European Bikepacking Routes

Bicycle Times Bikepacking Europe1 28Luxembourg, GR5/E2 trail

Two years ago I wondered about bikepacking routes in Europe.  After eight months of riding, researching, and blogging from Amsterdam to Sevastapol to Athens, this resource is the culmination of our efforts.  Europe is a great place to explore by bike, off-pavement, and self-supported.  Eat great food, visit fascinating cultural and historical places, and learn new languages, in between bike rides.  In Europe, there are rides and routes for every interest and skill level.  Use the search function or the archives on this page to learn more about our rides in Europe through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Greece.  Read more about our adventures across Europe in the Bicycle Times article Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea.

This is an incomplete list of European bikepacking routes.  These routes are either mapped, signed, and/or available as GPS tracks.  Many routes originate as self-supported off-pavement endurance races, multi-day stage races, or challenging routes for solo ITT.  Some are government tourism projects.  Others are the creation of avid riders or cycling organizations to promote the riding in their home country.  Lastly, some routes suggested here are repurposed walking routes, which may be done in sections or as a whole.  One route is currently planned, but is incomplete.  Additional rouetplanning resources include online retailers of maps and guides, or digital trail-finder resources.  The basic concept of this project is to awaken the world to the breadth of bikepacking possibilities in Europe, despite the lack of a single superstar route such as the Great Divide Route, Colorado Trail, or the Arizona Trail.  Bikepacking is a global phenomena, born of the passion to ride somewhere, off the beaten path, self-supported.

Use these links as a springboard to do your own research and riding.  Some routes may be easy with significant paved sections, non-technical terrain, and uncomplicated logistics.  Others are extremely challenging, with a large component of hike-a-bike.

Any assistance to improve the list is welcomed, including relevant comments about any of the listed routes and new route suggestions with links.  When possible the routes are linked to the most informative or relevant webpage, which most often originates from the route organizer or creator.  In a few cases, routes are listed without an official webpage or an official GPS route, such as The Red Trail in Poland, but the route is known to exist on the ground, is signed, and is indicated on Compass brand maps (and others).  To keep this listing simple I have chosen not to indicate the distance, difficulty, or source of route guidance (map, GPS, signs).  These features may come in the future, and if anyone wishes to host this list in further detail, contact me directly.  Start dreaming and get riding!

Please use the comment form below and check back in the future as this page develops.  Special assistance is needed to include routes from many countries, including: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary (The Countrywide Blue Tour?), Serbia, Kosovo, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belorus, Russia, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  Israel is not in Europe, but is included due to a growing bikepacking scene.  Surely, there are many more routes in the countries listed.  Tell your friends.  Share it online.

Spain: TransAndalusTranspirinaicaTransiberia, Camino de Santiago, Camino del Norte, Transcantábrica, Via de la Plata, Camino del Cid; GR 48, Transnevada.   Many Spanish route maps and guidebooks available from labiciteca.com.

Portugal: Rota Vicentina, Via Algarviana

France: Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Traversée du Jura (maps), Traversée du Massif Central, GR5/E2 trail; VTTrack.fr for interactive MTB trail map of France

Belgium: GR5/E2 walking trail (general info); also, some images and info about the section in the Ardennes Mountains

Germany: GST: Grenzsteintrophy

UK: Bearbones 200England-Wales-EnglandLakeland 200, Pennine Bridleway, Ridgeway Double, South Downs Double, Coast to Coast, Trans Cambrian, Welsh Coast to CoastDevon Coast to Coast (Westcountry Way).  All routes and links thanks to selfsupportedUK.net.

Scotland: Scotland Coast to Coast, Highland Trail 550, West Highland Way, Cairngorms Loop

Italy: Italy Coast to CoastTuscany TrailSan Remo-Monte CarloMyLand Non-Stop (Sardinia), Alto Adige-Südtirol Extreme Bike TrailDolomiti TrailItalia TransmountainsThe Fat River (fatbike route), Transardinia.  Most routes courtesy of bikepacking.it.

Switzerland: National TrailsAlpine Bike #1Panorama Bike #2Jura Bike #3; Alpencross; National website for Mountainbiking in Switzerland

Sweden: Kungsleden

Poland: The Red Trail (Sudecki and Beskidzka, basic info only).  Compass brand maps show all hiking trails and cycling routes, including the long-distance red trails.  Note, the red trail is not a single trail across Poland, but a series of trails with lesser trails marked with painted blazes of other colors.  There is a route most of the way across the country E-W, mostly along red trails.

Czech/Slovakia: 1000 Miles Adventure

Montenegro: Top Biking Trail 3: Eastern Enchantment

Greece: Bike Odyssey

Israel: Holyland Bikepacking Challenge, Israel National Bike Trail (in progress), Israel National Trail (hiking)

Other resources: Footpaths provide the basis for many routes in Europe, most of which have developed over the past century.  Generally, these routes allow bicycles, with local exclusions, but they do not exclusively travel singletrack trails across wild lands and will pass towns, farmland, and paved sections.  The European Rambler’s Association (ERA) aims to complete a long-distance international trail system of footpaths throughout Europe, with numbered routes from E1-E12 currently in various phases of completion.  Most routes are assembled from pre-existing local and national trails. Each country may provide more detailed resources in the native tongue via dedicated websites or guides about national trail systems, such as the GR5 listed in France and Belgium, above.  Most often, printed regional trail maps can be found at local touristic centers, and commercial maps and guides may also be available.  Detailed roadmaps are also suitable for broad-scale navigation, and often show more detail than typical road maps in the USA.

Also worth mentioning is the EuroVelo network of cycling routes, fashioned much like the ERA, with international cross-continental routes numbered 1-12 in various stages of completion.  EuroVelo routes are generally ridable on a trekking bike, hybrid, or rigid mountain bike, and in some places are not recommended for a tire less than about 40mm.  Check out the EuroVelo6for the popular route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.

If you wish to submit a route, please provide a link to the best source(s) of information and a brief description of your experience on that route, if any.  To qualify a multi-day off-pavement route for this listing, consider that it must be documented in detail, like the routes listed on Pedaling Nowhere-Routes or Bikepacking.net.

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Poland, The Red Trail

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Czech, Sumava National Park

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Ukraine, Polonina Borzhava

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France, Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Château Bernstein

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Ukraine

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Serbia

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Slovakia, 1000 Miles Adventure

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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France, TMV

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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Luxembourg, GR5/E2 trail

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Belgium, GR5/E2 trail

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Guidebooks for routes in Spain.

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Poland, The Red Trail: one of many PTTK resources for hikers and cyclists available in the mountains, often serving hot food and cold beer.

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Maps in a Slovakian supermarket.

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Western Ukrainian snapshots; August 2014

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Images from our time in Western Ukraine.  This part of the country is characterized by Euro-Ukrainian cities such as Lviv, Uzhorod, and Ivano-Frankivsk, with roots also in Poland, Galicia, Czechoslovakia, Austria-Hungary, and more; a narrow swathe of the Carpathian Mountains, forested and crawling with people growing things and herding things and collecting things, and some tourists like ourselves; and a unique take on the state and future of the country, naturally.  Most of our time was spent in the mountains, and on either side of the mountains riding to and from Lviv and Uzhorod.  We spent a few days in transit to visit family in the southwest, or perhaps it may be called the south-central part of the county.  It is closer to Odessa and the Moldovian border than I realized.  Technically, this is all from the western half of the country, at the crossroads of our lives and Ukrainian life.  

The billboard reads, “My dad protects Ukraine! Are you ready?”  

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29 years in Ukraine

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My birthday comes near the end of August.  Once again, I dine amongst distant relatives near the village where my grandfather was born.  Twelve months ago these people were all unknown to me, but we’re closer relatives than before, even if I still don’t know exactly how we’re related.  What I know is that when we arrive in town everyone wants to feed us, house us, and spend time with us.  That’s family. 

Overnight rain from Volovets in the Karpaty to Vinnytsia.  This is the Uzhorod-Kyiv train line.

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Bus from Vinnytsia to Bershad.

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You can take a bus from far eastern Ukraine all the way to Munich.  Or at least, at one time you could.

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First business in town is to visit with Lida and Lonya.  Lonya is my mom’s first cousin and our closest relative in Bershad and in the nearby village of Romanivka.  His father Simeon visited us in New York when I was young, shortly after Ukraine gained independence in the 1990’s.

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Last year, a kind young man drove us to Romanivka and patiently assisted us as we visited with family.  Not until the end of the first day did we realize that our driver is also our cousin, Yaroslav.  His mother Olya and his father Vitaliy provide a place to stay on our brief visit this year.  They have a simple house near the edge of town.  Their location allows them the space to keep animals and grow most of their food.  They buy bread and some specialty items.  

In addition to fruits and vegetables, they also keep cows, pigs, and chickens; make homemade samohon and fruit compote; and keep nearly twenty young pigs for sale.  Both keep jobs in the small city of Bershad as well. 

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No such thing as too much garlic.

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As in the mountains, I suspect the nearby forest is also a food source.  In the right season, mushrooms are abundant, although in general, much of Ukraine is hot and dry in the summer.

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We return from a walk to a house transformed, with a table set for 15 people.

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Even the kovbasa is made of their own pork.

Слава Україна!  Героим Слава!  

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!

We all drink to Ukraine.  We all drink to my birthday, and to our family, and to Ukraine a few more times.  

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Moments before dark, we all find our way outside for pictures.  All throughout the day we’ve looked at every personal photo archive at each house.  For the older generation in Ukraine, and elsewhere around the world, real photos are powerful and memorable.  I’ve got to remember to print and share more photos.  The young people all want to know if I have Фейсбуки, or Facebook.  

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The young man on the left is on the right in the next photo, all grown up.

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Our hosts Olya and Vitaliy, and my mom.  

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High ISO, a 12-second timer, and a flash make 15 smiling faces.

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Inside for some cake, coffee, more samohon, sleep, and in the morning another 30 hours of travel back to our bikes.  It is a brief visit and at one time I questioned whether it is worth it.  It was.  

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Lviv, Ukraine; August 18-19, 2014

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Following a few days at the hostel in Kolochava, and a few more days of riding, I finally received word from my mom that she was coming to visit us in Ukraine, again.  Last year, as we selected an eastward trajectory from France, we conspired to set a date and she bought a plane ticket to Ukraine.  We would meet just before my birthday.  We planned to visit her father’s family in the southwest, and her mother’s family in the far east, near Luhansk. 

Last Monday she wrote, telling me that she would not be able to come visit again this year, regretfully.  On Wednesday she wrote again, telling me that she had bought a plane ticket.  On Friday, she and my brother arrived in Kyiv and immediately boarded a train to Lviv.  Lael and I composed a roundabout route back towards Strij though the mountains.  We boarded an electro-poyizd (regional electric train) for the final 60km to Lviv.

Lviv is busy and beautiful, full of pedestrian boulevards and sidewalk cafes.  There are tourists, but mostly they are Ukrainian or from elsewhere in nearby Eastern Europe.  The city is rustic but not rusting; while many historic structures remain, they are artfully maintained, not artificially renovated as in more popular destinations.  To my tastes the city feels more like an improvement upon Prague and even Bratislava.  The streets are narrow and cobbled, not wide as in Kyiv, part of which was planned during the Soviet era.  And while comparisons to both Paris and Prague are in order for any charming European city, I’d choose neither of those over Lviv. The time to visit Lviv is now, before Ukraine’s economy booms upward and the city becomes more expensive and the cafes are replaced with tourist shops and the Ukrainians are replaced by English and German and Japanese tourists.  I believe Lviv is experiencing yet another high period in its long history.  It is exceptional.  

Lviv may also be the most Ukrainian city, not because it is the most even slice of the country.  Rather, the people here intend to preserve Ukrainian language and culture more than anywhere else in Ukraine.  Western Ukraine– hundreds of miles from Russia– is also the most Ukrainian part of Ukraine.  However, Ukrainianism here is not without fault.  The popular red and black flag of the УПА  (Ukrainian Insurgent Army)– an organization notorious for fighting both the Nazis and the Russians during WWII, under the leadership of Stepan Bandera— stands as one of several symbols important to nationalistic Ukrainians.  This militaristic organization is also responsible for the death of coutless Poles in the region.  Nationalism, in almost any form, often has a dark side.  Incidentally, the grave of Bandera was recently vandalized in Germany.  And yesterday, several Ukrainians ascended a high-rise structure in Moscow, repainting a soviet star in the blue and yellow pattern of the Ukrainian flag, marking their work with a Ukrainian flag atop the 32-story building.  These are a sign of the times in this part of the world, although the actual situation is much more grave.  

We have been unable to make calls to our family in Stakhanov, in the Luhansk Oblast near the Russian border for several weeks.  We hope they are safe.

Into Lviv.

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This region is known for changing borders.  The former Galician empire included much of the Ukrainian Carpathian region, and some of Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. 

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Someone has decided that smashing the windows of the Russian bank is a good idea.

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No military presence is felt in Lviv, although memorials are scattered throughout the city.  

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As is lighter fare, such as this toilet paper being sold at the touristic market.

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Mostly, life continues for residents of Lviv.  Tourism is down.  Young men and mothers worry about being drafted.  Over 2000 Ukrainians have died in the “anti-terrorist” conflict since this spring.

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A walk around the city reveals characteristic scenes of Lviv.  The aging Lada sedan is ever-present in Ukraine.

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Chruches are full on Sunday.  We’ve discovered that while riding through the country, we can visit as many as five or six churches on a Sunday morning, during active service.

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The Armenian cathedral in Lviv dates to the 1300’s.

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Taras Shevchenko is the most famous Ukrainian.  A poet, painter, and a fervent supporter of the idea of an independent Ukrainian nation, his likeness or bust stands tall in most every Ukrainian city.  He was born a serf in 1814.  He died briefly after a period of exile in Russia.  He died seven days before the official emancipation of serfs in tsarist Russia in 1861.

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Mostly, life continues as usual in Lviv.

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Return to Borzhava, Zakarpats’ka Oblast, Ukraine

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The discoveries of one day become the fuel for another.  For this reason, I have a tendency to revisit the same places and choose another path.  We’ve ridden up and down the west coast a few times, twice down the Divide, to Colorado and the southwest for a third season of fall riding, and to Europe for a second summer in a row.  Each ride leaves unridden routes.  When touring on pavement, we used to say that the world was getting smaller with each pedal stroke.  But the discoveries of off-pavement touring seem to make the world bigger.  These opportunities are not always apparent from afar.  Up close, they come into view.  Zoom in close on the GPS and a network or serpentine red lines appear.

Last summer, we hardly knew what to expect when we touched down in Amsterdam with our bikes.  We return to Europe this summer with the knowledge that there are overwhelming opportunities for off-pavement riding.  Last summer, we crossed borders from west to east until crossing into Ukraine, where things changed greatly.  This summer we return to the east and to Ukraine with an understanding of how things work, how some things just don’t work, and how to get around on two wheels.  We return to the Karpaty in spite of the cold rainy weather from last fall.  

This time around, being in Ukraine is familiar.  The weather is cooperating.  The roads and rides have been great, so far.  We’ve discovered that on Sunday mornings we can visit as many as a half-dozen churches, in active service, while riding through villages.  We also learned that the Ukrainian currency has plummeted in value by 50% in the last few months.  Last time we calculated about 8 hryvnia to the dollar, this time it is more than 12.  As such, a cup of coffee or tea is much less than a dollar, a cold pint of Obolon is often only sixty cents, and a cup of borsch is barely a full American bill.

Surely, there are reasons for this dramatic change.  We’re in Kolochava for a few days, enjoying the hospitality of a large guest house.  The televisor spits out images and details of the situation near Donetsk, in between dubbed American films, infomercials for butt-shaping walking shoes, and Russian soaps.  The Ukrainian border guard made jokes about Lael’s passport photo, calling out to his superior that she looks like a pro-Russian militant, laughing (she does).  The superior paused for a closer look, took a serious look at us, took another look at the passport, and waved us on.  There are some serious things happening on that side of the country, nearly a thousand miles away.  Not that nobody cares, but here it makes for small talk, mostly.  Tourism to this historic mountain village is reported to be about half of normal this summer.  For current English-language news from Ukraine, the Kyiv Post is a good source in addition to some major news organizations such as the BBC.  We’ve also discovered a substantial monthly publication entitled New Eastern Europe, full of essays and editorials from the region, in English.  The magazine is published in Poland, and the current issue focuses on the Ukrainian situation, through the lens of Polish, Georgian, Belorussian, and Ukrainan writers, among others.  The opening interview is with former Polish president Lech Wałȩsa.  

Riding from Slovakia, we detour though Uzghorod, and into the mountains on a series of forest roads and small paved roads.  We shoot for Volovets, to return to Polonina Borzhava.  Przemek led us up the mountain for the first time last year, before an impending thunderstorm sent us bombing down the mountainsides.  An long-term forecast for rain convinced us to catch a train to Crimea.  We intersect our route last year to follow an unfinished path through the Ukrainian Karpaty to Romania.  

Coming over the hill into Volovets.  One of the larger towns in the region, it features a regional train to Lviv for only a dollar or two, and more than a few food stores.  As such, it is a popular starting point for adventures.  There are nicer towns to visit in the mountains, although the setting is scenic.

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Soviet murals exist on large buildings and bus stops.  This is one of my favorites, featuring a couple in traditional mountain dress backdropped by sheep and a rocket and a radio antenna.  The man is holding a chainsaw.

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Packed with food for a day, we climb out of town to camp up high.

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Daily thunderstorms ensure our bikes remain muddy.  Logging trucks and six-wheel drive vehicles ensure some roads remain rutted.  

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We’ve been here before and know that eventually, the road improves.  The light improves as the evening passes.

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The mud ends, the sun sets, and we encounter a flat spot to camp.  Before dawn, people are quietly talking and walking up the mountain.  I suspect they are up early to pick mushrooms.  

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The next day, we discover that everyone is hiking up high to pick and rake blueberries.  These kids from Mukacheve are planning to haul a barrel of berries down the mountain at the end of the day.  They bring a sample of last year’s wine.

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We climb up the steep road at about the same rate as a 67 year old woman, walking.  Czechia?  Polscha?  

Amerikansky, I reply.  

Everyone thinks we are Czech.  In Czech, they all think we are German.  In France, they suppose we are Dutch.  In Holland, they know we are American.

She loves the Karpaty, and swoons when we tell her we have a whole month to enjoy.

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Plai is the first major peak at about 1300m, above 4000ft.  There is a weather station and an assemblage of antennae.

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From Plai, the trail pushes to Veliky Verkh, above 1500m, and 5000ft.

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Everyone is picking berries up high.  Dots on distant hillsides slowly work side to side, clearing only a fraction of the berries on the mountain. 

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This truck full of gypsies will spend the day collecting berries, before driving back down the mountain.  It is a steep drive up and down, especially with twenty people in the back of the truck.  The Ukrainian Roma are much friendlier than those in Slovakia, thus far.  

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Everyone is enjoying the weather up high, on Saturday.  People walk up from Volovets and Pylypets; motorcycles scream past, and a truck full of novice parasailers circle the sky.

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We continue on the polonina past our exit point last year.  The trail narrows as it descends into the trees.

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Our snack bags are nearly empty, and we point towards Mizhhir’ya at the end of this segment of the red trail.  Rutted roads, no longer is use by four-wheels vehicles, descend the mountain.

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Juniper.

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Eventually onto active farm roads into town.

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From here, a quick up and over into the next valley.  That road will descend all the way to Mizhhir’ya.

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Passing the first few homes, I stop to photograph an especially characteristic wooden home.  A woman calls out from the shade, “Dobre vechyr!”  I call back.

Within minutes, we’ve holding bowls of hot mushroom soup and bread.  She offers a bottle of cold beer.  No kidding.  We’re pretty lucky.

Soon, she’s talking about where we will sleep, and what we’ll eat for breakfast.  I compromise and agree to stay, but we will sleep outside, I tell her.  And for breakfast, we only want coffee and tea.  Don’t bother to make too much food for us.  She agrees, and we still awake to a feast of fried potatoes with salo, onion with salt and vinegar, tomatoes, and bread.  I oblige, out of necessity.

Христина was born here.  Her children live in nearby villages, and her mother died about five years ago.  She now keeps three small homes on this property, by herself.  She shows us pictures of her family.  We all sit down to watch the televisor, as she explains the complicated backstory behind Natasha and Mykyta’s love, and his relation to the other girl that lives on the Black Sea in a nice house, and the doctor, and the other red-haired woman and the attractive blond guy.  “Quiet.  Listen.”,  she says.  Then she continues talking about what is happening in the show.  The program captivates her imagination.  She turns it off and we sit outside on the grass for dinner.  

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Ukraine, so far

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This is when and where everything becomes more infrequent, digitally.  There is internet, but there are also lots of dirt roads and rustic crumbling paved roads and old churches and inviting groups of men with horilka at lunch, and woman selling mushrooms by the side of the road, and kids who chase on bicycles and just a few weeks of summer left.  We left more than a few weeks of summer in Alaska, and we’re chasing the last of them in Ukraine.  We climb up Polonina Borzhava again tonight, almost a year later. 

Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine:  Uzhorod, to the Karpaty via dirt roads, some small paved road, to Volovets…

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Ukrainian meals

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Above: One of the finest meals presented to us, prepared by my mother’s godfather’s granddaughter, who visited us in the US in the early 1990’s.  Her grandfather was very close with my grandfather, as they emigrated to the United States together through Germany, during and after WWII.  

Between Amsterdam and Lviv, Lael and I dined and drank almost exclusively on the ground.  We purchased food in markets and in small town shops, and ate in parks and high atop hills.  We pointed at cheeses and meats and pronounced new words to taste the local flavors, ranging from fresh cheeses to the popular packaged snacks of the country.  In each place, we discover favorite in-season produce, packaged cookies, or alcoholic libations.  Cheeses and sausages change subtly between places, but they change.  Wine gets better or worse, depending upon your proximity to France, Italy, and Spain; while vodka gets better depending upon your proximity to Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.  Belgian and German beers are the best, while the Czech brands are also among the best, perfect for an afternoon in the shade.

In Ukraine, our patterns changed.  We left our bikes for a period of ten days to travel by rail, bus, and foot.  We visited family, dined in restaurants, and picnicked on overnight trains.  Most all of this time, we ate in chairs at tables.  Most impotently, we often dined with the guard of a local cook, ensuring a uniquely Ukrainian experience.  In Ukraine, we were served horilka (vodka) at breakfast, although we declined.  We experienced the season in which trucks loaded with watermelons from the coastal plains of the Black Sea flood the countryside with produce.  We tasted caviar from the Caspian and homemade wines from grapes grown overhead.  We ate familiar and unfamiliar things, discovering that many of the things we prepare for ourselves as Ukrainian-Americans is outdated, regional, or most likely reserved for special occasions.  As anywhere, we discovered a food culture which is far greater than the summary of a few popular dishes.

From my time at the Ukrainian table, both at home with my grandparents and in Ukraine, I know that simple handmade food is best.  In Ukraine, family-style dining is the only style.  Potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, bread, kovbasa, and maslo (butter), are good for you.

While in Ukraine, I stood on chairs at every dining table I visited.  I photographed markets, picnics, parties, and farms.  We dined in homes with family, and prepared simple meals while traveling by rail.  These photos are the result.  This began as a simple project to reveal several memorable and picturesque table settings.  It has become a broad catalogue of our time in Ukraine, and the relation of people and food and family.  It is an exciting reminder of where we are headed in a few weeks.

We begin by visiting my grandfather’s family in Bershad, near Vinnytsia.  There is a great market in Vinnytsia, adjacent to the train station.

Breakfast.

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Lunch, times three. As guests on my birthday, we received overflowing hospitality.

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Two.

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Three.

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Dinner

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When visiting, sometimes you need a snack between meals.

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And a snack between snacks.  When you want to be the best host that you can be, food is essential.  In a country that has experienced shortages and hunger, food is one of the most important things you can give.

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Traveling to Kyiv, thanks to my cousin Yaroslav.  A meal appears out of the trunk of the car.

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Visiting Olya, my mother’s godfathers granddaughter in the suburbs of Kyiv.  Another birthday cake, this one is the popular Kyivski Torte, most notably manufactured by the Roshen chocolate and confections company owned by recently elected President PoROSHENko.

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At the B&B in downtown Kyiv, probiotic yogurt, coffee, rolls, and fruit make a nice breakfast.  Kyiv is a world away from life in the village.  They might as well be separated by 80 years.

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Dining out is the only time we received individual plates of food, although we applied family-style dining rules.

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Great handmade varenyky and bliny at the Pecherska Lavra monastery.

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Picnic on the train, more Euro than Ukrainian.

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Chai, almost always plain black tea, is common.  How many scoops of sugar do you want?  They will look at you strange if you say none.  Some use enough sugar so that the spoon will stand up.

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In Stakhanov, in the far east, we visit my grandmother’s family.  We arrive to a refreshing lunch outdoors in the garden.

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They don’t buy the wine and horilka, but make it at home and reuse old bottles.  The woman in the green dress is like a great-aunt to me, and is reported to have a small business selling homemade horilka.  She’s got to be sure to test her product for quality, even at lunch.

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We enjoy a late dinner outdoors after taking Zhenya to see his first movie at the theater in town.  It is watermelon season, for sure.  Trucks line the roadsides selling melons from down south.

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The next day is structured around a meal at another house down the street.  The table sits beneath a trellis of grapes, next to the root cellar, amidst drying sunflowers.  These people are hardly farmers, but they grow most of their food.

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And make their own drinks to enjoy.

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Three generations.

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Back to Kyiv, via Kharkiv, on the train.  A quick snack in the train station.  Trains operate at maximum occupancy.  While many facilities and trains are old, the stations are gorgeous thanks to Soviet spending.

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Take-out in Kyiv, including traditional Ukrinian dishes and a French baguette.  Incidentally, it is harder to find tradtiionaf food in Kyiv than is it to find some more modern international offerings.  Sushi is immensely popular in the city right now.

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Leaving my parents and my family behind, Lael and I train back to Lviv, to ride our bicycles into the Carpathian Mountains.  We stop in Striij to rejoin Przemek.  He’s already made friends in town.  In fact, he’s made a lot of friends.

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Darts, once the meal has subsided.

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And a little homemade juice for the road.  Thanks Djorka!

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Into the moutnains, we stop at a small farm which serves simple meals.

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Down the road while filling water at a mineralic spring, we are invited to stay with Pavlo and his wife at their summer dacha, about 25 miles up the road.  We arrive to a hot meal of stuffed peppers.  They live full-time in Ivano-Frankivsk, and are lucky enough to have a small summer home in the mountains.

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The most typical Ukrainian breakfast includes buckwheat, prepared with a fried egg and a pickle in this case.  Black tea starts the day.

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While cycling in the mountains, we encounter a couple of young Ukrainian bikepackers.  We share a picnic outside a small shop including pickled fish, cheese, bread, vegetables, and chocolate.

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Returning to Striij, we enjoy one more meal with our friends.  We peel potatoes, cut watermelon and salo (pork fat), and sit under a starry sky.  Nights like this are validating and encouraging, despite occasional challenges on the road.

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Food in Ukraine largely comes from close to home.

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Just out the door.

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Out back.

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In the garden.

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Or out in the fields.

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Drying for later use.

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Underground for much later.

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Brought to the table bit by bit, until hopefully, the next harvest has arrived to replenish the supply.

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From local markets.

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Selling goods from distant regions.

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Or from local producers, selling goods which may be transported around the country, such as these wines from Crimea.

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Chardonnay.

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And horilka, this one made with buffalo grass to produce a lightly sweet flavor.

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In shops it is not uncommon to see an abacus in use, although it appears there is a calculator in case the abacus fails.

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On the trail, it is hard to ignore this bounty of apples.

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Or these honeys and nuts being sold on the roadside.

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Fresh almonds.

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In Crimea, samsa serves as fast food, sold from this wood-fired drum by the roadside.

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It is less than three weeks before our discovery of food continues in Eastern Europe. Oh, and there should be some good riding along the way.

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Interview at The Bicycle Story

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More questions and answers, this time thanks to Josh Cohen of The Bicycle Story.  Curious to know about my next touring bike, where we will be riding later this summer, and how we started touring?  Check out the full interview entitled Nicholas Carman: Pedaling the World as a Gypsy by Trade.

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Photos: Lael Wilcox, Przemek Duszynski, and Nicholas Carman

Ukrainian chickens in Kyiv; August 24, 2013

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On the eve of the celebration of 22 years of Ukrainian independence in Kyiv this past summer, a parade of hand-painted chickens, and one giant egg– the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg, the pysanka— pass though the streets.  Representing the many regions of Ukraine, they represent and exemplify the cultural diversity across the nation.  The day after the procession, the painted hens and the egg rest against a backdrop of grey skies; a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the military hetman of the cossacks; and the gold-domes of the Saint Sofia Cathedral, whose first stones were laid in 1037 under the flourishing Kievan-Rus empire. 

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Two Nights in Kyiv, Ukraine; August 23-24, 2013

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Last summer, Lael and I traced footpaths across Europe by bicycle.  We connected unpaved routes from Amsterdam, Netherlands to the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains near Lviv, Ukraine.  With the exception of a train ride across Germany to shorten our schedule, we rode the whole way and were invested in the subtle changes between places.  For example, glutenous dumplings– called spätzle, knedle, knedliky and varenyky— slowly changed from Alsace in France through Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, and into Ukraine.   At some point in France, we decided that visiting Ukraine was a priority.  Thus, we pointed our tires east.  There’s more to it than dumplings, but I’m glad we did it.

Trending towards the east, my mother decided to visit us and to visit our family in Ukraine.  The last time she had been to Ukraine was in 1977.  Things have changed.  At the time, she was allowed to travel only with a tour operator, and only to the cities of Kyiv and Odessa, as well as to the Russian cities of Moscow and Leningrad.  Several family members traveled great distance by train to meet her in those cities.  Many others remained in the villages, unable to travel for a variety of reasons.  This time, we would travel to meet them.

Lael and I make a plan to leave our bikes in Lviv, take a train to Vinnytsia and then a bus to Bershad to meet my grandfather’s family.  Traveling through Kyiv from New York City, my mom and my brother arrive in Bershad on the same night on a crowded bus from the city.  We spend three days in the small city of Bershad and the village of Romanivka, where my grandfather and his family lived.  Most of this story is told in my post entitled “Romanivka, Ukraine”.  On my birthday, we visit the site of my grandfather’s childhood home, on a farm in the village.  Extended family greets us with a tour of the farm, three meals at three separate houses, and a visit to the cemetery and the church.

Soon, my brother must return to school in Philadelphia and my dad arrives in Kyiv from NYC for the second half of our trip, to visit my grandmother’s family.  Our time in Kyiv coincides with the celebration of twenty-two years of Ukrainian independence, since the fall of the Soviet Union.  We stay at a small B&B near the city center, a block away from the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or the Independence Square.  This is the site of the fiery protests seen in the media only four months later.

For two nights, we enjoy a calm celebratory energy in Kyiv.  Well-dressed families walk the streets and talk, purchasing food and drink from vendors.  Daytime activities and nighttime performances attract many more people to the city center than usual.  Two things are clear after a few nights in Kyiv: Ukrainians love the concept of an independent Ukrainian nation, and, Ukrainians are peaceable en masse.

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A large stage is set at the far end of the square, across Khreshchatyk Street.

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Street musicians share their craft.

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All is calm and the air is cool for a summer night.  Kyiv is the capital and the largest city in Ukraine.  Near the center of the city is likely the most modern and cosmopolitain part of Ukraine.

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My mom and brother are excited to be here.

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My cousin Yaroslav and his girlfriend show us around.  He is from Bershad, but is now a business student in Kyiv.

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Walking towards the Drieper River, we encounter a collage of public art.  This colorful arch rises above a prominent statue celebrating Soviet brotherhood between Ukrainians and Russians.

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Empowering, even through my cynical historical lens.

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Also, a more recent statue of notable Ukrainian figures is featured to the side.  Among them are many writers and artists, and several historical military leaders.

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None of us can figure out where or when or how the technicolor arch originated, but the scene is surreal and awesome.

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Kyiv, like many great cities, is defined and divided by the Dnieper River.  This is the largest river in Ukraine.

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After nearly a week in rural Ukraine, Kyiv is full of surprises, including exquisite public places, ornate churches, and hundreds of sushi restaurants.

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Khreshchatyk Street is closed to motor vehicles for the week.

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On our second night in Kyiv, the party begins with musical performances in the afternoon, escalating with the country’s biggest pop stars in the evening.

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Everyone is happy.  Despite a crowd of thousands and a cultural reputation for alcoholism, the evening is as calm as several thousand people and the best fireworks show I’ve seen could possibly be.  This doesn’t happen in America, at least not anymore.  Next time you think that another country is failing based upon some scale of modernity or economy, remember the simple things they still appreciate, and all the things we’ve lost.  In contrast to Poland, where the economy is growing rapidly, life in Ukraine is simple.  Traditions remain strong.  People grow food.  Rural roads are quiet, relatively few people own cars, and families live together.

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As at the end of a ball game, the crowd disperses immediately after the fireworks display.  We go home for the night.  The streets are quiet once again.

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