Monday, 3 October 2016

ScooterSteve has decided to move his blog here: SCOOTERSTEVE'S BLOG

Thank you for your following my adventures #scooterfreedom

Monday, 5 September 2016

St Petersburg: Too cold to scooter. But not to drink beer!

Fair weather Scooter Steve.  Yup!  There is a thermal level below which I don’t don my open face helmet and twist the throttle. Somewhere around the 0-degree level snowballs have a better chance.

So when I am not scooting up a blaze the next best thing is to drink beer.  Those who know me, or think they know me, know me for one other thing. My appreciation of the amber nectar.  I have spent the better part of my legal adult life consuming as much of the stuff as I can. When I travel I make a point of sampling as many variations of beer as humanly possible. And my recent trip to Mother Russia (say it in a Baltic accent) was no exception.

It all starts with a visa. Even for Europeans!

As a Saffa (South African) the journey beyond the iron curtain begins in Pretoria.  A monstrous face-brick monolith conceals the consulate.  Alas, no Kalashnikov rifles greeted me at the visa application center. The days of cold war hostilities are over. Come to think of it, South Africa and ex-MK have always been on pretty good speaking terms.  However, the current diplomatic feeling seems somewhat strained.  A tangled spaghetti beaurocratic process now awaits you to get your entry permit for a short stay in Russia.  I am used to applying for Schengens and African Visas.  The Russian Visa takes similar ingenuity and verve.  First you need to get your head around Cyrillic application forms.  The next barrier to entry is arranging a letter of invitation in the form of a tourist voucher.  Most good hotels in Russia are licensed to issue this voucher. You need to pay for your stay in advance.  Only when you have this voucher in hand can you start the online application process. There are some online voucher vendors like VFS global but I personally wouldn't use them. Europeans and American clutter the online forums venting their frustrations.  They feel that their freedom of movement is violated because they actually have to plan their itinerary upfront.  I laugh! “Welcome to my world!”.
As a South African we have one of the most restrictive passports in the world. I think the only country north of the equator we don’t need a visa for is Somalia.  Quality holiday destination I hear!!!

Touchdown St Petersburg (Via Frankfurt)

Touchdown Pulkovo Airport. Passport in hand my arrival into the winter wonderland was all but smooth.  The company that has the tender to supply South African passports ran out of ink the day they printed my passport back in 2008.  The photo is distorted and the authenticity leaves a lot to be desired.  The Russian customs official were onto this suspicious looking African. Several in-house experts examined my passport under duress and microscope.  My only defense was that I had been allowed into the US and Europe on several occasions so if it passed Obama’s and Merkel’s scrutiny who was Putin to think he was better?   Probably the wrong choice of logic but it worked.  Welcome to Russia ScooterSteve. Or as they say, “Dorbro Pozhalovat!” (добро пожаловать)

Dodgy passport!

Forget Vodka, It’s time to find Pivo aka beer?

St Petersburg has a very European feel.  A no brainer considering it's in Europe and not Asia. The architecture is grand and opulent unlike the soviet era face brick façade of the Pretoria Embassy.   The Grand Palaces of the Romanov's flank the Neva River and its canal systems.   Anything but drab and grey. It’s about time I found a beer. Yes! Beer. The reason for life.

Baltico Beer is Russian Castle Lager!

Scooterstevesky recommends a Laughing Sam!!!

“Craft beer shmaaft beer”.  If it has the words artisanal, craft or boutique in it I wanna vomit.  21st century marketing bollocks that reeks of skinny jeans, hipsters and un-manicured beards.  Yes I have issues!  Agreed, these buzz words draw in the crowds. That’s probably why I hate them. It’s marketing for the sheep.   But if St Petersburg and I were to become friends I would have to get over myself.  They are a few years behind the curve so there is still a sincere honesty about their “micro breweries” and “craft beers”. Micro is fine. It says small and unpretentious!  The man in the street drinks his Baltica lager proudly, but the new wave of Russian drinkers are bored. A pale ale is what they want so an IPA is what I want.

Geography: There are 3 main districts (islands) to St Petersburg worth noting. They are Admiralteysky, Petrogradsky & Vasileostrovsky! Everything is suffixed with a sky!  Pronouced: ski

And boy did I find a beer worth a laugh.  I stumbled across the Craft Brew Café across the road from the Metro station on Admiralteysky island near the Hermitage.
This spot is top notch. It has a quasi California beach theme. The redeeming feature is the choice of 10 local ales. Not a mass produced Baltica anywhere. 
My favourite was an IPA called Laughing Sam. The irony! Its flavour has notes of “die American capitalist pig” with a hint of "anti-west propaganda" after taste!   A bargain at 190 Rubles ($3)

Global Warming wake up!

I was expecting St Petersburg to be cold. The locals are complaining ‘cause it used to be a place you could experience a white Christmas.  These days the snow melts away, even in mid December.  Despite the unpredictable weather the snow bursts are frequent and help deliver that winter wonderland effect.  The average temp this December was just above freezing.  The low season from a tourist perspective which suited me fine.  I had all the attractions to myself.  (Cruise ships can’t sail in the ice packed Neva and Gulf of Finland!)

The Hermitage Complex

Scooterstevesky is not a museum kind of guy.  But when you have the whole town to yourself you make exceptions.  The Hermitage is epic.  Like Victoria Falls Epic.  It WILL blow your mind.  The Hermitage is made up of 6 buildings with the Winter Palace taking center stage. 

3 million art works on display. Entire floors dedicated to masters like Da Vinci and Van Rijn are yours to enjoy without a selfie stick in sight. For 600 Rubles ($10) it’s a crash course in art appreciation.

Da Vinci's Madonna Litta (1490) 

Borscht. Nyet!

My beer appetite needed to be satiated.  And I needed some good grub.  The Russians can keep their borscht. Sour beetroot soup won’t cut it.  With its close proximity to Finland and greater Scandinavia, St P’s gastronomy shares similar themes.   Smorgasbords have gone Michelin Star and Buterbrodskybar in Vasileostrovsky is leading the way.  Amuse-Bouche meets Spanish “pincho” tapas - and they serve a multitude of local brews. A 5,8% Ingria ale was my brew of the night. What could go wrong?!

Ingria Pale Ale

A few too many beers later I had to snow-graffiti a parked car. Politsi!

Russian Pie = Russian hangover cure!

The search for beer is never ending.  So is the cure for a hangover.   Luckily this is something the Russians know a lot about. Pierogi (pie) is a Russian staple.
Peppered throughout the country is a franchise canteen restaurant called Stolle* that specialize in amazing meaty, fishy & fruity pies. Take away or sit down order your slice and enjoy. 
“Ready for another beer?”

* not to be mistaken for the German fruit bread stollen.   

Stolle sell the best Pierogi

Chicken, Mushroom, Fish, Apple!

St P kept me entertained for 3 full days.  Plenty time to see all the attractions and get a feel for the city.   Apart from beer here is my list of must see places:

1. Do a “Hop on hop off bus trip” to get the lay of the land from above ground.  You’ll see all the major attractions and realize you can skip all of them!

      2.   Hermitage Museum.  Get there early, or come in winter!

      3. Church of the Spilt Blood is impressive.  Worth a walk past.

      4. Skip the Vodka Museum. Tourist trap.  

      5.  The Faberge Museum.  The original Kinder Surprise. This place has 15 of the known 43 eggs.  Tours are only in Russian so hire an audio book.

      6.  Day trip to Pushkin 20km south of St P. Visit the Summer Palace and Amber Room.  Get a sense of how rich the Romanovs were! 

 7. Ballet.  Go to the Mikhailovsky.  It's less commercial than the Mariinsky Ballet and equally as good. Buy tickets here:

Top Tip: St P has good public transport. Use the ubiquitous trolley bus OR underground metro network 

The new Russian: Rossiyskiy Patriotism

You’ll get tired of speaking politics.  Everyone has a theory.  Russia has a long complicated past. Its worthy to note that the Soviet Era and Communism only reflects the period from 1917 to 1991. Russians are more eclectic, racially diverse and multicultural than you can ever imagine.

The stereotype of Russians being unfriendly is nonsense. A Hollywood’ism. Don’t get me wrong.  The average working class man in the street in any city is grumpy!  Russians are no exception. But, they are very approachable and eager to chat!

You’ll read many articles highlighting Russian intolerance toward minorities (LGBT,Jews, Africans, Turks etc).  Read this article on the new wave of Russian Patriotism to get a better understanding of their past, their future, and the modern multi cultural Russian reinvented.  

Scootersteve out!

Church of the Spilled Blood

Friday, 19 August 2016

Fordsburg Pilgrimage on The Dude (Gomoto Yesterday 150cc)

My day job is directing reality TV shows.  I am a freelancer with an emphasis on “free”!  I don’t know if that makes me kak at my job or too expensive.  The clue points to the fact I ride a scooter and not a fancy German sedan!  I wouldn’t have it any other way. With all this free time I get to explore my city on my Gomoto Yesterday 150cc aka. The Dude!
The Dude is 5 years old. 

He was a wedding gift from ScooterM in 2011 and since then I have wracked up 4641km. We have been on many adventures together in the past 5 years. In all this time his starter engine has never failed. Through winter, rain and shine he starts every time.  The Dude needs little encouragement to putter!

The air is cold in Gauteng despite spring approaching. I am on a pilgrimage to explore Jozi’s Islamic quarter. A stone's throw from Johannesburg's inner city is Fordsburg.  (Yes! In sunny South Africa) 

A Minaret amongst the sky scrapers of Johannesburg

Welcome to Fordsburg #fnb

A small Muslim community in the heart of this African metropolis. The locals are at least 5th generation South African, mostly of Indian and Pakistani heritage.  Why they came to live in South Africa is a question for google.  I however came here for one thing. The food. In particular, a triangle shaped pocket of heaven. The Samoosa.

It feels like you’ve been teleported to the Middle East the moment you enter Mint Street.  It’s wall to wall eateries and hookah bars. The smoking kind & not the rent by the hour kind! The atmosphere is friendly and the shop keepers welcoming. What I love about my scooter is its ability to ramp pavements and turn on a ticky. Parking is never a problem on busy streets. I removed the center stand years ago to prevent scraping. Only the kickstand remains.  

My first stop timed with the midday call to prayer. Rookie error! I guess my appetizer at Bismillah’s will have to wait for an hour. Bismillah’s is an institution.  With 7 canteens around the country the food is fresh and service prompt. I hear the ice cream is beyond amazing.  #nexttime

Next door to Bismallah’s is a hole in the wall Bangladeshi canteen.  The shop keeper was back from the Musjid and allowed me to try his Khaja treats.  It’s a sweet, sticky, crunchy kiss of joy.   Glucose levels restored the need for savoury was now strong.

Bangladeshi Khaja

If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s you would have been to the Oriental Plaza at least once to buy your sister / mother / aunt material to make a dress.   As a young boy I begrudgingly attended this matric dance dress right of passage.  Today I was taking back my dignity in search of a samoosa.  2 blocks west from Mint Street, the Plaza is an unassuming shell.  Inside though you feel like you’ve crash landed in a Souk on the Persian Gulf.  Incense fills the air, linen and material shops with discount signs pepper the alley ways.  The bright LED light of the “World of Samoosas” shone brightly in my eyes!

The Dude is a small scooter for a big person. Its max loading is 150kg which means it can take Scootersteve’s tenth of a ton weight easily.  And the suspension is forgiving and soft.  I have often mentioned cruising on The Dude feels like riding a marshmallow.  It’s what you need in the urban jungle with the broken roads and potholes.

Back to the Samoosa.  My pilgrimage was near complete. I had reached my metaphorical Mecca. "World of Samoosas" is the best of the best.  Each order is prepared fresh and the wait is well worth it.  I ordered 4.  A bargain at R3,80 each ($0,30).  The lamb spice packs a punch. A Killarney housewife’s sensitivities are not catered for here! This is Halal Heaven!  Like the Dude my tummy is firing on all 4’s! 


The Dude is a tame, forgiving ride.  The 150cc power plant could do with a few extra horses.  I’ll take any superbike from 0 to 10km/h, but the acceleration from 10-60km/h is snail like. One day I will own a Vespa 300 GT!

What I like most about the Gomoto Yesterday is the ride position.  It’s the cruiser of scooters.  Wide bars and a long wheel base makes for effortless riding.  Even the pillion has a built in back rest and foot pegs. 

You will either like the retro styling or hate it.  I love it! The only downside of the design is the lack of storage under the seat.
Make now mistake this bike is a Chinese import with a price to match.  But unlike the Motomia and other knock-offs the Gomoto has a better build quality and boxes above it class in aesthetic appeal.

The Dude has proven himself over the year and my score is a biased 40/50.