Category Archives: countries

Bucharest–Zaječar (2013-12-20–2013-12-23)

Bucharest prepared for the New Year celebration. Christmas trees on the streets, kiosks selling mulled wine. Dressed up Gypsies (one of them certainly wears a costume of a bear) walked in the commuter town and played music (or just produced some noise to get attention).

So I started thinking of a place for the New Year celebration. Boris (I knew him well due to Moscow CouchSurfing community) wrote me he is going to Montenegro on New Year’s holidays. We agreed to meet each other there.

I had ten days to cycle about one thousand kilometers in hilly and mountain areas.

Still, everything was covered by dense fog. Sometimes I could see some movement on the fields. Those were small oil derricks.

During the nights thick layer of hoar-frost covered the tent. Grass, branches, wires, everything around was covered by 5-10 cm layer of hoar-frost. During the days it started melting. Due to this process wires burst, and roadsides looked like if it snowed earlier.

There are many secondary roads in Romania and most of them have good quality. Only once I got a really bad road, and I turned to a highway. A sunset blazed on the horizon, and a few stars already blinked over my head. Infinite fields stretched along the road and there was nothing that could change their infinity.

But a small pothole had led me out of trance. I hadn’t noticed the pothole and had fallen down with awkward grace.

That was the shortest light day in the year, probably the most important festival for touring cyclists. So I’d eaten jam and brownies given to me by Roxana.

I wasn’t sure that the chosen border crossing actually works. There was contradictory information on the internet. Luckily, it did, and I crossed the Danube river on the Iron Gates II dam, leaving Romania and getting into Serbia. Unfortunately, the fog was still too thick, so I didn’t see any amazing views.

Actually, it’s quite funny to ride in such fog. You don’t know how much you’ve ridded, whether you are going uphill or downhill. You just move somewhere.

Serbian roads are worse than Romanian, but good enough. Almost no traffic.

Viktor met me in Zaječar. We went to a pub with his friends. Tiredness, warmth, beer and nice atmosphere made the deal: I was close to get a sleep in the pub. Fortunately, the pub located just in a few meters from the Viktor’s house.

Focșani–Bucharest (2013-12-13–2013-12-19)

Just a couple of days ago Alina didn’t know about my existence. And now we can watch winter Romanian traditions together in a big hall, walk in the city, spend time in a cafe, tell each other different stories, laugh. Just because we live on the same planet. Where everyone is a friend to everyone.

Does it sound pathetic? Yes!
And I’m glad I have a reason for this pathos.

There is only one road from Focșani to Bucharest. A car stream presses me to roadside, from time to time I run over flattened dog corpses. There are many stray dogs in Romania. Dead stray dogs as well.

Only one forest park on the way. Two cars are parked in depth, people’ve come to have a rest. So I do. I’m putting my tent up somewhere nearby.

The gas is over. Dry branches are around me, I’m starting a bonfire. The jacket is full of smoke smell, but I’m still watching the flame. It’s time to sleep.

A circular road goes around Bucharest. There is only one lane in each direction, so traffic jams stretch for kilometers. With some self-satisfaction feeling I’m passing a string of cars.

Andrei is waiting for me. He and Roxana are an amazing couple. I very like their DIY-approach. They bake own bread, Andrei sewed winter cycling gloves on those days, and so on.

My jeans haven’t dried up after washing, so I have a freaky outfit: thermo-pants and shorts over them. The center of Bucharest is quite beautiful, a mix of architectural styles, here and there you can see remains of constructivism. The whole city is covered by gray shroud of fog. Sometimes colourful gypsy skirts are cutting it through.

Andrei and Roxana have brought me to a climbing wall. It’s my first experience. Perhaps, the strongest impression is when you are on the top, and you need to release your hands and simply trust in your partner. At this point of narration I should probably write how cool is to live in a world, which is full of trust. And full of pathos, haha.

Odesa–Focșani (2013-12-09–2013-12-13)

After leaving Odesa I went by a road that goes along the sea. Initially I planned to go along the sea as long as possible and admire the views on the way. Unfortunately, the coastal area is full of buildings or there are fences, so you can’t see anything. I couldn’t see anything even when I was on the narrow stripe of ground where the sea is on one side and gulf on another. In rare good moments I saw sea edge and dirty icy crumbs there. A cold breeze was blowing hard.

I had to change my plan and left the coastal area in the evening. On one hill I’d overtaken a man who pushed his bicycle uphill hardly. Then I stopped to turn on the rear light. He came to me and started asking questions. It was the first time that a person was so negative and skeptical. He didn’t ask about good things happen with me during the trip. Mostly he told I’ll get sick, I’ll be robbed, and so on. He couldn’t get what moves me forth. Also he asked me where I usually sleep. I told him that a forest is the most popular place I choose. He’d hemmed, went further and turned to his house after fifty meters.

During the day I tested thermoses that I’d bought in Odesa. It’s cool (no, warm!) to drink hot tea when it’s -5°C or lower outside. Moreover is helps against dehydration: you don’t want to drink much in the wintertime, and for sure you don’t want to drink icy water. But you drink hot tea with pleasure. So, I drank even more liquid than in warm days.

In the morning on the next day I tried to start riding, but wind was so strong (45 km/h according to weather forecast), that I could do only a few kilometers and then hided behind a wall of a battery farm. Birds (not from the battery farm) desperately tried to fly against wind, but were frozen in one place, flapped their wings, then gave up and glided in the opposite direction for long time. When I tried to fill a cup by tea from a thermos, one third of the liquid flew away out of the cup. Drops on the thermos wall got frozen fast.

I stood behind the wall about one and half hour and come to conclusion that I have to choose one of two options: go to a nearest shop, then find a place for the tent and don’t go anywhere on that day, or go further in spite of everything. Anyway, it was pointless just to stand on one place.

I tried to throw out all the thoughts in my head and concentrate only on the road. Only one word buzzed in my mind: “road, road, road…” After a while even this word had disappeared. I, bicycle and road—we had become the whole. I went uphill without tiredness, went on a broken road, went against the wind. I stopped only once to put balaclava on. I went quite much on that day.

It was snowing slightly in the evening. It took more time to cook food due to the low temperature outside.

On the next day I stopped at a shop in Zhovtnevoe village close to the border with Moldova. Slightly drunk, friendly men were in front of the stop. Some hryvnias remained in my pocket, so I spent them to buy expensive sweets. In the evening it started snowing hard, I lost a chance to stay in Galați, and I ate almost all the candies to boost my mood.

I had to find a new host, it was hard to do from mobile phone, so I took my notebook and “spammed” many people. Alina from Focșani in Romania replied me back, I could sleep easy.

Snow didn’t stop for the whole night, everything was covered by 20 cm deep layer of snow in the morning. It was the first serious snow in that place, so it was ice-slick on the road. There were almost no cars on the road due to these conditions, a truck driver was hesitating to go downhill. Vibram sole didn’t work nice on ice.

I’m not sure that even studded tyres could manage that ice-slick. I went along roadside, there was crumbly snow. Rules of safe riding in the snow are simple: go slowly and straight. But you have to be ready to falls, even with proper tyres (which I didn’t have) falls are inevitable. I fell down three times: first time I just got used to cycling in the snow, second time a shoelace got stuck in a pedal, third time someone decided to “greet” me and honked in the back. I was frightened, pulled the handlebar and fell down.

Actually I don’t understand such people. I understand when a truck goes slowly on the opposite lane, driver makes a short honk and shows his palm. Or sometimes I meet moto-travellers. Usually they slow down, raise their hand up and respectfully nod. It looks like they admit me into their brotherhood. But I have no idea about thoughts of the drivers who honk me in the back. And I have no doubts that this is kind of “greeting”— I can’t impede anyone taking snowy roadside in one meter right from a paved road.

After 30 km snow started melting and turning into dirty slush, cycling became easier.

On the Moldovan-Romanian border everything happened very slowly, I got a bit chilly. Romanian border guards were very polite, but in the same time quite cheerful. One of them spoke Russian a bit, he wished me luck for a long time.

I went around Galați in hope to find a camping place. Nope, nothing suitable. Bought a pack of cigarettes. Quite expensive compare to previous countries—12 lei (3.6 $, one third of my usual daily budget). OK, Romania is a part of the European Union now, so it’s explicable. In other countries of the European Union it’s more expensive.

On the map there was a forest behind railway road, but the main part of it was behind a river that wasn’t marked on the map. So I put my tent up close to the railway road.

On the next day I had arrived in Focșani without problems. Roads are great in Romania, the very riding itself was a pleasure. Before coming to Romania I read outdated Lonely Planet and they wrote in details how terrible Romanian roads are. So, the times they are a-changin’.

Typical buildings of the communist past surrounded me near Alina’s place, she’d found me and we went home.

Odesa (2013-12-06–2013-12-08)

On the way to Odesa I didn’t imagine how big it is. But this is a good reason for travels, to get your own experience. If I’d know everything beforehand, it’d be pointless to go somewhere.

Two days I spent wandering in the city. Historical center, harbour, beaches, slum.

Most interesting place for me was slummish Devolanovskiy descent or “Kanava” (means “gutter“) as locals call it. I get attracted by such places, I like that anxious feeling I get when I’m in such places, my imagination draws strange pictures there. If I’d try to explain my admiration for aesthetics of ugliness, it’d take too much time. Fortunately, there are some more clever people, who can explain it. Good introduction into this theme is “On Ugliness” by Umberto Eco.

At least three people gave me advice to try falafel in a kiosk on the crossroad of Troitskaya and Preobrazhenskaya streets. Once I tried that falafel, I didn’t want any other food and ate in that kiosk only.
Warming up icy palms using falafel and plastic glass with hot tea, I had understood I can’t delay anymore and had bought two thermoses, 0.7 liter each, for the following winter days.

I’d overslept carelessly the morning when I had to leave Odesa. I felt guilty because of that, but I asked Tanya to host me for one more day. Tanya, forgive lazybones and thank you again for the hospitality!

Chișinău–Odesa (2013-12-04–2013-12-05)

Nothing really interesting happened on the way to Odesa.

Following the Jenya’s advice I went around Transnistria. Just didn’t want to have deals with customs. Though it’d be interesting to visit Bender or Tiraspol.

Initially I had a few options for stay in Odesa. But they disappeared later. I’d crossed the Moldovan-Ukrainian border and put Ukrainian SIM-card in. About five minutes later I’d got a message from Ann. She asked me if I’d found a host in Odesa. I don’t how it is possible! Is it a sensible woman’s heart? Or anything else? Just incredible! Ann rescued me again and gave contacts of her friend Tanya.

Tanya was busy in the evening, and I waited for her near the house. After some time I got cold and put more clothes on, still it was a bit chilly. A young man came to me and started talking with me. It turned out that previously he was seriously involved in sport, and currently he works as a bodyguard. He brought me to a gymnasium where his trainer worked and his friends trained. He left me there to get warmer. Those were very interesting guys.

And then Tanya came, so I continued to get warmer in the flat.