Russia and Central Asia in a campervan - Preparation, lots and lots of preparation

Well, we are almost ready to embark on a trip that I have been planning for almost 5 years.
What started as a faint dream is now almost becoming a reality. But, seriously to get to this stage has taken so, so much planning. Almost never ending relentless planning. That's not to say it hasn't been fun, who doesn't enjoy a bit of military-grade central asia motorhome trip planning. During this process we also had to make some pretty agonising life decisions regarding fertility or rather, maybe the lack of it. But that will be a story for another day.

our new van - Sylvie christened 'Dave Mooney'
But other than selling our old Elddis and relentlessly scouring the internet for a panel van conversion which in itself took the best part of 5 months, then fitting an oven, new battery changing the stereo and fitting a gaslow, I suppose we have to start with visas. Namely, one country's incredibly arduous and protracted visa application process. Throw into the mix a certain incident in Salisbury and suddenly it becomes a lot more difficult. And the expected time jumps from 12 to 28 days. But we persevered.

I have to admit and say we cheated a little bit and employed the services of an agency called RealRussia. I think without their guidance and help at numerous crunch moments we would really have come unstuck. To stay more than 30 days we would need to apply for a business visa and for which we would need a letter of invitation. This is where RealRussia were invaluable, they were able to provide both myself and Sylvie with a legitimate Letter of Invitation (LOI)  which would allow us to then complete the full visa application form. So all we had to do now was post everything off recorded delivery to London, and then wait for an appointment at the visa centre to submit our documents to the embassy and to give our biometrics.

As we will be driving our own vehicle we needed copies of almost every document under the sun, V5, MOT, driving license, insurance (medical and vehicle), and a proposed itinery. We guessed a bit at this, naming our entry point in Latvia and our exit point somewhere near Barnul just near the border with Kazakhstan. Sylvie, as being French needed letters from her employer and proof of being able to fund herself and I needed to submit all of my social media accounts. The worrying part came when were asked to provide proof of sylvie’s inbound and outbound flight. Pretty difficult when you are planning on driving. But RealRussia guided us around this obstacle by changing our application to an ‘Auto-Tourist’ visa. But we managed to get it all together and off it went, along with our passports.

Sylvie clothes packing

So we waited, and waited a bit more, and finally the word came, as it was late notice the trains prices from Yorkshire to London were extortionate so we booked a Megabus from Leeds for £11 each. This involved a 5.30am start from Wakefield, a 5.5 hour coach ride down the M1 to London Victoria Coach station and then a mad dash across London to Barbican where we battled and argued with some rather stern and overly officious embassy staff. Who at one point were refusing to accept Sylvie's application. We kept having to ring our visa agency and then take one of the queue tickets and rejoin only to come face to face again with the person who had just told us to go away.

But in the end we got there and at about 16.58 we managed to submit our application, then leg it back to Kings Cross and jump on a train back up to Yorkshire, releived but somewhat stressed.

And on Tuesday just gone we got confirmation that our passports were back at Realrussia's office and were ready to be posted back to us.

I had to take the drivers seat out to fit the new leisure battery

In the meantime, Sylvie handed in her notice at ASDA and I stopped working for my dad to concentrate on van prep. We know that once you leave the EU, campsites become few and far between so I have wanted to make the van as self-sufficient as possible. To do this I have fitted 200w of solar panels, a brand new AGM 125Ah leisure battery, an oven, gaslow and all the 12v sockets you can shake a cigarette adapter at.

the new solar panels all finished

Sylvie has been learning Russian at Leeds Beckets Uni since October, I enrolled on a motor mechanics course in Castleford, and we had our arms vaccinated against every possible disease central Asia can throw at us.

We have spent the last few weeks saying goodbye to family and friends. It's been hard knowing that we wont see everyone for a while. And we have really felt settled and happy in Wakefield this time. We have put down roots that have been hard to uproot, and saying by to some friends who are going through a hard time at the moment has been difficult. But we have and its a new chapter in our lives.

our visas in our passports!
So we are almost ready for the off. We left Wakefield a week last monday and we will make stop offs in Lewes for my sister, Normandy for Sylvie's mum, Amsterdam and Frankfurt for old friends and then make our way over to Latvia for our entry which will be sometime around May 15th. Fingers crossed we will make it across the border. Watch this space.

The underbed storage finally packed - lots of Yorkshire Tea!