Category Archives: belarus

Brest–Lviv (2013-11-01–2013-11-04)

Doubra told me that some border checkpoints don’t allow pedestrians to cross the border, you need to ask a car driver to pick you up. I searched on the internet, but didn’t find any related information. However I’ve discovered that the initially chosen border checkpoint is interstate one (only for citizens of Belarus and Ukraine). I chose another one (Tomashovka–Pulemets), international one.

It was deserted on the Belarusian border, no cars at all. Even border guards left their booths. Finally I was spotted. The border guard was curious about my tour, so I told him some stories. He shook my hand and wished good luck.

I expected to see Ukrainian checkpoint just in a few meters after that. In fact I rode for 4 km on a narrow road going through a forest. Perhaps Belarus and Ukraine can’t decide who takes the resposibility for this inter-border road, so it was in quite bad condition.

Ukrainian guards were also interesting about my person. They scared me, that it’s already snowing in Kyiv.

Since the only reason to go by the following road is to cross the border, I thought it’d be quite safe to put the tent up near the border. It’s unlikely that someone would decide to pick mushrooms in a forest just before crossing a border.

There was a lake close to that place. Geese yelled for long time, but a few hunters’ shots had ended those screams. Actually I already heard shots in some previous days. I’m not afraid to be killed by a hunter. But I can’t say I like such sounds. In addition hunters often go with dogs, it means I have to listen to barking even when I’m far from villages.

On the next day I had a chance to feel completely the soul of Ukrainian roads and drivers. Simply, the roads and the drivers are crazy. I don’t know whether such crazy roads make drivers crazy or the opposite. I can’t even say those roads are bad. The quality of the same road on whole length varies significantly every few kilometers. Corroded and distended on the road edges asphalt, patch-work quilt on the center of a road, sometimes a narrow white line appears on the edge and you understand, that there was asphalted roadside some day. And then suddenly a few kilometers of nice paved road, just as a short surprise. Feel safer in this case, but, anyway, some drivers going by oncoming lane force you to go on the unpaved part of a road.

There is more trash on Ukrainian roads. Even more than in Russia. Many shops don’t have trash bins in front of them. Though, sometimes I stopped at some nice shops with garden and pavilions.
The scenery is various than in Belarus, but it’s hard to say it takes my breath away, it just changes more often.

On that day I went in Shatsky National Natural Park, there are many lakes around. They don’t look picturesque, but probably it’s nice to swim there in the summertime. Rental ads are everywhere.

I’d left the park, and after that there were no forests. It was getting darker, still no forest, and large enough city Volodymyr-Volynskyi was not so far. Ukrainian forests are marked badly in my navigator, oppositely on a paper map too many places are marked as forests. Luckily I’d bought SIM-card on that day. I checked satellite pictures on Google Maps and went to the opposite direction. Indeed, there was a forest.

At that moment I still didn’t know where to stop in Lviv. Almost all my requests on CouchSurfing were ignored. The mood was not very elated. Fortunately, I’d written about it on Facebook, and Irene from Kyiv helped me in short time. Thank you, Irene!

On the third day I rode through miner’s cities. I was surprised that Ukrainian roads can be even worse. I keep in memory the exit from Chervonohrad. Rain, dust, enormous traffic jam, cars were swarming in dirt. Funny.

Using my previous experience I checked Google Maps much earlier. But it didn’t help me, I had to go quite far to the nearest forest. In the morning I was discovered by an old lady who picked mushrooms.

On the last day I met two shepherds. I was fed and we drank horilka. Even though I drank just a bit, I’d lost a glove in the field. Time to buy a new pair.

Before Lviv I visited Zhovkva. Small and beatiful city.

There are almost no asphalted roads in Lviv center, only cobbles. In addition they started restoring many of them. So I got down from the bicycle and slowly went on foot a few kilometers in wonderful and amazing Lviv. Had some problems with a narrow door of house entrance, but finally dragged the bicycle inside.

Brest (2013-10-30–2013-10-31)

My stay in Minsk was marked by teeth treatment, the stay in Brest was marked by the tick bite.

I put the tick into a packet accurately and went to the center of epidemiology. All needed doctors in that remarkable center were sick or took a vacation. Instead of them there was a woman who specializes in some different aspects of epidemiology. To make two tests (tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme borreliosis) a tick has to be cut in two pieces: head and belly. The woman didn’t know how to do it and sent me to another building.

And again, as in the case with dental clinic, I felt I’m in sci-fi movie: coded locks, dangerous signs “biohazard”, serious people in white smocks. An old lady with shining eyes grabbed my tick. She obviously wanted to start dissection as soon as possible. Unfortunately, after a few minutes she came back and told me, that the tick is too dry, so it won’t be possible to cut it properly.

We decided to make only one test. I’d got a recipe for prophylaxis. The area of tick bite had to be lubricated by some antibiotic, but in Belarus it’s possible to find that antibiotic only in tablets. So, the doctor advised me to smash a tablet and glue the stuff by plaster. And for the results I needed to call them a few days later.

I didn’t like the city itself. Unnaturally big and inexpressive. Just a place where many people live. The worst impressions from the city—it’s crowded by crazy minibuses (so called marshrutka). They creak on every turn, you become dizzy and start gasping after three minutes spent inside. Windows are curtained, as some people stand inside, but this is restricted by law. Usual buses pass through rarely.

Actually, Brest Fortress—the only sightseeing in Brest. But it’s very impressive. Unfortunately, they restored some ruins and put new bricks, it looks awful. Well, these new bricks gradually become old as well.

The day before departure a girlfriend of Doubra cut my hair, I’m almost bald again. In the morning Doubra and Katya went to Minsk by car, and I headed for Ukraine.

Grodno–Brest (2013-10-26–2013-10-29)

It doesn’t matter whether I praise Grodno or not, anyway it didn’t help me to find gas balloon for the stove. For sure, it isn’t a problem, as my stove is multifuel.

Producer of the stove doesn’t recommend to use petrol from gas stations, but if you have no other options and can’t find unleaded petrol, the producer gives advice to buy low octane petrol: it soots less and better for your health, as you don’t inhale lead additions.

I left behind first, second, third gas stations. Actually gas stations are rarity in Belarus, therefore I’d done about 60 km. And every station had only RON 95 petrol and RON 92 petrol, no RON 80. After fourth station I’d understood there is no other way, I have to buy RON 92. I tried to imagine how I would buy petrol for my 0.6 l bottle. I don’t even know how car drivers do it.

Luckily, there was queue in front of cash desk, and I watched assortment in the shop. There was keresone in litre bottles. Exactly what I needed.

In the evening I did the first test of the stove on new fuel.

Advantages of kerosene (and other types of liquid fuel): it’s cheap and widely spread.
Disadvantages: it soots (I need to clean jet often), running and stopping of the stove takes longer time, you need matches for ignition (couldn’t do it with a lighter), other things.

The test had ended up successfully, I had oatmeal with beans for the supper. Maybe it’s a strange combination, but tasty.

Probably I should tell what I usually eat. In other countries I’ll have something different, so it’s a description of my current ration.

For breakfasts and suppers I usually cook porridge (buckwheat, rice, oatmeal) or macaroni. Add some canned goods like green peas, corn, beans and so on. If I have some raw vegetables like tomatoes I use them as well. I don’t eat meat as cooking and storing it is a troublesome process. But from time to time I buy fish canned goods. It’s very convenient since I can buy it in small tins. If I would buy tinned stew, I won’t be able to eat it completely in one day. Oh, come on, I won’t lie. I eat like a big horse. In the beginning I thought it’s possible to cook full pot of food in the evening (one litre) and eat some remains in the morning. No, I didn’t leave any remains so far.

And someone would be jealous about my ration during a typical day: bread, cheese, fruits (mostly bananas and oranges as I don’t need to wash them), cookies, chocolate, nuts/halva, curd, glazed cheese. Therefore, no surprise such a person with sweet tooth had lost that tooth, hahaha.

I’m not going to switch on pasture yet, however, when I throw down fat slugs from the tent walls, I think about it. It’s treated as delicatessen in some countries.

Fortunately, there are slugs only in rainy days, and on the second day I got sun for the whole day. I allowed myself to change gloves and to take off jacket. I didn’t get such a good weather previously.

I’d passed Ruzhany, there is an old ruined castle, it’s beatiful. And in Kosava they started restoring the castle, there is construction and fence around it, it isn’t beatiful.

It was so warm in the night, that I used the sleeping bag only as a blanket. I’d got terrible cough in the morning.

On the next day I planned to see something in Pruzhany, but whole day was quite windy, I lost my power. And the first people I met in Pruzhany were like Russian bandits from 1990s. Finally the wind calmed down, and I had enough power to go very close to Białowieża Forest. But I was afraid of bisons and boars, so I stopped earlier.

I worried I won’t be allowed to go through Białowieża Forest from the eastern side and I’ll have to make detour. It turned out everything is quite simple: you just pay money, get a permit with approved route, then simply follow that route. If you don’t go too close to Polish border, you won’t be asked to show the permit.

Of course, I didn’t see wild animals on the way, they live in a different part of the forest. But I saw some strange feces. Except of it the forest is like an ordinary forest, nothing special. But it was really nice to ride there alone on a good paved road.

After 30–40 km I came to the side where usual visitors arrive. Visited a residence of Belarusian Grandfather Frost, but it turned out that he is quite greedy for money. Even if you want just to see his house, you have to buy a ticket. Do I need to write whether I believe in Grandfather Frost or not?

At the entrance to Brest I met a girl Natasha. She rode a bicycle and was going to her cottage. We talked a bit, exchanged our phone numbers, and she even promised to host me in case of any problems.

I didn’t get any problems. Doubra, who came to Belarus from Nigeria to study architecture, waited for me. When I took a shower I scrabbed skin above the pubis, as I thought there is dirt. But it’d turned out there was a tick. I’d done everything in wrong way. But beer with Doubra and his friends took anxiety and alarm away.

Grodno (2013-10-23–2013-10-25)

Perhaps, Grodno is my favorite city among other Belarusian cities. It’d be falsity to say that I was amazed by some amenities. But Grodno is the only big Belarusian city, that I could percieve as a single entity. In other Belarusian cities it seemed, that some giant took central part, sleeping and industrial areas and awkwardly tried to combine them together. As I see, Grodno has natural combination of different areas.

I have to thank Lena and Dasha who hosted me in Grodno. Due to their efforts I felt like at home and stayed for a longer period.

Dasha and Lena use bicycles for transportation in the city, so in the first day we took a bicycle ride together. I didn’t try to ride bicycle without panniers since I’d departured from Moscow. So I felt very clumsy. As a bear (not from circus!) on a bicycle.

On the depature day it was Dasha’s son birthday. I blew air balloons for him in the night, and in the morning, when I gathered my stuff into panniers, he asked with astonishment: “Are you leaving now?”

Minsk–Grodno (2013-10-18–2013-10-22)

As always I’d left the city too late. And as always I was lucky with weather—the weather was nice when I stayed in Minsk, but on the departure day it was raining. First I went to Minsk Sea, but I could see only gray water and frog. I’d canceled the plan to go along the bank.

During a one short stop a one-legged man hobbled toward me. I couldn’t understand his words, and tired man just sat down next to me in the rain. He wanted to go somewhere by bus. I waved to the first passing bus, but it didn’t stop. A strange pair, the cyclist with the loaded bicycle and the one-legged on the roadside, saw after the bus leaving into the rain. I’d figured out where the bus stop is. The man told me he’ll go there alone. It was very sad to watch as he stood up groaning, took his crutches and dragged slowly along the roadside.

Though Belarus doesn’t have mountains, that day I’d discovered I ride uphill and downhill quite often, I even sweated a bit. Then I’d seen a sign telling I’m close to the highest point of Belarus—Dzerzhinskaja mountain, only 345 meters above sea level.

It was very windy in the night, remained leaves tumbled on the tent with noise and slided down. In the morning water on the tent got frozen and fallen leaves glued heavily to it.

In spite of night cold the following day was sunny. Perhaps it was the most pleasant riding day for the whole time of the tour. I wonder how it’d be nice when I’ll travel in warm places.

In that night a strange bird cried in a forest, those were such sounds as if someone is raping a girl. Actually, that was my first thought and I was ready to run to help that made-up girl.
I already recognize voices of different birds, but I don’t know their names and, of course, how they look like. I just name them by sounds they produce: “phew-phew” and others.

Generally, the most irritating sound for me is barking of villages dogs. Even if I stand in two hundred meters from a house with a dog, it starts barking restlessly. Such a non-lazy dog! And what a nightmare to keep a dog who barks on every passing car. Those dogs don’t stop even in the night, so now I check, that I don’t hear any barking in a new sleeping place. And I’m OK with the sound of passing cars in the night, it makes me more patient.

There was full moon that night, I could see forest very well. I also noticed my eyes are getting used to darkness.

In the morning I stopped close to Nesvizh to visit a shop. One man shaked my hand for long time when he got to know I’m going to Romania later. I helped his friend on a crazy bike to fix its handlebar.

Unfortunately I have to notice, that people in Belarusian villages mostly buy cheap alcohol. Women as well as men. Talking on the road also usually involves crazy or drunk people. Others, even if they are curious, don’t determine to talk with me. Even shop assistants, who were so curious in Russia, only look at me with interest, but don’t ask any questions.

I liked the Nesvizh castle obviously located in Nesvizh. But unfortunately I didn’t feel it’s old when I looked at it. A nice park with plants from different countries is placed around the castle, but it’s better to walk there in another season.

After the Nesvizh castle I arrived to the Mir castle. It didn’t leave such a strong impression as the first one. And the weather became worse at that time.

I decided to cook something different for supper and bought fast-cooking rice. Inscription on the box promised, that the rice will be cooked in 15 minutes. Cooking on a stove takes less time, and I expected it’ll take about ten minutes. In reality I waited twenty minutes or so, but the rice was still uncooked. A few small leaves and mosquitos had fallen down into the rice, so I ate the half-done rice with strange additions.

In the evenings of previous days I didn’t have enough time, and my only activity for the evenings was listening to music. In that evening I finally took my e-book reader and started reading Belarusian authors. There aren’t many famous Belarusian authors (and sometimes it’s hard to decide whether an author is Belarusian or not; someone, for examples, treats Adam Mickiewicz as a Belarusian author), but many streets in Belarus are named after Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, so I chose them for reading and read Kupala’s (it’s funny that I initially thought he’s a woman) texts in Belarusian language. I’ll write about Belarusian language from a point of view of Russian person later on.

A corn jar started tinkling in the night. I looked out what’s going on, but didn’t notice anything. It happened a few more times. Finally it turned out, that a moleskin wanted to get out from the ground exactly in the place where I put the jar.

On the fourth day I rode through Navahrudak. I marked it on a map as a place of interest, but after four days I forgot what’s there. Anyway, it was so froggy that I couldn’t even spot a sign bewaring about frog on the road, so I wouldn’t see anything in that place.

In addition to the frog I got downpour, and my clothes finally started leaking a little: knees, socks, and gloves. Though I should change the gloves anyway, membrane has rubbed away and now everything is in the wrong way: water leaks inside, but doesn’t come out. Moisture made my fingers swollen, and I started losing fingerstips’ skin.

The last several hours I pedalled with the lowered head to protect it against rain and strong wind. So I could see only a white line on asphalt separating the road and roadside. Well, I also saw a few smashed animals. In Russia I mostly see dogs smashed by cars, sometimes cats, but in Belarus the most popular dead animal on a road is hedgehog, sometimes very big ones. Once it was a fox.

There weren’t cars on the road at all, even people on a car didn’t want to go in this weather.

But these sufferings are worth it. In the evening you lie in a warm tent, drinking hot tea, inhaling smell of coniferous forest and listening to music getting so deep into you as you never experienced before. And rain knocks your tent outside.

OK, that’s lyrics. Actually the noise of rain is strong enough, and it’s hard to get sleep.

On the last day I’d reached Grodno very fast without adventures. Lena and Dasha warmly welcomed me, we drank tea non-stop and talked, talked and talked.