Tag Archives: Cycling Ukraine

Day 47 – Inside ukranian cargo’s crew

18 Jun

Bikes, waiting to get on board

Our couchsurfing host in Kerch, Sveta, helped us big time with us trying to get to Georgia without having to go through Abkhasia, a disputed territory that considers itself an independant state, recognized only by a few countries :  Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela,Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. European tourists have a hard time trying to get the visa and enter the territory.

There is no passenger boat between Kerch and Georgia, but it is possible to catch a 2 days ride with the weekly cargo to links Kerch and Poti, with a few arrangements with the company, UKRFerry. Sveta made the right phone calls and lead us to the tiny office, where we could get our ticket for about 100 euros, including meals, nights and bicycles. We had 2 days to wait for the boat, and Sveta, who is as well a bicycle enthusiast, introduced us to her cycling friends and we visited together the kerch area on our bikes during those 2 days, which was really nice. The place is full of history and there are remains of greek, ottoman and soviet eras next to each other.

Our ukranian cycling team!

On the boat, there is not much to do : no entertainment, no bar, and no way to watch Ukraine playing France  as the television signal was too poor in the middle of the sea. Sleeping, learning some russian, and taking refeshing showers were among the highlights.

Our lunch buddies were 2 germans, Andre and Jens, motorbiking around the black sea for 5 weeks (check out their site), but we spent most of the time with the younger part of the  cargo crew, english speaking guys who were happy to have some new company. They enthusiastically showed us around, led us to the hidden ping pong table, the welding room, and their own cabins, where we exchanged music, ate biscuits, learn russian bad words, and took funny pictures. Another time killer on the boat was all the talking about that paranoïd gay rastaman, who claimed that his cabin-mates were secret agent from the FBI.

The crew

The crew’s ping pong table

The crew’s welding room

The ride took longer than scheduled, and we finally arrived in Poti after 2 nights, 5 meals, and 46 hours on the boat. The georgian custom control was once again a formality : instead of checking what was in our bags, the officer took our Russian phrasebook and checked Nico’s knowledge. As he passed the test with mention, we were good to go 🙂

Days 42-43 : From Black to Azov sea, from mountains to flat lands

14 Jun

Huge contrast compared to the past days : it’s flat!!! And really flat. We are on our way to Kerch, the last city before Russia, where stands the boat that we hope will bring us to Georgia (otherwise we’d most likely be stuck, as the abcasian border is a tricky one for westerners). There is one national road, 80 km long, where we can push to 25km per hour average. It’s been a while we couldn’t get to that speed. There is no shadow, but we go fast enough to refresh ourselves with selfmade wind. We cycled up north, and decided to reach the Azov sea to spend the night. We went through small villages, then found a nice place to stop and watch the Ukranian team, which was playing against Sweden…and won!

Flat lands

Our camping spot in Shcholkine

Ukranian gangster after the game

The place, Shcholkine, was much bigger than what it looked on the map, and the street that lead to the beach is surprisingly full of clubs and restaurants. And the most surprising is that we actually found a place with alternative music that fit our tastes…for one of the very first time since the beginning of the trip. The DJ was playing dubstep, drum and bass, breakbeat and jungle for a handful of nice people who became our party buddies for the night….a long, long night 🙂

The next day started late, with a slight hangover. The temperature was above 30 degrees and we had to cover about 80km to get to Kerch.   While eating and rehydrating, we met one of our party buddies from the last night, Valery, who told us it would be much shorter to cycle along the sea shore to get to Kerch, that the road was good for bikes even if it wasn’t tarmac. We thought it’d be shorter, chiller, and nicer, so we went for it…but after a few kilometers we realized that the path wasn’t that great for cyclists, as the thick layer of sand made it impossible for us to cycle for a few kilometers.

 Valery our party friend

 Path is no good!

After struggling for some time to pull our bikes in the sand, we found a way out and got back on some ridable roads. Not tarmac either, but at least we could cycle. At 6PM, we still had to ride 50km so had to rush to avoid cycling too much in the dark. Halfway between forest and countryside, we stopped to get some water in a small shop, and ended up in the middle of a hippie gathering with rastas, anarchists, punks and also few people that looked more normal. Absolute surprise to find those guys here! They welcomed us to spend some time with them at the festival, but we  declined the offer as we had to get to Kerch on the same day. After some research, we found out that this Rainbow Gathering is a worldwide community of utopists who live together in peace and love for a month in the nature, far away from consumerism and mass media. True that this area is ideal for that hippie lifestyle.

 Those are not hippies

Few kilometers afterwards, we got back on the main road and can finally speed up. We enjoy the scenery as much as we can, as we are aware that this is our last cycling day in Crimea.

As for many other places, we feel that could have spent several extra weeks exploring the area, but the boat is waiting for us in Kerch…at least we hope so 🙂

Cycling Crimea has been a fantastic experience and we’d definitely recommend the peninsula to all of you.

Day 41 – Cyclos and raw food

14 Jun

The next morning was as sunny as the previous ones, and we woke up in front of that incredibly big rock. It was passed 10 AM and we missed our chance to cycle in the morning, the heat being alrady too heavy. But Novy Svit is a pretty nice place and we are happy to spend few more hours here, taking a swim and go for a walk next to the nearby cliffs.

During our walk, we found our 2 campers again, who advised where to go next : on a remote beach 30 km away, a meeting point for hippies and ecologists…why not? We started in the late afternoon for another hilly and hot ride. No need to mention that the landscapes are once again pretty amazing. On the way, we met another cyclotourist, Zahid from Uzbekistan, on his way for a 7 months trip around the black sea. As you can see, he carries way less stuff than we do -one of his heaviest piece is his rug for praying-, he’s way older, and his bike is way less appropriate than ours for a long trip. Such an inspiring and admirable man. We exchanged our adresses (not email, the physical ones :), promised him to send the picture we took together to Uzbekistan, and got our first place to stay in Central Asia.

Down at the sea level, we had to find that little hippie beach, and asked the first guy we saw if he knew where it was. He did, and directly offered to lead us to the spot, after getting some food from the local store. We decided to camp together, as he was spending some holiday time in Crimea too. He lead us not to the beach we were aiming for, but at a spot that he knew, high up in the mountains, next to a spring. We set up the tent, found some dead hoak for the fire, and started the evening. Roman was a 50-something years old santa claus sosie. Currently clinical researcher, but he used to work as a climber/rescuer in the caucasian mountains during USSR period. He  had good english and explained us how he cured his cancer symptoms by fasting several times for more than 20 days, and eating raw food only. He spent quite some time advocating for his diet, saying we should try it during our bike trip, to feel more energetic. Good call, but I think we like our sashliks too much to get rid meat right now! Roman also makes us try several different natural crimean wine, which is renowned in Ukraine and beyond. Tasty. Then plays a bit of guitar, singing traditional folk russian songs. Another pretty good evening in Crimea…

Days 39, 40 – Closer to the cosmos

14 Jun

Few days past since our last post in Yalta…we’ve spend most of the time very close to nature, camped the whole week and did not have ectricity to feed our computer and update the blog. We first followed the coast from west to east, and had to climb many hills and mountains under heavy sun. We never sweat as much as we did in Crimea, even if we cycled mostly in the morning, and after 5PM. Crimea has been way tougher that what we expected, but the scenery we’ve been cycling in and the people we met made our trip in the region unforgettable. Why this region is not known in the west stays a mystery for us (even Romanians do not seem to know much about crimea), as it is a perfect holiday destination : nature, sun, history, good food, and laid back people.

Our first camping night was above a beach in a very small village where we stopped to watch Euro2012 soccer game Russia-Czech Republic. All the people watching the game were cheering for Russia, who won the game. It was therefore in an euphoric environment that we’ve set up the tent in the dark, in front of a big warm moon giving us enough light to see, and look at the sky.

1AM moonshine

The heat woke us up early in the morning. We went to cool down into the sea, packed, and left to the east towards Sudak, one of the big town in south Crimea. We arrived there in the afternoon after long and very hot uphills. We stopped for lunch and waited the sun to chill down a bit. On the beach, in the center of the town.

7AM sunshine

Back up in the mountains…

…and down at the beach in Sudak

We met there 2 local campers, Kate and Olek, who advised us where to find a good camping spot for the night. We followed their advice and headed up to Novy Svit, few kilometers away from Sudak. We rode next to some big castles and huge rocks before reaching the village, which is pretty small and seems to be for the upper class society. While trying to find a good spot to put the tent, a fisherman came to talk to us and ask about our trip, seeming to be pretty enthusiastic about it. He was living just next to  sea, so we asked him if we could possibly put the tent closeby…which he accepted. He didnt’t want any money, but a ‘present’, which is over here synonym of vodka bottle. When we came back from the shop with the present, he was cooking some fish soup for all of us, made out of his catches of the day. We shared the -very good- meal with 2 of his moscovit friends, and interrupt the soup with vodka shots from time to time.

On the way to Novy Svit

With Sergey

We understand Sergey is a crazy and interesting character. He fishes only with his hands (no net, no fishing rod, no boat), can dives 50 meters down and stay up to 3 minutes in apnea. He practices some kind of tibetan yoga to control his breath, and plays ukranian flute.

Nico started playing flute too for an improvised concert, which was an awesome way to connect without language. Afterwards, Sergey felt the need to get back to water and showed us his techniques of concentration before diving, using cosmic and dolphin energy 🙂

Playing flute after night diving…a normal night for Sergey

We saw light in the water ; it was Sergey’s mates, fishing with torches. They showed us all the types of fishes and medusas in the area, then the catches they just made.

There was still some work to do to empty our present and we were spending very good time all together. We went to sleep late in the night, loaded and happy to have met such an incredible guy.

Day 34, 35 Speeding up to Crimea

4 Jun

Our last day in Odessa is a sunny one. As we got delayed in Romania and wanted to discover -rather than cross- Crimea, we decided to take a train from Odessa to Simferopol, the main city in Crimea. It is a night train that will ride 466km in 12 hours.
Being in sunny Odessa really feels like holidays. Our hosts Vania and Sasha do not work this sunday and spend the whole day with us, first bringing us for a haircut, then to the beach for some freesbee throws until the sunset with their friend Nik. Pretty chilled afternoon!

Our train leaves at midnight, so we headed home to pack and get food for the trip, then towards the station to get there at about 11 and avoid bad surprises while getting the bikes into the train. As expected, the controller is not bicycle friendly and does not look confident about us being able to store those two big bikes into the small wagon. But…

We just had 4 minutes to greet and say goodbye to Sasha and Vania, who did everything they could to help us with everything we needed – great help as things gets complicated when not able to speak russian- ; and make us feel comfortable at our new home in Odessa. We had no idea about each other 3 days ago, and now we’re good friends. Another travelling win!
The train started and the controller quickly showed up to check if and how we managed to put the bicycles into the wagon. He looks really impressed by our packing, as we are not taking any of the space of our wagon-mates. He had a smile that saying ‘ok, you won. I’m not pissed at you anymore and I won’t be able to ask you for extra money’, then left.
We switched off the light at about 2am and the locomotive breath helped us to close our eyes and fall asleep.

The next morning came faster than expected, despite the heat during the night, and we were already in Crimea by 8am. We arrived in Simferopol at noon and had a few minutes to take our bicycles out of the train. Putting the front wheels and set the bikes back went smoothly, they even seem to work better than 3 days ago.

We directly felt that we were somewhere else. It’s about 27 degrees and the pine trees smell give the area a mediterranean flavour, and we can now look forward to our 10 days on the sea shore, between mountains and beaches.

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!

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.


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.