Saturday 30 June 2018

Day 24

I spent a restless night on the settee of Myron and Magdalena in Velyka Kopanya. Myron was up at 3am making a right old racket as well as having a cigarette. I don’t think he returned to his bed and the next I heard was his loud music from the garden at 0530. What a guy! 

I got up at 0630 needing the toilet. It was one of those old fashioned outside ones. I also discovered that it was also just a toilet seat covering a 1 metre drop into a “catchment area”. Oh man. What a start to the day. It was like being in Australia all over again. 

Myron had made what looked like porridge. I didn’t have any appetite (surprisingly) so I declined. He had also made a very large kebab on a skewer. I politely turned that down also and he shared it with the dog. 

I accepted his offer of a coffee and a glass of water. Although the water turned out to be Vodka! I drank the coffee and thanked Myron and Magdalena for their hospitality. Myron’s parting words were “Optimistic, yes. Pessimistic, No”. I think he was referring to my journey. I headed down the road on what was a very warm and sunny morning. 

On the long straight road to Khust, I saw this very interesting sculpture that, without being blasphemous, I could related to. 

I reached Iza and noticed many stores selling wicker/bamboo products. The level of craftsmanship in products looked very high indeed. 

I decided to stop and cook something at the 11 mile point. I hadn’t had a bite to eat all day and was feeling very hungry. I opted for a vegetarian curry and rice ration pack. It wasn’t too bad. Soon after I ate, I met an elderly man, who didn’t speak a word of English, wearing a naval hat. He shook my hand, said something in Ukrainian and I replied with the usual “Belgrad, Serbie, Romania, Ukraina, Kalush, Zhytomyr, Kyiv” while gesturing a running/walking action with my fingers. I think he got the message and he took 20 Hryvnia (about 57 pence) out of his wallet and handed it to me. I thanked him and was on my way again. It will get paid to St Benedict’s Hospice via my Virgin Money Giving page. 

The last village I passed through before I started climbing into the valley was Horinchovo. The route became very undulating after that but I enjoyed the greater challenge of dragging Chappie up the numerous steep climbs. 

I saw a sign with a picture of some bears and an exclamation mark. I immediately sent Erik, who I met 3 days ago, a message requesting that he told me what it said in English. I was relieved when his reply read “It is forbidden to hunt protected animals. Illegal hunting is punishable by jail". 

At the 24 to 28 mile points for the day I saw a van delivering fruit and vegetables to the locals. I had the standard conversation with the driver and I think he got the message. 

I finished the scheduled day’s route after 28 miles. 5 of that is what I didn’t do yesterday plus today’s 23 miles. I continued on looking for a safe place to stay. I thought I’d found somewhere but this chap had already picked a good spot. 

At the 30 mile point, I asked some ladies (via Google Translate) if I could camp anywhere in their village. They pointed down the road and I found a place just outside the village boundary of Pidchumal. 

I setup camp at the side of the road having travelled 30.4 miles. That’s a new record for this tour. Typically, that haul of miles came in the mountains. I’m now only 79 miles away from Kalush and find myself 2.4 miles ahead of schedule with 4 days to get there. The odds are in my favour. I just hope I recover ok after today’s big haul of miles. 

The good news is that I’m in the mountains and the Synevir National Park is very close. It’s nice to have a change of scenery.

Friday 29 June 2018

Day 23 - Velyka Kopanya you’ve been a great audience

The day started with Erik arriving at the hotel where I was staying to take me back to Chappie. We drove to the gas station where Chappie was left and I was soon on my way. Thanks to Erik for invaluable help. 

I made my way through Nevetlenfolu alongside the very long queue of lorries waiting to cross the border. I ate a couple of croissants that I’d brought from Romania for breakfast and the lorry drivers looked at me in the usual bemused fashion. 

The tarmac road soon ended and I had 3.5 miles on a dirt road full of potholes. It is a road surface that I’d been expecting and it was very hard going. The passing cars and vans weaved in between the potholes and I did pretty much the same. 

“There’s no way I’m ending today without a puncture” I thought. This was exactly the kind of surface that had caused my right side tyre to puncture 3 times in Romania. 

I made to Chepa when the tarmac road started again. The road soon deteriorated again. At least this meant that the traffic was very slow. I had a brief rest at the 7 mile point. The potholes and the heat of the day had taken its toll very early in the day. 

At Sasovo a man called me into his store asking if I would like a coffee. I jumped at the chance and we had a good conversation about my journey and the state of the roads in English. 

I took a left hand turn and powered on as best I could through the potholes to Vyonhradiv at the 14 mile point. I listened to the excellent Colin Murray at home podcast to take my mind off the state of the road. 

It passed a furniture shop in Vyonhradiv and was beckoned over by a group of people. They wanted to take pictures which I was happy to do. After that, I had a rest for 10 minutes. I was exhausted. 

One of the men in the group introduced himself as Myron (pronounced Meeron). He gave me a small bell attached to a clothes peg as a gift. 

Myron then cycled alongside as I continued on my way. Myron’s English was limited so our first conversation was to simply recall the starting 11 of the 1966 English World Cup winning team. That led us on to Jackie Charlton! I told Myron that I knew him and that he was a guest at the last Around The World Ball. He seemed very impressed when I showed him the photo below. 

The route started to get very steep at the 16 mile point. Erik drove alongside at the 18 mile point with his girlfriend. He was checking if I was ok which was very kind of him. It took a huge amount of effort to get Chappie to the summit at the 20 mile point. I think the picture below sums up the pain I was in. It doesn’t really show how steep the climb was. 

This, however, shows exactly how steep the climb was! 

The view from the top was very good indeed. I haven’t seen scenery like this on the Around The World route since Slovenia. 

By the time I started the descent into Velyka, Myron was cycling ahead a bit. He offered some food and a bed for the night and I thought “why not”. 

We arrived at Myron’s house after 21.5 miles for the day. I was very pleased with this effort despite wanting 26. To arrive in Kalush on time, I have to average 21 miles per day so with yesterday’s 22.5 miles, I’m a little ahead of the game. 

I sat in Myron’s garden and his friend, Ivan, arrived and started playing the guitar. I used Google translate to put a request in. The image below is a screenshot. 

Without further ado, Ivan started playing it and Myron and I started singing. If I had a good enough signal I would upload the rather surreal video that I took. 

Ivan said that I could have a shower at his house as it was a “Rolls Royce” compared to Myron’s. I met Ivan’s English speaking daughter and Grandson at the house. I had a shower and his daughter kindly made me an omelette. Ivan’s grandson was a very happy little boy and they all made me feel very welcome. 

Ivan drove me back to Myron’s house and what followed was magnificent. The three of us sat in the garden while Ivan played a few songs that, in the absence of being able to talk to each other, we could at least sing together. “The Lady in Red” sounded pretty good with the fellas singing the melody in Ukrainian and I harmonised in English. 

Then came “Living next door to Alice”. Myron did the sweary bits in Ukrainian much to his amusement and mine. 

Ivan finished the set off with a few Ukrainian numbers. The encore was one of my Mam’s favourites - “I just called to say I love you”. I made them sing the chorus 4 times at the end. 

There may have been an audience of none and we may have just formed our band minutes earlier but I think that our first and only gig together was a huge success. “Velyka Kopanya! You’ve been a great audience” I shouted. 

I had a hearty hug off Ivan and he exited stage right (or out of Ivan’s garden to be precise). Myron’s wife brought us some chicken and potatoes and I tucked into my second meal of the day. 

I retired to Myron’s settee and started writing my blog before getting some much needed sleep. What a crazy day in Ukraine! 

There are 110 miles left to Kalush and 5 days to get there. A few more days of effort like today and I’ll be just fine.

Thursday 28 June 2018

Day 22

The first task today was to pack everything into Chappie. That included, of course, my now fixed mattress. Secondly, I’d been invited by Vasile for a proper Romanian breakfast. There was sausage, bacon on a bed of Polenta with fried eggs and salami. Despite not being anything I’ve ever had for breakfast before, it was very good indeed. Vasile packed up the leftovers for my lunch. I thanked him for his kindness and returned over the road to Chappie in front of the hotel. 

Hotel owner Manual was standing by Chappie and I’m glad that I got to thank him again for his support and his lovely mother too. Even though she doesn’t speak English I got a real sense of kindness from her. 

I waved them goodbye to them and to Vasily as I ran out of the street. I turned left out of the street and I don’t mind admitting that the tears ran down my face. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrible at goodbyes. Saying goodbye to these kind people in a place of peace, quiet and normality really hit me hard. I rang Donna from the main road out of Satu Mare and, as she has done so many times before Around The World, she talked me round. She has a real knack of explaining things to me in such a way that everything is usually ok at the end. I’ve also got Helen in Perth for support and I have spoken to her a few times since I left Belgrade too. Helen kindly gave me a room before I started running across Australia and Donna and I have been friends with her ever since. 

Anyway, back to today and I was stopped at the 7 mile point by some police officers. They asked about my journey and I offered to show them my passport. They declined and opted for a selfie instead. 

The policemen that stopped me at the 11 mile point wanted to see my passport and also took a look inside Chappie. I lost a bit of time as a result and it wasn’t to be the last time I had to show someone the contents inside Chappie today. 

At the 13 mile point I met a man called Peter. He had previously seen me last week north of Arad. Peter owns a blueberry farm further up my route and he promised to give me a punnet when I passed.

With the prospect of fresh fruit for lunch I decided to push on and not have my scheduled rest. I saw Peter again after 18 miles with his wife Daniela. They used to live in the USA which made for a good conversation in English. This is where the day got challenging! 

Peter said that I wouldn’t be able to cross the border into Romania on foot. The alternative crossing was 60 miles away and would totally scupper my plans for getting to Kalush by next Wednesday. Peter and Daniela rang someone that they knew in Romanian customs. The upshot of this conversation was that the Romanian customs would allow me to cross through their border checkpoint on foot. There was no guarantee that the Ukrainian checkpoint would allow me to do the same. 

After the phone call and true to his word, Peter brandished a bag full of blueberries and apricots. We swapped phone numbers, I thanked them for their help and was on my way again. 

I entered Halmeu at the 19 mile point. This would be the final town that I would visit in Romania. A family waved at me in the middle of the town. It was Peter and Daniels’s daughter and her relations. She was American which obviously made for another good English conversation. I handed over my remaining Romanian money to the children. It was only a few pounds and I had no use for it. It was nice to talk about my journey so far and where I was going. I said goodbye and I made my way to the border. 

The Romanian border police were expecting me and were very polite indeed. “What a nice way to end my time in Romania” I thought to myself. They said that I could continue on foot but there were no guarantees that the Ukrainians would do the same. 

I approached the Ukrainian checkpoint where an armed officer told me to halt and move to the side. He took my passport and I waited for 15 minutes in blazing sunshine. This was the 21.5 mile point for the day. He got an English speaking lady on the telephone and a senior officer in plain clothes also arrived to look at my passport and Chappie. 

I told the English speaking lady about my purpose in Ukraine and also my schedule. She was very polite, listened to my story and said that passing into Ukraine on foot would not be possible. The armed officers flagged down a van and we lifted Chappie into the back of it. 

Chappie’s front wheel was tied to the van with the hatch end hanging out. I know as well as anyone that rules are rules so I was happy to accept this as a solution if it meant getting into Ukraine. I jumped into the passenger seat and we drove slowly forwards passed many cars and lorries in a very long queue.

At the passport control point I had to empty the contents of Chappie and was shown a packet of pills by the customs officer. I immediately reached into my medical bag and showed them that I was carrying Brufen and Paracetamol only. I was exhausted at this point and put the contents of Chappie back inside.

The queue of traffic to get into Romania was huge! I bet it could take days to cross the border. After 45 minutes or so, our van was let into Ukraine and the kind people who drove me across pulled over. We lifted Chappie out of the van and I’m pleased to report that there was no damage.

I passed a few gas stations and eventually found a store where I could buy a Ukrainian SIM card. The lady in the shop was very helpful despite neither of us being able to understand what the other was saying. Somehow, I left with a SIM card and a hearty thumbs up from the lady.

I received a message from Peter that their Ukrainian friend Erik had found a nearby hotel should I need it. I rang Erik and he drove to meet me. We had been talking for only a few minutes when I looked behind at a very black sky. Erik told me to take cover in a nearby gas station. Just as I got there, the heavens opened and the wind picked up considerably. I parked Chappie up and we sheltered inside the gas station. While inside, Erik arranged for Chappie to be stored on the forecourt and he drove me to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel, 5 miles away. Erik had a look at my route to Kalush and as a result, I’m taking a slightly longer road tomorrow. This is to avoid a stretch of road in very poor condition. He also stated what I’d been expecting and that is that there are some steep climbs coming my way.

So that’s day 22 over with 22.5 miles done. It’s 6 days to Kalush and I’ll be doing everything that I can to get there on time. I think that there are very interesting times ahead!

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Day 21

There’s not much to report from my final recovery day here in Satu Mare. The day did start on a positive note with Manuel, the owner of Vila Tineretului where I’m staying, taking me to get a patch and glue to fix my mattress. It worked a treat! Thanks go to Manuel for his help. I’ve really enjoyed resting at the hotel and Chappie has had a safe place to stay too. 

I spent some time checking and packing my kit this afternoon ready to put it all into Chappie in the morning. I’ll be heading off between 0800 and 0845 tomorrow. I will cross into Ukraine tomorrow evening or early on Friday. The weather forecast isn’t great and this may hamper my progress. 

I received a few emails from an ex pat called Michael in Kyiv today. He has been helping to setup various school visits in Ukraine over the last few months. He has also managed to get Donna and me some accommodation for a week in Kyiv. Donna is flying in on the 24th July. It’s her birthday so I mustn’t be late! Kyiv is 500 miles (800km) away from my current position. There’s a lot of effort to put in between now and then! Michael included the following phrases in his email. 

Thanks to Michael for all of his help and guidance. 

You may notice that tickets for the Around The World Ball are now available to order on It promises to be a great night and I’m looking forward to sharing many tales of my adventures with those in attendance. Of course, all funds raised on the night will go to St Benedict’s Hospice. 

The ball will be hosted by my good friends, Gary and Lisa from the BBC. They have been involved with my fundraising since the run across the USA in 2011. We have some really good items lined up on the night. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be another sold out event. That’s all for now. 

Tomorrow is day 22 of stage 5 of the run Around The World. I have 7 days to reach Kalush in Ukraine. It’s a 150 mile stretch and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you. 

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Day 20 - Some normality

Today was all about resting and finding some normality before the next stretch of miles into Ukraine. I spent most of the morning breaking up the 150 miles that it will take to run to Kalush into slices of 23, 23, 23, 22, 25, 22 and 11 miles. As ever, that will all be subject to weather, traffic and whatever unknown factors and situations come my way. I’m confident that, if I perform to the level that I have in Serbia and Romania, then I will arrive in Kalush on the 4th July as planned. 

The hotel delivered my clean washing this morning. This has been a huge help to me and I'm very grateful and also very apologetic for the smell of the washing when I handed it over!

Prior to lunch I went to Loui's Bike Shop to pick up the new wheel from Loui's Bike Shop. It was £53 but it's money well spent and I'm sure it's going to prove very useful further down the road.

I decided to venture into Satu Mare after lunch and visited the cinema. One particular movie that I had been disappointed to miss was the new Jurassic World. The good news was that it was showing at 3pm and was in English. 

I bought a coke and some Nachos for £3 and I enjoyed the movie a great deal. It was nice to do something that I really enjoy. It was nice to have some normality in my life albeit for only a few hours. 

After the movie, I walked back to the hotel and continued on to the nearby tennis club. I ordered “the usual” which was chicken breast, mixed salad and home made chips. As well as being delicious, again, this gave me a feeling of normality. I stayed a little longer at the tennis club to watch the France v Denmark match. It’s a really good facility and I had a brief chat with Sipos the chef. I think that I might ask for fish and chips tomorrow. I've yet to see a menu. I just tell him what I fancy to eat.

As I walked back to the hotel from the tennis club I saw Vasile who lives nearby and also Manuel the hotel owner. Manuel asked how he could help and I said that there wasn’t anything that he could do. I told him that all in need to do tomorrow is buy some water, pack the buggy and attempt to find and repair the puncture in my mattress. 

I shared a few (pint) glasses of wine and some conversation with Vasile before I turned in for the night to soak my feet. We talked about the history of Romania, politics and our respective families.  Vasilie, who is 70, only learned to speak English 16 years ago. He doesn't get to have english conversations too often. That said, he is very easy to understand and has an excellent vocabulary. He is also fluent in Russian and other languages!

He wouldn’t let me leave without a freshly filled bottle of wine. The video below shows him filling a jug in his cellar.

I returned to my hotel room to find 6 x 2 litre bottles of water outside and Manuel is going to take me to a place in the morning to get my mattress repaired. 

So that’s it for today. Plenty of rest has been had and some “normal” things have been done which is very important for morale. I have 1 more rest day tomorrow before the 150 mile run through the mountains to Kalush.

Monday 25 June 2018

Day 19 - A supposed rest day in Satu Mare

Thank goodness for a rest day! So much for that! Today wasn’t much of one as things turned out but I made some important strides to ensuring that next time I get a puncture the show can go on. 

I was very relieved that the hotel that I’m staying in offered to do my washing. If another day passed then my kit would be walking itself to Moscow! I handed over the washing to the receptionist and was very apologetic as I did so.

The day started with a bit of a walk around Satu Mare town centre. The Central Park was very nice and well maintained and I grabbed a coffee and enjoyed the sunshine.

I found Satu Mare’s Administrative Palace to be a bit of a strange building. It’s the tallest building in Transylvania. It kind of reminded me of the old Get Carter car park in Gateshead. It’s architecture is “brutalist” apparently. It’s very much like something T Dan Smith would have built.

On the way back from town I paid a visit to a local bike shop called Loui’s Bike Shop. I enquired as to whether they could construct a duplicate wheel for me. The thinking behind this is that I could simply slip the old wheel off when punctured and put the new one on. This would allow me to continue the journey without delay and fix the puncture, say at the end of the day. The guys at the shop said that they could in principle but they may need to order parts. I said that I would bring the wheel in to show them.

After I left the bike shop I passed a tool shop. I went inside and it was like Christmas! Racks and racks of spanners and tools. They had the tool that I needed but I wasn’t 100% sure that it was 17mm that I needed.

I walked back to the hotel and got the tool that I use to loosen the outside facing nut of my wheels. It was 17mm. One quick taxi ride back to the tool shop and back to the hotel with my new spanner meant I could take my problematic wheel off for the first time without any problems. My current tool set just hadn’t been good enough. I needed more torque when garages tighten the nuts beyond what I normally do.

I then took another taxi ride to the bike shop. The driver wouldn’t take any money after he learned about my fundraising.

I showed the lads at the bike shop the wheel. The good news was that they thought they had the parts but really needed to see the bracket on Chappie that the wheel fits in to. It was time for another taxi back to the hotel! I then walked the 1 mile with Chappie back to the bike shop. They confirmed that they had all of the parts and the wheel would be ready tomorrow.

Thanks to Loui’s Bike Shop for fitting me in. It was thought at one point that a part could take as long as Friday or Monday to arrive!

I walked back to the hotel with Chappie via the local supermarket to get some supplies. The main purchase was a razor and some shaving foam!

I went to the local tennis club for tea again and had chicken, salad and some home made chips. It was, yet again, delicious and only a little over £4 with a drink of coke.

As I walked back from the tennis club I saw Vasily, the man who introduced himself to me yesterday when I arrived at the hotel. He was tending to his garden, which was really a mini vineyard. He gave me a tour of the garden and his wine cellar.

He pointed to one drum of wine stating that it would be ready to drink in November.

We chatted about Satu Mare and its history. He told me about the different groups of people in Satu Mare now compared to in the fifties. He also mentioned that 18,000 Jewish people were sent to Auschwitz from the area during the war. There are now only a very small number of Jews in the city. 

Vasily knew that I was tired and didn’t keep me too long. I think we’ll have a longer conversation tomorrow. He’s a very interesting man and I find his English very easy to understand. I didn’t leave empty handed and he gave me a bottle of his wine to drink. He referred to it as “medicine” and insisted that it would help me sleep. I had a glass when I returned to the hotel. It was very nice indeed. Not bitter. Not sweet. Very passable!

Back in the hotel, I was able to speak to my border policeman friend Branko in Śid, Serbia via Facebook Messenger. It was the first time that I’d been able to speak to him and thank him for tipping off the Serbian border police at the crossing into Romania. He was one of the reasons my exit, as well as Chappie’s went so smoothly. I celebrated getting rid of my beard with a glass of Vasily’s wine and a soak of my feet in Tea Tree Oil.

The final act of the day was to read a sobering email from my contact in Kalush, Ukraine. “Hi Mark. I have been following your live posts on FB and I am so glad you reached Satu Mare with time to spare. I hope you can take a well deserved rest. I saw that you are taking the time to more deeply plot your next leg and I wanted to warn you about a few things. Judging from your videos, the roads in Romania are really so much better than Ukrainian roads. And if you are having problems with punctured tires there, you will have a much worse problem here. Also, the drivers here are even worse than the roads. Though the bad roads contribute to the bad driving, since they weave all over to avoid the potholes.”. 

The final paragraph did, at least, give me something to look forward to. “I am not writing to discourage you, but to help you prepare. Because Ukraine and its people are really wonderful.

Finally, I'd like to thank all those kind folk for sponsoring me today. The fund for this campaign is inching towards £36,000 which is absolutely brilliant at this stage of the run.

If you're enjoying my journey then please consider making a donation to St Benedict's Hospice via my Virgin Money Giving page here. Thanks in advance. Your support would be hugely appreciated.