Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Finish Line

We made it! Our last day, from Chisinau to Odesa, took 13 hours and 114 miles across three hilly countries. There was absolutely nothing between Chisinau and Odesa -- a couple of gas stations and a couple of borders. We hit the one restaurant in between for lunch. Finally, after 70 km of hilly and hot Ukraine, we powered into beautiful, leafy Odesa. Above, our final destination: atop the famous Potemkin Stairs with the Black Sea in the background.

Our day started at 5 am in Chisinau, Moldova, a country best described by the following license plate:
After a room inspector checked our room for cleanliness - at a hotel! - we were fined three dollars for dirty towels. It was a cool, crisp ride through the ongoing Moldovan hills, until we hit a settlement of temporary buildings: the infamous Transnistria border.

Transnistria is a ridiculous pseudo-country which declared independence in 1992 from Moldova but isn't recognized by any other country. It holds a strategic position, being very skinny but very long, which makes it hard to travel east-west in the region without passing through. This basically boils down to a silly border experience powered by bribery.

Fortunately, one of the big assets to being on a bike is you get to skip the long lines at the border. We rolled in, were interrogated by a likable army officer who asked us if we had porno mags, then were encouraged to give him some beer money. We did so; he refused some of our smaller Moldovan denominations. From there, the immigration officer took me into the back room where he requested a tax for the "office." I showed him the eight dollars I had on my person; he insisted on $80/person. We found middle ground by dumping off some old Romanian lei on him.

From there, we hauled ass through the country. Dusty, hot, lots of military, nothing much to see. Witness me beside a glorious Transistrian tank!

The border with Ukraine was also pretty silly - after skipping the line, I was taken to the back room again, where a Transistrian border official drew a map explaining that it was impossible to go from Moldova, through Transinstria, to Ukraine, and that we were missing some critical passport stamps: "big problem!". I said I was willing to give it a go; they requested a "present," so I gave them a torn $5 bill (which the previous border agent wouldn't accept). The Ukrainian guys let us through in five minutes.

After refueling on the Ukrainian side of the border, which featured some adventures in ordering food off a Cyrillic menu, it was a hot, hilly ride to Odesa. However, the Ukrainians plied us with charm and free fruit. The watermelon man here kept trying to give us more slices.

A few more hills, and we were there. Nothing beats the last five miles pedaling into a major city -- the energy grows, the adrenaline fires, the miles melt away.
Odesa - not bust!

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Marc Bush said...

Matt & David - congratulations and great work on the ride and the blog. Look forward to the book, and the eventual movie version!

- Marc

P.S. Love the 'Odessa or Bust' jerseys!

Andy said...


Pat said...

Congratulations! An interesting trip diary.

Question: Did you lose weight?


Pat said...

Congratulations! An interesting trip diary.

Question: Did you lose weight?


Ruth said...

Hi David -- mazel tov! I didn't find your blog until this week, but I linked it to my jewish heritage travel blog. What's next now?

Ruth Gruber

Andy said...

Mazel Tov and congratulations are definitely in order.

Great job with the travelogue!

Meghan said...

Sounds so amazing! So impressive you guys! congratulations - you have earned that beer and more!

James said...

Congratulations! what's next? A bike across America for Obama?

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