*** Having a few picture posting problems. Got a signal but pics are taking ages. Sorry!***
Finally made it this afternoon, crossing the border from Georgia at Kazbegi. Had no problems at all and the people there were really nice, even filling in our forms for us. Ok so we might have signed something important away, but at least we're in. The delays of the last week have been really stressful and today's progress was just what we needed.
We left Mtakheta this morning and headed straight up the Georgian Military Highway, due north (I think). It was a straightforward bit of road, and thankfully, most of the mad drivers of yesterday were terrorising road users elsewhere as we had a pleasant ride up towards Stepantsminda and through the Kazbegi Strict Nature Reserve. (Presumably strict as in dedicated , rather than strict as in discipline). It was quite a climb too, the road going up to about 2600m, reminiscent of the Atlas Mountains or the High Alps,complete with snow.
We met a Dutch couple on the way. They were travelling in a 1952 German Fire Engine that had been given to the Dutch government as war reparation, and they had been all over the world in it. And impressively, they had a 20 year old Transalp strapped to the back which they use as easy access transport. They invited us for coffee but unfortunately, we couldn't accept as we needed to pile in the miles. But they would have been cool to chat to.
We had been warned about the road nearest to the border and it was every bit as bad as advised. But worse still were the tunnels a bit further on. Completely dark, no lighting at all, and a bad road surface. We just had to peer into the darkness and hope for the best. Fortunately for us, no vehicles came the other way but it was a scary experience. Don't know what we would have done had we had a breakdown or accident.
The border post was a bit of an anti climax, and more like a petrol station than an international frontier.
The Georgian bit was very quick but the Russian one wasn't bad either, given their penchant for paperwork and weary administration. We did get searched but it was only a cursory effort, and they liked my six words of Russian, and seemed particularly impressed that I knew the Russian for Buckingham Palace ( Bookemgempski Palitzia) As usual, we were the afternoon's entertainment for all nationalities gathered there and our bikes attracted even more attention today for some reason. We had an interesting conversation with an Armenian and an Azerbaijani about travelling and the Eurovision Song Contest, and we then called in to an office by a guard, who then guard typed out the whole of our passports before sending us on our way into Mother Russia.
Immediately over the border is a big army base and various relics of previous frontier tensions - a few tanks, some bunkers, and soldiers patrolling, but again, we had a pleasant ride don off the mountains through some incredible scenery. Reached the nearest town ( Vladikafkaz or something similar) smack bang in peak hour traffic and nearly brought the place to a standstill with people looking at us instead of where they were going. Decided to quite whilst we were ahead though, having realised that we couldn't even read the road signs, found a hotel, and farkled the bikes. Surprisingly, there was no damage after today's rough riding, but we still did the usual checks - chain, oil, spokes, brakes, tyres, headset bearings.
The reception bloke is great and speaks English and even the concierge seems to like us now after first of all telling us that the hotel was full and we couldn't say here. Its huge and there are about three other people here, so I'm not sure what that was all about. But the man said something her in Russian and she changed almost immediately.
Its tipping it down now, with various rumbles of thunder, so we won't be wandering out tonight. Heading for The Capsian Sea and Kazakstan tomorrow.