Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why did you want to go to all these weird countries?
A: I don't know. But I've always been intrigued with the former Soviet Union. I suppose it was because as a child, there were so many spy films about it. Moscow was a secretive, off-limits place. When the Berlin Wall went down, I was still at university. Suddenly, all these countries became available.
Q: What was your favourite country of the Red Quest?
A: Easy! Turkmenistan! Its capital is like nowhere else on Earth. It's totally off centre and I loved it there.
Q: And the least favourite...?
A: Hmmm...a tricky one. And do you know what, I can't really answer that. I enjoyed all the countries I got to on the quest. Of course there were occasions when I wasn't enjoying myself - being stuck in the visa room of Dushanbe Airport springs to mind, as does falsely accusing a cleaner of stealing some money from me in Tbilisi, but overall, there are no least favourites.
Q: How did you afford all the trips?
A: With difficulty. It helped having a credit card with a hefty limit and an understanding wife. But there's no getting around the fact that getting to some of these places are going to make a big dent in the finances.
Q: How did you organsine a trip as mammoth as the Red Quest?
A: At first, it wasn't that big a deal, that came later. Initially, it was just booking a flight and hotel and off we went. So most of the places in Europe, with the exception of Belarus, were fairly easy. But then, when the Red Quest kicked in big time, things got a bit more complicated. Flights were a nightmare, as were organisng visas. The worst ones for hassle were the Central Asian countries. For them, I used a company called Stan Tours. I honestly don't know what I'd have done without their help. But doing multiple countries definitely helped.
Q: Were any of the places you visited dangerous?
A: I never felt in danger, not even once, except perhaps on my journey between Armenia and Georgia. But that was because we were driving through a snow blizzard. Oh, and the time hounds chased Michael and me in Kiev. And maybe that time in the border hut between Moldova and Transnistria. But everywhere else was fine. Sure, there were a few edgy moments, and sometime the police were a bit keen, but overall, I was fine. Nothing was ever stolen or pickpocketed. Maybe I was lucky.
Q: Can you speak Russian?
A: No. But I can read Cyrillic. It took me a short while to learn it but I am glad I did. Without it, I'd have struggled in some of the countries I went to. Being able to read Cyrillic meant I could decipher street signs and negotiate my way around metro stations etc. If anyone is thinking of going to places like Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia or Ukraine, then I'd advise them to learn Cyrillic.
Q: Finally, any tips for fellow adventurists in the former Soviet Union?
A: Do your research. Find out about a place before you get there. Always have a map of the city so you know the location of the hotel. As for money, take US dollars. Everywhere will exchange them for their local currency. And don't rely on your ATM card working. Finally, enjoy yourself - it won't be long before everyone discovers the delights of Kyrgyzstan or Moldova.