Category: Europe & The World (Page 1 of 17)

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.

HSC Altlandida

After joining the Kyiv Cyclists Association (AVK) a few weeks ago, I decided to check-out their website to see what king of things they were organising and what events, if any, I could attend.

With the help of Google Translate I found the events section called and shortly after discovered a three-day organised trip to the West-Ukrainian town of Kamianets-Podilskyi. The 100(ish) kilometer trip was to take place over the holiday weekend and included various trips to castles etc.

Desperate to get out of Kyiv and bag some hours on my new bike (with an even newer saddle), and keen to complete at least one multi-day trip before August, I enlisted Anastasia’s help and booked myself a place.

The trip was being organised by a a guy called Sergiy who runs a bike workshop called VeloProstir (bike space) and he quickly responded to me (in English) by email and made a brave but unsuccessful attempt to subscribe Anastasia as a participant.

Having now acquainted myself with a bike-technician as well as tour-guide, I dropped-in to see Sergiy and asked him to install my new ‘Velo Orange crazy bars‘, new brakes and if possible new gears. The new gears didn’t work-out, but he did a wonderful job on the bars and even took my bike to the train station on Friday where I joined him and the other torturers on Friday evening.

There were 8 of us altogether, each with a bike and we weren’t the only ones either. Being a national park and a nice place to cycle, Kaminetsk-Podolsky is clearly popular with outdoor adventurers of all kinds – especially cyclists – and as a result, Sergiy sprung into action, first bagging and then loading all the bike onto the train. This is done by first removing the front wheel, putting the remaining bike in a zippable bike bag and then loading both onto the train and storing them horizontally across the two luggage racks at the very top of the train compartment.

It didn’t look very safe but apart from once incident where I had to jump and stop my bike from falling-on and killing a pregnant woman – it worked out OK.

With all 8 bikes on one carriage, I ate my shashlik, made a few phone calls and then lay down for about five hours of ‘sleep’, praying the whole time that I wouldn’t wake up to find any squashed passengers impaled under the front forks of my bicycle.

The train rumbled across Ukraine and safely delivered us all to Kam-Pod without much sleep, but also without incident.

Day 2

Even at 6am Kaminetsk-Podolsky was small but beautiful in an old medieval way, and as we cycled across the sleepy LADA-strewn streets, the place was immediately likable and it was a pleasant place to arrive in after being rattled for 8 hours on the train. We stopped first for a cheap/instant kiosk-coffee, then again shortly afterwards outside the castle for breakfast which, in my case, was Borsch.

I took the opportunity to unpack and install my new handlebar bag (four times because I prefer to learn from my mistakes instead of reading instructions and saving lots of time and stress etc) and then added my new lights, new GARMIN GPS/Navigation thing and most excitingly – my new GoPRO video camera and bike mount.

I now had more equipment and less experience than anyone else there and momentarily felt like a bit of a chump pedaling away on top of a fully loaded bike which was covered in technology I didn’t know how to use and was going considerably slower than everyone else. However, I quickly discarded my English sensibilities and adopted the totally acceptable Ukrainian characteristic of not giving a shit what anyone thinks – safe in the knowledge that my compatriots almost certainly didn’t give a shit anyway. Being a chump is perfectly fine in anything-goes Ukraine.

As we cycled between ancient fortifications, castles and medieval buildings, the complicated history of Western Ukraine revealed itself in the design and makeup of the city. Polish emblems adorn the walls of buildings, Romainian-speaking school kids run around the castle and old LADAS trundle past old Soiet-era tower-blocks.

Leaving the city we covered some 27 km passing over numerous hills, through many small villages and along many atrociously bad once-paved and now destroyed country roads. As a result my butt hurt like hell, but it was still a fun day as the air was warm, clean and fresh and rural Ukraine offers a glimpse into a world that has all-but-vanished in Western Europe.

Old babushkas (grandmas) sell home grown produce by the side of the street and families chase herds of cattle down small unpaved paths lined with brightly painted wooden houses. Chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys flap around on the grassy verges while locals ride past in ancient buses, three-wheeled motorized trailers and occasionally riding in a horse and cart. The dogs are kept outside and bark at everything and the cats run around playfully on the rooftops and tops of fences.

Unsurprisingly, given our location near the Moldovan border, it reminded me a lot of the small villages I visited about 7 years ago in Moldova where old women sit outside gossiping and everything is grown, pickled and preserved throughout the summer in order to survive during the impossibly cold winter months.

After some impressive downhill racing we arrived at our new ‘home’ mid afternoon, unpacked, took a swim in the river and then climbed into some overalls for a trip to the ‘special caves’. They are special because they are unique and our camp was built to look after them.

Back at the campsite Luda took one look at, and then vetoed the beds that were provided (a carpet stretched across a wooden platform) and left with her hubby to rent a room. Taking one look at the ‘beds’ I realised that I would be in for two less-than-comfortable nights. I didn’t event have a pillow or sleeping bag,

In the evening Sergiy when to get pork for our shashlik (kebabs) from the woman who grows pigs and Natasha left on a mission to get milk and cream from the woman who has a special milking machine ‘because it tastes less like cow’.

After a massive dinner and one-too-many beers the day finished with a large group sing-song and an entirely joyless night on the carpet-covered wooden bed.

Day 3.

Day three was all about rafting. Rafting on two big inflatable sausages bound together with some wood.

I would like to say it was fun, and perhaps it was for 20 minutes, but the remaining 4 hours were hard work and if I was to repeat this trip again I would definitely skip the rafting. In fact, I wouldn’t do the rafting again even if you paid me.

The evening’s shashlik and sauna saved the day and despite the excessive and unnecessary nakedness on display in our steamy wooden-box, I enjoyed a funny night of hot and cold fun being first heated, then whipped with birch leaves, drenched in cold water and finally sent to sit outside and recover. This was repeated until I couldn’t take any more and I slept like a baby in my newly-rented sleeping bag.

Day 4.

After another ridiculously large breakfast, we packed-up, loaded our bikes and said our goodbyes to the wonderful crew who run HSC Atlandida like one big family. They had been amazing hosts, good friends and wonderful ambassadors for Ukraine’s tiny but important tourism industry.

Happily, day 4 was all about cycling again and we spent the day winding up and down the local hills, through small villages and along some rather treacherous main-roads to Khoitn castle (insert big lunch) and finally back to Kaminetsk-Podolsky and straight into ‘London Pub’ for some Irish beer.

Slightly tipsy, we were late for the train and repeated the bike-loading debacle quickly and clumsily.

We were dirty, exhausted, half drunk but we had survived.

We settled down for some more beer and some drunken train banter. Lena, a young lawyer provided some home cooked pork cutlets (thanks Lena’s mum) and Sergiy provided the last pearl of wisdom I remember from the trip:

“There are no bad swear-words in Ukrainian”  he said. “Ukrainian Mother Fucker is very nice.”
“It means Go to the bum” Natasha added helpfully.

Now I know.

Some final thoughts:
Throughout the trip, much to my delight and entirely for my benefit, everyone in the group switched to English as required.  In good Ukrainian style they also spent a lot of their time stating the obvious and telling me what to do and how to do it, but despite this I was happy for their hospitality and characteristically-Ukrainian openness, honesty and curiosity.

If you ever get the chance to join Sergiy, Veloprostir or any other group cycling in Ukraine – I highly recommend it.

Here, watch for yourselves…

Atlantina

A quick post today to thank Sergiy Simonov, my fellow cycle-tourists and everyone at Atlantida for a great weekend on the bike in Western Ukraine.

Starting and ending in the medieval town of Kamenetsk-Podolsk we enjoyed castles, caves, kayaking, sliding down a mountain on a cable, amazing food, naked saunas (banyas to the linguistical purists out there) and lots of sunny cycling.

The place is beautiful, the people are friendly, the roads are atrocious and the villages haven’t changed of centuries.

All-in-all it was a great trip and finally a chance to test my ‘tour bike’ on a tour. It did a grand job but more about that when I have time.

Pictures and videos will follow soon. For now I have to endure another 30 minutes on the less-than-exciting training machine.

Lviv

As a gift to a very good (and long-time) friend of mine, this weekend we moved 500km West this weekend for two days in Ukrainie’s ‘capital of culture’ – Lviv.

As a man who’s been to many ‘capitals of culture’ (and almost all European capitals) I can honestly say Lviv is one of the most beautiful. It’s not only unique from a Ukrainian perspective bit it’s as diverse, quirky, inspiring and enjoyable as anywhere I’ve ever been anywhere in Europe – including and perhaps even more so than Ljubljana in Slovenia.

For those who know me, you’ll understand the significance of that last statement.

Lviv is special and like it or not, Lviv will be the hottest ‘must see’ city in Europe within the next 5 years.

Despite the war thousands of kilometres to the East, or perhaps because of the war, Ukraine is opening to the world like never before and the world now knows where UA is. For now Lviv and Western Ukraine may be the best kept secret for Poles looking for a romantic weekend away and for those of us in Ukraine, but that won’t last. Easyjet or RyanAir will arrive soon and when they do you’ll all be wondering why you never came before.

This is all the more remarkable for a city which, just 10 years ago was as drab and depressing as any of its post-Soviet neighbours.

Go there!

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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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Passport Index – How free are you?

Passport Index is an interactive tool, which collects, displays and ranks the passports of the world.

You can discover the world’s passports on a map, by country name, by Passport Power Rank and even by the color of their cover.

Visa Free Score

Passports accumulate points for each visa free country that their holders can visit without a visa, or they can obtain a visa on arrival.

Passport Power Rank

Passports are ranked based on their Visa Free Score. The higher the Visa Free Score, the better the Passport Power Rank.

Passport Index – World’s passports in one place.

Polesia

Out on the Bike in Kyiv (again)…

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ANOTHER 20 FACTS ABOUT MOLDOVA

OK, so it’s not Ukraine, but its still a beautiful country and absolutely worth visiting.
Moldovans are fun, funny, friendly, fearless and fascinating, so what do you have to lose?

The train leaves early in the morning from Kyiv, and you’ll be eating Mămăligă and drinking some of Europe’s finest wine before they day is over…

Hungarianism

I had a pint at lunchtime and the barmaid was Hungarian. This reminded me that I had 2000 Hungarian Forints (about £5) in my wallet which I could change into usable money.

So, I walked into the change bureau M&S and the old woman in front of me was buying a big wad of Forints. I changed mine back into GBP (£5.67 to be exact) as the old behind the counter joked that it would be ‘cruel’ if I couldn’t change them.

I walked outside and a woman walked past me shouting at her child in Hungarian.

Mi ez? I thought. What’s for dinner, szalonna and goulash?

Posted from: www.bearder.com

The Yodelling Slovene Prince

Posted from: www.bearder.com

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