The Journey of Discovery quite literally changes scale this week as it goes from the miniature to the massive. The intricate micro art three-and-a-half millimetre model boat visited last week would be absolutely lost in the gargantuan submarine holding pens that would be one of the next stops on the Journey of Discovery. Situated at the port town of Balaklava, Ukraine, the once top secret submarine base for the Soviet’s Black Sea Fleet offers an incredible, and sizeable reminder of the Cold War.
With its ability to survive a direct nuclear hit and home and sustain 3,000 people for over a month, the Crimean coast submarine shelter is now preserved as a museum. Special permission allowed the Journey of Discovery Land Rovers to drive into the base itself. Illuminating the dark, cavernous tunnels with powerful headlamps the Land Rovers travelled into areas that once housed submarines as vast as 300 ft in length and packing some terrifying, and world-changing, firepower.
Off the map since 1957, the town was re-introduced to the world in 1992. It is almost inconceivable that in living memory such a secret place existed. That the Journey of Discovery had such unfettered access to this incredible and once highly secretive Cold War relic is a remarkable indicator of the changes the world has witnessed. That is obvious too in Balaklava’s bay, now filled by a glittering array of expensive yachts from around the world rather than a sinister submarine fleet.
Leaving subterranean submarine bases behind the Journey of Discovery set off en-route to Tula. A brief diversion allowed everyone to encounter a little bit more Russian history – automotive this time.
This glimpse into Russian automotive history was found at the end of a long, deeply rutted driveway covered with deep snow. Easy enough for the Discoverys. At the driveway’s end resides a unique collection of cars owned by Mikhail Krasinets. Two fields full of around 300 examples of Soviet vehicles, everything from the everyday Moskvich 1500 that was the preserve of the few lucky enough to afford private transport, to the 1961 Gaz Chaika which would have been reserved for the very highest Communist Party officials.
A former Russian factory rally driver and Moskvich test driver, Krasinets’ collection might not be museum quality but it’s an intriguing insight into Soviet motoring, the comfort, refinement and capability of the Discoverys a world away from these simple, austere machines. That comfort and capability is greatly appreciated as the team negotiates the rough track back to tarmac.
Leaving Tula – a town famous for being the birthplace of ‘War and Peace’ novelist Leo Tolstoy – the Journey of Discovery makes a pit-stop at Tula’s finest gingerbread bakery. The recipe for the heavy, sweet and tasty gingerbread is as closely guarded a secret as the Balaklava submarine base used to be, though it’ll be welcome sustenance as the Journey continues to travel East on its 8,000 mile trip to Beijing.
Before it gets there, the journey will visit Moscow, where the team will be enjoying the sights of the capital city, mixing with local artists and even having a sauna. A mobile sauna, of course. As the wheels keep turning on the Journey of Discovery one thing is for certain, with boots brimming with gingerbread nobody will be going hungry for a while!