Rest Day, Kiev
Kiev was to be
one of the highlights of the trip; neither Pierpaolo or myself had been this far
East and it represented something that was still a bit mysterious, a bit fresh.
In a world where the likes of Easyjet have made it possible to go to anywhere in
Europe for the same time and money that it takes to ride the Piccadilly tube
line from end to end, this is an increasingly rare feeling.
out of bed by a dodgy landlord at 7:00 AM from a decaying ex Soviet 20 storey
apartment block definitely did not feature in this picture. Lack of sleep and a
surplus of alcohol in the bloodstream makes it sooooo much rougher, but somehow
we manage to drag our sorry selves out of bed and go in search of old mother
exactly did we expect to see today? What I know about Kiev I could write on a
postage stamp...close to Chernobyl, erm some nice churches maybe, errrr probably
lots of gorgeous girls walking around (The Beatles sung about the Ukraine girls,
must be true), and perhaps some kind of photogenically crinkle cut old lady
trying to sell her underwear and a turnip from a cardboard box in the street.
buddy Alex soon has us marching across the whole city giving us the grand tour.
Some very special official buildings and some glorious golden domed churches
that manage to effect what I will call a “Hansel
and Ghetto” gone bling impression. You could take some amazing postcard shots
in this place, but there’s a lot of chaff to sift through to get to the grain.
There’s no hiding the fact that this is an ex Soviet city with all the
architectural nuances that statement implies.
point above the town though is superb – a full view over the river Dnipro,
with white sand beaches visible on the banks of an island in the middle. Above
us towers a statue of a worker and a guy with a Stalinisque ‘tasch, done in
the classic chisel cut homo erotica stylie. Staring out into the distance -
torsos bared, they ooze a strange combination of steadfast solidarity and sexual
us riding the underground metro system, which, like Moscow’s, is a delight.
Built in 1960, it remains largely unchanged to this day with original carriages
still in operation.
something comforting about seeing infrastructure built 50 years ago still being
able to handle the volume and demands of modern society. Queing for rotten
cabbage, along with getting conscripted to a Siberian military outpost all
conspire to make Communism pretty uncool in my books. It’s just a pity that
the victorious free marketeers have airbrushed over the few good bits that were
spawn from the idealogy.
What is also
surprising is just how far down you have to go to get on a train...no great
hills to take into account on the system, but the tracks are, by our estimation
80 metres below street level. That’s a lot of unnecessary and expensive
digging to do. But if you reason that the subway system was built in the middle
of the Cold War, then one of the motivations of doing this may have been so the
transport system could act as a civilian bunker in the event of an attack from
those evil Capital Imperialists.
Back up to
street level now and there is no hiding that there are some extremely good
looking women walking around with ballerina figures. But there is something that
is not quite right in their body language. It’s like as if none of them really
wanted to get out of bed today, let alone exercise 17 muscles simultaneously and
smile. I take this point up with
Alex, who replies that this is the norm in Ukraine and Russia. Smiling at a
stranger is something that does not really happen.
thinking maybe the Beatles got it a bit wrong about the Ukraine girls after all.
Current events would suggest that old Paul really isn’t the best judge of
women. And apart from getting his bum on the cover of Rolling Stone (every
man’s fantasy), our dearly departed John didn’t exactly strike gold with
Yoko Ono. (for an amusing and occasionally expletive rant on why its OK to
hate Yoko Ono, read this http://www.justramit.co.uk/justramit-262.htm)
That night we
meet up with a couple of Alex’s mates for a few beers near the University
Square. It is a surprisingly quiet night in town, so we jump in a taxi and come
to a sort of dodgy looking Blue Light Disco in wooded grounds abouy 15 minutes
out of the centre. Drinks are flowing and people are starting to fill the place
up, when Alex reveals just before midnight that it’s his birthday tomorrow –
yippeeee! Break out the Ukrainian champagne and behold the male stripper now
performing on the floor. Oh dear, what have I done to deserve this punishment.
Ludicrous amounts of rancid alcohol find their way into our glasses under
Alex’s unwavering attendance, but by the stroke of 4AM we leave birthday boy
to try his luck and get a smile from one of the leggy girls dancing badly on the
floor. Ballerinas, my ass.
As it’s a
foreign country and the birthday of a good mate, its all fun and giggles
shrouded in a veneer of acceptable spontanaeity. But if it happened on your own
turf you’d never be allowed to set foot from the house again.
KM START = 22,340
(Trip = 11, 970)
KM END =
22,910 (Trip = 12,540 )
> Rivne > L’viv
Yes, I did say
Ukrainian champagne up there - I only wished I hadn’t drunk it. I feel like Alexander
Litvinenko did after his KGB
Tea. A predictably late and groggy start that we must somehow snap out of, as
there are miles and miles of the Ukraine to cover today and not alot of
accomodation options en route.
Alex comes on
over to wave us off and give us a sort of taxi escort out to the edge of town,
as we would have lost hours getting out of Kievs unsigned road spaghetti
unaided. He has been an amazing host and gone out of his way to show us the town
– today he will hop on a train and make the 9 hour journey back home to where
he lives. That’s a true mate.
On the bikes
and at the first major unmarked intersection out of town we are already out of
our element. One of those classic dumb tourist scenarios where we ask a passer
by for directions and he replies in Ukrainian. Not my strongest tongue I dare
say. Seeing that we are having trouble grasping what he’s saying, he then
proceeds to speak Ukrainiain even louder, with the thought that decibels can
overcome syllables. At least we head off in the wrong direction laughing.
out of Kiev to the West is a massive concrete artery that cuts through the
country, flanked by verdant British Racing Green old growth forest on either
side. Every kilometre, there’s a group of people with makeshift roadside
stalls setup, selling fruits and berries from the growth within.A constant chain
of people with plastic buckets moves in and out of the forest, picking the
contents and loading them in punnets for a hopeful sale.
Two hours down
the road and we still have not made much of a dent in the journey. It’s at
this moment that you realise just how damn enormous Russia was, and what must
have been involved in running a country that stretched across half the world. We
have passed only 100 cars today in total, but the state still has to maintain
all the highways for this small volume of traffic. Trucks are the haemoglobin of
the economy, and they need well kept arteries to travel down. For someone that
has trouble keeping a 2 bedroom flat in decent order, the idea of running and
maintaining a country like this is mortifying.
Russia brought about such atrocities as Lada cars and shrink fit polyester
Olympic tracksuits. Frighteningly, these were assessed the prize fruits that
could be shown to the outside world that would invoke the least derision; There
must have been some heinous stuff that was hidden from Western eyes. But it is
unfair to blame the failings of these years solely at the feet of communism.
Part of the failing I believe is that the place is just too damn big to manage
properly. Rampant Capitalism, as evident in the unchanged living standards, is
clearly not the magic bullet for Russia’s problems. Is it perhaps the only
country in the world with the problem of too much land?
riding the bike, as you can tell, have become rather rambling and philosophical
due to the sheer amount of time spent barrelling down the nation’s empty
highways. Reflections such as thes aren’t an afforded luxury, they are a
necessity to pass the time of day.
As the mind
wanders, its quite easy to lose track of the speedo. Pierpaolo is riding in
front, and as we come over the crest of a hill in a small town, Johnny Lawski
has his hairdryer pointed right at him and gets him to pull over...I shoot past
but slam on the anchors 200 metres down the road and wait for him. Playing the
stupid tourist and perhaps a few Euros should get him out of this bind.
later and no sign of my buddy, so I start to head back up the road to where
he’s pulled over. But he’s shooing me away! I stay at a respectful distance
and on the signal that the ordeal is over, I turn around, roll down the road a
bit and wait for Pierpaolo to catch up.
is perhaps the strangest story of attempted bribery and failed corruption.
Pierpaolo was asked to write down his speed he was travelling (95km/h), and then
asked to present his passport for inspection. Mr Policeman looks at the
passport, suggests that there is a speed problem, but fortunatley one that can
be remedied with “Present for Me!”. One Hryvnia for
each kilometre being the recommended bequest (about 12 EUR for all 95 of them).
he doesn’t have a penny on him, that his mate that went past on the bike had
all the money in a little travel kitty, which is actually God’s honest truth.
Mr Policeman suspects his Italian offender may be trying to pull one over an
officer of the law, calling him in Italian “Furbo!” (crafty, cunning) with
all manner of seriousness. Another viewing of the passport, and the question
“Dove vive – Milano?”. Pierpaolo responds “Non, Venizia”. To which our
policeman suddenly lights up and says “Ah, Venezia! Gondola! Bongiourno,
gracia....”. It’s the funniest and most half hearted extortion bid I’ve
ever heard of, and it makes me love the Ukraine even more.
country highways degenerate into BMX tracks and the next 200 kilometres of the
M17 is enough to loosen any fillings and line the pockets of the next city’s
from our starting point, and we reach the city of L’viv. Our expectations for
this place were absolutely minimal – the only reason we chose to stop here was
because it’s impossible to get to Budapest, our next destination, in a single
day, and this looked like the best spot to stop from the map. But what a delight
the place is.
town is on a descending 3 kilometre dark cobbled street, where not one stone
appears out of place. Surrounded by a wealth of well laid out parks, the city
shows off its wonderful Austro-Hungarian architecture in the golden afternoon
sun. And it all looks fabulous. We check into the regally titled “Hotel
George”, where our bedroom is more like a ballroom. 24 foot ceilings,
herringbone wood parquet floor and beds that you could go walkabout on. Hardly
the rough end of European accommodation.
Our wanting to
secure the bikes for the night gets the full attention of the doorman. He lets
us ride the bikes into the hotel and park them in one of the unused rooms out
the back. Even our filthy motorbikes are being treated like royalty here!
scrubbed up, have a nice dinner in an outside brasserie and then head out to one
of the local clubs “Millennium” for a drink and a bit of a boogie. It’s
only a Wednesday night, but theres enough people in here to make it interesting,
and no shortage of rather happier looking girls on the dance floor.
been an absolute surprise, and a city we can both highly recommend as worth a
weekend visit. A real jewel of the Ukraine and a nice example of an Eastern
European city prior to the Cheap Flight Fungus that will eventualy blight them
KM START = 22,910
(Trip = 12,540 )
KM END =
23,550 (Trip = 13,180 )
> Skole > Chop > Budapest (HU)
No peace for
the wicked - another long haul scheduled for today with a 600+ kilometre drive
to Budapest . Plan is to catch up with another local mate of ours there, Adam.
So we roll the bikes out of their posh dorms and head out onto some roads that
would make some African nations blush.
But this all
starts to change as we head towards the forested hills near the Hungarian
border. Roads become tarmaced and develop a lovely mixture of cambers and
corners so that riding becomes a real pleasure. And the countryside is gorgeous.
What reminds me of Albertan flat lands gradually morph into some of the best
bits of Northern British Columbia, with the old lumber and mining towns en route
adding to the wild frontier effect.
The forests we
pass through are dense green, and the river that courses through has boulders
artistically placed within, enabling the water to froth up and leave a
cappuccino foam on the tops of them. Hay stands baled up in the fields like
amber teardrops or Hershey kisses – farmers here stake something that looks
like a tea mug holder in the ground, and layer it with a pitch fork this way so
that the hay stays off the floor and dries quicker.
this country idyll are churches that look the product of true fantasy... thatch
and timber constructions with resplendent domes that look like metallic onions,
beetroots and turnips from a distance. It’s like Hansel and Gretel again, but
this time they’ve gone righteous lo-carb vegetarian with their choice of
these wonders, the sun on our backs and blue skies ahead...well only a speeding
ticket could ruin this. But in that strange Ukrainian way, it actually improves
the afternoon. 92km/h in a 60km/h zone, pulled over and the cops immediately
barking at me in Ukrainian. Language barrier means I really don’t know when or
what to offer the guy. I do catch the word “bank” and “ticket” and a
signal to somewhere off in the distance, but I figure if the guy wants to wangle
some cash from reckless foreign motorists such as myself, then he should at
least heed the commom courtesy of a few basic phrases of extortion in the
minutes of shrugs and “I dont understands” in 3 uncommon languages, he gives
up and sends me on my way. God bless this turf. They wouldn’t last 1 week in
the Moldovan Police Academy but I do like the cops in this country. Next time
I’ll leave a tip.
Push push push
all the way to the border – about 3PM and our stomachs are rumbling, so we
stop off at a border hotel for some lunch. If there is one thing that is
becoming evident on this trip, it is our uncanny ability to find the dodgiest
eating places without GPS assistance. Its a new built hotel restaurant from the
outside, with al fresco seating on the lawn. Seemingly innocuous. Walk inside to
place our food order, and the setup is all too familiar... 2 waitresses,
uniformed in some leopard effect spray-on outfit and lo behold! Surely that’s
not a keyboard player on center stage playing to an empty room?
What is it
with these crappy strip joint places masquerading as restaurants? Its almost as
if IKEA has a naughty “under the shelf” range of business furnishings, with
their flat pack nudie bars being sold all over Eastern Europe complete with
identically kitted staff and the ubiquitous matching keyboard player –
audience optional. Only this theory can explain the jarring uniformity of these
establishments on our travels.
however is surprisingly good, and with a belly full of it we glide through
Ukrainian customs and snake our way through Hungarian immigration leving behind
a conga line of humans simmering in their 4 wheeled sardine cans. Sometimes a
bike is the only way to travel.
The road to
Budapest is a good 300km, but it is marble smooth and sparingly policed, so
getting into town before dark is no problem. The heat builds up and the wind
drops right down – by the time our friend Adam comes to meet us in the centre,
the clouds are brooding and thunder rumbles in from the distance.
been to Budapest before but its my first time. I always found it hard to believe
that a city could be talked of in the same breath as Prague (Paris has too much
dog shit to be a serious contender), but even with torrential rain lashing it
down it is easy to see the charms of this place. Adam introduces us to his
delightful girlfriend, knows all the staff in the restaurants and bars, and lets
us have his flat for the night right in the centre of town. As mates in foreign
cities come, they dont come much better than that! After a few beers and some
table fussball in a cool bohemian pub next door, we head home and grab some well
language is pretty tricky to get your ears around, so as a result I cannot
remember the names of any of the fantastic places we saw today. Pathetic. You
should expect more from your fellow travel bloggers :o)
degrees and blazing sunshine seems like the perfect excuse to spend most of the
day at one of the amazing outdoor baths in the city. A welcome leftover from the
Ottoman empire, these baths are a real focal point of city life -
a place where you can cool off and catch some rays in the outdoor pools
in summer, or get a therapeutic natural mineral bath indoors any time of the
break in the evening – but we head out anyway for a great dinner then off to
the Buddha Beach club till 3AM. Great music playing, in a city where the people
obviously enjoy going out and having a good time. Budapest, we will miss you.
KM START = 23,550
(Trip = 13,180 )
KM END =
23,773 (Trip = 13,403 )
Budapest > Bratislava (SK)
After 8 weeks
of travelling side by side through 12 countries on our bikes, today sees the
departure of Pierpaolo back home to Italy. All the exotic bits of the trip, the
unknown elements, have all been enjoyed and catalogued – everyday life now
awaits us both, and the unnerving reality of riding alone back home, in search
of a job land heavy on the mind.
So its goodbye
to the guy who has shared countless shitty rooms and mud floors with me, along
with all the usual banter and funny stuff that happens when 2 lads go on
holiday. Well it’s not really goodbye as I’ll be seeing him again, but
without a motorbikes it wont feel quite so cool.
riding back to Fontanafredda through Austria, while my journey will take me
through Bratislava, Prague and Hamburg before I cross back over the channel. We
wave each other off, and pretty soon I am out of the city limits and banging
along a smooth but dull highway to Slovakia’s capital.
In town I meet
Milan, the brother of my old flatmate Jana. Its great to see him again – one
of those guys who always wears a Size 24 smile on his face. Park the bike at his
flat, locking it to just about everything thats bolted down as he lives in a
slightly dodgy area. Then it’s off to a concert in the park where some great
local ska bands are playing from midday until midnight. Another sunny day with
good music and 30p beers on tap. It’s not a bad comedown.
Milan is off
at 4am the next morning for his summer holiday, so he leaves me the keys and we
say goodnight and goodbye.
KM START = 23,773
(Trip = 13,403 )
KM END =
24,213 (Trip = 13,843)
Bratislava > Brno > Mlada Boleslav > Prague (CZ)
Milan is gone
by the time I wake, so I get kitted up, drop the keys through the mail box and
walk outside to where my bike is surprisingly still standing. Car and bike theft
is almost out of control in Eastern Europe, so drivers never really complain
about the traffic... they’re actually happy just to be in it.
On the road to
Brno and the roads are wonderful, much like the Routes Nationale of France but
with 10% of the traffic. It’s really fun riding, but I am so used to the
reassuring site of number plate “LP06 OPW” in front of me, it does feel a
bit empty. Bikes are great fun, but they are so much better with a mate beside
today is just outside of Mlada Boleslav, where a good friend of mine Pavel has a
small house in the country and a 15 month old baby boy I have not yet seen. From
Brno to Mlada , the country backroads are absolutely fantastic – real old
world farming country, but with perfect tarmac winding its way artistically
through the occasional rustic village.
The bike I’m
on has served me faultlessly for the last 13,000 kilometres, but i can’t help
but feel a bit of the 7,000 kilometre itch. I’d happily gift my dependable
Japanese plodder - the one that has seen me through good times and bad - for
just 2 hours on a wild, streamlined Italian beauty. A temperamental and lusty
Ducati 748 would be just the ticket, but I better stop thinking these covetous
thoughts before old faithful picks up on them and throws a piston.
Pavel and his
family are in great form, and it’s wonderful to see his little boy in action.
Sunday tea and cakes, then I ride behind him back to his flat in Prague for the
night. Security again takes priority – Pavel had 3 company cars stolen from
under his window within a year! So we take the bike around to a hotel secured
garage. Walking home from here would be a pretty poor finish to the trip.
It’s still a
beautiful late afternoon, so we walk up to one of the parks nearby, grab a
goulash and a pint from a vendors stall and watch the sunset over this
KM START = 24,213
(Trip = 13,843)
KM END =
24,975 (Trip = 14,605)
> Teplice > Hamburg > Rendsburg (DE)
Meet up with
Pavel for lunch near his flat, and then its a massive haul to my next
destination north of Hamburg. Although this is not a hugely adventurous part of
the trip and will hardly have people trading in their Charley and Ewan books in
the hope that this gets published, it is satisfying as it enables me to plot a
course home dropping in on good people I have not seen in ages.
Driving up to
the border at Teplice is nice enough, but as soon as I enter Germany and take
the Autobahns then it starts chucking it down. Maybe this is punishment for
staying away from my “No Motorways” philosophy, but with 800 kilometres to
notch up and 8 hours of daylight I am not left with many alternatives. After 2
months of riding through some truly awful conditions, I am sort of conditioned
to this now, so the answer is to just keep on riding and punch your way through
seems to be tied to my bike and supplied by an endless fountain – wherever I
turn, they go. After 3 hours of this I pull over, wring the gloves out, squeeze
the jacket and trousers till they are just damp and grab a coffee. Nothing like
a bit of caffeine to add 10 degrees to the day and motivate you for the next
slog. But all of my bags are saturated and there is not a dry stitch of clothing
ahead to Hamburg and things get a lot better....6 lane autobahn becomes 2 way
country road, and even the sun pokes its head out to mark the occasion.
After half a day underwater, this seems like the greatest luxury in the world!
If I can just angle all parts of my trousers and jacket so that they catch the
wind, then in an hours time I will be dry again. Excellent! It’s motorcycle
life philosophy... things on this road may all seem crap now, but if you keep
going for just a few more hours / kilometres, then the grey clouds will part and
light will come through.
As the sun
starts to dip, I realise I may not make it before nightfall, so for the first
time on this trip (honest officer!) I really open up the throttle and gas it
through these back roads. On a bike I think it’s better riding quick, alert
and visible then driving invisibly in the dark. This race against the sun adds a
huge element of fun to the journey, and by the time the light’s all gone its
just a 30 minute trundle in the dark to my destination.
me into the family house, gives me a hug and a much needed cup of tea and lets
me collapse early. I have been on the bike 10 hours, stopping only for 1 fuel
stop and a coffee the whole day - I am feeling pretty battered. Time for some
sweet dreams in a friendly house.
Rest Day –
Rain. Play with Anja and her friend Jana’s 5 kids (3+2). Sign a contract for a
new job starting in a month, then read the kids bedtime stories in the most
horrendous German ever spoken.
I lasted 10
weeks in my German classes at school... either I was getting my pencil case
thrown out of the window by the teacher (ok, I did talk a bit), or he was
bringing in his accordion and singing old German folk songs with conviction.
Something had to give. Herr Wigney, I am sad to say it was me. Please forgive me
- the music made me do it.
But I am
touched that 5 year old Jascha actually wants her bedtime story read by me.
Either she going out of her way to extend Deutsche hospitaity, or its the
funniest thing she has ever heard and she is completely taking the piss. I’ll
ask her in a few years.
KM START = 24,975
(Trip = 14,605)
KM END =
26,325 (Trip = 15,855)
Rendsburg > Charleroi (BE) > Lille (FR) > Calais > Brighton (UK)
raining relentlessly, but for the first time the thought of being at home comes
to mind and lifts me. Catching up with all my mates in Brighton, having a mug of
tea in my own kitchen, listening to the BBC weatherman say in his wonderful
clipped accent “It will be partly cloudy with chances of showers” ... its
the little things like that I miss about England. So despite the deluge outside,
I make my plans to get on the bike and do the final stretch to Calais and across
explains why I traded the warmth and welcome of Anja’s house for another full
day of riding into a fire hydrant. Extremely dull motorways, rain starting to
find its way into my socks and undies, but I can almost smell that first mug of
tea so it’s all worth it.
is all I can manage before the limbs start cramping and the bones begin to ice.
The black leather gloves I am wearing have left my hands completely dyed, like
some B-Troupe minstrel. I pull into a non descript hotel north of Dusseldorf and
call it a day. I am surprised they let me in, as I look like a real dero.
The next day
it’s motorways all the way down to Belgium and into France, and there is
respite from the rain of the past few days. But the motorways are about as
exciting as a tax seminar, so I pop onto the Route Nationales for the last 200km
to Calais. Despite being French, the locals are wonderful drivers – the best
in Europe when it comes to making room for bikes and maintaining a safe distance
Calais and my last ferry for the trip, having been on 10 in the past 2 months.
On board I hear an American couple with 2 kids in tow, desperately flicking
through a brochure and phoning local hotels in vain search of 2 spare rooms.
Poor guys. They probably think Dover is some quaint seaside village with ale
served in barrels and Morris dancing at the local pub each night.
she’s not looking so bad. The pale orange light of early evening covers the
shore, and bulbous purple clouds squelch on the horizon – real Turner stuff.
Roll off the
ferry and through British customs...gee its nice to see an English police
uniform – one of the other weird things I missed about the place. Then quick
sticks back to Brighton. I haven’t told anyone I’m coming as I thought it
would be fun just to roll up on a doorstep, and Jon and Diets, landlords of my
old house are the first people I visit. Lots of chat, lots of coffee – really
great to see them again, and their lodger Javier also appears just as I am
I am in a bit
of a rush to get down to the seafront...the light is all but gone, and I want to
get the last snap of me and the bike on Brighton Pier at dusk. Like a pathetic
“I made it to Brighton, the end of the world!” photo. I ride the bike up the
footpath and start positioning it for the clinching shot, when a security guard
comes over with a baton and tells me to “get that bloody thing out of
Damn, no back
cover shot for the book that should rightfully outsell the last Harry Potter...
the publishers won’t like that! But the guard takes a second look at one of
the stickers on the petrol tank. It’s a crappy “theshortwayround2007”
sticker I had made up for the trip, the intention being that you throw them at
Customs people in dodgy countries, you appear official so they let you whizz
through unmolested. But this guy has seen an Albanian flag on the sticker, and
then starts to wax lyrical about his homeland and asked me if I enjoyed it.
16 flags on
that sticker I had printed, and there were 2 countries on it we didn’t end up
visiting...this guy picks one of them. Do I burst his bubble, insult his
national pride and say “Actually we heard Albania is a corrupt and rat
infested boghole, so we decided not to go there”. No. I become a diplomat.
“Yes, it was
fantastic. I loved every minute there, and the capital Tirana is like something
I have never seen before”
Big smiles all
round, he’s on my side and now offers to take the picture of me and the bike
in the perfect early evening light...”Click!”. It’s a surreal but fitting
end to an incredible journey.
Swing my leg
off the bike outside my flat, with the feeling that I really don’t want to
look at a motorbike for quite some time. Go up and chat with my flatmate Fred
and after 10 minutes it feels as if I’d just popped out to the shops to get
some milk and walked back in.
After a week, the mind starts to wander again, and by the time I get back to work atthe end of July there are already plans drawn up for the next trip with Pierpaolo. Travel and motorbikes are good by themselves, but together they are irresistible.