Monday, August 18, 2008

the mini renaissance

The mini is back in action! It did require an incredibly frustrating week in Paris, but I now have documents where the VIN number actually matches the one in the car. And of course, when I tried to enter Ukraine again, with these proper documents, nobody even bothered to look at the VIN number, they just talked about what a legend the car was... Oh well, at least I know, I have corrected documents.

So, after finally receiving the paperwork from Rover confirming my VIN number, I had to go back to La Prefecture in Paris. Got to talk to the two exact same people that I'd spoken with the first time, and they were actually rather helpful this time... I tend to think that they were just overwhelmed that this American, who barely speaks French, had actually been able to produce documents (in French) that are official enough to get La Prefecture to admit a mistake and correct a document they had issued! They must've been flabbergasted because the new doucments were even free.

From Paris, it was back to Bratislava, where the car was waiting for me. I was soon to find out that I was actually paying 15 Euro a day for the privelege of parking there - I suppse for that sort money, they can afford to ensure security. Being rather ticked off by this new, unexpectedly large expense, I drove straight to Poland (still broken headlights and all), heading for Krakow (stopped to sleep about an hour outside of Krakow).

Krakow is beautiful - on my first day there, I was really enjoying the city. The sentiment would change by the second day, but more on that below, for now, a few shots of Krakow:

The old square and the Cathedral in the middle of Krakow.

That's me in front of the royal palace, you just can't tell very well

The mini in front of the cathedral

The next morning, as I'd mentioned, I suddenly developed a distinct distaste for the nation of Poland as I discovered that the car had been broken into right outside my hostel overnight. I didn't have any valuables in there obviously, and I really do want to know what idiot fuckng Polak looked at my dirty, rusty, beat-up mini and went "well, that car's just gotta be filled with valuables!" So instead of valuables, they got useful things: my tent, both crappy car stereos, the radar detector that I wasn's using, my compass!, both of my inverters (that have only American plug outlets...), two books that were in there (in English, of course...), and various other junk. Ironically enough, the four most valuable things in the car were:
- brand new copy of Windows Vista Ultimate ($400+ retail value)
- ~$150 in Russian rubles. Some Uzbek currency too, but that's obviously worthless
- my sleeping bag (~$120) actually cost more than the tent
- the uber toolkit from the last rally. But that was in the trunk, which they fortunately didn't get to.

None of these things were taken... Thanks for that, I suppose... They also actually broke my driver's side door lock, so the following afternoon, I got to spend a couple of hours learning just how it works, while putting it back together. Along the way, I also learned that August 15th is Assumption Day, a national holiday in Poland, so all mechanics were closed (thus I got to learn how to fix the lock myself).

Well, on that not so happy note,I figured it was time to go to a new country - Ukraine in this case. As mentioned above, the border crossing was trivial this time, and after a few hours on the Ukranian roads (which vary wildly in quality), I was in Kiev:

The amounts of attention, and almost adulation that the mini is attracting now that I am in Ukraine, where people have literally never seen a car like this on the road before is amazing (and somewhat refreshing after the rather negative experiences in Paris and Krakow. Also an interesting change of pace from the general indifference the Lada attracted last time). Literally, every time I park somewhere, I am now coming back to people taking pictures of the car on their cell phones... At least finding someone to ask for directions is never a problem.

Just past the Poland/Ukraine border: a group of bikers from the two countries were just as interested in getting some pictures taken with the mini, as I was with the bikes.

Yesterday afternoon, after going to the Kiev auto-market to pick up a few more things I needed (including replacing some stolen bits), I headed down to Odesa (on a surprisingly good 500km stretch of road), where I am now, taking full advantage of the free wi-fi my hotel is providing. Internet, however, is becoming a bit of a scarce commodity, as perhaps suggested by this sign in Kiev:

In Russian: 'the internet is not here, and where it is, noone knows!' This is inside of a place that claimed to be an internet cafe... cute...

So, we'll see how often we'll be getting to email/blog as we get deeper into Central Asia. Lott, by the way, is currently climbing Mt. Elbrus in the Caucuses, where I am heading (slowly) to pick him up. From there, we'll head into Central Asia, trying to get to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, time permitting, before meeting up with Theo, Tina, and, I presume, Cyrus near the Russia/Mongolia border.

Two points of interest, I've started an album on facebook for Mongol Rally pictures: Also, you may have noticed the blog now has the Mongol Rally map at the top and the SMS messages on the side - unfortunately these aren't live... You still have to go to get the live version (The Mongol Rally people have improved the interface by the way - you can see all the messages in the list once more!), which we will try to keep as updated as the cell phone coverage on our way will allow...

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