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Day 29. Crossing the border ; meeting Ukraine.

1 Jun

When we went out of the hotel in Moldova, this is how it looked liked :

We therefore spent some time taking care of our bikes before leaving, then head up to the border. Exiting a country is rarely a problem, so we went quickly through the moldavian one and met some very nice officers, amused by our vehicles, and warning us that the ukrainian customs were not funny guys.

Official separation between Moldova and Ukraine

No Man’s Land

After few kilometers in a no man’s land, we reached the ukranian territory and went through the control, with a more detailed inspection of the passport. However the guys were nice too and even offered to fill our empty bottles of water ; which we didn’t refuse. Despite all the warnings we got about customs in those countries, all the people we met were really nice with us. We probably look pretty innocent on our bicycles.

First stop in Ukraine

We entered Ukraine through a very small road going through villages. The first ‘town’ we encountered was Bolgrad, but we decided not to stop there as it wasn’t raining anymore and it was already late. We had just a bit of food left, a bit of water from the custom guys, and no ukrainian money. We cycled long without seeing anything except fields, then a solo biker who stopped to talk to us. Again, the man was heading towards Mongolia…but in 20 days 🙂  You can check his blog here (in german)

Meeting Pit the Russian-German, with some sun in the background!

We stopped at the next town, around 30km from Bolgrad, to get money, food and water. Ukrainian reality hit us as we quickly understood that there were no bank there, and no way to pay with cards/euros/romanian/moldovian leis. The only bank around was in Bolgrad, where we came from, and we had no will to get back there. On our way, the next bank  would be in Tatarbunary, 60km ahead, too late to get there today. So we were moneyless for the first time of the trip, and thought we’d camp, eat some of the emergency noodles we have in our bags, and get some water from locals.

We cycled until Bannovka, another village -around 1000 people-, big enough to have a church and a monastery. We headed to the church and luckily met an orthodox monk. He seemed to be the only not drunk person in the village, we asked him if we could possibly sleep in the monastery or in the church. He then went to talk to a group a villagers having beers outside, stayed there for 15 minutes, then waved us and ask to come with our bikes. He kindly arranged us to stay with the owner of the local shop, so we were very thankful to both parties.

Monk arranging us a place to stay

We met the family : mother and father (Darina and Vassil), daughter and grandmother -in all the houses we’ve stayed in so far, there is always a grandmother, aka Baba!-. We were offered a warm shower, food, and homemade wine.

With Petru, Darina and Vassil

Bulgarian/Ukranian food

A friend, Petrus, is joining the party. All of them are Bulgarians, and very nice with us. We used our Russian conversation guide, what we know of Russian and Croatian, and Google Translate to communicate. It’s pretty funny. Wine helps all of us getting more fluent. They explained us that there is a lot of corruption in the ukrainian government, that life is pretty though over there, and that they struggle to earn 100$ a month. We then wanted to help them somehow and contribute to what they were generoulsy offering us…but they didnt accept the 20 euros we wanted to give them. We then decided to payback with the bottle of Tuica we had left from Tulcea in Romania. They liked it pretty much and we finished it together. We went to sleep in the early hours, as you can imagine.

Our mark in the house

Thank you, technology!

Best friends

Day 27, 28…Romania to Moldova to Ukraine

29 May

Our plan to cross the romanian/ukranian border on a boat through the Danube delta was a big fail, as the checkpoint in Ukraine (Izmail) had been closed, and could only be opened for 250$ plus 200€ for the boat ride, as the custom would pick us up in the middle of the river. We then had no option but cycling backward to Galati, go through Moldova, and do an extra 180 kilometers to get to Ukraine. We intended to take a bus to gain some time, but we couldn’t either as those aren’t proper buses but packed minivans that couldn’t host our bikes.

We started cycling early in the morning and got back to Galati around 2PM, got stuck at the border for some time, then finally reached Moldova in the afternoon. The landscape instantly changed and Moldova at first sight looked like an abandoned country, pretty empty with just ruins from the soviet era here and there. Distances between villages are much longer and we crossed steep hills for hours before reaching the next city, Vulcanesti, at about 8.30PM ; after nearly 9 hours on the bike. We had cycled 144 kilometers -new record!- on hilly landscapes, went through rain again, and felt exhausted, so we decided to stop in the first hotel we would find.

Here, it really feels being in between 2 worlds, as cyrillic is mixed with latin, and most people speak either russian, either romanian, but not both. The cost of life decreased even more : for example for lunch today we had 2 chicken kebabs, 1 liter of Kefir, 4 bananas, a tablet of chocolate and 1 liter of coke for about 4 euros.

People are really nice but it’s much harder to communicate than with romanians, as our russian is still pretty basic!

We’re now going to cycle towards Ukraine just 10k away from here. Once again, the weather does not look very promising.

 

Romania gallery

29 May

Romania

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Picture of the day

27 May

Shooting birds in the Danube delta

27 May

Today we went on a cruise tour in the Danube delta, unfortunatly we didn’t see as many birds as we wanted and the weather wasn’t good and made the scenery a bit sad looking. At least we didn’t pay for it cause our hosts know someone who works on a ship 🙂 . We also found out that we won’t be able to cross the ukrainian border from Tulcea to Izmail (the city on the other side of the river as there is no more custom there), there is an option to make it but it cost lots of money. The plan then will be to take a bus back to Galati tomorrow morning because we are short on time.

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Pictures of the day

26 May

Days 23-24-25 : Meeting more cyclists

26 May

Our hosts/friends from Buzau (Bogdan, Radu and Dan) are well connected to other cyclists associations and kindly arranged us a place to stay in Galati, 120 km away. We cycled the whole day on the same national road. It was completely flat and we could get there quite quickly -in about 6 hours ride-.

2 bikers on the road, carrying lots of luggage as well, stopped to talk to us. Tobias and Gunter were germans, and we found out we are going through very similar itinerary as they go to Mongolia via “*stan” countries and Russia (you can check out their site RoadstoMongolia.com). As this was pretty funny coincidence we stopped to take a picture, exchange stickers and compare our respective gears -.

We then decided to stop together for coffee and lunch, and went to the nearby restaurant on the road. We saw 2 more jeeps with german immatriculation and went to talk to them. Incredibly enough, they were going towards Mongolia too. We had to take that picture below, showing the 3 types of vehicles and 3 generations aiming at the same destination.

An hour later, we’re back on the road and the rain came back to say hello. The rain then upgraded to storm again and we’re getting soaked, a feeling we’re being used to now. We could take nice pictures though.

We arrived in Galati and met Christi and Georgi, president and vice president of the Galati Bicycle Club, who got us a free flat in the city center -cheers guys!!-. Christi is also the owner of the only bicycle shop of the city, Mausbike. It is therefore in pretty good company that we went for dinner in a good restaurant of the city, a tavern regularly hosting gypsy/folk live music bands such as Taraf de Haidouks (see video below, pretty good representation of the romanian countryside!)

The day after, we toured the city with Georgi in the morning, visited the shop then head up to the Danube that we had to cross. Due to the size of the river, there are no bridges and we had to take a ferry to cross it to reach the road that would lead us to Tulcea, the last “big” town before the Danube Delta.

Baking shoes for breakfast

MausBike shop

Crossing the Danube

When we arrived on the other side, it feels like a lost island as there is no more traffic, but big plain fields, monasteries, and shepherds. The scenery is magnificient, it’s dry and we have the wind in the back.

Buying cherries – the poor guy got arrested by the police just afterwards

We arrived in Tulcea early in the evening after a last long, 10% steep hill that finished us. We met Sorin, our contact from Tulcea, who is the president of the Pelican Bicycle Club, hosting us. Sorin, Tatiana and Eddy -the kid- welcomed us very warmly with fresh fish from the delta and delicious recipes. Sorin is as well Dj and ecologist, again we have a lot in common with our hosts which is a pretty good thing.

After dinner, we went to play pool in a disco/bar in town with some of our hosts’ friends. Belgians were pretty lame.

After a good night sleep, we went to the highest point of the region, from which you have a good view on the Danube delta. We then went to the market to get food for the night, as it is Sorin’s birthday and we need to get meat to put on the grill!

Where is Wally?

Sorin’s music shop