TB to Uzbekistan

Ever the friend maker whilst out and about, my good pal Mat Ireland was at the Bachivsk border from Ukraine into Russia yesterday when he met this driver from Uzbekistan. As Mat has a supply of TB stickers he has been challenged to stick a few on various far flung trucks he meets on his months away in Europe and beyond. This was one of four UZ trucks at the border all on the same job, delivering onions from UZ to Kiev, UA. From Kiev the drivers head back across the border into Russia before making calls to find reloads back to UZ. In broken pigeon English Mat established the trip from loading in UZ to Kiev is 4000km, some trip. As part of the UK international relations team, Mat and brother Nick have been educating the Uzbek drivers on English fine cuisine…..pork scratching and a cup of tea!

Northern Lights by Nick Ireland – Part 2

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We took the direction Gothenburg, and then split off towards Stockholm. The roads were excellent, dual carriageway all the way. The extra bit of pedal left under the right foot really helped when having to push the little DAF past the massive 25m long Swedish outfits, I was in awe of them. Near Linkoping we went past some SAAB planes stuck on plinths by the side of the motorway, presumably to advertise the factory at Trollhatten although it was some miles away. Near Sodertalje we took on fuel, I could see the vast Scania factory on the opposite side of the motorway. It started getting dark about 10pm, but by 1am I was amazed to see light coming from the east, the nights are very short here. We stopped at 02:30 for a coffee in the middle of a forest area, and the light was the kind you would get around 5am in England in summer. I took some pictures of the truck and the flash still went off as it was a bit dull, but nonetheless it was light, this was messing with my head!

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The scenery was spectacular, vast areas of forest with lots of lakes. In many places the roads were dead straight for miles, mostly single track now though, and every now and then we’d drive through a deserted town or village, although it was daylight you had to remind yourself how early it was. We reached Ostersund and parked next to some huge 8-wheeled tour buses that were carrying crew for the festival. Steve checked in with the Blondie production crew, and when we found we couldn’t position the truck for an hour or so, he got me a pass and we went off to the catering building for breakfast. When we sat down it quickly became apparent that we were sitting next to Clem, the Blondie drummer! He was giving somebody a brief history of the band and how they broke up and reformed. After breakfast Steve was able to position his truck next to our production crew’s Beat The Street bus and pull my card out. I said my thank you’s to him, and said goodbye, I was due to fly home the next morning. I got to my gorgeous, plush hotel, had a shower and went to bed, the plan being to grab a few hours before exploring Ostersund, then back to bed again in the evening.

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I got up in the afternoon, and took a wander down to the concert area where I bumped into Steve. He was glad to see me, as he wanted to ask if it was a problem to stay on an extra day. He need to take a 24hr break, and wondered if I would drive the truck over to Oslo, where he would stay for a break and I could fly home from there. I had no problem with it, after all and extra days work, and an extra country to tick off my list! He also said as I had a pass I could go and watch the concert that evening, an extra bonus! I left him to make the arrangements while I took a wander around the town, and the fantastic lake that it sits next to. The town itself was nothing special, except for the fact that with no exception every single woman I saw was drop dead gorgeous, it was surreal! Near the edge of the lake I found a visiting fairground, and their trucks that were parked up were all classic Volvo F12’s and Scania 1 series, my camera was glowing red hot by the time I had finished there!

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I also took a wander out of the town and found a parking area with some 25m combinations in it, a spotter’s paradise.

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In the evening I went down and watched the concert, and was blown away, the band was fantastic. Steve spotted me down the front and called me to come round the back of the stage, and proceeded to take me onto the stage so I could watch it from the side, what a thrill.

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After they had finished, we loaded the truck, and set off for Oslo. Heading for Trondheim it was around 5am as I crossed the Norwegian border. Being the first time I had been here I sailed through, and plodded on regardless. About half an hour later Steve poked his head out from the bunk and asked how we were doing, and how far away from the border were we? I replied ‘very well, crossed the border half an hour ago’. He asked what I had done about getting the carnet stamped? Whoops, didn’t realise we had to! So I had to backtrack, and got back to the deserted border at 6am. The customs office didn’t open until 7am so I snoozed in the seat, still feeling rather silly about my mistake. It didn’t take long to process the papers once they opened, there were only a couple of other trucks waiting with us. Then it was on past Trondheim, Lillehammer and to Oslo, the scenery was breath taking and I wish I could have taken more pictures. We reached the outskirts of the airport and found a place for Steve to park. Once again I said my goodbyes and set off for a stroll to the airport. It was a shame to leave, I would have loved to have seen a bit more of Norway, but I wasn’t needed now, Steve’s schedule was a lot more relaxed from here on in, but it was a trip I will never forget, and although I have been back to Scandinavia lots of times since I will always remember this one as the best, so far….!

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Another excellent account of life of a Rock N Roll truck driver from Nick. I have used a lot of his photo in both parts of this blog, but to see all of his photos from this trip, CLICK HERE.

Northern Lights by Nick Ireland – Part 1

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Back in 2008 I had only done two jobs for Edwin Shirley Trucking, albeit both to Russia, so was pleased to get a call asking if I could do another double manning trip, this time to Sweden. Never having been to Sweden at the time (I have since made up for that many times over!) I jumped at the chance, and was told to be at Excel in London to meet the truck one evening. I duly made my way there on the train, and after a bit of searching found where the truck was parked, and awaited the drivers return. The concert was still on, Blondie no less, and as I waited back stage I enjoyed a couple of the last songs in the set. Loud cheering and applause told me it was all over, and suddenly I was surrounded by the band and accompanying crew members/hangers on! Feeling like a groupie I went and stood at the back of the truck, and after a short time the driver appeared to load his truck. I introduced myself to Steve, stuck my digi card in then watched the loading take place, not really enough room in the little 7.5 tonner for any more helpers! When loaded we didn’t waste much time in hitting the A2 with Steve at the wheel and headed for Dover. The passenger seat in the DAF wasn’t the most comfortable I have experienced, so I was quite looking forward to getting behind the wheel! After a quick stop for supplies in Ashford we reached Dover, and were loaded pretty quickly onto a boat to Calais. I quizzed Steve over dinner/breakfast about the tour he was on, and it seemed a nice little number. One 7.5 tonner to load only, one tour bus, nice quick loading and unloading, and he had got to know the band and crew very well. When we landed in France it was my turn to take the wheel. The truck was so easy to drive, almost too easy, and I had to keep reminding myself I was in a truck, not a car. Steve warned me to watch my speed as for some reason the limiter wasn’t working, he mumbled something about it being a new truck and they had not had time to get it set properly, which I gladly accepted as an excuse, vowed to keep it around the 60mph mark but was grateful of a little extra in case I needed it to get me out of trouble. The run up into Belgium was as usual uneventful, and Steve plumped for heading through Breda and into Germany through northern Holland. We had a good run, and made good time, stopping briefly for fuel in Holland. In Germany we hit a bit of ‘rush hour’ traffic, but were soon around Hamburg and heading for the ferry at Puttgarden.

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We topped up with fuel before crossing the Baltic Sea on an impressive bridge and soon arrived in Puttgarden. Booking on the ferry we parked in the ranks and awaited the ferry which arrived rather promptly. As we pulled onto the ferry we were joined alongside by a passenger train, quite a shock! As Steve did a bit of shopping on the boat I watched the quayside disappear then joined him in the shop. We spent so much time choosing our wine we were soon nearing Rodby, the 45 minute crossing flew by, and we hadn’t even had any dinner! Steve piloted us off the boat and into Denmark, giving me a chance to take some photos of my first visit there. I found it a pleasant and green place, and was able to quickly indulge in a spot of Scandinavian truck spotting as plenty of Danish trucks were making their way down to the ferry in the fading evening sunshine.

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A pleasant drive in light traffic soon saw us approaching Copenhagen where we were to stop for the night. I had a budget hotel booked while Steve was sleeping in the spacious high roof cab. The hotel was near the airport, which is right next to the Malmo bridge leading to Sweden, but in the morning we were to head off around the other side of Copenhagen and take the ferry instead. I didn’t sleep particularly well, the hotel was basic and the room tiny. Steve used my room’s shower while I stood at the busy junction nearby and did my sad truck spotting bit! (not sad – TB).

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Then after a cuppa we headed off in the direction of Helsingor. Standing on the quay soaking up the sunshine while Steve booked us in I was surprised to see Sweden across the bay so close. Steve said it was only a 15 minute crossing but after a tiny breakfast in the hotel we were determined to get something to eat on the boat. After a short wait while the boat disgorged it’s cargo of mostly cars we boarded, and rapidly found our way to the tiny driver’s restaurant. I think the chef was surprised to get two orders for hot food, but he had them in front of us after around 10 minutes, which just left us enough time to bolt the meal down and get downstairs in time for disembarking. No sooner had we turned the ignition key we were waved forward, hounded off by an impatient Actros driver behind, and we rolled off into bright sunlight and the town of Helsinborg. So here I was, in Sweden for the first time.

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A New/Different Russia? – Part 2 by Nick Ireland

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In the morning we were pleasantly surprised that the trucks had been perfectly safe, and the lads had had a good night’s sleep. We left at 07:45, and after some terrible roads past countless mines arrived at the Russian border at border at 9am and got our best news so far no queue! There were two trucks waiting to go in, and only half a dozen on the exit side, very quiet. Our fixer was there and guided us through the formalities. We were ushered into the customs compound and sat looking into no mans land for 3hrs. In between the borders we could see around 40 trucks, on both sides, and hoped we wouldn’t have to sit in there too. We settled down to read, chat, and make coffee and Pot Noodles.

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On a couple of occasions we were entertained by the soldiers rush into the adjacent fields, guns brandished. Both times the overweight guards came panting back empty-handed, either the quarry had escaped or they were false alarms. A solitary soldier guarded the exit barrier, and had a semi automatic rifle, and a Stinger to go with his flimsy barrier. At one point he received a radio call, and rushed off to his hut to change his blue woolly hat for his official uniform furry hat, which was obviously not as comfortable. Maybe an officer was coming, but after an hour he sneakily donned his woolly one again, and seemed happier. I asked if there was a toilet available, and when I indicated it was only for a pee he pointed at the fence by the truck, he wouldn’t let me use his Portaloo. A soldier was busy ‘sweeping’ dirt around with an old-fashioned ‘witches broom’ in a futile attempt to keep the crossing clear of dust! Once through we drove directly to the Russian border, our fixer tagging along, and we had to go through the same rigmarole again. Entertainment was provided by two Serbian trucks with tilt trailers, who had been refused entry as their loads had shifted on the terribly paved roads and were bulging out of the tilts. One backed up at a 90 degree angle to the others trailer, and proceeded to reverse into the other, trying to ram the load back into place! Amazing to watch, imagine this happening at Dover? After 5 hours we were cleared to exit.

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We had been told we would have an escort car in Russia, but nobody was waiting for us, so Bryan and Rich decided to go on our own, again I was apprehensive. After 2km we were stopped at a police checkpoint, here we go I thought, I knew we should be escorted. The policeman asked if we were English.  After Bryan replied ‘Yes’ he spouted off English words, smiling. ‘Churchill, Bentley, you have Bentley?’ He clearly didn’t understand ATA carnets so he waved us off with a smile. Once we were clear of the first few villages and onto the motorway the roads very good, mostly dual carriageway and in good condition, amazing really. We made good progress, keeping pace with the more modern European trucks while avoiding coughing, struggling Kamaz and Maz belching out black smoke.  Every now and then we would pull into lane one and let a flying Kenworth or Freightliner whizz past, and we commented it would have been a whole lot slower had we been escorted.

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After some time we skirted Rostov-on-Don which looked very modern with brightly lit streets and buildings, and very Western brand names such as McDonalds and Ikea. Once past Rostov our progress was slowed a little due to new motorways under construction but a reasonable pace was maintained. When we were around half an hour from Krasnodar we were pulled over at a police checkpoint. As we were driving Kevin and I were asked to take our documents over to the police hut, we suspected we were about to be relieved of some money for a fictitious traffic offence. The policeman noted down in a large log our vehicle and personal details and our destination. We had driven over a weighbridge as we entered the checkpoint and this was noted in the book too. He then tried to enter the information into an archaic looking computer, but when it refused to work he gave up. He tried to understand the ATA Carnet, scratched his head and gave up. Then in very broken English he asked if we had any souvenirs, T-shirt, hats? When we said no he wondered if we had any English or American money we could give him, but as we had none on us and couldn’t be bothered to go and find some in the trucks, said no, to which he seemed very disappointed. He then proceeded to fetch some plain paper, and drew us directions to the venue in Krasnodar which was a real help. He then shook hands with us and bade us farewell. We were most surprised at how friendly he was, as was Brian when I related the tale once back in the cab. We followed his directions which were very accurate and were shortly parked up at the impressive looking new arena in the very north of the town. After a celebratory beer we ordered a taxi to our hotel and left Brian and Rich to carry on celebrating!

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We had 3 days in Krasnodar meaning we all got a 45 hour break. The time was spent exploring the city, which to be honest didn’t take very long. It’s not at all pretty, and not a lot to see at all. We did get a taxi to the reputedly largest shopping centre in Russia that was on the outskirts of the city and spent a day there. I managed to buy a proper Russian fur hat that was well needed, as although it was sunny it was still very cold. When we got to the trucks on the night of the show we found we had to travel to Rostov-on-Dom on the crew coach, as the local promoter wanted to travel with the trucks to guide them into the venue. On the way out of the city we overtook the trucks which had been pulled into the same police check that had collared us on the way down! The journey to Rostov took 4 hours, and we were dropped at the crew hotel in the very early hours. We had to get a taxi to our hotel, and spent a good couple of hours trying to persuade the receptionist we were booked in. However, due to an oversight we were too early, i.e. before midday and she was reluctant to let us into our rooms as we had to pay for an extra day, and although we assured her when people woke later in the day in England we could arrange it she still did not want to do it. The situation wasn’t helped by her drunk brother who arrived driving a car and immediately wanted to be our best friend and ply us with drink. In the end we had to leave a deposit of our own money just so we could get to bed as we had to drive that night.

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We returned to the trucks at 10pm, and by 11pm we were ready to leave. Most of the load had to go to Moscow airport to be flown elsewhere, and the remainder had to go back to Switzerland and a few pieces to Sheffield.  Brian loaded all the stuff for the airport, and after we were unloaded we were to take the Switzerland gear from Rich, leaving him with just Sheffield to tip. We decided we would transfer the remaining gear after Moscow so that we would have some goods on each truck going through the border into Latvia so as not to confuse the customs men, and it would also give us a little weight at the front of the trucks for traction should the snow come down.  It was still freezing cold and it was now raining. We weaved our way out of the city to the motorway, 2 lane of course, and passed countless prostitutes with umbrellas and wellington boots.

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An hour from the city we found a DKV garage and filled our tanks, which was a slow process as they only had one pump. While we were filling we swapped the digi cards over. Shortly after leaving we came across a horrendous crash involving two trucks, one of them had the cab ripped off the chassis mounts. We had seen the police on the opposite side of the motorway rushing to it so we went around it and continued, this was the first of many crashes we would see throughout the night, the Russians don’t do night driving very well. The roads were reasonable enough, still all dual carriageway except for several very long stretches of single track through road works where they were updating the motorway.  In places there was snow on the ground but we had been lucky so far. I jumped in the bunk for a snooze and when I woke Bryan tells me I missed a large section of new motorway, no wonder I slept so well, and it’s now -7 degrees C. I take over for a drive and there are the aftermath of several accidents on the road, one car rolled over and lots more in collisions, driving at night is risky here. On the outskirts of Moscow we came across a new paege, we’ve never seen a paege before in Russia, and quite clearly neither had many of the locals judging by the queues and confusion that was being caused. We had to place 120RR in a tray which was slid back in and out again with our receipt on it. We arrived at a garage near Moscow airport in the early afternoon and phoned our contact Andre to tell him we had arrived at the arranged meeting point. Although we were due to unload the following morning we were told today would be ok. Andre turned up about an hour later in his car and we followed him to the cargo terminal at the airport. Now I have done air freight work in England, and it’s a big pain due to security, and id badges etc. However, we drove up to the barrier, Andre said something to the guards and we were waved through! We found the shed that served as the cargo terminal and backed up to a door. Within a few minutes the airport handlers arrived and helped us roll the flight cases out of the trailer via our own ramp. We were tipped and ready to go within an hour, no fuss, no security checks on us, no bother, and a bonus was it had warmed up to +4 degrees C for the unload.

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On the way into the airport area we had spotted a garage the trucks could park at for the night, so we headed for that, and when we met Rich we backed up to his back doors. Unfortunately the padlock on Rich’s truck was frozen solid, so Rich sprayed some WD40 onto the lock and set light to it, and after a few seconds had to beat the flames out with a rag! Not to be tried at home folks, but it worked! We had been told that if we wanted a fixers help at the border going home, we would have to be escorted between Moscow and the border as so far we hadn’t used the escort services the company provides, so they had lost a lot of money. Reluctantly we agreed, and our escort car arrived that evening, even though we weren’t going for 9 hours yet, he was going to sleep in his jeep! He was one of the regular escort drivers we have and is very good, and he said he would give Kevin and I a lift to the airport hotel and collect us again at 4am to return us to the trucks. As we left in his jeep, using one of the ramps Brian and Rich transferred the Swiss cargo onto Brian’s truck before getting some sleep.

A New/Different Russia? – Part 1 by Nick Ireland

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In my job as a double driver, tour trucking speak for double manning, I am not a full-time tour driver, I prefer to be a double driver as I get to stay in hotels rather than the cab (those who read my previous blog know I also do this for Formula 1) my least favourite destination in Russia. Next is any former Eastern Bloc country, particularly Bulgaria and Romania, so I surprised myself by  getting talked into taking on a job to Russia that would travel overland from England, and back again. A good friend of mine persuaded me to take on a job that involved double driving two trucks from Transam Trucking’s yard (Suffolk, GB) to Kazan and Somara. I agreed to the job, and in the space of two weeks the job changed to Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, and my friend dropped out! However, I had committed, it was around three weeks work just before Christmas, and another good friend of mine took his place double driving the other truck, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!

On Weds, 14th November I arrived at the yard around midday and we loaded up the trucks with our personal gear, collected permits, topped up with AdBlue, checked the wheel nuts and left around 1pm. We were shipping out empty to Switzerland where we would load for the gigs, then return the gear afterwards-maybe?! There was talk some of the gear would be dropped off on the way back at Moscow to be flown to further gigs, even though Moscow really wasn’t on the way back! The journey down to Dover was uneventful save a queue to get over the Dartford bridge at 3pm-why? Dover was very busy, we arrived around 17:00 weighed in at just over 17000kg and were booked on the 18:35 P&O boat to Calais. We presumed it was so busy due to industrial action in certain European countries, and possibly the tunnel was affected because of this.  After a nice meal on the Spirit of Britain I changed some spending money into Euros (I had already changed up a float into Roubles and Ukrainian ‘dingbats’-most currency other than Sterling and Euro is known as ‘dingbats’- for our hotels on route) and spent the rest of the crossing swapping tales and planning the route we were to take. Once off the boat it was my turn to do a stint, my driver Bryan having driven from the yard. Bryan hit the bunk and I soon found myself driving in thick fog which cleared just after Bethune. I tired after 2.5hrs of driving and was on the verge of waking Bryan when we came across a peage near Reims which woke me up! I then managed to complete 4hrs 20mins before pulling into a rest area to change over, and immediately jumped into the bed. After a quick read I managed a good  3.5 hrs plus sleep and was rudely awoken by Bryan! Looking out of the window I realised we were in Germany, Bryan routing via Strasbourg and cutting across into Germany near Mullhouse, and it was a very unsociable 3 degrees outside. I only had 35kms to go to Aesch, near Basel and we took Weil-am-Rhein route as it’s normally quieter than the St.Louis border into Basel, so we were surprised to find big queue about a mile from the border. We queued in the second lane for transit and empty trucks, and waited, and waited!

Nearer the border we had to slalom around trucks whose drivers had gone to sleep, amazingly in the other lane two trucks had their curtains pulled, the long queue behind them oblivious they had given up and were parked! 500m away from the border our other truck went sailing down the outside to try to cut in at the front, and he managed it so we later found out. Bryan warned me that he has often seen a policeman standing at the front of the queue directing anyone who has done this down a slip road that leads off to the airport and the St.Louis border with no way of rejoining the queue, so we didn’t risk it. It took 3hrs to reach the border customs area, and the reason for the chaos became clear, they were rebuilding all the parking area and access and parking was restricted. It took us five minutes to buy our Swiss road tax and we were through! In 20 minutes we reached our load point at Aesch, I walked the 10 minutes to my hotel, in a barmy 4 degrees! I was dog tired, but not too tired to make a few notes for the blog! (Top Blogger – BS)

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On Friday morning we walked from our hotel to meet the trucks at 11am, giving us a 24hrs break. It was a beautiful sunny day and was eight degrees centigrade. However we find Bryan and Richard ready to leave but still waiting for the ATA carnets to arrive. We finally get them and leave at 12:30, and are back at the Swiss border in 20 minutes. The building work was taking place on this side too, and we had to wait a while to park. The carnets took 1 hour to open at customs, and we were in Germany again heading north towards Berlin and Dresden. The temperature dropped to freezing once the sun went down but traffic was reasonably light and we made good progress, stopping near Cheminitz to change drivers. I was straight into the bunk and slept solidly until I was woken somewhere north of Wroclaw, Poland. It was freezing, and when I first looked out I thought it had snowed as it was completely white.  Polish roads are damn awful, tramlined and single carriageway mostly. They are busy bypassing towns with new stretches of dual carriageway, so we were forever diverted on and off the A8. I missed the turning onto a new section of by pass and ended up running down the old national road, which wouldn’t have been a problem until I took another wrong turn and ended up on a country lane. It took a while to find a road to reverse into and turn round, and when I rejoined the correct road I realised we were now behind Richard and Kevin’s truck which we had been well ahead of. Running behind the truck, Kevin then took a wrong turning thanks to the Sat Nav and we did a long diversion that cost us about an hour. However it worked in our favour in a way as just before our time was due to run out we came across a good hotel with truck parking so dived in there for an 11 hour break.  It was 07:30 by then and was really cold, the hat and gloves came out! Once checked in we had breakfast and a beer (it was our evening, remember!) and as I was shattered jumped into bed.

Sat evening, and we left at 18:30, and not half hour into journey just after Bryan mentioned there may be drunks around as its Saturday night, we round a right hand bend and an oncoming car crosses the centre line and heads for us. Bryan quickly flicked the steering wheel and the car missed the rear of the trailer by millimetres.  We came across a matrix sign for the Polish/Ukrainian border that said 25 trucks- 3hrs. We were hoping this was accurate as that’s a very good crossing time for that border. However, not long after we came across the back of the queue, which was around 6-8km long, more like 300 trucks!

Around 2km from the border at midnight we pulled into a garage to meet our fixer. He would help process our paperwork, theoretically speeding our crossing. We filled our AdBlue tanks from containers we were carrying in the trailers, as we needed to seal the trailers for transiting Ukraine. We then followed his car jumping the queue, but had to keep stopping to let oncoming trucks through, 20 minutes later we arrived at the frontier at 00:20. By 07:00 we were cleared and entered Ukraine. We had been told we were not receiving an escort car for Ukraine, which was unusual, and I must admit worried me as every time previously we have had one, and tales were abound about corrupt police and bandits. However, Rich and Bryan are very experienced at these countries and were quite happy we didn’t have one as we could do our own thing. Within 10kms of border we were stopped for speeding on a dual carriageway section. As Kevin was driving Richard’s truck in front I drove on and stopped around 1km up the road on the hard shoulder, after all I hadn’t been waved in! I could see lots of arm waving going on in my mirrors, and 15 minutes later when Kevin got moving again, he told me that they wanted to fine him for me speeding as well. He refused and told them to walk up and fetch me back, which they were not willing to do. He was fined 60Euro, turns out we missed a speed limit sign on the dual carriageway that slows you for the checkpoint area.

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The roads were not bad to Kiev, a little potholed in places and rutted, but bearable. We headed for Kiev and drove right through the centre, not sure if we should have, but we didn’t get stopped! Not far from the airport, right in the middle of a 7.5t limit, we found a hotel with lay by parking nearby. Kevin and I checked in, and Bryan and Rich settled down in the cabs.

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At 09:00 we departed Kiev. Amazingly the roads south of Kiev were very good, and mostly dual carriageway, similar to France. We deduced as they were new looking that they had been completed for the recent Euro football championships. The weather was dull but temperatures were above freezing.  Later when it got dark it became hard to see the local Kamaz doing 25mph, with no lights on! This delayed us in the single carriageway sections.  As we got closer to the Russian border the roads became awful, and our speed decreased dramatically.

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We stopped for the night 66km from the border at a motel/brothel. Well we reasoned it was a brothel, there were a group of young ladies naked in the jacuzzi, and men would turn up and escort these ladies elsewhere in the complex, and return them a little later! Added to that, it was in the middle of nowhere with nothing else around for miles.

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Kevin and I left all our valuables in the trucks, locked away, and braved the motel. The rooms were bizarre, huge with velour curtains and leopard skin bed covers. There was no food available but we managed to get some biscuits from a vending machine and some very cheap bottles of beer from the fridge by the Jacuzzi. With broken English/German/French we had a ‘chat’ with the friendly receptionist, broken only each time a couple wanted access to the Jacuzzi. She would switch it on for them, take a bottle of drink in and start the romantic music on the cd player. She was genuinely curious about where we were going, and why! We learnt that she spoke Russian as this part of Ukraine still did being so close to the border, and being occupied for so long. She was most intrigued by Kevin’s tobacco pouch, she had never seen a rolled cigarette before, and gratefully accepted one, only to have a coughing fit, Golden Virginia not agreeing with her! We retired to our boudoirs and spent the first few hours in bed awaiting a knock on the door from a young lady, which luckily (?) never came!

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