Grim! Ukraine is grim.
The men are coarse and grim, the women are pretty but also very grim. Unlike the Slavs it would appear that they haven’t yet shaken off the shackles of communism. Romania was at least colourful. Ukraine is grey and very, very grim! The roads are the worst I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. I took the main ‘highway’ from a border town , aptly named Frontiera to Odessa, on the Black Sea, where I’m now taking a rest day. On many stretches of this road, the traffic weaves around cavernous pot holes and ridges, without any regard for the occasional cyclist and also avoiding the potholes. The only advantage is that there’s less cars on the road and they have to travel very slowly because of the awful road conditions. Most of the cars are ancient Lada type vehicles which always seem to be loaded beyond capacity. Exhausts are dangling or even absent. Trucks and cars belch black smoke into the air which mingles with the smell of tar which has become molten at 45 degrees. Given these conditions, I’ve changed my strategy just to survive, I’m cycling at a slower pace and taking more breaks, usually at village shops. These are very grim places too. The range of food available is limited and there’s always a grim faced baboushka scowling from behind the counter. It’s hard to get wifi while en route. The only place where it can be guaranteed is in the International hotels. I frequent these hotels to blog after eating. They are clean and bright but full of grim business men gambling and drinking vodka. All kinds of extra services are openly advertised and the girls offering these services are the grimmest of all. But enough whinging! I’ve cycled 600 km in 4 days to cross Ukraine and now I’m safely ensconced in the beautiful Grand Baboushka Hostel in Odessa, where the lovely girls who run the place are anything but grim! In fact, I have a feeling that Odessa and the Black Sea my be Ukraine’s saving grace. The temperature has dropped to a more manageable 35 degrees so I’m off to a nice beach for a whole day without the bike.
How to survive in Ukraine. Last week I wasn’t being totally honest when I was pondering on the fact that I wouldn’t see the sea until I reached Shanghai. I’d forgotten entirely about the Black Sea, Though technically a lake this vast inland sea feels like the ocean, Its clean, salty and lined with wonderful resort towns, I spent a wonderful day in Odessa where several hours of immersion in the Black Sea did wonders for my saddle sores and the many wounds which have afflicted me over the past few weeks. The banter in the Gentlemans Club that is the wonderfully apppointed common room of the Grand Baboushka Hostel in Odessa has done wonders for my soul.. I’ve been especially impressed by the Americans I meet at these hostels. Young, Intelligent, articulate, broad minded and good humoured, they have dramatically altered my view on Americans. I was in high spirits setting from Odessa after a great breakfast at the hostel.
My plan was to head due East in order to get as quickly as possible out of Ukraine. I had, however to balance my route choice with safety considerations as this is essentially a war zone, contested between Russia and Ukraine. The reality of what this meant became all too real when I was surrounded by a gang of youths only 340 k or so from 0dessa. Some of them were really drunk, at 10.00am and I knew I was in deep shit. My first response was to offer them the contents of my fake wallet but they weren’t impressed and their leader produced a knife. I felt my bowels loosen and began to inwardly pray when I noticed that the object of their anger was my Ukranian flag. The hilt of the knife was emblazoned with the Russian colours. Like a circus monkey, before you could sing “RaRa Rasputin’ I had removed the Ukrainian flag and was doing strongman Putin impressions on the side of the road, They were impressed this time and offered me vodka,Though it wasn’t Smirnoff quality I accepted as much to steady my nerves as to keep them sweet,~ Roll on the adventure and please stop telling me to keep safe. I’m a big boy and know that diplomacy and good humour will keep me alive. Main thing is i’m still alive and going strong and despite a few obsticals along the way i’m really enjoying my adventure #GoGoDermo