The plan was ready and it was a simple one – Laura and Ivars will try to conquer Crimea hitchhiking while I will be pedaling as hard as I possibly can. I must admit that at the outset, I felt excited – on one hand I was excited because I will finally have an opportunity to see the beautiful southern cost of Crimea, but on the other hand I felt as this will be the first real cycling challenge for me (I will have to face steep climbs and long down-hills ).
On 12th November approximately at 11.20 am after saying farewell to Andrey and Korica, I started off from 21 Kolobova Street, Sevastopol. Getting out from the city was fairly easy, but even then I managed to get lost for couple of minutes. Thanks to a lovely lady who helped me to get back on track, I found my way without any problems. This lady was a true friend of bicycle touring enthusiasts as her son was one of them, thus she was very sad about our misfortune. All in all it seemed that this is going to be a wonderful day and the bicycle will move forward on its own.
First few kilometers after Sevastopol did not made an impression that in head of me are a lot of steep up-hills. The weather conditions were almost perfect – the sun was shining, the grass was green, scenic Crimean landscape was moving before my eyes at a steady pace. Even dough grapes have been picked a long time ago, vineyards still looked lovely at least for my inexperienced Latvian eyes. It was a perfect autumn day in beautiful Southern Crimea.
Couple of kilometers after crossing the city limits, my attention was caught by a weird looking thing at the side of the road. I was already used to seeing crosses, flower wreaths or just candles next to the road in memory of people who have lost their lives there. This time it was an artistically stylized motorcycle. The feeling when you are passing countless “monuments” (practice to place such monuments are quite common in post-Soviet world) is almost surreal – as if you are in a graveyard and not on a public road.
On step at a time or more appropriately one kilometer at a time and I finally arrived at the first comparatively steep uphill stage. The challenge was accepted and after switching to a low gear, I started to climb up the hill. Only few hundred meter after, I noticed a peculiar building with was decorated with Russian, Crimean and some other unfamiliar flags. I stopped for a second to take a closer look and what I saw was something really weird. The building and the gates leading to the building were decorated not only with impressive flags, but also with interesting posters with slogans in Russian – “There is a God in Heaven and Russia on Earth” and “Return of Sevastopol”. Unintentionally I had stumbled on the headquarters of this notorious Russian motorcycle club “Night Wolves”. Night Wolves formed as anti-Soviet movement during 1980’s idolizing rock music and motorbikes but since then they claim claim to reject all laws, written and unwritten, and all political or religious movements. I cannot be so sure about their political neutrality considering their standpoint on Crimean annexation and anti-Maidan movement. Their political neutrality seems even more far-fetched seeing their close friendship with Mr. Putin and their infamous bike show depicting the events in Crimea and Ukraine in a very “interesting way” (I don’t doubt it artistic value). All in all this place left an impression that I don’t belong there and if I will linger there for long somebody will come out from the building and take my Latvian flag. It was time to move on.
You know what my friends – mountains are magnificent and even more so if you have managed to get to the top on your own. Cycling uphill is more a psychological than physical discipline – irrespective of how fast you pedal, you are still moving very slowly, not faster than a quick hiker. This snail speed of course has also its positive side – you have enough time to see what is around you.
Before leaving Sevastopol we had agreed that the best place to camp would be Mount Mys Ayya. When I reached the mountain, the sun was still very high up in the sky and the evening was still far ahead and thus we decided to continue on till a close by city Foros. The distance between Mys Ayya and Forros was approximately 20 kilometers, but as I had not seen Laura and Ivars I began to expect that I may be the first who will cross the finish line. But this was just a dream – after couple of kilometers (while I was taking pictures) they managed to get in front of me.
I managed to chase them down only at our arranged meeting place where we decided to look for a proper camping spot. The sun was already preparing to set over the horizon which did not leave us much time to find a perfect place for a tent – we managed to climb a quite steep roadside wall and find a relatively even surface. After dragging all of our stuff up the hill, we hanged our bicycle in one of the trees, had a small but deserved travelers supper. The night promised to be warm and try and as we actually did not have enough space to put up a tent we decided to sleep under the stars. Sleeping under the stars was really pleasant even more so considering that we won’t have to deal with water condensation in the morning, maybe the only unpleasant experience was that I kept on sliding off my sleeping mat. Ivars had the same experience, but Laura maybe was a bit more fortunate as she was rolling off the mat.
I don’t even remember if we woke up early that morning, but actually it does not make any difference. We started the day with instant noodles and after dragging my staff down to the road, I was ready to start the day. This day had in store for us the visit to one of the most overrated tourist destinations in Crimea – Swallows Nest.
Hills, mountains, a tunnel and some more hills and mountains. One of the interesting things about Crimean cost side roads is that from time to time you get to see a small roadside market – locals selling their produce to drivers and passengers and in my case also for cyclists. I decided to buy some grapes as instant noodles apparently were not enough. The grapes were amazingly tasty and juicy, so I did not have to worry about food or water.
I managed to get to Gaspra – Crimean resort city not far from Yalta in which the famous Swallows Nest is located – faster than expected (presumably even before Ivars and Laura). In order to get to our meeting point – the famous castle, I just had do descent a quite steep and long hill. Down-hills are weird – on one hand I truly enjoy riding downhill, but on the other hand going downhill usually means that there is another uphill section lurking somewhere in the distance. Irrespective of that the feeling of wind in your face while speeding down at 40 km/h is something more than enjoyable.
Few words about the Swallows Nest – it looked 100% like I saw it in photographs. Fairy-tale like castle on top of a cliff at the very shore of the Black Sea, always swarming with tourists and entrepreneurs seeking to extract something from them. Most probably Ivars (in his post about hitchhiking adventures) will tell you more about the castle and its surroundings. Unfortunately or fortunately the Swallows Nest will never by my highlight of Crimea.
I was not disappointed after visiting Gaspra and the Swallows Nest – everything that I saw was precisely according to my expectations (maybe my expectations were a bit too low, but still at least I was not disappointed). After having a short lunch, we had to get back on the road in order to reach Yalta where we planned to stay for the night.
After conquering one final uphill, I managed to reach Yalta in less than one hour (this was the day when the bike was moving forward on its own). The biggest adventure (if getting lost can be considered as an adventure) was waiting for me when I arrived in Yalta. I figured out that it would be a very good idea to try and find the place where we planned to stay. As the result I ended up pushing my bicycle uphill through labyrinth of narrow and steep streets (it was impossible to pedal uphill as my legs were too tired and the hill was too steep). After almost an hour of this extremely miserable situation with a help from a local cyclist, I managed to find the way and I was greeted by Laura and Ivars in front of our home for this night – furniture shop DiVan.
In the next post we will write about how it was to hitchhike from Sevastopol to Yalta. The article is coming sooner than expected.