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Road Trip to Sochi written Nov -Dec 17

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Some of you might know that I spend a lot of time in Sochi, Russia and quite like it !

I've frequently toyed with the idea of doing a road trip and now I'm leaving the UK to drive across a few European nations and HOPEFULLY - I'll be allowed into Russia to hand deliver a letter from the Mayor of Cheltenham to the Mayor of Sochi -  I studied and live 20 mins from Cheltenham -  when in the UK and I've been working on a project with Russians on a concept of mine that they have helped me bring to fruition

Michael - one of my colleagues and native of Sochi is taking his life in his hands and driving back with me  - he came to Sochi to bring the pre-production prototype to test and we will give it a good 'trashing' on the way back.

Our journey will end with the handing over of said letter and we will drive to Sochi Autodrom's Formula 1 track - where our journey will finish in the pit-lanes

I'll update here as we cross Europe and you'll be able to track us as we cross France, Belgium, Germany, Poland .....

15th Nov 2017

We left Cheltenham for Sochi

We met with Cheltenham's Mayor and took a letter from her to Sochi admin

Misha ( Mikhail ) is a brilliant programmer and had never left Mother Russia - despite that - he can speak near perfect English and has a vocab that excels most natural English speaker.

Whilst the reason for the trip was to test a piece of kit they made on behalf of myself and a fellow Brit - before putting it into production - we also wanted Misha to see places he'd dreamt of.   

Sadly, Paris was a bit out of the way - but on our drive from Cheltenham to Dover  - having met the Mayor of Cheltenham - we drove through London - and he took in the Houses of Parliament, The Shard, Tower Bridge and much more.

He had seen English villages, Welsh mountains, Manchester and met some Russians settled in the UK
Our device was supposed to prove that our device could roam across EU states and we discovered that when we got to France - that we were 'last seen' in the English Channel :)

So, instead of enjoying the sights - Misha ended up finding out why the sim card failed to roam and we went out to eat late.

Bruges/ Brugge in November isn't a high tourist season and lots of places were closed - plus I was reeling at how weak the  British Pound was - so stuff seemed expensive

We walked past one restaurant and the blonde lady waved us to come in from the cold - it was empty and we nearly felt sorry for her ..

Turned out that she was an adopted orphan of Chernobyl and although her name was Stephanie - it was actually Svetlana - her adopted parents changed it..  The food was great and we were glad we accepted her invitation ....  tomorrow would be 3 countries in a day and a LONG drive to former East Germany



Day Two of the road trip:

Misha - doesn't like getting up early - he is an Owl and I'm a Lark .... I want to drive in daylight - he's been programming half the night - having just of something else very clever that is beyond my tiny brain

We leave Brugge / Bruges and have the usual 'discussion' as to which sat nav prog is correct - Waze v Google Maps and the cars built in Sat nav ... ( as the car is 5 years old - this is the first to be dumped )

As Misha isn't and cannot drive - I am 'forced' to accept his google Map taking us back WEST - when we are supposed to be going East...

Our destination is Magdeburg - in former East Germany - chosen as it hosted the former equiv to Cheltenham's listening centre ( GCHQ) ...The sat nav tells us it is over 420 miles  ( about 6 hours 45 mins)

All was good until we hit the Antwerp Ring Road and 'parked' for 30 mins in a traffic jam..  We hit another traffic jam in the Netherlands - but it allowed us to observe how our devices sim cards - 'let go' of the last nations cell towers and figured out which network to choose in the new one - the tracker and reporting functions take 3- 5 mins to 'swap' ...  So now you know why when you land in a new country's airport- why your mobile ( cell) phone takes a little while to figure out which network to choose..

By now it's 1400 and only 2 hours left of light ...  and Misha wants to stop at Eindhoven - as it's a Programmer's 'Mecca' - some guy I've never heard of - sorry Misha . 

We couldn't drive the car onto campus - so we walked around and found a place that rents rooms for biz meetings and they were just finishing serving lunch - cost 14 Euros for the two of us ... BEWARE - in NL Visa cards are rarely accepted - had to run to the railway stn to draw cash from the Visa !!

By now it was 1500 and not much light left for Misha to see places - so we crossed in Germany after Venlo and looked for signs for Hannover....   It was now Rush hour and it wasn't until after Dortmund - that the traffic jams ( Staus?) were behind us and the trusty turbo diesel was allowed a quick burst on an unlimited speed section - we saw an indicated 120MPH - and that was quite enough for me and settled down to 80MPH ( 130 Km/h)

We zoomed past Hannover and started seeing signs for Berlin and finally Magdeburg...I had stayed there in 2000 - my car had broken down on the autobahn and I had Euro breakdown cover - and found it depressing - but in the light of street lamps I hardly recognised the place - such was the construction development ..

Our hotel was on the south side of town and we arrived at 2240 - having stopped at Herford at a Turkish Restaurant - and filled up for the fist time since leaving Cheltenham - we had done 650 miles on the tank and still had over 80 left...  The car was proving incredibly economical at prolonged high speed - interspersed with traffic jams.

I was dead - and Misha went for a walk around the village - amazed that everyone seemed to be in bed ))

Tomorrow would be an 'easy' day at the wheel - a spin around Berlin - v.interesting for Russians - and onto the hotel - bordering with Poland

It was HARD to wake up - and we made breakfast - JUST before the 10AM deadline!

In my rush to get back, have a shower and get us on the road, I left my 'man bag' on the chair adjacent to where I sat and one of the workers knocked on my door - returning it - before I realised I had 'forgotten' it...

She looked Slavic and I just said "Bolshoi spasibo", instead of "Vielen Dank" and the lady broke into a smile and said - in Russian - "I THOUGHT that you were Russian - or spoke it".....    All my money, passport stuff, driving licence and much more was in that bag - so she saved my bacon.

We checked out and I asked the owner to pass on my thanks - again and we set off - eastwards - to Berlin - crossing the mighty Elbe - that was winding it's way to Hamburg and the North (?) Sea.

After yesterdays - full tilt autobahn session - I wanted to break myself in gently.  This was just as well as I had been having no calls on my mobile ( cell ) phone - yet the data worked(?!) and someone from the Director's office called - as it was now clear that I was 'barred' - yet my bill was up to date..  We stopped by a roadside - made some more tests - so he could hear the messages - using another mobile and agreed a hearty compensation package.

My office - at home - has a IP phone system - so that calls are forwarded - at no charge- to my mobile phone which has a UK, Russian and US landline tel number - so the extra data and financial compo was a bonus and allowed for more IP calls.

We picked up the autobahn and headed off for Potsdam - south of Berlin and the plan was to park the car and visit the Reichstag ( Their Parliament Building ) that's fall was / is so key to many FSU folk - who family suffered in 'the Great Patriot War' ( WWII)

We entered via the old Checkpoint Bravo (

Potsdam was beautiful, but we needed to find a toilet and settled on a new shopping centre - cost 0.30 Euro Cents -but was worth it. I also bought a USBcable for an old Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Tablet - the fitting to the tablet is weird - and we put iti nto action as our SatNav screen - I had atttached a metal shhet to the cover and a mag mounted fitting to the windscreen - now we could BOTH see where we were going - more later )

I spotted a tyre ( tire) specialist and asked how much winter tyres were for my car ( 640 Euro !!!) - This just made me more determined to push on

We drove into the centre and found it was nigh on empty - and we parked within 200m of the Reichstag - you'd NEVER be able to do THAT in London..

Then we made a HUGE mistake - trying to get out of Berlin on a Friday night - eventually - Misha found a recommended restaurant in the suburbs and BOY was it good

After the meal - we headed off to where I THOUGHT I had booked the hotel - near Frankfurt -am-Oder - not Frankfurt ( am-Main) - on the banks of the river, marking German-Poland border

I had boobed - it was 30Km north of Frankfurt and we would have to go due south - before finding a bridge over the river - but the journey - through old E.German villages was interesting - but as we neared the river - Fog came down.

We found the place - and I was scared that they might not take cards - we had little cash - it being in the middle of nowhere - but didn't have worried . The hotel owner was Swiss- a GREAT cook and he had decent internet - a card machine and I tried a local Schapps - only a little - with a wonderful tart

We woke up to find the fog gone and wonderful views across to Poland. I brought the newly acquired cable into play - got the Samsung tablet up and running and saw we had an hours drive south - before we could head east (( 

We were heading for Warsaw, Poland


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