Tag Archives: Cycling Further Bicycle Diaries

Day 31 – Back to civilization : Odessa!

1 Jun

After a humid night with the mosquitos, we got back on our bikes for the remaining 120km that would lead us to Odessa. The day started with rain and wind for the first 30 km. The highlight of the morning is this gang of pelicans flying in circles above us. Beside that, not much happened.

We stopped for lunch in an unexpected, semi ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Sergeyvka. Soviets built it as a leisure resort, but didn’t finish the job before the regime collapsed. There are many empty buildings, and lots of bungalows where you can still buy a plastic ball or a bucket for the kids. After some duck soup and duck pasta, we got back on the road for the last 80km. Just a few kilometers ahead, we reach Zatoka, a well known spot for ukrainian tourists. It is a narrow stripe of land surrounded by the sea on both sides. We find our first sandy beach on the black sea. Picture time!

Posing on Zatoka beach. The sun is back, for real!

The last 40 km are easy, as we are on a good road. We got cherries and apricots from local sellers on the way, and reach Odessa in the evening.

Cherry seller on the way

Bionic Party Dog

We found the place quite easily and got greeted by our next hosts, friends of friends of friends. Pretty cool people around our age  -Sasha and Vania- who showed us Odessa’s coastline, the Ukranian Ibiza. We had well deserved beers and sashliks, after those 420km cycling in 4 days.

Password please?

Compared to what we’ve seen during the past week, it looks like we entered Sin City : it is full of casinos, clubs, strip clubs, and ukranian ladies in -ultra- mini skirts 🙂

We plan to stay for the week end for some Odessa party, a must in Ukraine!

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Day 30 : Intensive Cycling towards the coast

1 Jun

The morning was a bit harder and we got ready to cycle the next 100km with a hangover. We received bread, sausages and noodles for us to be able to cycle to Tatarbunary and finally get money from the bank. Our hosts also offered us water but came back with Kvass, a typical fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread. It’s pretty good, and pretty far from all the drinks we know in the west.

Morning goodbye with our hosts

The plan is to cycle towards the coastline for around 100 km per day for the next 2 days, as Odessa, the next big city we are aiming at, is 240 km away. It is supposed to go quite fast as we will obviously get to sea level altitude.

The ukrainian countryside looks pretty nice and for the first time in nearly 3 weeks, the weather is really good and the whole sky is blue. A push for the mood! The ride is very pleasant and we cycled until the sunset after 110km. Yves is starting learning Russian on the bike with his audiobook, while Nico is practicing his skills in cyrillic reading.

K-I-R-N-I-TCH-K-I

First words : “Hello – How are you? – I don’t speak russian”

As the weather is good, we decide to camp as close as we can from the sea. Yves’ mobile -our GPS device- is getting low on battery and the sun is strong, so we our solar panel is being useful here.

Around 8.30PM, Nico’s knee feels tired and the sun is setting, we decide to stop next to stagnating sea water in a remote area. The scenery is pretty good.

After eating 3 packs of noodles, biscuits and chocolate, the night comes and mosquitos wake up. We are soon surrounded by thousands of them. At first, we thought there was a train or a distant motorway…but we found out that the noise was coming from the cloud of insects around us. We didnt stay too long outside and headed up to the tent carefully, to avoid being eaten alive during the night. It worked ok, but we both got tens of bites in the adventure.

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.

 

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

Day 22, the mud volcanoes

23 May

We’ve been cycling for a one day trip today and went to the mud volcanoes 35 km away from Buzau with our cyclist friend Dan, who took us to really nice spots on the way. The weather was supposed to be stormy again but he gave it a try and took a day off to come with us and make us discover the beautiful area of Buzau. For some reason, it didn’t rain and we stayed dry the whole day. It’s been a while!

We left in the morning and rode across villages leading to hills and small mountains next to Berca, where lay the mud volcanoes. As Dan is more of an offroad guy and knows the region very well, he took us through small paths “pour les connaisseurs” -as romanians like to say :)- in forest and hills, then we stopped in the mud volcanoes to have lunch and take fancy pictures.

For the first time during the trip, we are light enough to cycle on non tarmac roads and experiment cycling our machines in dust, mud, sand and rocks. On the way down, we stopped in an orthodox monastery surrounding the whole Buzau area where there are still a few nons taking care of the place.

Here are some pictures we took on the volcano itself.

Day 21, 120 km fighting elements

22 May

We got up at 8 and it feels it’s gonna be a nice, sunny day, with birds singing and that kind of things. The mission consists in getting out of Bucharest -we’ve been sticking to it longer than expected-, and go for 120km ride to Buzau, a medium sized city on the way to the Ukrainian border. A big change after of 4 day of chillax and food with our fascinatingly nice hosts Irina and Marius. A few goodbye hugs and we’re out of the flat, on our bikes and looking for yogurt and bananas -that’s how we roll in the morning-.

8 Am goodbye picture with Irina and Marius

Looking for bananas

Looking for the way out

Once fed, out of the town and on the E85 (the national road leading to Buzau) we ended up in a lot of traffic, that we escaped as soon as we could, to get back to our beloved villages. We missed our chickens, cows and horses and it’s good to find them back.

Sun, flat green fields and good roads…it reminds us of those good old days of Hungary, and it feels nice. No cars ; just horses pulling carriages. Good. It didn’t last too long though, as we had to get back on the E85 just a few kilometers later, to cycle along the trucks.  A strong wind in the face drove Nico crazy, frustrated to be on a flat road, pushing hard to not get anywhere.

Dacia, what else?

The good thing on that road is that we have enough space to cycle somehow safely, it’s the one lane and a half special system ; and it looks like we have a very wide cycling path that is also used by slower cars (and trucks), but only when they want to let the faster ones bypass them.

The wind kept burning our calories so we stopped to get a big lunch full of fat, carbohydrates and proteins (mici, french fries, bread, salad and oil), and rehydrated properly before getting back on our bikes for the next 70km of the day. The wind got friendlier and changed its orientation so we could finally speed it up. We stopped for a coke after 35km, just enough time to let a big, black stormy sky take the whole space. As it didn’t seem to be a shortie, we put our jacket on and got back on the road, so that we could reach Buzau on time.

Feel the powa! -look at the trees-

We didn’t expect to have fun in the rain, but it was a blast! The wind was more or less in our back, the temperature was good, and we were completely soaked. The storm calmed down after half an hour or so, then Dan, our cyclist host for the night, called us and offered to escort us until the house. He found us on the road -not such a hard thing to do-, and lead us with his Dacia Logan to Buzau, that we entered like the real guys do on Champs-Elysees.