Some Russian city names are super easy (like Ufa), some are extremely hard to pronounce (and remember) – like Naberezhnye Chelny. Even though we always received puzzled faces, if we tried to tell a Russian what our next stop is, we found our way to the city. The car needed to charge and so did we.
Naberezhnye Chelny is situated in the (almost) independent republic of Tartastan. A big road sign indicated our entry into the Tartastan. I guess, we really noticed that we crossed a republic border in the Russian federation, when the time on our cellphones was minus two hours. Tartastan already has Moscow times (UTC +3) and are only one hour ahead of the German time.
Easy charging at a hotel
I wrote a few emails to hotels in before we got there. One of them was so friendly to answer and after a few emails forth and back trying to explain what we need, they gave us green light. Two janitors helped Benedikt to set up our charging at the transformer of the hotel. Like always, we connected the three phases and the neutral connection to the according fuses. The connection was very stable, but we charged with only 10 amperes (on all three phases), since the car could charge the whole night long (and should be as little time as possible fully charged).
With a nicely charged car we left in the morning to continue our drive to Kazan. The capital of the Tartastan republic.
Usually we are always the first electric vehicle approaching a hotel or workshop with the unusual question if the place has three-phase electricity for us and if we can charge our car with it. It is very enjoyable to sometimes not be the first one. That’s why we followed the charging advice (in a hotel) of our friends from NoMiEV, who also went through Ufa on their 80 days around the world (80-E-days).
Charging in the hotel kitchen
A well-maintained hotel in Ufa could offer us a three-phase fuse-box based in their hotel kitchen. The first fuses, we tried to put our open-adapter on, had too much other stuff running on them. They blew immediately. The second ones we tried, worked out. We charged the car with 16 amperes on three phases.
I need to mention at this point that the most valuable equipment that we have with us is our NRGKick. It let’s us charge without a ground connector (very common not to find one anywhere outside Europe). It lets us exactly adapt the current (ampere) that we want to charge with (sometimes due to bad wires very necessary). Lastly everything is controllable via our smartphone, since the NRGKick can connect to bluetooth. We love that thing and our journey wouldn’t work without it!
When we returned later the evening to our Tesla, the car was already charged at 100%. Since it is not good for the battery to stay fully-charged overnight, Benedikt cruised through the city for about one hour and enjoyed the Russian “night live”.
Our drive from Kurgan continued west and ended in Chelyabinsk. Chelyabinsk is a city with about 1 million inhabitants. It seemed that it doesn’t have a lot more to offer than a pedestrian zone and some neat parks. It is written nowhere how hospitable and friendly people we would meet in Chelyabinsk, though. A hotel wrote us before arrival that they could offer us three-phase electricity. A charming receptionist that spoke great English helped with translation and the janitor helped Benedikt to connect our adapter to the fuse box in the basement.
The hotel wasn’t fancy. But the hospitality of its employees was exceptional. When we left the next morning (with a fully charged car) and received a matryoshka as a gift to remember the hotel, it really felt as if we have been guests for much longer or as we would say good-bye to new friends.
The border between Kazakhstan and Russia would be our second last “real border”. Since both countries are befriended, we thought the border process should be easy. Leaving Kazakhstan was easy indeed. Entering Russia was little nerve-racking though. At the passport control, I went first and the border control discovered my visa from Iran and started questioning me, what I did there and so on (Benedikt thinks that they are afraid of terrorists coming to Russia – even though, terrorists from Iran don’t really exist. Terrorist organizations usually follow Sunni-Islam and Iran follows Shia-Islam). They also wanted exactly to know I am doing in Russia and so on. We had to wait for them doing a “special investigation” for about 30 minutes. After that, we got the stamps in our passport anyways. Our car got searched for about 10 minutes. After that procedure, we were free to go… uff!
Getting insurance and SIM-card
On a small both on the side of the street about 30 minutes after the border, we found the places that sold car-insurance. We were obliged to buy one (and from Kazakhstan we knew that police like to control this). After at least an hour in one of the booths, we had our insurance and a SIM-card. We managed all of this without really speaking any word of Russian and the insurance guy not speaking anything word of any other language than Russian. If people are patient, it’s possible to communicate in any language though!
Hotel & charging in Kurgan
We felt like already being in Scandinavia, when we started to drive in Russia towards the city Kurgan. Small lakes, birch trees and a lot of unsettled land form the landscape of this part of Russia. It is beautiful!
The first hotel we approached in Kurgan offered us right away help with charging (this is a situation that hardly ever happens!). There were small fuse boxes on the parking lot opposite to the hotel. The hotel organized an electrician that helped setting up a connection (even though this help wouldn’t have been necessary – Benedikt did this by now so often). Unfortunately, the connection wasn’t very strong. We could only charge with 10 to 15 amperes.
The hotel took extremely well care of us. They set up red and white security tape around the parking lot, so no one would enter during night. They also “secured” our charging cable during night (well… we planned to charge during night. I left the hotel to go on a jog in the morning and was quite surprised when I saw that there wasn’t any cable at our car anymore. But, we managed to charge the rest that we needed during the rest of the morning). Even though, somethings weren’t exactly what we asked for, we felt extremely well taken care off in the hotel in Kurgan!
Petropavl is the most northern city of Kazakhstan. It is only 60 km to the Russian border from here. After having been spoiled with Kazakh hospitality throughout the country, we had to find in Petropavl a hotel by ourselves again. We had a hotel suggestion from the NoMiEV people, who passed through Petropavl themselves one year ago. Their suggested hotel was one of the more expensive ones (60€/night). Therefore, we tried at 3 other hotels to get a room to sleep and three phase electricity to charge. One had no parking spot, another had a huge wedding party at their hotel and the third had a mean receptionist that didn’t wanted to help us solve a problem (of course did this large hotel also have three phase electricity – most often it just depends on how much a receptionist wants to help their (future) guests to find it).
… and finding it!
We ended up staying at the same hotel as the 80 E-days people used to stay. The staff was very helpful at the hotel. Only a little after we arrived, an electrician helped Benedikt to setup charging at a fuse box in the server-room of the hotel. The connection was very strong. I wish, hotels would always be that helpful…
When we were about to leave Almaty a guy on a brand-new Ducati motorcycle signaled us to stop. We drove to the side of the road and met Meiram. He himself traveled on a motorcycle almost the same route as ours. We will have noticed later that we were extremely fortunate to have met him.
Charging-attempt #1 and #2
Meiram knew people in Balkhash and arranged for us help with charging there. We met our “charging crew” at the city entrance. The first car workshop where we tried to find three-phase electricity, could only offer 16 amperes and Benedikt didn’t really find the earth connection. The next large car-workshop we drove to, was by chance a place where the NomiEV people also charged on their 80 E-days journey.We were excited, when we found a Turkish Style outlet in the workshop. Benedikt re-adjusted the adapter (we used the Montenegro-style plug a few times in Iran. That’s why the plugs of the adapters changed after we left Turkey again – see also this post). The fuses were set for 50 amperes, so we didn’t worry to let the car charge with 32 amperes.
Shortly before we wanted to leave, Benedikt checked the connection again – and there was smoke coming out of the outlet. Uuuuuups. Probably the plugs have not been used for a long time and dead bugs and the same started to slowly burn with the heat of the strong electricity. Since we didn’t want to risk setting the workshop on fire, we stopped charging immediately.
Charging-attempt #3 – finally a success!
There was a fuse-box close to the Turkish-outlet. Since it also had three-phase connections, the plan was to get the electricity from there. As soon as we were about to set this up, Benedikt noticed that he forgot our open adapter, his safety cloves and the screw driver at the first car-workshop we have been to (charging-attempt #1). We opened the Turkish adapter, dissembled it and used the three-phases and the earth connection to set up a new connection on the fuse-box. And voila, charging worked out! Since the cables got a bit worm (the connection cable to the fuse-box seemed to thin), Benedikt wanted to charge only with 25 amperes. That meant, the car needed to charge for the next 3 hours.
We get entertained by the best charging-hosts ever
Our charging-helpers were our hosts during the next 3 hours. They drove us back to the first workshop to pick up our forgotten stuff. Due to language misunderstanding, they also bought us a new screw-driver (we later gave our old one as a “souvenir” to them). After that, we went to a garden restaurant and had a late lunch there. The restaurant was at the shore of lake Balkhash and we went to the beach later. Lake Balkhash is apparently the 15th largest lake on the earth (16,400 km2), but only 26 m maximum deep. The water was therefore really worm (maybe 25 degree Celsius). Before we left Balkhash again, we got a beautifully painted plate of lake Balkhash as a gift to remember the city. We started our continues drive through the Kazakh step with a feeling of gratefulness to have experienced this superb hospitality. Thank you!
Road with deep lane grooves and potholes needs all the attention
We got warned that the road from Almaty to Astana will be, especially during the first 300 km, awful. Indeed, it was awful! Three times the bottom of the Tesla was scratching at the tops of the deep lane grooves. It took all of Benedikt’s attention to not drive in one of the deep potholes.
Drying to find a charging spot, part 1
Not only the road was challenging. Since there is almost no civilization except of two cities on the entire way between Almaty and Astana (1200 km), we knew that charging will be challenging. Team NoMiEV, one of the German Teams of the 80 E-days, send us charging points they and other team members have used on their journey through Kazakhstan and Russia. We approached the first spot of civilization (three roadside cafes) after 300 km of a tiring drive. Behind the cafes we discovered an old fuse-box that still had stickers of three 80-E-days teams on it. Unfortunately, it was locked. We asked at all the roadside cafes, but none had a key to the fuse box. Everyone pointed towards the close by “village” (3 other houses in the distance of 10 km) where an electrician might have a key. We didn’t want to waste more time searching for the key and left for the next gas station.
Drying to find a charging spot, part 2 and 3
The next gas station that we reached after 50 km had electricity, but for unknown reasons, didn’t wanted to let us charge there. With a battery that was less and less charged, we continued another 30 km to the next small village . At the first roadside cafe, we got told to wait until the owner is done praying. The owner showed us then a very old fuse-box in his car-workshop. Somehow Benedikt made it possible that we could charge. It was 7 p.m. by then. We tasted the fish of lake Balkash in the roadside café, enjoyed the company of some truckers and waited 3 hours for the car to charge. When it was fully charged, it was dark outside – time to find a quite spot to spent the night. Considering how few people are living in the Kazakh steppe it is not hard finding a quiet spot. We didn’t get disturbed once and left the next morning at 07:00 a.m. to drive to Balkash, a 70.000 inhabitants city at the western edge of lake Balkash.
Niyaz from Bishkek got in touch with us, before we arrived at his city. He is the only Tesla driver in Kyrgyzstan. Another Tesla!!! We were so excited to see his white Tesla Model S 85 P (used to be a S 60, but he “pimped” it). Niyaz literally spoiled us. He organized a flat in the city center, where we could stay. In the basement parking of this apartment building, Niyaz has installed a CEE-32 to let Tesla-friends from Kazakhstan charge. He, himself, has an American Tesla that can only charge with one phase. It felt like a home away from home to have an entire apartment to ourselves, including a large kitchen and washing machine. We are grateful for Niyaz to introducing us to his city and helping us with the apartment and charging!
Meeting an old friend from Zurich
On our first real day in Kyrgyzstan, we went hiking in the beautiful Ala Archa National Park that is only 30 km away from Bishkek. In the early morning after this hike, Timon, a friend from Zurich, and his friend Arnauld, arrived in Bishkek to go mountaineering for the following 3 weeks in the Kyrgyz mountains. We found out only 2-3 weeks ago that our plans are overlapping and that we can all meet in Kyrgyzstan. We had a blast together and I am so glad it just worked out wonderfully.
Border Kyrgyzstan – Kazakhstan
After 3 great days in Kyrgyzstan, where we got absolutely fascinated by its natural beauty (we want to return some day to go hiking here), we had to leave towards Kazakhstan. The border isn’t far from Bishkek. Shortly before arriving to the border we exchanged the rest of our Kyrgyz money to the Kazakh currency. While doing this we apparently parked in a restricted area. That is what the police told us, when they pulled us out, a few meters after we left the parking spot. Benedikt discussed with them for 20 minutes and in the end, we could go without paying the fine of about 25€. It just seemed that they have the non-parking area there, to fine people who are parking there. They also fine/get bribed of people crossing an unnecessary stop sign without stopping (check out Caravanistan).
The border process itself went on the Kyrgyz side very smooth. On the Kazakh side, I got pulled out and had to go to a car-scanner. They seem to thoroughly search for drugs at this border. I played the little, innocent girl and could leave the car-scanning hall (without even using the car scanner or any other searching happening) only 10 minutes later. Another guy in the hall told me that he is already waiting for 2 hours. The border controllers dissembled his car. I left the border area after maybe 1 hour, all in all. The drive to Almaty took us another 2-3 hours after the border.
The resort hotel Alma Tau is not far from Shymkent. The city is described as Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city. Good for us, since we needed to do some “business” there. In an extremely efficient manor, we first bought a Kazakh SIM-card and later a car insurance. We were absolutely impressed on how little time (and money) we spend on organizing both of it. Something that is not to imagine in many countries we passed. In the late afternoon, we continued our drive to Taraz.
Finding a hotel and three-phase electricity in Taraz
Situated on the route from Shymkent to Bishkek, Taraz is one of Kazakhstan oldest cities. In the 11th and 12th century it was a wealthy silk road stop. It got destroyed by Genghis Khan and only had a Russian rebirth in the 19th century. The current appearance has still a soviet charm that we did not further inspect.
It took us a while to find a hotel that also allowed us to charge on three-phase electricity (this was necessary to have a fully charged car for the way from Taraz to Bishkek, about 320 km). We ended up staying at a modern hotel that offered us a room for 12 hours (for a reduced price – something that seems to be common in Kazakhstan). The set up for the charging took Benedikt quite long, since about 8 people thought they knew better what to do. In the end, our open adapter was connected to a fuse-box. We left in the morning before nine to drive to the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Border Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan
The border close to Chaldovar was probably one of the easiest of the last weeks. They quickly checked the car on the Kazakh side. Afterwards I drove to the Kyrgyz side, did a little small-talk, got the new stamp and left with the car. I think the whole border process only took us 30 minutes. Incomparable to some other borders we had before… (see this post).
To get our visa to Uzbekistan faster, we “bought” a letter of invitation (LOI) from a hostel in Tashkent. With this LOI we could easily and quickly get our visa from the Uzbek embassy in Istanbul (see this post). One condition of that LOI was that we stay at least a night in the hostel in Tashkent.
It was our first hostel since the awful hostel in Naien (see this post). Throughout the journey we didn’t stay in a “normal” hostel yet. Therefore, it was nice to have the feeling of a hostel-community. We enjoyed the company of many other travelers. There was, for example, a cyclist from Switzerland (checkout his blog, picture of/from him on the right), a German/Uzbek couple that are working on prolonging visa and many others.
Charging at a factory
Opposite of the hostel was a factory. We arranged to charge on their property. Benedikt found, together with the security kid, a terribly old main fuse box at first. This fuse box would have been hard to access, since the fuses don’t really have screws and seem to not have been opened since at least 30 years. Strong wires led to other fuse boxes that we ended up accessing. The connection was strong. After 2 hours, the car was charged again at 90%.