Author Topic: Cycling Ukraine September 10, 1994.  (Read 3483 times)

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Offline Westinghouse

Cycling Ukraine September 10, 1994.
« on: July 25, 2023, 02:16:29 am »
I pushed the heavily loaded bicycle out to the road where a tall thin bearded man was cycling by on the highway. There was no luck cycling West looking for the campground, but there was that tall bearded man talking with another man across the highway. Both men were on bicycles which is normal for Ukraine. Perhaps my cycling across the road to ask some questions would elicit some useful answers. "Do you speak English?" "Yes I do," replied the bearded man. And indeed he did this fellow named Viktor. Not only did he speak English well, he was also an interpreter in Kiev for a US News agency called Intel news. Viktor was a native-born Ukrainian, and his friend Leonid, Russian, was a retired pilot and testing engineer for an aircraft company. Viktor said the campground was very expensive and reserved for tourists. He said hotels were running about $65 a day, but that there was one cheaper hotel near where we were. We cycled to the hotel which was only a few minutes away.



The hotel a dull, drab looking, few stories kind of place was located in a sports complex surrounded by a car race track. Viktor informed me that he cycled on the track on weekends. After going in and looking at the rooms Viktor negotiated a price of $12 a day. He explained to the woman at the desk about The travelers checks and how they would be exchanged for coupons the following day. The Ukrainian renter paid 50 cents a day. The American paid $12. Or the Ukrainian paid 25,000 coupons a day and the American 600,000. Frankly the room was not worth it and it would be too much even for the United States. However, a poor Ukrainian, seeing a foreign tourist in his market, especially an American, is like a hungry shark sensing blood in the water. He goes crazy. And who is without guilt that he can cast the first stone? It was a market economy. They do the same thing in Florida every year when the tourist season rolls around.

 Agreeing to meet Viktor later outside, I repaired first to the room to get cleaned up while he cycled around the track.  It was a little confusing where we had agreed to meet. First, I cycled along a rocky road and then doubled back and cycled to the top of a concrete bridge over the track. There was no discernible way of getting from the bridge onto the track. They showed up and gave me directions on which road to follow and which gate to go around and where to turn and soon I too was on the track and cycling leisurely along. During our one lap of the track Victor talked about the sports complex and answered questions about Ukraine. We cycled over to a set of bleachers near an airfield and sat a while. Sitting prominently in a green grassy field about 200 ft in front of us was an old flat-green biplane. Large black letters were printed on the plane's fuselage, and a large painted red star adorned its rear rudder. It looked like a relic from a bygone era of aviation history, like a display in a museum for looks only. At the rear of the plane five young people sat and lay in the grass. Suddenly, along with a billowing cloud of gray smoke, the two engines burst into a well-oiled well-maintained and very loud roar. It was surprising as hell. "You mean that thing actually runs," I exclaimed. "Of course it runs," said Viktor. He went on to explain that students from Nepal used the plane to practice skydiving.



At that moment a group of 15 young men and women walk single file from a building to the plane and boarded. With its twin engines purring The relic took to the air like an eagle. It flew completely out of sight. At the same time a green military helicopter landed on a round concrete landing pad near us.

Victor, Leonid and I cycled into the center of Kiev. We came across a store selling cheese and yogurt, which, of course, I snapped up immediately. There is no better yogurt than Ukrainian yogurt, and the same goes for their coffee, cheese and their bread but that is all. The store had a second story which sold sundry items including soap powder. I drank down all of the yogurt in front of the store. Victor said that Intel news would pay me to write an article on my first impressions cycling through Ukraine. I made no promises but told him I would write one if I could find the time. The most important thing on my agenda was getting a few days of sound sleep. I did not want to get tied into someone else's agenda. Most always I am better off deciding my own course and making my own decisions. Victor promised to introduce me to the editor of Intel news tomorrow. We made plans to meet on Sunday to cycle out to the area's lake district.


It was a relief heading back to the hotel back to rest and relaxation. While cycling up to the front door, seven mangy snarling curs charged from behind a hedge in the hotel's front yard. They were mean vicious acting mongrels, but they backed away when I stopped cycling and yelled at them. They acted as though they would have liked nothing better than tearing me apart limb from limb. A new woman at the front desk claimed to have no knowledge of the agreement to cash the checks and pay later. She started arguing about paying, insisting that I come up with the money then. It was pointless trying to communicate with each other. Neither one of us spoke the other's language. She finally called a female interpreter.  Over the phone we got things straightened out. I carried the bicycle up the stairs and kept it inside the room. Dinner was composed of Nutella sandwiches and cheese.


The room itself was abuzz with flies. There were no screens on the windows. The TV was a fuzzy black and white affair that brought in two channels with no sound. The small refrigerator did not work at all. A brown colored crud coated the walls of the shower room all the way to the bottom of the tub. There was running water, all of it cold as ice. There was a sit toilet that flushed. Pull the overhead handle and a powerful stream rushed into the bowl onto the floor against the wall and all over anyone standing in front of the thing.


This 34th day was spent cycling about 10 miles around the city of Kiev. I rented a hotel room for an exorbitant price for 2 days and saw kiev's sports complex. Cheese and yogurt from a local store were an unexpected treat. This was the first full body ablution, cold as it was, in 5 days. A pack of nasty mean curs had menaced. An old woman at a reception desk had hassled and harassed. What a reception. Welcome to Ukraine.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2023, 02:25:31 am by Westinghouse »

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Cycling Ukraine September 10, 1994.
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2023, 03:22:29 pm »
This place, Ukraine, was either bad, worse or worst. Somebody once told me such countries often regress rather than progress.

Offline billsmithaustin

Re: Cycling Ukraine September 10, 1994.
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2023, 08:23:32 am »
I biked along the Crimean coast in 1992 as part of an REI tour group.  There were plenty of restaurants where all you could get to eat was bread, tomato, cucumber, and soup.  We mostly drank mineral water, which came in green or brown glass bottles and had a strong mineral taste. 

As a child of the Cold War, I expected to die in a nuclear holocaust.  Instead, here I was bicycling through the former territory of the USSR.   We ate ice cream at a shop in the bottom floor of a former KGB building.  One night we stayed at a resort formerly used by vacationing Soviet aircraft factory workers. 

The countryside was beautiful.  Vineyards and fields of poppies.  Gentle hills that reminded me of the Texas Hill Country.

In more peaceful times, I could imagine doing that tour again.