A Travellerspoint blog

Ride to Kiev 150km

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The first thing that struck me this morning when I woke up was how much colder it was, I guess what with it now being nearly mid autumn I should expect the mornings to be a little more on the chilly side.

However I was in, as most mornings good spirits knowing that I'd be in Kiev later that evening. The first café of the day turned out to have no food which I thought was a little strange what with it being a café. It turned out to be a good thing mind as a few kilometers down the road I stumbled across a chain restaurant offering all kinds of delicious nosh. I was almost spoiled for choice but in the end plumped for some rather tasty pancakes and fresh cream. I'm loving the food on offer these days.

The road itself to Kiev was pretty straightforward and bar a couple of run ins with some local dogs it was plain sailing or riding that should be.

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My original plan was to arrive in the city around six but I'd made really good time and was there by two thirty. I had a bit of time to kill and found a café to have a coffee. It was also the chance to contact my host Natalie. I don't have a Ukrainian SIM card so via a rather crackly line on Skype I was able to inform her that I was now in the city and would be at her place within the next hour and a half.

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I had however forgotten to factor in just how much more difficult and slower it is riding in cities. My first job was to cross the Dnipro river which runs through the heart of the city. I had Natalie's address on my GPS so it was just a simple case of following the directions. I don't have a mount for my GPS so using it often involves holding it in one hand while I ride. I'm usually pretty good at following directions but on this occasion I turned too early. The road across the bridge has three or four lanes and it's therefore not so easy to backtrack if you make a mistake which is what happened here and before I knew it I was riding back round up a loop and back onto the bridge and heading for the second time back over the bridge! Ten minutes later I was back going the other over the bridge for the third time!

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Becoming familiar with the bridge

Kiev is known for being a city of hills and legend has it that the city stands on seven of them. I can certainly testify that this is true as I immediately found myself hauling the bike up a number of them. I don't mind the odd hill here and there but after a long days riding it's the last thing one really wants.

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I didn't really get to take in much of the city as I was much more concentrated on simply getting to my destination and with grey clouds on the horizon I really wanted to get inside before the heavens opened.

I eventually arrived at Prospekt Svoboda (Freedom road much) with it taking much longer than the hour and a half I originally planned. Then came the difficult task of locating the actual building I needed. After much searching I eventually, more by luck than anything else stumbled across building number 32. I spotted a motorbike parked outside and as I tried to lift the waterproof cover to check for a UK number plate a voice from the balcony above said “you found us then”

Derek and Natalie both came down stairs to greet me and helped me up with all my bags. Soon myself and the bike found ourselves in the confines of yet another comfy apartment and to top things off I was presented in true British fashion with a cup of tea in no time at all.

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My host and Derek's business partner Natalie outside here apartment

It was great but somewhat strange to see Derek once again, this is the third time we've met on the road. He is staying with Natalie at the moment before finishing the final leg of his epic motorbike journey back to the UK. I was also introduced to Natalie's daughter Olya and her recently acquired ferret by the name of Brian.

By now it was getting on and tired and hungry I was really grateful for the delicious meal of Spaghetti Bolognese expertly cooked up by Derek.

My plan is to stay in Kiev for 3 days and do some sightseeing as I've heard it's incredibly beautiful, my only hope is that the weather improves as for the first time in a long time I'm beginning to see rain. I've become so accustomed to seeing bright blue skies everyday that I guess I've taken the weather for granted slightly; heres praying for more of the good stuff.

That's all for now folks.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 02:43 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Reshetylivka - Pyriatyn 158km

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As one might expect having ridden well over 200 kilometers yesterday I had the deepest of deep sleeps last night and woke up this morning feeling awesome. There was a little rain shower during the night but the warm early morning sun rising above the trees dried what little water it left in on my tent in no time.

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Not much snapping today, one of only two photos for the day. This is the road I'm on and well not much else to say about it.

I'd set up my tent as the sun went down last night therefore I wasn't too aware of what was immediately around me. As I pushed the bike back down the grassy hill I noticed there was a small house not one hundred yards away and as luck would have it next to the house was a small cafe. I went in as per usual holding my phone purposely in front of me clearly displaying the picture of three eggs and ordered my customary cup of coffee to go with them. I suppose you might think that by now I'd have learned how to say eggs in Russian but at this time of the morning I find it's usually better to go with this tried and tested method that has served me so well since entering Kazakhstan.

I suppose this blog wouldn't be very 'real' if I just filled it with lovely stories of the great warmth and hospitality I've received, the amazing scenery I've been through and the many laughs I've had along the way. Life is life and unfortunately there are sides of it we'd rather not see one of which is something that is all too common in this part of the world and one that I feel I should just touch on if somewhat briefly.

As I sat down with my breakfast a man who couldn't have been older than fifty came in and sat down at the table opposite me. He promptly ordered what I can only describes as an 'industrial' measure of vodka and sat shoulders sunken starring into space. I say he couldn't have been more than fifty but I guess the effects of drinking had made his face look so much older. It was a very sad and to be perfectly honest depressing sight to see someone at 9 o'clock in the morning knocking back vodka.

People say to me 'oh well it's a way of life here' 'it's what they do' 'it's normal' 'they don't feel the effects as strongly as you would' Some of these statements might be true but I still find it hard to see. I don't want to judge, that's not my job but if you're having your first stiff vodka at 9 in the morning how many more are you going to have over the course of the day? But then again this is coming from someone who has never felt the inclination to do this in the morning, so it's hard for me to understand.

I've spoken to a few people about the problem of alcoholism here and by here I should say I'm not just talking exclusively about Ukraine but also Kazakhstan and Russia and apparently some measures are being taken to tackle the problem such as limiting the sale of it based on what time of the day it is but is it enough? I mean surely gas stations shouldn't be, as they do, selling beer and vodka.

I genuinely felt sorry for the guy and even more so when he made a plea for me to buy him another as I went to pay for my breakfast. I naturally declined and I sincerely hope that this disease, because that's what it is, can be tackled not only here but also around the world.

On a more positive note the sun was shining yet again and the adrenaline from yesterdays ride had carried over into today. People will often ask how it is possible to ride so many kilometers in a day and then get back on the bike and do it the next day? It's simple, your body just becomes conditioned to it . Obviously different people have different amounts they want to ride in a day whether that be 50, 80, 100 or 150 kilometers a day but after a while your body becomes so used to it that doing it just becomes second nature. So anyone out there reading this and thinking “I couldn't possibly do that” Think again, you can!

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts about the Olympics and it's been a strange way to follow the games. I've spoken to numerous people about what it's been like to be back home during this time and it sounds totally amazing. That 'feel good' factor has also made its way to me and the bike and it's truly inspiring to hear the stories not only of the athletes who win medals but those who also those who just have the privilege and honour to represent their respective countries.

Some of the podcasts I listen to have snippets of commentary of the closing stages of a race for example and it's amazing how carried along you get with it and the muscles in your in your legs start to push a little harder as you try to visualize the race in your mind.

I'm very much looking forward to having my very own 'London 2012' and watching some of it when I get back which I believe has been recorded for me and of course not to mention also the forthcoming Paralympics.

I'm guessing that the European Football championships which were recently held here in Ukraine over the summer have something to do with the quality of cafes and service stations which line the roads here. Many of the cafes have WiFi access and I stopped at a chain called 'Al la Minute' just before dinner for a quite delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. One word – brilliant.

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I was pretty tired by the end of the day and really couldn't be too bothered to find a nice scenic spot to camp. As the sun was already beginning to go down I took the easy option of sleeping just off the road and down an embankment. I pushed the bike into the tunnel and for a change decided to sleep just outside the entrance of it. Perhaps my previous encounter with the tiny field mouse was still playing on my mind? Again people have commented, 'how can you sleep in such places? Isn't it dangerous?' I've now lost count of the number of times I've slept in such places and I've so far yet to be disturbed. When you think about it rationally there is no reason for anyone to stop in such a place so I always feel completely safe in my surroundings.

I hope I have enough left in the tank to ride the final leg of the ride to Kiev tomorrow. My GPS tells me it's still about 200 kilometers but when I look closely at the map it seems to plot a rather long snake like route into the city and I'm sure there is a much direct way. We shall find out tomorrow.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 00:43 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Kharkiv - Reshetylivka 218km

The Longest day

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I decided the night before that I would get up at the same time as Pavel in morning and wasn’t at all deterred when he said he usually wakes up at 5 a.m. I find it’s always good to get out on the bike as early as possible especially when you’re in a city as you don’t have to then contend with the early morning traffic.

I’m looking to make the distance of some roughly 480km to Kiev by Sunday. Some people might think that’s a little far to cover in three days but with some early starts I think it’s easily achievable. I’m going to be staying with my old motorbike friend Derek from Uralsk. He has a company in Kiev and divides his time between there and London. He has arranged for me to stay with his work and business partner Natalie and once again I’m blessed with the fact that I don’t have to worry about arranging accommodation before I set out. By leaving today I should be able to arrive there on Sunday evening thus making it much easier for me to meet up with them both as they won’t be working.

I wrote a goodbye note for Vika as she was still asleep when I left but Pavel insisted on waking her up to say goodbye in person which made me feel a little bad. Pavel is a man who displays very little emotion and our goodbye was a simple firm handshake outside the front of their building followed by a meaty slap on the back. I forgot to mention that as well as being a skilled artist Pavel also used to train young amateur boxers! Once again I have nothing but thanks for them in hosting me for three nights and giving me my first insight into ‘real’ Ukrainian life.

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Cheers Pav

The streets were pretty deserted by the time I got out on them at around six and I was determined to make the most of this by getting out of the city ASAP. I’ve calculated that it’s about 480km to Kiev but I know it will be a little more, it always is. With this in mind I need to cover about 160km per day or 100 miles. It’s a lot of distance but I set out early in the morning feeling good and looking to make a big dent in the total by the end of the day.

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It’s been a while since I reported on the quality of the roads and I don’t want to get ahead of myself with the Ukraine but the short section I rode from the border to Kharkiv and today’s surface were pretty decent and far better than anything I’ve experienced for a long while.

My early start combined with nice flat road meant that I was able to cover about 100km even before lunch.

The scenery is very much the same as that of Russia, short ups and downs with wide open fields of sun flowers on both sides. The heat is showing no signs of abating and continues to be way up in the thirties.

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More material for my book

By mid-afternoon the combination of my previous two days of sightseeing, my early start today and the intense heat from the sun meant that I was flagging and in desperate need of a rest. I found a small field and decided to rest my head in the shade of the trees. A short thirty minute power nap later and Coca-Cola injection meant that I was back out on the road in rejuvenated spirits. One really has to wonder what they put in Coke! By now the magical 200km was in sight and despite it being a long day in the saddle I still felt pretty good by the time I called it a day at around eight o’clock.

The evenings seem to be drawing in much quicker these days and I was almost caught out by this today as I searched for a place to camp. I settled on a nice little grassy hill nearby the road but hidden by a row of trees. I would be free from human or animal interference for sure tonight.

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Big distance achieved I hope to push on again tomorrow towards Kiev.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 09:16 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Kharkiv

Big walks and big spoons

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I’ve been out on the road for the last few days and haven’t really had time to catch up with my blog. At the time of writing I’m in Kiev so what follows is a very brief summary of my time in the beautiful city of Kharkiv.

I spent the whole of Wednesday and Thursday in Kharkiv and tried my best to take in as many of the local sights as possible. The first day I was left to my own devices and spent most of the afternoon updating my blog and moving from one eatery to another sampling the great food on offer.

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I did find out that there are no Starbucks in Ukraine but there is a chain named ‘Coffee Life’ which apart from the colours and name bears an almost uncanny resemblance to it’s more famous foreign counterpart.

Vika my host didn’t work on Thursday and we originally planned to take a bike tour of the city however the weather look a bit ominous when I woke up and we decided it might be best to leave the bikes behind and head out on foot. To be honest I wasn’t that disappointed. I’m not a huge fan of riding in cities and even less so when I’m not familiar with them. In addition it’s good to give the backside a rest from time to time.

I did make one specific request to Vika that we take in the stadium that is home to FC Metalist; with Kharkiv being one of the host cities of Euro 2012 Metalist’s stadium played home to a number of matches. The stadium was very modern and had been refurbished for the tournament. It was just a shame that I wouldn’t be in Kharkiv on Sunday when the team will take on the bizarrely named ‘Arsenal Kiev’

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My host and Metalist fan Vika.

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Having got my stadium fix we took a walk into the city centre. I’d seen some of the sights the day before but going with a local person you really get to see all the small little side streets and interesting places that one would otherwise usually pass in total oblivion.

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She also took me to the excellent Ukrainian restaurant chain ‘Puzata Hata’ (sounds like Pizza Hut but it isn’t) Interestingly Sergey in Voronezh also suggested I check this place out whilst in Ukraine. It serves delicious and reasonably priced local food in a traditional Ukrainian setting. It was interesting to note that the board offering dishes quite clearly stated ‘Ukrainian Borsch’ People here are very insistent that Russians don’t make borsch and the only ‘real’ borsch is to be found within the borders of the Ukraine.

Vika had planned out quite an extensive tour of the city and by the end of the day I was failing to keep up with her rigorous pace. I think I could be excused, since leaving Voronezh I’ve hardly stopped and keep meaning to just simply have a day where I actually do what a rest day is meant for….that is namely rest!

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Where is Wiggins when you need him? This is supposed to be a rest day for me

After a long day on my feet I was crying out for a rest and arriving back at their apartment was a welcome relief. In my mind I had already started making my plans for the next day which would see me start my ride towards Kiev.

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I spent most of my last evening in Kharkiv listening to Pavel recount stories of life previously in the Ukraine under Soviet rule and also his forthright opinions regarding the current state of the country and the way it is run. It wasn’t all such weighty topics mind and Pavel was kind enough to present me with a gift. As I mentioned in my previous blog he is an artist and it turns out also a dab hand at sculpting too. I was however a little surprised when he presented me with a giant wooden spoon which he had hand crafted himself. It was an incredibly kind gesture and I was really honoured it’s just I’m not entirely sure how it will fit in with the rest of my luggage. I’ll find a way though and one of the challenges now will be to get said spoon home in one piece. I don’t have a picture of it at the moment but will post one up at a later date.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:56 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Ride to Kharkiv

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Surprisingly I wasn’t overly tried when it finally came to setting off from Belograd. I took advantage of the lack of traffic and rode around the city taking some snaps and in particular of the impressive square in the centre of the city.

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The border with the Ukraine was only about 40km away and my rough calculations suggested that I should get there around nine.

I then ran into a minor problem; it’s a problem that I can now look at and laugh but at the time had me in something of a panic. My friend Anna had put me in contact with a friend of hers who lives in Kharkiv, she hosted her in Saratov and suggested that I go and stay with her. Victoriya and I had exchanged a few emails and all was set up for me to go and stay with her and her father. I wrote to her the night before saying that I would be arriving a day earlier and would that be okay? Now the English I used was this “….I hope this is okay, I hate to mess you around I know your have a schedule and plans.” My biggest problem here was making the assumption about somebody’s level of English.

When I checked my email today some 10km from the border I was surprised, almost shocked one might say to read an email from Victoriya. She said that she could no longer host me and that I had really offended her and she didn’t like the way I judged her apartment before even arriving! Confused? Read on. The problem stemmed from my use of the expression “mess someone around” Victoriya had thought that I was implying that her apartment was a mess. Obviously I would never be so rude as to say anything like this and I frantically went about trying to put it right. I called her via Skype but I found that her English level wasn’t as I’d first thought. It was hard to get through on the phone so next I opted for a series of emails, even sending one cut from the Oxford dictionary. I felt awful and waited a good hour before I got a reply. It seemed that she had finally understood, nevertheless I still got Anna from Saratov to write her an email in Russian explaining the situation. I was re-invited to stay and I’m sure this is something we will laugh about at a later date, but I learned a valuable lesson that one shouldn’t assume anything, being an English teacher it was equally galling that I made such a stupid mistake.

The Ukrainian border was fairly straightforward and it made a nice change that nobody told me I couldn’t ride my bike across the area between the two countries. I apologized in English to the people behind me in the queue to enter Ukraine explaining to them that it would probably take a little time what with me being English, they didn’t understand and neither did they smile. The border guy didn’t speak any English and gave out a long sigh when he saw I didn’t speak Russian. After meticulously studying my passport for what seemed like an eternity he finally stamped it. No filling in forms, no visa just nice and simple, at last I was in Ukraine.

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The border first from the Russian side and second looking back from the Ukraine

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The sign at the border showed Kharkiv to be about another 40 kilomtres away , I was obviously full of energy what with arriving in a new country but a further 20 kilometres down the road this suddenly gave way to complete exhaustion. The midday sun beating down on me didn't help matters and I was forced to pull off the road and into some shade. I'd been awake for over 24 hours and had put in well over 200 kilometres on the clock during that time, now my body was telling me it was time to stop. I must have slept for about an hour in the shade and was woken by some goats and a female farmer passing by. Despite the fact that I was still pretty tired I decided that at least now I wasn't going to fall asleep while riding and that I'd really quite like to make it into the city centre to get some food. In order to do that I needed a bank as I had no Ukrainian money on me.

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The last twenty kilometers into the city were pretty easy and soon enough I was rolling through the beautiful streets of Kharkiv. I've been told to expect an elegant city, a mixture of the old and new and my first impressions didn't disappoint.

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The road I took landed me right slap bang in the centre of the city at Ploshscha (Square) Svobody at the end of which is a huge monument of Lenin staring ominously down upon the people.

My Russian SIM card now no longer works and also my battery on my phone was almost dead so I needed to find a cafe with Wifi so that I could a) recharge everythng and locate Vika's apartment and also b) get some food inside me.

There was a small stand at the end of the square with four large Ukranian flags proudly flapping in the wind. I decided to go there to ask for some help. This is where I met Eugene and two twenty something females. Eugene spoke good English and explained to me that they were Ukrainian nationalists and were promoting the use of Ukrainian language in Kharkiv. Like most former Soviet countries the predominant language has remained Russian. Eugene explained that as nationalists they weren't against any other country and in particular Russia but he felt very strongly that as Ukrainians people they should adopt their own language rather than continuing to use Russian. He was a touch on the eccentric side but friendly all the same and with what I believe to be a totally valid point. It was something that I also witnessed while in Kazakhstan where the majority of people, especially the older generation couldn't speak Kazak.

Eugene led me to a cafe just off the side of the square where they not only had WiFi but a huge selection of pastries and cakes, just what the doctor ordered. He apologized that he couldn't stay with me but he had to get back to his stand. To be honest it wasn't such a bad thing for me, I feared that we might simply get into a long English lesson and I really had to find out how to get to Vika's apartment. I did however promise Eugene that I'd go a say goodbye after the cafe.

I fulfilled my promise an hour later and went and said goodbye to Eugene and also passed on my support for his cause. He was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find my way the 12 kilometres to Vika's apartment but I assured him in the politest way possible that I'd be okay. I thought it might sound a touch arrogant to tell him that I'd already travelled over 11,000 kilometres across four countries so navigating a further 12 shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Vika's apartment is out in the suburbs of the city and I gradually made my way from the centre in that direction. Like with all cities and in particular former Soviet countries the scenery changes very quickly and the old grandiose architecture is soon replaced by large pan-alack style buildings.

I eventually made my the her street, Prospekt Traktorobudivnykiv, a bit of a mouthful to say I'm sure you'll agree but you don't really need to know Russian to know roughly what it translates as.

It took me a while to find the exact address after receiving numerous conflicting information from different people but eventually I rolled up there pretty tired and worn out around four. Unfortunately because I didn't have a phone that works here I couldn't call her father who I knew was at home so instead had to wait until someone left their building. After a good half and hour wait someone did emerge from the building and I was able to pounce and keep the door ajar with a water bottle while I went upstairs and introduced myself.

Her father is named Pavel which in Russian means Paul, so it was all rather convenient “Paul please meet Paul” He showed me to their apartment on the fifth floor and I was relieved to finally be there. I'm not sure how much more I had in the tank today and it was so nice to finally just sit down and take the weight off my feet.

Pavel is a very interesting man and at 70 years of age had plenty of stories to tell me about growing up in the USSR and modern day Ukrainian life. He is also an artist and the room I'm staying in has numerous pieces of his sculpture work. He was quick to point out that his English isn't great and told me that if I spoke very slowly then he could understand. We spent the remainder of the afternoon chatting, well me mostly listening.

Vika his daughter arrived home around seven and introductions were made. She is a lawyer and a very experienced couch surfer she has been involved in it for the past five years and currently runs a couch surfing group here in Kharkiv which she informed me has over 1000 members.

One of the great things about couch surfing is how amazingly accommodating people are right from the get go. Immediately Vika asked if I had any washing that needed doing and you soon learn not to turn down an opportunity like that. I don't know what has happened to my clothes since I left Saratov but they've become incredibly dirty. I'm still persevering with the whole clothes washing thing despite the fact that I know once I get back out on the road they'll just go back to being dirty again in no time but you've got to keep your hygiene haven't you?

We chatted long into the evening and I felt a little rude because I kept on yawning I was now functioning on my deepest energy reserves. Thankfully Pavel isn't one for late nights and as we're sharing a room I go to bed when he does. When my head finally hit the pillow it was absolute heaven, it's hard for me to think of a time in the past when I've felt so exhausted but after an eventful thirty six hours I was finally in bed.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 04:51 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

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