The One about Cormorant

I am planning another cycling trip across Wales. It commences in a week. Because my Seagull bike stayed in the Netherlands, and there was no point for me to bring it back to Wales since I am moving to Tilburg soon, I had to get a new bicycle. I went to Pedal Power Charity based in Pontcanna Fields. I donated my old bicycle Foxie to them last year and so I saw it as a great opportunity to buy the new bicycle from them again.

Finally, I will cycle from Cardiff to Snowdonia. I was planning on doing a trip for the last three years but the circumstances interrupted it. In the first year, I had to withdraw from the university because of the financial problems and had to work to pay back my debt so I was allowed to come back to study. In the second year, I took a chance and went to study to Rotterdam as an exchange student and again I missed the gap during the spring term holidays.

This time, I will cycle as a part of the project I am preparing for my degree show taking my photography equipment on a journey. I cycle quite often, including commute trips and long distance tours. For me, cycling is the most honest way of transport. It directly copies the terrain and reflects in our life experience. If I cycle uphill, I must push hard and make an effort to be on the top, while going down it is very easy and fast. Just like in life. Every our decision, positive action and effort we do make an imprint. Sometimes it shows more, sometimes it develops blurry just like the imprint of the light on the photographic paper.

I am commuting to the university on the Taff trail along the river Taff. The most beautiful path to commute! River Taff is crossing the park and the green fields never stop. It is always worth to take the longer route along the river where heron birds are waiting still in the water for their prey. I often have thought of heron birds to be my good luck. When I got into the troubles with student finance I have never seen heron birds in Taff river. Instead, I have seen black birds with the long necks – Cormorants. I convinced myself to believe that they are my bad luck from now.

We often pay big attention to symbols and we believe in them if we want to. We can fear them too. That blackbird was worrying me that I failed my chance to study what I love. However, only if we believe them too far they become the truth. I named my new bicycle Cormorant as the bird I used to be afraid of. Now I conquered that fear.

The One about Cycling in Slovakia and Being Surprised

Eva has never been to a wine cellar. That almost sounded like an insult to Honza who comes from a wine region of Moravia in the Czech Republic. Coming from Zakarpattia Ukraine to Slovakia we were following river Latorica. Then we got to Tokaj region with the easy cycling paths and plenty of wine fields. We tried our luck and when we saw an owner of the cellar walking in with two tourists we asked if we can join them. He smiled and said: “Of course, bring the glasses.” We truly did not cycle with the wine glasses but because we wanted to recycle our glass jars we carried some pickles and horseradish jar and marmalade jar.

We walked to the cellar and tried the best wines of the regions. Luckily, the owner strictly does not use any sulphurs in his wines and so we tasted the real stuff. In the cellar, it is nice and cold. You can drink a lot and still do not feel tipsy but once we got back up to see the sunset, the head started to turn.

I got a message from Joseph, my boyfriend, saying I must be in Kosice, the next town where we were going, for a lunchtime. He gave me an address I must look for and did not say much more. We made our bed on the top of the cellars and went to sleep so we can wake up with a sunrise. In the morning I still felt tipsy but there was no time for being grumpy, there was a surprise waiting for me in Kosice! =)

We cycled the forest paths towards the Izra lake. The terrain was so bad that we managed to get there by almost 11 am. We had a little rest and met the group of fathers and kids who were celebrating the birthdays and days without wives. They invited us to to the table, we must have cheered with one who celebrated his birthday and we ate almost all the food they prepared for their kids. But definitely, it saved us. We continued up the hill towards Slanec and then down to Kosice. The city where my grandfather comes from.

We were coming late and I did not know if my surprise will be waiting there for me. When we arrived at the address which Joseph gave me, it was just a block of flats. I did not know what number I should ring and so I stood there and shouted Hello around to raise the attention. With no response, we thought we must be in the wrong place. We were asking around if they know the address and somebody sent us to another street saying it looks like it could be the vegan cafe which was just open nearby. I thought it must be it. Floriánska 1408/28, 040 01 Košice, Slovakia, Vegan Bistro VE.DOM.E

I came inside the cafe and asked if there is something for me. They brought me a letter which Joseph sent there some time ago. When we sat down they started to bring the food. He paid for our lunch. Moreover, it was a peanut curry which I was dreaming of these days so much. We were still quite tipsy and we ate lots of food at Izra lake, nonetheless, we finished our lunch and had a coffee and dessert and I was the happiest girl on Earth.

We had a great rest in Kosice. We went to a cinema and a concert and decided to stay one more night. We stayed with a Couchsurfing host who recommended us some weird stuff to see like the tall tower from the era when Kosice was the industrial city. The coal used to be transported in the air between the towers and the fence underneath the wagons of coal were protecting the streets from the fall of the coal. Nowadays, only the courageous ones are climbing to the top.

From Kosice we continued along Hornad river and water dam Ruzin towards Muran and Slovak Paradise National Park. We visited Dobsinska Ice Cave. Unfortunately, all days before the visit was very hot weather and we thought that the visit will be just a great opportunity to cool down. Just the day of our visit the weather changed and it was very cold.

Slovakia was the best country for me to cycle. Maybe it was also influenced by the fact that my mum comes from Slovakia but I have not really travelled the country and felt like I know nothing about it. I enjoyed the nature and cycling paths which were easy to cycle and well labelled. Slovakia is the country of mountains and forests, hills and meadow flowers. I loved it.

The One about Cycling MANless

Maybe that policemen on Transnistrian border sparked the question. Should a girl be afraid of cycling without the company of a man?

With Eva, we were always cycling until the dark so we can find our spot to camp unnoticed. I would wake up very easily thinking of the action plan in case we need it. Perhaps I also felt overprotective for both of us. Anytime I would hear a woman’s voice somewhere from a distance I would imagine that if she saw us maybe we will wake up in the morning and there will be doughnuts baked for a breakfast, on contrary, when hearing the man’s voice talking nearby I was hoping he will not discover us sleeping in our hammocks. More and more I was thinking about why the girls can not have an easy sleep. Do not take me wrong, this will not stop me from travelling, but it will always involve better and sharp planning and overthinking just because as a girl I am more likely to be seen as an easy target.

When Eva’s friend Honza joined us in Mukachevo I realized how much I calmed down. Just the feeling that somebody sees us not as two girls cycling but a group with a man cyclist, I thought we are safer. Although I was aware of how much nonsense it is because I knew that Eva would probably kick everybody’s ass better than Honza. And still, that feeling that the man will not interrupt the “territory” of another man is an animal instinct.

On our way to my auntie’s village in Slovakia, we met Jaro. The guy in his 40s cycling every day who comes from the neighbouring village of my auntie’s one. At first, he was a great company and a guide, showing us around and adding interesting stories about his region, later he became interrupting. Honza finished his trip with us and I and Eva were cycling alone again. When we were leaving the village of my aunt, we met Jaro again. That is a coincidence, he said, and joined us on our ride for another 10 km, pouring his heart to Eva. At first, we were laughing about it, we did not feel he would be harmful, rather a funny figure of the region, a bit of weirdo which is not bad at all since we might be seen as two weirdos too. It became quite serious when we said goodbye the second time and met him again in the Czech republic COINCIDENTALLY cycling the route we told him we will cycle. Maybe he was just a lonely guy. Nevertheless, it does not give him the right to stalk. I did not feel afraid of him as rather insulted that the personal space of a girl can be so easily interrupted.

 

The One about what was “Forgotten” in the Park

In Chisinau, we had a day off and so we decided to wander around and do an improvised exhibition in the park about what was left in the grass. We prepared some cyanotype papers in advance and collected the rubbish. It was a nice sunny day, ideal for the cyanotype prints. We made imprints and got for lunch at Andy’s pizza using their big sinks in the toilets to clean the solution off. The empty boards in the park which used to be newspaper showcases became the exhibition walls.

The One about Going Forward

Moldova is a beautiful country with cosy villages and big green fields. Truly, it is not the easiest country to cycle. The roads are often gravel, especially when passing through small villages. When we entered the country, the peaches and nectarines were just raped and ready to eat and the water was freely available from the wells. Sometimes it was tasty and cold refreshing, sometimes it tasted after sulphur. Nevertheless, people were kind and the atmosphere was very natural. I really enjoyed the rural architecture.

At first, we wanted to get to Tiraspol, to the unrecognized republic of Transnistria which lays just across the river Dnister. We found a host on Couchsurfing. However, it was not so easy to get there. For foreigners, there is only one official border which goes over Bender and we wanted to cross in Răscăieți. The policemen did not want to let us pass and were wondering how come that two girls are cycling alone without “protection” – meaning MEN. We were wondering if the girls should feel in danger of cycling alone in their country? Well, we did not make a good expression and were sent away to Bender.

Tiraspol is like a trip to the past while having all the possibilities and free wifi internet in public spaces. Lenin is everywhere, the Russian influence is dominant, the soldiers are walking from one side to another and Sherif – the monopoly company, owns almost everything from a football club, petrol stations to supermarkets. In contrary, Moldovian capital, Chisinau, is westernized with Andy’s pizza on each corner and Romanian language as official. And so it seems that the countries are connected only by the Orthodox Christian religion.

Tiraspol:

Chisinau:

 

After 5 days spent in Moldova, we were cycling towards the Romanian borders. The hot weather was replaced by a rainy season. I do not know who had the idea but at some point, we decided to shorten the route over the fields. As soon as we entered we knew it was a bad decision trying to cycle through the fields after the rain which meant just lots of mud. However, none of us wanted to go backwards and so we continued. I think 9 km took us more than 2 hours. We were not able to cycle as our wheels stopped spinning. I remember pushing the fully loaded bike with the strength in my arms and getting a nervous breakdown when I was just not able to push the bike to the hill anymore. And because it would not be enough, I also got a puncture. When we got to the nearest road again I was imagining that there will be some good people in the nearest village who will give us the place to sleep and something to eat and allow us to shower. And we were both laughing about it with Eva.

Sometimes, it seems like if a wish is said loudly it can really happen. We got to the village and started to clean our bikes from all that mud when the old man came from the yard and offered us the water from the pipe to clean our bikes. He was guarding the agricultural yard and offered us to sleep over and tomatoes from his garden and cakes baked by his wife. He was very kind and a good company. He spoke with us Russian/Ukrainian. It was mainly Eva who could talk and so I was listening. When we said we are from the Czech Republic he was thinking of his young age when he was in the army doing his service in Czechoslovakia. In the 60s and onwards there were lots of soldiers from the Soviet Union, including those who occupied our country. And so here we met in the remote village in Moldova, called Bumbăta, with the “enemy” of our parents. Despite this man was the kindest and we were grateful. At the end of the day, he was my wish and those often come with a lesson that there is nothing just black and white written in our lives and history.

 

 

The One about Sobatchka and Sobaka

So the bike I borrowed from Eva got the name Sobatchka. The female version of the Ukrainian word Sobaka which means a dog. Quickly I have noticed that Ukraine is the country full of stray dogs. They are usually harmless, wandering around the places. They are not so big fans of cyclists and anybody who enters their territory without superiority.

Eva, my friend, was taking a ferry from Georgia to the Port of Chernomorsk, 20 km away from Odessa. The ferry was delayed and I only knew that she is coming around 11pm. I wanted to pick her up and so after a day of wandering around the city, I have decided to cycle to meet her up.

I have not really planned it well and when it got dark I realised that I do not have any lights with me, at least I had my torch on the phone and the external battery pack. Cycling in Odessa is quite adventurous even with lights. When the old bus is driving behind you, once it starts braking, the old brakes are screaming so loud that you wish they will not fail a driver.

What becomes very interesting is the encounter with the dog pack in the dark without lights. As I wrote at the beginning the dogs are not happy to see cyclists and they are trying to catch them. If you are alone in a dark, better for them. I was pushing my bike along the road when I heard barking dogs. At first, nothing so special but then I realized that the closed petrol station which I was coming towards does not have the fence. Quickly I sat on the bike and started to pedal away with the barking dogs running behind me. I escaped pedalling in the dark hoping I will not ride into bigger trouble.  I met at least 4 more packs and cycled at the highest speed ever. The only thing you can do is to quickly get out. I was also barking on them back thinking if I will make a sound like a lion they will be scared more than me.

I almost approached the port when I had to pass along the railway tracks. After some experience, you realise that the dogs are hanging around empty places or closed petrol stations. I assumed correctly that the dogs will be behind the corner and so I got off the bike and walked. I saw the pack, they saw me. I stopped and started to walk backwards not looking at them so much. I realised that the only way which is going to port is guarded by dogs. I locked my bike on the nearest bridge and made a plan in a second when I saw a car driving towards the port. I jumped in front of it and with my broken Czech/Ukrainian/Russian/English language I said to a driver that I am not going to pass and he must take me in. I do not even know how I managed to speak so he would understand me. I said something like “Ja na velosypedu a tam sobaki” (I am on the bike and there are the dogs). When I sat in his car I thought that sitting alone in the night in the car with a big man is not really the win but I played on my intuition. Also, the port was just behind the corner and there was no other way to drive.

On the port, I waited another hour for Eva and I had to make a plan on how to get along those dogs on the way back. There was a taxi driver coming in and I convinced him to take us and the bikes back to the city. When Eva arrived she brought 3 more people who she met on board. I was so happy to see her and told her all that adventure. She laughed. And because she had an experience with the shepherd’s dogs in Romania (when a dog bit her friend) she said that there will be so many dog packs along the way that I will definitely have more adventures to remember.

I was not happy at all but thought that every beginning is hard and if I managed alone I must manage with her too. And so because every bicycle I ride needs a name, I chose to name the bicycle “Sobatchka” because from now I will be the one who is barking about riding in my territory.

 

Here are some pictures from Odessa taken on my not so good phone but for sharing memories it is enough.

 

 

 

The One about Friday the 13th

In the Czech Republic, Friday the 13th is not the best day. Some people may believe in bad luck. I believe that you do not know straight away if you are lucky or not. Catching the bus you were late for might seem to be quite lucky situation, catching the bus you were late for and which is a part of the accident, does not seem so lucky anymore. Stepping on the ground of Ukraine for the first time on Friday the 13th and being in the 12 hours train (which I “luckily” caught) gives me enough time to think what exactly means to be lucky!

I am meeting Eva in Odessa, a friend of mine who I haven’t seen at least four years. She lived in Armenia and now she is waiting for a ferry from Batumi to Odessa. We will meet there and cycle together back home. We take the route over Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. I feel excited and little scared as well. We will camp in the nature and see so many places I wanted to visit for a long time! I read so many articles about Romanian bears, and got jingle bells and the bear batch from my boy, that I can not feel better prepared for a meeting with this animal. Still, if the situation comes I can not predict my reaction. Eva said that we’ll meet lots of bears for sure. She is more experienced traveler than me. Once, she also told me the Czech wisdom: “who is afraid should not go to the forest…but I like the forest!” This keeps me motivated wherever I go. I am lucky I know Eva, although I am fighting the fear sometimes, it is the part of a journey and I am lucky I can travel.

Coming from Rotterdam by bus, I stopped in Prague to pick up Eva’s old mountain bike. I did not want to go with Seagull because he is rather road bike. Eva’s bike already made some thousands of kilometers and was stored in the Psychiatric Hospital in Bohnice, in Prague, where Eva’s friend works. When I arrived there I thought it is quite funny place to start quite a mad trip, but the environment of the hospital was truly healing the soul. Here, I remembered another quote of Eva: “the mad people are joyfull”. And we are!

In Ostrava, I had to change some bike parts – tube and the tire of the front bike, brake pads and the front wheel as I was told a day before departing that it is not centered. I have also noticed that the rare wheel has broken spine but I have decided to deal with it on the way.. In the bike shop I was told that the bike will not be able to go too far. It is not that polished carbon ultra light bike which the mechanic is used to ride but if I would have to wait until getting the best bike or replacing every part with a new one I do not think I would ever start the trip! The most difficult thing so far was to arrange the travel with the bike to Odessa by train or the bus. At some lines it is not possible to carry the bike and so I can go Ostrava-Kosice without any problems but on the trains Kosice-Chop and Chop-Odessa I would not be allowed to take the bike unless I carry it like the baggage. The same situation is if I would like to travel over Poland on the line Przsemysl-Odessa. I have decided to book LeoExpress bus Ostrava Svinov-Lviv and pack the bike just on the station in 25 minutes. My dad helped me! The driver did not complain and so I headed off to Ukraine without having the solution how to get from Lviv to Odessa.

 

In the bus I encounter another situation of “being lucky” slash privileged. The border control stopped us in Poland and after waiting one hour they kicked out one Ukrainian guy from the bus. I felt very sorry for him. He was missing some stamp in the passport. There were some youngsters who were about to take the plane from Krakow airport to Scotland. They were thinking they are unlucky they will miss the plane because of the guy. All of them had a possibility to buy a new ticket and freely travel. The bad luck affected their purse but not the freedom. And that is what makes the LUCK to be the privileged condition which we should be grateful for!

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Honestly, in some situations being a girl can also be quite lucky! I arrived to Lviv at 5 o’clock in the morning. I accidentally got off one stop earlier on the Bus station instead of Train station. Hmm. I was trying to de-code azbuka and trying to remember what I have learned from Russian language some years ago.

 

No ticket office was open so early and so I picked one passenger and asked him for advice. Eduard insisted to help me. He also needed to get to train station. And so he called taxi for both of us, calling and asking everywhere how can I get to Odessa. He insisted to not leave until he knows I am boarded. I would not mind staying in Lviv longer but it is true I needed some rest after the bus journey. I have never traveled in the sleeper train and wished it so much. I could not get the ticket online because they were sold out or expensive but soon I understood that to travel by train in Ukraine is like a game. Sometimes the reserved tickets are not paid and the seats are again available. If you are quick enough you can book the ticket online or on the Kassa (ticket office). I was not quick! Eduard was checking the buses and blablacar but finally he got idea to ask directly the train conductor. She agreed to take me on the train. Eduard told her my name and like the illegal good I was exchanged between them in the train. I was not sure if I like the idea but I knew if I will not board, Eduard will wait with me until the next day. With Eduard we had a conversation about the corruption in the government. But if we look into our conscience the fact is that it is present on all levels (not just in Ukraine). Unless we stop accepting or giving the money for the favors it will never disappear! I felt dreadful and trying to justify if my action was all right. When I went to toilet I saw a conductor sleeping on the chair, she gave me her cabin for that extra money to her pocket. Is it ok to be lucky? I always felt more lucky than clever but always wanted to be fair. The LUCK is not always fair, the LIFE is not neither.

After 12 hours journey in the train, I arrived to Odessa where my warmshower host, Aleks, has already waited for me. I truly had a warm shower and amazing vegetable soup and aubergine spread. Today, I met his friends and learned how to make a borscht soup…..

What I learn in Ukrainian language so far:

  • Zhyvit – belly/pronounced simlarly like the Czech word život which states for the life
  • Okurek – slang for cigarette butt/Czech word for cucumber
  • Velosyped – bicycle
  • Bahazh – luggage
  • Slivki – cream
  • Skamnejka – bench