Fantastic! You only cross an imaginary border and all people start looking different. Just as I imagined Ukrainian people. Strong, for us dangerous looking fellows. The border official’s weapons don’t help to feel more comfortable at all. But at least there is Alexandra, the boss of this Ukrainian border. She looks damn good, even with her cute tooth gap. I don’t know whether it’s her or the uniform. Anyway, you better don’t mess with her.
Shortly after the border, Benji (the guy who helped us pass the border, see last post) gives us information about Ukraine: where to change money, what to take care of and so on but the sun goes down already. “It can get very dangerous by night. Take care!”, he says. In my mind, I instantly have fights with strangers who randomly attack us… daydreaming. I hope this doesn’t happen. He proposes to call some friends from the next town and ask them, if we may use their yard for the night but it is Easter Monday and we don’t want to disturb his friends too. So we decide to thank him instead and take our fate into our own hands.
The first thing I learn about Ukraine is that there are extremely bad streets. If you have ever been to Hungary or Romania you may know how bad ways for cyclists are, but Ukraine…wow…it’s a whole new level. They seriously use motocross slopes for public traffic. The old Lada (car brand) from the times of the Sowjet Union still seem to do well with these roads because they are everywhere.
Nevertheless, we have to find a well-hidden spot for the night and usually I don’t like Andi’s ideas. I always use to say that he would build up his tent in a stranger’s yard without asking, what I definitely wouldn’t, but this time we agree to something really fast. Not somebody’s yard, of course. We camped somewhere on a big field close to trees and other greenery.
New day, new chance for Ukraine to show us that people here are not as brutal as media shows. At -3 degrees even our tents are frozen. We pack our stuff together as fast as we can. At the same time, all of us make weird movements to get warm but it doesn’t help. I hope no one sees this. I’m still freezing and my nose is running. Fine motor skills? My fingers forgot them apparently. What’s wrong? I’ve had much colder days in my life. When did I get this soft? We jump on our bikes, but hello again – bad streets. I can even hear snails overtaking us. Even cars drive from one side to the other to avoid potholes. Terrible. Do we have to stay on these streets for the whole next week?
As we make our first stop to have some breakfast and brush our teeth on the roadside, a car stops next to us. At first, the man inside looks like he wants to kill us. He throws words at us we don’t understand. Oh no, is this one of those dangerous guys Benji told us to take care of? If I have to guess what he says, it is something like: “That’s my street! The tribute to move on is a liver and your right hand!” I try to find something hard and within reach, just in case. Then he realizes that we do not speak his language. Fortunately for us, he speaks English too. “Problem? Problem? Need help?”, he shouts. That takes a load off my mind. He doesn’t want to harm us. I definitely have to be more relaxed. Maybe for him it looked like our bikes couldn’t handle the heavy luggage. “Thanks, we are fine”, I shout back and give him a big smile and my thumbs up. Until now people seem really friendly.
Many kilometers – a lot of hunger. A rule you learn on the road. But at one point you get sick and tired of cold food and just need something different. Something hot. Maybe a soup? Nah… Suddenly a billboard appears on the roadside, advertising a pizzeria. Yes! That’s it! So we are hunting pizza. As we find the pizzeria we don’t ask for prices or toppings. “Three pizzas and some drinks”, we try to make the waiter understand. The next minutes all of us check the Wi-Fi signal to see if there are any news regarding our friends or family at home… although for now, the road is our home, somehow. After three weeks, I start to realize what we have started. No familiar surroundings, not always a warm bed, all this trucks that flash past us (meanwhile streets are slightly better)… maybe I can get used to this. Pizza is ready, yeah. As if it is a slice of bread, we quickly eat it and ask for the bill, but again, we barely understand each other. Andi pays for his one approximately 260 Hryvnia (~ 10 Euro). I pick out my credit card and want to pay my part, but the waiter says “Net!”… I am confused, did I say something wrong? Is my credit card not the right one? He points to the bill so we take a closer look at it. Somehow we can decipher it. Now we understand. Andi has already paid for all of our meals. That’s crazy! I start laughing:, “Whaaat? How can food be this cheap? Even at a restaurant.” On our way towards the door, we agree to go back and leave a tip.
Our tents are still wet from last night and it’s raining repeatedly, so we decide to look out for a cheap hostel, knowing that the next day will be the hardest so far.