We made contact with Nina over a year ago by E mail (see Ukraine cycle information page for link). It was wonderful to meet properly. Nina and her husband Dima are experienced tourists and knew what we would like best:
We met easily at a main road junction with Nina, Dima, Nastya, Natasha, Vasya and Tanya. To our surprise they had brought us a picnic with hot tea.
Victor joined us as we set off for Dima and Nina's house. He is a real gentleman of the sort you don't find in England any more and insisted on wheeling my bike across the road. He explained that the grassy mounds common in the area are 'Kurgans', built by the ancient peoples of the area. In one of these was found the gold necklace (we later saw in the historical museum) called the Hryvnia after which the Ukrainian currency is named.
At the house we enjoyed fabulous hospitality: We toasted 'cycle touring' and 'friendship'. Here's Nina, Dima and their daughter Nastya at the samovar.
Communication was made possible by Natasha, who teaches English as a 'second job'. We learned more about real life in Ukraine than any book or lone cycle thorough the country would. All our friends are or have been employees of Ukraine's successful rocket building plant (which also built food processors, toasters and fridges in Soviet times). Their background, interests and education are very similar to Marks. Although some of the group still work at the plant, others now work at their own initiatives at the market or in building. We saw how clever people manage after economic crisis.
Dima is a keen amateur photographer; Here are a couple of photographs from one of the clubs tours to the deserts of Kazakhstan. Tours here are graded 1 to 5 in terms of their difficulty, much like caves in the UK. You can see that this is a real 'grade 5', where tourists push or carry all the supplies for a number of weeks over remote mountainous terrain. Their bikes are set up for this with a pannier shaped rucksac equally at home on the back as on the bike and mud shields instead of guards. Very few westerners do this level of touring, there is much to learn here.
Despite being so strong, Dima was an excellent guide for us mere mortals. We cycled down to the Dnipro river for a swim amongst the frogs and one (very small) water snake, a small sample of bike pushing in the sand where we imagined ourselves in Kazakhstan, then home for tea.
We were sad not to have arrived earlier, as our friends would have liked to go with us to Crimea, where you can ride wild limestone mountains, remote windswept coasts and walk amongst scented spring blossoms. As it was time is running short for our journey - we had to move on.
Our Russian was so bad when we arrived, we proposed that Natasha teach us for 5 days. She helped us enormously and we are really noticing the difference now that we can at least have the simplest conversation.
|During the week our friends continued to be great hosts, even though they also had to work. Every evening we visited a different home for a meal where we were treated to traditional excellent cooking and saw flats from a variety of different Soviet times. Here is Tanya preparing steamed pastries with minced meat filling. Tanya and Vasya had built their own sauna, which we visited. At Kolya and Ala's we saw a video of their dacha, managed by Ala alone, with a whole yard full of goslings. Natasha organised an evening for us with an expat from Manchester called Renata. She teaches English and loves the city for it's high quality, but affordable opera, concerts and cultural events. She wrote out the words to a Russian song for me to sing as we go along (Poor Mark !!)|
Dnepropetrovsk has some surprising sights: It was a closed town in the Soviet era, due to the rocket plant. Mark went with Natasha to visit the rocket museum, where rockets are laid out in sections in the car park. We also visited the natural history museum, the musical fountain and watched the holiday fireworks.
On the last day, Natasha (front left), and her mother kindly let us invite our friends for a meal. Of course it was roast chicken and potatoes, followed by Vodka Trifle. They don't have custard here, but we worked out potato starch, milk, and vanilla would do.
|Leaving for the railway station.|
Natasha helped us book tickets (see Ukraine info page for tips on train travel with bikes). Dima and Tanya cycled the 50km with us to the station, where our other friends waited. There was only a two minute stop at the station. The train was quite long so we had to run to our carriage. Without our friends to help us move the bags and packed up bikes, we would not have been able to get on. In the future we hope to meet again.
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