Operation Steppenwolf: Part Two


When you need to cycle something close to 100 km during the day it is not a common practice to start cycling at noon, especially when the weather is as hot as it is in the South of Ukraine. But who cares about normal practice anyway? And it&39;s not like the distance would be something from another world. Yes, it was hot, but I was prepared for that, and I also had the hope that this was the first and last time when I would need to cycle much in the hottest afternoon hours, therefore I just pedalled and pedalled, and made my way in the direction of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi.

The road was quite good (at least by Ukrainian standards), I was feeling good, occasionally I stopped for a bottle of water and an ice cream and nothing bothered me. When it got too hot, I went for a swim in the sea in a place called Zatoka which seemed to be a super crazy tourist town where nearly every house had a sign in front of it "rooms for rent" (in various variations, sometimes offering "deluxe rooms", sometimes "ultra comfort", sometimes - nothing special). The last stretch after the swim seemed to take a longer time than the one before it, but in terms of time spent on the road I shouldn&39;t complain - I got to Bilhorod not sooner and not later than I had envisioned that I would.

There was a bit of a surprise when I went to my host&39;s place. Yes, for the second night in a row I was couchsurfing. I was supposed to stay at a guy named Anatoliy&39;s place. When I was in front of his house, I called him on the phone - no answer. I called on the intercom - no answer. I wasn&39;t worried yet - it was just 17:30, and I hadn&39;t given him any information on the time at which I was supposed to arrive. And since it was a warm and pleasant day I would expect him to be spending it on the beach instead of sitting in the apartment. When in doubt about the next thing to do, I usually go and get something to eat. And so I did. Nearby I found a cafeteria and went in. There were many children around, as a girls birthday was celeberated there - in a serious form of celebration with a woman with a microfone managing the birthday party. I asked whether the place was open for general public, and was sent downstairs to a billiard room. The meal that I had was not exactly typical for me - I ordered a pork chop and when it arrived, it turned out that there wasn&39;t any side dish with it - no potatoes, no salad, just meat. That&39;s not what I normally eat, but what the hell - why should I eat just a piece of meat once?

While I was eating, it had begun to rain heavily, almost as hard as on the previous day. Also I got a reply from my host that he would be at home at 8 PM, which meant that I had an hour and a half to see the town. The rain didn&39;t last, so I was ready to go. But there&39;s one thing I always have to do - to get an ice cream. So I stopped at a nearby store and immediately attracted the attention of a local guy in sportswear. The pattern of the conversation was usual: "Where are you from? From Latvia? Wow! Did you come all the way on the bicycle? Oh, just from Odessa. It is still far." But then suddenly came a strange question: "Since you&39;re on a bicycle, maybe you want to get some speed?" As the conversation was in Russian and the last word was also in Russian, at first I did not understand what the guy was aiming at. How can I get additional speed and why should I need that? Then it hit me - it was Speed with a capital S. Quoting Allen Ginsberg: "Speed is antisocial, paranoid making, it&39;s a drag... all the nice gentle dope fiends are getting screwed up by the real horror monster Frankenstein speed freaks who are going round stealing and bad-mouthing everybody." So I replied Thanks but no, thanks! Confirming that I had at least got the message right, the guy asked me a follow-up question whether I didn&39;t want Speed at that current time or wasn&39;t using it at all. When I later spoke about this episode with some of my hosts, their intepretation was that the guy had considered me to be a potential drug user by my strange looks (a beard and hair - longer than considered appropriate there).

Bilhorod is a rather old city. By old - I mean that it was founded more than 2000 years ago, which is kinda impressive. And it has a very impressive fortress. Normally in my travels I observe the main sites just from the outside, but this time I felt that going inside the fortress could be a good idea. So I did. The fortress is indeed huge, and its outer walls have been preserved quite well. Not that there&39;s that much to see inside, basically you should imagine yourself the life that went on in here in the millenia past. Inside the fortress I saw several groups of strangely dressed men and women who seemed to be there for some medieval themed event. I decided that I wanted to find out more about it, so I went up to them and asked them what exactly was going on there. For some unclear reason I thought it best to speak in English and to pretend that I was a German tourist from Vlotho. The guys told me that they were participants at a knights&39; tournament in the fortress and gave me a poster of their competition. Just a few minutes into the conversation I had to regret having told them that I was German (some of them spoke some English, so we were able to communicate) - as they asked me whether my grandfather had fought for the Nazis. In a different setting I would had probably told them: "No, he did not fight himself. Grandfather Adolf lead the war." But this did not seem a good idea at the time, so I simply switched to Russian in the conversation. And I made a promise to myself that the next time when I would decide to lie about my country of origin I would choose the much safer Sweden.

It was time for me to move on, so I cycled a bit around the other locations of Bilhorod, none of which are too spectacular, and went to meet my host. Anatoliy turned out to be a very friendly young man, who made me dinner (I finally got the potatoes and salad that were missing from my lunch), we shared a conversation that went on quite long into the night, and if I hadn&39;t got plans to continue my journey in the morning, I suppose we could had talked much longer. In addition to regular food Anatoliy provided a special kind of honey courtesy of his beekeeping dad, local cheese speciality bryndza and home wine. With the latter we couldn&39;t do much - Anatoliy himself doesn&39;t drink and I&39;m not much of an alcohol expert - it took me more than an hour to drink one small glass of wine even despite the fact that it tasted very natural and fresh, there&39;s just something about alcohol that I don&39;t really understand.

In the morning we shared a breakfast, and then I was off again - I began the next leg of my journey at around 10 AM with Tatarbunary as my goal for the day.