Ukraine … again – The End

Well, the final entry now and it’s a bit boring. I had booked the Monday off work at the last minute due to Touratech Kassel getting my tank bag in, also the thought of all that way in 2 days wasn’t appealing.

A 9am departure saw my following the GPS to the border. It was uneventful really even though the road is pretty rubbish in places. I tried to capture this using a handheld camera. Do you know how hard it is to ride one handed!

As I came out of one of the towns I stopped for a stretch and a Lada 4×4 stopped. Out got a plain clothes policeman and after lots of me telling that I didn’t understand Russian (He was probably speaking Ukrainian, oops) he eventually got an english speaking lady on the phone who gave me a grilling. Where was I from, why was I there etc. She also said that the guy couldn’t read my passport. There wasn’t much I could do and eventually he just waved me on after he got bored. I wasn’t paying any bribery money this time!

Border formalities were slower than coming in, but after being told to push to the front, I got through ok. The Polish side tried to tell me to go to the back of the queue but I apologised and grovelled and he let me stay at the front which was nice. 

Then the few hundred km to Wroclaw in Poland. An easy ride.

Sunday was also an easy ride with about 600km to Kassel. A few hours on the bike with regular stops to check the Wifi to see how Hamilton was doing in the F1 GP made it a relaxing day.

Since I was in no rush at all I was plodding along the autobahns at about 60-65mph. I was overtaken by a lot of bikers on all types of bikes. Almost everyone that passed gave a bit of a wave or nod. You know the only people who didn’t? Big 1200GS riders (And the 1200 touring thing) A pack of about 10 passed me and all blanked me. However those of you who ride in Germany often will know the Autobahns have their fair share of accidents and I came across 3 that day. Many miles of tailbacks but the drivers are really good and although it’s not legal, they open up and allow you to filter. Each time I got to a traffic jam I would filter and pass all those big GS’s with their panniers who were too big to filter (or just plain thick as they were certainly trying) They’d then pass me again after it opened up. A proper tortoise and the hare scenario. Each time I waved and each time they blanked me. Odd. Anyhow …

I rolled into Kassel at about 5pm, found my hotel and unpacked. I’ve worked in Kassel a few times so know the place a bit so I had a walk around. It’s a nice city. 

Touratech only open at 10am so I didn’t have to get an early night. Instead I ended up watching Sky News (Only English channel) and decided that the news is all crap. Beheadings, murders of young girls, Ebola etc. Where is the good news on the news? Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s not newsworthy. Gripe over.

Rainer at Touratech Kassel (and his dog) are awesome people. Speak better English than me and couldn’t be more friendly. Coffee and biscuits, helped me fit my tankbag (Ok, it’s only 1 screw but nontheless) and a long chinwag. I ended up buying the tankbag, some bar risers, a lockable Zumo mount and a UniFilter. Some nice bikes in the shop. It’s the 2nd largest TT shop in Germany.


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Then off to the tunnel. As it often the case, on a bike they will pop you on the next crossing, so I had 15 mins to wait. Just enough time to buy a burger king, shove it in the tank bag and eat it on the train 5 mins later. 

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Departing the train at about 6pm Monday evening it was torrential rain, so the 2 hours home wasn’t any fun. Thankfully the M25 was clear and the M1 wasn’t too bad. Got home around 8, threw clothes in the wash and parked the bike in the garage where it stayed for a few days.

Since then I’ve given the bike another good clean and ACF50’d it. Checked it over and everything is spot on. The tyres haven’t really worn much either, I was expecting to finish them off during the trip.

The only casualty is my Interphone headset connector. It had been slowly become dodgy on one speaker. Fidding with it would work however eventually it gave up the ghost about 30 miles from home. I need a new headset and I may have a spare here somewhere, otherwise it’s only £30 and to say it’s done over 15,000 miles I am pleased. The main unit is perfect still and holds charge for 8+ hours so I don’t need to replace that. It even fell off when I was fiddling with it in Poland on the E40 at about 70mph. It took me 10 mins to find it on the hard shoulder. Oops. Thankfully it’s a toll road and virtually deserted.

Other than that there’s not much to report. It was good fun. Next time though I will look at a different bike if it’s just mile munching and no offroad. The G650X is great once in Ukraine, but getting it there, if in a rush is a pain. I love the bike though and won’t be parting company with it anytime soon.

Ukraine … again – Part 8

As I said, the rest of the time there, until Friday afternoon anyhow, was just sightseeing. 

I did have a smile at these pigeons, they’re normally flocking everywhere as people feed them breadcrumbs, however one day it was pouring down and they all sat in a square on some bricks under a tree.

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There are quite a few dogs around. I assume they don’t have owners, they’re all harmless though and don’t bother you. This little lot were having a bit of dog love making in the main square, but I was too slow with the camera to catch them in the act.

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Between the 2 watering places there is a nice park you walk through. Nice big trees and few sculptures along the way. Also a few black squirrels which I haven’t seen before.

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Even some young lad on a BMX showing off

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Anyone care to guess at the names on this sign? (Answers right at the bottom of this post entry)

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You can even go on a horse carriage ride.

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The Ukrainian equivalent of Royal Mail? 

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Sign Names:
Krakow
Vienna
Prague
Dresden
Venice
Berlin
Paris
Rome

 

A bit further away there is another park which is situated in quite an upmarket area I think. It was quite manicured, fountains, ponds and even random animals in cages. There was a Lynx, a Red Fox, a few deer, Peacocks, ducks and others. Very random as it wasn’t a zoo or anything. It was also virtually deserted.

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On the walk to this park I saw more awesome Russian vehicles!

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The Friday afternoon I managed to go and see my bike and check it over as I would be heading home first thing on the Saturday. All the normal checks and it was fine and nothing needed doing or topping up at all which was a relief. I even went out that afternoon to the ‘posh’ restaurant as a treat, anyone that knows me will know that I do not do posh, it’s not my thing at all, at work I have to wear a suit and tie and that’s the limit of my comfort. It was still ridiculously cheap, I think for my coffee and cake it was about £2. Just looking at the photo is making me hungry and the shops have closed on this miserable Sunday afternoon, all I have is an apple to munch on!

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So, an early night was had with an appointment at 8am in the morning to meet up with the garage owner to retrieve my bike for the 3 day trek home.

Ukraine … again – Part 7

Wednesday, Thursday and half of Friday were spent locally in Truskavets. Although the town isn’t very big there was enough of it for me to explore. 

Onto this fancy water then. “Naftusia” as it is known is special water that’s come up through the rocks I believe. However it does go via a laboratory to make sure it’s ok. There were only 2 types until a couple of years ago and now there is a third. They have names which are “Maria” “Sophia” and “Spring number 3” as the third doesn’t have a friendly name. Here’s the english portion of the sign inside with more information

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In Truskavets there are 2 places you can drink the water. They’re about a 15 min walk away from each other and one is about twice the size of the other. Excuse my spelling, but they’re called “Briviats” sort of sounds like the Russian greeting for hello “Priviet” but with a B instead of a P.

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These 2 places open 3 times a day for 2 hours at a time. 7-9am, 12-2pm and 5-7pm. People come during these times, fill up their fancy little cups or even normal bottles and then drink it. You have about 150ml, wait about 30 mins and then get another 150ml. Some people just have 1 type, most have 2, and some have all 3. They have distinct tastes and you can even choose to have them warm (Most common) or chilled. 

As mentioned earlier, you’re not supposed to let the water touch your teeth as it is really bad for the enamel. So people mostly use straws or these fancy cups. The cup I bought is a traditional one, but it’s small. They do bigger ones and ones in different styles, for example there was one I saw which was a cat sat upright and you drank from its tail. Pretty cute.

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There was also this poster on the wall with a photo of another cup and how to drink and fill it:

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This is what it looks like inside. Once again I apologise for the photos but I didn’t want to use the flash and be a tourist. It is pretty clean inside and a proper meeting place for people as they hang out

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Inside this place, as I mentioned, is a social place as well. This group of people met daily when I was there and just sang. Sorry again for quality. Some of the songs were upbeat however the majority sounded a bit sad. These were complete strangers and the size of the singing circle would grow and shrink as people joined in and left. I enjoyed it anyhow.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oPMFjX0oA8
Here’s a little video of me walking out so you get a better idea of what it’s like inside:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00cpzFBy6mg
Outside is a massive square where people socialise as well come rain or shine. There is a bit of entertainment, but not much really, mainly a place selling concert tickets for local singers, some of whom pitch up sometimes and cause a fuss, sign autographs and have photos taken. A few other things too, but the main tourist market is a couple of minutes walk away.More tomorrow …

Ukraine … again – Part 6

Final update for today was just people watching. Old men playing chess, old women just relaxing and a naughty little boy nicking the coins from the fountain!


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A bus home (Almost got on the wrong one to Kiev!) and I was home about 2 hours later. Some dinner and bed. Wed, Thu and Fri were to be spent locally.

Ukraine … again – Part 5

I also found a very very old coffee shop where they had a museum below street level. To be honest I didn’t understand much but it was nice to walk around with my miners hat and head torch. I love the smell of roast coffee. They had allsorts for sale at the end, but this took my fancy. I didn’t buy it though.

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Went to the City Hall building and you can go up the tower, so off I went up what felt like a million steps and got quite a nice view at the top.

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Then back down and found these cars parked up. I think they’re cool!

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There is a tram system that runs most of the city. A lot of the roads are cobble stones. When I rode through this town at about midnight in pouring down rain last year it was awful trying to keep upright on teh bike. The tram tracks and slippy stones were a nightmare. In the nice autumn sun however it was lovely.

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Ukraine … again – Part 4

So, Tuesday morning came around and off I trundled to the bus station, bought my ticket and waited for the next bus.

Can I read the ticket? Can I bollocks!

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The bus was not quite the National Express size, but not far off it. It had german writing on it and was obviously from a German company at some point. It was pretty nice actually and about 3/4 full. The roads were empty but since they’re pretty bad it took about 1.5 hours to do less than 60 miles. Then another 20 mins into the centre of L’viv as there was some traffic.

You get dropped off at the bus/train and tram station. I found a tram into the centre, bought my 2 hyrvnia ticket and took the 5 min journey in. Check out the lean on this guy, he leans more on corners than I do on the bike!

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L’viv is very nice, almost up to normal European standards. I did the normal walking around, taking photos of allsorts. A nice fountain at what appeared to be the main square.

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Lots of souvenir places as it;s quite touristy. The “Keep Calm and ….” has caught on here too,

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and as you can see, they hate Putin. The bottom shirt, if you can’t make it out is him as Hitler. They even have doormats with his face on. He’s not much liked. That reminds me, on the news one day (In Ukrainian) they has the “Top 10” of politicians being dumped in rubbish bins and it was all Putin’s cronies in the past week, it was hilarious.

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Some lovely building and fountains etc.

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I so want a Lada 4×4, these are common!

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Ukraine … again – Part 3

Monday was a quiet day, just walking around really to get my bearings and relax. One thing I wanted to do was to visit the nearby (95km) city of Lviv (Pronounced L’viv in Ukrainian or L’vov in Russian) So, first off to the train station to see if trains go there.

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The answer is “No” or rather, I didn’t understand exactly, so off I headed to the bus station to see if they could help me. I did have a chuckle at the warnings on this sign in the train station. When in Mariupol my friends told me it’s a 24 hour train ride to Kiev and people steal etc. So the warning seems valid. 

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There is a nice market across the road from the train station and some newer houses. 

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I found the bus station and indeed it goes to L’viv many times during the day. It’s 95km and takes 2 hours due to both the roads and then the bit of traffic as you get into L’viv. Tickets are 35 Hrvnia (Pronounced Grivna) and with an exchange rate at an all time high of 22 = £1 it was mega cheap. My visit last year was 15 = £1. The fighting is hurting more than just people. I was told because the exchange rate is so bad, petrol has risen and of course this pushes almost all prices up. People are suffering a bit.

Petrol was about 15 hryvnia a litre, so about £0.90 I had filled up in Ukraine once across the border and since I had mega range with my tank, I wouldn’t need any more fuel in the country.

The bus station and timetable for my trip which I would go on tomorrow, Tuesday.

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A bit more walking around and getting my bearings and that was about it for the day. There is lots of construction in various states. Some old building which should be condemned and some new buildings which appeared to have been abandoned, some only the structure but some were almost complete. Apparently people running out of money as the economy suffers.

Truskavets is only a holiday or health resort town. The Russians aren’t coming here like they used to this and last year so money isn’t as good as it used to be and the whole place is suffering. It’s not a seasonal holiday spot though and sees a steady stream of people all year. Most of whom stay for a standard 20 days as this is what’s needed for the special mineral water to work its magic.

I had an anxious and worried apartment lady tell me to go down the road to the garage where my bike was. It had fallen over in the night sometime apparently. I thought something must have been lost in translation as the bike was in a garage and all locked up so unless someone had tried to steal it then it should be fine. However when I arrived I found this

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The garage floor was wafer thin and my side stand had punched a hole straight through it. The funny thing was that I couldn’t lift it up more than about 45 degrees because the side stand was stuck under the concrete. I did get a little worried when the guy picked up an axe and motioned to help, I thought he was going to murder me for breaking his floor or was going to chop my stand off. Thankfully he ended up using the butt of it to destroy more concrete so we could get the bike up. Anyhow apart from a scuffed barkbuster handguard and a few scratches on the read Hotrod x-Rack the bike was fine. A bit of wood under the sidestand and I left it. I’d next see it on Friday when I would pop over and do my pre flight checks for my trip home.

That was it for Monday. I swapped sofa beds in the apartment, the second was way more comfortable.

Ukraine … again – Part 2

I arrived in Truskavets via probably the equivalent of A and B roads. Some completely dirt roads, some gravel, and some pot holed. 

You always pass nice churches in the most run down of villages.

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2 right next to each other in this case

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All the bus stops are always nicely decorated either with paint or mosaic tiles

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So many things are painted the Ukraine flag colours, Blue top half and yellow bottom half which I believe is to signify the blue sky over fields of wheat? Bridges and allsorts. Here is a 20 second video of my riding over one of the painted bridges into a town. Apologies for the quality, I forgot my GoPro at home so was a handheld camera.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKsfJ5shEEc


Eventually I made it to the town of Truskavets.

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I found my apartment in a block of about 20 apartments and was shown a garage where I could store my bike for the next 5 days. The apartment was ok. Some odd quirks like a water tank on a dodgy balcony outside and a tap I had to manually open and close to fill or empty the tank but it was nice. Sofa beds and a kitchen with gas and electric oven. Sorry, the pics don’t make it look too good, but I can assure you it was fine.

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I got some food and some sleep ready to go exploring on the Monday morning.

Ukraine … again – Part 1

Last year I went to the far side of Ukraine, Mariupol and Donetsk, where they’re currently blowing each other up with (apparently, yeah right) no intervention from Russia. Anyhow, enough politics, for now.

I’d heard about this place called Truskavets. At the foot of the Carpathian mountains in the west of Ukraine lies this health type town made famous for its mineral water “Naftusia” It’s been famous for centuries. So I decided to pop along and see it. Thankfully it’s only about 100km from the Polish border so off I headed.

Friday afternoon I set off from home, headed to the tunnel and then onto a hotel in Venlo. Saturday morning saw me make it to the Touratech shop in Kassel, Germany to pick up some bits I had ordered. Unfortunately the bits had not all arrived so I left empty handed which was a bit of a shame as I had a small backpack on and it would have been nice to empty some of the stuff from it to the tank bag I had ordered. Nevermind. I pushed on to the 2nd hotel on the Saturday evening in Katowice, Poland. 

It’s a piece of cake getting there nowadays with all the motorways. I was in a rush so had to take them. McDonalds was my staple diet on the road as it’s convenient, I can point at the menu, and most of them have wifi 

The weather was pleasant with fog most mornings. This made riding a bit nippy as I had left my jacket liner at home but it soon burnt up and there was sunshine. The G650X isn’t fun on the motorway, I’d much rather have my old 800 back with the big screen and power. But non the less it plodded along faultlessly.

I bought the G650X earlier in the year, serviced it immediately and have done about 1000 miles on it since. It’s in very good condition having only covered about 6000 miles in total. I’d also tried a few mods to it, some didn’t work, like the big screen which just made buffeting worse, and some did work. The ones that worked were:

Barkbusters: Kept hands warmer, dryer and protected the levers when my bike was found on its side one morning.

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LED Chav lights on Barkbusters: Had 2 people on the trip comment on them and said they made me stand out more. That’s exactly what I am after, to be seen!

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Hotrod Welding external tank and pannier rack: Amazing! 300 miles to a tank (500 km) and meant I was stopping for comfort breaks more often than fuel stops. Quality kit, really pleased with it.

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Other bits and pieces were a nice 12v and USB 5v combo handlebar mounted charger, case saver sprocket cover, bash plate and fancy electronic fuse box. Directions were provided by a Zumo 660 which did the job almost perfectly.

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The Zumo gets confused at the M1/M25 junction and tries to route me via St Albans, and the same at the M25/M20 junction and routes me all over the place. So I ignore it there. Other than that it was spot on.

Sunday morning was the final dash to the border. It was easy enough and I even stopped at the same McD’s where my poor F800GS broke down last year. The motorway ends about 100km short of the border so you’re on a main A type road. Don’t speed, the Polish cops police it! 

The border this time was pleasant, quick and efficient. About 45 mins and I was through, although as always I get a bit of curiosity on my Afghanistan work visas, my passport expires Oct 2015 so I may apply for a new one just after Christmas as it gets a bit tiresome. 

A 2 hour ride to cover the final 100km and I was in Truskavets at my apartment for the next 5 days. The owner’s friend had a garage where I could store my bike, and as you can see from the photo above, the floor was wafer thin, oops.