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Around Moscow

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Topic about carvaning in Russia.

Caravanning Russia: A Primer

So far, one of the most popular traveling activity in Russia is hotel-hopping: people drive to their destination by spending nights inbetween at hotels or motels. One obstacle is inevitable here: the unpredictable price policy and quality of Russia's hospitality industry.
Travelers may find a place with dank dark rooms at a low-to-medium price; or a three-star hotel for the price of a five-star place. Besides, few provincial hotels boast English-speaking personnel, so the language gap can cause trouble for foreign nomads.

The solution is obvious for anybody familiar with the European and American travel industry. Caravans and campers can provide a home sweet home just about anywhere, even amidst the harsh Russian steppes. You just need to learn some simple rules about how to use these vehicles here - for this country does have some peculiarities as far as using motor-homes is concerned.

Handling the LifeStyle

In Russia, it is relatively easy to rent a caravan or camper. However, few are seen on the roads or even in the parking lots. Why is that, you may ask? Well, there are actually three reasons: first, caravans, like other items here, do not come cheap, to say nothing of camper cars and trucks. Second, caravans need to be placed in storage for about half the year; that means it is necessary to pay for an extra guarded parking place - and don't forget about mandatory payments, technical monitoring, etc. Third, traveling with campers and caravans requires special skills and careful planning, since some Russian roads can still be considered dangerous. Below, we will consider these three hurdles so that you too can start caravanning Russian roads.

In Moscow, caravans and campers can be purchased in only a handful of places - one can choose between new Hymers, used imports of all kinds, and the Kupava, made in Belarus. New brand-name caravans carry price tags that start at 13880 - yes, unfortuna­tely the prices for these goods are marked in Euros. This price can also buy a new twin-bed caravan; bigger models cost over 18k. Used ones are of course much cheaper: it is possible to find a caravan for two for 6000. For this money you
get a clean but rather old model. Nevertheless, the difference will probably be slight, but there will be the mandatory technical monitoring every year (not the light-weight procedure of every two years for a new one).

There is a third option for saving money while acquiring a brand new caravan: have a look at a model from the land of Lukashenko (Bela­rus). It is possible to find a four-
person caravan at the dirt cheap price of 4800. And if you're lucky you'll lose only your resale price and prestige in the bargain. Actually, you'll get easy maintainability and even some brutality as far as the look of these Kupava are concerned.

The last way of acquiring a caravan for hitting the road in Russia is to bring one with you from abroad. The advantage of this approach is surely the lower price (minus terrible customs payments), while the disadvantage is that foreign license plates will attract the attention of all road traffic participants, including the friendly road police.

It must be mentioned that in Russia, according to traffic regulations, a BE driving license is needed if the caravan's weight is over 750 kilograms. Obtaining a BE license in Russia is not a simple task, so ex-pats are best advised to fix everything in their native lands. Asking GAI officers to do a job unfamiliar to them is too hard for those who do not speak Russian. Insurance is also mandatory.

Campers, i.e. live-in trucks and minibuses, are little different from caravans as far as purchasing and handling is concerned. It need only be said that a C driving license is needed if the camper weighs over 3500 kilograms.

Storage space for your caravan creature presents another hurdle. Since guarded storage space is needed, these places fall into one of two categories: unsafe or insecure. In the first case, your caravan will be an object of criticism for your whole neighborhood. Imagine: they also have to hunt for parking places every evening! And after circling the block numerous times, they will tire of seeing your caravan's fatty backside occupying precious space! At least you haven't bought an extra space in the yard... Insecure places only really provide insomnia, for Lord only knows when somebody will decide to bust into your caravan and have a nice one-night-stand on your sofa. You'll be lucky enough if such instances don't end with some foreign substance on your bed, or heaven forbid a raging fire. The conclusion is simple: one who buys a camper or caravan should first find a proper - and, yes, paid - parking place.

Finally, don't forget that renting a caravan or camper for holiday could prove your best option.

Riding and living

First, be ready to read Russian roadmaps and learn simple lessons about understanding them. The main rule is: there are no rules. For example, some roads seriously marked ‘of regional significance' can prove to be ground fieldways - and vice versa, nice hard pavement can be found in faraway and uncivilized places. The reason is that Russian roadmaps have a long time lag behind reality: data from the 1970s and 1980s are still often used. So, discussions on Russia travel Web boards or reports of auto travelers are of the utmost value. These people have just been there and they know. But all topics are in Russian, so minimum reading skills are required.

Second, consider the weight and dimensions of your vehicle: there are places in Russia unsuitable for cam­pers. These include even the E105 road to St. Petersburg in spring, and almost all local ferries. In some cases, it's better to park your camper and go sightseeing on foot.

Oh, those locals

Frankly, local inhabitants in provincial Russia are not as terrible as they might appear. Unlike Moscow, most people in small towns are kind - as long as you don't resemble a glamorous traveler. The main thing to consider is that their average monthly income is somewhere between 100 to 200 dollars; and life conditions in most village houses are probably worse than what is in your camper or caravan. So be conscientious and don't provoke people into aggression. There are, of course, outlaws who behave... inappropriately. So setting up for the night far from police posts is not highly recommended. Otherwise you could get yourself a slice of Tarantino-style adventure. That's not worth experiencing, I should say.

Knowing these simple rules is absolutely necessary to begin your caravanning career in Russia. Make your decision and start. If you're lucky - you'll come back to it again and again

By Anton Razmakhnin

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