August 1, the afternoon
For the first time on our trip we have no gps. Buying a map of Russia for the Garmin had proved difficult … it was a huge file and expensive and we would only be using such a small portion. We opted out.
Instead we thought we’d go with a paper map, just of St Petersburg. But when we get to Narva we can’t find one. What to do. We devise a cunning plan.
The night before our crossing we punch our destination in to the Garmin anyway, to see what will happen, and get a pink line and a flag. No road detail but we hope it will at least be a guide to whether we are on track.
Then we punch in our destination to google maps on the iPad and get turn by turn instructions, which we write down on a piece of paper. No idea whether we’ll be able to understand the signs but we’ll give this a go. I can read them to Graham when we get to the city.
Except now it’s raining, pouring, and as soon as I pull the paper out of my pocket the ink starts to run.
We take refuge in a fuel station and decide to tuck the paper under the clear plastic of the tank bag. Graham will just have to try to read the directions and negotiate the traffic. And we are already freaked by the Russian roads and drivers.
We leave the border crossing believing if we stay on the main road it will take us all the way to St Petersburg. It’s the E6/M11, a highway.
This road though is no highway. There are potholes and corrugations, diesel spills and piles of grass where farm trucks have spilled their loads.
And while there are nominally two lanes, one each way, no one seems to pay attention.
While we are travelling as fast (or as slow) as safety allows, we have old Russian Ladas and new Audi 4wds overtaking on the left into oncoming traffic, and the right into bus lanes. Just move over a bit and we’ll all fit.
Then, did that sign say turn left for St Petersburg. I don’t know. A few kilometres on, thankfully, there’s another sign. Clearer. Yes, turn left.
As we get to the city outskirts the traffic becomes worse. Taxi buses are stopping in front of us with no warning, cars and trucks form four lanes where there should be two, left-hand, right-hand turns, no indicators, just do it. Push in.
At speed. Tailgating. Aquaplaning. We see the first of four accidents on our way into the city. And all the while it is raining.
Our waterproof gear is failing. We are wet through. Amazingly, our google maps directions work. We take the first exit on to the toll road into the city centre. I have no roubles, but they take Visa, for the equivalent of 60 cents.
We turn left just before the canal, then first right over the canal, we’re almost there.
While we’re stopped at traffic lights and in traffic jams I can stand up and read the directions over Graham’s shoulder.
We lose our bearings momentarily but Graham can use his pink gps line to get us back in the right area.
Is that a bridge in front of us? Yes! We’re on our island! Is it the right island? The chequered flag is showing on our gps now. We’re close.
We stop and ask directions from a friendly uni student. We find the street. But which apartment?
I have a phone number. It’s in the iPad. We are no longer worried about the rain. We are as wet as we can possibly get. But I find shelter under a small awning to protect the iPad. Find the number, dial it on my phone. Rauf answers. He is next door, waves from the balcony. We are here. Relief.
It is almost 6pm. We left our hotel at 10 this morning.
But we are here.