August 27, 2006 GMT
ROMANIA: Article

We met and travelled with a journalist Mike Carter from London writing stories once a week for the Observer Guardian newspaper and this is what he wrote, thought you might like it!!


"Travels through a midlife crisis

Mike Carter's motorcycle odyssey gets tangled up in red tape at the Ukrainian border, and he is forced to face up to his anti-social tendencies

Sunday August 20, 2006
The Observer


'You don't need a visa for Ukraine. Not since they hosted the Eurovision Song Contest,' some guy I'd only just met in a London pub told me during the minutes of intensive research I carried out for this trip. I didn't question his sources - after six pints it seemed entirely feasible.
But now, standing at the Ukrainian border, it occurs to me that perhaps I should have at least checked, because the heavily armed Homo sovietus is waving his big stick at me and telling me, in no uncertain terms, to clear off back to Hungary. 'But everything's cool since Eurovision,' I am telling him. And, in context, it is perhaps the most surreal thing I've ever said.
'Visa, no problem,' he is saying. 'Photocopy of motorbike registration document is problem. You need original.'
'But this is the original,' I say, waving my photocopy at him and thinking about the crisp original, filed neatly at home. 'No,' he says, and I am thinking that this is what happens in Ukraine, that everybody is corrupt, because pub guy said that too, and all I have to do is slip him a few dollars and doors - or in this case barriers - will open.
But behind Homo sovietus is a big sign warning of the dire consequences of bribing an official. And although pub guy would doubtless be surreptitiously handing over the money, he is almost certainly still in a pub in London and not risking an interminable spell in a Ukrainian jail.
So I turn my bike around and head past the queue of cars, back across the river on the bridge of shame, eyes burning into me, and I am transported back to being a 16-year-old in Birmingham, and Boogies nightclub, when the bouncers said my shoes were the wrong colour, or something, and it's funny how rejection never seems to get any easier, even if it's the delights of Chernobyl, and not grab-a-granny night, that you're missing out on.
My travelling companions of the past week, an Aussie couple on a Yamaha, are also riding back across the bridge. 'Our documents are fine but we need a visa,' Patrick and Belinda are telling me, and I'm feeling guilty, because it was me who persuaded them to come to Ukraine, and it is only now occurring to me that Australia doesn't do Eurovision.
So we head off towards Romania to try our luck getting in there. Ever since I met Pat and Belinda in southern Poland, riding with them over the Tatra mountains, through Slovakia and Hungary, life on the road has been immeasurably easier. They are a fantastic couple and terrific company, with an easy, enduring relationship that has gone some way to altering my latterly acquired cynical views of marriage. There's a dynamic to travelling with others that utterly changes the experience. There's the framework of consensus, an external validity to your journey, no more solo breakfasts and dinners and, of course, someone to tell you when you're starting to smell. Somehow a beautiful landscape shared with another, even in a wordless exchange, exists permanently in a way that as a sole witness it doesn't.
But as we ride on, I am thinking that I want to be off on my own again. This voice is annoying because it doesn't make any sense at all. Just what is so wrong with easy?
And, for some reason, an image comes into my mind of a group photograph taken when I was aged four at nursery school, where I am standing at the edge of the frame, slightly apart from the other children. As I start mentally flicking through the group photos of my life, it's nearly always the same, a leitmotif: always at the edge, always apart, them and me. If there's one thing I'd like to change, this might be it. But how?
Ultimately, Romania makes the travelling decision for me. Pat and Belinda need a visa, which they don't have, and I'm thinking there must be a pub guy in northern Queensland too, as I head off alone in the rain towards Transylvania."

Posted by Patrick Peck at August 27, 2006 01:59 PM GMT
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