My friend Milizia

Monday morning in Velike Luki was the first one to greet us with sunshine. Dark clouds still covered most of the sky but that didn’t bother us. During the last few days I had noticed odd cruching sound coming from my Ural’s engine. The previous day I had topped up the oil but that didn’t help. This morning, after a bit of investigation, it seemed to come from the alternator. Feeling relieved we started our 250 km ride for Pskov.

In Pustoshka, some 70 km from Velike Luki, we stopped for a moment. I left to the post office while Bergie stayed with the bikes. When I came back there was a crowd of boys of 5 years to men of 60 years around of our bikes bombing Bergie with questions. Initially there had came only some young boys looking at the bikes, shortly after them some older boys who even dared to open conversation and encouraged by them the older men.

The questions were typical: “Where are you from? Is that an Ural? How many cylinders does that have? How fast does it go? 200, really? Is that really an Ural? How much does that cost?”

We continued our ride, but it didn’t take more than a few kilometers when we were stopped by the milizia. This time it wasn’t one of these usual checkpoints and we knew we were speeding. We didn’t quite understand what was the speed limit - possibly 50 km/h - but we were shown we had been riding at 81 km/h. The officer, with a smile on his face, tried to explain us the situation but we didn’t understand a word. Almost laughing he kept asking us what should they do with us now. He also said something about fee, but when I asked how much would that be, he seemed to ask us back how much would it be. After repeating ‘Ja ni ponimaju’ (I don’t understand), still smiling, he said ‘ladna’ (okay then) and gestured us to ride on. I doubt their attitude would have been the same had we been on a car.

During the next 100 km we were stopped for two more times - these luckily on the normal checkpoints. The procedure was the same as on the first time - a few guys - one of them holding a machine gun, the others only pistols - walked to our bikes and started asking questions. First a few more ‘official’ questions like where are we coming from and were are we going to, and then questions like how fast does it go, how many cylinders, is that really an Ural, What does this button do, what oes that button do and so on. Eventually, after satisfying their curiosity, we rode on.

Pskov was a city celebrating its 1100th birthday some time this year. We checked in to a hotel, and had a walk in the city. The walls surroungind the center were old and imposing, but other that that and the usual Lenin statue, there wasn’t much to see. We had dinner in a restaurant built to an old guard tower and enjoyed documentary about tanks.

The sun was still shining when we walked walked back to the hotel. The next day we would be again safely in west - Estonia that is. Before that we would pass some time by watching Russian TV and consuming beer.