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#90154 - 18.05.04 16:03 Cycling in Ukraine
Ivo
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As spin-off of a thread in the German section, I'll post some cycling reports in English about cycling in/to Ukraine in this thread.
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#90155 - 18.05.04 16:05 Re: Cycling in Ukraine [Re: Ivo]
Ivo
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DUST AND CHAMPAGNE

A bike-tour through Crimea

Prelude

As usual, a bike-trip with a group really starts a long
time before. During last summer, after our bike-trip to
Tichvin, Leningradskaja Oblast (Russia), the idea started
for cycling through Crimea. I'd would be organising the
bike-trip in my function as secretary of the esperanto
cyclists movement (BEMI), and our destination was fixed as
the aunnual meeting of the Ukrainian esperantists in Jalta.
During the consecutive months I gathered loads of
information, and the first people allready mentioned their
intentention of paticipation. During autumn I got sound
advise on a possible route while speaking with an old
cycling friend from Kaunas, Lithuania. He cycled in Crimea
about 10 years ago. Basically we followed his advise,
although by advise of one of our Crimean friends, I turned
the route around. So our route was fixed like following:
Starting at Novoleksiivka railwaystation to Arbatka, down
to Feodosia, south-east along the coast and finally a loop
through Sevastopol, Bachchisaraj and Simferopol, ending with
a giant descent to Jalta from the Ai-Petri pass.
The visum-problems were the usual ones. Invitations we'ld
receive from some esperantists from Kiev, but since they
live in various districts, the invitations arrived at
various times, costing many sweat and nerves. One of us,
Herman, only got his invitation by fax the morning before
he had to leave to Kiev, so only half a day to gather the
visa!
Travelling to Kiev with bikes is a story in itself. Several
European railroad frims don't accept bikes in fast trains,
and/or international trains. Poland is one of the big
bottlenecks (France is as worse). So it was decided to
travel to Kiev by a new bus-connection from Liege in
Belgium to Kiev, starting sundaymorning. But the bus-
company didn't get it's permission from the barious
bureaucrats in time, so a new solution had to be found.
Finally, our two french riders (Cyrille and Zef) took a
direct bus from Paris, three of the Dutch (Yvonne, Herman
and Kieg) travelled by small trains to Poland, and I would
disassemble my bike, camouflage it as usual luggage, and
take the fast train. Only when we entered the Ukrainian
railroad system travel problems vanished. The Ukrainian
Railroads (like all FSU railroads) are very civilized, and
accept bikes as normal luggage.
In Kiev we lost some time with the usual OVIR-problems,
they wanted to take three days for our registration, so we
decided to postpone untill Jalta.
Finally we arrived in Novoleksiivka. Directly some of our
Jalta friends arrived, and the group gathered for the first
time. In total 13 people were present, I'll present them
very briefly:
Kieg, our doyen, He's a 70 years old former translator, and
very experienced cyclist from the Netherlands
Zef is second in age, he's 65, and comes from Bretagne,
France. He was flying the Breton flague on his bike, which
was recognised by somebody in Kiev.
Cyrille is the second frenchman, a policeman from Paris.
To continue with the Dutch, Herman participated allready
twice in our Russian rides. He rides the most daft bikes of
all, a LWB-recumbent.
Yvonne is the only lady in the group, coming from the
Netherlands also. She has quite some experience in bike-
touring in the west, but hardly in the east.
I closed the line of western cyclists.
From Kiev Volodja takes part. He is an experienced
esperantist, but quite new to cycling.
From Jalta a whole bunch arrives.
Misha ia a painter and experienced tourist.
Vadim works for the youth-department and is very active in
the scouts-movement.
4 Cyclists from Jalta also participate, although they are
no esperantists. Sergej is all-Ukrainia champion in
cycling, although being a veteran. He owns a small bike-
shop in Jalta. Jevgeni is an experienced mountaineer from
Jalta. Both the other Sergej and Valentin are good
cyclists, although not being of the level of both Jevgeni
and Sergei 1.

Arbatka

So we headed out to the northern parto of Arbatka. At it's
norhtern tip, Arbatka is connected to the mainland by a
bridge. Shortly after the bridge asfalt ends. About 10kms
south of the bridge is a village which was advised to us as
being an excellent place of gathering water, so we filled
up completely. After that, civilization ended, as did
asfalt.
The group quickly seperated in many subgroups. It proved
that some of our Jalta-guys (the non-esperantists) were
very fast and technical riders, so they were blasting away.
Some others, like Cyrille, had huge problems negotiating
the sandy patches. So the group spread out over several
kilometers. Every now and then the first riders would stop
at a convenient place to wait for the others. This was not
allways practical, since in many places of Arbatka, there
are no well defined roads. Tracks have been made by cars,
and sometimes there are three or four paralel of eachother.
Towards the evening we passed an ostrich-farm, and several
kilometers south of it camp was made. Kieg and Volodja were
not yet present, so Herman unloaded and went back. He returned when it was nearly dark, Kieg's tyre had exploded
several times. Some problems started to occur within the
group. The four Jalta-riders pitched camp together, and
didn't want to eat with the group. Also they fixed their
own departure time, way earlier than we planned. I was a
bit angry at them, since I asked the group to stay together
after 1700hours, to prevent problems like those happened
with Kieg.
Next day, the four Jalta non-esperantist set out early
alone, while the nine others continued somewhat later. The
pace was quite low, mechanical problems started with the
bike of Volodja (an old Turist). He broke his front-rack
and a few spokes. The sandy patches forced Yvonne to walk
for quite some time. But eventually we managed to survive
Arbatka in two days. The Jalta guys were waiting at the
southern tip of the strip, they had arrived around noon,
while we arrived only in the early evening.
More group-problems emerged. They were still fresh and
wanted to continue, while some of us were at the end of
their forces. Kieg and Yvonne wanted to camp immediately,
and, not waiting for a group decision, started to pitch
camp. Cyrille got angry, grabbed his bike, and rode off...
into the wrong direction.
Finally we managed to convince Yvonne and Kieg to continue
to a quiter village, five kilometers away. The four Jalta
guys were again the fastest for that stretch, and dashed
through the village. Volodja and I fetched water, and we
decided to camp next to the village, containing about a
dozen houses. The agreement had been clear, 5kms to the
next village, and not any further.
So our group was a lot smaller than in the beginning, and I
was figuring out if it would be possible to find Cyrille
somewhere down the road.

South-Eastern Crimea

We were only a few kilometers moving after our night in
Lvove, when we met the four Crimeans again. They had
pitched camp only a few kilometers further on. Herman had
seen one of them (Sergej 1) inthe early morning, when he
was checking where we were.
So now most of the group was united again, only Cyrille was
still missing. Some kilometers further on a new problem
occured. The rear gear-changer of Volodja's bike commited
suicide in his spokes. He allready feared for the end of his
trip, but for experienced cyclists this is only a minor
problem. So we quickly got his bike riding again, albeith
with only one gear.
Some kilometers further on we stumbeld over Cyrille. He was
having breakfast at a road-side restaurant serving Tatar-
food. Now the whole group was united again we had a
discussion on the riding-style. The conlusion was simple.
The four Crimean-esperantists were both strong and lightly
loaded. This meant that the slow pace of some of us was a
big problem for them. Also their style of riding was more
racy, while we took the tourist approach. So we quickly
decided to split up. They would continue on via some very
difficult mountain-tracks, while we qould stick to the
south-coast, taking a slower speed.
In Feodosia Volodja managed to retrieve a new gear-changer,
so while the others were visiting a museum, I changed the
part. Leaving Feodosia meant entering the lower mountain-
ranges. There proved to be far more mountain-passes than
our western map predicted. Cyrille was very glad to spot
them. Most of them were not mentioned on the map, so
official altitude and name was not known. Since he collects
mountain-passes, as a member of the 'Confrerie des Cent
Cols', he noted all of them, and checked the altitude with
his altimeter. So during this cycling-season some extra
mountain-passes will be registered among the appopriate
cycling bodies... While descending the first pass some problems occured. The descent was very bumpy, and quickly one of my front-panniers parted company. I managed to stop unharmed. about 1km further I saw Volodja standing at the side of the road. It appeared that his rear-derailleur was tangled in his rear-wheel again, resulting in a blocked wheel. Also he managed to escape a crash.
Misha knew an excellent camping-spot in Koktebel, so we
decided to finish there. It indeed proved to be excellent,
at the far side of the beach, in the dunes, just underneath
the glider-field.
For the next day our first official pass was scheduled, but
more were on the road. Cyrille decided to skip sightseeing
in Sudak, but hurry on to hunt another pass. We arranged a
meeting-spot and agreed on the appropriate markers on near
the road. So after we descended to Sudak in great fog, he
went straight on. Seeing the Sudak-fortress appearing
between the clouds and fog really was very eerie. It looked
like some medieval film. I liked it a lot more than under
sunny conditions. Suddenly Valentin and Sergej 2 appeared, they had parted company with Jevgeni and Sergej 1, due to the different riding-styles.
Near the fortress we found an excellent
spot for lunch, to which Kieg contributed our first of many
bottles of champagne. Of course champagne-glasses were
missing, but anything will serve the cause, even an empty
tin of mais. While leaving Sudak I finally found a good
map, a Russian-language topographical map of the whole of
Crimea. Kieg spotted an announcement on Tatar-music that
night. He and Yvonne decided to attent the concert and take
a cab to the agreed camping-spot.
With a small group we continued through the fog. After
several passes, and some dangerous descents we neared the
consented crossroads. Just before it Cyrille waved us down.
He had skipped the pass due to the appalling weather-
conditions. But he found a good camping-spot, a meadow next
to a farm. So we pitched camp, and fixed our markers next
to the road (a recumbent-flag + LED-light). The farmer
provided some fresh products. When we nearly finished
pitching camp, Valentin appeared. He decided to ride with us. Our markers had
attracted him. That evening Vadim was giving him his first
esperanto-course. At the end of dinner a car stopped at our
spot. It was indeed Yvonne and Kieg, who really enjoyed the
concert.

Around Jalta

While awakening, it was still highly foggy, so no new conditions. Also the road proved the same, up you go, and then down again to coastal level. At coastal level it was still foggy, but the mountains again were beautifull. When I interrupted descending to take some pictures, a car stopped. A Russian couple wanted to picture me. The woman lined up next to me. Seeing her looks (suffering from make-up abuse) I didn't hand over my own camera. They really looked like new-Russians.
Fog ceased around midday. Cyrille and I had decided to assault the Anharskij-Pereval, so we again cosnented on a meeting-spot, the Partisan-monument at the end of Alushta. When we took a short-cut to the pass, we were directly confrontaded with a steep wall of at least 15%. I did hurt my achilles-tendon here, since my bike was grossly overgeared. The pass itself was quite OK, but the descent great. Finally a smooth road, so I could let it go. At nightfall I arrived near the partisan-monument. Kieg approached, he was heading for the centre to make a phone-call. At the monument Vadim was giving indications, but the group was too well hidden to find them on my own. For Volodja this would be the last evening, so we had a good bonfire together with some champagne.
The next day Cyrille was complaining of general weakness. Apparantly he had been overdoing it on the Anharskij-Pereval. My achilles-tendon was also still aching, so we decided to skip our plans for the mountain-road to Jalta. In stead the whole group (minus Volodja) would take the sea-road. But first some group-pictures at the Partisan-monument before Volodja parted.
After the bear-mountain we headed for the coast over very small roads. Vadim new the roads through the Artek-youthcamp very well, so he guided that part. Taking many detours and some sight-seeing resulted in 40km in a full day! In Jalta we headed for the house of Jefim Zajdman, the eminence grise of the Jalta-esperantists. No camping for that night, we would be housed among local esperantists, Cyrille and myself were quartered in at Vadim's house.
During the morning we collected again at Jefims house. Some people were still sorting-out luggage. Especially Kieg left half of his weight in Jalta. Some discussion arose about our plans. None of the locals could bike the next day. Vadim had to go to a Jamboree, while Misha had to tend some business. So we would meet again in Sevastopol, where Herman and Cyrille would be taking the train. Cyrille had checked the time-tables at home, according to him the train left around 3pm. So we planned getting past the Badjarpass and entering Sevastopol around noon the next day.
Since everybody tended his businesses, we only left Jalta at 1pm. Kieg had departured earlier on, he did't want to wait. Our plan would be to gradually gain height and not unnecessarily loosing it. So we would choose our road each time again based on these preconditions. From Jalta to Foros there are basically 3 roads. The sea-road, which sometimes merges with the middle road. For the first part the main-road is the highest one, but later the main-road is in the middle, hovering between 100 and 300ms altitude. The sea-road sometimes merges with the middle-road. In Alupka Cyrille didn't see the front-riders turn right to evade loosing altitude. He dashed past in the descent. There was no possibility to catch him, since he's the fastest descender in the group. The main bunch followed the old Sevastopol-road. Somewhere past Alupka we were having lunch, when Cyrille suddenly appeared. He had been riding through central Alupka, visiting a castle on the way. It was lucky coincidence, since we would head for the upper road only a couple of kilometers later.
The map informed us that the upper-road was nearly uninhabited. So in the last village (Opolznevoje) we had to replenish our supplies. While exiting the shop a local woman spotted Zef's Breton flag. She asked which Republic that would be. Apparantly she held us for inhabitants of some strange Autonomous Russian Republic. When she heared that Zef was from France, she could hardly believe her ears. After a short while we continued on. The road proved to be the best stretch of the whole ride. We were genuinely surprised about the absence of motorised traffic, apart from some lorries. The scenery was stunning. Mostly rocks and clifs on our right hand, towering several hundreds of meters above us, and to the left a steep mountain downwards. Clouds were blocking the view of the sea, so it could very well have been at 2000ms altitude somewhere in the mountains. Now and then we had to negotiate some damaged roads, due to land-slides. At 2 instances the road was impassable for 4-wheeled traffic, but not for us. First the road was suddenly 1m lower than previously, later on a stretch of only 30cms of asfalt was left over. We had hardly any idea where we were exactly, but after several hours civilization became visible. Some climbers passed us, and a while later the first house appeared. The last kilometers were downhill untill the old Sevastopol road again. When I looked back at the junction I spotted a 'closed road' sign. Well, the road was not closed for us.
Climbing the Badjar-pass we had some superb views both on the natural scenery as on the Resurrection church. At the top we gathered the group again. The first village in the valley was decided as the place to camp. Those being first on the top entered the descnet first. In the village I informed at a local restaurant about drinking water. The 'Pushkin-well' was shown to me. When I returned with the water, the others were allready seated at the restaurant. The owner, upon hearing where we came from, opened a bottle of champagne. He was a Crimean Tatar, and really showed off their hospitality. Sadly his kitchen was closed, so we couldn't become real customers. Just after the village we camped again, after the best day of the ride.

Railway-stress

Since we were allready quite close to Sevastopol, we took it easy during the morning. While we were having breakfast a van appeared, and went to the next meadow. The van-people returned when we were packing. They obviously had problems restarting the van, so after a while we were asked to give a push. They took it for completely normal that a group of cyclists was camping next to the road.
Entering Sevastopol proved very easy, no sign of controls, even the GAI-outpost, normal for Russian cities, was missing. In Sevastopol we had to ask several times for directions. While searchng a way to cross the railroad-tracks, we heard a familiar sound. Misha had appeared. He directed us over the tracks, and directly Kieg reappeared. So we were reunited again. Misha, Herman and Cyrille went inside to arrange tickets. While checking their tickets, Cyrille suddenly remarked that the time indicated was completely wrong, so a light panic arose. This soon became full panic when the enquiries showed that the train around 3pm was leaving from Simferopol, not Sevastopol. With hardly an hour to go a frantic search for solutions began. Quickly it was decided that a car would be needed, so we went to the Railway-forecort. Several cars were waiting, and the largest was selected. The driver agreed to bring them lightning-fast to Simferopol for 70 Hrivna's + possible speeding-tickets. Everybody assited in loading the car and of they went.
When they were off we spent some time chatting with Kieg and Misha and finally decided to celebrate with a lunch somewhere at the waterside. Misha showed us around. He did his military-service at the Black-Sea fleet, so he knew the city. His old ship even still was in the harbour. We even had a nice talk with a fleet-captain. The restaurant was less pleasant, many people were approaching us with different proposals. But the champagne was good as ever. After lunch we phoned Volodja to inform him about the departure of Kieg and Cyrille. They had just phoned him and apparantly they missed the train by 5 minutes. So they booked for the evening-train, and Volodja would check things out with the bus-company. We lef Sevastopol with a small boat heading north, and camped somewhere north of the Sevastopol-Simferopol road.

Behaving like decent tourists

The next day we headed for Bachchisaray. The riding-order was reversed now. A headwind showwed hte diferent strenghts of the riders, Yvonne, our heavyweigh champion now was first in line. In Bachchisaray we stopped at a bakery, serving easter-bread. Too good to miss. The palace was also excellent. It was in fact the first place were we spotted other westerners since Kiev. A French teacher, a group of Polish backpackers and a group of elderly germans were also visiting it. Misha stayed with the bikes and started painting while we went inside. For me it was especially interesting, since the Karaim parts of it were known for me from Lithuania. In the palace Kieg had a long conversation with a Tatar-woman. She had been deported to one of the Azian rpublics in her youth, an area where Kieg had been touring. Language-crazy as he is, he was grilling her about various Crimean-Tatar words.
After the palace we followed the valley to the monastry. Kieg and Yvonne opted for a lunch at a cafetaria, while we were three to go up to the monastry, and lunching after it. Misha spotted a small outlet selling skull-caps, so he directly bought one. He is a boudhist, so it suited him very well. While lunching we spotted many backpackers heading to Chufut-Kale. We briefly considered camping out there, but the village nearby was not comforting enough from the security-point of view. So we headed out for Manhup-Kale. After some searching we managed to find the good sidetrack to Manhup-Kale. From there on it was unpaved for several kilomters. Since darkness was approaching rapidly we decided to camp at a large field at the foot of Manhup. A huge group of young people from Zaparozhie (?) was allready camping there. We agreed our planning for the next day. Jalta was only 70-odd kilometers away, so we could afford to take it easy next day. We'd split up for Manhup. Kieg, Zef and Misha would go up first, while Yvonne and myself would go after they returned. In that way allways somebody would attend the camp. Since I was in the second shift I joined the big group when the others went to sleep. It was nice to be in the good tourist-group atmosphere again. Some of them spoke passable English, so a conversation was possible. It was well after midnight when I decided to return to my tent.
The next day I only awoke when the others returned. They told us about the hike up, and Yvonne decided not to go. She slipped while crossing the railroad tracks in Bachchisary, and her ankle was still hurting. Also her shoes were not fit for the walk up. Being left alone I decided to bike up, and after getting directions from Misha (keep to your right) I set off. So I kept to my right, but way to early. After half a kilometer of dragging and lifting my bike over obstacles I concluded that this was the wrong right-road. Indeed it was. A rideable jeep-road was available. From there on it was quite possible, only some loose stones forced me to walk a little bit of the time. When doing the final approach of Manhup, I again saw some backpackers. Manhup itself was nice. Especially since it's not spoilt for tourist-purposes. You can wander around freely, and have to search in the guide-books to find out what's what.
After descending from Manhup we broke up. We planned to take an unpaved shortcut to the mainroad to Jalta. Rapidly it proved less passable than imagined. Yvonne turned around since it was impassible for her. Anyway we had agreed about a meeting-place in case we would split up. The four of us pushed on. After some oneandahalf hours of dirt-tracking we arrived at a cross-roads. Misha asked directions from a local farmer. Directions which proved to be completely impassable. 'She must be some sort of partizan' Misha remarked as we retraced. In fact we passed the side-track to Manhup at 6pm, about 3 hours after we left it....
Yvonne now was well ahead of us. Now and then we asked if people had seen her. At the meeting-point she was nearly 2 hours ahead, but had carried on. We pitched camp in a hurry, since it was nearly dark. After dinner Kieg went back to the village. He wanted to attend easters-mass (it was easters-night now). Somwhere at night he returned.
The next morning we leasurely set out. It was only 50kms to Jalta, and due to the different climbing-speeds we knew that we would meet-up with Yvonne somewhere during the ascent. In the last village before the ascent we stopped for ice-creams and sweets. While we were eating and drinking three shining cars stopped. Out came some very fancy women and broad-shouldered men, no question about their source of income. They hardly remarked us. While starting the ascent we again met dozens and dozens of backpackers. At the bolshoi Kanjon we stopped at a waterfall, and about 100ms further on spotted Yvonne. She had been walking around in the Bolshoi Kanjon. We agreed upon meeting at the top of Ai-Petri pass, in the cabin of Misha. We all ascended on our own pace. In fact the Ai-Petri is not so typically Crimean, it's more like any pass in a Western-European middle-mountain range. At the top the giant radar-domes of the military installatins were visible. When I arrived at Misha's cabin tea was allready boiling. After some two hours everybody was present and we started to check the bikes for the downhill. It would be a steep one, so brakes and luggage had to be checked. I enjoyed the downhill, very technical, just he way I like it. At the Uchan-Su waterfalls I stopped to wait for the others.
The rest of the ride to Jalta was uneventfull. When arriving at the scheduled hotel for the esperanto-meeting there was a note that it would be at another one, at the coast. It cost us a while to find it, but soon we would find ourselves in the warmth of a typical esperanto-meeting
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#90156 - 18.05.04 16:07 Re: Cycling in Ukraine [Re: Ivo]
Ivo
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From Debrecen to the Black Sea

Cycling through Romania gives you the amazing feeling not being the slowest
traffic on the road. After each corner slow traffic is looming, either horse-
drawn carts or ox-carts. This makes the car and truck drivers very considerate,
and increases your position on the road.
A nice Mondayafternoon in octobre was the second time this year that I was boarding a train at
Budapest's western station. Not towards the Yugoslav border this time, but
towards the Hungarian town of Debrecen on the Romanian border. I arrived in
Debrecen far too late to start cycling to the border, but three friendly
policemen told me where the 'hotel sport' was located. That was indeed a real
sporthotel, with lot's of amenities directly adjectant.
In the morning I quickly left Debrecen for the Romanian border. For somebody
not used to Eastern European cities, Debrecen is nice to visit, but not for me
anymore. After a calm 60km ride over a flat puszta I neared the Romanian
border. While queing between the cars, a local cyclist passed me and led me
through the customs procedures without problems.
As announced by the Lonely Planet guide, Oradea, the first town in Romania, is
quite run down. Still it offers good sights and many photo oportunities. I
immediately became a millionaire, one million lei doesn't bring you far with a
rate of 32.000 to 1 euro. After a short visit to the local bike shop I headed
south past the bathing town of Baile Felix. Lot's of accomodation here. But when night fell, accomodation was lacking, and I had to press on untill nearly 22h to find a hotel in Beius with some space for me. No complaints about the price though.
After Beius the road pointed upwards. First a false flat untill Stei, then
really upwards to the 'Pasul Vartop'. With 1160m and a steep ascent (av. 11%) a
real tough one. The map was unclear where the top was, so I just plodded on.
Many pictures to take though, including a very scenic village just before the
steep part. 49km after starting out in Beius I finally arrived at the top.
Immediately after the top a skiing village came into sight. Through a nice
valley the road continued. There's lot's of agroturism here, something to keep
in mind for a next time. Probably a spin-off of the agroturism was an
internetcafe in the village of Albac.
From Albac the valley continued on. A few hours later night fell. There should
be a camping in a village, but I greatly overshot it, remarking that only after
10km. There isn't much of villages in this cramped valley. And no possible
camping spots either. Hardly a flat piece of grass available. In Baia de Aries,
the first place of significance, I enquired for a hotel. None available, next
one in Turda (65km away) I was told. It was nearing 21h at the moment and pitch
dark. I plodded on, and soon saw a couple of workers diging in a garden. I
enquired again, and the same answer came. But one of them, Radu, offered me a
spot in his house. So after they finished I followed their jeep to the next
village. After a dinner of local products, I went to sleep, just like the other
family members. It was a pity that both Radu's English and my Romanian are
very, very limited.
in the morning I had was offered a breakfast, and Radu and his brother helped
me loading my bike. The valley stayed very scenic. A disused narrow gauge
railway was thrown in to add to the atmoshpere. In another village I saw the
rusty and overgrown wagons, a real surreal sight. Finally I reached Turda in
the early afternoon. In Turda I didn't stay very long. I wanted to try to reach Sighishoara that night, according to the guide books, this town is a must see.
Within hours of leaving Turda I was riding on the main road towards Ludus. Suddenly I spotted a
touring cyclist riding down the hill. We both stopped and had a lengthy chat.
Ralf was heading home to Dresden, after being on the road since january. We
exchanged lot's of info. He had been to places recently where I've been, either
this spring (Montenegro) or 8 years ago (Albania). After a while we both had to
head our ways, I was trying to reach Sighisoara, and he wants to be home in two
weeks time. But I wouldn't reach Sighisoara that night. After turning of the
main road in Iernat, the road became lot's hillier, sometimes progress was
reduced due to cow herds trotting through the villages. When I arrived in
Medias I decided to call it a day. Hotel Central was quoted in the Lonely
Planet as reasonably priced. It indeed was. Some checking of e-mails in the
local cybercafe, and off to bed. The next morning I faffed around a bit. It
was too foggy to make any pictures of some old buildings. When the fog lifted I
shot the pictures, and headed to Sighisoara. On the road to Sighisoara there
were some fine examples of Saxon fortified churches. The most precious ones
seem to be way off the main roads, but even these were nice enough.
The guiddbook was really raving about Sighisoara, so I expected a lot. But I
was a bit disappointed. Not that the city is ugly or so, but it's not very
special. I've seen some similar ones, in fact, the upper town of Tallinn is
nicer. And that while one of the authors of the Romania&Moldova LP did work for
the Baltic Independent for a while. But anyway, I spent some hours in
Sighisoara, checking out the place. I decided to have a restaurant meal while
heading out, and soon I spotted a nice pizzeria. On the terrace 4 German
motorcyclists were lounging. I joined them and we exchanged lot's of road
information and tall stories.
When they started their machines I got in the saddle and headed north again.
While the daylight was fading, I was overtaken by a speedy cyclist. He spoke
some German, and reasonable English. Since Silasz was also heading for Sovata
we continued on together. He is from Targu Mures and was visiting his aunt in
Sovata. Since he only recently started cycling he fired question after question
about bikes and cycling.
While entering Sovata the camp-site proved to be closed. Before trying to find
a hotel he decided to first ask his aunt if I could also stay there. His aunt
consented, so I had a nice home-stay in Sovata. In the evening we walked
through Sovata. It's usually a busy resort town, but now in the off-season it's
rather deserted. In the morning Silasz prepared to help his aunt get the
harvest in, while I loaded my bike, first to explore the town, then to ride on
over the mountains.
Just out of Sovata I overtook a local cyclist. On the bike I discovered some
Esperanto stickers, so I adressed her in Esperanto. She was startled. Although
being the UEA-delegito for her area, she never met an Esperantist by chance on
the road. Obviously I was invited in, and spent a nice hour in her apartment.
She told me that her daughter was sometimes teasing her with her Esperanto
activities, but now she could show that it is possible to meet Esperantists in
the wild ;-).
So it was allready somewhat late when I headed for the first pass of the day.
It was a steep one, 1287m high. On the top was a collection of mountain huts.
The descent was terrible. The road was in a sort of intermediate stage between
paved and unpaved. Sometimes some miscellaneous bits and pieces of car parts
were lying on it. Quite slowly I descended to Gheorgheni, a nearly fully
Hungarian village in Romania. In Gheorgheni I passed a marriage fest. The
camera man immediately switched from filming the wedding, to filming the
passing cyclist.
Since there was still a gorge to cycle through by daylight, I didn't stop. If I
didn't make the gorge by daylight, I could forget about arriving in Odesa on
wednesday. The next pass was relatively easy, I could even keep the 32 clean.
So was the descent to Lacu Rosu. It started to rain so the lake was not that
beautifull. The Bicaz gorge should be awfully beautifull, but in a drizzle it
was impressive, but not stunning. The road was in a heavy state of repair. Deep
ruts and lot's of mud, no asfalt for part of it. I exited the gorge at
nightfall. Cycling down the gradual slope towards Bicaz I sented that my legs
got better and better. So I put the chain on the big ring and pushed on. Past 9
pm I arrived in Piatra Neamt, another 150km on the clock, and perfectly on
schedule.
So this morning I left my hotel in Piatra Neamt at 9am sharp. At the first
traffic light a Romanian saluted me and told that he was also a cyclist. We
both headed on. I stopped at a nearby supermarket and stocked up with food.
While I just finished adjusting my brakes, he appeared again, this time with
his bike. I was invited to his house. Since his French was rather sloppy, his
daughter had to do the interpreting. Lot's of cycling pictures of cycling tours
in Romania were shown to me, and of course I got tea and food. Finally he
showed me some sights in town, and escorted me out to the Roman-bound road. The
road to Roman was a nice change. Undulating landscape and large-scale farming.
Something different from the valley roads and subsistance farming in the
mountaind. IN Roman I had to trun left, and was greeted with a fierce
tailwind. The road was newly tarmaced, and speed remained high. Shortly before
Targu Furmos I was overtaken by a tractor riding a steady 35. I shifted up, and
started trailing it, and overtook it a while later. The tractor crew had even
greater fun as I had. In Targu Furmos I had to turn right, into the wind again.
But I knew that I would reach Iasi before that night, it was not yet dark.
In Iasi I checked in at the Continental hotel, another hotel in the series of
nicely priced ones. It was a bit run down, but the room was at least twice as
large as the one in Piatr Neamt. The Lonely Planet guide raves about Iasi. It
has a nice calm atmosphere, but not that much to rave about.
In the morning I woke up by the sound of rain. I wouldn't see the sun anymore
in Romania. After seeing some of the sights of Iasi I set out northwards. The
Moldovan town of Ungheni is only 21km as the crow flies, but not as the tourist
has to ride. It's 25k up north, and another 25 going down to Ungheni again, at
the other side of the border. Border procedures were surprisingly efficient.
Allways at least one officer of the concerning service spoke either decent
English or decent French. The Moldovan customs officer even used my domestic ID
to start up procedures, while my passport was still with the border guards. I
had to fill in the usual 'deklaratsia', since the design is quite similar to
the Russian and Ukrainian ones, I could fill it in nearly blindfolded.
They told me that in Ungehni there would be a hotel and bars, but further on
towards Chisinau probably nothing.
While entering Ungheni I decided athat a cup of tea would be nice in the rain
and cold. I entered the town and soon spotted a small bar. While I was just
about to drink my tea and eat my bun, the owner entered the place. He spoke
some German, as did a friend of him. I immediately was treated to a salad on
the house. We chatted quite long about various themes, including my trip. They
informed me that there were some tourist basas near Bahmut, about halfway
towards Chisinau. that would be decently reachable by nighfall, so I decided to
go for that solution. If they were closed or full, I could allways pitch my
tent in some forest. There are plenty of them available.
Just like in the Romanian province of Moldavia, it was harvest time in Moldova.
But the machinery was quite different. Were it mainly Dacia's used in Romania
to cart of the harvest, in Moldova it were Lada's and Moskvitches. And one more
thing was striking. Lot's of water holes were beautifully doubling as religious
symbols. A cross next to it, and a roof in the form of a church. Quite strange
and beautiful.
I advanced only slowly towards Cornesti. I started to doubt my forces. But
nearly in Cornesti I realised that I was not only fighting a headwind, the road
was rising slightly. In order to reach Cornesti I had to scale a steep hill,
demarcating the border between the Danube and Dniestr area's. In Cornesti I was
greated by a small group of people,a nd saluted as a real 'sportsmen'. I didn't
linger around long, it was slowly getting dark, and I still had not reached
Bahmut yet. The road was of not too good quality, but I managed to reach
Bahmut safely.
In Bahmut I asked some locals where the turist basa was. Very nearby I was
told, just walk with us. They were living nearly next door to it. The basa
seemed deserted, the main gate was locked, but a small one I could open. No-one
seemed to be around near the entrance but a gloom of light was visible further
away. Indeed there was a bit of light in a small building. I knocked, and a
warden appeared. The basa was indeed still open, and he went with me to the
administrator, living at the bottom of the hill I just climbed. The price was
first quoted at 2 $. I asked what the price in lei was. Ah, you allready have
our money 'nasha deng' she exclaimed. The price now fell to 20 lei (13 lei = 1
Euro). The warden escorted me back to my cabin. There was water, and a toilet
was nearby. All you need as a cyclist. I had just put on some warmer clothes,
and installed myself, when somebody knocked on the door. It was the warden. He
invited me for some food. Apparantly his wife was afraid that he would die from
hunger, since she had given him huge portions of home bakery for the night
shift. And some good juice too. My Russian was barely good enough to have a
small conversation with him. After a while he had to make the night-round, and
I headed to my cabin to listen to the news on the radio.
In the morning it was sunny and not too cold. What a contrast with the day
before. Chisinau was only 70k away, so I could take things easy. The road
gradually descended along the valley of the Bic. I paused now and then for a
little food and a drink. Sometimes some locals asked me the usual questions. A
nice and pleasant atmosphere.
When I entered Chisinau I first went to the Dutch consulate. The next leg is a
bit politicaly sensitive, so I needed the latest information. I soon found the
consulate and it was open. The consul was the only functionary there. He
confirmed that it is indeed possible to cross the Trans-Dniestr region,
provided that I am cautious. I allready fulfilled the other preconditions, the
right documents, some knowledge of Russian and a bit of experience in sensitive
area's. I signed the book of condoleances for a just deceased prince, and was treated to a tea. We chatted
quite lenghtily about Moldova, Trans-Dniestria, the Netherlands, cycling, and
life in general. He had done some cycle touring in his younger days, so he knew
the basics.
Somewhat later in the afternoon I left the consulate to see a bit of Chisinau
by daylight. Despite being heavily bombed during the war, Chisinau still has a
pleasant atmosphere. Some old buildings remained/were rebuilt, and the rest
doesn't have the classic Stalinist uglyness. When it got colder I checked into
a nicely priced hotel, and went out again to see Chisinau in the evening.
Trans-Dniestria is a strange territory. It's a non-entity in international law.
The locals waged their seperatist war from the Republic of Moldovan 10 years
ago. Covertly aided by the Russian 14th army they managed to carve out their
own 'republic' from the Moldovan territory. Nobody recognises it, and there is
constant mediation going on by the OSCE. And yes, the 14th army is still there,
officially in the role as 'neutral peace-keepers'.
It was to this area that I set out in the early morning from Chisinau. It's a
60km haul towards the 'border'. My paperwork should be in order, as I had
checked with the Dutch consul in Chisinau. A few kilometres before the border I
drank some tea in a bar. There I was informed about the exact location of the
border. I hid the detailed topographical map, and replaced it on the barbag by
a not-so-detailed map. Just in case a curious soldier wanted to complain.
Quite suddenly the border appeared after a corner. First I had to pass the
checkpoint of the 14th army. 2 Young conscripts approached me, and greeted me
friendly. A little 'persuasion' was needed to let me through, usually a few
cigarettes will do, but since I didn't have them with me as a non-smoker, I had
to part 5 dollars. Abt. 100m further on is the Trans-Dniestrian border check.
Officially these are simply civilians dressed like soldiers, but since they
carry guns, and behave like authorities, I prefer to treat them like they want
to be treated, like the local law.
I was instructed to park my bike and go inside the office. Inside a borderguard
was having a hefty discussion with a Russian-speaking lady about the picture on
her passport. After a while it was my turn. Nobody spoke a word of English, or
any other language. So my broken Russian had to do. My documents were carefully
checked, and of course some 'errors' were found. My camera was not on the
Moldovan 'deklaratsia' (that was not needed according to the Moldovan
borderguards 2 days earlier). After some discussion he 'forgot' about this
problem. The registration from the hotel in Chisinau was not sufficient for
him. He produced from the other room a 'registration' which should be the good
one, but ist suspiciously looked like an example especially made for fooling
tourists. According to him I had to go back to Chisinau, and pay a fine there.
Mind you, these guys are not recognised by Chisinau. But I could pay a
lower 'fine' to him, 30 $ in stead of 80 $. The transit visa itself costed a
mere 20 $. I played it along his rules, and payed.
Now inside Trans Dniestria I faced the other problem. They have their own money
there, Dniestrian rubles. Worthless elsewhere, hardly worth anything inside the
country. The post office in Thighina/Bender had them for me. I was extremely
careful with taking pictures. When I wanted to picture the monument to the
victims of the '92 conflict, I first asked a policeman nearby if it was
permitted. No problems for this, and I pictured it.
I pointed my bike towards Tiraspol. On the Dniestr bridge some 14th army
soldiers were guarding. They were heavily armed, including all the protective
material. No problems after that. Tiraspol is not a sight in itself. The only
thing the Trans Dniestrians are good at at the moment, apart from extorting
bribes, is building monuments and stadiums. Monuments are all over the place,
for the 18th century general Suvorov, and for the victims of '92. I had only 3
hours to cross, as the border guard told me, so I didn't linger around long.
Luckily I had a tailwind, and the road was fairly easy. The last bit to the
Ukrainian border was a steep descent.
Here the whole fun started all over again. The soldiers directed me first to a
civilian dressed in black, including black leather jacket. He asked me where my
road insurance was. I tried to fool him by drawing the membership card of the
Dutch cycle-touring federation, insisting that that functions as road insurance
for bicycles in the Netherlands. He didn't buy the trick. I had to go with him
to his office. He arranged some documents and showed me a little red/green card
the Bender-borderguards should have sold me. It would cost me 40 Euro. Of
course I could also pay him 20 Euro, and receive no card, since I anyway was
leaving the country....
Next, a fat soldier took my passport. I had to follow him to an elevated
office. At least in this way I could pass a few other checkpoints unchecked.
Upstairs, in his office, he checked my passport. And yes, he discovered
an 'error'. In Bendery/Tighina they should have stamped my Moldovan visa.
According to him I should go back to Bender, and correct the error. No way I
was going to do that, it was 5.30 pm, and I wouldn't want to cycle through
Trans-Dniestria in the dark. So I protested lightly, and he let me buy off
the 'problem' for 20 US $. All in all, quite an expensive trip, 75 US$ and 20
Euro for all kinds of bribes and worthless papers.
The Ukrainian borderguards were wonders of friendlyness and professionality. We
joked a bit about the Trans Dniestrian ones, as they aranged my documents.
Quite rapidly I passed this border, and could start the evening haul to Odesa.
It was still 60k to the city border, and an unknown distance inside the city.
For the first hour I was cycling along like a robot. My mind was still numbed
by the Trans-Dniestrian experience. I had to concentrate hard there, and use
all the little bits of Russian I know. I even had to force myself to switch on
my lights as darkness fell. But after a while, my mind kicked in action again,
and I was riding normally again. The road towards Odesa is fairly easy. 24hour
gas stations every couple of kilometres, and every 10km a village with a bar
and shop. So no problems until Odesa.
While entering Odesa I wanted to phone my host, and needed directions. The
first few gas stations could give me directions, but didn't sell phone cards.
After a while I passed a police squad on control. I asked them for directions,
and one of them drew a small map. It still was at least 15km to the apartment I
would be staying. Some 5k later I asked if I was still on the right road, I
apparantly missed a turn, so I should have to retrace. But a guy who just
finished repairing his tyre at this tyre-rpeairment shop, offered to drive me
there. So I off-loaded my bike and stowed everything into his Zhiguly. The
right road was easily found, but the right appartment.... It was a maze of
apartment buildings. After more than half an hour of looking around in vain, we
found an internet club having a phone. I phoned the number of my host, and it
proved that she was not living in block nr. 156, but 15b. A minor error.
Anyway, I was dropped of at an easy-to find spot, and while I was still loading
my bike she appeared again. It was well past midnight, and I had well over
180km on the clock.
The next day I met lot's of my esperanto friends from Odesa. Tatjana revealed to me that she had been discussing my voyage with the head of the Ukrainian Esperanto Association. If I wouldn't hae been in Odesa by that morning, they would have informed the militia in Odesa. Still a nice feeling that people kept a watchfull eye. From an Odesan cybercafe I sent a note to the Dutch consul that I arrived safely, so he didn't have to launch a search-expedition.
My stay in Odesa only lasted two days, not enough for this beautiful town, but there'll be another time. From Odesa I took the train to Kiev. I had a few hours there, just enough to go to a suburb and meet some friends there. In contrast to the previous time I took the Kiev-Warsaw train, this time the borderguards were less strict. No real checking this time, altough a guy in my compartment had hidden all kinds of smuggleware in the various compartment holds.
The voyage as a whole by far exceeded the originally planned 'mere testing of a new bike'. No complaints about that, in general it was a nice one. But I doubt whether I want to return to Trans-Dniestria. A special experience it certainly was.

Ivo Miesen
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#90157 - 18.05.04 16:08 Re: Cycling in Ukraine [Re: Ivo]
Ivo
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Kharkov-Astrakhan by bike, an early season ride.

Preface

The cycling seasonis starting early this year. During the first weekend of april I headed east again, to Kiev. After travelling alone through Germany, I met up with my clubmate Alex in Berlin. We took
the direct train from Berlin to Kiev. Our bikes we transported in special bikebags, which were easily accomodated in the train. Border procedures were rather easy. No deklaratsia this time, only
the well known insurance. This time the person selling them insisted that I buy them for the full time of my visa. The borderguards were satisfied with the simple message that there were bikes in these enormously big bikes. Probably they reckoned that we are too crazy to be a menace to public security.
From Kiev we took the fast daytrain to Kharkov. There was a bit of hassle with the bikes, since we allready mounted them together. But for the rest, this is a good connection. In Kharkov nothing has changed since my previous visit. Still the same town.
Both in Kiev and Kharkov we stayed at the houses of local esperantists. In Kiev there was a ususal press-conference organised by local esperantists. In Kharkov there was a big meeting of local
esperantists (about 30).

First days on the road, Kharkov-Slavjansk

After a few days of train traveling, we're finally on our bikes again. Yesterday we headed out of Kharkov in the morning. We were still missing our doyen Zef. He was still in Kiev waiting for his luggage. But we did meet Aleksej from Nizhnij Novgorod the previous evening . He arrived by train via Moscow.
The group rapidly found itself. We directly could manage a decent speed. In Chugujev we had our first stop. A children's playground proved to be the ideal spot. Although Voldoja's stove was not cooperating, we managed to brew some tea and have a good lunch.
The terrain was gently rolling. Quite a lot of inundations though. In the early evening Volodja phones home and hears from his wife that Zef finally received his luggage. He would be taking the evening train and meet us in Slavjansk. So no need to hurry to our place of recognition (a village railway station). Still we reached it by the evening. The woods before the village were still covered in snow, so no chance of finding a decent place to camp. But a bit further on was an old house, with an old garden, obviously not used for quite some time. It wasn't good, but still an acceptable place to camp. It lasted an hour before Aleksej and Aleks managed to light the fire. In the meantime Volodja and I cooked our dinner and boiled the tea on the stoves. The campfire was badly needed since temperature fell rapidly. During the night I had to use two sleeping bags, and I still froze. In the morning the others were allready awake, while I had some troubles waking up. Temperatures were still low, but the sun was there. Rapidly we reached Izjum, a good place to resupply. Due to the low distance, only one stop was needed, a long one. Now Volodja was sleeping, and Aleksej playing with his phone.
Shortly afterwards we finally could leave the main road. First Voldoja asked about the state of a very small road along a river. Unpassable was the unanimous opinion of the villagers. So we decided for a later road. This was the real one. In the village we resuplied with water, and admired the local turkeys. We entered Slavjansk through a string of small lakes, used as a fish farm. The road leading past them was ulitsa Mira. And that was the road mentioned by Pasja as leading to his house. So we started asking around. Finally, after half an hour, we remarked another ulitsa Mira, the right one this time. So now it was easy to find Pasja's house, and have a nice evening with a warm place to sleep.

The group reunited, Slavjansk-Lugansk

The evening in Slavjansk was rather quiet. We stayed at Pasja's house. Also his mother is an esperantist. Only his grandmother couldn't communicate with us. In the morning we had to rise early. Pasja had aranged a meeting with local journalists at 8.30. Only two journalists turned up. One of them also spoke
French, so she could interview Zef directly in French. East of Slavjansk we left the main roads behind us and could finally use some provincial roads. A few kilomters further on we did see our first coalmine.
This part of Ukraine has lot's of coalmining, and also all the related problems. And not only coalmines, as we could see east of Seversk. Out of the blue we spotted a huge flame. After we scaled a small rise, the origin of the flame appeared, a large chemical complex. This although the map only showed some villages and a large white area. Near the chemical complex there was another mine. Cycling along the complex was not very pleasant, but we did know that we had the time to leave it behind us before night fell. Water we only asked in the next valley, where it came from another source. As usual in Ukraine we had to rely on natural wells where the locals draw their water from. Most villages don't have public watersupplies. A bit further on we decided to pitch camp on the top of a small rise. It was a bit windy, but the wind was coming from the right corner, so we couldn't smell the complex. As allready usual, we cooked our dinner on a woodfire, and after it we melted some snow to wash up. The night was rather mild, it stayed allnight above zero. And these temperatures stayed. In the morning we set out in shorts. A bit late though, but that was not a problem, Lugansk was not that far ahead. The day was quite uneventful. In a few villages where we bought our supplies we were directly in the centre of all attention. Not much happens here on a Sunday, so every distraciton is welcome. For the last 50k, an old biplane was the only distraction we had.
In Lugansk it was not that difficult to find the house of Aleksandr Grisxenko, our host for this night. He even arranged a seperate appartment for all of us. Tomorrow the Ukrainian part of our trip ends. We'll be entering Russia. I hope that all border formalities will run smoothly. On Thursday we hope to arrive in Volgograd. Between here and Volgograd there are only a few 'non-towns'. In one of them, Morozovsk, the 6th member of our group, Roman will await us.

Into Russia, Lugansk-Morozovsk

Now, where to start with the things which happened between Lugansk Morozovsk? Well, first of all, we arrived in Morozovsk a day later as planned. Even before Lugansk there was a steady eastern wind. Since we didn't plan a long daydistance to Lugansk, that didn't bother us too much. But after Lugansk it
was more as a nuisance. Untill the border it was still doable, sometimes we had it against, sometimes a bit in the back. Just before the border we paused in Krasnodon in the park next to the warmonument. When we nearly finished our lunch, a man approached us. He proved to be the vice-major. We had a nice chat, ended by some newest jokes about the Ukrainian president Kuchma.
Then we headed on to the border. The previous day Alex told us that he was running out of his visa. So we had shoved some dollars to him, he also only had dollars as travellers cheques. The first border soldier didn't even check the visa's, so he didn't remark Alex's problem. Then the customs came. Both Alex and I hadn't been issued with deklaratsia's upon entry. After some discussion, the Ukrianian border guards concluded that we had far too little money with us to be of concern, so we were sent to the next check. Here the visa was really controlled. Aleksej was asked to come with the border guards and all the
passports to the office. After a while Aleksej came back, and told Alex that he needed 10 Dollars, for that price the border guard would 'correct' the problem.
And indeed, no further problems. Later Aleksej told us that, as usual, the borderguard first wanted to send Alex back to Donetsk, to recitifie the problem there. So out of Ukraine we went to the Russian checkpoint. Here we soon remarked that we knew the rules a lot better as the borderguards. So it was our turn to constantly ask for documentations and various paperwork. On the net there has been much talk about 'borderinterviews'. Either the borderguards didn't know about this new rule, or didn't care. Anyway, nothing resembling a interview was remarkable. All in all, procedures did cost us 2 1/2 hour. So no chanche to catch up on the schedule. But all was not yet over. A few km's after the border there was a GAI-checkpoint. For the first time ever I was checked. Even Zef was never stopped at a GAI-checkpoint while cycling to Vladivostok. At the end of the day we even had to camp just before Kamenetsk, the planned finishing point for today.
The next two days things turned worse. The wind had picked up, and was right in our face. Progress was very slow. 120km to Morozovsk was planned + the abt. 20k we missed the previous day. We managed to get lost in Kamenetsk, thus adding even more distance to our plan for this day. But after a hard day of work, we only stopped in Belaja Kalitva, under these conditions a dayride short of Morozovsk. Luckily Roman had messaged us in Lugansk that he wasn't coming, otherwise he would have been waiting in vain for us.
In the evening we camped in a small wood just outside Belaja Kalitva. While Alex and Aleksej were lighting the fire, and the others errecting the tents, a car approached on the unpaved road. It proved to be a police squad. The police-officers got out of the car and asked what we were doing. Volodja and Aleksej explained, and they went away, probably thinking that we are completely mad. At night the wind kept howling around the tents, despite camping in the small woods. On the road we remarked that the wind turned a little bit south. So now it was a very strong southern wind. Several times I was blown over to the other side of the road. So after abt. 15k we decided to call it a day. It was impossible to make any serious progress. While standing it was even difficult to keep the bikes upright. But Zef had started before us, since he is slower.
We decided to split up in groups of two and hitch. Aleksej and I were the first to find a ride. With a local shopkeeper we rode on to Morozovsk. After some 15minutes riding we discovered Zef. The driver stopped briefly, and I informed Zef about the rest of the procedure. He asked me some roubles so he could pay for a ride if need arose. Relieved of all my roubles (Aleksej still had enough) we continued to Morozovsk. At the city square we got out, and first got something to eat. After a good lunch and some riding around we discovered the others. Another lunch, and then on to the railwaystation to find out about options. We decided to take tomorrowmorning's train at 10.40. But the good news at last, Aleksej just checked the weather forcasts for next week, from monday on a northern wind which will blow us from Volgograd to Astrakhan.

Towards Volgograd

After leaving the internetcafe in Morozovsk, we left for the railwaystation. Our original plan was to take the 10.4 train to Volgograd. But in the railwaystation Volodja learned that this train would take ages to reach Volgograd. It takes an entire day to cover the 275km. The 2.30 nighttrain was a better option. We headed out of town to eat and wait. Soon it got quite cold. Zef decided to camp for the whole night, and try to hitch a ride to Volgograd the next day. The rest of us slept for a few hours and got up in the middle of the night. In the cold we rapidly poked up the fire to brew some tea. Soon afterwards we cycled to the centre. Luckily a kiosk was still open, and serving hot tea. Just before an inquisitive policeofficer could become too interested, the train arrived. After some haggling we were allowed aboard. Aleksej had printed out osme of the Russian Railwayrules regarding biketransport. That piece of paper was a convincing argument, the providnitsa's yielded. The carriage itself was platzkartstyle. No problem to accomodate a load of cyclists and their kit. We quickly rolled out our sleepingbags on the upper benches and slept the whole way to Volgograd. After some SMS-ing with Aleskej, Roman found us.
Arriving a day earlier in Volgograd as planned we tried to do some bureaucratic work right away. BUt alas, the volgograd OVIR doesn't work on thursdays. In the meantime another Aleskej arrived, also a cyclist. We talked a lot about cycling and next saturday's 200k brevet. In the afternoon we set out for some sightseeing. The main site in Volggorad is the war memorial. On a small hill a huge statue, sowrd raised, points to an enemy afar. Below the statue is an impressing memorial to those who fell during the long battle for Stalingrad, as VOlgograd was called at that time. A silent guard of honour, and an eternal flame, complete the memorial. A reminder of the many common soldiers who died during WW II. After visiting the memorial it was time to head back. Zerf could arrive at any moment. And indeed he arrived. He had taken the 10.4 train. Roman's grandmother was delighted. She missed Zef's previous visit, as she was out on holidays in Piatigorsk. She really enjoyed all the people in her house, silently observing the buzz, with only an occasional comment. On friday ROman went out early to OVIR. He returned with a big wad of papers to complete. Surprisingly, the bigest amount of papers was for Volodja. Volodja, being an Ukrainian, can enter Russia with only his internal pasport, but the registration process is very elaborate. Roman had to sign various papers and Volodja's stay at OVIR was quite long. In contrast, we
only had 2 papers to complete. Aided by Aleksej this was rapidly done. At OVIR Roman and I were outside again within 10 minutes.
The first part done, it was time for some other tasks. Valery Komotchkov, the main Russian BRM organiser, wanted to see us. Aleksej, Zef and I would be riding his brevet tomorrow. At 1500 we met at the Panorama. Soon afterwards Valery arrived, accompanied by Ivan Karpov from Astrakhan. Valery
filled us in on all the details of the brevet. This time it was our task to translate, as Valery spoke French with us. It would be an easy affair at the brevt. Just head out to the village of Loznoje, get the cards stamped at the loccal post office, return to Volgograd and add a short circuit around town. Then we turned our attention to the trip to Astrakhan. IVan had some suggestions which we would follow in an altered form. We would take the train for a while, and resume cycling there where the wind would be
favourable again. After a while we packed and headed to the railwaystation. Both Alex and I needed some traintickets. The first ones from Astrakhan to Moscow were easy to acquire, except that Alex was running low on rubles. Then we went up to the international desk. The ticket from Moscow to Berlin
proved to be cheaper when bought in Germany, as when bought in Russia. Alex now completely ran out of rubles, we even had to borrow him some valute. His reserves were in travellers cheques, quite a nuisance here. The others were a bit nervous now, as it took that long. All tickets bought we wenre back on our bikes. Roman wanted to show us tomorrow's start location, and the route towards it. It was rather
straightforward. Even without consulting a m ap, I could directly remember it. So we all went back to Roman's place for pre-ride preparations and some early sleep.

Riding lightly, the Volgograd 200k BRM

It’s 6 o’clock, Volgorad awakens. From various corners of the town a motley collection of cyclists heads to a motorwaybridge over the Tsaritsa river. Here’s is the start of the Volgograd 200km BRM. 49 Riders collect, and are sent of at 7h sharp. Their kit is cvery diverse. There are a few western racing
bikes, lot’s of old and battered Ukrainian made ‘turist’ bikes, and quite a number of mountainbikes. My tourer fits perfectly in this field. The age is very different. The oldest participant is 71 years old, the youngest 12 years. There’s a whole bunch of schoolkids, allready experienced enough to do the
basic pre-ride maintainance themselves.
Within a few kilometers, 5 riders decide that their wife will be waiting with the lunch at 14h, and dash off. The rest takes it easy, unill aonther dozen riders starts to pick up speed. I can’t withstand the urge to join them. For some 20k I stay with them for some 20km. Then I have to shed off some layers of
clothes and tend a call of nature. I rejoint the bunch with the main peloton, riding a calm 21km/h. That’s a bit too calm for me, so I left the group. Then I met my Russian clubmate Aleksej. He was riding steadily, but also too slow. A few minutes further on my French clubmate Zef. With him I rode for a while. At a certain moment we arrived at a T-junction. Here we had to go left, but at the return this would be an awkward point. So I carefully watched the surroundings. Then I also let Zef, and rode ahead. For quite some time nobody appeared. The road was undulating with a steady headwind reducing the speed. For nearly an hour I rode solo. Then I met a small group of riders. One of them, Anton,
joined me. He even spoke decent English. Together we rode on to the village of Dubovka. A few kilometres further on we turned left to Loznoje, the turnaround village. Soon after urning we spotted the group I had left quite some hours ago. They weren’t pushing it. Together with them we rode on. After a while Anton had some problems with his rearrackfixation and dropped out. Still he stayed fairly close to the group.
It was just a few kilometres to the village when the first group came back. I was surprised that we were not that far back. In Loznoje the control was at the postoffice. I didn’t have to wait long here. Several riders turned back immediately after stamping their cards. I first headed for the village shop. Unluckily there was a grandmother being helped before me. That really lasted some time. When I came out of the shop hardly a rider was visible of my group. The last few riders got out of sight when I stopped to take a picture of the decayed church. So I headed out, alone against the wind. For the next 35km it was hard work. Wind was still fairly strong, and in my face. For the first dozen of kilometers I had the distraction of seeing many riders still riding towards Loznoje. Zef and Aleksej were among them. Several riders were on a schedule which brought them to Loznoje quite close to the cut-off. Not a good idea with 35km of stiff headwind ahead. But also this ordeal came to an end. I turned right, back to Dubovka and
Volgograd. For some 50k I now had a nice tailwind. The kilometres flew underneath my wheels. Halfway towards Volgograd I had a nice view over the Volga hydorelectri lake. Most of the lake is still covered with ice. The point where I had to turn right I luckily recognised rather easy. A while further on
I had to turn right again. Here a small detour was scheduled, Loznoje is only 97km away from the start, so that detour was needed. Finally I saw the right sideroad. Still I asked at the adjoining servicestation. Yes, it was the right one. Directly after exiting the servicestation There was an arrow painted on the road, and immediately behind the corner a secret control, an obvious spot for a secret control.. Then I headed on to Gorodiche. In Gorodiche the road was quite complicated. I had to ask a few times untill I found the Moscow-Volgograd motorway. I had no idea where the motorway entered Volgograd. So after it changed into a city mainroad, I asked a passer-by to indicate on my townmap where I was. From that moment on everything was easy, and I rapidly reached the finish.
After my card was collected, I descended towards the Tsaritsa river. Here a few tents were standing, and the campfire allready ignited. Most of the finished riders were still there, just as several organisers. There really was a good atmosphere. I lingered there for hours. Zef and Aleksej arrived well within time. When the organiser Valery Komotchkov had finished, it was time for the finish ceremonies. The fastest rider was honoured, as the youngest, and the few foreign pariticipants. Just before the cut-off the oldest rider came in. Now only 6 riders were unaccounted for. When we walked up to the motorway, finally
the tandem arrived. They had gone straight on where they should have gone right. In a city stretching along the river for 70km, this can account for quite a detour.
The ride was a good experience. Not too difficult, and good streets for Russian standards. The after-finish events were even better as the ride itself.

The final leg

Language festivals are very popular among esperanto youth groups in Russia. The Language Festival in Cheboskary is the oldest and largest, last time having over 600 participants and 40 languages presented. In comparison, the one in Volgograd is really in it's infant stage. Still some 20 languages were presented and 200 people participated. Being foreign esperantists, we were regarded as guests of honour. Still I preferred to contribute and offered to give a few lectures on the political-historical aspects of the
linguistical situation in borderlands. A local espernatist translated my lecture to RUssian for the non-esperantists in the hall. In between my lectures I could visit some other presentations.
As ought to be in Russia, the festival was concluded with an itnernational concert. The organisers invited us for a dinner celebratign this fiestival, so we retired to a cafe. It was quite a long dinner with lot's of beer and champagne. While the rest of us went home to get a few horus of sleep before
heading out again, Aleksej and a hardy few of the organisers went for a longer celebration in an apartment. In the morning Roman phoned to Aleksej, enquiring wether he desired to continue our bikeride. He did, and promised to come back soon. There are only 2 daily trains fro m Volgograd to Achtubinsk, one starting at night, the other at noon. We also informed our new groupmember Anatolij (Tolik), who arrived soon afterwards, carrying a huge backpack on his racer. Roman borrowed him a rack, wherupon I had to interrupt packing to assist Tolik mounting the rack.The rack mounted, I quickly collected all my stuff and out we went. While loading his bike, Zef discovered that his rack had broken. A tentpag and some hoseclamps did the job. Of we went to the railwaystation. Valery would meet us at the station, just as another local esperantist, Vika. Being a bit late, Aleksej and Volodja ran to the hall to buy our tickets, while Zef conferrred with Valery. I dashed to a shop for some food and drinks. Valery and Vika assisted us in transporting everything to the right platform. The train was allready there, but no sign of Volodja and Aleksej, nor any tickets. Luckily Russian trains wait for quite some time at railwaystations. After Volodja and Aleksej came back, there was no debate this time about our bikes, in contrast an extra door was opened so we could easily arrange our bikes.
We had some nice company on the train. A bunch of conscripts returning home from military service with a tank company in Birobidzhan. Coming from Dagestan they were really posted as far away from home as possible. For them, we were a nice distraction during their week long voyage. Even more military evidence was visible, a troop train was heading north, probably after serving in Chechenia. The day before, ALex and Volodja encountered some other signs of military rules. Wen tye were cycling over the Volga-lake dam they were niether permitted to stop, nor to take pictures at the dam. But now the train slowly passed the dam and I could make some blast map. But I searched in vain, it was still in Roman's apartment. Also my tentpole was mising. An SMS to Roman later we learned that more items were still at Roman's place, my slides, ALeksej's sweater, and Alex's notebook. No big problem thoug,
I'll be returning to Russia this summer, so I can pick up my things.
When Volodja read that the train would also stop at some famous saltlakes, he tried to secure permission to leave the train one stop later. But the providnitsa's wanted 60 rubles (2 Euro) per person, quite an inflated price. So we left the train in Achtubinsk, as scheduled. Helped by the soldiers we
got everything and everyone out within a few minutes. As it was allready late in the afternoon, we first shopped. Food was easily found, the post office also proved no big problem, but a decent map was
nowhere found. So we had to do with Zef's all-Russia atlas. It was nearly time to camp when we left Achtubinsk. Some 12km further on, we pitched our tent in a small recess in the terrain, out of view for the general public.
Riding along next day was a far cry from our first days in Russia. East of the Volga the vast steppe dominates, after all we're skirting the Kazach border.No black earth with large wheat and potato fields here. In stead lot's of grass and shrubbery. Sometimes a herdsman would cross our path, with his herd of sheep, cows or horses. Horses are anyway the prefered mode of local transport when venturing away from the main road. The various herds and some surprisingly pitoresque villages gave plenty of opportunity to reduce my stock of film. Also the people were different. In the villages, Russians are a minority, Kazachs are probably the majority, supplemented by Tatars and various other groups like Chechens and Armenians. Further to the west is the Kalmukian Republic, a budhist people of Mongolian origins. Although we were aided from time to time by a decent tailwind, we didn't
reach teh 100km mark this day. First Alex had some tyreproblems. He and Volodja were a bit behind at that moment. Not being expert mechanics, they lost lot's of time before the rest of us were there to assist. Finally, my foldable spare tyre had to help out. In the afternoon Volodja desperately wanted to buy 3 litres of milk. Only 2 litre were available at fist sight. Some 40 minutes were wasted while he searched the entire village for more milk. Volodja really has his food preferences; milk, eggs and above all, lard. After all, he's a real Ukrainian. That evening we camped at the best camping spot of our entire trip. Just after Michailovka we discovered a nice meadow next to the Achtuba river. WHile we were eating around our campfire, we were joined by a few fishermen returning home from the river. This was
also the first night we could have a decent wash, at least for those of us who could stand glacier-like water. Except for lot's of wildlife and half-wild animals, the next day was uneventful. AIded by a good tailwind we made our longest day. At the end, the clock stopped at 120km. In the evening I had to repair Volodja's bike. 3 spokes had broken, driveside. His Polish made MTB still ahs a screw-9on freewheel. No chance for a hypercracker here. Still I managed to limit the damge by bodging a few emergency spokes from my stock. By now it had become clear that Aleksej wanted to wage a chance at PBP. A good addition to our PBP squad, allready consisting of 3 Dutch and 2 French members engaged in qualifying.
The last morning of a trip is allwayys a sad one, especially when one of the gang is departing earlier as the rest. Alex would take the evening train, departing Astrakhan at 23.55. In Astrakhan Ivan was our man. He had given us several ways to meet. First was a phonenumber in Ashkunchak. From the
railwaystation Aleksej tried in vain to contact him. Over to option II. At the militsia barracks we asked for colonel Baranov. He wasn't in, but we were instructed to go to the G AI-post a few km down the road, exactly matching option III. The GAI post was quite an elaborate one. Only an APC was missing. It was at the foot of a bridge. Still the situation was relaxed, so relaxed taht I evend ared to take some pictures of a passing herd of horses. After leaving a message, and some smalltalk, we continued to Astrakhan. A few km later on it was time to respupply. While I visted a shop with Aleksej and Tolik, Volodja and Zef struck up a conversation with some people on the forecourt. They were a retired army officer and his driver. The colonel, from Ukrainian descent, was very pleased to meet an Ukrainian, and the bottle was rapidly emptied. Just after the village we passed one of the many road-painting crews, and found a quiet place for lunch.
After lunch we tried to reach Astrakhan as soon as posible. It was only 20k to the city limits, but another 15k to the centre. Astrakhan is a rather logically laid out city, and the centre with it's Kremlin was easily found. But tehre was only 1 hour of daylight remainign for Alex to catch a glimpse of the city. A quiet walk around the Kremlin and a short stay in te adjacent park had to do for him. In the park we were the centre of attention. Many drunk river sailor students around, as they had just had their last day of school; not the best place to linger around, thoug. So we headed back from where we came. Near the entrance fo the city was the adress indicated by Ivan. Aleksej tried in vain to phone. Despite the drakness we found the apartment without much searcing. It proved to be is daughter's apartment. Anja is also a cyclist, having participated in the world's near my town and in last years 200k brevet in Volgograd. While Aleksej and Anja witdrew to the kitchen, Alex took a cold sower, the rest of use made ourselves comfortable. Anja and her husband only jsut moved into this place. It lookd a bit like a
buildingsite. But nothing to alarm a bunch of savage cyclists. We all had a nice dinner with champagne. A relative of Ivan drove Alex, Ivan and Volodja to the railwaystation while we drank some more tea.
Surprisingly early everybody awoke. Now it was my time to leave. My train departed at 13.8. Stil some time left over for a fast tour of town, by bike of course. Ivan showed us around. We ended the tour at the fish market. Lot's of fish to be seen here, even some sorts unknown to me. And of course loads of salesmen descending upon us to sell all sorts of fish, and illegal caviar.
At the railwaystation again the usual debate. This time one of the providnitsa's wnated to actually read the printed rules. We asserted them that my luggage was below the 38kg limit (well, if you disregard my bike, it really is). In fact, the providnitsa's were more concerned to have a cumbersome foreigner on their train, someone unable to communicate with them. Now, while writing these lines, the atmosphere in this train is quite relaxed. Yesterday we passed the station of Achtubinsk, 4 days after being there first. THen it was a quiet station. Now, with two major trains stopping, the place is bustling with life. Everywhere people are selling various foods and drinks to passengers. Today the same at another station. But here I had a small brush up with a police officer. Allready back on the train he scolded me for taking pictures outside. I played the stupid foreigner, the providnitsa's talked along the same line with him. During the identity check I remarked that his knowledgelevel was low. He was satisfied
with scholding and left. Just another theme to be discussed with my fellow pasengers, although my limiteid Russian makes it very difficult. Nearing Moscow some patches of snow are again visible, and the frist snowflakes just fell.

Ivo Miesen
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