Het Thuisfront/The Home Front a.k.a. The Pitcruisers feat. the Colle Family - Nele, Geert, Colle and Martine are back again with a new song!
A blogpost re-entry: I could easily refer to last year's writing about my two days in Istanbul and why I didn't stay a little longer. Self-plagiarism only changing the name of the location:
"Fact: Moscow's role in the history of the world is unrivaled and the greatness of the historical heritage to be discovered in the city goes far beyond imagination.
Because of the location of Moscow at somewhat at the end of Europe and its historical and current relevance as one of world's main hubs, it was an obvious destination for my transcontinental cycling dream.
I am thankful to enjoy once again the hospitality of another cyclist. Long live Warmshowers!
It was interesting to be here but after two days I feel I need to get out. Tomorrow I am leaving."
Anyway, what impressed me the most about Moscow - and about any other city of this unimaginable size - is that it actually works. Nobody has a clue. Though somehow most of the 15 million people know more or less what's expected from them in this perpetual urban choreography. Both wonderful and frightening at the same time, no?
Tomorrow I take the night train to Riga, Latvia... I am in for a first encore: four days of cycling through a little bit more of both Latvia and Lithuania! Destination Latvian western seaside, to catch the ferry to Germany!
I have crossed the continent for the second time! June 19th 2017 at 19h10 I rode my bike on the Red Square, Moscow! Twenty-two days and one afternoon of cycling, exactly 3996 kilometer of riding and enjoying every single kilometer, crossing 9 countries, meeting the most awesome people possible along the way, the journey of a lifetime and a bag full of stories!
Riding into Moscow was mind blowing! Even after going through it just once all the way from west to east: it's an urban wonder, huge, exuberant, vibrant, thrilling, and I didn't expect it to be that extremely different from what I've seen from the rest of Russia, poor, poor Russia. The contrast between the impoverished and forgotten villages and provincial cities and the capital is unbearable, the difference is almost criminal, it's another world, plain and simple.
And now? I ain't going home right away! Gonna stay a couple of days in Moscow to find out how exactly I will go home, no planes involved! I sure keep you posted, the journey is far from over.
It doesn't get any better than this but the best is always yet to come!
Vyaz'ma - Novosyolki village 172 km! Even though I was more than 100 km away, near the end of the day it became obvious that I was already approaching Moscow. Slow but sure, I saw the area getting more populated with slightly more economical and agricultural activity and more decent houses.
I made peace with Russian roads... It's like the wind: don't try to beat it, just let it be and you will enjoy it anyway!
Russia made me think what makes me so fond of cycling, besides the mere physical aspect of it. What am I looking for? It's not only the roads what makes cycling Russia another experience for me than cycling Europe.
In Europe as I knew it, forests have a beginning and an end, the scenery is landmarked by the regular appearance of towns, especially church towers, roads are going somewhere, whole mountain ranges can be overviewed from the valley, valleys overlooked from the mountains.
Cycling through Europe is cycling through a scenery in motion, it's an ongoing patchwork of natural, historical and contemporary particularities. I am connecting the dots and patches to write the story and that's what I like! I might not stop and visit villages, castles, and other so-called places of interest - though I have seen them and I don't take them for granted - they are part of the map I draw.
Cycling in Russia is not like that, for four days and about 700 km I was riding the same kind of partly forested, partly open field wilderness, connecting only some dusty villages and depressingly ragged cities. To reach the Japanese Sea I should cycle about 9000 km more - through more or less the same kind of landscape lacking any spatial reference points. Honestly I wouldn't cycle to Vladivostok because it wouldn't make too much sense for me. The road is the destination and ultimately the road would get a little boring. I started to realize I am very fond of the wilderness, spending time in the wide open world is a basic need but as a cycler I am apparently looking for more than just the plain wilderness.
As a matter of fact I am a sunday child and in the end, I am a sunday cycler who wants te be home in time for dinner!
Tomorrow is Monday, I am going to Moscow, having dinner on Red Square!
Yartsevo - Vyaz'ma 180 km although at the arrival it felt like I had done 20 instead, should I worry? Don't think so, I am just unstoppable! Second day in hotel, mostly I use a pc for updating my blog. Not today, typing on a smartphone makes me nervous and is time consuming so that's it for now!
I am on my way!
Tune of the day: Demidov - Yartsevo 138 km including some kms of walking. Smooth easy going roads, bumpy pothole asphalt roads, gravel roads, dust roads, forest trail roads and even complete absence of roads: I had it all! Find out more in the picture gallery below!
Yartsevo is one of the bigger cities in the region (50.000 Inhabitants). It looks rougher than any other city in Europe I've seen before. I haven't spotted one single nice building, the roads are disasterous, the view of nothing but anynomous pale white brick appartment blocks depressingly sad.
I feel rather exhausted now... Not in the body, pushing those pedals every day isn't hard at all, it feels as natural as breathing for me. Although mentally I felt done for the day after 100 km - a way shorter distance than what I usually enjoy. Riding these rough, bumpy, pothole infected Russian roads requires some serious focus and concentration. Near the end of the day, I felt my level of attention was declining, a barely avoided pothole a serious wake up call.
The hotel I am staying is not fancy at all, the room smells of bleach, but I gonna sleep tight anyway!
Today's stage: Ust Dolyssy - Demidov: 175 km including a little bit of sightseeing riding around some towns along the way.
I had a great night here in Demidov together with the owner of the guesthouse I am staying. She told me Demidov is an architypal Russian small town: bathing in an atmosphere of faded glory, being lost and forgotten by the country's policy makers, somewhat disorderly and scaled off. Would it? The town's oldest edifices lined along the main street are all in ruins.
I am just two days in the country, but there is something about Russia, wild, wild Russia... Impressions overload! Yes, Russia is elusively big! It might seem self-evident, but I think this is maybe one of the essential features to keep in mind when trying to understand what Russia and the Russians are really about.
Tomorrow I go further east, four more days left to discover more!
These are the days... I've arrived in Russia! I had planned a rather short ride today - 131 km from Zilupe (LV) to Ust-Dolyssy, random Russian village. It turned out to be the best plan possible, perfect as usual.
In the morning it was raining, an icy wind was chasing away all summer memories. No worries, I didnt need to hurry and in the afternoon weather got slightly better. I made it to Russia on a smooth adreline rush because of the simple idea of entering an unknown world.
I have already a few, but I'll sure write some impressions about Russia in the days to come... Today I was mainly riding through endless forests anyway. I am truly touched by the vastness and the greatness of the nature and the uncultivated lands in this side of the continent. It's an emotional, almost spiritual feeling I experienced for the first time somewhere on my way through Poland. It didn't really go away anymore ever after. For hours and hours, I am just riding...
Tomorrow, I'll continue my way loosely following Belarussian border, afterwards I definetely go east!
Blog post from the road! Soon I go into the forest to look after my warmshowers hosts' cabin or whatever it might be. No idea, probably a place without wifi or 3G anyway.
I am in Latvia now near the town of Zilupe and just a couple of miles away from the Russian border. Latvian countryside is even more remote than the Lithuanian one, for what I've seen. Empty roads, just some farms every now and than, barely any villages or towns.
I rode 170 km so far today, about 5 more to go. Weather was wild and stormy, I had multiple showers along the way, though I was simply euphoric everytime the sun came out. For some moments, I even secretly saw myself as a little bit of a though guy, a soundless peaceful conqueror - proudly on its way to Russia. Can I?
Tomorrow before noon I should be there!
I have arrived in Zarasai, close to the Latvian border! Today's ride from Vilnius (170 km) was grey and rainy, but i had mostly back winds so I could sail at a steady pace of +30km/h over the ongoing gently rolling hills of Lithuanian countryside.
Lithuania: authenticity with a somewhat unpleasant edge. In the rural areas, time seems to stand still. The colourful wooden houses, the tranquil hamlets, the weathered barns hidden into the landscape, the desolate roads: It's a true bliss for the 21st century touring cyclist silently longing for what is real, pure and untouched.
The reality behind all this beauty is less picturesque I guess. At second glance, a lot of houses betray a high degree of deprivation. Agricultural or other activity seems sparse in the whole Lithuanian countryside. it's even unclear if the houses are actually still inhabited. Possibly not: in the last two decades, the country's population declined from almost 3.5 to less than 3 million.
What I have to wish for those left behind? A car? A life in the city or abroad? And what about the authenticity? The road windingly continues its endless way while i am wondering about all this ...
Thank you Lithuania for being part of my journey, Latvia tomorrow!