Joined: 16 Aug 2009
Location: United Kingdom
|Posted: Sun Aug 16, 2009 10:26 pm Post subject: Advice on driving from UK to Russia
|I have just returned from a 7000 mile round trip from London through mainland Europe and up through Sweden and Finland into Russia. I drove from the Vartius border crossing in Finland to Medvezhegorsk, Pudozh, Kargopol and onwards to Arkhangelsk. After 5 days in Arkhangelsk I returned via Vologda and St Petersburg to Helsinki before taking a ferry to Tallinn and driving back to the UK via the Baltics, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and France. Having extensively consulted the advice available on this website I thought, by way of thanks, I would update the blogs on the latest snippets of advice for driving in Russia.
1. Planning - I travelled on a private visa and followed the 'driving in Russia' advice on documents to take. I speak reasonable Russian and consulted some Russian drving websites to familiarise myself with the laws, latest price guide to fines and road signs. The viamichelin website was the best for overall distance planning. I was sent a Russian road atlas by friends in Arkhangelsk which highlighted the locations of petrol stations.
2. Entering Russia. I purposefully chose a very quiet border crossing in northern Finland and, by all accounts, I was the first English registered car they had ever seen. This aroused friendly curiosity rather than any hostile offical hassle. In fact the Border Guards were surprisingly helpful, polite and friendly (I have travelled to Russia 10 times in the past 15 years and was unused to such a trouble-free encounter). My vehicle, a first generation Honda CRV, had to be unpacked at the crossing - I suspect more out of interest from the female border guards who were keen to see what kind of camping equipment I was taking. I was given a 14 day temporary import pass without any problems. Being such a quiet border crossing, I found purchasing insurance more difficult than anticipated. I had to drive to the nearest main town (Kostamuksha) to a garage which dealt with insurance. Since the advent of the Green Card in Russia, the garage was more used to issuing green cards for Russians travelling to Finland that for foreigners entering Russia. After about 45 minutes of protracted form filling and lots of phone calls I received my insurance (similar to OSAGO) for approx 1200 roubles. This was the first time the girl at the desk had sold this type of insurance.
3. Police checks - Most surprising for me was reaching the city limits of Arkhangelsk after approx 1000 miles on Russia roads without being stopped once. At Arkhangelsk I was stopped at the DPS checkpoint and, again, the officials were helpful and polite. I showed by V5C, temporary import pass and passport. This was sufficient. I was subsequently stopped twice whilst driving around Arkhangelsk during a 5 day period. A friendly chat, a reminder to the police that having made it 1000 miles into Russia that my paperwork was inevitably in order meant that I was on my way within 5 mins every time. There was never any moment when I felt a brible was being sought. I always got out of the car to talk to the police (out of politeness I supopose - plus the fact I'm 6 foot 6 which occasionally helps). I was never once asked for insurance or my UK driving license. I always showed my International Driving Permit (5 pounds from any main UK Post Office). In fact I took two IDPs just in case one was confiscated!!
4. Russian Roads - On entering Russia, I was met with approx 50 miles of pristine new road - another big surprise. Then came the shock of the old unrennovated road which was truly shocking. Huge craters rather than potholes required slow zig zagging at approx 20-30mph for many miles. All told, I would say that 60% of the roads I travelled on were actually quite good. 20% left a bumpy ride but not something that would damage the car. the remaining 20% were just awful. It's clear that a lot of money is being invested in the road networks and things will gradually improve. The main M roads were fine. The worst roads are the rural ones between little inhabited regions.
5. Russian driving - I had heard the usual horror stories, backed up by the appalling safety record but actually found most Russians to be very practical on the roads. There was actually very little traffic on the route I took to Arkhangelsk. Most traffic was encountered around St Petersburg. Lorry drivers helpfully indicate right when the way ahead is clear and most drivers thank you if you let them pass. There is also a very helpful tradition of flashing lights at oncoming drivers to warn of an impending DPS check point. Avergage speeds on good roads are 70-90 mph, dropping to about 55 mph on the bumpier roads and down to 0-20mph on the really bad roads.
6. Petrol stations. 95 is available everywhere. 98 less so. Drive to the pump, put the nozzle in the tank, go to the cashier and tell them which pump, fuel type and how much you want. Pay then fill up and leave. Petrol stations are quite frequent (never more than 70 miles apart) and well sign posted (often with a sign telling you how far the next one is). I took a 20L jerry can but never once needed to fill it up.
7. Accommodation and parking. On the way to Arkhangelsk I stayed at 'kemping' site, actually a former pioneer camp as well as a Russian 'homestay' organised by the local tourist bureau. Wild camping is allowed everywhere outside national parks or fenced off land but the mosquitos are a big deterrent. On the way back I camped wild just by a lake off the M8 and paid a yacht club to put my tent up on their grounds on the outskirts of St Petersburg (at least there wasa shower, toilet and bar!).
Feel free to ask me any other questions on travelling by car in Russia. I'd definitely do it all over again and am already thinking about plans for next year.