Monday, 30 July 2007

Day 68 - Bucharest

Well, I am in Bucharest, staying in a hostel that is less of a hostal, more of a student doss house. The others have been a good standard and a good place to meet people, though few are in my age group and I do feel a bit old at times. Whilst in Brasov I was talking to 2 Aussies in the kitchen, then we were joined by a German, Swiss and Welshman, all around 19 - 23. At 23:00 we were asked to vacate the kitchen as it was near the dorms and too noisey. Most of the other decided to head for town, but after I had read for a bit I decided to turn in ready for an early start. The Welsh lad was in the dorm. "I cant decide what to wear" he said. "What is wrong with what you are wearing" I replied. "Oh, nothing, it just that I have pirates outfit and I think I would be off better wearing that". "Ok", I said laughing, "If you happy wearing a pirate outfiit go for it", so he put on his striped shirt, black waistcoat and and enormous pirate hat. "The trouble is" he said "is that I feel a bit silly as I havent got the sword and the eye patch anymore. Perhaps I should just go with the waistcoat". "You look fine without the sword and eye patch" I said "but just the waistcoast would also be fine, I sometimes wear a waistcoat", "Yeah" he said "that is what I was worried about!"

Saturday was a fairly easy ride despite a climb up through the mountains, some of which was amongst trees so in the shade. On the descent there was a nice monastry which I stopped at and the frescos were excellent. A little further down the vista opened up and there was a river. For a mile or so there were so many people camping wild that it was like a huge campsite, but way to early for me to stop. I dropped down out of the mountains and passed a hotel so I thought I would check it out. They wanted 70 lei, too much so I suggested 50 lei, then they said for one person and one night you can have it for 35. What a great way to haggle for a price. It was a bargain, a nice room and cheaper than all the hostals I have stayed in including the matress on the floor. I began to regret it when I was given an anti-moquito device to plug in, it was useless. I regretted it even more later when I returned to loud music for a wedding that when on past 3am. A much better device to combat the mosquitos is a good book and so much more satisfying. The night was nowhere near as bad as when I was in Edinet.
Yesterday was just a bash across flat ground to Bucharest and I kept up a really fast pace, over 23kph which dropped to 22.5 through the city and the traffic lights. Early on this morning I was approaching a guy, probably in his late 50s, when he decided to pick up a large boulder and run shouting towards me with the boulder held above his head. I had to swerve to the far side of the road to avoid hitting him, but thankfully he kept hold of the boulder. I am not sure what it was all about, I didnt stop to ask! At the hostal in the evening a Greek guy about my age insisted on keeping my beer glass topped up which only had the effect of making me really tired. May be I was so boring that it was his plan.

Today has been a bike free day and wandering around Bucharest. The highlight without doubt was the Thingy Palace, you know the one I mean it was Ceausescu's former Administration Palace (see photos). The tour around the inside was excellent with all sorts of amazing facts, most of which I have fotgotten already. It is the worlds 2nd largest building and has 1100 halls, mostly constructed of marble, 9 million light bulbs, a chandelier that weighs 5 tonne, a carpet of 1000 square metres weighing in at 3 tonne, it was a truly amazing place. From the balcony there are views across the tower blocks created at the same time after the dictator had flattened all the historic buildings in the area. The contruction was started in 1984 was 70 percent complete when the revolution happened in 1989 and is now 90 percent complete. The rest of Bucharest isnt that exciting and reminds me of the Pest side of Budapest.
So tomorrow I move on again and all being well I should cross into Bulgaria. My map shows campsites and time will tell if they exist or are usable, but I rather fancy getting back to basics and camping as I have had enough of cities and searching out accommadation for a while. I am getting used to the heat now too, thats not meant to be rubbing it in by the way, so I think I will be able to cope in a tent again.
Nick Barlow, I seem to have lost your email address, so perhaps you could drop me a line, feel free to take the piss! I saw pictures of Alcester under a lot of flood water. I hope you havent been affected and that all is ok.
Thanks again for all of you comments. I do enoy reading them and it make it feel worthwhile writing all this rubbish if people are actually reading it.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Day 65 - Brasov

Not a great deal to report, but as I have at last found an internet cafe with USB connectivity I thought I would make the most of it, but I am now regretting it as it is so slow and the music is blasting one minute, quiet the next and they never let a piece go through to the end, so its really annoying.

Yesterday I was the first up in the hostal at Sibiu, just a little after the last one had gone to bed. I decided to take the main road to Brasov despite Norberts best efforts at suggesting the mountain road which would have undoubtedly been better but would have taken a couple of days longer. A Scottish couple had told me that the main road had 48k of road works and they were right, so it was constantly stopping at traffic lights and impatient drivers squeezing passed at impossible places. The scenery was ok but didnt change much, the road running along a valley with hills to the left and high mountains to the right. At Persani I had seen a campsite marked on Norberts map and there was one there, so I decided to stop. Camping was beside a rather muddy looking swimming pool which was well used so I decided to stop in one of the huts they had (photo) and chilled out for the afternoon as there was literally nothing else around. So I sat in the sun and read and planned my route through Bulgaria as I have managed to get a reasonable map in advance.

Today I decide I had had enough of the main road so took a longer route but is was much quiter and through the hills and took me close enough to the castles at Bran and Rasnov to make a detour to have a quick look. They were tourist trap and not as dramatic as I had expected so it didnt go in. I now had a tail wind and it was a real blast through to Brasov, but it was another real battle to find a place to stay. The Pensions I checked wanted 40 pounds so I kept searching and eventually found a hostal which was full but offered me a mattress on the floor. Hostal are ok as they are full of like minded people, mainly much younger than me, and the common language is English so there is plenty of opportunities for a chat. Once checked in, showered, coffeed and chatted, I went out about the town (photo). I have always wanted to come to Brasov, but it is nothing like I had imagined, but its a nice enough place. I had intended arriving yesterday and spending a whole day here, but half a day is enough really.

Romania has changed since I have been heading east and the wells that were in the west have now completely disappeared, as have most of the horses. There are more road work, a sign that the EUs investment in tarmac is ongoing.

The weather over the last 2 or 3 days has cooled down somewhat and is now only reaching the mid 30s which is hot, if you can remember that word, but managable and I will hopefully return to camping soon.

People have memtioned my fitness in comments and Martin suggested I would be really fast on an Audax. I can assure you that my times would be below the Audax minimum speed and to be honest I think I would struggle. I seem to have settled nicely into plod mode, I get there but not fast and going up the slightest incline is always at a crawl, but the hills dont bother me at all, they just take longer.

Photos have also been added to the previous post. There was nothing wrong with your viewing Cath, it was just that I hadnt loaded them.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Day 63 - Sibiu

Well it is still in the 40s everyday but there is no point going on about it, I just have to live with it.

Monday was a really easy ride, only 50k and hardly a hill in sight. Destination was Sighisoarsa, the birth place of Vlad Dracul (Dracula). I made another early start but had a lie in until 6, but had still found a room by 10. Romania is a bit confusing with its currency. It recently knocked 4 0s off so 1,000 lei is now 1 lei, easy enough. But they sometimes quote room prices in Euro, their currency of the future, but if you want to pay in lei they convert to there old currency. Wouldnt it be easier just to use their current currency? I took a room for 30 lei thinking what a bargain, then realised my error and it was 30 Euro, 3 times the price. I stuck with it though as it was a really nice place and as I was there from 10am I was getting my monies worth. The conversion works in their favour as they inflate the exchange rate and can effectively overcharge, so I then had to haggle the price back down to the correct conversion rate. They are always on the lookout for way of overcharging or not giving change here.

I am now back with other tourists, the first I have seen since leaving Hungary, but most of them are Hungarian, but I did hear some Americans talking today.

The ride towards Sibiu was pretty straight forward and not exactly exciting. With about 25k to go there was the first climb of the day and in a layby were a couple of cycle tourists, the first I have seen since Austria. They were Mikael and Norbert from Berlin (photo) on a 2 week holiday. They were heading for Orca Sibiului where there are some salt pools. Being one to be easily distracted I took them up on their offer to join them. It was only about 15k away and when we arrived I was amazed at just how busy the place was. Norbert had been here before 3 years ago and knew where to go and lead up to a round pool with steep sides dropping into it with access by flights of steps. They were soon changed and in the pool floating around with everybody else. It to me a little longer as being a non swimmer I didnt like the queues of people going in and out so I waited for a quiet spell. When I went in I was surprised how deep it was as my feet didnt touch the bottom, so I stayed floating with little confidence and hanging on to the step rail. It got busier again and not being very happy I got out and went up the steps that nobody was using. I soon found out why as they were really hot and I had to make a dash for the top as my feet were really burning. Mikael came out and said he was going to one of the mud pools so I joined him. These were jet black only waist deep so I was happier and waded in. It was strange stuff as the water felt really soft but instantly covered you in a layer of black silt. You could pick it up off the bottom and plaster it on but there wasnt much need, so I spent an hour or two just floating around and chatting. Once out of the pool the heat of the sun quickly dried the silt and my whole body was covered in the stuff (photo). After a while we decided to stay and camp so we found a shaded spot under the trees and set the tents up and had a liesurely afternoon at the bar, washing a few clothes or having another swim. In the evening they cooked a meal for the 3 of us and put my tinned food to shame as out came a small chopping board and fresh vegetables to make a spicy noodle sauce with sausage, followed by real coffee from a coffee maker. There was live music in the evening and we eventually turned in at about 12:45.

I am now used to the early starts and had my tent packed up before they even stirred. There was no rush as it was only a very short ride into Sibiu, where we checked in at the hostel. They are mixed dorms and I will be spending the night in a bunk bed sleeping above a very attractive Greek girl, but I am sure that nobody will appreciate my 5am start tomorrow morning! Everybody else staying there are backpackers and I feel a little bit out of place, but at least I have Mikael and Norbert as company. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the lovely town and went to an organ concert in the church this evening, good value for one pound.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Day 60 - Ordoheui

Well I am getting used to the alarm going off at 4:45 and I only need one Chris, the other one doesnt work as it has said for the last 2 months that the battery is too low. The best time of day is between 6am and 8am, being nice and fresh and the sun casting lovely long shadows.

I am back in the Carpathian mountains, whuch I passed through in the other direction in Ukraine. The climbs are ok, never too long or high and nice and gradual and the scenery has definately improved. I stopped for lunch yesterday in the shade as there was a destinct lack of power in the legs. I decided to rest up in a village about 10k further on before finding a place to sleep, under a bush somewhere. I carried on and literally around the next bend was a campsite, the first I have seen in weeks. It seemed to good to miss so I went in. They had hut for 15 lei, 3 pounds, which were way to hot inside, or a nice cool room in a house for 30 lei. A cool room, bliss, so I payed with a 50 lei note and he told me he would bring back the change later. About an hour later he return with food, a loaf of bread, salad veg, pickled veg, goats cheese and a delicious looking coconut slice. The cynic in me told me I wouldnt be seeing my change, but being a cyclist I had no trouble in eating a second lunch, but the coconut slice was a bit of a shock as it turned out to be very salty pig fat, yuk! I still ate some of it though as I thought I probably needed the salt. He later brought in a friend who spoke good English and translated for him and I told him I didnt want any more food bought as I decided pasta would be a good option tonight. Whilst I was still eating a car turned up and in came soup, boilded potatoes and a meat dish, enough for about 6! Being polite I had a second dinner too, but I was right I didnt get my change as strangely enough each meal came to exactly 10 lei each. His English speaking friend returned in the evening and brought me a jar of honey from the hives that are just across the road. He told me that this is the hottest spell in Romania for 100 years, so just think yourselves lucky at home with all that lovely rain.

Today was another 6am start and a long gradual climb before the best descent in weeks on a good road surface passing a stream and a large lake where people were camping wild. I even passed a large campsite with people camping, I was the only one there last night, but it was about 30k short of where I wanted to be and I still dont fancy an afternoon in the sun, so I carried on to here and have stopped in a hostel in a room on my own. Even in a hostal I am Billy No Mates! I nearly always get the furthest room from the reception and by the time I have carried 7 bags 3 water bottles and a bike up the stairs I am knackered. It was just breaking into the 40s as I arrived, so well timed. After a rest I have walked around town where there is nothing happening being a Sunday, but a gentle stroll is still hard work and a temperature readout down the road reads 56, a bit high I think, but certainly in the mid 40s.

Actually, its amazing how quick the body adjusts to different temperatures. I always find 30 degrees too hot for me, but at the moment I am finding it very comfortable, somewhere the the 20s would be most welcome though.

Tomorrow is a short day, only 50k, so a bit of a lie in. I still want to be away early though, its worth it for those couple of cool hours.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Day 58 - Bacau (Romania)

Right, just to prove that I can be a good Brit whilst I am away I am going to moan about the weather. The weather here is terrible, it is way, way to bloody hot! No I havent finished, I have only just started. It reaches 40 degrees by about midday and seems to settle down at about 45 during the afternoon. This means that I am on the road by 6am, which also means that I have to set my alarm for 4:45, the first time I have set an alarm since January. That is the least of the problems though. Places big enough to have a hotel are about 130k+ apart and that offers dilemmas. In the heat about 100k is as much as is comfortable, and sometimes they are pretty hilly days as well, so what do I do? I can carry on, as I did today covering 136k, but then I am in the full force of the sun and the heat for too long and my poor old heart really doesnt approve of me doing all that exertion in the extreme heat. The other option is to stop early and camp, ooh, theres a nice throught, trying to breathe in a nicely heated tent! Also if I stop to camp then I need to stop about 1pm in the middle of nowhere as there are no campsites and it doesnt really cool sown until it gets dark, so what do I do with myself? I could stop in a bar for the afternoon or rest under a tree, but that makes the extra distance to a potential hotel just too tempting, so all in all its not a happy situation. Right now I would welcome cycling in the rain. I knew I would experience this type of weather somewhere during July and/or August, but now I have reached it, it doesnt make it any easier.

Thankfully there are still wells here in Romania which means that I can stop occasionally for a fully clothed "shower". Wet headgear is the best thing as that is so much cooler. I wasnt sure of well etiquette so I was careful not to wash straight from the bucket and use the provided mug to pour water over myself, but since then I have seen people drink straight from the bucket and today I saw a horse drinking straight from the bucket, all the more reason to filter the drinking water.

Yesterday wasnt too bad, hilly, but I made it to Husi, having crossed the border by about 13:30, the last bit was tough but otherwise it was ok. I thought there were about 50 lei to the pound so when I tried to change my Moldovan lei to Romanian lei at the border, the offer seemed terrible at about 4.5 lei to the pound, so I refused it. I later found that 4.5 is the going rate and now I am stuck with Moldovan lei that I cant change anywhere. I discovered my mistake when a posh hotel only seemed to be two pounds, so I had a feeling something was wrong. So one lei is about 22p and they have no change so you get overcharged for everything or at best given sweets instead.

Today started well and I made good progress hence I decided to push on, but it became hilly again later and in the full heat I suffered somewhat. I stopped at a bar at 9:45 and had a litre of orange pop, but everybody else was on beer and they were doing a great trade. Old men, young boys, older women, they were all downing it, mind you, it is the cheapest drink. Bacau is a modern town, that means modern hotels with modern prices and I searched for about 2 hours to find one under 40 pounds. I found a Pension but he wouldnt let me stay as he didnt speak English. Personally I couldnt see the problem, I only wanted a bed for the night and didnt want to put the world to rights.

Since Ukraine there have been plenty of dogs, most roaming free and there have been a fair few dead at the roadside. I saw one end up the same way today as it was hit by a van coming the other way to me, the dog died instantly but the driver didnt bat an eyelid as he lost his bumper and number plate. Not a nice thing to see.

The old Renault 12 rules the streets out of town here, followed closely in numbers not in speed, by the horse and cart.

So tomorrow is another 135k, but I am going to try extra hard not to ride beyond 1pm as it really doesnt do me any good. I guess the afternoon will be a bit of a drag and I will probably sleep under the stars as it will be the coolest place.

No this doesnt feel like a holiday, it is defineately hard work!

No USB connections here, so you may have to wait for more photos.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Day 56 - Chisinau

My night in Edinet was just terrible. I was bugged the whole time by mosquitos in my hotel room and it was too hot. I would have slept uncovered but had to have a sheet to keep the mossies off, but then I just sweated buckets and couldnt stand it so left myself a bit uncovered, then they just helped themselves and that was making me sore. I kept getting up to kill few more, but it never seemed to make any difference. I put a buff over my head and ears and wrapped myself in the sheet so that only my nose and mouth were visible and they still hassled me. I swore at them alot, but they still didnt get the message. I even tried to find another room to sleep in but all the doors were shut. I know I didnt get any sleep before 3am but I must have got some after that.

It was 200k to Chisinau, 2 days riding, but the only place likely to have a hotel was Balti after just 70k, and so I stopped there. It was the hotest day so far at 42 degrees and to be honest that was about as much as I wanted to do in that heat as I was already beginning to hurt, especially my right foot, the left being more shaded. You are right Brian, I would have been better off going to Birmingham for a Balti as the place I chose wasnt really up to it. The waitress sat down beside me and recommended a meal, at least I think that is what she was doing, and all I got was the usual steak and chips, steak being any old bit of fried meat and is nothing particulary appertising.

Yesterday started well but declined rapidly in the afternoon. No mossies, so I had a good nights sleep and set off at about 7:45 when it was 27 degrees, but it had been all night. First 60k was easy and comfortable and temp rose to mid 30s. Stopped at a well to refill bottles and put socks on. I soaked my socks before I set off and that really seemed to do the trick as my feet were beginning to hurt and I expected an afternoon of pain, but there was none, problem solved.

The next bit was reasonable too, but getting much hotter, up to 45 and over 40 the whole time, but I was still going well, when I stopped at another well for a bite to eat in the shade and pour nice cold water over my head. From then on it was just tough as it started to roll the whole time and with 20k to go I started feeling unwell and I really wasnt enjoying it and just wanted to get out of the sun and into the cool. It was just a slog and a very slow one to Chisinau and then finding a hotel was challenging when I didnt need it to be. The one I am in is by default (photo) really as I felt really bad and couldnt be bothered to look for any other hotels.

Today has been spent doing my washing and wandering around Chisinau, which is nothing special. The is one main drag and a couple of nice churches (photo) and that is about it, but it has been enough to keep me entertained for one day, although this afternoon was really too hot even for just wandering around slowing so I returned to the hotel at 3:30pm and just rested.

To be honest I am not looking for to cycling at the moment as this heat is really too much for me. Tomorrow will be about 100k and I will hopefully set off at about 6am as it is defineately more managable in the morning, after that I will see what happens.

Dont worry I have plenty of photos of doors and windows as you might expect after 8 weeks on the road, but I am trying not to bore you all too much, so a small selection is all you are going to get.

And that another thing, I have been going 8 weeks and where has the time gone? I dont feel as though I have got very far, but I have taken a few diversions so it has hardly been the shortest route. Having said that Places like Switzerland seem as long time ago and a long way off. After this trip a 2 or 3 week holiday wont seem worth the effort!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Day 53 - Edinet (Moldova)

Blimey, another post! Anybody would think I have nothing better to do with my time, well here that is the case.

The less said about Friday the better. I had a downer, the first of the trip and as I was getting ready to leave I was overcome by apathy and went back to bed and didnt get up until 13:00. I slept through to 11:30 and then on and off, so I probably needed it.

I felt better in mind and body yesterday and saw not a single signpost heading out on Vinnytsia but my compass seemed to think I was on the right road, until it unexpectedly turned east. I was on the only other road going south but it joined my intended route, but I just has to go a little further than intended. The weather was good and it wasnt too hilly and I made good progress. There was only one town that had the slightest chance of a hotel, but as soon as I got there I realised there was no chance at all. On my 1:1,000,000 it shows as a number of road meeting in the centre, but that is never the case and I was soon on the wrong road out and returning. The second attempt was also wrong but I kept going as the only other likely road was gravel, again it just made it longer. I was going to have to camp wild, but I needed water first and I filled up from a well (Photo). I was hot and thirsty and the wonderful clear, cool water that came up reminded what a precious and life saving commodity water is that we all take so much for granted being on tap at home. I felt a bit guilty filtering the water that is drinking water to the locals, but felt better one a guy from the house next door came and gave me a hand. I was now carrying 4.5 litres of water a 1 litre of fruit juice. A few kilometres further on I found a small gap through the trees that led to the edge of wheat field and enough room to put up a tent. As I set up the tent the wind dropped and it was a wonderful evening. Its amazing how clean you can make yourself feel by "showering" with about 1 pint of water. As it got dark the sky was totally clear and the stars were amazing. Dawn was clear and lovely and warm and it nights like that, that can make wild camping so rewarding.

Before I leave Ukraine I have to say that the first impressions I had of the women were slightly wrong. What I said really only applies to the women out in the country where life is a little tougher, the women in the cities are very good looking and well presented, not that I noticed! Most people in the cities made me feel a real scruff, but some might argue that that is not difficult.

After about 30k today the road dropped sharply into a valley, quite a shock to see after there has been so little change in scenery over the last week. The border town was like no other I had seen in Ukraine and there was a real buzz about the place. It felt a bit like a seaside resort, but without the sea and, well, anything nice really! I could see the border control, but just couldnt get to it and it took me about 10 minutes to find the way through. I was sent through with the people on foot and as most were waved through I got the full treatment that took about 20 minutes, then it was a walk across a bridge to the Moldovan control. Here I got the same treatment, only more of it. There were a constant flow of people on foot and I was the only one stopped. I was there over one hour as my passport was handed around to all and sundry and I wondered just how many times they could marvel at the blank pages. I got a bit confused by the proceeding especially as through the whole thing the only word I could understand were John and near London. Still I was soon on first name terms with the guard, Alexandus. The flow of people continued and somebody walked off with my passport, so I made myself at home in the office and they didnt seem bothered. I kept asking if there was a problem and they always said no. Alexandus shoke my hand, still in a sweaty mit. I could tell he regretted it by the way he held his hand up whilst looking for something to wipe it on whilst all I could do was laugh. My passport returned and they brought a girl who could speak English. I again asked what the problem was and she said there was none, its just they dont see many passports other than Ukrainian or Moldovan. So was it that it was just fascinating to them, or did they not know what to do with it. At last I was allowed to go. The whole time I was there only one lorry crossed the bridge all the other when Moldovans on foot returning with goods bought in the Ukrainian town across the river. I changed my Ukrainian Hrynvia for Moldovan Lei and what lovely little notes thay are too, just like monopoly money. The temperature was now in the 30s as I climed out of the valley. I had a stretch of main road which I was dreading as it looked like a motorway on the map. It was great, like one of the smaller tarmaced Ukrainian roads, but with little traffic, about one vehicle every 5 minutes. I was aiming for Balti, but I saw a signpost saying 80k and it was already 3pm, so I went off in a different direction to Edinet as it was only 28k and it paid off as it has a hotel. Place names on signposts now match those on the map and it is so much easier.

Tomorrow I will set off for the capital, which should take a couple of days to get to all being well.

I have at last been able to add some photos, starting with a few more of Hungary.

Pete, glad to hear you are still alive and reading this drivle, now get back to work!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Day 50 - Vinnytia

Oops, another one I am not sure how you spell it, but the Vinn bit is right.

Having used the internet yesterday, there was confusion when I left as they would not accept any money from me. I did my best to give them some money but they just laughed, still it would only have been about 40p as that is the hourly rate here, better than the 9 pounds in Switzerland. When I left it made me wonder if I had just walked into an office and used one of their machines, but they did give me permission.

There is not much to report as I only updated yesterday, but as today was another short day and this place isnt over exciting I thought I would catch up on emails etc.

I was glad to be in a hotel last night as the weather turned bad again in the afternoon and seemed to be raining most of the night and was still raining when I got up. The hotel didnt do breakfast so I stopped at a bar down the road (yes, Harpo they did have them) where even my pointing could not be interpretted by the girl serving. There wasnt much to point at and I thought I made a pretty good job of it, but the poor girl didnt have a clue and had to go and get her boss, who could understand what I was pointing at the the problem was resolved. Hmm, lovely stale bread and manky meat, good choice, may be she just couldnt believe that I wanted to eat that, but it looked reasonable before I bit into it!

The route was easy and once I had translated the place name navigation was a doddle as it was well signposted, added to that the road rolled but much more gently than of late. I got here at around 2pm and found that 2 hotels were full, frankly I dont think they liked the look of a sweaty old cyclist, well one was the Savoy! Another seemed to double the price to the printed one, probably for the same reason, so once again I am in the big concrete Soviet style hotel with the service to match.

I think I needed a couple of short days for both body and soul. I would ideally like to finish no later than 18:30 but since I have been here it has been 19:30 - 21:00, due to the lack of places to stay and limited camping places. I do feel better for the last two days, but another early night is in order. Actually, one of the problems with hotels is that I seem to get away later than if I were camping, so the day is always off to a bad start, apart from the fact that I like the lie in and the breakfast.

Other than the above, my spirits have been pretty good. I thought I might struggle being alone for so long, but that hasnt been a problem, helped by the better communications that are available these days.

So what now. I did toy with the idea of going to Kiev, but it is still a couple of days away, so I will probably turn south tomorrow and make my way to Moldova. Looking at the map for tomorrow there seems very little chance of a hotel, so it will be wild camping again, but I will make sure I find a place earlier and the same goes for water supplies.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Day 49 - Bar

Well the temperature has gone up again and that makes it much harder work for me.

The day out of Lviv was a long one, longer than intended. I managed to find more gravel roads, which although were fairly flat still managed to slow me down. It is noticable that when I am on gravel there is literally no other traffic about. I reached my intended destination at about 18:00 and it looked big enough to have a hotel, but it didnt. I was told that the nearest was 35k away. To start with I couldnt be bothered to go there as I was so hot and bothered, but after a rest and a litre of Fanta and an icecream I decided to go there. It was straight down the main road and I reached the hotel by 20:15. The welcoming committee was out in the form of a receptionist and you are right Aoiffee the service in the hotel at Lviv was great compared with this one. To start with she shouted and me in good English but each time I asked a question she shouted back the same answer louder, a habit caught from us Brits no doubt. This brought out the devil in me and I asked all sorts of questions to see just how loud she would go. A little later as I went down from my 10th floor room to pay she bellowed across the large reception "GIVE ME YOUR PASSPORT". She softened up a bit later and I told her to be careful as I was warming to her.

Yesterday I wanted a short day after the extra distance to Ternopil meant I had ridden 146k the day before. My destination was 112k down the main road, so I opted for a longer quieter route, a mistake! It was hilly and slow going, then I spotted a short cut on the map and went for it and needless to say it soon turned to gravel, but you get so far you dont want to backtrack. I took a wrong turning in a village and at a junction of very narrow roads I asked the way and was put right, but the gravel became quite deep in places, the sort of stuff you try and keep as straight as possible and dare not steer in. Added to that the heat was 36 degrees and no shelter, I was not best pleased. The I fell off the edge of the good map and I now only have the 1:1,000,000 with English place names, so navigation is really tricky and if there are signposts I have to stop to try and work out the place names and if they are on the map or not. At one village I climbed out on the wrong road and had to return, then some guys tried to assist, but with English place names it was difficult. They told me that my chosen direction was wrong and after another climb I agreed with them and returned again, so it was third time lucky. I was at last back on the right route, but my intended turn off was back on to gravel and it was still a long way to go, so I decided to stick to the tarmac and see where I ended up. I eventually reached the main road by about 19:00 and my intended destination was 30k to the north. The weather was worsening rapidly and a strong wind was blowing from the north and a storm brewing. I didnt fancy the head wind in the storm, so I went south. It just got darker and darker ands I had to turn my lights on, oh joy I have taken the front one off. The heavens opened and I sheltered under a tree and continued once is eased a bit, but the next downpour was never far away. I stopped at a petrol station to ask for some drinking water, but they had nothing on tap but let me fill up from a bucket they had. There are lots of roadside wells, but I hadnt used them in the hope I wouldnt need them, but when I eventually decided that is what I would do, there were none, typical. After 14k I took the first turning east again and started looking for a place to camp. It was another 7k before I found a suitable spot down a small track and tucked behind some trees. It continued to rain as I set up the tent, but I was in there by 21:00, just in time for the arrival of the next downpour and the thunder was right overhead, not much fun. Still, once I was in the dry I felt better, but my shorter day had turned out to be another 140k. At 23:15 a vehicle came down the track and the headlights shone on the tent. I guess it stopped 20-30m short of me and somebody got out, so all I could do was wait and see what happened. They soon got back in the vehicle, probably because of the weather, but I remained on edge as there was silence from them. My tension must have eased as I fell asleep and was awoken at 00:45 as they left.

Today was again hilly and hot and within 2 hrs I realised I wasnt going to reach my intended destination and it was going to be another long hard day with wild camping at the end of it. After 62k I reached Bar and I saw a sign advertising a hotel, so after a bit of thought and after 2 late finishes I decided to make the most of it and have a well earned short day. Its only a small town, but I rode another 10k looking for the hotel and began to wish I had continued. Each time I asked somebody, if I could make them understand what I wanted as they didnt understand the word hotel, I was pointed in a different direction. Eventually a guy on a motor bike led me there. The word hotel in Ukrainian was very small and well disguised.

So with a couple of hours to spare and having been all around the town 3 times already here I am, but sadly still hook up for cameras.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Day 46 - Lviv

I came here as it is a nice easy place name to remember!

Well the night at the stadium was pretty uneventful apart from the very loud noises from the other rooms that made it clear that they excell in more than just the one physical dicipline.

Friday was about as different from any day in Hungary as an apple is to a my big toe. After I have got used to temperatures being in the 30s it comes as a bit of a shock when it suddenly plummets to just 13. You at home will also be please to know that there was wind and rain thrown in that made it feel even colder. Still, the sandals stayed on as there was no point getting wet sock as well. It was back into the hills as well, and a complete change to culture.

The route started with a bit of a main road bash for 20k or so, then I picked a nice looking road on the map the went through the mountains. It was a great road too, to start with anyway. The road climbed gently and it was nice to be amongst the hills and a bit of scenery. There was always a river nearby and I could have camped wild just about anywhere, only it was about 100k to soon. The villages werent exactly picturesque, but the individual dwellings were wonderful, so long as I never have to live in one that is. There were all wooden and pretty tiny and the wood piles outside reminded me just how tough it must be in the winter. Most houses had livestock, all be it just a single cow of a few geese. There was little traffic and the further I went it got even quieter and the tarmac deteriated from lumpy to a patchwork of years of repairs, but with so little traffic I could weave my way around them. I was always very aware that the people stopped and looked at me, but I guess I was a pretty rare sight. There were one or two lovely little wooden churches in the villages. Soon the road turned to gravel, only temporarily, or so I tought. I was wrong, it went on for about 25k and was rough and with the rain, mucky. The track was now climbing sharply, getting narrower and totally devoid of any traffic and I was never totally convinced that it wouldnt lead to a dead end, but my now number one luxury item, the compass, gave me the confidence to continue as I knew I was going in the right direction. Things got worse, I was already feeling unwell and feeling pretty sorry for myself (that a polite way of saying pissed off) when my dynamo switch decided to finally give up the ghost and kept switching itself on. Repairs in the wet isnt what was needed, but it was really hacking me off, so I stopped and took it off. At last I made it to the top off the pass and the descent started, but what a waste heading downhill slowing with the brakes on and in the wet wearing the brakes blocks in no time. One particular bend saw me at the days low point as the road was awash in mud the whole way across and I had to wheel the bike through it, wonderful! At last I reached the village and junction with a tarmac road and I couldnt be bothered to turn the map over but pretty sure I needed to go right. Joy of joys another long climb, but so much easier even on rough tarmac. A couple of motorcycle tourists passed the other way and gave a toot and a wave, a little gesture that can lift the spirits a bit. Next up was a road checkpoint with gates across, a couple a cars were let straight through, but I got the passport treatment and a few questions, at least I assume they were questions as I didnt understand a word so I just babbled away in English and confused them too. The road rolled along nicely now and I was enjoying myself again despite the rain but I was glad to reach Tupka, me destintion. Well I was until I started entering town, then emphasis was on the Tip! There was nothing nice about the place at all and people there all looked a little menacing, let alone the dogs which chased me. I somehow felt I wouldnt find a hotel here and I was right, and somewhat pleased about it too. As I passed a bus stop I could feel a dozen pair of eyes boring into me, but they were probably only thinking "what is a tourist doing in this dump" or more likely "if there werent so many people about I would mug him". I stopped at a shop and bought some food for a night camping and they told me of a hotel 10k further on, anything was better than staying here. Another checkpoint was negotiated and then I reached the hotel, brand new and very posh and too much at 15 pounds a night but after today I couldnt be bothered to carry on. A 2 course meal with 0.5l of beer and a coffee came to 2.50. The waitress helped me with the menu as I didnt understand a word of it, but I was none the wiser as she just read it out in Ukranian. I could tell the beers as there was one there called 1715 and the bottles of wine were the only thing over a pound.

Saturday started off badly but at least the sun was shining. At 8:30 the place was dead and my bike and passport were both locked up. At 9 a cleaner turned up and told me the were all asleep and seemed surprised that I wanted them woken and wouldnt do it. I discovered which rooms they were in and did it myself. At last I was off, but into a headish wind. People in the villages were either out walking there cows on a lead, giving them a weekend treat of munching on the verges, or they were in the Saturday best and heading for the churches. After about 40k I was out of the hills and on a flat, dead straight road with the wind behind me and I was off like a rocket, well relatively speaking that is as I was still going slower than if I was on an Audax ride. I made it to Lviv in good time but had no map of the place. 30 minutes cycling around still failed to show even a sign for a hotel, so I stopped and asked and soon found one. And what a cracking hotel it is too, I just love it. Its a massive old Soviet type concrete built structure and everything is shabby, inside and out. The entrance hall is massive with nothing in it and there are booth for reception. Staff are clearing trained at not smiling or being helpful and are brilliant at it. It is also still run in the old Soviet style and there is a "matron" on each floor. There are also staff by the stairs and lifts, armed guards in the evening, and you have to show a pass before they will let you through. Its a working museum and at 7:50 a night cheaper than I was camping in Western Europe. Returning in the evening I used the lift to get to my 4th floor room and got stuck in it. I could just force the door enough to call the guards and between us we forced the doors open. I was only in there 5 minutes or so, but my mind was already getting ready to spend the night there.

Today has been a rest day and I have been wandering around the city. At breakfast there was a brochure about the hotel with a bit written in English. The picture of the outside is this place but they describe posh rooms and happy helpful staff. Where are they then? Anyway, Lviv is a nice little city with a long main street lined with trees and a pedestrian area up the middle that it a real social area where groups of people just walking, talking or are playing chess and kids driving little electric cars. Some of the churches are pretty good too, but being Sunday there are services and they are packed, some with people listening to speakers outside.

Now that things are so cheap there is not much point in camping. A night in a reasonable hotel and eating out is still costing me far less than camping in Switzerland and Austria, besides some of the places have such charachter they are worth a look in there own right.

This is the 2nd internet place I have used in Ukraine and neither of them can handle digital cameras, so you might not see any photos for a while, besides it give me a bit more time to waffle on a bit doesnt it!

From here on in I am going to head east a bit, but dont no how far or where too, your guess is as good as mine. This isnt exactly on route to Australia anyway, but who cares!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Day 43 Mykucebe (Ukraine)

Dont go looking for this place name on the map as I cant remember it and it is just a guess!

Well the 3 days from Budapest were ok, but other than Budapest itself I was disappointed with Hungary, That is probably due to the route I chose, a flat one to give my legs a rest from the mountains, but it was SO flat is was a bore. One of the day I rode 103k with just 27m of climbing, that makes the Fens look hilly. It was too hot for hills anyway, up to 38 degress, so the flat was appreciated from that point of view,

The camps sites were much better than I expected but I was generally on my own apart from the second night when I was with a Dutch group, but there was so many mossies about that I retreat to the comfort of my tent for protection.

Today has been a total change in weather. Hard rain when I woke up persuaded me to go back to bed and I was not on the road until 10:30 and the temperature only made 19 degrees and more rain came this afternoon.

Well today I crossed into Ukraine, a man made border but it felt like I had moved into a different continent. I know so little about the Ukraine that it is embarrasing. Passport control asked me where I was going, so I said Kiev as it is the only place I know, but I also know I wont be going there. The I had to change my Hungarian Forints to Ukrainian things what ever they are (I still dont know) and for 17000 forints I was offered 204. I wasnt sure so went to the next and was offered 440, so still not sure I left it and went to a bank in the first town and got 459. The first things I noticed, apart from all the petrol stations was all the dogs, many of the stray.
The roads are far rougher and the main vehicle seem to be the Lada. Road side house had tables with vegetables for sale and the women were chunky and wrinkled and dressed in a way that made me look smart. The next challenge was to find a decent map and to the end I was advised to go 30k up the road to the next town, which is where I am now. Well I found one, but it only covers a small area and is in their language with a different alphabet, but at least it should match the roadsigns. I also bought a 1:1,000,000 road map of the entire country with names in English, but at least it gives me the lie of the land but would be useless on the road.

Finding a hotel was challenging I didnt know what the word would be. The only one that said Hotel was 4 star and as I was about to enquire some Czechs told me of a cheap place. I found it, I think, at the stadium, at one pound 50 a night, but as dives go it is ok.

Well I would write more but I am being thrown out. I passed through a time zone today so I am now 2 hours ahead, but 21:00 still seems early for closing.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Day 41 - Some place east of Budapest

Well I hadnt intended to post so soon after the last one but it is too hot for cycling all day, so this is my chance to get out of the sun for a little while, consequently there is not much to report.

Yesterday was a bit of a downer, being on my own again, plus the pleasures of cycling out of a big city in the heat. At least it was flat for a change as climbs as well as busy roads would all have been too much. Actually it was just down right boring, but the kilometres passed by fairly quickly and I end up at a campsite with a spa bath, not that I used it mind.

Today has been a bit better, still outrageously flat and still around 35 degrees, but not too much traffic and a few lakes and rivers to ride along side and its been quite enjoyable. I have ridden about 67k so far today and there is another campsite 30k further on but I might just carry on a camp wild somewhere as it seems too early to stop.

Thanks for the advice on the sausages Aoiffe, they sound disgusting. I did eat one in Budapest but it was nothing to write home about so I wont. I am still without a map of Ukraine, so it should be a bit of fun to start with.

The photos havent been taken with a tripod Cath, but I will use it for self taken photos, not that I take too many of those. The roof was just taken with a very steady hand and a little help for a camera with a anti shake detection thingy.

The for the offer of another bed Harpo, but as stated in my previous post the bed is an over rated luxury. I am actually getting used to sitting outside without a seat and I realised last night that I was enjoyed just sitting on the ground. Its amazing how few luxuries you need in life, but I am sure once I get back I will slip back in to the old habits, like sitting on chairs etc.

Nik Windle sent me an email and said he had been tracking my progress on Autoroute and that he thought I had done about 3000k. Very impressive as at the time I had just topped 3200k, just over 2000 of those old fashioned things. Progress does seem to have been remarkably slow, but I am in no real rush and I havent exactly taken the shortest route, and nor will I do so in the coming weeks. I would guess that through Turkey and Iran I will start to take a more direct route as the countries start to get much bigger.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Day 39 - Budapest

Well as Cathy has pointed out, Caroline has been out to Budapest for the weekend. Having heard what the weather has been like at home I was desperate for some of the good weather that I have been having recently, so was somewhat disappointed that it was overcast on Saturday morning, but the sun came through in the afternoon and was pretty warm. Today has been a scorcher and the forecast is for more of the same so I am a bit concerned for the cycling over the next few days.

Saturday we spent most of the time in Buda, the old bit. The best thing for me were the constant and varied views across to Pest and along the Danube. The main church was closed by the time we got there at about 2pm, but that may have been due to the constant procession of weddings. One couple went passed in a horse drawn cart and the bride had a lovely dress, headress and white gloves to the elbow, but the tatoos up the rest of the arm didnt do the outfit justice. The main bridge, Chain Bridge, was shut to traffic for the weekend and turn into a craft fair and was packed. Back in Pest we visited the impressive main church of St I Forgotten The Name, but another service was in progress, but we saw enough to warrant a return. Caroline wanted to return to Chain Bridge at dusk and I am really glad we did as it was lit up and looking across to Buda was a wonderful sight. I would have returned if I had been on my own.

Today we strolled along the Danube and passed the wonderful Parliament biulding.We pottered in Pest and revisited the churches we couldnt get into yesterday and they we both worth the effort.

Well Caroline has returned now and I am pretty sure she enjoyed the weekend. It was good to have some company and conversation for a couple of days and I havent thought about cycling at all, so tomorrow I am in for a bit of a shock.

Tomorrow also will be the return to camping after 3 nights in a hotel and a bed. I can confirm that beds are over rated, but the breakfasts arent. Caroline was astonished that I effectively had 2 breakfast on Saturday, but today I was a bit more discreet about it, but still had two, she just didnt notice. Being as I will have breakfast on my own tomorrow I will do my best to have three and go out in style.

I have no idea where I am heading for tomorrow other than in the vague direction of Ukraine, which I hope to be in by the end of the week. When I get back to the hotel I will have a look at the map. Ukraine will be interesting as I have no imformation, guide book or map and I dont even know the currency or the exchange rate. I could look it up here on the web, but by the time I have finished this I will have had enough.

Changing the subject a bit, I cut my hair the other day and did it without a mirror. All was going well until I removed the length gauge and the blade to clean it out and forgot to put the length gauge back on before I continued. I now have an extra bald patch on the side of the head.

Hello Andy, I am glad to hear you too are tuned into my waffle pages. Harpo, where are you, you have gone a bit quiet.

A few more Slovakia photos have been added and a whole host from Budapest.