When we were rolling out the driveway in Bondi 10 months ago in our outlandishly overpacked car, Russia seemed a milestone too far away to contemplate. It was like a made up destination on our fantasy road trip that we dare not plan too much in case it never eventuated. It seemed even more unachievable post shark attack, when we almost lost faith in being able to complete the trip at all, and it just seemed plain impossible when we were trying to organise the ludicrously elusive visas en route (Joe’s cost nearly $500 on account of not being in the UK).

And yet, we kept driving, and the more we drove, the road slipped away, and the landscapes shifted from jungles to fields to mountains to desert and steppe to forest. The faces changed, growing less Asiatic and more European, the mosques became temples, then monestaries, then temples, then mosques again, and with each town the language barriers rose and fell and finally we found our way to the labyrinth ring roads of Moscow. DA!!!

We spent a fricken’ LONG time in Kazakhstan by anyone’s standards, eating into our patience and the start date of our Russian visa. Our friends in Aktobe also suggested we go via a lesser known border crossing near Orsk; taking us nearly backwards on the march to Moscow, and still it took about 4 hours to cross. Worst of all for the panic merchant (that’s me, btw) it had no facility for customs to deal with the carnet! This sent me into a wild frenzy as we had no paperwork stamping Bob into the country which certainly meant that we’d be pulled over, arrested and sent to a gulag at any moment*.

(*It wasn’t until a week later that we found out that Kazakhstan and Russia have a new relaxed ‘customs-free’ policy on borders, and are quite lax about bringing cars in and out of the country so there was no problem after all. I wish the same had applied to passport control troll who scrutinised my passport for TWENTY MINUTES! She counted the pages over and over, whilst I stood shivering outside her booth, shined it under every light possible before telling me bluntly to go and sit in the car until she was finished with it!)

But, we made it in! And Russia has been RAD! Over the last week, we’ve driven through quaint little towns filled with brightly coloured dilapidated wooden houses, and industrial mega towns with greywashed communist flats as far as the eye and see and smoke stacks spewing clouds into the low skylines. We’ve seen babushkas selling their pickled goods by the side of the road, dodged police checkpoints with relative ease and revelled in proper highways, lined with the silver birch forests whose golden leaves shed as each day gets colder and colder.

The drive over the past week has taken us from the southern borders with Kazakhstan, through Orsk, Orenburg and Tolyatti – the birth place of the worlds dodgiest car, the Russian pride and joy Lada. We’ve also visited a military museum with an arsenal bigger than some SE Asian countries, not least a nuclear submarine (I couldn’t stop humming ‘we all drowned in a Russian submarine, a Russian submarine’ as we wandered through row after row of tanks and fighter jets. Military history and might is very apparent here - in fact, every town has military museum, and even some sights which aren’t military museums throw in a few tanks for good measure. I guess they had quite a few lying around after the war.

From Tolyatti, we drove up the immense Volga to Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin and spent a day exploring indecipherable history museums – the best of which was a massive concrete soviet building built around Lenin’s childhood home. The march towards Moscow took us to Nizhniy Novgorod with its impressive Kremlin and a stout policeman who laughed hysterically when we said our car was from Australia, and Vladimir, the ancient capital of Russia with onion domes and catherdrals galore – which we happily admired from a warmer position inside a pub.

And finally, after a week soaring northwest, it was time to tackle the ring roads, and spend a few days in mammoth Moscow – qualifying that we are geographically in Europe (and by the way that everything is so expensive).