If you enjoyed a whole week with your best friends around you, there’s an emptiness when they’re not around you anymore. I really needed to calm down and realize that our journey will be over very soon. The place where we tried to calm down was in the polish countryside – surrounded by woods and lakes.
Finally mobile data connection in the car
We bothered Tesla since we entered the European Union about the fact that the internet in our Tesla didn’t work. Our Tesla was supposed to have a SIM card that was valid in the entire EU (and, as we found out, also in Turkey – see this post). But it just didn’t catch any reception in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As soon as we approached the Polish border, there it was! We finally were online again! Navigating via Tesla, usage of the browser, listening to music through spotify – all of these nice (but actually not necessary things) were possible again. We were excited :-).
The hotel that we stayed at in Augustow offered us a Schuko-outlet to charge the car. We approximately charged 30 kWh during our stay there. Enough, so that we would easily reach Warsaw the next day and would have some reserve energy left in the battery.
A normal day in Riga while catching up with an old friend
Darya, a friend of mine who I met 6 years ago while doing an Erasmus-semester in Vilnius, Lithuania, invited us to visit her and her boyfriend in Riga. It is such a treasure to meet old friends and to catch up with them. For us as notorious travel birds, it was especially nice to not need to worry about anything since our host took care of everything. We strolled together through Riga, enjoyed the view over the cities roofs from Darya’s former university, saved ourselves from a thunderstorm while hiding in a cozy bookstore/café and were guests at a house party of a friend of Darya and Reinholds in the evening. What a fun day!
Charging at the golf resort
Reinholds, Darya’s boyfriend, is one of the best amateur golf players of Estonia. He had a tournament the weekend we were in Riga. Since Benedikt and I have never followed a golf tournament, we were excited to be Reinholds support team during the finals. Of course, we were even more excited when he won the tournament with at the decisive 18th whole! The car charged at a Schuko outlet at the golf course with 2 kW throughout the day.
Charging at Raddison blue
Darya and Reinholds live at an awesome location in the middle of Riga. The neighboring house of them is a Raddison blue hotel that offers CEE-outlets in their basement for charging. We would have charged there earlier, if the garage wasn’t packed. Sunday afternoon, there were enough spots free. We enjoyed charging with 25 amperes, like recommended on the info-board next to the outlet. Since the outlet was only a 16 amperes one, we weren’t so sure if that works… it didn’t. We blew a fuse and only noticed when we thought the car would be charged. Another 45 minutes waiting (and charging with only 16 amperes) and we had enough energy to reach Siaulai, Lithuania, half-way between Riga and Kaunas. Read in the following post, how nothing worked like planned and how we arrived in Kaunas 5 hours later than expected (means at 3 a.m. in the morning)…
On the way to an Airbnb in the middle of nothing in Estonia, we managed to lock ourselves out of the car. The whole day the key already had a loose contact. Though, as soon as we moved it, the car recognized it again. During a short stop at the side of the road, both of us got out of the car, with nothing in our pockets, closed the doors and when we wanted to return, the doors didn’t open anymore. It took us a while to turn from panic into a working mood that helped find a solution. We thought about stopping a passing car to get other tools that helped us break into the car (maybe lift the key with a wire). Another option was to break into the frunk (supposedly that’s easier), lift the car with the car-jack and make the key inside move.
After discussing for a bit, we decided to try a different technique: we wanted to somehow try to open the door with the door-handle from the inside. To do so, we pushed several sticks through the isolation of the passenger’s door window. Even though we noticed that the technique wasn’t bad, we didn’t manage to have a stick stable and long enough to reach the door handle. Binding to sticks together was the solution in the end. After almost 2 hours trying to break into our own car, we finally succeeded! The door opened and the alarm of the car started to honk loudly. Both of us were so relieved. We managed to break into our own car without any tools and could continue our trip! I guess, we won’t forget a key in the car anymore…
Nature in Estonia
After the shock of the locked car, we needed some down time. The perfect place for this was a little cabin in the open land with not much more around it than some fields, forest and a nature park. We spend 2 nights in the nature and enjoyed a beautiful hike through the moorlands and nature park close to the cabin.
Easy charging at Schuko
While we enjoyed the quietness and the nature of Estonia, our car was peacefully charging from a Schuko-outlet that was situated at the front porch of our cabin. I always enjoy it, if we don’t have to spend any extra time or effort to charge the car (or to find a place to charge it).
The border between Russia and Estonia would be our last “real” one. All countries that we will travel through the upcoming weeks, are part of the European Union and the Schengen area (I am especially happy to not have to do any more borders – I really dislike border processes).
Luckily, I kept a paper from the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (see this post), when we entered the Russian customs union the first time. I just kept it, because it was pretty much a translation of our car documents into Russian. That helped a few times. I don’t know, what we’d have done without this paper… After a few phone calls to the border where we received the paper and 20 minutes of waiting, we got the desired stamps and left to the Estonian border. It only took about 5 minutes to pass this (super modern and professional) border. And there we were, back in Europe!
Back to Europe
Having the Tesla back to Europe, meant for us not only, that it is properly insured again, but also, that we did an epic journey without having to bribe anything, getting anything stolen or having any problems with the car. We are really proud of ourselves. It feels special to look back to all the places we have been, the roads we went on and the people we met.
Spending some time at the Baltic sea and charging there
We spoilt ourselves with a nice 4-star hotel right at the beach in Narva-Joesuu. Relaxing there felt good. The hotel allowed us to use a Schuko-Outlet to charge our car. We charged 50 kWh, which was great. Unfortunately, we got surprised during checkout that we should pay 15€ for this charge. For a nice hotel like that using thousands of kWh with keeping their large wellness facilities warm, we think it’s not the best attitude to try to rip-off customers with a price for a charge at least double as high as it should be.
Charging at a 220V and 2 kW Schuko is usually our second choice. Even though it’s much more widely available (and easier to ask for), charging with only one phase takes much, much longer. If the car needs to be parked for a very long time at one single spot, we can’t take it anywhere. Due to our reduction in flexibility, we always prefer fast charging at a three-phase connection.
I am sure we could have found a CEE-outlet in Vladimir . An Airbnb host offered us to let us charge at a Schuko in the backyard of the house that we could rent an apartment in. That sounded brilliant! With an offer like that and the knowledge that we stay more than 48 hours at a city, we don’t mind Schuko charging. The only obstacle we had were the other inhabitants of the house. Especially an older lady was very skeptical about the Tesla. When we parked it a bit further away (and she didn’t really see it from her window anymore) and rolled out our extension cable, she was fine.
Just being tourists in Vladimir & Suzdal
Vladimir, as well as Suzdal, the city that we visited on our second day, are part of the Golden Ring of ancient Russian cities. Vladimir used to be the medieval capital of Russia. It’s a bit more industrial than its neighboring city, Suzdal, tough. Suzdal appears like an open-air museum considering the amount of old buildings that have been preserved and the lack of industrialization (missing any Soviet style flat buildings). We enjoyed strolling through both of these cities!
We left Kazan with 97% of the battery charged. For some unknown reason, we couldn’t charge until 100%. Kazan and our next destination, Nizhny Novgorod, were more than 380 km apart. We did distances like that before. But this time, we knew from the weather forecast that we’ll have strong headwinds. Wind majorly affects how much energy the Tesla needs.
We were relaxed anyways. Unlike during other long distances that we did before (see for example Ashgabat to Mary or Almaty to Balkhash), we knew this time that there is at least one city and a few villages along the 380 km. In the case of an emergency, we could have recharged there. Our technique was however to drive slowly (around 70 km/h) and behind large trucks (wind shadow zone). It worked out and we reached Nizhny Novgorod after 5 tiring hours of driving with about 18% in our battery left.
Schuko charging at hotel
I contacted hotels in Nizhny Novgorod before we arrived there. I received two answers. One of them told us, it would be too dangerous to let us charge. By accident we walked past this hotel and saw a large, modern CEE-32 in front of their entrance door. It isn’t dangerous at all to charge there. Sometimes it is really frustrating how uneducated people are about EVs. I always tell them precisely that we can make everything possible, that we can charge anywhere where they can charge their phone (in case we have enough time for Schuko-charging) and that this already worked out the past 18.000 km. Still, we get answers like “ohhh, we don’t have many EVs here – I don’t think you can charge in our city”. Oh, well…
The second hotel offered us a Schuko right in front of their entrance door. Since we wanted to stay in Nizhny Novgorod for 2 nights anyways, a slow charge via Schuko wasn’t a problem at all. Thanks to them for their offer!
We enjoyed an entire tourist day in the beautiful city of Nizhny Novogrod.
Half way between Chelyabinsk and Ufa there is the Zyuratkul national park with lakes and mountains of the Ural mountain chain. We were looking forward to having some quite time and a nice hike there. Since there was no internet reception and no Wi-Fi at the place that we stayed at, we got our resting time. On the second day at the Zyuratkul National Park, I did a long hike on a neat peak. The hiking trail was nicely maintained (something we never really had during our journey) and the view from the top was great.
Charging in the middle of nowhere
We stayed at a “cabin-resort” with many small huts that you could rent. To charge the car, we only needed a Schuko-outlet, since we stayed long enough at the resort. The security hut at the entrance offered us what we needed (even though they needed to be convinced at first – a local who understood our problem told them they shouldn’t be fools and let the guests from Switzerland charge). The Tesla was charging there with 10 amperes on one phase for about 20 hours.
The biggest gastronomic disappointment
The whole experience at the Zyuratkul National Park was great. We stayed at a very nice, newly build wooden cabin. The national park itself is beautiful. But we got deeply disappointed with a restaurant in the resort where we tried to have dinner – once. It was the worst dinner of our entire journey. We didn’t receive our ordered drinks until after food was served. When the waiter brought Benedikt a plate with three bones and with a little meat on them that cost double as much as what you usually pay at a Russian restaurant, we thought this is a big joke. The waiter asked when we had that bone-plate on the table, if Benedikt wouldn’t like any side dishes. Couldn’t he have thought of that before? Since I had a plate with fried potatoes (that were covered with yellowish oil) we shared that and were happy to leave the place little later. During our whole journey, we never got disappointed that much by a restaurant. I guess the only good thing was that none of us got diarrhea afterwards…
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan since 1998. The government invested huge amounts of money to build a futuristic city in the middle of the Kazakh steppe. Benedikt and I felt reminded of Ashgabat (see this post), except that Astana is a bit more “colorful” and not only out of white marble. The police, military and security presence is also unnaturally high in Astana.
Meeting Ueli Maurer
The Swiss Pavilion invited us to visit them at the Expo 2017. On June 11th, Ueli Maurer, Swiss finance minister and member of the Swiss Federal Council was also expected there. We had the great chance to have lunch with him and talk with him about our journey. Thanks to the team of the Swiss Pavilion for organizing this!
Bringing our Tesla on the Expo territory
We really wanted to bring our Tesla on the Expo territory. Traveling with an electric vehicle from Switzerland to Kazakhstan fitted so well to the topic of the Expo. We couldn’t organize this on the day that Ueli Maurer was present at the Expo. But, thanks again to the great team of the Swiss Pavilion, we managed to bring the car to the Expo territory in the night of the June 12th.
We got overwhelmed with requests of journalists that wanted to make interviews with us (see for example this and this article). The whole day long, except of the times that we visited other pavilions, we answered questions of visitors who were curious what the story of this Tesla is.
Visiting other pavilions at the Expo 2017
101 countries present in Astana how they interpret “future energy”. The main pavilion with 8 floors is the pavilion of Kazakhstan. In a building looking like the death star in Star Wars, the country established a very well-made museum about renewable energy. Of course, this pavilion is the most popular with the Kazakh visitors. 90% of the people seem to only take pictures (toooons of pictures) and enjoy the entertainment-shows in the pavilion.
Around the Kazakh death star, all other countries have their exhibition rooms. There is the German Pavilion, that is high in information, very well made and with a fancy, little excessive light show at the end. USA is saying that they are the source of energy (whatever that is supposed to mean – they had no real reference to alternative energy). The Lithuanian Pavilion is staffed only with native Lithuanians and it gives one a good impression of the country. We also liked the Polish Pavilion, since it covered well information about their state forests and how they perceive the topic “future energy”. Even the Vatican was present and we saw a very well-made movie about the creation of the universe ending with the thought, that it is our responsibility to care about what was created millions of years back. We saw many more pavilions, of course that would go beyond the scope of this article.
Charging in Astana
Somehow, we arranged to park in the underground parking of the Airbnb-apartment that we stayed at. We used a Schuko in the parking to charge the car during our first night in Astana to 90%. The security of that building was annoying. They unplugged the cable (luckily after the battery reached the 90%) and told us we would need to leave the parking garage (that was almost empty). Our Airbnb-host managed that we could return in the garage, but we weren’t allowed to charge there anymore. I wish, people would be better educated about electricity prices and unity. Most people don’t know what a Kilowatt hour is and how much they regularly pay for one. The price for one kWh in Kazakhstan is about 0,07€. That means charging 30 kWh (this is about as much as letting the air-conditioning for one room for 12 hours) costs about 2 €. We always offer to pay, but if people have no clue on how much kW what electric equipment in their house uses and what the price of one kWh is, they can’t relate to this price.
We changed front and back tires (to have a even attrition) in the underground garage of this building.
On our way out of Astana, we planned to charge at Astana’s only charging station. It was out of order… we managed anyways to drive the 250 km north to a natural reserve close to Shchuchinsk.
We had no wi-fi in our last hotel in Turkmenistan. Internet accessibility is still very low in Turkmenistan. The amount of sides that are not accessible, is on the other side extremely high. Due to no internet, we couldn’t check out any hotel ahead, before we arrived in Bukhara.
Sometimes one needs to be lucky. We were extremely lucky with the hotel we found in Bukhara. It was in a former madrasa that was beautifully renovated. In this nice surrounding, we enjoyed an extremely comfortably bed… since almost three months, we are sleeping every to every second night in a new bed. Some of them are extremely uncomfortable and make it hard (literally 😉) to sleep on them. Besides extremely hard mattresses, old mattresses with springs sticking out, are uncomfortable. I noticed that my sleep quality just depends on mattress quality and in that bed in Bukhara I slept like a baby.
Challenging charging due to heavy electricity fluctuation
We parked the Tesla behind a gate leading to the office of the hotel. There was a Schuko outlet that we could use for charging the car. Unfortunately, the electricity was very shaky. If the voltage is fluctuating too much, the Tesla stops charging. The cause of the fluctuation was probably that the transformer of the neighborhood wasn’t well adjusted to the electricity need of the people. We had similar problems in Turkey. During night, fewer people (and their machinery) are using electricity. The fluctuation is therefore lower and we were able to charge the car during the two subsequent nights that we were in Bukhara.
The old city of Bukhara is Unesco World Heritage. There is one architectural monument next to each other in the city. One wonders around old mosques, baths, madrasas and mausoleums. Most of them are decorated with beautiful tile-work in bright blue, turquoise and golden colors. We enjoyed this travel back in time.
Drive from Bukhara to Samarkand
The surface of the roads to Samarkand, the city we drove to after Bukhara, was only slightly better than the road leading to Bukhara from the border. We adjust our driving that way that we only go 50 to 70 km/h so we can avoid the potholes in the road.
We got stopped two times by the police on our way. Similar to toll collection booths in other countries, the police in Uzbekistan blocks in average every 100km the road. Either they ignore you or they point a stick at you and you need to stop. We started to only give copies of our documents to them, since we heard that some police could be corrupt and wants money to return you your documents. During the first police stop, they wrote our data us in a big book (the country isn’t very digital yet…). The officer at the second police stop insisted to see our original documents, but eventually he let us go. I have no idea what the aim of their controls is, so I continue to see no reason for them to flip through out passports as if they were picture books for children. I hope all the other police controls that will follow will be as smooth as the last were.
We drove to the closest border coming from the mountains. After the border official checked our passport, he told us, the border is closed for vehicles (couldn’t he just said that right away? Or why didn’t they put up a sign somewhere?). We had no choice than to drive to the next border checkpoint that was supposed to be bigger.
To exit the country, the Uzbek border control let us unpack the entire car. Of course, such a procedure is annoying. We tried to keep always an eye on our valuables, since it wouldn’t be the first time, that somebody “lost” something at the border.
To enter Kazakhstan, Benedikt and I had to split up (again). He went through the passenger control and I imported the car into Kazakhstan. Since I am the official car owner (my name is in the car documents), it seems to be easier, if I do the entire bureaucratic procedure. After about 2 hours I drove the car through the border gate.
A Kazakh resort hotel
Our destination was a resort hotel east of Shymkent. Shymkent isn’t known as a very attractive city. Therefore, we had no precise ambition to go there. It sounded good to us to have nature around us and a pool in front of us. We found a resort hotel in the middle of nowhere. The hotel was nicely maintained and for what it offered good value for money.
We got extremely well taken care of by a receptionist (the only person speaking a few words of English in this hotel), who even drove us in a golf cart around the grounds of the hotel. When we sat down in the golf cart he said, “this is an electric vehicle!” – you can believe that we started laughing and replied that we also have an electric vehicle. He helped us find a Schuko, where we fully charged the car during the 1.5 days that we stayed at Alma Tau.
The only real downturn for us was, that the hotel was playing club music with the strongest beats the whole day long. We had a room facing the pool and could feel the vibration of the bass while laying on the bed. Kazakhs seem to have a different definition of relaxation ambiance than we do ;-).