Ukraine and the Black Sea

 

 

 

The grain harvest is in full swing.  We passed many tractors during our run to the border.  A obscure named motorcycle with a primitive side car caught our eye at a rest stop.

 

 

 

By border crossing time, the temp was 100 degrees +.  Larry took the opportunity to rest at the “Iron Butt Motel.” Trucks headed into Russia bottomed out in a monster pothole.  This provided entertainment for those of us who were awake.  No, Juergen and Kevin are not doing what you might think – they had found a breezy spot and made the most of it.  Many of us lowered our riding pants, unzipped boots, and lifted T-shirts in an attempt to minimize the heat.  Most of the pictures are NOT pretty enough to post.

 

 

When we had entered Russia, we were told that they had simplified Customs procedures to save time.  I can only imagine how bad it once was since it took us 2 ½ hours just to exit!

 

In Ukraine, we’re still in a Cyrillic alphabet country, as was Russia.  At least these letters make a bit more sense and are more recognizable to us than the Chinese characters or Arabic writing.  For Larry & me, Ukraine represents our final country new to us during the Discover Our Earth Expedition.

 

A Gold Wing and rider had just crossed the border.  I can’t imagine subjecting a luxury machine such as a Gold Wing to the awful, rough roads in Russia.  Maybe that’s why he’s not smiling!

 

Our suite in Mariupol had a sitting room so lovely that it would have been easy to call for room service and stay right there.  Luckily, we opted for an early dinner in the hotel’s air conditioned dining room.  There we met a local reporter who was looking to meet the “old couple from the United States” riding through Mariupol.  We guessed that she meant us since we’re the only couple from the USA participating.  This is a new, not high, plateau for us – being referred to as “the old couple.” Actually, we represent nearly the median age of trip participants. Our 24 year-old reporter probably thought that the entire team had escaped from nursing homes!

 

After the interview, Larry led her through our route using the map mounted on his top box.  The heat had subsided enough to walk to check out the Black Sea and buy some drinking water.  Most hotel mini-bar prices are so high that we use saving money as a good excuse to get out for some exercise.

 

I think that the young lady’s comment had as much impact on Larry as did the heat.  When I came out of a shop after looking for Ukraine stickers, he was horizontal!  A high railroad track separated us from the Black Sea.  Between that and the warning that a cholera outbreak in Mariupol had been linked to the Sea so no swimming was advised, we headed directly back to the air conditioned room.

 

 

Earlier in the afternoon, we had gotten lost, or should I say “were taking an alternate route,” on our way to the hotel.  While Larry accessed an ATM for some Ukraine currency, a friendly guy in a van pulled up beside me.  Hot, tired, and lost, I was in no mood to visit.  Since I attempt to be friendly and he spoke such good English, I accepted his offer to lead us to the Hotel European.  He is a member of the Black Corsairs, a motorcycle club in Mariupol.

 

Word of our stopover in their town spread like wild fire.  Their leader, on the beautiful maroon cruiser, and a few others came to our 7 pm meeting and offered to lead us out of town in the morning.

 

Being a new country for the expedition, tonight was “highlight the route on the map night.”  Erwin & Barbel with Peter H in the background intently colored the exciting route which Kevin had planned.

 

18 Jul   Rostov on Don Russia to Mariupol Ukraine     115 miles

Russia’s Bread Basket

Miles, miles, and more miles of wheat and corn fields lined today’s route.  Sunflower fields joined the mix of crops today.  Combines of a size to rival those in the Midwest USA were hard at work.  A small tractor on a hill served as a memorial to the huge agribusiness in this part of Russia.

 

Straight roads were perfect for practicing my “on the fly” photography.  Most of the pictures you see from our riding days have been taken by me while moving.  The fast shutter speeds possible on sunny days make for good pictures.  You’ll see fewer landscape pictures from cloudy days.  A 3M lanyard keeps my camera safe even if I have to make a quick grab for the secondhandlebar.

 

A brand new red Camaro embraced the rough Russian roads.  I would not want to subject such a fine vehicle to pavement like we’ve experienced here.

 

 

 

In Rostov, one of the lovelier hotels of Section 5 welcomed us.  Our sitting room overlooked one of three swimming pools.

 

To commemorate our final night in Russia, our group was entertained by a Russian music and dance show. My love of accordion music was sated.  It turns out, that unlike the Russian show we saw two years ago, in this one, the audience did most of the dancing.  Larry broke the ice and got our group going. Although I later wound up dancing with the Russians, I found my face, as usual, glued to the video camera’s viewfinder.   Martin & Mick, and later others joined in the action while our entire group enjoyed the  show.

 

17 Jul   Volgograd to Rostov on Don, Russia      297 miles

Bloodiest Battleground of WWII

 

Anna, our Volgograd city tour guide, was nowhere near born when World War II was destroying her city. Even so, she sure knew Volgograd’s history and led us through this historic area.  Our hotel was located just off the main plaza so we started there.  A poplar tree had survived much longer than its expected life.  At one time, a large, elaborate cathedral had anchored the west end of the plaza.  Hundreds of poplars had been planted around it.  The cathedral was destroyed, not by the two hundred days of bombing by the Germans, but by the Soviet regime.  In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet government set out to eliminate religion by destroying churches.  Only three churches were functioning in Stalingrad (Volgograd before 1925 and since 1961) at the start of WWII.  All three are still being used today.

 

Kevin, our Expedition Leader, Mick, Expedition Guide, Jeff, Support Vehicle Driver and Mechanic, and Anton, Russian Guide, we all able to join us in Anna’s tour. Usually, these guys are working so hard on our “Rest Days” that is is unusual for them to have time for city tours.

 

Mamayekil Hill, the highest point in the cities at about 350 ft, is the location of a moving, memorial complex.  The sculptures began at the base of the hill.  A group of Russian soldiers was learning about their military heritage.

 

Throughout the cities we have visited in Russia, it has amazed me at the height of the heels that women wear.  Their legs are long enough!  Then they add  4-5” and walk long distances in those seemingly uncomfortable shoes. Guess I must be getting old and/or practical, comfortable in my flat sandals.

 

 

As we climbed the hill, we passed a huge statue of a soldier with “Mother Russia” atop the hill in the background.  A look of horror on one soldier’s face and a depiction of a woman carrying a wounded soldier to safety  were along our path.

 

The hundred of thousands of unknown soldiers had their own memorial.  We saw the changing of the guard ceremony complete with high-stepping soldiers.

 

 

A pool surrounded the “Woman weeping for her lost children.”  The human and property loss in Stalingrad was staggering.  800K German and 1,129K Soviet soldiers died here. An estimate of half a million civilians lost their lives since Stalin had not ordered an evacuation of the city prior to the battle.  Women, children, and elderly were left to their own devices, digging trenches for survival.  99% the children who survived the battle were orphaned.

 

 

The winter of 1942-43 added to the carnage.  It got to -40 degrees Celsius.  This froze many of the Germans who remained since Hitler declined Stalin’s offer for humanitarian evacuation.

 

“Mother Russia” stands above the 34,000 bodies buried on Mamayekil Hill.  It turns out that, since the memorial was finished in 1967, near the height of the Cold War, the Soviet leader edicted that the statue should stand twice as high as the Statue Of Liberty.  She does.  Since this is a cemetery, the beautiful, gold domed church was recently erected near by.

 

The Mother Russia memorial area is also a place for wedding photos.  I sure hope this bride & groom have a happier marriage than the moment they shared with me.

 

Our final tour stop was at the Volgograd Musem area.  A steel factory, bombed out during the siege, remains as a remembrance of the severity of the war on this city. Across the street stands a house where those inside defended their turf for fifty-eight days.  Inside the museum, a 360-degree panorama depicts the battleground on the hill with the Volga River in the background. A woman represented one of the many that served, pulling thousands of soldiers from certain death.

 

 

A photo shows what the city looked like after constant bombing raids for 200 days in 1942-3.  96% Stalingrad’s buildings had been destroyed.  Russian motorcycles played a part in the war effort.  A statue commemorating Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin’s meeting at Yalta was the final exhibit of our museum tour and that of the city.  A sobering, enlightening, and learning day for us all.

 

 

Ernst, Frajo, & Werner then rode out in the countryside to visit a German cemetery.  During WWII, Ernst’s father & two uncles, Austrian citizens, were drafted into Hitler’s army.  Both uncles died in Stalingrad.  Being the only remaining son, Ernst’s father was sent back home to run the family farm.  Nothing of the uncle’s exact whereabouts was ever told to the family.  Ernst & his brother were named after their two fallen uncles.  Today was a significant day for Ernst and the Haring family– he found the name of one of his uncles engraved in the memorial at the German cemetery in the Russian countryside.

 

 

After a long day of learning history, Larry & I still had tasks to do.  Our bikes both got their needed wheel bearings installed so we rode them back to the hotel.

 

Both Larry’s & my GPSs are kaput. Thomas has the same model and his just navigated its last route. At Thomas’ request, Anton located and took us to an electronics store that had exactly two Garmin Nuvi GPSs.  No dealers in Russia were listed on the Garmin site.  It sure pays to have a local guide. Thomas & I are now praying for dry weather since these are non-waterproof units designed for cars.  Fortunately, Larry doesn’t  seem to mind when I tell him where to go.  At least, when I’m navigating!

 

 

In search of a simple supper along the Volga, Larry & I heard a live band concert  near a lovely
fountain.  This dog seemed to be enjoying the music too. Our stroll “home” took us by several sport bikes “decorated” by ladiesin skimpy outfits and high heel shoes.  You know, if I got some platform shoes like the silver ones being worn by this woman, maybe I would feel comfortable riding a big, tall, BMW Adventure bike!

 

16 Jul   Volgograd Russia rest day

Traveling Incognito

 

 

My red Suzuki was safely strapped in the van waiting for new wheel bearings. Larry & I had a decision to make.  Who would ride what and/or where?  Riding double on Larry’s bike was my first choice.  Further inspection had found that the rear wheel bearings on both our bikes had some “play” so two-up would not have been a great choice. My wonderful Sweetie, Larry, invited me to ride his bike and he would join Jeff & Anton, our Russian guide, in the van.  Since neither an injured shoulder or a broken leg had kept me from missing a mile of riding during Sections 1-3 or now Section 5, I appreciated his offer.

We kissed good-bye and off I rode, on a BLUE bike.  Ernst, Frajo, and Juergen welcomed me into their riding team.  Ernst lead, I was tucked in behind him followed by Frajo.  Juergen brought up the rear.

 

 

Jeff, Anton, and Larry were on a more serious mission – finding wheel bearings.  The internet has revolutionized distant travel.  Larry had gone on line and found out the metric dimensions of the needed bearings.  Within hours of his finding the sizes, two other people had replied to Larry E-mail with the same information.  Anton located a “bearing outlet store” in Saratov, right across the street from a bearing factory.  They had the needed bearings to fix both our bikes.  The guys bought the parts and set out on today’s route to Volgograd.

 

 

Days like this are when we are reminded of the value of an organized, supported, trip.  I remember vividly what it’s like have a flat tire in The Yukon and try to convince a car repair shop, after they said that they didn’t work on motorcycles, to consider my Yamaha touring bike as a small car and fix the tire.  They plugged my flat. On another trip, the stator when out on June’s Gold Wing.  By swapping batteries between her bike and mine, which had the capability of charging her battery, we limped along 600 miles until we found a shop that could fix it. I broke two fingernails but we made it. One time when my Harley started blowing oil all over near the Georgia-Florida border, I convinced a man at a rest area to take his bike off his trailer, put my Harley on the trailer and tow my bike the 250 miles home.  I offered to drive his truck so he could ride those miles on a perfect riding day. The man then said that his girlfriend didn’t want me to ride with her in the truck so he said I could ride his bike.  Oh, darn!

 

 

These type incidents are not there to add stress on a Globebusters or Edelweiss trip.  We can enjoy the ride, knowing that the van, and a talented mechanic, is 30-60 minutes behind us.  When in countries where we do not know the language and/or the infrastructure for dealing with trouble, mechanical or health wise, is not there, Larry & I are big fans of organized, supported trips like the Discover Our Earth Expedition.

 

Not only had I experienced wobbly wheel bearings, our first pit stop today featured a wobbly outhouse.  Lakes and occasional views of the Volga river added water features to the landscape’s variety pack.

 

 

Ernst treated us to watermelon so fresh, it had just been picked.  While we were devouring the melon, the van caught up with us.  It’s so nice knowing that as long as we stay on route, the van will always be behind us, ready to help when needed.

 

 

In the USA, we’re all familiar with “Best Western” hotels and motels.  Did you know that there are also “Best Eastern?”  The Hotel Volgograd is one of them.  Around the corner, cold beer and veggie pizza, complete with corn, recharged our bodies’ batteries.

 

15 Jul   Saratov to Volgograd Russia  235  miles

The Volga Boatman Eats Well

 

Last night’s cruise on the Volga River was such a good time that we were ready to experience way more of this largest river in Europe.  Today’s ride took us down the eastern shore and gave us a panoramic view of Samara.

 

Historic buildings were to be found in nearly every village.  Trains pass frequently and stop traffic.  I mean traffic has no choice than to stop.  Juergen is looking down the hole opened by the steel plate which stands up to keep crazy motorcyclists and other from trying to swerve around the downed crossing arms while waiting for trains that seem to take forever to arrive.

Juergen, Ernst, and Frajo have become a great riding team, representing men in their fifties, sixties and seventies.  Frajo’s jacket zipper broke so now he’s held together by a bright yellow bungee cord.  Ernst refers to Frajo’s outfit as a Versace.  Our motorcycle seats seem very hard after long days.  I don’t know why Juergen and Ernst took the opportunity to sit on something even harder, concrete posts!  After at least ten minutes of waiting, a train belching black smoke chugged by.

 

Saratov promised to be a city where life is vibrant along the Volga.  It sure delivered.  Thousands of bathers cooled from the 100+ degree heat by diving in its waters. The quaint sitting area in our hotel room had a splendid view of the shore and the bridge we had just crossed.

 

 

A cabana overlooking the river was where we chose to dine.  Catfish Saratov, fried catfish, was my choice.  It turns out that we had chosen a gourmet restaurant where my catfish was nothing like fried catfEEsh in Georgia.  It was splendid both in taste and presentation.  Baby shrimp circled the stack of delectable components.  Larry’s pork tenderloin medallions with zucchini fritters were an epicurean delight as well.

 

 

You might think that with such dishes, we would be gaining weight.  We’re not. Most days, we eat a good breakfast,  have a very light lunch or snack, then have one substantial restaurant meal either before or after our 7pm meeting. Usually we split an entree and a salad.  That saves both our wallet and waistlines.

 

The heat persisted so our evening stroll was limited to seeing this newer, yet ornate, church.  When we returned, Jeff had some less than good news for us – he noticed that the front wheel of my bike had some play in it.  My wheel bearings were shot.  Had we been alone, I would have ridden it to get it fixed.  With our trip being supported and choosing to play it safe, into the van went my little red Suzuki until she can be repaired.

 

14 Jul   Samara to Saratov Russia   261  miles

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