Wally’, like the lunchtime restaurant is not on any tourist map, … Slava tells us that the Russian’s like to keep the best parts for themselves. Again,.. we’re not allowed to pay.
Slava then pays for a taxi for us to return to our hotel. His father is a police chief in Volgograd, we will have no more problems in Volgograd and we’re assured that the police to the east of Volgograd will be far easier of Poor Circulation wallets. It seems that both Slava and Roman had ‘family’ connections that are important in these parts. Slava and his brother are both Manchester United fans, … ‘Man-U, Man-U’, .. they enjoy watching the games in the local bars amongst the hundreds of Chelsea fans. Slava’s brother is a ‘Spetznez Officer’, …. we promise to send them a pair of MUFC scarves, … ‘Rooney, … Rooney, .. Rooney’. Tomorrow Slava will collect us from our hotel and take us to his boat, … we will sail on the Volga with Vodka and girls. He will give us a mobile phone where calls in Russia will be cheaper, … we can call him if we have further problems with police, … or other less friendly ‘Business Men’ on our travels. Wednesday will be a holiday in Volgograd, …. We’ll have a day of entertainment mapped out for us while Roman’s mechanic fits the new tyres to our bikes.
Twenty Four Hours in Volgograd, a hastily written note and a copy of The Riders Digest and Poor Circulation is back on track, ….. many many thanks to Roman and Slava, to CitySprint for turning many stones in trying to send tyres to us as quickly as possible and to The Riders Digest for opening doors that would otherwise remain closed. Also, a big thank you to all of those who have sent emails and wished us well or offered help in the past few day. Poor Circulation is back on track and heading east, ….. well,… after a few more days in Volgograd of course.