Cycling in East Europe (Tallinn – Odessa)
You can read the background for this cycle experience on another page here.
June 11, 2011
SwedenI left Eskilstuna just after seven because I knew that it may take some time to reach Stockholm. I always find it difficult to plan a trip when I have a fix time to comply to. In my case 17:45m when the boat to Tallinn is leaving Stockholm.When I cycled 70 km in 3.5 hours, I felt that i will make it. I will easily to reach Stockholm on time. I could be in Stockholm already at 3 PM. But then I had no idea it would take time from Södertälje, that I would get a flat tire on the rear wheel and the headwind for 70 km. In addition, I took the wrong way into Stockholm which also delayed me. I arrived at Belgobar 4.30 instead of 3.15. I took one beer with Linn, my daughter and boyfriend, and went to the ferry terminal. Come to the boat and here I have now had a bath, sauna, and Saku beer.Inexperienced travellers have bike mishaps. In my case I forgot my cellphone. Realized when I approached Strängnäs. In Läggesta I called home and Linn took it to Stockholm. Together with pepper spray as I promised Angel to have with me.
EstoniaIt is hot in Estonia, too hot to ride. Soon it is five in the afternoon and I have biked 64 km. When the boat came to Tallinn up I looked out at a bike shop because I needed an extra inner tube and an Estonia map. The good man in the shop gave me, as I thought, good instructions how I would get to Tartu. But either I am stupid on map reading or I got weird directions, I did an unnecessary detour round Tallinn for 24 km.Now I am sitting in a bar in Alavere with free Wifi. Eating a hamburger and drinking beer. I will continue for two hours before I stop for the night wildcamping.It’s so hot here so the roads are boiling in the heat. Asphalt stick on the wheels and stones stuck in the tires. My shoes make marks in the asphalt.
After two Saku it was time to leave the pub because it was closing time. I continued along the proposed route. After a few miles so I heard a clunk sound. I first thought it was dirt stuck in the front wheel. But it was the smallest chain ring that lost four bolts. As I stood there by the roadside to figure out what to do, a somehow old man in a somehow old car stopped. Quickly, he turned the bike up and down. I managed to save the camera and water bottles. He immediately saw the error and thought that he can fix it, after all, he was an auto mechanic, he said.I had fixed the chain ring with gaffa tape but that he rejected immediately. Wait, he said, wait here I’ll get help. I waited ten minutes and had just begun to put the bags on the bike again. He was probably gone, I thought. Yes, he had been drinking a bit before I felt. But he came back with his car, with son, daughter in law and grandson and a trailer. Quickly we threw the bike on the trailer and drove away. But wrong direction, where I just came from. Maybe after 6-7 km we came to his place.
He took the bike into the garage and started to rummage for bolts. But all wrong. I said, we can position the chain ring with the last bolt, using cable traps to hold it on place and I can handle it in Tartu. Then they wanted to invite me food, I kindly declined. You would have done the same if you have seen that kitchen. I wanted to fill with water and I filled the big bottles. But the man took the small bottles and filled with juice instead. I don’t like to drikn sweet liquid when I cycle. Everything went wrong even though they wanted so much. Continued to Alaverte where I pitched my tent behind the cultural building. But it was impossible to sit outside for all the mosquitoes. Went to bed before ten and read my book.
Today, I continued to Tartu. Not really much to say about the day’s stage more than that it was alternately dry and wet. The last two hours were in the pouring rain. Found quickly tourist information office and they told me about a Hostel right on the square for 15 Euro night. So here I am. The bike is repaired and I am planning the next stage to Valga/Valka.Jun 17, 2011LatviaI left Tartu early morning because I knew it would be a long day on the bike. Out of Tartu I took wrong turn and had to cycle 5 kilometer on a gravel road to get to main road to Otepää. Landscape changed a little to be more rolling hills. If it was not cultivated land it was forest. I was alone on the road and many times I was thinking where all the people are. I guess I know, they are either in city’s like Tallinn or Riga if they are not abroad working. Most times leaving children alone with grandparents.I came to Otepää about lunchtime. Opepää is famous for its winter sports. Duathlon and cross country skiing. I guess it is famous for something else also but for me Otepää is wintersports.I came to Valga/Valka late in the afternoon. Got me some food in a restaurant and decided it was time to look for night shelter. But first some food shopping. In supermarket Maxima I found my needed things. I Continued a few km when I saw something that looked like a deserted farmhouse, a perfect place for pitching my tent there. But it was not deserted. A young man and probably his mother were living there. It was no problem to put my tent in their garden anyway.
It started to rain again at night and I got up early to continue. Now I am in Latvia, my second country.A strong headwind slowed me down all day and I came outside Rauna and pitched my tent on a rest area in the forest. For first time mosquito free.
Day after I continued towards Riga. When I came to A2/E77 and had to follow that road into Riga. Sometimes it was a shoulder to ride on but most of the time I had to stay only inches from gravel on the side with big trucks almost touching me on the other side. When I had about 30 km left it started to rain again. Came into Riga and found a cycle path. Don’t know if I missed an exit or not but I ended up in a logistic center DPD.
Jun 22, 2011
I Have finally arrived to Vilnius. But let me continue where I left you, in Riga. I took the opportunity to be a tourist before I continued my journey south towards Odessa. Also took the opportunity to stock up food for the four-day cycling and camping. Found AXA one-portion serving packaged oatmeal with fruit. Just pour water into the bowl and as well a 3 in 1 a coffee pouch.Now I cycled east so it went with great speed until the evening. This time I pitched my tent at an abandoned farm.
Left Riga with the aim of Jelgava. Came surprisingly easy out of town and followed road 100. Suddenly road ended, nowhere to go. I don’t know if the road was there before the railway, or opposite. Saw on the other side of the track that the road continued there. Nothing to do but carry the bike over the double tracks. Full packing and carrying of 40 kg bicycle and equipment over double track, heavy I thought.
I came to Jelgava at noon. Found a pizza place in the pedestrian area. Suddenly, Roger from Trosa came up. He saw my Swedish flag on the bike. – Is it you who was on the radio last week? He asked. He had heard that I would ride to Odessa and now he sees me in Jelgava. I continued towards the border to Lithuania. It was endless cycling here. Flat landscapes no hills. The last 7 km to the border was a dirt road. I came to the border at about 5 pm.The first thing I wanted to do when I crossed the border was to change money. But where do you do it on a Saturday evening in a small town.
Well, you go to an ATM that had been placed strategically next to a bus stop. When I got my money, I got called up by Ingrid. She had seen my Swedish flag, and wanted to offer me a cup of coffee. Why not, I thought. I went with them to their house. There was the grandmother, mother, sister and four small children. After coffee we talked about general things when Ingrid asked if I wanted to have supper. They would barbecue. Sure, I thought why not. Better than pasta with tomato sauce. The rain came when the grill was lit as we stand under a tree with an umbrella for protection. After dinner we talked some more and then suggested Neringia that we would take a short walk to see a house that was decorated with household items. The house decorations turned out to be very interesting. Do you want to sleep under a roof instead of a tent, asked the sisters later? Sure, I want, I thought. Better that than a wet tent. Because now it rained really hard.
Next day I continued to Siauliai and the famous hill with the many crosses. There was a constant headwind or diagonally from the front wind all day so I did not arrive until the afternoon. It is a strange place, more than 50,000 large cross and an untold number of small crosses on a small hill in the middle of an agricultural landscape. The big attraction was obviously that the Pope was here 1993. As tourist thing it is the more interesting for Catholics than for atheists, believe me. I continued towards Siaulia center where I ate a lunch.
Day three from Riga is not much to say about. Lunch Stop in Kėdainiai. Last night before Vilnus camp was in rural areas near the river Neris. It had rained a little during the afternoon and night.Vera, from hospitalityClub.org meets me in the evening and we spent the evening at a nice restaurant with local food. This was the first time I paid 140 000 for a meal. Don’t be chocked, it’s not more than 15 Euro.
Only 77 km to Vilnius according to the map. But not in reality, in Elektrėnai there were no bicycle lane to ride beside the new highway, which I was anticipated. Turned north in Vievis on a road I thought take me to A2. But no, after 5 km on this rain-soaked dirt road, I realized that it is completely wrong direction. Turned back, took a different route to the east, and after another 7 km on dirt road, I came finally to A2. During the day there were several showers which meant that quickly take cover under trees in about 10 min. When I arrived at A2 then it rained again. The last 31 km was slow in the rain.
Nature until Elektenai was flat and open, but from there to Vilnius the rolling hills took over. Level changes of 40-60 meters or 6% slope on slopes that were nearly km long.I Finally arrived in Vilnius after 120 km, not 70 km but where is Jimmy Jumps hostel? I had no map but a description in the computer. Took a stop a cafe, ordered a beer and opened Word. Wrote down the address and started to ask around for directions. Finally got help from two policemen. We were two streets away then. Today I have been resting and walking around. Taking pictures and load up for three days cycling to Berezhinzky Biosphere Reserve.
Jul 03, 2011
BelarusIt was raining in Vilnius, when I was supposed to leave early morning. I Sat on Jimmy Jumps House and waited. I went to a bank to get some Belarus rubles, but they didn’t have any, decided to get some Euros instead. At 11 o’clock the rain had stopped so I packed the bike and started towards the border, which was 31 km away.
Entering Belarus is easy when at the border. The problem is to get a visa. How to get a visa you can read on other Internet pages. In my case, i have a business friend who works with Belarus. His contact in Minsk signed the invitation letter for me. Therefore I got a Business visa. Next thing to remember it that you have to report to the police your address within 5 working days. But if you do that then you have to report all changes as well. Since I did not have any hotel booked this was a problem for me to solve. More about this later.
I came to the border. 800 meter of trucks and 300 m of cars waiting to pass the border inspection. Moments like this it is good to have a bike and I could easily pass the whole line. When I was starting looking for my medical certificate an official waved me off and I was in Belarus for the first time. A 10 km long descent began shortly after passage and I averaged over 20 km/h. First task was to find a map of Belarus. I found it at a gas station after about 7 km. The next task was a bit harder, to change Euro to Rubles. In Svir the bank was closed because it was already after 4 pm. I Continued a f few km to pitch my tent for the night. This time I put it up inside a road side resting hut. It was almost impossible to be outside the tent. Constantly I was attacked by big aggressive mosquitoes.
The day after I continued east towards Miadziel where I finally got my rubles. The course was 7700 rubles for 1 euro. The landscape here is hilly with forests and cultivated land varied. Levitation is not great but it might be high anyway. The typical small villages you have seen on TV, there was an abundance of. Striking was that I saw mostly older people. Later on I found out that young people move to Minsk and other major cities to work, or even emigraste to the west I stopped for the day 20 km west of Doksycy.
Day three I continued cycling towards Berezhisky Biosphere Reserve. I Come to the park entrance and continued. But I had read the instructions wrong (how unusual). After 7 km, I realized it was wrong way. I had to turn back, 14 km unnecessarily cycling. I should continue another 5 km on the M3 to get to the hotel road. Well, found the road and the hotel is located 6 km into the forest. Come up to a gate with a gatekeeper. – No you cannot get in, he said in Russian. (I think anyway) the gate was not opened for me anyway. (later on after returning to Sweden someone told me that I was outside the Presidents summer house.)
A bit pissed off I returned to M3 road. A further 22 km in vain. What to do. I could not argue with the Russians who cannot speak English. I was 127 km from Minsk. I decided to cover at least halve the distance before nightfall.
I cycled then the M3 towards Minsk in the company of Russian, Belarus and Lithuanian trucks and numerous cars.Come to Lohojsk at 18:30 and stopped for a beer. I decided to pitch my tent just outside the city. About 200 meters of the road behind bushes next to a large field of wheat I put up my tent.
Continued day after toward Minsk, now with 41 km left. . I passed the exit to Khatyn. I decided to take a look at this famous war memorial place. Now I am glad I did because it is left me with deep emotions. Khatyn became a symbol of mass killings of the civilian population during the fighting between partisans, German troops, and collaborators. In 1969 it was named the national war memorial of the Byelorussian SSR. Among the best-recognized symbols of the memorial complex is a monument with three birch trees, with an eternal flame instead of a fourth tree, a tribute to the one in every four Belarusians who died in the war. There is also a statue of Yuzif Kaminsky carrying his dying son, and a wall with niches to represent the victims of all concentration camps, with large niches representing those with more than 20,000 victims. Bells ring every 30 seconds to commemorate the rate at which Belarusian lives were lost throughout the duration of the Second World War.
When it was 30 km left, I took off from M3 and continued on the smaller P40. When it was 12 km from Minsk I followed a cycle path to the city. Nevertheless, Come to Minsk at 12:30. But I could not find my hostel. At 15:00 I was using the telephone, goggle maps and email to locate my overnight stop. A non-official hostel. It was a two-room apartment where three guests share a room and the hostess use the other room. The price of 15 Euro per night was for free internet access, kettle and shower. I found this very expensive.
Day after Vera helped me taking care of my passport problems. We went to a local police station, but no help there either. Policemen was very friendly and helpful. Helpful in the way he explained the rules. But he could not do anything. The rule is you have to register at a hotel or a police station. You have to give an address to the police. No exceptions for cyclists who wants to camp. Only solution is to use those five days to quickly cycle through Belarus.She showed me the most touristic interesting places, which are few. Rest of the day I used for purchase of food, Internet work and rest.The last night in Minsk, I was invited home to Vera and her family in a suburb. They lived in a typical post Stalin apartment building. In a small two bedroom apartment they were living with two children. According to my western standards they were overcrowded, but for them it was normal. There are different ways to get apartments in Minsk. it depends on whether you have children or not, whether you have money and how long you have aited for public housing.We ate home cooked local food, drank some vodka and beer and had it pretty nice. I took a taxi to the hostel for 30,000 cash, approximately 4 Euro.
I left Minsk unable to get a stamp in my passport. The hostel was not official, the hotels in Minsk could not help and the police could not help me. I decided to leave Minks and go to Kiev. My plan was to go to Gomel in three days and sleep in a hotel there to obtain an official registration. Otherwise, there may be problems at the border. It is 300 km to the Gomel if I follow the nearest road, which I intend to do.In Minsk live 1.8 million people. The city has 12 universities and is Belarus’ educational and cultural center. It has a large industrial production of particular machines, cars, radios and tools. Minsk has lost its importance as one of the former Eastern bloc most important industrial cities in the Soviet Union in 1991.
Under a presidential decree as to any product sold to be of domestic production, I think Vera said.Minsk has two things, wide boulevards and monumental buildings. No wonder when the city was wiped out during the war. Stalin finally had the opportunity to build his ideal city. The buildings will give the impression of a strong united nation. There are two streets that are interesting. Independence Boulevard and the parallel streets, in addition to that, nothing of interest, more than a pathetic attempt to build what they call “old Minsk”. Really builds, for there is as observed no buildings left built before 1945.
According to plan, I would now, in three days cycle to Gomel. Highway to Gomel is not fun to ride. It was an endless open road that lasted for hours, completely monotonous. Took off early in the morning, and was lucky to get some goof tailwind for the first 90 km, average of 21 km / h approximately. At 2 pm the rain came, which haunted me ever since Vilnius. I took shelter in a bus stopr. Took the opportunity to charge my iPod from my PC and read the last book. After two hours, it was a break so I headed towards Babruch. It was a long day, one of the longest. I came to Babruch at 6 pm but nowhere to camp. The rain poured down and everything was wet. Come to the center, found nothing so had to continue, after 1.5 hours, I came through town and started looking for camp.There, a small dirt road on the right. I evaluated its potential. Some houses 100 yards away, 100 m from the road. It would work. I Put the tent behind some bushes. Today I cycled 141 km. Rain held up during the night but the clothes were wet. Fell asleep quickly after noodle soup.The following day it was same monotonous riding through industrialized agricultural landscape. Again the rain forced me to take a two hour break. This time I managed to put up my tent in time outside a cemetery. I Came almost to al the way to Gomel. I camped in a cornfield 40 kilometers north of Gomel. Now the goal was to get to the border the next day instead of staying in Gomel.
Come to the border after some 70 km cycling at noon. No problem to either get out of Belarus or enter Ukraine.I passed Belarus in seven days. I was in Minsk for two days. I managed to leave Belarus within those 5 working days that was a requirement. For cycling Belarus is not the greatest place to be. But at the same time it was fascinating to cycle there. WW II is still there in peoples mind and many monuments. I felt that it affects their impression of Europe.
Jul 18, 2011
After I crossed the border the first question was, where us the ATM. I Stopped at the first cafe and bought me lunch for my few Euros left before I continued into Ukraine towards Kiev, which I expect to arrive in two days.I needed Grihvens for food. Despite all my efforts I could not find any ATM anywhere, and no shop that accepted VISA payment. The first major town is Chernihiv about 70 km from the border. There has to be an ATM. I had some dry food in my panniers so it was no panic and water was free.I stopped for the night outside Ripky.
Next day, when I started to cycle I was caught by an excavator who chugged up to 27 km/h. I quickly speeded up behind it and grabbed the bucket, a little lift is not wrong, I thought. The driver saw me after a few minutes and was, mildly speaking, a little upset. Ok then. I let go but follow him in his tail, thanks to the breeze behind him for about 20 km. Easy ride. When we got to Chernihiv exit I thanked for me. Biked to the center and yes, there was an ATM. Took out my money and went on to look for the exit towards Kiev. Do not know how I rode but it took an hour to find the right way out. Had to ask some local people who all showed different ways. Finally, I asked some policemen and then I was back on the right track.
After Chernihiv, I left the highway and took a smaller road to Kiev. There was nothing exciting about that road. The rain began at lunchtime. I Stopped for lunch inside an abandoned house so lunch was dry anyway. Should I wait or should I go on was the standing issue. I went because the rain was warm and not too much more as a light rain.I came to Desna late afternoon after 110 km cycling; thereof 70 km in rain. Desna is a strange city, surrounded by a two meter high wall with barbed wire on top. Desna is or was a training ground for the Russian tank army. Officers and private lived inside the walls. Today it is only the walls left and the city is open.
I got into the city to find a grocery to get something to eat for the night. I continued in the rain around the city and saw the explanation for the wall. Across the city there were parking and garages for armour and maintenance machines and more. Today is of course the city open.In panic I began to desperately look for a dry place to pitch the tent but nowhere. In the end, 4 km south of the city I hit it up in the pine forest 100 yards from the road. It was a badly chosen location. Under the tent there were branches and cones so the night was not pleasant.Everything was wet, bike, clothes, sleeping bag, tent, food. I was slightly hypodermic and had to start to warm myself up in my sleeping bag before I could start thinking about cooking some food. I managed to make some soup and eat bread. I went to sleep when darkness came. During the night it rained.
Next morning I put on my wet clothes, not a pleasant feeling, I can promise. The rain had at least a short break in the morning and I could continue with good speed to Kiev. Finally I came to the city border. Coming to a big city and spot the right way to hostel is not easy. I started by stopping at gas stations and ask for advice. I got good guidance from a man. Saw a McDonald and took a Big Mac for lunch. Eventually came to the center, and succeeded in finding hostel easy.Yesterday I had a walk in town. Come to Freedom Square. Today I took a closer look at the Golden Gate, old Kiev main entrance from south. It was nice to be in Kiev and rest but an even bigger relief to continue south tomorrow.
I Left Kiev early in the morning to continue south in the belief that I could easily find my find out of the city. I had used more than 30 minutes in the evening before to study city maps and write directions. Actually I came out of the city easy. After the 20 km mark on the H1, I took off to the left to follow the Dnieper’s and take a closer look at some amazing houses.I saw fantastic summer houses, or was it permanent housing. Anyways, gated communities with guards and impossible to get closer. Saw many large houses with security guards.
I followed the river Dnepr until I came to Kaniv at 17 o’clock. On the way there I met a Scotsman who built a home for orphans with his Polish wife. He saw my Swedish flag, and wanted to talk a little bit. I took the opportunity to fill my water bottles there. I Came to Kaniv, took a beer stop at a bar. Two mountain bike riders came up to ask if there really was one Swedish biker from Sweden. Certainly, I said, insane was their overall reaction.I continued until I was out of town and put up my tent about 10 meters from the Dnepr river. That was one of the most beautiful camp spots so far and definitely one of the driest. I had a nice evening there at the beach. It was quiet and warm.
After I looked at the monument in Kaniv of Shevshenko. Taras Shevchenko has a unique place in Ukrainian cultural history and in world literature. His writings formed the foundation for the modern Ukrainian literature to a degree that he is also considered the founder of the modern written Ukrainian language. Therefore I was interesting to see this monument.I took the road south along the River. Nice new asphalt, oh how easy it was, rolling smooth. Then all of a sudden, the asphalt ends. It became a bumpy gravel road. But I have been through this earlier so I did not think much about it. A road normally ends at a new road. The road continued further and further into the forest, it became narrower and more waterholes and potholes, filled with more knee deep water, than you can imagine. At last I came to something with some hesitation might be called a village. But then it’s going one way from the other side, I thought. I Continued and came to a farm with a very angry watchdog. The dog barked, a man behind plastic sheeting and his colleague looked up and said something in Ukrainian or Russian. Probably “what I did there”. I explained that I was a poor Swedish cyclist who got lost and was on his way to Cherkassy. He drew a map on the ground which meant the same way back. It was 8 km or an hour in vain on that turn. Only result from that detour was cycle smeared with sand and my shoes soaking wet.
I Came to Smila and text message to Ivan that showed up ten minutes later. He and Yaroslavl took me to a restaurant with Ukrainian cuisine. It turned out to be a pleasant evening. Dimitri also appeared and invited us to Sunki festival the following day.
Sunkifestivalen rained out. We were there between 3 and 7 when we gave up and went home to Ivan and Valentina’s apartment and arranged our own supper.Thursday was used to laundry and cleaning my equipment. I tried to wash clothes with hair shampoo. Not to be recommended, not working properly. Later on in the evening again to Ivan and Valentina. Olga and her husband Sergeiy. Olga is a doctor of infectious diseases and earns 120 USD per month. Her husband is an ex-military and have an equally low pension. Now he is working with fuel logistics.
Later today I’m going to Jaroslavs apartment and again back to Ivans place for dinner with them.Tomorrow I continue towards Odessa. I have been instructed out of Smila and good roads to ride. I am really looking forward to these last three days on the road. In Odessa, I will call Avgeni jLavrik to arrange a meeting with someone.
July 21, 2011I begin to see the end of this adventure, or vacation, or as I prefer to call it, cycling experiences. Because it has been many experiences of the most diverse elements. Some I have mentioned already.Anyway, last morning in Smila I had breakfast with Ivan and Valentina, I took off with a smile in my face towards Odessa. It was an uneventful day on the bike. No weird detours. The only thing that happened was that I pitched my tent twice that evening. The first time I eat my dinner, guess what? Pasta. I lied down and rested. Then suddenly it strikes me. It was very much trains tonight. I had put up my camp less than 150 yards from a major railroad track behind the forest edge. Just to tear down the tent and ride on. After another 10 km I pitched the tent at a safe distance from the railway tracks and roads at the edge of a large sunflower field.Day two continued in much the same way. The heat began to be high and I filled my water bottles all the time with fluid from public wells in the villages that I passed.
Came to Voznesenk very thirsty at 17 o’clock in the evening. The plan was to stop at a bar, drink a little and continue out of town.I came out of the city and camped on Southern Buh river. It was very picturesque with children swimming and men who were fishing, in all, a very charming evening. I took a dip in the river, tweaked with the tent and cooked some food before I could enjoy it for the moment fairly quiet environment.But then began the misery. As soon as darkness came, frogs rr toads began to make sound or shall I call it noise. Freight trains rolled over the bridge not too far away. Not a good night’s sleep at that time. I woke up unusually early and unusually tired. But since according to my calculations it was only about 130 km left to Odessa, I decided to try to arrive the same day. Needless have only 40 km left.It was hot, probably more than 30 degrees in the shade. I bought several bottles of carbonated mineral water every so often. Which incidentally is not as good as it could be at 45 degrees. Do not drink too much mineral water because it can affect negatively your stomach.
Nature in the southern Ukraine consists of river valleys that can be 60-100 meters deep. This means that it goes rapidly down to the bottom and very slowly uphill. The road up from the vallies could be about 1,5 – 2 km with an average slope of 6-8 percent.I Come to Odessa sometimes prior to 6 pm. I was lucky to find the right street despite the absence of map. I stopped an Irish tourist with a map to get advice on where hostel FRONTLINE existed. Two blocks away.Now this journey will end. It has been almost five weeks of challenges and experiences. It has been one of my better vacations.Where does the next flight? Perhaps the Black Sea, or Odessa – Cairo. Or maybe Central Europe. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany.I have seen Potemkin stairs today. Which was one reason for going to Odessa. It looked better on film than in real life.If you enjoyed reading this, look for next year’s cycle experience.