‘You can not cross this border!’. Het was Anna van de Poolse grenscontrole die me halt toeriep wanneer ik de grens wou oversteken in Polen naar Oekraïne.
Ik was met een fietsbroek vol Karpatengoesting het zonnige Krakau (Polen) uitgefietst. Ik ben verzot op bergen, op besneeuwde toppen, grimmige pieken, klimmen, dalen. Me klein voelen tussen die grote reuzen… I like!
Het werd glooiend, groener. Er waren riviertjes en rivieren.
Ik zocht offroad op. Maar wist uiteindelijk de geasfalteerde wegen naar waarde te schatten. De stijgingspercentages deden de benaming push-bike alle eer aan.
Als uit het niets waren ze daar, achter sluiers van nevel, de Karpaten.
Ik fietste door verlaten skioorden, zag zittende mannen bijpraten in houten, kegelvormige cabannes. Het waren privésauna’s. Ik wandelde door de regen naar het betoverende Morskie Oko-meer. Stak de grens over naar Slowakije, werd er besneeuwd door bloesem, in dorpen en steden welkom gegeten door uit luidsprekers galmende, traditionele muziek. Het klonk communistisch, het was charmant. Houten kerken doken op. Zigeunerdorpen ook en pastelkleurige appartementsgebouwen die me deden terugdenken aan Tsjechië.
Zigzaggend over de grenzen van Polen en Slowakije ontdekte ik beider landen hun eigen identiteit en proefde zo wat meer van de Karpaten. Fietsend van het ene nationale park naar het andere.
Het was er mooi, zeer zeker, maar ik verlangde naar iets nieuw. Een andere cultuur, een ander landschap, een andere taal. Ik verlangde naar ‘exotisch’ Oekraïne, naar de grensovergang in Polen. Vier dagen keek ik uit naar dit moment, vier dagen fantaseerde ik hoe het aan de andere kant van de grens zou zijn. Het klimmen en dalen in dagelijkse regendouches werden erdoor gemotiveerd.
Ik naderde de grens. Zag van een afstand twee motors staan, daarnaast een man en een vrouw in politie-uniform. De vrouw sprak me toe: ‘You can not cross the border!’. Een donderslag bij heldere -helaas figuurlijk- hemel.
Ontgoocheling en vermoeidheid rolden langzaam over mijn wangen.
Vanuit Polen Oekraïne binnenfietsen was dus geen optie, enkel rijdend met auto of bus en dat op een plek 50 kilometer noordelijker. Hierdoor moest ik een omweg maken van 150 kilometer. Dat paste niet in mijn planning.
Samen met het zout, van zweet en traan, veegde ik het idee door de Oekraïense Karpaten te fietsen van mijn gezicht.
Zucht. En nog één.
‘Waarom Oekraïne en niet Slowakije en Hongarije?’ Een voorbij wandelend koppel begreep mijn overtuiging niet en vervolgde: ‘In Oekraïne zijn de wegen slecht, de mensen onvriendelijk en is er in sommige dorpen geen elektriciteit.’
Dat was het, dat moest ik horen! Het was beslist… Ik moest en zou in Oekraïne fietsen.
Het werd een poging via Slowakije. Ik vond het spannend en had er zin in, alhoewel er een week van dagelijks 80 à 90% regen was voorspeld.
Na een dag fietsen in een onaangekondigde zon, was daar eindelijk: Oekraïne. Een lappendeken van teer werd voor me uitgerold. Stofwolken van voorbijrijdende, toeterende, geblindeerde Lada’s heetten me welkom. Stalin bekeek me streng bij het binnenfietsen in het eerste stadje. Het cyrillisch schrift lachte me toe. De zon scheen en brandde een big smile op mijn gezicht. Ik was er geraakt, het was er anders, ruiger, armer en prachtig.
De wegen waren slecht, de mensen super vriendelijk en in alle dorpen was er elektriciteit!
You see them very often, old house numbers on metal plates. I like #Poland
I told the man about my plan crossing the nature park in the Tatra Mountains. He said it was impossible, it was too steep and offroad. With all the good advice in my pocket, I started the following morning crossing that nature park. I was excited, it would be beautiful… 2 kilometers later I had to return. From 11 to 17% of ascent, mud, stones, really bad surface, heavy loaded and pushing the bike… #stubborn #pushbike #beautiful #Poland
Here it is… Offroad whereof you literally fall backwards #Poland
So many barking dogs behind fences. The smaller they are, the more noise they make #Poland
That same day it was really hot and I had to push my bike a loooong way. Small dogs were barking at me, I barked back and asked them why they did that, I wasn’t evil. I didn’t know an old lady was watching me from behind the bushes. Oops, I saw her and asked in my best polish sign language if she could give me some tap water. She did and started a conversation in her best polish sign language #cute #Poland
In Ghent, Rotterdam and Rabka (Poland) they tried to fix that annoying sound of my peeping brakes. In the end nobody succeeded, till I met this bike mechanic Jan Pajor in Chabówka, my hero of the day. He kissed my hand when saying goodbye. I melted #Poland
On my way to stunning Morskie Oko lake #Poland
There it is … azure in the sun, nearly black during rain. The largest lake in the Tatra Mountains #MorskieOko #TatraNationalPark #Carpathians #Poland
I was on my way to see the beautiful Morskie Oko lake in the High Tatra (Carpathians). This lovely couple from Krakow and I had the same speed. We started talking, didn’t feel the rain anymore and suddenly we were in front of that awesome lake. As if their company wasn’t enough, they spoiled me with a warm soup in the hut next to the lake #great #Poland
A reindeer just in front of me #MorskieOko #TatraNationalPark #Carpathians #Poland
I just crossed the border to Slovakia, soaked. Was looking for dry shelter. This man let me sleep in the conference room of the hostel, for free. The next morning he proudly came with a tray to the room to offer me a typical Slovakian breakfast: hot sausage, mustard, bread and Slivovitz. My heart broke when I had to tell him I’m a vegetarian… 😦 #Slovakia
Nice and wild rivers while leaving the High Tatra #TatraNationalPark #Carpathians #Slovakia
Unfortunately I had to leave the highest mountain range of the Carpatians #HighTatra #Carpathians #Slovakia
Goodbye beauties #HighTatra #Carpathians #Slovakia
When I saw this shelter, I felt myself invited to picnic #Slovakia
Dandelion made place for buttercup #YellowFields #Slovakia
The positive thing about rainclouds, they make pictures more attractive #camping #Slovakia
In every town or village storks are nesting. Soon babyboom in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine
Wooden churches are appearing #Slovakia
Time to visit the church #Slovakia
No priest to pay, his voice was taped #WoodenChurch #Slovakia
Cycling along the river doesn’t mean it’s flat #Slovakia
Barbecue places in a lot of villages. A nice place to write a blogpost #Poland
I met this sweet couple, with a little number three on his way, at this beautiful abandoned sanitary complex. They told me that the building and all the others in the surroundings were bought by a miljonair. Luckily, they are renovating it. #Poland
A detail of the sanitary complex #Poland
A war cemetery in Grab. Soldiers who died in 1914-1915 during the battles for the Carpathian Passes were buried here #Poland
Amazing how caring some people can be. This family was walking in the street. The woman saw me taking water from the river. She immediately invited me to her house. There was good water. Ooh, and also rice cakes and nuts #Poland
Wooden churches all around #Poland
The more I went to the south of Poland, the more houses looked like this #Poland
For a change, I had a rainy day and a wet tent, that I couldn’t dry during the day. I was looking for shelter. With the most important Polish words (tent, rain, wet, shelter) this man understood what I was looking for. He cycled with me to this cabin in the garden of family. They weren’t around. I had to wait for one hour till the family came back from work. And -yeah- I could stay there #happy #lucky #Poland
I felt really spoiled when I saw the cabin, my house for the night. Great! #Poland
In the cabin… #Poland
This is the woman of the cabin. Her husband and son (who spoke a bit English) pampered me with a couple of hot teas, a real bed and a dry night. A good souvenir for the last Polish night #Poland
Good morning! #mist #Poland
You see this often in Poland, a sklep (shop) and bar in one.
Anna from the Polish Border Control was waiting for me with an unpleasant message #Poland
I couldn’t cross the border with Poland and Ukraine. I had to return for 50 kilometer to see the other border crossing point. It would be a detour of 150 kilometer. And actually that border was only meant for cars and busses, not for cyclists. So it wasn’t sure that I could cross that one. This hiking couple proposed me a lift to a place nearer to another border where it was possible. So I didn’t had to cycle what I cycled already -whew- #Poland
So many rain clouds were teasing me. It became a game: who would be the fastest? The cloud or me? #Poland
A small Ukrainian feeling is appearing #Slovakia
And again… The third and last time I crossed the border #Slovakia
A place and moment I’ll never forget: my last border in Poland to Slovakia and the moment I crossed it. Just before, there was a wood, an owl was startled by my cycling and flew away from his tree, it happened only 2 meters in front of me. There was a lot of thunder and lightening, impressive. Oh and climbing too. After ‘some’ rain drops, I crossed the border… I had a truly beautiful downhill with first silence and than the birds who started singing again (see the video) and a sky in pink, orange, yellow #Slovakia
After rain comes … a romantic sky #Slovakia
In Medzilaborce, a village with 6600 inhabitants there are 1000 gypsies, they live well together #Slovakia
In that same village (Medzilaborce) they have an Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art #Slovakia
You have them in the whole world… identical twins #Slovakia
Not only in Poland rain clouds are playing games with me #Slovakia
Blossom from apple trees waved me goodbye #Slovakia
Finally, I passed the border… 100% happiness! Yeah, it’s for real, I have a stamp of Ukraine in my passport #Ukraine
As the Polish couple told me: the roads were bad but that’s also why I like the country #Ukraine
The atmosphere and looks of the first city I entered were instantly different #Ukraine
Cyrillic all around, so different, just what I needed #Ukraine
Because it was going to rain, this was the perfect shelter. First night in Ukraine #camping #Ukraine
The next day I nearly couldn’t leave my tent because of non-stop rain and lots of thunder and lightening. So I decided to have a rest day in my tent and got water by putting a pot outside #camping #Ukraine
Cows are playing football #part1 #Ukraine
First impression of rainy streets in Ukraine
Rain rain rain and another cyclist #Ukraine
Although it rained the whole day, it couldn’t break my happiness: I WAS IN UKRAINE! When the rain became really too heavy, the abandoned houses were a perfect shelter #soaked #Ukraine
Chickens are the new watchdogs #Ukraine
My first real cycling day in Ukraine was one of heavy non stop rain, so I had to look for shelter now and then. The woman owns the shop next door. Because my solar panels failed, I had to ask her to charge my gps, she showed me the way to the bar/hostel of her husband and son. When I told them about my project, they offered me a coffee, some cake and also one dollar for UNICEF and WWF. I really couldn’t accept, I thought they felt obliged and misunderstood why I was telling about it #sweet #Ukraine
Mud roads are part of the fun #cycling #pushing #Ukraine
Hands looked like I took an eight hour bath #rain #nonstop #Ukraine
Although food is very cheap in Ukraine, hostels aren’t. My clothes wouldn’t have dried in my tent. My sister spoiled me with a hotel night stay #Grateful #ThankYouSoMuchGriet #Ukraine
Luckely, dinner was included in the price. #Ukraine
Just an ordinary road #Ukraine
Communism is never far away. So are the storks #Ukraine
The bus stops weren’t there when I needed them #shelter #rain #Ukraine
Every street was filled with farms or farmers #Ukraine
Lots of old women or men walking with a cow in the street is on the daily menu #Ukraine
Mud roads but bling bling churches #Ukraine
The landscape is more varied #Ukraine
I went to visit a brown bear rehabilitation center in Synevyr. Circus bears who were abused (e.g. they had to walk on fire to learn ‘dancing’), got the time here to rehabilitate. The rehabilitation is in 3 stages. The first one in cages, the second one in a small encaged area en the third one in a big (encaged) wood. Unfortunately, they can barely survive in the real wilderness #Ukraine
I was disappointed by seeing their second stage area #Ukraine
You could see that the bears were mistreated. Their skin wasn’t nice anymore. Their eyes were infected. They kept on walking on the same spot over and over again. And they did little shows for you #Ukraine
Another woman with cow walking in the streets of #Ukraine
On the countryside… The Bugaboo from #Ukraine
I had already brake problems during the day and I was really behind schedule. I arrived late in the evening in rainy Mizhhiria. I coudn’t find a free or cheap option to stay. So I went to the only hotel in town, a fancy Spa resort and asked if they could help me. Luckily this sweet girl at the reception spoke English. Her manager Max drove me to a good and affordable place to stay #grateful #Ukraine
Cows playing football #part 2 #Ukraine
The perfect camping spot, except for the possibility of bears in the area #Ukraine
Room with a view #Ukraine
Because of the possibility for bears, I hung my food a couple of meters away from the tent and didn’t use deodorant or other nice odors like soap #camping #Ukraine
The day that I wanted to make a lot of kilometers. A flat tire surprised me. Well, actually with the road conditions it’s not such a big surprise. Luckily it just stopped raining #Ukraine
I met George (a Romanian guy who was cycling to North Cape) the same day. I was sitting on the terrace of a shop, he joined me. Two hours later we were still there. Unfortunately we didn’t cycle the same direction. Enjoy your trip George. Very nice meeting you! #Ukraine
Because of all the rain in Ukraine and therefore, I decided to go more south, to the border with Romania. It was with pain in my heart, because I really loved it here #Ukraine
As you can see, there IS electricity 😉 #Ukraine
I was hiding for a moment, others didn’t #Ukraine
With my last Hryvnias I wanted to buy two bananas and some strawberries. The man was so kind to give me more strawberries, a bag of cherries, apricots, apples and a nectarine #Ukraine
Een impressie van net na de grensovergang in Polen naar Slowakije. Het mooiste, eerste deel in mijn geheugen gegrift, het ging zalig bergaf en mijn remmen gebruik ik dan liever niet.