Welcome to the Wild East

We’re passing a 10 miles long line of trucks and then we reach the Polish and EU-border. Not sure if we’re in the right lane but a car driver makes clear with a bike we can go first. I’m pretty sure he regretted that later, while we might have been one of the first American bikes at the customs here and our printed black and white registration paper caused many questions. Fortunately Milton had also papers that looked more official to them and after some phone calls and questions we were free to go to the Ukrainian side of the border. Same story. While waiting some customs official came to us: “What does this bike cost?” He almost couldn’t believe it was “just” about 10.000 dollars. “Wow!”

Warnings of bad roads were rightly. The first 60 miles after the border were not that good. But actually not that bad either and the road turned out to be a perfect slalom between thunderstorms all around us! Warnings of police were wrong: Basically every time we passed they were just watching the bike, not the speed. Only one time in Kiev center when we crossed a double line a police officer stopped us. “Documents!” But the poor guy didn’t speak English so after inspecting our papers it was all fine.

We arrived in Lutsk, an old city in the northwest of Ukraine, not so big, not that small, pretty industrial but nice. We found an interesting Soviet concrete hotel. We were very welcomed at the parking, as like it was an honor for the parking attendant to have the bike at his place! We dropped our stuff in a room that seemed soviet ok with old carpet and cutlery in the fridge and left to go to eat. No famous Ukrainian borscht or shashlicks but pizza in a cute restaurant of a Ukrainian pizza chain (where they also sell borscht and sushi like in almost every restaurant or coffeehouse in Ukraine).

To buy some beers to take to the hotel became a meet&greet. Literally EVERY time I returned from a kiosk Milton had a new bunch of admirers around him who asked for his email, wanted to make pictures and so on. Only men though! And they kind of ignored me. I’ve seen it quite some times: men talk to each other here and they ignore the women. Also in a group: men shake hands and in some cases nod to the women. The strange thing is that everyone seems to be ok with that. Milton, being American, finds it quite odd and always tried to include me in the conversation, but the Ukranian guys still wouldn’t really talk to me or even look at me. Strange.

Also something new: personal space is a relative term. Milton was waiting in line for the ATM. Someone cut in right in front of him, basically because he left too much space so that doesn’t count! Milton made him known so the man moved behind him, but right behind him like 10 inches or so. Waiting in line, even if you are getting money out of the ATM, buying tickets or whatever means you have to keep the line closed otherwise they’re pushing in! Getting cash out of the ATM and asking for privacy, you’ll get a response like ‘I won’t steal your money, don’t worry’. Right. And my experience in the train station is, don’t stand behind someone but right next to him or you’ll wait forever!

The hotel room had some nice surprises, like a guy calling in the middle of the night to chat and no warm water in the morning, for me. But what the heck, time to go to Kiev! We took our bike, our new parking guy was even more enthusiastic and laughed and waved goodbye as if we were some VIPs. Same happened basically everywhere on our way to Kiev. People waved to us and many thumbs up on the highway.

At a gas station we met biker Vladimir and we drove together for about 100 miles. He gave us a card with a number we could call in case we had troubles with our bike in Ukraine and he invited us to meet later in the city and we did several times!
In Kiev we met so many nice people, new and old friends. Like Alex and Mila. We first met them, Vladimir and Nico on a terrace and later moved to Obolon boulevard where the bikers in Kiev meet every night. Then we spend one night at Alex and Mila’s place. They were very hospitable and great company. Next morning we drove to the center and when we stopped for a coffee… there was Mila again! Believe me, Kiev is a village. And Mila hosted us again, this time for a coffee break at her workplace Art. Lebedev studio, so nice!

Another interesting meeting was in a residential area called Livoberezhna. I had to get some stuff there, Milton was repacking his bike. When I came back he was in a conversation with an old man, Sergei, who surprisingly spoke English. Milton made his day just to be there! “I never though I would meet an American in my own neighborhood”, the man said with tears in his eyes. He was from Chernobyl where in 1986 the nuclear disaster happened and crushed the lives of many. Sergei has health problems and his son has died years ago. He told us he has lived in India for 3 years where he learned English by just doing it. Also he had been in USA to visit friends in Iowa and he loves America.

The next days we got into a flow of meetings with bikers and CSers, soviet gym, sun, beach, beer, vodka, hookers and herring! And then it was already time for Milton to go back to Warsaw. He asked if I wanted to join, eh, why not! Back to our parking buddies in Lutsk, in the hotel where we got a bigger better room with warm water way cheaper than the first time. In front of a traffic light we met again some people we met at the Lavra monastery in Kiev. And back to our border buddies same procedure and also there were people in line we met the week before and we left the ‘village’ Ukraine to meet our Polish friends, yeah!

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