A Travellerspoint blog

Babyn – Khreniv 191km

Meeting Hannibal - "Is this Clarice? Why, hello Clarice"

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Today was another long yet productive day on two wheels. I was desperate to find a gas station in the morning so I could check all the football scores and download the podcast reaction to all the games. I wish I hadn't, Liverpool lost 3-0!

It always seems that I make some very mundane observations about my daily rides but I hope that others may find them interesting in a somewhat quirky way. Today I came across the future of petrol stations. I'd seen these stations before but only in cities and therefore never needed to go in. It's a petrol station run by a company from Azerbaijan. They are very striking from the outside, clear, smooth rounded surfaces with beautiful dark glass windows. I swear I'm not going over the top here but they really look more like that of a space station as opposed to a petrol station. I even felt bad when I went inside; I just rolled out of some field carrying a little bit of dirt I guess and probably not looking the best and suddenly here I am inside this wonderfully sleek interior, all white and more importantly sparkling clean. If anyone is riding in this part of the world look out for them they are called 'Socar'

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NASA inspired gas stations in Ukraine.

It was here that I also met the station manager Voller who spoke near flawless English. He explained to me that since the country was awarded Euro 2012 a lot of things such as roads and services have improved. He seemed almost slightly embarrassed when I told him that it was the nicest gas station I've encountered in over 12,000 kilometres.

However that comes at a cost and it's a tad more expensive than it's competitors but the chocolate croissant and doughnut I devoured for breakfast were first rate.

I'm not sure the cleaning lady quite shared Voller's enthusiasm in seeing me as I headed off to the immaculately clean toilet with my wash bag and ragged old towel under my arm. As soon as I left she was in there like a shot to remove any dirt I'd left behind!

I've been told that the further West one goes in Ukraine the more European or to be more specific Polish things become. As I mentioned yesterday the scenery has changed quite significantly and the stronger Russian influence in the East is gradually being replaced.

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Heading West but the Orthodox churches remain as spectacular as ever.

I met a very interesting local guy at around 130km. The first thing I should say about him is that he bore a striking resemblance to the character Hannibal Lecter minus the crazy face mask you understand. Despite the fact that he was riding an extremely old rickety bike he seemed determined to keep pace with me. He spoke very good English and as we rode side by side he informed me that he lived in the US previously for twenty five years. He was a really interesting guy, if somewhat slightly eccentric. In the brief time we spent riding together I found out he worked construction in the States and also worked in casinos in Las Vegas, he was now a beekeeper.

As hard as I tried I still couldn't shake the Hannibal thing and rather bizarrely it seemed to influence the way I answered his questions. He was off to see a concert at a nearby church and asked if I'd like to go with him. When I declined his invitation he asked where do I usually sleep; I answered in a field and then quickly changed my response to “but tonight I'll be in a motel” Paranoia was really beginning to take over, he was friendly enough but his almost identical appearance to that of the feared, yet fictional serial killer was enough for me to set my mind racing. After about five kilometres riding together he turned off and wished me good luck on my way but perhaps it was just my imagination but I could swear there was a small glint in his eye!

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I pushed on into the early evening and by the time I stopped just after 190km I was totally beat. I was at the point where I didn't really care where I slept and some tall trees lining the road gave me the perfect camouflage from the traffic on the road. I just about summoned the energy to put up the tent, inflate the mattress and boil up some hot water for the instant mash potato I purchased earlier in the day before crashing out for the night.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 01:04 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Zhytomyr - Babyn 174km

Left leg, right leg, left leg, right leg, left leg, right leg, left leg.................

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The sun comes up much later in the morning these days which makes getting out of bed or the tent in this case much harder. My new sleeping mattress went down a treat and just made it even harder to drag myself out of my shelter to pack up the bike. It's also much colder in the morning now and the days of packing up while just wearing my shorts as the sun beat down upon me seem to be well and truly long gone; now it's all about layers and warming myself up for the day ahead.

Once again the road was great today and I'm finding myself riding through more forest now as opposed to vast open fields; it makes a nice change.
The weather picked up later on in the day and I was able to dispense with the jacket and revert back to my t-shirt.

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Ukraine has lots of these designated sites which are great for stop at and having a rest or even just taking a stupid picture of oneself.

Again I hope it doesn't seem like I'm writing much less these days but not a lot happens to be quite honest. I just continue picking up my right leg and follow it with my left and do this for a good eight hours or so. The pace is good but certainly not strenuous.

I did meet a couple of really friendly policeman on my ride today. They were doing their routine speed checks and flagged me down. It was clear they hadn't stopped me for breaking the speed limit but they were just interested in why someone would be riding a bicycle through their country.
It's funny when I meet locals one of the first questions they seem to ask is “Have you had any trouble from the police?” And the simple answer is no. I think if memory serves me correctly I've only been asked for my passport twice; once in China where it was taken into the police station to be checked and once by a soldier as I neared the Uzbekistan border in Kazakhstan. It's interesting how we have a natural tendency to look upon the police with a certain level of mistrust. I usually give them a small tip of the head as I pass and as I say I've not experienced any problems.

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I spent a lot of the day thinking about the upcoming football season. It doesn't matter how old I get I still get that tingle of excitement before the big kick off although the wild optimism that used to accompany it has now I'm glad to say lessened. I debated whether I should try and stop and find a hotel for the night so that I could perhaps watch the football but then I remembered that I'm no longer in China and that there is now only a two hour difference between here and the UK and I no longer need to stay up until ten at night to catch a game.

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I once again found myself a nice field for the night overlooking a nice valley. I'm about 220km from Lviv I guess and if I really wanted to push it I suppose I could make it there tomorrow. However my plan is to probably ride about 180 and then arrive early on Monday morning but as I've come to realize on this trip I'll get there when I get there, it's as simple as that.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 00:10 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Kiev - Zhytomyr 134km

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As per usual when I stay at somebody’s house I always plan for an early start but this never ever materializes. I woke up this morning around eight thirty and noticed a cup of tea next to my bed, I mean really you don't get service like this even in a hotel, spoiled rotten.

Natalie was not only kind enough to escort me from her apartment to the correct road for Zhytomyr but also drove to the nearby hardware superstore where she picked up some extra fuel for my stove.

There isn't too much to report these days whilst riding but I do have to say that the roads in Ukraine are very very good. You can always guarantee though when the road is good then the wind will turn against you which once again seemed to be the case today.

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My favourite roadside restaurant in Ukraine, is it Topw? or Topuy? Whatever it is it serves up top notch food.

I'm a little concerned about the weather. I'm a typical Brit when the weather is very hot it's 'too hot' but now there has been a drop in the temperature and the odd drop of rain it's 'too cold' We are a hard bunch to please. I've been told though that this weather is pretty uncommon for this time of the year and that the warm weather should return. I sincerely hope so as I'm not quite ready to wave goodbye to the summer just yet.

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Yes that is a rocket

I was well stocked for my ride with a whole assortment of goodies which meant I didn't have to bother stopping during the day and despite the fact that I left around eleven I was still able to make good ground and reach Zhytomyr by the end of the day.

I met a very helpful local truck driver at the gas station who noticing me consulting my GPS directed me the right way to Rivne.

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According to this Paris is just 1949km away although I've planned for a little more

Ukraine has plenty forest lining the roads which makes wild camping very easy. I found a lovely little spot not far off the road and deep in amongst the trees. It's been a while since I had fuel for my stove so I made the most of it by firing it up for a nice evening brew.

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I was also looking forward to sleeping on my new inflatable mattress so kindly given to me by Yuri.

Well short entry today folks as not much happening, hoping to make near to Rivne tomorrow about 200km away.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 13:25 Archived in Ukraine Comments (1)

One more day in Kiev

Weather stops cycling

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I decided to stay an extra day in Kiev, I didn't feel as if I'd really seen all of what I wanted to see yesterday.

I was partly persuaded by a dinner the previous evening. As I mentioned in my last post Natalie's parents have just returned from their very own epic trip around Russia by train. Her mother Helena had prepared a special meal to celebrate their return. I had heard Yuri (her father) talking busily on the phone earlier that day and heard the words – velosiped (bicycle in Russian) and Kitay (China) uttered in excited tones. About half an hour before dinner was served Yuri's best mate also named Yuri turned up at the apartment. It turns out that Yuri is something of a keen cycle tourist himself having toured in England and Greece to name but two countries.

Helena served up what can only be described as a mammoth meal enough to feed fifty. Natalie spent most of the evening acting as a translator as both Yuri's fired different questions to me about my trip. Likewise I had many questions for Yuri and in particular about his time in England. He loved, by all accounts the English countryside but couldn't understand why angry farmers would come and usher him off their fields! Wild camping is far easier in this neck of the woods.

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Yuri, Natalie's father had come to me before dinner and asked in a rather clandestine way if it would be possible for me to drink with them at dinner. I'm not sure why he felt the need to ask perhaps he thought I was in some way now this finely tuned Olympic sportsman who had totally abstained from alcohol consumption.

Ukraine like Russia and Kazakhstan before are very big into their 'toasts' I'd experienced this integral part of a meal way back in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I'd also been invited to toast a young lad on the occasion of his 16th birthday.

This time it was very much Yuri who was in charge of toasting. He produced a bottle of cognac and proceeded to fill both mine and Yuri's glasses. The first toast went to the 'travellers' at the table and by that Yuri meant me, Helena and his good self. Ten minutes later we were raising our glasses to Olga as she prepares for University. I managed to jump in with my very own toast third time around and thanked them for their hospitality and wished health and prosperity to the whole Ukrainian nation.

By now the cognac was flowing freely and the two Yuri's despite their age continued to fill their glasses with a kind of cheeky, youthful glee. Once the bottle was finished Yuri reached down for a bottle of vodka, Yuri two made no objection but the women of the room spoke up and it was promptly put back on the floor.......I'd escaped!

Yuri asked lots of questions about what equipment I have and if I'd had any problems, he was particularly interested in my sleeping mat and when I explained to him that it had a small hole in it which I'd thus far been unable to locate he promised to return the very next morning with a new one for me. I told him it really wasn't necessary but he insisted.

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The 'boyz'

The evening was a roaring success and I went to bed stuffed full and with that warm feeling that only the contents of a bottle of cognac can produce.

When I awoke in the morning I finally decided and not due to a hangover I might add to stay an extra day.

I'd become intrigued by the story of the legendary football match that is said to have taken place in Kiev during the second world war, that of the so called 'death match' I won't go into the details as you can find them here on this Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_Match The general story goes that a group of workers from the local bakery factory took on members of the German Luftwaffe in 1942 and beat them. The upshot of this was that members of the team were sent to prisoner of war camps and some of them were said to have been executed, although a German court of law found recently that there was no evidence of this. It is said that the game itself was part of the inspiration behind the Christmas holiday classic 'Escape to Victory'

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The entrance to the Start stadium

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The game has gathered something of almost mythical, legendary status amongst locals and the events are somewhat clouded.

I decided to pay a visit to the rather run down and neglected stadium of 'Start' or formerly Zenit Stadium. It was pretty derelict to say the least and had fallen into serious disrepair. There was a monument however erected near the entrance which is I assume is in memory of those brave and inspirational souls who lost their lives. According to Wikipedia it bears the inscription in Ukrainian:

For our beautiful presence
They fell in a fight
For ages your glory won't fade,
The fearless hero-athletes.

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I was in full blown stadium overdrive mode at this point and from there I proceeded swiftly on the venue for the Euro 2012 final the Olympic Stadium. Unlike the stadium I visited a day earlier I was this time allowed to go and walk around the outside although the security guard was insistent that I leave my bike with him at the gate. It was a real shame to see that they actually run tours of the stadium but unfortunately these are carried out every weekday except Thursday.

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Nevertheless I enjoyed my short stroll around the stadium and the small yet impressive museum next to the club shop.

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It wasn't long after that that my decision to not leave Kiev today was fully justified as it began to pour down with rain. I was forced to take cover for a good half an hour under an archway.

Once the rain had cleared I set about ticking off the last of the things I wanted to see in Kiev. One of Kiev's most striking landmarks is that of the 'Mother of the Fatherland' statue which was erected as part of the museum of the Great Patriotic War from 1941-1945. It actually stands at over one hundred metres high. It seems that the monument divides opinion and I've been told is more popular with foreign visitors who see it as a symbol of Kiev. Some have argued that it's something of a monstrosity but I have to say while it's not the kind of thing you'd want in your back garden it's quite impressive all the same.

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I was pleased that I'd managed to see a little bit more of Kiev. It's certainly a city that warrants much more time but isn't that the case for most places?

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And one more thing.....Kiev and its homeless dog population.......at least these ones much preferred a nap as opposed to chasing myself and the bike saliva dripping from their teeth

Helena was waiting for me when I got back and despite the fact that it was four o'clock she still insisted on feeding me some Borsch, apparently she made a batch especially for me as news that I'd yet to sample 'real' Borsch had reached her. In Borsch terms it was certainly up there with the best.

Helena prepared one final supper for us and Yuri also returned in the evening with another map of the Ukraine. In typical male fashion he had managed to coincide his visit with the serving of dinner and was duly invited to stay.

Once again I've run out of superlatives to describe the hospitality shown to me. I learned some much from sitting around the kitchen table drinking endless cups of tea about life in the Ukraine both past and present. I once again cannot thank Natalie, Helena, Olga and of course the two Yuri's for making my time in Kiev a memorable one and of course how could I forget Brian the ferret.

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 09:59 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Kiev

And no I haven't eaten Chicken Kiev!

rain

Unfortunately it's been a rather rain affected three days here in Kiev but nevertheless it's not deterred me from enjoying myself and for the first time in a long time I feel like I've actually been able to unwind.

It's funny that when you get to a new place your first instinct is to get out and see as much as possible. I'm not sure how other cyclists feel but more often that not my first instinct these days is to get the kettle on a do some serious relaxing. In many respects you could say that the bad weather has been something of a blessing in disguise. If the sun was shining all day long there be a certain part of my brain that would feel incredibly guilty at not doing anything but as it is I've been excused as it were from conventional tourist duties.

That's not to say that I'm not interested in what Kiev has to offer, far from it, it's just that sometimes one needs a break from all that running around.

I spent the first afternoon catching up with this very blog that you are so kindly taking the time and interest to read. I went into the city with Natalie and Derek and to the Web design company they run called Bold Endeavours http://www.boldendeavours.com/ Derek had asked me to go along as he was meeting with a guy named Boris who runs another company called http://extremeparty.ua/ and whose company offer all number of adventure holidays from Trekking in Africa to Kayaking in Siberia. It was fascinating to hear his stories and how his company works and I once again found myself making mental notes of other places I need to go as I listened intently.

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Natalie and Derek and true British spirit

It was nice to be able to catch up on some 'quality' Internet time and get some blogs and emails written as well as looking at some road routes further west.

Refreshed from my leisurely day I was ready on Tuesday morning to get my sightseeing hat on and head into the city. Us Brits aren't afraid of a spot of rain and thankfully this was the case as I stepped out of Natalie's apartment in the morning to be greeted with near winter like conditions. Natalie assured me that this is very uncommon for this time of the year and that one can expect some pretty nice weather well into early October.

We'd taken a short drive around the city the night before and I was shown most of the cities sights from the front seat of a car with both Natalie and Derek giving me my very own personal guided tour. It was also great to witness the city at night, free from the crowds of the day and brightly illuminated.

When they dropped me off in the city centre the next morning I had a good idea of what I wanted to see. Despite a seriously cold chill in the air I decided to give the locals of Kiev a good look at my legs as I braved the cold in my shorts, it's still summer after all!

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Kiev really is a stunningly beautiful city and I'd seen pictures prior to arriving but they really didn't do it justice. It is like many major cities in this part of the world covered in churches all of which are spectacular both on the inside and outside.

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I've been reliably informed that one can see Neogothic, Neorenaissance, Neobaroque, Neoclassic, Neo all kinds of buildings here as well as New Russian and of course Art Juneau architecture. Even to an untrained eye like mine it's quite evident that there are some real masterpieces of construction in the city.

As much as I like walking around beautiful buildings I was after a very special piece of architecture in it's own right that of the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Dynamo Stadium. It's very uncommon these days to find football stadiums slap bang in the centre of the city but this stadium is just that. Situated in the very heart of the city it is home to the all powerful Dyanmo Kyiv. It was renamed back in 2002 in honour of its legendary former coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy who also coached the USSR national team.

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It was just a pity that a) there was no game on and b) the closest I was able to get to the stadium itself was peering through the gates leading up to it It turns out that the stadium was closed and no amount of pleading was going to get past the rather hard shaven headed security guards and up closer to the stadium.

I was a little disappointed not to be able to get closer to the stadium if I'm being completely honest but any walking tour around the outside of it would have had to have been pretty quick as by this point the rain was lashing down.

I consoled myself with donuts and a coffee in a nearby café overlooking the main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square. However there is only so long that one can spend in a café and besides I still had plenty to see and snap. A drop of rain wasn't going to put this tourist off. I manged to take in most of what I wanted to see in the city. Of course in such a limited time it's impossible to see everything but I got a good feel for Kiev and I was more than a little pleased, as were my feet when Natalie and Derek picked me up later that evening.

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Natalie's mother and father had returned home the previous day from a train tour of Russia and I'd been told her mother was something of a dab hand in the kitchen; not for the first (or last time I hope) I wasn't to be disappointed. It struck me once again just how incredibly lucky I've been in the way that people have wanted to feed me along the way. It seems as soon as my journey is explained in their native tongue an extra helping of food is heaped upon my plate.

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The arch signifying unity between Ukraine and Russia

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We waved off Derek on Wednesday morning as he finishes up the final part of his motorbike journey and heads back to England. It's rather strange seeing someone else off especially someone using a similar mode of transport. I felt a certain element of sympathy for him as he attached his various panniers and bags to his bike all while the rain drizzled down upon him. This was not a day for riding but he's on a schedule and needed to leave. I just hope that the weather picks up in the next 24 hours and I'm not repeating the very same process tomorrow morning.

Like I said though the poor weather has given me the excuse to slob out to a certain extent. It's really quite strange doing nothing, I say nothing I've been writing, uploading pictures and of course pouring over the newspaper in anticipation of the upcoming football season.

Depending on the weather I may leave tomorrow, the forecast isn't great but in my mind I've already prepared myself for riding tomorrow and sometimes changing that mindset is hard. I'll probably try to take in a little bit of the city as I leave but I leave Kiev with fond memories and a desire to come back another day as a, how should I say 'more conventional tourist'

My next destination is Lviv which is well over 500 kilometers away near the Polish border. I've been told the countryside gets more beautiful the further West I go but I'm just hoping and praying that the weather improves. I don't much fancy the prospect of camping in the rain although I do hear that the West also has a rather nice line in 4 star tunnels!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 08:58 Archived in Ukraine Comments (1)

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