Ukrainian Carpathians

Nice mountains, friendly people, almost no traffic, the lowest prices I’ve seen in Europe.  Ukraine, manna for cycle tourists?

Children stood by the side of the road, smiling, waving, and greeting “ahoi” when we rode by.  Long climbs over a pass followed by long descents reminded me of the mountain riding that I love to do in Colorado.  6 UAH for a beer, 80 UAH for a room in a guesthouse in Rosluč, 5 UAH/hour for internet in Staryj Sambir: sounds like prices in Thailand, not Europe (US$1 = 8 UAH).

So, why didn’t I love it?

Although the mountains felt wilder than in Poland or Slovakia, the views weren’t spectacular.  The Carpathians are not the French Alps or the Colorado Rockies.  But the biggest problem, I think, is that the towns were depressingly, consistently ugly.  I didn’t see one beautiful square, picturesque village, or lovely church.  Ok, maybe a couple nice, old wooden churches.

DSCN5009 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN5044 by bryandkeith on flickr

Near the top of the pass by bryandkeith on flickr

About two days after the border crossing at Krościenko which, by the way, doesn’t allow cyclists — it’s necessary to flag down a vehicle and get in it to cross (bah!!!) –, we were again very close to the border with Poland.  Three times in less than 24 hours in this area, I was asked for my passport by Ukrainian border patrol agents.  Each time they looked for the entry stamp.  They were polite and business-like.  I couldn’t help thinking about the Ukrainian woman who I sat next to on the bus from Atlanta to Orlando.  On our next leg to Miami, she was taken off the bus and handcuffed by US border patrol agents at an internal check near Ft. Lauderdale.

Rarely have I seen such dramatic changes across the border.  Going from Poland to Ukraine was like crossing from the US to Mexico or Thailand to Cambodia.  Good paved roads turned into pot-holed disasters.  Buildings were crumbling, old, half-constructed, unpainted.

Not in Poland anymore by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN5121 by bryandkeith on flickr

Many (most?) intersections were unmarked, but larger, better roads did have roads signs.  This optimistic sign:

DSCN5057 by bryandkeith on flickr

indicated the turnoff to this road:

DSCN5059 by bryandkeith on flickr

which soon deteriorated to this:

Near the top of the pass by bryandkeith on flickr

Over that pass I think I saw one cyclist, a group of Polish tourists wondering if they could get their two low-clearance vehicles through one of the rockier sections, and one local motorist in a boxy Lada.

DSCN5023 by bryandkeith on flickr

The heat was a surprise.  Every day was hot, and we rested in the shade for a few hours in the middle of each day.  Occasionally we found pleasant places to hang out for lunch, but more commonly we ended up in some dirty town, amusing ourselves by watching the traffic go by while sampling the local kvas and beer.  It was, at times, hilarious.  I couldn’t help laughing when a 10-year-old scooter driver wasn’t even strong enough to push the scooter onto the kickstand.  I had no idea that so many WW2 transport trucks were still in use, and the 30-year-old boxy police cars with a single siren on the top driven by a couple men in funny hats looked like they were straight out of a cartoon.  Sneki and I laughed out loud and asked ourselves, “is this for real?”

Kvas by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN5085 by bryandkeith on flickr

After one week, I feel like I never really went anywhere in Ukraine, just sort of floated through.  Seems like something interesting or significant should have happened, but it never did.

I was so looking forward to the no-vehicles crossing into Romania at Sighetu Marmaţiei, but, alas, it doesn’t exist.  I’m not sure where I got my information.  The bridge is wide enough for cars, and cars are allowed.  Hello, Romania.

Bridge between Solotvyno, Ukraine and Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania by bryandkeith on flickr

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8 Responses to Ukrainian Carpathians

  1. Dennis Keith says:

    How does kvas differ from beer?

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Kvas is more often compared with cola than with beer. However, it’s not as sweet as cola. Kvas is very low alcohol, like a non-alcoholic beer. To me it tastes quite similar to wort (unfermented beer), but it’s not as thick.

      I’m sure you can find it in SoCal. One of my last interactions with Sasha (a colleague from Russia) before he died was him giving me a big bottle of kvaas before I went to Serbia. He bought it at a Russian market in Denver.

  2. andrew k says:

    kvas is often distilled from bread and water and can be, and often is, home made. did you sample Ukrainian cало (salo), Bry?

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Many roadside cafes sold kvas on tap. I don’t know if I tried any homemade kvas. But kvas isn’t distilled, is it? It’s barely even fermented as I understand.

      No, I didn’t try salo. Unfortunately I visited no cities in Ukraine, just villages and a couple small towns in the Carpathians. I got a pretty skewed view of the country.

  3. Dave Putnam says:

    Hi Bryan!
    Congratulations on getting the project on the road. I now understand your goal to be biking AROUND. I told some people about your trip and they were suitably impressed.
    Hey, man, you would be proud of me. I flew to Europe on impulse to spend 10 days with a woman I barely knew. The trip went very well! Her name is Meri and she lives in Barcelona. However, because she lives in such a great city it may be difficult to get her to leave. I might have to move there 🙂
    Enjoyed very much climbing with you before you left. Hope to see you again, maybe overseas! Dave

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Dude, you’re crazy! Who would do something so ridiculous?! Barcelona is supposed to be fantastic. Go there, and I’ll have another excuse to go to Spain.

      Around and around. I’m going to need to post the route I biked through Romania. I doubt many cyclists have taken such a convoluted route through this beautiful country. A few more twists and turns (and maybe another two weeks), and I’ll be in Serbia. If I keep up this route, I’ll actually bike around Hungary!

  4. one of many says:

    I hope that i understood incorectly…but if i did not…you find it hilarious is some community is poor and uses what’s available to it? Btw, photos are good.

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