Archive for November, 2011

Cycle touring in Ukraine

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

We left Kiev and cycled 10km out of the city before reaching some of the smaller roads. Navigating out of a city is always challenging and you stop and start a lot to check where you are and if this is the right way, so it takes a lot longer than you expect to get out. Once on the outskirts we saw rows and rows of soviet style apartment blocks, which look pretty ugly and uniform from the outside, but having been inside, we know that they can be nice on the inside. As we’ve travelled west across Mongolia, Kazakhstan and now Ukraine, it’s amazing to see how massive the Soviet influence was across the whole of this region.

The light fades fast now as winter arrives and we realise that by 4pm we can hardly see. Stopping at 4pm seems pretty early, but as the sun drops so does the temperature and cycling becomes a chilly affair. Luckily there is plenty of countryside and lots of small forests and woodlands, so we pull off and weave our way into the trees to find a campsite for the night.

We set up the tent all fingers and thumbs, as I try to do everything with my big winter gloves on, but it’s too slow and I take them off, knowing my fingers will be freezing in seconds. It’s dark too and we resist putting on our head torches to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, until we are set up.

Once in the tent, I feel that familiar sense of security, which is illogical, considering it’s only a thin piece of material, but the shelter, warmth and privacy it provides is not to be underestimated! Chris kindly volunteers to cook dinner whilst I change and get warm. My toes are numb with the cold and my instinct is to huddle in my sleeping bag and reheat my body. So I do just that. Chicken and tomato pasta arrives and tastes amazing. We settle down to watch Dances with wolves and snuggle up in our cosy tent for a peaceful night of sleep.

Next morning and we get back on the road, it’s a windy day and the traffic flies passed us, not really used to cyclists being on the road. Most of the drivers give us room, but a few drive too close and I am watching in my mirror the whole time.

Not long after we set off I can see Chris is trailing behind, I can tell something is wrong and pull over to wait for him. Our extra wheel trailer (third wheel at the back of Chris’s bike) is fish tailing quite badly and wobbling all over the place. This has been an ongoing probably since we left Urumqi in China and is frustrating to say the least. Chris has tried taking the weight out of the bags, making sure they are balanced, strapping them on with bungies and now it’s worse than ever. He cycles ahead so i can watch form behind to see what it is doing. As he goes down hill the wheel begins to skid from side to side and looks as if it will topple the whole bike! Panicked I get Chris to stop, for fear of him coming off.

We take the trailer off and inspect it closely, trying to figure out what is causing this. As Chris peers closely at the wheel and frame, he sees that the drop out (the bit the wheel skewer sits in) is completely cracked and has come away from the frame. As he takes the wheel out, the whole things falls off!

Bugger. Now what?

Cycling touring through multiple countries provides a huge array of challenges and experiences, but one thing it definitely does is teach you how to problem solve. Whether you want to or not.

We discuss a few options and then start trying different things. Chris takes my panniers and then i take the extra wheel panniers, and we swap things around. I try one arrangement and almost fall off – it’s too wobbly and heavy. It’s cold stood by the side of the road and the wind is ripping through us despite our warm clothing. I begin to doubt whether we can cycle home to the UK enjoyably in this cold weather. I hate being cold almost as much as I hate being too hot. Eventually we find a way that works and Chris straps the extra wheel onto the back of his bike. We set off and my bike feels much heavier and wobblier, but it’s ok, at least we can continue and warm up!

We camp for a second night amongst some tall trees, in a low lying dip, giving us shelter from the wind. It’s blowing strongly and we hope that the trees will stay upright during the night.

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Kiev or Kyiv?

Friday, November 25th, 2011

We arrived in Kiev and left the airport to find a bus to take us to the city centre. This wasn’t too difficult, and I was glad we took the bus as it started snowing as left the airport.

Once in the city, we got off at the train station and set about re-building the bikes. It was strange to be surrounded by so many white western faces. And it was the first country since Australia where we have loaded up the bikes without an audience. Literally nobody batted an eyelid. Compared to a week or so earlier when we got off a bus and a crowd of 30 people watched us load the bikes, ringing the bells and checking the tyres as they always do. But now no-one cared. Our celebrity-like status has come to an end.

We struggled to get our bearings leaving the station, our free map was in English, but the road signs in Cyrillic and we couldn’t actually find any road names to get a clue where we were. After lots of messing about we finally found Shevchenka boulevard, which was signposted in English and set us on the right track. We went to the Chillout Hostel and checked in, and we’ve been here ever since. It is very chilled out indeed and something of a party house (though at times we feel like old fuddy duddies, preferring to watch a movie or sleep(!) rather than party until dawn). It’s a great place though.

We have explored Kiev city, which is lovely, with it’s old town and cobbled streets, not to mention the architecture. I have to say, I am delighted to be back in Europe, it’s so….so… well, finished. The architecture is pretty and buildings have colour, the ironwork is beautiful and as a city is very nice. I’ve been raving about the architecture and the wonderful old churches and bell towers. Chris had to remind me that we saw plenty of beautiful temples and buildings in Asia too. I think 5 months in Mongolia left me feeling deprived of man made beauty, although there was plenty of natural beauty of course, the average town in Mongolia isn’t very attractive or architecturally pleasing to the eye and there is a complete lack of colour outside of the capital.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of Kiev:





Me celebrating my 35th birthday whilst in Kiev, do I feel old? Not really!
Chris spoiled me by sneaking out before I woke up and bringing me breakfast in bed (pain au chocolat, people!!), a beautiful red rose and some perfume – very very very happy! He also shaved off his beard, nipping into a barbers to get them to de-fuzz him, as an extra surprise, hurrah!

Today i bought some hand knitted leg warmers with my birthday money and I’m hoping they will keep my ankle a little warmer as we cycle.  It’s pretty cold here, around 0 degrees, so the cold will be challenging!


Ukraine is a great place, so far, and Kiev has a good mix of old and new – you don’t have to look to hard to see old ladas alongside a shiny new 4×4.



We waited in Kiev for a parcel to arrnage with snow tyres, and some other goodies from our Mum’s (including Cadburys chocolate -how excited were we!!). Chris walking back from the station with tyres strapped to his back like a borrower!


There is a lot of culture here and the Opera house was showing Radio and Juliet, with music by Radiohead. Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to see it, but balet, opera and theatre in general is hugely popular here. If you fancy a weekend break, we’d highly recommend Kiev. It has great restaurants and bars, lots to see and do, a great, cheap metro system and plenty of nice places to stay, and it’s not too expensive… you may need to learn a few words of Russian and be prepared to brush up your cyrillic alphabet deciphering skills, but other than that it’s pretty easy!


We are back on the road tomorrow, heading towards L’viv, western Ukraine and then into Hungary and Slovakia. Wish us luck out there in the cold…

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Winter Cycling in Kazakhstan and Almaty – video!

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The video is now working… if you still can’t see it, please visit our Youtube channel:
or our Facebook Page

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Winter Cycling in Kazakhstan and Almaty

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

We made it to our warm showers host and were met by Robbie another British Cyclist who was staying with Taz.  Taz an Aussie, lives in Kazakhstan, working as a pilot for one of the local air lines, in between all this, he spends his time adventure racing, cycling and climbing in the local mountains.

We spent a week at Taz’s flat and got to know Robbie and the lovely Kazakh family that lived with Taz.  Robbie is on a three year cycle trip called Global Guitar. Armed with his guitar, he is making some amazing music on the road, it was great to have met him and we love his first album. He produced it on the road, and it can be downloaded here, for free. If you are feeling generous a small contribution would go a long way to helping him continue his trip and support the charity ‘Here the world Foundation’ that he is raising awareness for whilst he is cycling.

Taz our warm showers host has a seemingly endless amount of energy and was really keen to do some cycling with us while we were here.  This sounded great as i was keen to see a bit of Kazakhstan before we flew to Kiev, Ukraine.  His planned route was over a mountain plateau that was likely to be covered in snow.  To me this sounded like a perfect adventure.  So on Taz’s next days off we packed up the bikes and set off for a winter cycling adventure.

Liz on the other hand was enjoying spending time with the kids of the Kazakh family that we were also living with.  Painting, drawing, baking cakes, living room gymnastics and teaching English were a lot more appealing to Liz than cycling over a mountain in the winter so she opted to stay behind while Taz and I went on a boys adventure.

Taz and I made a little film of our trip so rather than words i shall let the pictures do the talking.  It was an amazing two and a half days and has certainly whet my appetite for cycling and exploring Kazakhstan some more.

After the trip Margulan, the father of the Kazakh family, who is also an international Taekwondo champion managed to get us an interview with the national paper, if you can read Kazakh then please check it out here. If anyone fancies translating it please send us an email.  Thanks a lot to the journalist for taking the time to write our story.

Our time in Almaty came to an end and we managed to get a picture of the Kazakhstan flag before we left, especially for Mr E and then made our way to the airport.

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This was the first plane for us in a long time, I felt remarkably happy about taking it. The trade off was worth it.  More time in one place = less time in another but just enough to tickle the travelling taste buds, andwe’ll be sure to come back for a proper travelling feast in the future.

Thanks to all the wonderful people who helped us during our short stay in Kazakhstan.  We loved your country and you will not be forgotten.

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China Khorgas to Kazakhstan

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

We checked out of the reasonably priced hotel in Qinguancun that we had found the day before and pointed our bikes towards Kazakhstan. It was only 30km but it was cold and raining, we had our waterproofs on for the first time in ages. As we rode I contemplated our last day in China, a country that had surprised both of us from the start. We had quickly fallen in love with the country and the people, and the cycling and travelling potential here is almost endless. For me, China is one of my favourite countries that I have cycled and travelled in and I look forward to having more adventures here in the future.

We arrived at the border a little after lunch and once we found the right gate to go through and fended off the rather keen money changers we said our last goodbye to China. The process was quite straight forward and we were soon cycling into Kazakhstan. We were met by our first Kazakh official who after a few seconds broke a smile and pointed us in the right direction. We took our bikes into the main passenger area, filled out our entry cards, got the passports stamped and managed to wheel the bikes through without unloading them and having everything scanned by the x-ray machine.

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A new country, a new language and everything was unfamiliar once again. It still amazes me that you can travel only a few kms and feel totally different. It leaves me feeling a little lost and and excited at the same time. I try and remind myself that a little effort, learning the language now from the start will go a long way in the future.

The town we had arrived into was a little sparse to say the least, compared the Chinese side. We were hoping for somewhere to stay but there was one small shop, a cash machine and a small kiosk to by mobile sim cards. We got some cash and cycled on debating about what to do. It was a little late into the day to get to Zharkent, the next major town 30km but perhaps there was more further on. We kept cycling, Liz was cold from all the stopping and starting in the rain so we kept moving. There were plenty of camping opportunities and we had pretty much decided that we were going to camp when we rounded a bend and got to another check point. We passed through without incident, just beyond was a petrol station and a large square building that we hoped might have somewhere to sleep or eat at least.

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An hour later having made friends with a few people who could speak English and help translate, my Chinese was no good here, we were sat in front of two plates of hot chicken and big hunks of bread. As we ate we debated about what to do next, camp in the cold and the wet, or stay in the ridiculously expensive hotel above the restaurant. The lure of a dry warm place was to much for Liz so we checked into the hotel stripped of the wet clothes and enjoyed a hot shower.

The next day the sun was shining and things were looking a lot nicer, we had eggs and bread for breakfast and cycled the 30kms to Zarkhent were there would be internet, shops, people and we could get sorted for the 300km ride to Almaty.

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The ride was pretty easy we passed through a few small villages on the way there and were thankful for our mirrors as old ashfelt road was a little bumpy at the edges so cycling Mongolian style in the middle of the road was much more preferable when the cars and trucks allowed.

Zharkent is a small town but it had everything we needed. A friendly English student helped us find a cheap hotel and we sat down to make a plan for the rest of the day. Firstly we needed more money, things were a lot more expensive compared to China. We found the ATM, internet cafe and market and celebrated with a kebab and a few shots of vodka courtesy of the guys that were at the same kebab stand as us.

The next day we got up early and hoped to get a good start, a puncture on my bike and then a problem with the hub dashed our plans. We also remembered that on the back of our arrival cards it said that we had to register within 5 days of arrival. By the time the bike was fixed up we were hungry again so opted for some food before checking the internet to see if the 5 days were more of a guide line than a rule. We cycled to the centre of the town and struggled to find a place to eat. It seemed that every place was closed for a wedding or private party. We were just about to give up but the last restaurant we tried happened to have an English speaking employee who pointed us in the direction of a good restaurant that he assured us would be open. Just as we were about to set off we were asked to wait a moment. The young guy came back and presented us with two large bottles of coke. A gift from our village he said. We thanked him a lot and waved goodbye. We arrived at the other restaurant that we were amazed we had missed and were greeted by a guy who spoke good English. We have been expecting you he said, please come and sit down and we can help you order some food. The guy that had just given us the coke had phoned ahead to the other restaurant.

We made friends with the restaurant owner and had a good meal, as we were leaving we asked if they knew if we could register in this town. It turned out the restaurant owner was not from Kazakhstan but Uzbekistan, he said that we really had to register in 5 days and that the nearest place was in Almaty. We were already on day two in the country and it would take us at least 5 days to cycle to Almaty. We pondered the dilema, cycle and hope that they don’t really care but risk a fine or some other problems, or work out a way to get to Almaty. The latter was not really an appealing option as this was going to be our only cycling in Kazakhstan. We had decide to take a plane to Kiev after Almaty as it was the cheapest way to make up some distance. Not travelling by bike was something I always wanted to avoid but we have to be back in England at the end of January latest. We decided to spend more time in Mongolia but the trade off for this was having to take a train or plane for some of the next part of the journey. I was also keen to get to know the country a little bit better as after only two days, the friendly people were making me feel relaxed and keen to explore.

The owner of the restaurant then told us he was going to Almaty later that day as he was flying home for his brothers wedding, he reckoned that there might be room for us and our bikes in his car, if we would be interested. With the fear of a big fine and no other information we gratefully accepted his offer and a few hours later we were on the way to Almaty.

It got dark quickly, mid way we stop at the small mountain pass that was covered in snow and apparently not far from a beautiful canyon. I wished I had done a little more research about this route and country before had so that we might have had enough time to cycle.

We arrived in Almaty at 11pm and our new friends found us a place to stay. Hotels are really expensive here and renting an 1 bed apartment is actually a cheaper option. We paid up for two nights and hoped that our warm showers host would be able to accommodate us a few day earlier.  We said goodbye to our new friends and settled in for the night

The next day we walked out of the apartment block on to a main road, we had no idea where we were. This didn’t seem to bother us at all, and it was easy enough to find a shop selling a map and then navigate our way to the immigration office to complete our registration. We found the immigration office and started to fill in the forms until we got to address. We had no idea of the full address of where we were staying, we tried just putting the street address down but they did not like it. We opted to go home and come back the next day.

That evening we got in touch with our warms showers host, he was happy to host us from tomorrow and gave us his address for our forms. The next day we submitted our forms in the morning and by lunch time we were cycling to the other side of town to find Taz our warm showers host.

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