A site by Peter Reitsma on hitchhiking in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Peter Reitsma

rusland russia

hitchhiking liften

Russia

Россия

hitchhiking liften

Автостоп

Питер Ритсма

Роттердам Владивосток

Уфа Челябинск Грушински

БАМ

30-7-2004 - 04-08-2004

A report of the first hitchhiking trip I made in Russia in summer 2004.

30/7/2004 11:30 - 17:00 | #rides=2 | distance=269 km

After having spent a couple of days sightseeing in St. Petersburg with dutch and russian friends and having got accustomed to Russia bit, it was time to start the hitchhiking. Early in the morning I took the metro from my hotel to station Zvezdnaya. From there, it is a 500 meter walk to the meat-processing factory Samson which is easily recognizable by the two sculptured cows at each site of the gate. At this place, the Moskovski Shosse turns into a highway, the M10 St. Petersburg - Moscow. Cars slow down near the crossing in front of the gate and there is plenty of space for cars and trucks to stop. Just a perfect spot !

It needs to be said that I was a bit anxious after the fear mongering by friends and family at home. Some of them reckoned hitchhiking in Russia to be a certain death. Fortunately, after a while I managed to raise my hand and found myself doing the actual thing, hitchhiking in Russia.

In Russia, the most common gesture to stop a car is raising your hand like you are greeting someone. The gesture with the raised thumb (thumbing), more common in western Europe and America, is not interpreted as a request for a ride. It is merely a signal that everything is ok, not like you are in need of anything.
For Russian hitchhiking, I don't recommend using a cardboard with a destination written on it. Oftentimes these cardboards are badly readable and at the start of a 700km highway, your direction of choice should be obvious. Showing a cardboard with destination 'Moscow' might even discourage cars driving in the right direction but just not to Moscow.
Furthermore, carrying around cardboards is unpractical: they need to be at hand constantly, are easily forgotten during the hasty process of entering or leaving a car, they get unuseful in rain, the accompanying stylos start leaking etc.
While hitchhiking, try to make contact with the cars passing along. Look them in the eyes and watch if they signal things back to you, like making the 'full car' gesture, or a gesture indicating they are going a different direction or drivers indicating they are just local traffic. If you do not receive any of this signals, start looking for a better place since something is wrong with the current spot.

After having waited for approximately 45 minutes, a truck stopped with a driver named Igor. Loaded with audio devices, he was underway to Moscow, coming straight off the Finnisch border where he had been waiting for 12 hours. He was very tired but still had a long way to go. Igor was from St. Petersburg, married with two children and turned out to be a very friendly guy. He told me about his dog, a boxer that recently died and his wife whining about buying a new one. Igor had used all his excuses and told me the new dog would be purchased real soon now.
At lunchtime he treated me on a perfect lunch at a truckerstop. Allegedly, a previous hitchhiker had shown him this place once. Lunch was soup and porkschnitzel. Igor drunk the coffee he badly needed.

Igor spent quite some time explaining me his view on the problems Russia is currently experiencing in the Kaukasus. He warned me not to believe things they showed on the television in the west. According to him, the real problem lied in the fact that the Kaukasian people are just unwilling to work. They are just lazy people and prefer kidnapping and other crimes over decent labour. Furthermore he asserted that this kind of criminality was not a typical russian problem, it happened in the west as well, a fact I could not deny of course.

When we said goodbye, I presented him a dutch souvenir (Delfts blue) upon which Igor claimed this kind of craftwork was typical russian.
The last kilometres to Novgorod I drove with a guy who merely stopped his car to empty his bladder but was not unwilling to give me a ride.
He was quite taciturn except for the difficult question: "Why don't you just travel by train ?". I mentioned the motivations of my hitchhiking trip and he seemed to find it funny. He dropped me off me at the edge of town and from there I took a trolleybus to the city centre.

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© Peter Reitsma 2004-2007

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