Moldova was not on my original list of countries that I had planned to visit but there I discovered the most friendly people I've come across so far. Many people stopped to talk to me to find out what I was doing and where I was going and not one of them ended the conversation asking for money which had been my experience in the previous couple of countries. The border crossings into Moldova and Ukraine went pretty smoothly despite being warned that I may not be able to cycle through either and may need to pay someone a princely sum to give me a lift across in the van. Happily I cycled through the Moldovan border without any problems and then I was allowed to push but definitely not ride my bike into Ukraine. I didn't understand the logic to that rule but was pleased just to get through without any hassle.
I had also been warned about the roads in Ukraine but found them to be some of the best roads to cycle along during my trip so far. They are generally fairly quiet, wide and are lined with trees often 10m or so deep which provides some shade, shelter from the wind and plenty of ideal places to camp. The only downside is that their approach to hills is one that my legs soon grew weiry of: find the shortest and therefore steepest way to the top and try to go over as many as you can.
I've been trying to learn a little of each language I come across and before leaving Iasi I had written out some basic Ukrainian phrases to learn so that I don't look like a total plonker walking into shops unable to even say hello. Unfortunately I wrote my shopping list on the back of it and discovered just before getting to Ukraine that I had thrown this away after buying my toothpaste and chocolate buscuits. I was therefore reduced to a performing, lycra wearing weirdo trying to explain that the water I wanted should be without gas in it which wasn't always successful.
I was greeted in Rzhyschiv, a town about an hour's drive south of Kiev, by a friendly welcoming party gathered together by Simeon Ewing, a friend from university now living in Ukraine, where I spent the week swimming in murky water, hoovering walls and ceilings, discovering the games you can play with bottle tops and Metro tokens, learning how to ask for still water in a less dramatic fashion and most importantly enjoying the company of some wonderful people which I know I will really miss as I head on through Russia.
The day I had been dreading most before I started my trip was the day that I would be trying to enter Russia. I have heard so many stories about all the potential difficulties that may occur and was expecting a long day of intimidating policeman questioning what I was doing and carrying. As it turns out, it was one of the most relaxed border crossings I've had so far. The migration card that I had to fill out I didn't complete fully as I asked a question to the police and he just said don't worry, stamped it and waved me through. At customs I was expecting a thorough grilling and bag search but the policeman just smiled and wished me well on my journey. The only thing I wasn't expecting was having to stay in a hotel that night in order to register in Russia as I had read previously that I would have three days to do this. I found a cheap hotel off the main road not far across the border where no English was spoken. It is not one that must recieve many tourists as I don't think the manager had ever completed a registration form before. I thought that I had been super organised and had 'can you register me' written out in Russian which I showed her when I arrived. She said yes and after I had settled in she brought a reciept for my stay thinking this was what I wanted. What followed was one of the hardest charades I've ever tried to perform in my life explaining that I needed to be registered. I thought I'd failed as she went away looking like she hadn't understood but 20 minutes later she returned with a tatty form which looked like the sort of thing I was expecting to have completed. Hopefully I've now got enough paperwork for them to let me out of the country again.
Reaching Moscow has brought me a great sense of relief, not just because it has provided me a short break from the long straight roads, the mosquitos and the saddle sores, but because this is the minimum distance after which my trip would no longer be a total failure if I abandoned it and went home. Although the thought of sitting with a cup of tea on my comfortable sofa watching the start of Wimbledon next week sounds very appealing at times, I'm not ready to stop and I'm starting to dream of going further than South Korea. The small matter of the Trans-Siberian Highway lies ahead which may well cause these dreams slide more into the realms of nightmares but I'm going to get to China before making a decision on which way to go. Before I started this trip Moscow seemed so far away from Aberdeen but as I glance at my little map of the world seeing how much further Mongolia is, Europe doesn't feel so big anymore.