Tag: Bike

Budapest to the Black Sea: Day 15 – A rest day in Kozloduy.

Now a tad over half way and with 1,104km behind me, the ‘rest day’ today was much needed and as often happens when you stop exercising, the tiredness caught up with me. I was knackered.

Thankfully, Kozloduy, famous because of its nuclear power plant, is a small, quiet and relaxed town and I was able to wander around, buy a few essentials and get my brakes serviced. This routine task was a mini-adventure in itself as the owner of our hotel/apartment led me there on his own bike and then tried to explain what I wanted to the mechanic. This was all done in very broken (and inadequate) Russian, but somehow mechanic understood and told me to come back at three O’Clock.

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East or West?

When you get to Southern Hungary, the EuroVelo route splits. I don’t know why it splits, but you can go West through Croatia or East and into Serbia.

I chose to go West through Croatia, not just because I like Croatia (and it’s one more country to visit by bike) but also because the path runs right through one of the most tragic parts of the former Yugoslavia outside of Bosnia and in particular the border town of Vukovar.

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A trip to Vyshgorod and the Kyiv Sea

The mighty Dnieper river is by far Kyiv’s most monumental feature. Not only does it act as a gigantic air conditioner that channels fresh air through the city, but it defines so much of Kyiv city life. Kyiv and the Dnieper are inseparable.

Thanks to the Dnieper, there are said to be 120 kilometres of beaches in the city which includes 16 developed beaches. There are numerous islands between the left and right bank of the city which are accessible yet refreshingly undeveloped, and whatever time of year it is, Kyivians will be doing something with ‘Big D’ …fishing, swimming, BBQing, sunbathing, partying – it all happens along the river.

Ukrainians enjoying some Tuesday afternoon beach time

Opinions vary on how clean it is, but two things are clear – the Dnieper is big and it’s beautiful.

North of the city it gets even bigger.

The Kyiv reservoir, known locally as the Kyiv Sea is vast. It’s massively-huge and so wide, you could probably see it from the moon even if you had the eyesight of a mole.


The Kyiv Sea looks like a sea, you see.

So big you can see it from space

On Wednesday, with the sun blazing in the sky, I set off by bike to see for myself.

Here’s what I found

Outside of Kyiv, there are many many large, ugly and mostly empty mansions. There are even whole estates of large ugly mansions that are surrounded by large ugly concrete fences and guarded by large ugly security guards. The large ugly egos that build and live in these estates drive large ugly cars.

Thankfully, the chances that you’ll have to converse with any of them is slim, especially if you’re on a bike.

Getting to your fishing seat can be tricky if you don’t have waterproof boots

Filling the gaps between the concrete fences and the concrete walls you find old village houses and relaxed but exhausted looking Babushkas.


Soon you arrive in Vyshgorod.

According to Wikipedia, Vyshgorod  is a ‘town of sport and healthy way of life‘, where ‘one of the most favourite holidays for every dweller is, without a doubt, the Day of the City‘.

The festive program is ‘so various and spectacular that will satisfy even the most exacting audience‘.

That has to count for something! …but sadly, today was not City Day. It was Wednesday May 23rd 2012.

Modern Vyshgorod is younger than me

Ukrainian Hippos

In Vyshgorod there are many wild animals which relax by the sea.

Picturesque lakes and trees

…and many ‘not so wild’ trees.

The dam that keeps the sea wet and Kyiv dry.

There is also a hydro-electric dam.

Getting there and escaping

Surprisingly, I managed to get almost all the way to Vyshgorod by bike without travelling along any main roads. Almost the whole route goes either along side-walks or along small pathways.  It’s also difficult (almost impossible) to get lost because you keep the river on your right and stick as close to the water as possible. Go left only when you have to and as soon as possible get back to the water’s edge.

As you can see from the pictures here and below, a trip to the Kyiv Sea makes for a great day out, especially in the sunshine and if you have a car I’m told that all the cool kids in Kyiv head there to party.

Vyshgorod obviously had quite an effect on these three girls…

One can only imagine how excited they get on City Day.

and finally, here’s a weird video about Vyshgorod.

Bike Pride

Next week, Ukraine’s much harassed LGBT community will hold  its first ever ‘Gay Pride’ event in Kyiv and as one might expect in this part of the world it has stirred a lot of controversy.  The gay-bashers have threatened to turn up with sticks and beat people and church Nuns have been handing out leaflets denouncing the parade.

The event has the potential to unmask a very ugly side of Ukrainian society, but if handled correctly it is also an opportunity for the government to show that free expression still exists in Ukraine. Ahead of the football championships next month, it is also a chance to show they are able to police potentially troublesome events in a professional manner.

However, all of that takes place in the future. This weekend was all about another unloved Ukrainian community – the cyclists.

Despite Ukrainian’s love of the outdoors, cycling in Ukraine is almost exclusively seen as a leisure activity and in a society that so-often puts style before substance, cycling as a means of transport considered deeply uncool.

This, combined with the deep and corrupt self-interest of city authorities, means that very little exists in the way of cycle paths or bike racks. In fact, I have never seen either of these in Ukraine and with the exception of my eccentric American colleague, I don’t know anyone who cycles to work.

Step forward Ira Bondarenko

I first heard of Ira last year while I was working for the European Business Association (EBA) in 2010 when she was organising a competition to encourage employers and businesses in Kyiv to install bike-racks and showers at work, to persuade employees to get out of their cars and onto their saddles.

Of course, this makes good environmental sense, it keeps employees healthy/happy and it encourages a responsible attitude towards staff – all of which makes good business sense.

Sadly however, the EBA executive Anna Derevyanko didn’t see it that way and snubbed my attempt to promote the competition to EBA member companies. I put this down to the usual small-minded business ethos that plagues Ukraine and the fact that, despite its name, the ‘European’ Business Association is deeply Ukrainian by nature.

Anyway, I remember Ira and I was happy to see her Facebook invite asking me to join this year’s ‘velo parade’.

In a similar vein to the 2010 competition, Velo (bike) parade (parade) 2012 was organised by Ira to promote cycling as a means of transport not just a a leisure activity and to reinforce this message, the guests were invited to turn-up on their bikes in normal everyday clothes.

The Parade

The parade started at Golden Gate square, and in the +28C sunshine, and along with a few hundred other cyclists, I set off on a mini downhill tour of the city. This was both a great relief and slightly annoying because I had just cycled all the way up-hill to join the fun.

Our two-wheeled protest set off slowly along Yaroslava Val, passed my old house on Artema street and then down passed my new house in  Podil. Along the way we terrorised some buses, confused many pedestrians and irritated a long line of SUV‘s before we arrived at our first stop – Kontractova Ploscha (Contract Square).

Here we had a group photo, I had a coffee, and I assume the Ukrainians talked about bike-type-stuff.

After lots of picture-taking and bike-comparing we jumped back on our bikes and cycled to Truhaniv Island.

There, the bikes were dumped in the sand, many of the Ukrainians dumped their clothes, and my friend Sergiy started lecturing me about the need to ‘stop being so English’ because I had refused to strip down to my y-fronts and go swimming.

Of course, I stood my ground and ‘kept my shirt on’ both metaphorically and physically, I am British after all, but I was brave enough to stand in the river. I am quite sure this means my legs will fall off within the next 3 weeks, but it was refreshingly cool and I’m quite proud of this small achievement.

Last winter I stood on the frozen Dnipro and now I have been in it.

As I was standing there, cooling-off, a girl walked up and asked ‘are you Belgian?’.

‘No’ I said, ‘but I’ll take it as a compliment’

‘Why?’ she asked.

Back on the beach the conversation had rolled-on to a discussion about the ‘critical mass’ of something, which made me strangely hungry as well as confused.

As we left in search of food, I said goodbye to some of the bike guys and, as is usual, I went for the customary handshake (Ukrainian guys handshake like nobody else) but, the hand-recipient ‘threw a spanner in the works’ and presented me a fist, which I awkwardly shook. We both looked uncomfortable as we did this strange hand-fist-shake and said goodbye.

I noticed Sergiy handled things much better, punching each guys fist with his fist, making the whole thing look natural and cool.

‘Is that a special biker sub-culture thing?’ I asked.

‘No’ Sergiy replied. ‘In Ukraine, only gay people shake hands with gloves on.’ he continued, before adding ‘Its a stupid superstition’.

Then he reassured me that my social faux pas was not a big deal.  ‘if you shake hands with gloves on, you’re either gay, foreign or cool enough to not care’. he said.

So, I cycled home happy to be a cool foreigner and convinced that Ukraine’s bikers really should attend the gay pride event next week.

Many more pictures etc here

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