Category: Bearder (Page 1 of 53)

Budapest to the Black Sea: Day 21. Silistra to Chernovoda

 
Leaving later than expected (now a common problem), today was to be the first day of cycling alone and was perhaps to be the start of a long and lonely week on the road. I set of relatively early and crossed the border into Romania on the edge of the city. I was happy to be back in Romania. Bulgaria is nice enough and I had a wonderful time there but Romania is, in many ways, more colourful and entertaining. It’s also supposed to be flatter although the first hill I hit at 10:00am destroyed that myth.

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Why I am cycling: Part 2

I decided to raise some money to help a group of people who really need it…

The Cause
Джерело Надії (Spring of Hope)


Spring of Hope is a small charity working in central Ukraine to help and support some of the most vulnerable and unsupported people in Europe – including thousands of families who have been displaced by the fighting in Ukraine.


They don’t have a shiny/professional website  and they don’t have the resources that some large aid organisations have but they do have a huge amount to offer as they support those who are trying to cope with circumstances harder than most of us can ever imagine.

How it works 

You can sponsor me via this link.

Your support will keep me going and if you donate even a small amount – you’ll be doing a wonderful thing to help some amazing people. Keep giving and I’ll keep pedalling

 

All dressed up and nowhere to go

So, I finally did it. I finally packed everything, loaded it onto the bike and went for a very long ride.

Some may say, that with only a week to go before the start of my journey, I should have done this ages ago. They might be right, but that’s not the point. Yesterday, I learned what it was like to ride my bike fully-loaded, how heavy/hard it is (or actually isn’t) to ride up-hill with all me gear and I discovered that I am fit enough to cover the 80km distance that I’ll need to maintain for the next month. I even did some stairs, which not easy with 35km of bike and luggage.

However, yesterday wasn’t all plain sailing. I had planned my trip so I would arrive at Camping No1, Kyiv’s only campsite, so I could test my tent erecting-skills and camping prowess. I would, I told my flatmate Gregor, sleep the night there and then do another long day on the bike on Sunday – just to prove beyond doubt that I was ready.

Well, I should have known better and checked before leaving because ‘Camping No1’ which is ‘open all summer’ should actually be called ‘Camping No’ because it doesn’t exist. It looks like it might have existed many years ago, but despite the 5 star rating and enthusiastic Facebook page and website – its closed, shut-down, locked up and decaying behind a rusty fence.

My plans for relaxing in the sunshine and drinking a cool beer in my proudly assembled tent were ruined. I was knackered, red and homeless and with only one option – a further 15km by bike back home.

After 55km, I was less than impressed to find this...

After 55km, I was less than impressed to find this…

Today, Sunday, I woke up ate and slept almost all day. I have been absolutely exhausted, so despite the fact that I can cover the distance once, repeating it day after day for a month is going to be a whole different kettle of fish (probably dried fish since I’m in Eastern Europe).

In between sleeping on the beach and eating, I did at least find time to put my tent up today (much to Yulia’s despair) so at least I know that it works and where to put the poles etc. I really didint want to do that for the first time after 80km on a bike in the sunshine, or worse – in the rain.

So, with just a week and 12 hours to go. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

At 06:00am on Monday morning (10th August), I fly from Kyiv to Budapest and will then pedal my way slowly along the river Danube, all the way to the black sea and back to Odessa.

-//-

On a completely unrelated note, I just noticed a large warning label in my boxer-shorts which says ‘KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE’. What exactly do underwear makers think I do in my pants?

Joking aside, since almost everything in life should be ‘kept away’ from fire, the label suggests that my ‘protective’ garments as exceptionally flammable – so much so that they warrant a special warning. Is this a good idea?

What if I enjoy laying in my pants, smoking? (which I don’t but its entirely possible that I would) – surely I shouldn’t be at risk of having my prized assets flame-grilled if I drop a match? If mattresses, sofas and a whole bunch of other inanimate objects must be fire retardant if they wish to be sold in the EU, shouldn’t pants? At least a man can run away from a flaming sofa – what’s he going to do if his crotch goes up like an Iraqi oil well?

Blind

It’s 18:50 on Friday evening at London Paddington train station. There are people and queues everywhere, and where there are no people and queues there are bags and bikes and dogs and boxes. There are literally thousands of bodies and objects and idiots like me, walking around with no idea where stuff is or which way to go.

Amoungst all this madness a blind couple just swanned straight through the station. Holding white sticks in one hand and with their arms locked around each other they walked through as if nobody was there. The guy looked determined, the girl was grinning from ear-to-ear and they bumped into absolutely nothing.

Amazing.

Video: Cycling in Kyiv. More fun and less dangerous than people think!

Mention cycling in Kyiv and many people look at you in horror.
‘But, our drivers are crazy and the roads are awful’ they say. Or, “I love cycling, but I would never do it here, it’s too dangerous’.

The first statement is undeniably true but Kyiv’s drivers are less crazy than Belgian drivers and if you own a mountain bike then the holes in the road are just fun. The second statement blatantly false. Cycling in Kyiv is no more dangerous than in most other European cities. In fact, if you go to the right places, it is a lot safer, more beautiful and more fun. There are park, forests, beaches and crazy markets to explore!

To see what I mean watch the video below which shows the highlights of a 52km ride around Kyiv yesterday.

The exact route + more info are available here:

How to get down a hill at ‘HSC Atlantida’ in Western Ukraine

The desperate state of Ukrainian business reform 

As the owner of a small IT company from the UK which has been working with Ukrainian freelancers for the past two years, I recently decided increase my support for Ukraine and commit to opening a local branch of the company here in Kyiv. By doing so, I should, in theory be able to hire full-time staff and pay my share of taxes to support the desperately underfunded national authorities.

It feels like the right thing to do and when I registered my company in the UK a few years ago I had been pleasantly surprised with how easy it was. I did one Google search, made one phone call and sent one email. The next day, my company had been registered.

Of course, this being Ukraine and me being a foreigner etc I expected more than a little bureaucracy, but with so much talk of civil, political and economic reform I was confident that doing business here would be an easier process now than it was before the revolution. Besides this, I also read an article recently in the Kyiv Post about new rules which had been introduced in support of IT and tech companies to simplify registration and encourage them to invest here. This is exactly the kind of motivation I needed.

From this point on and for the past two months I have failed to progress even once millimeter towards opening our Ukrainian office.

Unwilling to pay a local lawyer for basic and public information on how to register a company, I set out to find the info myself. I simply wanted to know: How do you open a small business in Ukraine? and what support is available for small companies wanting to invest in Ukraine?

Here’s what happened…

  1. Everyone’s favourite database, Google failed to find any useful or meaningful information.
  2. The Ukrainian Embassy in London failed to responded to an email request for info.
  3. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (economic section) failed to respond to an email request for information.
  4. The European Union Embassy in Ukraine failed to respond to an email request for information (yeah, we suck too)
  5. …and the UK Embassy in Ukraine responded but didn’t have any info they could provide (other than a link to the same article I had read in the Kyiv Post). Thanks anyway guys.

After two phone calls and two or three more emails (a common requirement when dealing with the EU Embassy in Ukraine) I finally received the first ‘useful information’ from a guy called Boris Filipov who works in the Private Sector Development section of the Embassy- a list of support programmes aimed at Ukrainian SMEs hoping to trade with the EU.

This is almost what I need, and may indeed be useful if I ever manage to become a Ukrainian SME but that’s proving to be way harder than it should be. In fact, it either doesn’t exist in English, it is being guarded as a national secret, or perhaps most likely – it is only available via an expensive lawyer or business association.

All of this is less than ideal.

If the Ukrainian authorities have indeed simplified things for foreign IT companies, then what is the benefit of this if finding info on the new simplified rules is near impossible? (and dear Ukrainian authorities why should I invest in Ukraine (and help save your arses from bankruptcy) if you can’t be bothered to reply to my emails?)

As for the EU and UK delegations, is it really so hard to provide one or two pages of info that would support your own companies wishing to expand to Ukraine? Wouldn’t this be a smart idea and a simple way to ensure that the millions of EUR of aid being poured into Ukraine by the EU (entirely funded by European tax payers such as myself and my company) go to benefit us – your citizens and businesses – as much as it benefits locals?

Has anyone from the ‘competent authorities’ ever setup or run a small business? Are plans being made to change the situation? Time will tell, but for now I haven’t given up on my plans for Ukrainian business success. I will keep searching for information (next stop the various business associations) and when I find it, I will share it here for the benefit of anyone and everyone else who believes in Ukraine and wants to do business here.

In the meantime, here’s the info I received from the EU delegation:

EU support to businessess in Ukraine.doc

And in case you’re curious, here’s how the UK government help foreign companies:

Set up a business in the UK


Update: 

It seems like I’m not the only one having trouble. Since writing this article on Wednesday, I have seen two other articles published this week and both complaining about the same problem.

The first is the Kyiv Posts ‘Doing Bussiness in Ukraine’ leaflet/magazine in which a young Ukrainian entrepreneur complains about difficulties opening a business.

“Ukraine needs adequate procedures for company registration and a fair culture of doing business,” says 23-year-old Pavlo Matvienko, chief executive officer at Chooos. “In Ukraine, in order to register a company you have to wait in long queues for weeks.”

See: http://www.kyivpost.com/media/pdf/db.pdf

The second is an interview with a Danish guy who runs an Engineering company here.

“What legal difficulties did you experience when opening your company in Ukraine?

In Denmark I can go online create a company in 5 minutes with my digital signature. Here it takes 3-4 months, and that’s the problem. But this will get better. If you are in business, your goals are also set on the long-goal horizon. And if you have a commitment to investing in Ukraine, it’s then it’s just things you have to accept. I must admit that I was frustrated when we started, but things managed to work out.”

See: http://euromaidanpress.com/2015/06/04/danish-entrepreneur-now-is-the-time-to-invest-in-ukraine/

 

Art, Cycling and Social Development.

This week has been an interesting week both on and off the bike.

With the arrival of some delightful spring sunshine (early May is perhaps the most beautiful time to be in Kyiv) I have been out on the real-bike almost every evening and Im still not bored of exploring Podil and the islands on the Dnipr.

Off the bike, the transformation of Kyiv continues at a dizzy pace and since Friday I have attended a public debate on the future of public transport, met with a group who are installing electric car charging points accross Ukraine, visited yet another new art galley (exploring the imagery used by people to create ‘imaginary’ nations on undivided physical territories), found a website promoting the top 10 social projects in Ukraine and, this might sound trivial but, I discovered a bike rack outside the restaurant I stopped at for lunch!

Finallly, I learned that there are plans to install a network of public rental bikes – something similar to the ‘Boris bikes’ in London or the grey velo network in Brussels.

In Kyiv, you can be 99% sure they will be blue and yellow.

Down by the Dnipr

Surprisingly, even after the killer race on Saturday I bounced out of bed on Sunday, grabbed my bike and set-off to get some morning sunshine.

This week I fitted my new seat-post and ‘tweaked’ the saddle to give what seems like a better ‘fit’. So, I wanted to test my handy work.

I found the seat-post via Google because it offered an extended ‘head’ which would push the seat slightly further back. It’s made by a company called ‘Velo Orange’ and I like it its shiny silver style more than the original black one.

Kyiv is now in full spring blossom and I managed 24.5 KM before arriving back at Podil.

I discovered some cool new places down by the river and stopped for breakfast at Milkbar in the city center where Jeff and Anna joined me for Eggs Benedict which had fish instead of ham. A weirdly tasty alternative.

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This graffitti announces that a popular online trading site has changed its name.

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18.5 (today) in 1944, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of Crimean Tartars from Crimea as a form of collective punishment. Following Russia’s recent invasion of Crimea, once again they are living under Russian occupation. This graffiti in Kyiv is a tribute to their struggle.

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The Nation Race

A few weeks ago my colleague Yana wrote an article about a new race that will take place near Kyiv, modelled on the famously hard ‘tough mudder‘ races from the UK. The pointlessly patriotically-named ‘Nation Race’ puts participants through various physical challenges during a run around a very hilly and quite muddy course which covers part of a dirt-bike race track on the outskirts of Kyiv.

After publishing the article, Yana then declared that she would enter the race and ‘give it a go’, bravely declaring that she didn’t care if it defeated her because it would be fun. This inspired me and a week later I also declared that I would run. We could run together and support each other as two totally unprepared but enthusiastic novices.

5 days before the race I attempted the first ‘run’ of this year and covered 3km without dying. On Thursday I did 5km and it almost died. Then I hobbled to work and first Yana called to tell me she was sick and couldn’t race and then Anastasia (who booked my ticket) came to confess that she had booked me on the ‘Elite’ race!

In one day I went from being part of a ‘have-a-go’ team, to being the most un-elite ‘Elite’ athlete who’s ever entered a race.

“F**k that!” I said. “I’m not doing it”.

However, over the next two days we hatched a plan which would allow me to enter the ‘standard race’ (albeit unofficially) and so I decided to give it a go. I warmed-up with a hotdog and a coffee and at 9:30 on Saturday morning I was running around a muddy obstacle course on a hill outside Kyiv. It was hard (as expected) but not impossible and amazingly I survived the full race with only one penalty (30 burpees) for not climbing a rope. About an hour later I jumped through some fire and ran through a large muddy puddle to the finish line accompanied by a girl who had travelled from Russia to participate.

My reward: a free t-shirt, a banana and an Obolon beer.

Nice touch!

I gave the banana to Anastasia and drank the celebratory beer.

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