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Travel around Russia and meet good people

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Travel around Russia and meet good people


Svetlana Smetanina

How do you rise to fame and become a popular blogger with 300,000 subscribers when you are a bit over 70? Arno Pavel, an Estonian pensioner, has found his recipe for success. At 72, he drove his UAZ from Tallinn to Vladivostok and back. Impressions from such a trip would have been enough for any person for a lifetime. But Arno did not stop there: over the past three years he has visited Petrozavodsk, Arkhangelsk, Syktyvkar, Orenburg, Astrakhan, Elista, Grozny and even the Kola Peninsula. He also wrote a book about his trips to Russia and plans to write another one.

Dream does come true

It all started with a long-nurtured dream. At the beginning of the 20th century Arno Paul’s ancestors went from the Baltic all the way to Vladivostok. Back then, just as now, the land was distributed for free, thanks to the Stolypins land reform. In 1926 Arno's father was born there. He graduated from the Navigation College, went through the Great Patriotic War and was discharged in Estonia, where he decided to stay. But he handed the dream to return to Vladivostok someday over to his son. Needless to say, everyday life with its concerns did not allow breaking out and setting on such a long journey. He got free time only after retirement.

Arno Pavel (on the left) with family

There was no question on how to go. Because there was the UAZ in the garage waiting for its finest hour for many years. Then it was equipped with a new engine, airbags and GPS-navigator. And there came the time to take the road! Well, Arno started his own blog so impressions and beautiful sceneries of nature would not be wasted. The number of subscribers quickly reached almost 300,000.

Arno drove his UAZ and made 27 thousand kilometers in 55 days. And what impressed him the most were not the Russian roads or beauty of nature in different places, but the people.

The most unexpected was to see kind people and so many of them! I was prepared to the fact that they would not welcome me very well in Russia since I am Estonian. But everything turned out the other way around. The police stopped me near Irkutsk and asked where I had come from. “From Estonia,” I answered. Holy Moley, the policeman looked astonished, Drive on. He didnt even check my papers. There are so warm hearted, kind people.

I was welcomed and taken care of in Vladivostok by absolute strangers.

The route of Arno Pavels first journey

Vladivostok is a very beautiful city. Ports, ships, bridges are so power-packed... My acquaintances from Irkutsk referred me to a person there. And absolute strangers welcomed me as if I had been their relative. That married couple of pensioners is very kind and sincere. They took me for a drive all around Vladivostok in their Zhiguli. I regret that I spent such little time there - I should have stayed longer.

And six months later, he was found in a social network by a person having the same family name and, as it turned out, his distant relative - Igor Pavel from Vladivostok. He read Arnos blog and realized that there were family ties between them. Now he invites Arno for a visit. So Arno has a plan to go there again and meet his relatives.

You can meet bears on the roads in Yakutia

To Astrakhan via the Russian North

Impressions from just one trip like that would have been enough for any person for a lifetime. But Arno Pavel is different. He became bored again just staying at home, and in 2016 decided to go to Astrakhan, where he was invited for a visit. However, making sure that the journey would not end too fast, he chose the long way around - via the Russian North.

The second trip was even more difficult than driving from Estonia to Vladivostok. When I was finishing my first trip, I ended up at the festival of Russian jeepers somewhere near Moscow. And one of my new friends there invited me to visit his tourist complex in Astrakhan. But driving from Moscow straight to Astrakhan would be too fast and unentertaining. So I made the following plan drive the UAZ to the North as far as possible, and then turn south to Astrakhan. And there is Kalmykia next to Astrakhan - also an intriguing place. So there was such a big circle - 16 thousand kilometers long.

On the Barents Sea

That time Arno traveled for two months and managed to visit Petrozavodsk, Arkhangelsk, Syktyvkar, Orenburg, Volgograd, Astrakhan, Elista, Grozny, Vladikavkaz and Kaliningrad. He met new friends in every city who helped him see the most beautiful places.

Society of friendship with Estonia in Petrozavodsk

While in Petrozavodsk, I called to the Ochag Society of Friendship with Estonia, a Karelian public organization, and asked them to help me visit Kizhi Island and show around Petrozavodsk. So I met Elena Ryabikova, the head of the Society of Friendship, and she helped me with the hotel, showed me the city and organized a trip to Kizhi Island. I talked with other people from this Society they are very friendly and warmhearted people. I spent a couple of days there.

There is also the Friendship Society with Estonia in Arkhangelsk. And I also had the phone number of a local journalist. He met me on the city boundary; I stayed with him and spent a couple of nights at his place. There I visited the local ethnography history museum. In general, I try to visit a local museum in each city or town to understand how people settled down in those places. And I must say that the Arkhangelsk Ethnography Museum is one of the best that I have ever seen.

Arno found necessary contacts even in Grozny, what is more - from the circle of the head of the republic.


I have a good friend - a journalist who has contacts almost all over Russia. So he gave me contacts in Grozny. By the way, it was a Kadyrovs adviser - a very kind and good person. He also met me on the city boundary, helped me settle at a hotel. He drove me to the mountains in his car.

The most important part of traveling is meeting people

The following year, 2017, Arno went on a trip with a large group of Russian jeepers. He even took along a little granddaughter to show her the beauty of the Russian North. This time he visited Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula.

And each time, returning from his yet another trip to Russia, Arno shares his impressions with compatriots in Estonia since there are many of those who wish to listen to him.

With jeepers from Syktyvkar in Perm

They mostly ask how people live there. I answer: not bad. I used to think, as many do in Estonia, that our life is better than life in Russia. But it is not so. Especially in cities, it is not so at all. This year I went to Moscow for a meeting with a jeepers club. Currently I am preparing a new trip to the Far East and looking for a company who I can go together with. I was traveling through Moscow, I thought the traffic was really challenging there, it would be a test for me. But it turned out that the traffic is very well organized, and the drivers are very polite - they thank you if you give a road to someone.

Over the years, Arno has shared his impressions on Estonian radio and television, has given lectures at the Estonian Heritage Society, the National Library, at the Estonian Writers' House, as well as at gymnasiums and day care centers for elderly people. There have been so many impressions from the trips that he even wrote Travelling Russia with UAZ and is planning to write the second book. Especially since there are still a lot of travel plans. For example, he has been invited over to Yakutia, where he visited in 2014. Moreover, the story behind this acquaintance is also a prominent one.

In the Khibiny Mountains

I had the phone number of one jeeper in Yakutsk. I was standing on the ferry that goes over the Lena River and calling him, but there was no answer. And nobody attended when I called second and third time. One man standing nearby understood what the matter was and said: Lets go to my place, my house is empty. Then it turned out that he was a local banker. He has a luxury house and a Russian bathhouse. So I lived there for a week. He took me fishing on his boat. And now he constantly calls me - come again.

This picture Arno Pavel sent with the caption: "I am training, I want to travel more!"

So now Arno has so many friends in Russia that every thousand kilometers there is someone to ask help from. If suddenly help is needed, there are phone numbers and addresses.

During my trips I have realized that the most important part of traveling is meeting people. And so I decided to write the second book - about traveling and about people.


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