During six months in Ukraine I did 11 longer bicycle trips, in total 5300 km. I sincerely enjoyed riding in Ukraine and want to recommend it to other cyclists. The only serious criticism is that hotels in larger cities double-charge (or worse) Westerners, but there are ways around this discrimination. The following is a kind of diary about the last six trips followed by some practical information.
First longer trip was from Kyiv to Kremenchuk and back. Crossed the Dnepr in the early morning (April 29th) and rode southeast on the Dnepr east bank. Slight rain first hours. On the outskirts of Kyiv two dogs attacked a hedgehog but left their victim when I approached. In the old and partly good-looking town Perejaslavl-Khmelnitsky I asked how much a room would cost in case I needed to stay there on a later occasion, 19 Hryvnia the friendly staff said. 5.5 Hryvnia equalled one US-dollar. Adjacent to a church an old MIG-fighter plane was on display. Obsolete MIG´s and tanks on display are common in Ukraine. Continued on the boring highway PO2 and suffered a heavy thunderstorm that made me change route to avoid being showered by every passing car. Passed through a big Kolkhoz called Gelmyaziv that in its hey-days must have been a big enterprise. I finally ended on a dirt road and the bicycle became dirtier than ever before. There was too little mudguard clearance and the sticky mud accumulated between tires and mudguards making riding heavier, but it was beautiful riding, especially through the villages. Found O.K. accommodation in Zolotonosha costing 28 Hryvnia, suggesting that I was not being overcharged there. When on my way to get something to eat a woman shouted Come here! Come here! in a commanding tone. She obviously thought that I looked ridiculous in my sandals, shorts, T-shirt and raincoat - and that I was a Ukrainian she could ridicule in front of her friends. I approached her and asked (in English) why she addressed me. Her facial expression completely changed and she apologized several times. Funny situation, I could have taken advantage of it. Next day I rode through interesting and beautiful areas, e.g. a former fish farm of giant scale - something like 30 km long. Being largely left to itself nature thrived - saw and heard more frogs than ever before, two baby turtles, storks, snakes, herons etc. The male frogs were very noisy in their attempts to attract partners. Arrived in Kremenchuk in the evening and started looking for accommodation. First option was on the Lenin square but the receptionist demanded 160 Hryvnia because I am "Innostrannik" (foreigner), I left. Next option was in the 5-star category. Third option was better, 59 Hryvnia for a single with hot shower. I was being overcharged but tolerated being discriminated against as I might not be able to find anything better. The room was small the receptionist said, and told me to store the bicycle in a locked room close to the reception. That seemed safe as a guard constantly patrolled the reception. Next morning I felt tired and extended my stay in the hotel. Rode a little bit in and around the pleasant city which mainly owes its existence to a giant iron ore. Later watched a May 1st demonstration on the Lenin square, 95% of the 2-300 participants had long ago passed 60 years of age. I did not count the Lenin statues I saw in Ukraine but it was minimum one a day. The one on the Lenin square in Kremenchuk was of the bigger ones. Upon returning to the hotel I carried the bicycle to the storage room. But I did not lock the bicycle with the D-lock, admittedly not too clever. The hotel boy was in charge of the door-key and locked the room. I had noticed his fishy look but did not think further about it. At around midnight I was awakened by somebody knocking on the door. Thinking it was a prostitute I opened the door, but it turned out to be the hotel guard. He said that my bicycle was gone. Shocking. I ran down to the reception where four policemen had already gathered, and described the bicycle in detail, why it was very important that it was returned to me etc etc. I also said that this criminal act had most likely been carried out by an insider as only few knew about the bicycle and where it was stored. They agreed and interrogated the receptionist. Two more policemen arrived - one of them a finger-print expert, now there were six policemen. They were all sympathetic and really intent on doing what they could to retrieve my bicycle. One of them said that they would start searching, and that he believed there was a good chance they would find the bicycle. After an hour or so I returned to the room without sleeping much more that night - thinking about torture, decapitation and deporting criminals to Siberia. At 8 o´clock next morning the receptionist phoned and said that the police had found the bicycle and that it was now in a police station on the other side of the Dnepr. A miracle. The receptionist and your humble narrator went by bus to the policestation and were told that the offender, the 23-25 year old hotel boy, had lifted the bicycle out of a window in the late evening and was caught while riding it. The bicycle had suffered a few scratches but nothing was missing. I was very grateful. The Ukrainian police is really doing its job - had it been in Denmark or Sweden the outcome would most likely have been negative. It had been an interesting experience but I would not push my luck further on this particular trip and started cycling back to Kyiv, now on the Dnepr west bank. During the ride I thought a lot about how lucky I had been. Saw two yellow birds (Oriolus oriolus) that are rare in Scandinavia. First time I saw this species. Passed through the idyllic village Galaganivka where some houses were for sale, 1000US$ buys a house in this beautiful place. Went into a hotel in Chigirin and asked the price of a room - 23 Hryvnia for the best room with bath, toilet and refrigerator, the friendly receptionist said. That's cheap. I paid and carried the bicycle to the room and locked it to the radiator. Continued next day in initially rainy weather and reached Cherkasy around noon. Had a meal at McDonalds, the menu being the usual one but significantly cheaper than in the West. The toilets were clean as always, God bless McDonalds! Continued as close as possible to the Dnepr and rode through places not far from paradise. After Lozovok I rode on an embankment with wetland on both sides, saw more baby-turtles, hoopoes (Upapa epops), herons, storks etc etc. Rested in store in Mikhailovka and was asked by customers about what I was doing in Ukraine, what I thought about Ukraine, what I thought about Ukrainian women, why I was riding alone, how much I earn a month etc. They said that some years ago three or four American/Canadian cyclists had passed the place. Arrived in Kaniv at three o´clock and waited one hour for the river boat to Kyiv. Had a conversation with a guard at the quay - he earned 100 Hryvnia (17-18 US$) a month. Scenic trip on the Dnepr, the boat stopped several times and picked up passengers on its way to Kyiv. Cleaned and lubricated the bicycle next day and discovered that water had entered a cartridge ball bearing in the rear hub. The little grease that was left in the bearing had turned red due to corrosion. After regreasing it was smooth again.
Next weekend there were forceful northern winds, so only pleasant option was cycling south. First day (May 8th) 220 km to Uman thanks to heavy tail wind. Saved a big turtle that could not climb over the road shoulder from the cars. Later watched a frog approach and eat a big beetle (Melolontha vulgaris) in a pond, first time I have observed this process live. There is a "romantic park" that attracts tourists, and two hotels in Uman. I do not recall how much I paid for sleeping there, but it was cheap, else I would have remembered it. Second day 180 km (still thanks to heavy tail wind) to Yuznoukrainsk where there is a nuclear power plant, and consequently hot water in the shower in the hotel. The hotel in Yuznoukrainsk overcharged me (31 Hryvnia) but there were no other options. The room turned out to be a three-room flat which was shared with a salesman. The standard was good - kitchen and television. Went up to a small hill and photographed the power plant. Yuznoukrainsk looked more prosperous and tidy than elsewhere in Ukraine. Third day to Mikolaiv close to the Black Sea. The last 90 or so kilometers on the west bank of the river Pivdennij Bug. Many beautiful views, here and there wine growing. Had an interesting encounter with a woman in the countryside. While sheltering from the rain under a tree in the middle of nowhere a tractor passed and let off this woman. She came over and we had a conversation. I sat on the top tube with legs apart and after 5 minutes she stood between my legs and invited me to her house. A tempting offer, but unfamiliar with local customs I declined. Now I will never know what would have happened. In Mikolaiv I had once again problems finding inexpensive accommodation, always a problem in larger Ukrainian cities, rarely in small. The Mikolaiv hotels all apply the discriminating double-pricing system, so I was at several hotels. Finally I had to endure paying more than twice what Ukrainians pay - 70 Hryvnia (most expensive accommodation I had in Ukraine). That hotel charged Ukrainians 30 Hryvnia, Russians 50 Hryvnia and Westerners 70 Hryvnia!? Consequently I wrote an angry letter to the director. Fourth day weather was rainy, so late in the afternoon I returned to Kyiv by bus costing 48 Hryvnia (8US$) and taking 12 hours, so I arrived in Kyiv early next morning. The bus stopped several times along the route, leaving time to buy refreshments from vendors and stretch the legs. The bicycle in its two halves was stored in a luggage compartment under the bus. This service was free of charge and the bicycle did not get a single scratch.
Henrik from Sweden arrived as planned on the 25th May, and was unharmed. Stayed in Kyiv next day and cycled around visiting different places and testing that the bicycles worked. Then started on the first of the three trips we did together.
First morning (May 27th), when arriving at the Dnepr river boat in Kyiv we did not get any tickets to Kaniv as the river boat was full, so we cycled the 130 km on the west bank to Kaniv instead. Not that exciting, as I had done it two times before. Saw some unidentifiable birds flying over a swamp south of Ukrainka. There is a big coal fired power plant in Ukrainka. Had early supper in Kaniv, and decided to continue to Zolotonosha. By the way; hotel Slavutich in Kaniv charged 28 Hryvnia for a single. Crossed the Dnepr on the guarded hydro-electrical dam. The east bank between Kaniv and Zolotonosha is very very beautiful - passed through idyllic villages seemingly untouched by the last 100 years. Saw a hare, a mouse, snakes, frogs, storks, herons, and birds unknown even to ornitologist Henrik. We arrived in Zolotonosha at 20.45. The receptionist in the only hotel said she had no room, but when told that we had ridden 191 km and badly needed whatever she had, she changed her mind and came up with a good double room for 36 Hryvnia for both of us. Had a big supper in a restaurant, and drank even more. Continued next day close to the Dnepr when possible. Rode through the village with the strange name Dengi which means money, later through idyllic villages such as Krutki and Skorodistik. Passed two beetles (Lucanus cervus) which are rare in Scandinavia, they had been run over unfortunately. Saw several hoopoes too. Rested in Irkliev. After Lipovoe, where there are baby-turtles on the streets, we rode on an embankment protecting a giant (28x4km) fish farming area from the Dnepr. The fish farming is abandoned it seems, but there are still fish and the pumps still work. What is more interesting is that this unique area is home to millions of frogs, herons (Ardea cinerea, Ardeola ibis and other species unknown to us), storks and snakes. I had been in this area once but now we saw much more of it. Also passed a half-dead snake - yet a victim of car drivers. Got back to the mainland in Mozolievka and headed for Kremenchuk which was reached in darkness, and in rain the last hour. Went to the hotel where my bicycle was stolen first time I was there. The offender, a hotel boy, was not around anymore. We got single rooms with cold water for 39 Hryvnia. Ate in the hotel restaurant. Third day towards Poltava. Had some trouble finding the road out of Kremenchuk and ended on a muddy dirt road resulting in our bicycles getting dirty. In this region the gas stations belong to a company called the long name "KREMENCHUKNAFTOPRODUKTSERVIS". Later a policeman in a Kolkhoz warned us against the mafia which we might run into on the E-40 highway between Reshetilivka and Poltava. What we did run into was two fishy types in a cafe. Upon retreating from the scene I was about to forget my handlebar bag but Henrik saved me, and we got away unharmed. The first hotel in Poltava wanted to double-charge us, the second claimed nothing was available, the third did not exist, the fourth insisted on double-charging (57 Hryvnia/person in single rooms) but we accepted - being too tired to protest. On the other hand the receptionist did not try to prevent us from storing our beloved bicycles in the rooms. Went out to find an internet cafe, they are common in most Ukrainian towns and cost about a dollar an hour. Then strolled around in the center and bought breakfast for next morning. Ate in the hotel restaurant, with live music. This trip was 508 km in total and about 30 hours on the roads, still strong old Henrik had no problems following suit. Went to the Poltava war museum next day to be enlighted on the battle between Sweden and Russia in 1709. Good museum showing how the until then very successful Swedish army and the great power ambitions of Sweden´s king Charles XII were trashed by Russia´s Peter the Great. Henrik silenced some noisy pupils. Bad weather and lack of ideas about where to ride from Poltava made us return to Kyiv. Took bus for 40 Hryvnia, including bikes which were in the back of the bus.
Rested in Kyiv one day during which Henrik bought a good and inexpensive fish-eye lens from the Kyiv camera factory Arsenal. The salesman invited us to visit the interesting factory museum. Then headed for Chernihiv through the fantastically interesting area on the east bank of Desna between Oster (had lunch there) and Chernihiv. This time we cycled through three times as much of it as first time I was there, still we did not see all of it. There are literally thousands of storks, idyllic villages, horse carts, old churches that are beautiful in their decay, livestock on the roads, lush vegetation and so on, and it is only 50-60 km from Chernobyl. This area is indescribable, one got to see it oneself. The beautiful and meandering Desna river with its numerous oxbow lakes is suited to canoeing as it has been left largely to itself. North of Oster we came across a young hedgehog, for a change it had not been flattened by a car. When crossing a bridge over Desna it was dripping from above because a fool standing up there urinated, luckily we were not showered. Reached Chernihiv after 14 hours on the road and went to same hotel as first time I was there. A single room costs 59 for Westerners, half for Ukrainians. But we were tired and did not argue. Bicycles were stored in the rooms. Half an hour after having entered the room I got the usual telephone calls - Are you bored? Do you need a devushka (girl) on your room? I declined. To his relief Henrik did not get these calls - they probably judged that at 55 years of age he was too old. Next day we continued to Nishin after short visits to the good-looking Chernihiv churches. The next 100 km took so long that we reached Nishin at seven o´clock leaving no time to see the several churches etc. Train back to Kyiv cost 4.05 Hryvnia per person including bikes. Cheap and completely uncomplicated. That was 282 km in two days, but strong old Henrik still as fast as ever.
Following 20 hours rest in Kyiv we took overnight bus to Chernivtsy just north of the Carpathians and arrived next morning (June 4th). Bad weather soon followed and after 81 km in rain and low temperatures we had enough and went into the only hotel in Vishnitsa. 12 Hryvnia for a whole double room, 6 Hryvnia pr person if the double room is shared. That was a price we both liked. The receptionist did not try double-charging us and did not object to the bicycles being stored in the rooms. Toilets are in the corridor and quite unique - plenty of spiders feasting on all the flies attracted by the odeur. Bad weather made us stay in Vishnitsa for two days but we used the time to recuperate and dry up. When weather improved we rode toward the 2060 m Hoverla - Ukraines highest mountain. Cycled through beautiful valleys and strange towns/villages, partly caused by me selecting the wrong valley. Tried finding accommodation in Vorokhta but unsuccessful. Then tried getting over a railway bridge in Vorokhta to make a shortcut to Jazinya - we thought there was a road along the rails. That idea was not smart as we were stopped by an armed soldier and told not to continue. On our way back a woman said we were spies investigating the bridge. After about 5 km we tried our luck at a small hotel but as bicycles were not allowed in the rooms we had to continue. We eventually reached Tatariv where Henrik found a really good small Austrian-style hotel for 50 Hryvnia for one person in double room. Nothing but a minute sign in a window indicated that the house was a hotel. Got excellent supper on the veranda while enjoying the view up the valley. Continued next day without having had any breakfast and started cycling towards Hoverla. Had tea in the Jablunitskij pass where a lot of souvenirs are for sale. Henrik bought a decorated mallet and a woolen bag. Later we turned east toward Lazeshtina from where a dirt road towards Hoverla starts. Had to pay 5 Hryvnia to park-guards to enter the area. They discouraged us telling it was too hard and so on. And hard it was, but only because heavy forresting machinery had destroyed the dirt roads which we followed maybe the first 10 kilometers. Henriks bicycle had too little mudguard clearance and was continuously clogged - setting us back a couple of hours. We carried the bicycles a couple of kilometers to avoid having them completely drowned in sticky mud. Later we lost the path and dragged and pushed the bicycles to the saddle between the Hoverla and the Petros. It was strenous and Henrik looked tired during the last part of the ascent but up he came. Should think I looked tired too. Up there a dirt road leads to the Hoverla. When the dirt road turned non-cycleable the clock was 5 p.m. and the final climb was out of reach if we should have any chance of reaching a hotel that day. Continuing eastwards on the dirt road was forbidden so we returned to the saddle and cycled south around the Petros - fantastically beautiful area with cows and shepherds on the lower slopes. There is a couple of villages consisting of old wooden houses southwest of the Petros - as if nothing had happened the last 100 years, never seen anything like them. The shepherds are equipped with long whips which sound like gun shots. Saw some salamanders too, two of them were about to mate. When entering the tree-zone the dirt road once again was destroyed. Extremely laborious and time consuming riding, but after the village Bogdan conditions improved. Reached Rakhiv at 10 p.m. and spent 30 minutes trying to convince autistic receptionist to give us a room. The hotel was occupied she claimed, but eventually she accepted letting us sleep in the dirty room of the cleaning staff - 40 Hryvnia. Went to bed without having had anything decent to eat that day. Strolled around in Rakhiv next morning, that town seems to have its fair share of freaks - peculiar town. All in all the Carpathians were a very positive surprise - much more mountain-like than anticipated and often exceedingly beautiful. Then took bus to good-looking Ivano-Frankivsk, strolled around and had lunch and visited a souvenir shop with inexpensive, beautiful and handmade carpets. Henrik bought a table cloth whereas I still regret I did not buy a carpet. Later by bus to Kyiv which we reached at 6 a.m. next day.
Next morning Henrik took train back to Sweden - after 1158 km on bicycle in Ukraine. I recuperated during the next week, keeping pace with Henrik had taken its toll.
On sunday morning (June 17th) I embarked on the final and longest trip in Ukraine. Vyatjeslav anxiously came to check that I had not destroyed or stolen anything from his flat where I had been living for 4 months. He then followed me to the local station and I took the electrical train to Mironivka. It was a four hours trip despite Mironivka being only about 100 km south of Kyiv but the train also passed through Fastiv and Bila Tserkva. The train was full of people on the way to their dachas. All the time vendors passed by selling ice cream, bottled water, garden equipment, seeds and so on. Conquered a seat after 1½ hour. A mouse on the floor ran into my foot, no idea about what the mouse was doing there. Cycled around in Mironivka for half an hour before heading for Korsun-Shevshenkivskij at the Ros river - Ukraines first hydro-electric dam was built there, now it is a picturesque place. Then eastwards along the Ros river. In the village Nabutiv I stopped to fill up on water and ice cream at a kiosk. The nice owner gave me chocolate and advised me on the road to Cherkasy. Few minutes later I passed a meadow with minimum 60 storks. Departed the M-04 highway after Moshnyj and rode through Budishe and then along the Dnepr. Arrived in Cherkasy in the evening and got accommodation same place as first time I was there. Good hotel - 40 Hryvnia for an O.K. two-room with refrigerator and toilet+bath, and the receptionist did not try to make me pay extra for being foreigner.
Continued next morning towards Kirovograd. After half an hour an old cyclist suddenly turned left when I was about to overtake him. I was only 5 cm from collision and shouted at him. He had probably not heard me coming, used to other vehicles being noisy. Wearing only sandals, a T-shirt and shorts, chrashing was what I feared most, would get severe rashes if sliding on the rough tarmac. After Smela I cycled along the Tjasmin river, a slow-flowing small river, but with different heron species and two kingfishers, they were quite successful in catching small fish. Saw fat and long grass snake (Natrix natrix) that had been killed by a car. Passed through many idyllic villages and everything was green and lush. Had lunch in Kamenka and rode through Yurtikha to Alexandrivka. Then southwards on the highway P-77, worked hard because of strong headwind. I had had headwind the day before too, but was more protected by forests etc. Whatever, the next 55 km took more than 3 hours. Saw two big flying beetles - Lucanus cervus, do not know English name but they were the ones with 10 mm pair of tongs used for wrestling with male competitors. Got accommodation in the hotel Ukraina on Ulitsa Karla Marksa in a shared double room costing 40 Hryvnia. That price was twice that paid by the Ukrainian salesman I shared the room with, but I was too tired to protest. I later learnt that 200 m further down Ulitsa Karla Marksa a single room could be had for the same money. Went down to the river Ingul which was full of frogs, and had supper in a restaurant. The salesman I shared the double room with snored loudly during the night and his bed, and mine, was squeeking so I did not get much sleep. Consequently I was aggressive next morning and told the receptionist what I meant about having had to pay 100% extra and still having my sleep spoiled. Kirovograd is named after the socialist Kirov, there is of course a statue of him on the Kirov square. I saw other statues of Kirov elsewhere in Ukraine, he had a mild and friendly expression.
Continued towards Krivoj Rog in terrible headwind. In the small town Novgorodka 37 km from Kirovograd I could have slept for 10 Hryvnia, but how could one know about that hotel? Turned south (shorter way) in Lozuvatka because I was tired of the slow progress, a stupid decision as I would have experienced much more of the huge Krivoj Rog mining district if I had turned east. Reached Krivoj Rog in the late afternoon, exhausted after 117 km in headwind. Went immediately to a road cafe to eat, without asking the price specifically for everything I ordered - consequently had to pay overprice. Always ask what food and drink cost before ordering. Then went out to find accommodation, a difficult task as the first three hotels I knew of were closed. The fourth on Prospect Karla Marksa was open though. I told the receptionist that I was from Latvia and thus got the standard price - 22 Hryvnia for a single. Stayed there for two days. Took the tramways and trolleybuses to different places next day, a ride costs about 0.5 Hryvnia. Saw giant waste rock dumps along about 40 km, and a 3x4 km area filled with bulging smokestacks, pipes, cooling towers, inclined conveyor belts and so on - a socialist´s dream. Truly gigantic dimensions on everything. Locally the air was bad, could not see from one end to the other - adding to the sensation that the area was gigantic. Avesome fits the bill. There is of course loads of socialist art (musculous socialist steel workers, scientists, heroic scenes and so on) at the entrances to the industrial areas. Everything was typically socialist, but interesting. Definitely one of the places that have to be experienced.
The next day (June 21th) the waste rock dumps and open cast mines continued about 30 km further south, so the iron ore hosting horizon is about 90 km long - from Sheltie Vodi in the north to Ingulets in the south. After Ingulets the Ukrainian steppe starts, a big and flat steppe that is cultivated and largely without any forest. I could sometimes see maybe 15 km ahead on the straight road. It was hard work as the wind was still strong and coming from the south. Saw numerous small hawk-like predatory birds and sometimes hoopoes. Saw a stork that had been electrocuted when short-circuiting a powerline. Stopped in the village Krasnoselskoe to see if I could get something to drink. There was no store it seemed, but some children told me there was one in a house 10 m from where I stood. There actually was a minute store in that house and I got mineral water and chocolate. When asking if there was any milk to buy, the owner asked me to wait a couple of minutes during which she milked her cow. Got about one liter of fresh warm milk, and for free! There is an angry dog chained at that store, the only dog I met in Ukraine that would have bit me, had it had a chance. Did a shortcut half an hour before the Dnepr and passed a tree with a crow colony but one of the nests was inhabited by hawks. When crossing the Dnepr in the afternoon I paused to look at the numerous anglers trying to hook fish. Immediately a guard came running, foreigners were not allowed on the dam. It was not the first time that happened. Reached Nova Kahovka and installed myself in the only hotel, called Hotel Nova Kahovka. 40 Hryvnia for a double room, hot shower in the corridor and friendly staff. When dining I was addressed by a man that knew I was a foreigner - somebody apparently had told him. He talked away about his job but was a fishy type. He was later joined by another similarly tiresome one that he claimed he did not know. He no doubt knew him suggesting they had something going on, so I left and returned to the hotel.
Continued next morning, still on the steppe and still in headwind. Reached the border to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in the early afternoon. There is a big industrial site called Titania - suggesting large scale alluvial mining is going on. The next 25 km were partly along salt lakes. Had a good and inexpensive supper in Krasnoperekopsk in a restaurant without loud heavy rock music. Then decided to continue the 56 km to Dzankoj because from there only 127 km remain to the Black Sea coast - a suitable distance for next day. The wind had also turned slightly westwards, making cycling easier as the road turned southeast. Rode along the North Crimean Canal that irrigates much of the dry Crimea with water from the Dnepr. Reached Dzankoj in the evening and went into the first and only hotel. As I was tired and maybe a little aggressive because I knew what was coming, I decided to tell the truth about my nationality and take the resulting discussion. So when being asked about my nationality, I said Denmark. Then it will be 45 Hryvnia and not 22 for you, she said. I refused and asked if there was a director I could discuss this discriminating practise with. She was called in and justified the double pricing system with that she only earned 50 Hryvnia a week, it was not much money for me, hotels are more expensive in the West and so on. I still fail to see the relevance of any of her arguments. Why on earth should that be my problem in particular? I asked if it would have been cheaper if I had been from Angola which is poorer than Ukraine, but got no answer. She also refused my bicycle being in the room. The discussion got heated and in the end there was nothing else to do than taking the bike and leave. There were no other hotels in Dzankoj so I asked two street vendors if they knew about an alternative to the shit-hotel. They directed me to the train station 50 m from the shit-hotel, and I got an excellent single room for 10 Hryvnia. There was hot water in the shower and the staff was friendly too. The bicycle was stored in the nearby guarded luggage room. Had supper in the restaurant on the station - delicious and inexpensive. Strolled around in the town and crossed a creek with hundreds of frogs. There are billions of frogs and hence countless storks in Ukraine. In Denmark I have seen one or two storks during 37 years, in Ukraine I saw them all the time.
Next morning and 200 m from the station I was overtaken by a cyclist. When he was 30 m ahead of me he was frontally hit by a Lada. The cyclist ended up halfway through the front window, falling down on the front when the car stopped. It was clearly the fault of the car-driver. The cyclist had glass-shards and blood all over his face but was conscious although dizzy. The driver came out, to me he appeared drugged, and offered his victim 2 Hryvnia! Fixing his bicycle would cost much more as the forks and front wheel were bent and dished, respectively. More Ukrainians arrived and I left. Continued on the M-25 road towards Feodosia after that exciting event. In Novopokrovka 18 km NW of Feodosia I tried shortcutting but ended up on narrow and slow dirt roads taking minimum 1½ hour. Never mind, it was a beautiful hilly landscape with the Crimean mountains in the background. Arrived in Feodosia in the afternoon. Feodosia is at the Black Sea and 801 km from Mironivka, it took 7 days incl. one day´s rest in Krivoj Rog, 133 km a day on average in headwind most of the time and blazing sun all the time. Had lost several kilos and was more tanned than ever. Having experienced the excellent accommodation in the train station in Dzankoj I headed for the train station in Feodosia. However, in front of the station a man advertised private rooms for the price of 25 Hryvnia a day. He showed me one such place close to the center. It was an excellent room in a lush back yard, so I stayed there for two days. The owner was a kind elderly lady that served tea and breakfast, and washed my clothes (I did not ask for this service). Being exhausted from all the cycling I did not have energy to do much in Feodosia, did manage to go to the entomological museum however. They have some live insects too, including a relative to Mantis Religiosa that is not uncommon in Crimea. It is clear that in Ukraine insects are generally bigger than in the colder Scandinavia. The attendant was a funny woman with opinions on every matter. Weighed myself on a weight scale in the street, had lost 3-4 kg during the last weeks. Else strolled around in Feodosia most of the time, and had some conversations with the sympathetic and English-speaking grandson of the woman hosting me. There are thousands of tourists in Feodosia, and as many street hawkers selling handicraft and art. Typical holiday resort, not unlike those along the Mediterranean.
After two days in Feodosia I continued westwards along the coast. First up to the 289 m high hill just SW of Feodosia where there are early warning radars, and a fabulous view of the rocky peninsula Kiik-Atlama. Lost the path and had to walk most of the way down the grassy slope to Ordsjonnikidse where people at the bus stop advertised accommodation. Following 1 hour rest, it was hot, I rode to Koktebel. There are plenty tourists there too and consequently plenty of private sector accommodation. Paid 25 Hryvnia for a nice room, then got a delicious lunch for 8 Hryvnia in the same place. That day I only did 30 km due to the high temperatures, was also still tired. Had supper in the evening with a sympathetic couple from Chernihiv. When it got dark there was an excellent view over the bay.
Next day I got up early hoping to reach Jalta, but despite many hours in blazing sun I only got as far as Ribatche - 63 km. The coastal road goes down to the coast at each tourist spot and then winds its way back up to 3-400 masl. Tough cycling but also very scenic. What's good is that there are few cars. Went down to the coast at Kanaka east of Ribatche where road signs said hotels. They turned out to offer full pension so were not of interest. There were a lot of street vendors at the hotels but seemingly no tourists. Found private accommodation in Ribatche costing only 15 Hryvnia but still good. The owner had a wine yard too and tried selling me wine. This type of accommodation is much better than the hotels, there are no arrogant receptionists, it is cheaper, there is no shit about passports, there are no staring guards, no trouble with finding safe storage for the bicycle, there is kitchen access etc etc. There is always a shed with a shower, the water is stored on the roof and heated by the sun. The toilets are in similar sheds and are old-fashioned but O.K. The hosts are friendly, and there are literally thousands of these places along the Crimean Black Sea coast. Never saw any Western tourists these places, but Ukrainian and Russian families. The sign to look for says something like "Zdayutza Komnata".
Continued (June 27th) to Jalta along the coastal road. After Alushta traffic intensified and conseqently plenty of exhaust. Raced against a Ukrainian cyclist after Alushta. It was uphill for 5 km, he had a nine kilo racer called Sport (of Soviet origin), no luggage and skinnier tires. When in Jalta I first went to McDonalds. Ate again later in a Stolovaya for just about nothing. Finding private accommodation in Jalta for one night proved slightly difficult as they either wanted to hire out their rooms for several days, not only one day, or they had large flats only. Finally found a 25 Hryvnia room in a two-room flat, the owner and her son stayed in the other room. There was hot shower. Was served tea in the evening. Ate and drank all the time, had an abnormal appetite and thirst.
After Jalta I crossed the Crimean mountains - highest point was Ai Petri at 1207 m which was reached after 2 hours starting from the coastal road at 200 m. Climbed 1400 m that day I think. Beautiful and varying views of the coast from the serpentine road that was little trafficked. On Ai Petri plenty Ukrainians sell food to the tourists, had Plov for 8 Hryvnia, and cucumbers and tea. Bought tea and salad from a family of genuine Crimean Tatars at the roadside one hour later. Further down I had chicken soup and more salad. Had as usual giant appetite. There are countless caves in the limestone north of the range, some of which were once inhabited. Saw big snake on the road but unfortunately it had been run over. Plenty of lizards too that day. Ended in Bakchisaray, former capital of the Crimean Tatars whom Stalin exiled in Uzbekistan. On the whole the area between Jalta and Bakchisaray is very scenic, regrettably I did not spend one more day there. Asked if they had a room in the only hotel in Bakchisaray, they had, but where did I come from? from Latvia I answered, and paid the normal rate 20 Hryvnia for a single. Shower was cold.
Cycled around in Bakchisaray next morning and tried gettting into the old Tatarian monastery that is now a museum, but being early morning it was closed. Then continued on the highway to Simferopol. Passed a heavily loaded Western cyclist, the only one I saw in Ukraine. Am quite certain I saw two eagles circling high over the road. Had some stomach problems, nothing serious but enough to force me to look up corners in a park in Simferopol a couple of times. Nobody saw me in this humiliating position. Considered taking a bus out of Crimea but the prospect of sitting in a bus for 8-10 hours with diarrhoea was unpleasant. So I decided to take a bus down to the coast at Sudak. At the bus station a car owner tried hard to persuade me to let him drive me to Sudak or anywhere along the Crimean coast for 20US$. The police also checked my passport and asked what I was doing in Ukraine, only time that happened during 6 months in Ukraine. When the bus arrived it became clear that its luggage compartment was too small for the bicycle (only time that happened in Ukraine), and there was no room for the bicycle in the passenger cabin either. Well, it was 45 km to the coast and highest point was only 768 masl so I did the trip in 2.5 hours with not too much effort. Shortly after the 768 m pass I turned east on the small and little trafficked road to Luchistoe, through idyllic villages and scenic terrain of a kind that will become exorbitantly expensive should Ukrainian economy one day really gain momentum. Reached Sonjatnogirsk early in the evening. Was exhausted and maybe dehydrated so stayed there for three nights - 16 Hryvnia (3US$) a night for a two-bed cabin in a lush back yard - one bed was only 8 Hryvnia but I would not risk having to share the cabin. There were peaches, figs, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, grapes etc. in the garden. Did a small trip up in the mountains to a village called Generalskoe. There is a waterfall a little higher up which I visited. Carried the bicycle to the waterfall and entered the pond while a Russian lady took two pictures with me standing at the bicycle and with the cold water hammering on my head. Else went for a swim in the Black Sea, looked a the beach beauties, ate, relaxed, slept and so on. When on the beach I watched two young people who just for fun threw stones as close as possible toward their friend who was in the sea . Eventually one of them hit her right in the head with a hearable impact. She got very angry and shouted for a while at the offenders.
Cycled to Sudak - involved about 1500 m ascent in blazing sun but terrain is as already said very scenic. Plenty of wine growing, occasionally almond trees along the road. Sudak is a medium sized tourist spot with little of interest except a castle. Numerous restaurants and street hawkers. Found accommodation for three dollars. By the way, at the outskirts of Crimean tourist spots people sit at the road and advertize rooms or flats for hire. It is no problem finding good and inexpensive accommodation along the Ukrainian Black Sea coast.
Rode to Feodosia the day after. Stopped to look at some strange-looking outcrops with trace of copper-carbonates, pyrite and low-temperature quartz. Saw at this locality the biggest wild-living snake I´ve ever seen, maybe more than 1.5 m long. Got installed in Feodosia the same nice place as first time I was there. There are two rooms for hire in this place, the other was occupied by a sympathetic piano player from Kharkov and her sister and nephew. They were vegetarians and invited me to dine with them one evening. As is the case everywhere along the Crimean coast there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants in Feodosia, one can get a delicious meal for less than 10 Hryvnia, especially if a Stolovaya is frequented. Stayed in Feodosia for two days to recuperate and figure out whether or not it was possible to ride the Arabatskaya Strielka - some policemen told me it was possible, but only during good weather, on rare occasions the dirt road might be flooded in its northern end.
Next day (July 5th) I started cycling the 40 km towards the Arabatskaya Strielka, which is a 120 long sand spit, sometimes only a few hundred metres wide. It connects the eastern part of Crimea with the Ukrainian mainland. Reached the start of the sand spit at about 8 o´clock in the morning. Before that I had seen several hoopoes, 9 quails (?), a couple of hares, several predatory birds etc. By the way; during six months in Ukraine the only edible wildlife I saw was one deer, five hares and the above quails. Obviously most edible wildlife was shot long ago. On the other hand Ukraine has denser populations of inedible wildlife than other European countries I have been in. Especially there are giant populations of frogs, lizards, storks, herons, many types of insects and much more. In Soljanoe in the south end of the sand spit I bought 2½ ltr more water in a store without sign, it was just a house like the other ones in that village. So I had about 5 ltr water at the onset. The roads on the sand spit are dirt roads and for a large part made of shell sand, about 30-40 percent is riffled like a wash board limiting speed and making riding quite uncomfortable. I was happy to have a suspension seat post. Still, it was very interesting riding. There are 2-3-4 largely parallel dirt roads because when one gets too rough another is formed. Between Soljanoe in the south and Strelkovoe in the north there are no trees, only different types of halofile low vegetation. Saw maybe as much as 1000 lizards (several each minute), minimum 500 cormorants, different heron species, and numerous scarabs rolling manure balls. But most interesting was the big mole-like insect (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa) that came walking on the dirt road and had been mutilated by maybe a bird. Do not know English name for this strange insect, which I had never seen before. Two times I was passed by a car, and passed four or five houses, else there were no signs of human activity. Did 80 km on the sand spit during the first day but it felt much longer. Found accommodation in Strelkovoe in a Turbasa which is a Soviet-age holiday resort of good standard, especially considering how little it costs, only 7 Hryvnia in Strelkovoe. There are plenty of Turbases in Ukraine. I got a single room in a barrack. There was luke warm water in the sun heated shower. Later went down to the Azov Sea for a swim, the water was maybe as much as 25 °C, thus much warmer than the Black Sea water. Then back to the Turbasa where a Caucasian refugee had a bar serving shashlyk. There is another and much larger Turbasa closer to the Sea, got excellent supper in its cantina for 4.8 Hryvnia (less than one US$) and consequently ate twice, still abnormal appetite. That day I drank about 6-7 liters extra due to the heat - above 30 °C in the shadow. In my barrack there were also three Ukrainians - two women and one man in their early thirties. In the evening I shared a bottle of wine (they paid) with them. They claimed they had lost their money when swimming, a lie of course and an alarm signal, so I wanted to retreat to my room early. When announcing that I would leave, the single-woman (the other two were together they said) asked if I wanted to go for a walk with her. I declined and went to brush my teeth. Upon returning she asked me to sit down for a few minutes. I did, and discovered that she now weared nothing but a T-shirt. She repeated her offer, pity the situation was fishy. Eventually the camp administrator arrived and offered a room in another barrack but I reckoned being able to handle the situation, then went to bed.
Continued next day at 5 o´clock a.m. to avoid any troubles with the three other inhabitants of the barrack. Next 20 km on the sand spit were poor riding because of the wash board texture of the road. Last 20 km were paved however. After Strelkove there are plenty of Turbasas etc. On the whole; riding this strange geographical phenomenon was one of the more memorable experiences I had in Ukraine. When reaching the mainland I stopped at a store in a village to relax and refuel on water and ice cream. At the entrance to the store there was a big beetle, the one with a horn like a rhinoceros (Oryctes nasicornis). Interesting insect I had not seen before. When arriving in Melitopol I had the usual problem finding accommodation as there were no rooms in the station, and only one hotel, called Hotel Melitopol. I reckoned being able to find inexpensive accommodation at the coast if I rode an extra 46 km, so when the receptionist in Hotel Melitopol told me to pay extra for being a foreigner, I told her what I thought about being discriminated against. At that time my "Ukrainian-receptionist-fobia" was fully developed. Then cycled the 46 km down to the coast at the Azov Sea, stopping only to have supper in Priazovske. There are several Turbasas at Novokostjantinivka. Went into the first one and asked if I could stay there for a night. The director was called in and asked in a polite and formal way what I wanted. Accommodation for one night I said. 36 Hryvnia for a single room and three meals he said. I paid and was shown the room by the young lady Darja who despite being only 13 spoke excellent English. Got up early next morning and went for a swim in the Azov Sea. Then headed for the cantina and got good and nutritious breakfast. The lunch was of equal quality. Being exhausted from the 180 km the previous day I desisted from cycling to Berdyansk that day, and asked if I could stay for yet another night. That was no problem and did not even cost extra. Just outside the gate vendors sold food much of which was home-grown. In the afternoon I was told to evacuate the room because they wanted to exterminate bugs. When returning three hours later spiders and other insects were dying - a sad sight. Bought breakfast from the street vendors for the following morning. Supper in the evening was as good as the other meals I had at this Turbasa. Had yet another meal later in the house of the life guard - Darjas father, and her mother. The former supplied his income with selling dry fish to the tourists. When dried these small bottom-dwelling fish look like deep-sea monsters. I was told that a Western cyclist had been interviewed in Ukrainian television a couple of days before - that was why the director was called in when I checked in.
Continued next morning (July 8th) to Berdyansk. Ate breakfast in Priazovske while I for a moment considered going to Zaporishya to avoid the headwind. But as it is easier finding accommodation along the coast I continued eastwards. Had to keep to the big and boring roads as I had no 1:200,000 map of this part of Ukraine. Strong headwind again but reached Berdyansk in the late afternoon. Went into a hotel and was as usual met by a receptionist trying to squeeze an additional 100% out of me for being a foreigner. I had claimed I was Russian but was not believed. Consequently continued to the eastside of the Berdyanska Kosa (the Berdyansk sand spit) where there are Turbasas. Paid 7 or 8 Hryvnia (1.5US$) to the sympathetic manager for a comfortable cabin, and there was no shit about where I came from or passport or the like. Then went to the beach for a swim in the turbid and warm sea, and later to a cafe for supper.
After good breakfast in the Turbasa cantina I continued along and as close as possible to the coast. Rode through a big abandoned military base between Novopetrivka and Urzuf. Beautiful coast that is eroded by the Azov Sea, thus delivering the sediment for the build-up of the six larger sand spits along the coast. Urzuf is a holiday resort with plenty of Turbasas and private accommodation. The same goes for Jalta (yes, there is more than one Jalta in Ukraine) and Melekine further eastwards. In Mariupol I only succeeded in finding expensive hotels (200 Hryvnia or more), then tried my luck at the station. They did have rooms but not for foreigners. Foreigners must stay in the hotels they told me. Why? I asked. It is a rule we have, they replied. I asked if I could see this rule in print and was shown a list of rules hanging on the wall. There was nothing about foreigners not being allowed. No! it is just a rule we have they replied. Got angry and told them my opinion about their mentality. I was about to give up and return to Melekine but first wanted to see Mariupol. On a staircase I spotted two women and asked if they knew of any private accommodation. They did not but invited me to have tea with them. Later on one of them invited me to sleep in her bedroom - she would sleep in another room (not on my request). I asked how much that would cost, she did not knew but asked how much I found reasonable. 30 Hryvnia I suggested. She looked as if I had said something strange and I thought she was impressed by my generosity. That was not the case however, she claimed she could make 30 Hryvnia in an hour in the open air market. So she wanted 10 US$ (55 Hryvnia) which I paid. She then served delicious holybtsi and more tea and chocolate. Later I went to the shower, there was hot water. The friendly and sympathetic woman ironed my shirt claiming that I could not show myself in Mariupol in a wrinkled shirt. The bicycle was stored in the other womans house which underwent restauration.
Continued to Donetsk on the highway as I had no detailed maps. Passed a big polluting magnesite smelter. At the Mariupol city limit there is a big statue of a musculous steel worker, hero of past times. About 30 km south of Donetsk the first coal mines appeared. Later the terrain looked like a volcanic landscape with piles of waste rock resembling small volcanoes. The area is called the Don-basin and is the Ukrainian core-industrial area because of huge coal fields. When arriving in Donetsk, a good-looking city once called Stalino, I ran into the usual problem. The receptionists either wanted to overcharge me despite I claimed being from Latvia, or there was no available room. I had not succumbed to the double-pricing mentality during three weeks, and did not in Donetsk either. So, being more than tired of receptionists I took the over-night bus to Odessa - it´s at the Black Sea and I reckoned being able to find inexpensive private accommodation there. Departed the bus next morning in Kobleve 57 km east of Odessa and headed for the coast. In Yuzne, which I erroneously took for being a nuclear-power city (it seemed identical to the town Yuznoukrainsk where there is a nuclear power plant), the receptionist tried to overcharge me. Consequently continued along the coast and passed a huge plant. At a bus stop outside the plant I told two women that I was an American spy and that I wanted to know what the plant produced. Toilets, they said. A little later a sign said the plant made fertilizers. Found private accommodation in the village Fontanka, 10 Hryvnia, and 50 m from the Black Sea. The owner sold me milk from her cow. Shared a bottle of wine in the evening with three Ukrainians in their mid-twenties. Stopped one of them from killing two spiders, he did not like being physically stopped from killing them, so he was a little difficult thereafter. The three Ukrainians longed for the old days despite they were so young, life during Breshnevian reign was good I was told. Their view on Ukraine and their fellow countrymen was overall negative, alcoholism and unemployment are over 50% they said. None of them liked the Ukrainian president Kutjma, they claimed he was the cause of all Ukraine´s problems. Well, being only one out of 48 million Ukrainians, Kutjma simply cannot be the sole cause.
Went to Odessa the day after. O.K.-looking city with numerous restaurants. Passed hotel and went inside just to see what would happen. Asked if there was a single room? NO! How much does a double room for one person then cost? WE DO NOT ALLOW THAT!, she said. THEN FORGET IT! I said and started retreating to the street. FUCK YOU! she shouted and I replied similarly. Regrettably I could not come up with something more insulting than the primitive FUCK YOU, but she took me with surprise. When starting cycling in Ukraine in the early spring I was friendly and polite when addressing the receptionists but after a lot of negative experiences I got quite hostile. If it was not their attempts to double-charge me for being Westerner, they would argue against me wanting to store the bicycle in the room. And it was not because the bicycle was dirty, I always cleaned it prior to entering the receptions. Maybe they thought I looked like a vagabond. In the eyes of most of the receptionist it was the most natural thing in the world that a Westerner pays an extra 100%. O.K., not all Ukrainian receptionist were rude, in small towns there sometimes were no problems.
Took bus to Chernivtsy just north of the Carpathians next day. The ticket set me back 50 Hryvnia. Cycle was stored in the rear of the bus on a big metal-object covered by a carpet. After two hours one of the bus-tires exploded and it took six hours to fix it. In the meantime I had a long conversation in English with a sympathetic O.K.-English speaking lady. As there was no artifical light the Milky Way was very distinct. At about ten o´clock next morning I discovered that a criminal had unscrewed the rear light from my bicycle. Got irritated and told it to the driver during a coffee break. When the bus was back on the road an older co-driver rose and said that a red rear light had been stolen from the American tourist - he meant me, and that he would now personally inspect every bag in the bus. That was definitely not very popular among the innocent ones I could understand, but one of those sitting close to my bicycle, and probably knowing the criminal, said that if given a few minutes he would see to that I got my rear light back. And so happened, after a few minutes he handed it over to me. Yet a miracle. Cannot imagine I would have got it back many other places. 100 km before Chernivtsy the bus had a mechanical problem preventing it from driving more than 40 km an hour, so the bus arrived at 14.30 instead of 8.00. Wearing only sandals my feet got swollen during the many hours in the bus - twentytwo hours, but it was an interesting trip.
Rode to Vishnitsa (July 14th) at the margin of the Carpathians and got installed in Hotel Nika where I had stayed first time I was there. The receptionists in this hotel are friendly and normal, and a double room only costs 12 Hryvnia - meaning two guests can stay for 6 Hryvnia each. There is even a hot shower in the corridor and the toilets are definitely worth a visit. There is washing machine in a room which should be of interest to a location manager. Got a delicious supper across the square in the evening, Vishnitsa is a nice place to rest and recuperate.
Had a great ride next day - up on the mountain pastures with their fantastic flora and through roadless valleys. Very very beautiful, yet another area that has to be experienced. Highest point was 1313 masl so it was a 1000 m climb. Passed the village Putila and its hotel with beds for only 8 Hryvnia (the receptionist was friendly and normal). Saw a black stork fishing in some ponds in a river bed, first time I have seen this bird. In the evening I was invited to eat with three Belarusians also staying in the hotel. Good food and company. After a couple of hours I left to fix a mechanical problem that due to my neglect had developed over the last days. The screw tightening the chainset to the bottom bracket axle had worked loose causing a tiresome noise. Fixed it, I thought then, by wrapping paper around the axle. Much later I found out of that the problem had nothing to do with the bottom bracket, instead it was related to the thread on the pedals.
After resting one day in Vishnitsa I cycled towards Tatariv - because I knew a good hotel there from the first time I was in the Carpathians. Rode through Koziv this time as opposed to over Marinichi. It was a hot day resulting in the tire patterns getting imprinted in the tarmac. Between Verkhovina and Vorokhta I passed a road sign saying Hoverla 14 km, Hoverla is at 2060 m Ukraines highest mountain. As the clock was only 13 I decided to see how far I could get. 1.5 km up the initially paved road there is a good-looking assemblage of wooden houses one of which is a Turbasa. This village is called Vorokhta, as is four other nearby places. At the gate to the area they had no tickets left so I did not have to pay 5 Hryvnia for entering. After 1.5 hour I was at a big Turbasa at the end of the dirt road. I paid 25 Hryvnia for a bed in a three-bed room and went to the restaurant and got a meal for only 5 Hryvnia. I got the impression that I was the only tourist. Then decided to run up to the top of Hoverla, 600 m vertically and on a good foot path taking 55 minutes. Beautiful view from the top. Could see far into Romania. Four ravens circling the top sounded like aeroplanes, no doubt they enjoyed flying. Two young Chech hikers were also on the top. The descent took about 45 minutes, ran the first 10 minutes in order to overtake the Chechs who had started the descent ahead of me. Then a cold shower in the Turbasa. In the bar the two Chechs and four Poles had gathered. The Poles told me that the Ukrainian part of the Carpathians was once Polish territory. At about 20 o´clock I went to the restaurant for supper - the receptionist had told me it was open at that time. However, there she told me that the restaurant was only open for the about 20 construction workers, and that I could buy some crackers in the bar if I was hungry! I told her that under these circumstances I would terminate my stay and have my 25 Hryvnia returned. I got them after the receptionist had checked that I had not or would not destroy anything in the room. At the same time the Chechs and Poles were getting ready to walk down to another Turbasa because they felt the 25 Hryvnia per person were unreasonable expensive. After two hours I reached the nice hotel in Tatariv. It was closed but the friendly owner opened it and served an excellent supper setting me back 22 hryvnia. I asked him if I could buy milk for my breakfast, he did not have any milk at that time but asked when I wanted it. At 8 o´clock next morning I said, and at 8 o´clock a woman delivered one liter of milk fresh from the cow. A double room in this hotel costs 50 Hryvnia (9US$), the standard is really really good and the bicycle was safely stored. Best accommodation I had in Ukraine.
The descent from Hoverla had been hard on my legs, and I was not in the mood for much cycling next day. Went into a good-looking Turbasa in Jacinya but it was closed, so continued to Rakhiv - geographical center of Europe. The hotel I had stayed in first time I was in Rakhiv, was full I was told - probably a lie. Then went to the railway station and paid only 7 Hryvnia for a good single room. Contrary to Crimea I saw no signs of private accommodation in the Carpathians. In the evening a retarded man got angry after having been carried away a few metres by two others. In his anger he hit himself in the head with a large stone and the blood flowed, but after 6-7 minutes an ambulance picked him up. Met him later in the station, he was still visibly upset and promised to revenge the humiliation he had suffered. To me it seemed his two assailants had actually saved him when carrying him away from the two thugs he had approached. At that time I was tired of being in Ukraine and my visa would soon expire. So on July 18th I disassembled the bicycle and packed it down in the backpack, i.e. no more cycling on this trip - 2242 km since departing from Mironivka one month earlier. I then took the night-train to Lviv - leaving at two in the night and costing 20 Hryvnia. The train compartment was shared with an alcoholic but he was friendly and posed no problem.
Arrived in Lviv at noon next day, and called an American academic I knew from Kyiv. She had advised me about two hotels with acceptable prices - 40 Hryvnia for a single. Installed myself in Hotel Vlasta - there was no shit about double pricing. First hotel in a large city that did not try to overcharge me. Went out to look at the city - the best-looking one I saw in Ukraine. Next morning I met with the American academic for breakfast at McDonalds, to try figuring out whether or not we could organise a trip to the Carpathians. Unfortunately, going there from Lviv within the given time frame was difficult so that idea was not realized. Bought a bus ticket to Warsaw next day and arrived there on July 23rd. There were no problems at the Ukrainian-Polish border. From there back to Scandinavia. Wish I was still on the Ukrainian roads!!
ON THE BOTTOM LINE/PRACTICALS
Visa; getting an Invitation (the first step in the visa procedure) was complicated for individual travellers when I got mine in January 2001. Since then there have been rumours about the Invitation no longer being necessary. Once inside Ukraine one can go everywhere. When in Ukraine I considered riding home through Russia, but after having waited at the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for several hours and heard about 120 US$ fees - still with a 7-days wait, I gave up. Ukraine and Russia would get much more tourism if they just charged (the money issue is obviously very important!) the tourists at the borders.
Maps; good and inexpensive 1:200,000 topographic maps are available in large bookshops on the main tourist street Kreshatik in Kyiv, they cost 2-3 Hryvnia, do not count on finding them elsewhere. A road atlas called something like "Ukraina, Atlas Aftomobilnikh Schlyakif" 1:1,000,000 provides detailed maps of larger Ukrainian cities, showing hotels, museums, bus and train stations, hospitals, churches etc.
Accommodation; hotels in larger Ukrainian cities are best avoided due to their discriminatory double-pricing (or worse) of Westerners, but sometimes there is no other option. Before surrendering to a "large-city-receptionist" one might A) inquire for a room (called komnata otdhikaet) in the railway stations, B) ask people in the street if they know of any private accommodation, or C) take an over-night bus. Outside the Kyiv main railway station old ladies advertize rooms. Hotels in minor towns are sometimes O.K. and do not discriminate against Westerners. Along the Black Sea coast there is no need for staying in hotels - instead go for the private sector rooms or flats, or the Turbasas, where a good clean bed costs as little as 1-5 US$. I do not think a higher quality/price ratio is found elsewhere in Europe. Getting a towel was never a problem. Important; look for alternative accommodation if you are not allowed to store your bicycle indoor.
Language; few Ukrainians are willing or able to speak English or German, so knowing some Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet make matters easier.
Public transportation; one of the really good things about cycling in Ukraine is the ease with which one can get a bicycle on board buses and local trains. The service is mostly free of charge, else cheap. My bicycle is equipped with S&S-machine torque couplers enabling it to be split in two halves thus easing it´s storage in the luggage compartment under the buses. Sometimes I did not even have to split the bicycle as the driver allowed it to be stored in the rear of the bus, or the luggage compartment was big enough to swallow the bicycle without any disassembly. The bus drivers did what they could to get my bicycle on board. I took the bicycle on local trains to and from Kyiv on two occasions, it was completely uncomplicated and costing something like a quarter of a dollar for a 150 km ride. I never tried getting the bicycle (except completely disassembled and then not bigger than a suitcase) on board regional trains but they may be equally good - Ukrainians transport a lot of stuff when travelling, including bicycles. In Kyiv I saw ponies boarding a trolleybus. One can even get one´s bicycle on board the Dnepr river boats.
Food; domestic products are cheap. The highest quality/price ratio is in the Stolovaya´s - a kind of "peoples kitchen" or cantina. There is a lot of fresh fruit for sale along the roads in the countryside. Ukrainian ice cream is delicious and costs half a Hryvnia (0.1US$) for a "Stakan". Bottled water is readily available. In certain larger cities there are artesian springs with drinking water. Generally I ate whatever I wanted everywhere, and suffered from mild diarrhoea only once but there are pharmacies selling Imodeum on literally every corner. Hotels in larger cities commonly have a bar or restaurant selling breakfast of a kind that is inadequate for cyclists. I usually brought my own milk and muesli. A peculiar habit is that many if not most Ukrainians constantly eat sun-flower seeds, this results in that there are sun-flower seed shells everywhere.
Toilets; Ukrainian public toilets are exotic, sometimes unforgettable. Bring toilet paper, 65 m cost 0.5 Hryvnia.
Money; there are cash dispensers in Ukrainian towns and cities. There are currency exchange offices everywhere. I spent about 70 Hryvnia (12 US$) a day, more when staying in hotels in larger cities, less in Crimea. US-dollars may sometimes be used.
Safety; Ukrainians warned me several times from cycling alone in Ukraine. Nothing ever happened, I felt safe all the time and everywhere - except just after I had been warned against all kinds of terrible dangers. There were a couple of situations that might have developed unpleasantly but I left in time. During 6 months I had my bicycle and my rear light stolen - both times I got them back. I should think cycling in Ukraine is as safe as cycling in Denmark, but in the latter one is unlikely to get the bicycle back if stolen. Bring a picture of the bicycle to show the police. Ukrainian dogs chase cyclists but that is actually great fun, they never tried biting me. Do not kick them!
Road conditions; most roads are O.K. and enable daily distances of 100-200 km to be undertaken. Dirt roads often offer the most interesting riding, but when wet they are really unpleasant. The only serious problem was the extremely muddy dirt roads around the Hoverla in the Carpathians. Potholes are deep and common in the cities. The smaller roads are little trafficked, but on the highways one is sometimes overtaken by cars driving >150 km/h. Some drivers are not too clever, ruthlessness occurs. Sign posting is sometimes sparse so basic map reading skills are required, a compass comes in handy. An interesting feature along Ukrainian roads are the numerous memorials or graves - places where somebody was killed in a car accident (usually a 18-30 year old male). Sometimes a steering wheel is part of the "decoration", there may also be a picture of the unfortunate. Another interesting feature is that most roads, squares and occasionally villages are named after persons, events or objects held dear by socialists; Lenin, Iljitj, Engels, Kirov, Karl Marx, Schmidt, Dzerzhinsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Kalinin, Karl Liebknecht, Frunze, Sverdlov, Patrice Lumumba, The Heroes of Stalingrad, Gagarin, Pioneer, Komsomolsk, Worker, Proletarian, Factory, Victory, Freedom, Decembrists, Patriot, Kollektivist, Revolution, Progress, People´s Friendship, Cooperative, Komintern, October, Record, Rocket, or the Ukrainian and Russian writers Shevshenko, Franka, Pushkin or Tolstoi. Even the smallest village has streets bearing these names.
Bicycle; I rode a dedicated touring bicycle though a standard-quality bicycle suffices. My wheels are 26 inch. 1.75 inch tires work, 1.9 inch is better though. In total I suffered 7-8 flats, mostly caused by the tires I initially rode on. They were 1.5 inch and too skinny, with 1.9 inch tires I had no flats. Standard size tires (mtb or road) are not too difficult to find in Ukraine, Polish slicks for 34 Hryvnia were bought in Kyiv. Mudguards are necessities, as is sufficient mudguard clearance. Mounting a long mudflap on the front mudguard saves the drivetrain from much dirt. A suspension seat post adds to comfort when riding on e.g. the Arabatskaya Strielka. S&S-Machine torque couplers are really practical on a travel bike. The chainset was 26-36-48 and the cassette 11-34, more than sufficient for all conditions. In Kyiv and Odessa, and probably most larger cities, there are bike-shops with adequate selections of spares, in the countryside little of that kind is found, so bring basic tools and spare parts. I rode around with a spare tire but never used it, it had been smarter buying one if necessary. I had a kerosene-filled Sigg bottle in which the chain was submerged and cleaned when necessary. The kerosene was also used for cleaning the chainset and cassette. One might consider buying a Ukrainian or Belarussian bicycle instead of bringing one´s own. They can be purchased for less than 500 Hryvnia (90US$) including pump and basic tools. Some of them are with two racks even set up for touring. I should think they would be up to the job under most Ukrainian conditions except in the mountains, and one would not have to worry so much about theft and about getting one's own bicycle to and fro Ukraine. Furthermore, spare parts of eastern European origin are readily available everywhere and unbelievably cheap. The loads Ukrainians carry on their bicycles are impressive, no wonder the frames are so often distorted.
Luggage; the longer I cycled in Ukraine the less stuff I realized I needed. Had I cycled in summer only, one pannier and a handlebar bag had sufficed. The Ukrainian summer is hot, especially along the Black Sea, so there is no need for warm clothes. It does not rain much either, so rain gear may also be omitted. Very little chothes are needed if they are washed nearly every day - ordinary Ukrainian hand soap works fine.
Literature; little is printed about travelling in Ukraine - Lonely Planet probably being the most updated. There is nothing about cycling in Crimea or the Ukrainian part of the Carpathians, not even in Russian or Ukrainian tongue. Except on the internet I found nothing about bicycling in Ukraine, which seems to be in a kind of vacuum when it comes to information about tourism, and about bicycling in particular. A shame as it is such an interesting country.
Peter Wulff, Tranekaer, Denmark