Category: Life (Page 1 of 34)

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

 

Cycling. Why I am doing it.

It’s just three days until I leave Kyiv and start pedalling. I’m slightly nervous, but also quite excited and looking forward to finally starting, even if the weather is set to be stupidly hot next week .

Anyway, when I mention my trip, many people think I’m crazy, some think I wont make it and others who think it’ll be easy. “Cycling to Odessa? meh – it’s nothing” they say.

At different points, often all within a single day, I have believed all of these things.

When I don’t want to do it or I allow my self to think of all the things that could go wrong – I think I’m crazy. When I’m exhausted after some less-than-serious training – I think I will give up after 5 days, and when I’m zipping around forest paths near Kyiv in the sunshine, or when I’m trying to convince others that its a good idea – I’m 100% sure that everything will be fine. The truth is however, I have no idea what will happen or how hard (or not) it will be.

I have never done any serious cycling let alone anything that involves a tent, and I don’t know any serious long-distance cyclists either. The closest thing I’ve done to this is probably a 10-day hike around Mt Blanc, but that was only 10 days and it was exhausting and I just followed my much fitter and much more experienced family.

So, if I don’t have any idea what will happen, why am I doing it? What inspired me?

Well, here are a few reasons I have collected over the past few weeks when pondering the question:

  • It’s summer and I need a summer holiday.
  • The Danube is an iconic European river and it weaves right through the heart of the continent. Among other places, it winds through Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade so, thanks to various party-boats in each of those places, I have partied on the river, but never followed it.
  • It winds through a part of Europe that fascinates me and which I know quite well, but only by train and only as a visitor to the main towns and cities.
  • I’ve been playing with the idea of doing a Danube adventure since one of our Belgian professors explained how he sailed from the UK to the Black sea (and on to Turkey) …mostly along the Danube.
  • I haven’t done any long, solo travelling for a few years, I miss it and it might be the last chance I get for a while.
  • It will be a good test to see if I can really work and travel at the same time.
  • I read somewhere that they built a cycle path all the way along the river and called it EV6.

Why by bike?

  • Why not?
  • It’s faster than walking, more enjoyable than swimming and cheaper than buying a boat.
  • Cycling is a bit like riding a horse, but without all the shit.
  • Someone built a cycle path along a whole river!

Why Europe?
Well, I have spent most of my adult life travelling in Europe and I’m far from finished.

…and why so far East?
It’s true that I could have taken the more popular EV6 from its start in France, through Western Europe and finished in Budapest, that would have meant going through Austria …and why the hell would I want to go through Austria when I could go through Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania?

 

If you like planking and sweating – Hot Yoga is just the ticket

Twenty minutes after we arrived I was upside-down with snot, sweat, saliva and tears pouring down my face.  Straining to touch my toes on the floor above my head, I was learning the hard way that Hot Yoga wasn’t, as I had been hoping, just hot girls doing stretches in Lycra.

OK, this is Ukraine, so the room was also full of hot girls, but like me they were also sweating their way through a no-nonsense Yoga session in a room as hot as a Sauna.

Welcome to Hot Yoga Kyiv.

I don’t know who thought of the concept of Yoga in an oven, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds but it was also one of the most ‘extreme’ hours of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I was the only wuss who stopped and took a drink mid-exercise and everyone else was slimmer and more streachy than me, but it didn’t matter.

Hot Yoga takes place in a basement at 23 Observatornaya Str which is just off Artema street, one-block from Lvivska Square and behind the House of Artists (for those who know Kyiv, that’s the building with seven large women on it).

There had been a slight mix-up with the booking and the receptionist (sweat manager?) had no idea about our booking, but she was all smiles and assured us that everything would be OK as she handed me some slippers and showed me where to get changed etc. Everything was OK and shortly after 18:30 about twelve of us were stretching, balancing and sweating in our little basement hot-box.

It’s pretty hard to describe how much sweating I did and at one point my right eye felt like it was trying to pop out of my head, but despite the hell-like conditions it was actually a lot of fun and (afterwards) thoroughly relaxing – easily as relaxing as a ‘strong’ Thai massage but without the need for a Thai woman to climb on you and no elbows in your back.

For some reason our hour-long session overran giving us an extra 15 minutes of the hot-stuff, but to be honest, I was pretty messed-up by this time and our ‘bonus’ felt more like unnecessary torture. For a newbie like me, 60 minutes is just fine.

The hot salon is small, low-key and friendly with everything you need for a sweaty session, including showers, towels, drinks and mats etc and although the website says you should book, it did seem that anyone could walk-in and join a session at any time if there’s space.

So, if planking in a sauna is your kind of thing – Hot Yoga is the perfect way to end a hard day.

Thanks to Marina for the invitation and the team at Hot Yoga for looking after us.

Ian

Tip: guys, forget your t-shirt, it is completely pointless and you’re better-off without one. Do not forget water – you’ll need lots of it.

Podil’s ‘self garden’ offers hope for a better Kyiv

Podil

Podil (Podol in Russian) is perhaps one of the oldest, quirkiest and most diverse district in Kyiv. Its mix of ‘pre-revolution’, Stalinist, 1970s and modern ‘fake-old’ buildings, dotted with ancient burial grounds, hills and ‘elite’ tower-blocks makes it a fun place to explore. In Podil you’ll find small winding streets of faded pastel-coloured houses, ancient trams, crappy roads, sleepy boulevards, students, businessmen and babushkas all jostling for space on its small squares, ruined pavements and a patchwork of small courtyards.

Since the Maidan revolution last year, Podil has also become a hipsters paradise of coffee shops, animal-themed kiosks, tech companies, galleries and burger bars.

It’s the home of Kyiv’s most famous street (Andriyivsky Spusk) a large University, a massive Soviet market and a port where you can take a small ferry along the river to drinking beer and listening to loud Russian pop-music. It has Kyiv’s poshest hotel, three million sushi bars, a mosque and the bizarrely-named but wonderfully cheap bar called ‘Beer Online’ where you can eat and drink with local students, alcoholics and expats – all for the cost of a bottle of Evian in western Europe.

Podil is the kind of place where a drunk a man can introduce you to a small bronze statue which he claims to have married, where a bar called ‘live fuck die’ may appear in the middle of the revolution and where you can invent entirely new words during an excessively drunken underground karaoke session. I know because all of these things have happened to me in this crazy district on the banks of the Dniper. Basically, for those who love Kyiv because of its striking contrasts, weirdness and unpredictability – Podil offers everything you could wish for and more and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

However, nothing in Podil is as cool as the new ‘Samo Sad‘ (СамоСада) or ‘self garden’.

I first saw a post about Samo Sad somewhere online but didn’t pay much attention to the article as it looked like ‘just another park’ amongst the hundreds of others that literally ‘Spring’ to life in early May. About two weeks later on a typically warm and sunny Sunday, my housemate Gregory invited me to join him at a new ‘garden’ near our house on Horiva Street.

Misjudging the weather quite spectacularly, I put on a large orange body-warmer and wandered down to join him and Vika and to see what ‘new garden’ he was talking about.

“Our Grandmas are very clever”

Samo Sad is a small square of land which is about 20 meters wide and is guarded by two straw sheep. Well, at least I think they are sheep and in authentic Ukrainian-style one is wearing sunglasses and the other has a pink bow tied in her hair. Along one side of the plot is a pub, there are two restaurants across the street, a ‘produkti’ (corner-shop) on the opposite side, a ridiculous but fun ‘Crab Coffee’ kiosk on one corner and a recycling centre for used bottles on the other. The cetnre piece is a large tree and if you crawl through a hole in the bushes and fence there is a basketball court behind.

So what is it? Well, it was (and officially probably still is) a peice of land which is being leased to the Russian Embassy (yes its occupied territory), and right now Samo Sad is a community garden and 20 square meters of cool.

I met Gregory and Vika sitting under the tree on the newly erected bench which now circles it, and just as they just started mocking my winter jacket an old lady stopped to inquire about this random new ‘garden’. Vika explained that a bunch of activists had reclaimed the land and were building a community space, a stage and a herb garden. The old woman responded that she also lived in Podil and was very proud to see such an initiative.

As a stood there like a big sweaty orange, I felt a sense of pride too. This garden isn’t just another space – it represents a complete 360 degree change of mentality and symbolizes not just a new-found confidence which has spread through Podil, but also a shift in power back to the people and their neighborhood.

A local activist explained in more detail.

The space, she said, was reclaimed and landscaped by the same Volunteers that took it upon themselves to patrol the streets of Podil in March 2014 when the police vanished following the grim climax of the Maidan protests and massacre in the city centre. They have built and planted a vegetable garden in boxes, erected a stage, built a number of wooden chairs, found a piano from somewhere and assembled it all around the grassy square. This will not surprise anyone in Ukraine, but the Babushkas (grandmas) often come to the garden and tell the young growers what they are doing wrong and how they should be growing this and that vegetable. The hipsters come on their bikes, families bring their kids and the drunks come and sit and get quietly drunk. It is the first real, organic community I’ve seen in five years in Kyiv.

“So why is the piano padlocked?”, I asked. “Well”, the activist said, “it is because people were leaving the pub playing it late at night when they are drunk”. This (somewhat understandably) irritated an old woman in the apartment bloc next door who vented her anger by logging onto Facebook and complaining to the community via their new Facebook page.

“Our old people are very smart” the she explained in a matter-of-fact way – highlighting, for me anyway, the real and ongoing social media revolution that’s taking place.

The future?

So far it seems that the local authorities have given their silent approval to the project but this is Ukraine and so we can be fairly sure that Samo Sad will eventually attract much drama, scandal and controversy. But, for now at least it symbolizes everything that is good about Ukraine. It shows the very best of Ukrainian community spirit and it is Podil’s stubborn, understated and beautiful answer to the vitriol which has been thrown in their direction by those claiming the city is overrun by Nazis.

Samo Sad is a peoples garden for people who deserve ever inch of it.

Go and see for yourself at Voloska St, 20. Visit them online at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samosad/1605911233024707?fref=ts

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?

Video: when cycling in Ukraine…

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.

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

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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