Tuesday 9th August
Uhersky Brod to Horovce
Total Distance: 5904.27km
Expedition bikes loaned by Azub whilst our order is completed.
Me: TiFly 26” with Avid disc brakes. Gears: 3×9 = gear inches 74.7 high, 12.1 low. Low rider pannier rack.
Daz: Mini. Hydraulic brakes. Gears 3×9 = gear inches 71.3 high, 12.1 low. Pannier rack
Honza has kindly agreed to loan us these bikes until 19th August so since that’s only 10 days and because we’ve got reduced carrying capacity due to my low rider pannier rack we’ve set aside some gear to leave behind at Azub Hq.
Ex Ovo Tandem : Full suspension, Avid disc brakes for Captain and rim brake for stoker. Rohloff hub 51/39, 16 back = gear inches 87.3 high, 12.7 low (range only achieved by switching chain rings manually at front).
Despite having done most of our packing last night, it’s still complete chaos this morning.
Finally our room which looked partly Chinese laundry and partly ‘Stig in the dump’ is restored to some sort of order. Then it’s off to breakfast and load the bikes time. My 2 pannier sit nicely on my TiFly, we were worried there wouldn’t be sufficient clearance, but all is fine. Except on my lap I’m going to carry our excess gear. Meanwhile Daz has to load his Mini but of course it has no stand so I have to hold it.
Finally we’re loaded, our bill is paid and we head off to the Azub office. Poor Daz now needs to get used to his recumbent loaded, I don’t envy him whilst I have a huge bag on my lap which makes steering, pedaling and gear changing rather difficult. At Azub, Honza’s in a meeting so we just drop off our excess gear. There are 2 bike tourists in the Azub yard. They’ve been cycling for 3 years, Michal and Zuza, and they’ve done North and South America, China and the Stans but they’ve had to come home because Zuza is pregnant . We will have to study their blog more thoroughly; Czech Svjetkolem.com. We have a little chat but we’re conscious of the time; we still need to head back into town to a paint shop which we hope will have methylated spirits for our Trangia stove. Yup we’re going native. We did carry this stove for many months at the start of our tour but found eating in Spain and Portugal was so cheap it didn’t seem necessary but now we’re hoping to travel through Austria, Germany and Italy where we’ve been assured things will be more expensive. So we asked Debbie to send us our stove back, which she kindly did, so we’re going to be more self reliant. Methylated spirits purchased and we can hit the road but it’s already gone 11pm. Our first target is Bojkovice, it’s only 13km but it takes almost 2 hours because we keep stopping to make seating adjustments on both bikes.
Once we’re there we stop for lunch. Then we head to Vlarsky Prusmyk on the Slovakian border. It’s a lovely day and the scenery is very pretty. There are some tough climbs and fast descents.
The only unpleasantness is the 3 cars, on separate occasions, who are driving straight at us, whilst overtaking tractors, very scary. On the Slovakia border I do my 22 press-up challenge .
It’s 22 press-ups for 22 days to raise awareness for American and British serviceman who commit suicide. Sadly and rather shockingly, it is 22 a day. Once over the border we follow a river and then we notice an iron girder bridge crossing it. Normally we would have ignored it because the approach ramp was steep and very rocky and impossible on the tandem but on the Azub Ti Fly trike I can just whip up it.
This trike is so versatile, it’s brilliant. The other side of the bridge is a cyclepath which is actually en route and keeps us off the main road. For 10km we cycle with runners, other cyclists and in line skaters.
When we reach Nemsova we have to leave the path. In town we spot an ATM and we need to find out what the currency is here, it’s Euros whilst the Czech Republic was korum. Well that’s easy! From here we need to follow the River Vah. We go to the river hoping for another cycling path but unfortunately it’s awful rutty tracks.
The river looks inviting though and there’s people swimming in it. So we head back to the road and follow the river valley. We stop for provisions and we love the warning sign outside ‘no bikes allowed in the shop, nor any handguns!
I think this sign would be better placed outside the Tesco express near our house in Andover! Shortly after a village, Horovce, Daz decides he’s spotted a very discrete camping spot. So we pitch our tent and cook our first expedition meal, pasta with sauce and realise that we’re not hidden from anyone. Bugger!
Wednesday 10th August
Last nght it started raining. Intermittent showers initially but by morning it’s a continuous, heavy downfall. We ain’t going anywhere in this. At 2pm it stops and at 2.30pm I’m ready to break camp but no sooner do I set foot outside, it starts again. So it’s back to Ruth Rendell and Asa Larsson for a marathon reading session. Finally it stops at 6pm. Well it’s too late to start cycling but we cook another dinner and walk into Horovce , hoping to buy more milk and get more water. But the shops are shut, however we do find a bar, a strange bar it might be, but it sells wine and has moving pictures on the wall, which we don’t understand, but stare at nonetheless (a TV)!.
There are some Olympic excerpts, here it’s slalom canoeing and shooting, obviously the disciplines the Slovaks excel in. Except we see that a Brit wins the caneing, well done! We are about to leave when the barmaid very quickly fills our glasses again, it seems one of the 2 gentlemen in the bar has bought us a drink!! So we have to sit and drink more wine, bummer!
Thursday 11th August
Horovce to Bela
Total Distance: 5988.64km
Fortunately the rain hasn’t returned and it’s going to be another cycling day. Although I am awake early Daz snoozes until 8am and then finally stirs and agrees we can get up. We get everything packed quickly but the tent is a sopping mess. We have breakfast, a bowl of cereal and we’re off. The morning is overcast and cooler than we are used to. The forecast we saw last night said today would be warm and sunny but it’s pretty chilly. I worry that we haven’t brought enough clothes (we left some behind in Uhersky Brod) if the weather stays cold and wet like this. We cycle up the river valley until we see the Vah Dam.
We cycle half way across, take some photos and complete another 22 press-up challenge. Then we cycle along the reservoir which is pretty.
After about 2 and a bit hours of cycling I’m ready for a break and some food, but when Daz checks the map we’ve got at least another 30 minutes until we hit civilisation as we continue up the river valley. Finally we arrive in Bytca, quite a nice town centre with a river running through, the only problem is that the “centrum” signs take us all the way around town and back in from the other side, adding at least 2km!
But we find a cafe and have some local ‘fayre’ at a very reasonable rate and then we sit and relax. After another hour resting we hit the road again.
We cycle on but all we see in front of us are dark grey clouds and the Tatras mountains. We’ve done about 70 km and we’re about a kilometre from a campsite and just down the road is a Tescos. Yup we haven’t seen a Tescos in France, Spain or Portugal but they’re here and in the Czech Republic, it’s like coming home. So we do a shop and then head to the campsite. I see it and wonder why no one has cut the grass. Daz tells me it’s shut and under renovation. So it’s another 10kms to the next campsite. It’s tough because we’re both tiring but finally we arrive. First task, try and dry the sopping tent.
Then shower and Daz cooks egg and bacon banjos. Delicious.
A good day methinks!!!
Friday 12th August
Bela to Vitanova
Total Distance: 6087.06km
Once again our tent is covered in condensation this morning so we are off to a slow start, preferring to dry the tent out in the sun before we pack it rather than having to dry it at lunchtime or when we get to our destination this evening.
Within a couple of kilometers of our campsite we cycle through Terchova. The most famous highwayman, Juraj Jánošík, was born in the mountainous village of Terchová in the north-west of Slovakia. The inhabitants of Terchová had a statue of their native made to guard the entrance to the Vrátna valley.
Although his fate has been described in many legends and tales, he was a real personality of the Slovak history. Juraj Jánošík, a famous highwayman and a just defender of the poor, was born in 1688 in the village of Terchová, at the foot of the Malá Fatra mountain range. His birthplace was one of the isolated settlements near the village, lying on the side of the Kysucká vrchovina upland. On the other side of the village, a monument was built by the inhabitants Terchová to commemorate their famous native. The statue of Jánošík was erected on a green mould overlooking the road leading to the Vrátna valley in the Malá Fatra mountain range. This large scale statue is made of sheet iron and it measures 7.5m. It was sculpted in 1988 by Ján Kulich.
Unfortunately we didn’t see the statue but we loved the picturesque town with the river running through it. From here we climbed for about 10kms but it took 90 minutes, to the Maly Rozsutec pass at 830m. Our campsite was at 500m, so a 300m gain with a 14% ascent at one point.
A tough start to the day, however being on a trike means I had no slow speed stability issues! We’re in the Malá Fatra mountains here so there’s loads of hikers and the views are incredible. Finally the top of the pass, a quick breather
and then a 12km descent to Parnica, where we stopped for some sustenance. From here we followed the River Orava until Oravsky Podzámok. Another beautiful town with a really impressive castle.
Orava Castle (Slovak: Oravský hrad), is situated on a high rock above Orava river in the village of Oravský Podzámok, Slovakia. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful castles in Slovakia. The castle was built in the Kingdom of Hungary in the thirteenth century. Many scenes of the 1922 film Nosferatu were filmed here, the castle representing Count Orlok’s Transylvanian castle. Unfortunately the walk up to the castle was too ambitious for us tired cyclists, so we admired from below and then went off to enjoy tea and cake.
Then it was onward to Tvrdosin. The pride of Tvrdošín and its oldest preserved building is the Gothic wooden Roman-Catholic All Saints church (Kostol Všetkých svätých) situated in the local cemetery. In 2008, along with seven wooden churches of the Slovak part of Carpathian Mountain Area, it was included on the UNESCO Word Heritage List.
By the time we’d reached Tvrdosin, we’d persuaded ourselves we should detour from our route and head to a campsite along the shores of Orava Dam Lake. Orava reservoir (Oravská priehrada) with its 35.2 km², is the biggest lake in Slovakia. It was constructed between 1941 and 1953. A few villages, mostly former villages, were inundated when Orava was built. The best known village was Slanica, where a famous Slovak intellectual Anton Bernolák was born.
More and more tourists are attracted to this lake every year which might explain why the campsite was 16€ and a € each to shower. Worse than the price was that it wasn’t that special, although it was on the banks of the reservoir. Daz tried to charm the guy into reducing the price…….yup and failed. A quick look on the internet and we found a hostel for €30. A chance of a real bed, electricity, showers was too much to resist but unfortunately it required another 18km of cycling which nearly killed us!!! But here we are in Vitanova guest house and it’s a bit ‘special’ and not in a good way, but better than that campsite!!!
This biking phase is so different from Spain and Portugal. Everywhere we see religious effigies or shrines and then all too frequently along the grass verges we’ll see a cross and flowers, we can only imagine this was the site of someone’s death, not a pleasant thought when cycling in heavy traffic.
The villages are well cared for and most of the gardens immaculate but occasionally there’s a garden which will be incredible; manicured grass, beautiful hanging baskets with flowers trailing from all the verandas and balconies. Beautiful!
People often stare at us but as soon as we wave, shout hello and sound our horn, they’ll break into big smiles and wave too. Sometimes they speak to us but we just smile like ‘Tim, nice but dim’ (some might argue this is our habitual status quo!)- unfortunately we have no idea what they’re saying!
Saturday 13th August
Vitanova to Magierowka Druga
Total Distance: 6149.43km
This morning we cycle through Sucha Hora the last town before the Polish border.
And then we cross the border and we’re in Chocholow. The village of Chocholow lies seventeen kilometres east of Zakopane, and it represents the most complete survival of an old gorale village. The majority of the houses here were built during the nineteenth century, and it was from buildings such as these that Witkiewicz took his inspiration for the ‘Zakopane Style’.
Chocholow is based around one main street, and its wooden houses mirror each other on either side. Virtually every building echoes the next, the curious anomaly being the stone gothic church, (the old wooden one was replaced in the mid-nineteenth century). Besides its architecture, the village is also famous for its role in the doomed Uprising of 1846 (against the Austrians).
This town is really busy, is this just typical Saturday traffic? We stop for a coffee and get chatting to 2 young guys from Chicago. They’ve been travelling for over 6 months, mostly in Eastern Europe and consider Lviv, Ukraine to be the best city in the world they’ve visited; strangely all their Lviv stories are about various bars. From here we head up the river valley to Zakopane.
The traffic is heavy but no-one gives us any agro and generally they’re generous with the space they give us. As we cycle along there are wooden food shacks by the roadside and stalls selling a plethora of animal skins. i’d like to stop and investigate and see what’s on offer in the food stalls but we haven’t got any zloty, the Polish currency.
Having climbed to 1000m (no wonder I thought I was slow) we thunder down the descent into Zakopane, thrilling but some care was required with all the traffic.
Zakopane is Poland’s premier centre of mountain hiking and skiing. It is one of the country’s most popular holiday destinations, both in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking and camping. Zakopane has long been a playground for Poles and travellers from Eastern Europe, but is just now being discovered by the rest of the world for its splendid natural scenery, world-class ski slopes, and great value-for-the-money hotels and apartments. It’s quickly becoming a popular spot for visitors from further afield. Although its local population is only about 30,000, Zakopane is visited by a staggering 2 million tourists a year. Situated in the Malopolska Voivodship, in the southern part of the Podhale region, Zakopane lies at the feet of the Tatra Mountains the only alpine mountain range in this part of Europe. Zakopane lies in big glen between the main Tatra range and Gubalowka Hill. We take the funicular to Gubałówka hill, (1100 m ) which gave us spectacular views over the town and the surrounding Tatra mountains.
On the way back to the centre of the town we come across the local market nestled in between the very foot of the hill and Krupówki street. There were local souvenirs (woodware, leatherware, woolware, etc.) there together with leather jackets and fur coats, clothes, shoes, fruit, vegetables, and a whole alley of local OSCYPEK sheep cheese sellers – all in different shapes and sizes.
We also wandered up the main high Street and along the oldest Street in town ummmmm, not that impressed. The whole town is absolutely chocka with people.
What is going on? Having done our touristy bit we head out of Zakopane towards Krakow. The road is full of heavy traffic heading into town but we’re still descending and fly by enjoying all their attention. We soon arrive in Nowy Targ and have been entertained by a single wing plane in the middle of an aerobatic display off to our right.
And then there’s a really unpleasant stretch of dual carriageway, more climbing and then we’re out in the countryside and the sun is starting to drop below the hills and it’s a delight to be here, cycling through the hills of Poland. We find a cheap hostel and finally discover that this weekend is the equivalent of a UK bank holiday hence all the traffic and all the people out and about enjoying a long weekend. Mystery solved!
Update on bikes: our new trikes should be ready around 24th August. Honza had told us we needed to be home by the 19th August (I am riding their only showroom test ride Ti Fly so without it they’ve nothing to show customers) but now he’s said we can stay away until 24th August, so now we’ve got time to cycle to the Ukraine. Great news.
Sunday 14th August
Magierowka Druga to Chochle
Total Distance: 6238.75km
We start the morning with a lovely steep 20% descent into a village . We follow the country lanes along a river to town called Rabka-Zdroj. It’s not even 9 am but the town is really busy, people and cars everywhere. I think they’ve all just come from church, they’re all dressed up. There’s another beautiful old wooden church here.
I’ve picked this morning’s route and from town we follow a little lane to a bridge but there’s only steep steps up to it so we have to carry the bikes up and down. Then we follow the bridleway along the stream but it becomes really muddy.
The trike is fine but I try to video Daz and he isn’t amused when he almost falls, twists his knee and puts his feet down in a big muddy puddle. His language was quite rude I can assure you. I guess that video will be deleted. We stop for a quick coffee. BTW eastern European countries = shit coffee but great shop opening hours, the opposite of France, Spain and Portugal ! We cycle up the side of a river valley and we can hear the ‘choo woo’ of a steam train somewhere in the valley to our right. The train keeps ‘choo wooing’ and we’re desperately scanning the valley.
And then we spot it, an old fashioned steam train with smoke pouring from its chimney. We give chase! I feel like something out of the Railway Children and expect to soon cycle through a tunnel and find a guy, prostrate across the railway tracks. At 10am all the church bells start peeling, another service I think. We’re still following fairly closely behind the train because we can smell it; the coal smoke. We enter a town, the train has stopped here and the smoke from the train and all the wood and coal fires lies like a smog over the town. In every village the smoke is really noticeable created from every house having open fires. We stop at a petrol station for some fluids.
OMG this garage has a spirit selection that would put Tescos to shame and it’s strange for us to see such an alcoholic selection at a petrol station. We head on and stop in Limanowa at a supermarket and get some savoury snacks and milk. We’re eating just outside the shop and an old man (with no teeth) has been shopping with his daughter. Their car is right next to our bikes and they load their shopping and the old man just stands looking at Daz’s bike. I tell Daz to give a demo and the old man is really chuffed and gives Daz a clap! In the town centre there’s another large church service with people even standing outside to listen.
Then it’s a long climb and then steep descent into Nowy Sãcz. We’ve been expecting rain today and we’ve been watching the clear blue skies become obscured as the black rain clouds gather. We can see the rain falling on the hills to our right and a mass of cloud over Nowy Sãcz but by the time we arrive the rain has passed so we stop to explore.
To large extent Nowy Sacz has managed to retain its medieval layout. Besides this there are several interesting historic sights, including the ruins of a castle from the 14th century, scenically situated over the valley of Dunajec. In the middle of the main market place is a good eclectic Town Hall, and close by is the Gothic church of St Margaret, built in the 15th century and containing some impressive wall paintings.
There are also several traces of Jewish culture in the town. In Berek Joselewicz Street you can visit the old synagogue, currently serving as an art gallery. Most of Jewish citizens of Nowy Sacz were killed during World War II, and the cemetery situated north of the Old Town is one of the few remembrances of them.
We stop for a couple of beers in the town square and fortunately we’re under cover for the next shower.
Then fortified we set out once again in the vague direction of the Ukraine, hoping to find a B&B just out of town, because we think more rain is due. As luck would have it, having seen so many on the road yesterday we don’t pass a single one. With clouds darkening we pop down a grassy track by a stream off the main road. And just as the heavens open we manage to get the tent up and get inside. But that’s OK, no need to stay dry… we are soon back out in the thunderstorm and rain, washing off in the stream!!! (Daz was most reticent about this phase, he’d happily go to bed sweaty, salty and stinky. But I can guilt him out of being a ‘stinker’!)
We know this is a bank holiday weekend but we think it has 2 elements of importance :
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, often shortened to the Assumption and also known as the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and parts of Anglicanism, was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.
The Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”. This doctrine was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on 1 November 1950, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. While the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church believe in the Dormition of the Theotokos, which is the same as the Assumption, whether Mary had a physical death has not been dogmatically defined.
Armed Forces Day in Poland – August 15, 2016
In Poland, Armed Forces Day (Święto Wojska Polskiego) is celebrated on August 15. It commemorates the decisive Polish victory in the Battle of Warsaw (1920) during the Polish-Soviet War.
The Polish-Soviet War was an armed conflict that followed the collapse of the Russian Empire. Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine fought with the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People’s Republic over the territory of present-day Ukraine and parts of Belarus.
The Battle of Warsaw was a pivotal moment in the war. It was fought in mid-August 1920. The Polish Army led by Marshal Józef Piłsudski managed to protect the capital of Poland from a Red Army offensive and to reassert the independence of Poland. The events of the battle are also known as the “Miracle of the Vistula” (the Vistula is a river flowing through Warsaw).
Monday 15th August
Chochle to Gorlice
Total Distance: 6275.73km
Our wild camping went well last night despite the impulsiveness of the decision. There was rain, torrential, but it fell hard and fast just after the tent was pitched. We did have a scary moment, suddenly someone thumped on the outside of our tent. We call out……..no answer. We wait. Finally Daz goes to investigate and all he can see is the dog who watched us pitch our tent. We think he ran passed and tripped on our guy ropes! It happens again a bit later.
We set off but it’s a cheerless day, loads of grey clouds and a clammy feel in the air so perhaps that’s why I’m so sluggish. There’s more climbs (long and very slow), followed by steep descents (short, very fast and super exhilarating if not a little chilly). I have Meatloaf playing to stoke my rhythm – it gets me zipping along ‘Like a bat out of hell!’.
Over the last few days we’ve been passed by many motorcycling groups. I love them, they always wave and give us a ‘thumbs up’, it’s such a positive response to seeing us grinding up those long hills and always makes me smile. It’s strange that it’s motorcyclists who seem most supportive to us cyclists and identify with us the most, except the other day. When we were leaving Zakopane on Saturday evening, we were stopped at a pedestrian crossing whilst a lady escorted loads of children across. Then a fast, sporty motorcyclist pulled up on my left. He went right up to the white line so I pulled forward to the white line too and looked at him to suggest we’d have a racing start. Well he revved his engine so hard, I thought it might blow up. I don’t know if it scared the kids, but it scared the bejesus out of me. I was still grinning at him as the lights changed but whether he was amused I have no idea because he had one of those sinister black visors on. I imagine if he’d lifted his visor inside would have been a skull in a death rictus! BTW the road sign here for a crossing controlled by a Lollipop lady is bizarre. I think it looks like a young girl with a huge lollipop. Daz says it’s a woman with her lollipop sign with an embarrassingly young hair doo – mutton dressed as lamb?
In Grybow we stop for coffee. Once again there’s a church service in progress and again we assume the church is full because outside there are people listening to the service. After a nice break we continue, and stop again in Gorlice.
We decide to find a proper meal and in the restaurant we choose there’s another customer who helps us select typical Polish food. We have Borscht with a croquette and then potato fritter stuffed with goulash. Unfortunately the service is so slow and we’re starting to wilt. Daz uses the delay to get the tent dried out. The food is very tasty but over the prolonged break we’ve decided that we’re going to finish here for the day. Some recovery time is in order. Unfortunately our down time isn’t that relaxing. We had intended to cycle to Lviv, spend a few days there and then get the train from Lviv to Krakow, but when we start looking for information about taking our bikes from Lviv on the train we find blogs where bikes had to be dismantled and packed. Bikes then travel in the sleeper compartment with their owners. Tickets from Lviv to Krakow are €60 pp. So expensive as well as potentially a complete pain. We decide on a new plan, after hours of Internet search, emailing warmshower hosts to ask if they’ll store the bikes, and emailing the train companies and Ukrainian cyclists to find out if taking bikes is really this difficult. We decide to cycle to Tarnów then get a train to Przemyśl. From Przemyśl there’s only 14km to the Ukrainian border. So we will cycle to the border and then to Lviv. In Lviv we’ll be able to find out if it’s possible to take our bikes on the train.
Tuesday 16th August
Gorlice to Tarnów
Przemyśl to Medyka (Polish/Ukraine border) to 6km over the border!
Distance: 60.96 km + 21.65km
Total Distance: 6358.34 km
Last night Honza sent us invoices for our trikes so we spend a few hours checking the invoices and the 2016 price list to ensure everything we want is included and that the price is correct so we can arrange a bank transfer. It’s difficult because we keep missing items and coming up with different figures.
Finally we’re ready to hit the road but it’s already nearly 11am. Back on the road I find the pain in my right knee has gone, the short day yesterday was the rest it needed. We start out on country lanes this morning away from the heavy traffic and filthy exhaust fumes (I’m pretty sure there’s no emissions tests here in Poland). We pass through pretty villages with beautiful churches and extensive but well cared for cemeteries.
The houses are all very large with well tended gardens. We’re covering the ground pretty quickly today but it’s fairly flat. The previous 4 days the terrain was pretty challenging. We’ve been up and down like a whore’s drawers. Daz described the landscape as rolling. “Rolling” my arse! I contend that it’s as ‘rolling’ as the Pepsi Max roller coaster at Blackpool!
We make good time to Tarnów. We detour to a MediaMarkt because I’ve been tempted by the thought of videoing our biking escapades. OMG a GoPro, it’s the best part of £500 and we thought it’d be cheaper here. Oh well I’ll have to start saving!
We head to the train station. I actually cycle into the train station.
£20 for single tickets to Przemyśl with our bikes and we’ll be there at 9pm. We’re a bit worried about getting the bikes on it is a single doorway and up a few steps but we manage by turning the trike on its side.
The train trip is uneventful except for a 22 challenge which I’ve missed the last 2 days. In Przemyśl we get off the train and cycle down the platform.
There’s an underpass with stairs to the station but I can see a crossing across the railway lines and happily the guards let us use it. Now we just have 14km to cycle to the border and it’s already dark and we’re equipped with 2 head torches and 2 mediocre back lights. I can’t believe that we had Busch and Mueller lights on the tandem, good enough to light up a Prisoner of War camp and now we need them after 10months, we ain’t got them. But actually the ride through town is quite pleasant and the border ride is fine and rather quick but the terrain is flat and I’m sure when I’m nervous I cycle quicker.
We approach the border signs and there’s 4 rows of cars queuing. We cycle on and on, more cars and we’re still not at the border control. We cycled for over 2 kms, passed parked cars and lorries with their lights and engines off and people just wandering around chatting or sitting on the barriers until we reached the barrier. Nothing is moving. A guard comes over and explains we need the pedestrian route. We need to backtrack 500m and cycle past the shop and find the pedestrian route.
We go through the Polish passport check and all is fine but between us and the exit there are trolleys and large packages and people sprawling across the path. Daz winds his way through but I can’t. But the Polish guard who’s has just checked our passports starts yelling and everyone in my path jumps up and clears the way. I feel hugely uncomfortable but I’m thanking them profusely and when I cycle off i sound my hooter and there’s an outbreak of laughter and some make the horn noise back at me! Then we cycle on to the Ukrainian checkpoint. At the Polish end we had used the wheelchair entrance, no such luxury at the Ukrainian side. There’s a channel marked with metal railings that has about 3 90degree bends. No way is the trike going through. So we have to lift the trike high enough to clear the railings. Unfortunately no photos were allowed. We go straight through this passport check although the guard tells us it’s too dangerous to cycle to Lviv. We don’t know if he means generally or at night in the pitch black. We cycle down the path and find ourselves amid another queue of cars waiting to go into Poland. On both sides and in between there have been queues of people many with large packages waiting to go one way or the other but despite the volume of people the numbers walking or driving out are minimal. Thank God we’re EU passport holders!!!
On the Ukrainian side Daz goes to a money changer (there are no ATMs) on the border and changes his Polish Zloty for Ukrainian Hryvnia. The time is 10.20pm and we got off the train at 9pm and cycled 14kms. We’ve gone through the border incredibly quickly so the night crossing was a good move. We head out of Shehyni and our challenge is to find a wild camp site. I’m not feeling comfortable yet so refuse Daz’s first couple of suggestions but we’re still in the border town suburbs and it makes me nervous. But it’s dark, very dark, and in Ukrainian time it’s 11.30pm., Finally I pick a disused petrol station and because we’re on concrete we have to use rocks to hold our guy ropes not pegs. Into bed we go. It’s already 1am because we’ve stopped several times to check out potential sites.
Excerpt from Ukraine today: Long lines at Ukraine-Poland border crossing points
Almost 1,800 cars waiting to cross the border – Ukraine’s State Border Service.
Today, on August 16, a great number of cars are standing at the Ukrainian-Polish border checkpoints in the direction to Poland. Ukraine’s State Border service press-release reads there are 1,760 cars in lines. The majority of travelers are participants of local border traffic.
The reason for a rapid increase of car queues is the end of national holidays in Poland as well as Ukrainian legislation.
Under it, drivers that have cars with foreign registration must cross a border every five days in order to prolong permit to travel around the country. Drivers do not register cars to avoid paying taxes.
Wednesday 17th August
‘No name’ disused petrol station 6km over the Ukrainian border to Lviv
Distance: 77.28 km
Total Distance: 6435.62 km
At around 4 am I’m suddenly awake. Then I hear a car door slam. Then voices right outside our tent. Daz goes out to investigate. Outside there was a Landcruiser with a large Ukrainian man in a black leather jacket. He had a lot to say but when he realises there’s a language barrier he calls his son (we think) out of the vehicle. This youngster has excellent English. Daz explains we’re heading to Lviv and will be gone in the morning. They want us gone by 7am. We agree although the number of times we’ve been ready to leave anywhere by 7am is rarely than rocking horse shit. Back to sleep. 7am comes and goes. It’s raining. Fortunately we’ve pitched under the petrol station canopy. 8am comes and goes. It might still be raining but we don’t know because we’re asleep. 9am and car door slams. I wake up Daz who almost shoots out the door. We decide to lie quietly hoping they won’t notice us. But having walked passed out tent several times he starts sounding his car horn. Daz goes to greet him, another black leather jacket clad Ukrainian. He says he wants access to the door to the disused petrol station. So we start to pack up. We move everything away from the door but actually it now becomes clear he wants us gone.
We gesture to the rain but it’s clear his sympathy neurons ain’t firing. So at 10am, yup he’s stood around for the full hour, having had breakfast and packed we head out into the Ukrainian rain. I think Peter Kay said this stuff is the really wet stuff! 400m later we’ve pulled into a real petrol station to drink coffee and watch the rain fall!
Yup it’s definitely the really wet stuff. We cycle for about 6 hours to get to Lviv. We’re pleasantly surprised that even in these terrible road conditions with poor visibility all the drivers give us plenty of room and there’s no unpleasantness. Sadly there is little to see – this is the Ukrainian equivalent of the M1. There were a few villages early on and then nothing. It’s a shame i’d like to see more but i’m not prepared to detour off the main road. There was an opportunity to catch a train but we’d missed it by 4 minutes and the next one wasn’t due for hours.
On the outskirts of Lviv we head straight into some road works. The road is being dug up. A group of men tell us to go through on the pavement and then 3 of them pick up my trike carry it passed the vehicles in the way and deposit it onto the pavement. One then helps me push it along the pavement – a really kind gesture, so sweet!
In the city centre it’s wet cobblestones and tram tracks. Not a good combination for Daz’s Mini but i’m OK until I get my back wheel stuck in a tram track. Arghhhhhh!
We stop to do my 22 press-up challenge and then we go into the Astoria Hotel, we need WiFi. After 30 minutes we’re done, we’ve booked accommodation but behind us we leave big wet patches on their sofas. Accommodation here is really cheap but because we want to be central and have somewhere secure for our bikes we pay a bit more but we have a beautiful apartment. Michael is outside the apartment to greet us. It’s fabulous. Initially there’s some sucking of teeth about the bikes. Michael’s convinced that even in the private courtyard they’ll be stolen so instead we put them in our apartment on our ground sheet. Within 10 minutes of arriving we’ve turned our beautiful apartment into a mess, getting everything out to dry/air!!!
BTW Our Ortlieb panniers have performed brilliantly in the rain. They are completely waterproof. We’re drying our tent which Daz used as a back mudguard (well it was on the pannier rack catching all the back wheel spray) and air our sleeping bags and mats.
Once our admin is done we head off to find a supermarket. Then we stop at a bar to people watch. There are people selling just a few jars of blackcurrants or a few vegetables ; that’s all they have. Many people come into the bar, they’ve already bought a small bottle of spirits elsewhere but here they buy the coke chaser, not mixer, get some glasses and some food. Finally we’re seduced by the food. We don’t know what it is or how to order it but it’s soooo delicious. it was like a fried flat pasty with meat and onion inside.
Thursday 18th August
This morning we walk to the main square, Rynok, visit tourist information. They think we can get the electric train back to the border with our bikes. We visit a bar cafe with a Trabant on the roof.
We go back to the apartment for lunch and to wash our cycling clothes from yesterday. For laundry we have been very lucky. Our hotel in Uhersky Brod did a wash for us as did the hotel in Gorlice at no charge. But here the tourist office suggested we use a hotel laundry service but that’s £11.00 for just 2 sets of cycling clothes.
Later we head off to the train station. We catch the No1 tram and realise people at the back pass their money forward and then their ticket and change is passed back to them. It’s about 10p each. About 3 km later we get off at our stop. Here there’s the main station and a short distance away a smaller station for the electric trains that go to the border. We walk up the platform to look at the train doorways, storage areas etc. We think we can get the bikes on. We go to the ticket counter but it’s tough going. If the tourist office hadn’t already given us the information i’m not sure how we’d manage. So there’s a train at 9.10am on Saturday to Mostyska2, the last town before the Ukrainian border. There are only 3 trains on Saturday: 5am, 9am and 1.45pm. So not much to choose from.
We return to the city centre by bus because there’s been some sort of tram RTA so the tram tracks are blocked. On the bus we once again witness money being passed back and forth to the driver.
In town we head to our local for a beer. On the table next to us are 2 ladies with gold teeth and a gentleman with very red rosy cheeks. They are dressed in some sort of traditional peasants’ outfit (perhaps) and they’re singing whilst regularly knocking back a tot of vodka. Other people join in. When their vodka runs dry, someone nips off to the off-licence for another bottle. On most tables there’s a bottle of spirits, less common is a pint of beer. But everyone is eating.
We have another pasty (still delicious) and then Daz orders soup, which is very tasty too. When he’s ordering the staff find him and his Google translate endlessly amusing but he gets his message across. When we leave we tell the singers that we’ve enjoyed the free entertainment and then it’s kisses and hugs and……..well I didn’t think they’d let us go! From here we head to the Masoch Café.
“Masoch Café deserves a mention for being the strangest bar/café we’ve ever come across—yes, even stranger than Kryivka! It’s named after Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, a Lviv native, more famous as the inspiration for the word ‘masochist’ because of his particular brand of erotica writing.
The owners of Masoch Café have taken this theme and really run with it: dishes have suggestive names, the menu is full of even more suggestive drawings, and the décor abounds with whips and chains. Staff wears tight leather outfits. It’s all a bit bemusing, absolutely ridiculous, and great to laugh about with friends over drinks”. Ummmm well this is its write-up, the reality………….. not as entertaining as we’d imagined although a good number of customers asking to be whipped.
From here we head to Kryjivka but stop at a bar I’d noticed earlier. There’s a large queue and initially I thought they were drinking red wine but it’s cherry liqueur. Once we have our drinks we go to a table outside already occupied by a young girl. Then another lady joins her. They’re from Kiev and have come for the weekend. They are mother and daughter (unfortunately I’ve forgotten their names) and the mother has lots to say whilst her daughter translates. It’s fun and we have a drink with them before moving on to Kryjivka .
Many restaurants in Ukraine double as popular drinking spots. This is the case with Kryjivka, part of the Fest! group of restaurants, dedicated to providing unique experiences to patrons. It’s hidden away on Ploshcha Rynok, with no sign indicating its presence. Once there, a uniformed guard demands a password before visitors can enter a period-accurate recreation of a 20th century bunker, complete with grenades and rifles, unframed photographs and newspaper cuttings on the walls, and old electronics strewn about. Try a sip of horilka, the local vodka, or a good old pint of Lvivske beer. Kryjivka is always open, so it’s always a great place for a drink.
A bit of fun, we had a good look round but didn’t stay. It’s a tourist attraction and I doubt there are many Lviv locals there. Upstairs is the restaurant we’d read about.
The Most Expensive Galician Restaurant is a well-hidden Freemason-themed restaurant has the highest menu prices in Lviv—unless you know a certain secret (Lviv discount card). It
overlooks Lviv’s top tourist spot Rynok Square. Finding the restaurant can be tricky because there’s no sign outside, except a small piece of blue cloth with yellow Masonic symbol. Enter the street entrance for Kryjivka, go one up the stairs (you’ll see another triangle sign next to the staircase) and rap the door knocker at No.8. Don’t be surprised when a man dressed in a bathrobe lets you in – you must pass through his homey kitchen to enter the restaurant.
The restaurant is playfully adorned with masonic symbols, like the all-seeing eye, the main symbol of Freemasonry and portraits of the order members stare down at you from the walls. The three dimly-lit large dining rooms can easily accommodate large parties. Evening diners can enjoy live music each night after 8 p.m. We both went to have a look but didn’t stay.
An interesting evening but the best part was in our ‘local’ and at the cherry bar.