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World Tour 2008 - Week 07 Chapter : 23 Jun ~ 29 Jun 2008




It's Week 07 of the World Tour 2008.  For our four first-timers, at week's end, it'll be almost 50 days since arrival in Beijing.  For the rest (who started out on the Japan Hanami Tour), it'll be almost since goodbyes were said and hugs exchanged with family and friends at home.


Our week begins with the first border crossing in a long time, from Russia into Ukraine.  Our first taste of the Russian Riviera in Anapa is a pale comparison to what awaits the group in the Black Sea resorts of Yalta and Odessa, where sun TANNING lotion reigns supreme, and sun-block is almost unheard of.  From Odessa, we travel to the capital city of Kiev, then from Kiev to to Lviv.


From Lviv, we cross our second border for the week into Poland, and a much-anticipated three-day layover in one of Europe's most enjoyable cities, Krakow.


One more week to go. . . .


Mike M. Paull - Guide



Day 43 - 23 Jun 2008 - Yalta, Ukraine - Mike M. Paull

Our crossing from Russia to Ukraine is by ferry, from Chuska, the western terminus of Russian National Highway M-25, across to Kerch in Ukraine.


Two years ago, we staged a protest and blocked the ferry, as the Russians manning the border post tried to extract a four-figure bribe due to "irregularities" in our paperwork, paperwork that had been created and issued by their counterparts way back when we first entered Russia in Zabaikalsk.


Our policy is simple, we don't pay bribes.  Instead, the grouped moved their bikes to the front of the boarding line and blockaded the ferry, no one could board.  After several tense hours of threats from the police and military,, the border past backed-down, the final members of our group were released (Helge was one of those being detained!), and we made the crossing.


What a difference two years can make!  I was understandably concerned when our guide informed me that the Customs officer said "I remember you" when it was my turn to clear.  However, this time around, though "the procedures" seemed to take infinitely longer than necessary, our group was processed through without any drama.


The ferry itself flies under Ukrainian colors.  Instead of the usually reserved and oft-times dour attitude of Russian workers, the Ukrainian crew was a fairly jolly lot.  One tried to interest the group in a freshly painted "genuine German WWII helmet" for "only" 150 Euro (about $220.00 US Dollars!), though he quickly dropped the price in half when there were no takers. He turned out to be a poor capitalist when he declined to trade his helmet for mine (as mine cost over twice his original asking price <g>).  The other deck hands spent the crossing examining and discussing the bikes and accessories, and all studied our pannier stickers, which display a map of our end-to-end route.


It took us around 5 hours to process through on the Russian side, and another 3 to 4 to do the same in Ukraine.  For the adventurer, patience is not merely a virtue, it is a requirement.



With the Patience of a Saint.



Day 00 - 00 XXX ~ 00 XXX 2008 - City, Country - Author



We departed Russia at the edge of the Black Sea and entered the Ukraine.  What a noticeable change in the scenery and in the people.  Much more of a Mediterranean look and feel from the land and the people.  Our border crossing was long but uneventful.  It did make our ride into Yalta another night ride.  The road to Yalta is through some of the most beautiful country I have ever ridden so it was frustrating for us all to have to do it at night.  I think we will need to change this itinerary so that we ride this stretch of coast line and hills in daylight.  A must do ride again and again.


Yalta is a tourist seaside town with much history, beautiful buildings and seaside hills.  We are there just before the wave of tourists hit which is quite nice.  We didn’t have much time to see Odessa and Kiev so I want to go back and spend a few days exploring what seem like some very interesting cities.  Lviv, Ukraine is our exit point to Poland and the EU.  We were prioritized through the Ukraine/Poland border and it still required almost 5 hours. 


The entry into Poland was as dramatic as our transition from Russia to Ukraine.  The roads are better, the country side closer-in and beautiful.  Krakow is a welcome three night stay with some very nice sight-seeing walking in the Old Town area.  It was interesting to learn that there are more Polish citizens in America than there are in all of Krakow.  A significant problem as Poland needs skilled workers to grow and prosper.



Cheers for now,




Day 48 - 28 Jun 2008 - Near Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland

Although we take it for granted today (or, carefully watch our daily consumption of it), wars have been fought over the common element we call salt.  At one time, soldiers were paid in it.  Even today, salt is used to purify the ring in sumo wrestling, and small bowls of salt or placed at the entrance to shrines and ryokan and restaurants in Japan.


Near Krakow is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although mining was suspended in 1996, this massive mine had been in operation since the 13th century.  Reaching a depth of 330 meters (1,082 feet), over 300 kilometers were tunneled out over i's active existence; 3.5 kilometers (2.17) are still open for tours today.


Over 1 million people visit the mine annually, and our tour members joined in during our extended layover in Krakow.  The initial descent into the mines begins with 400 steps down to the 150 meter (500 foot) level.  Fortunately, the ride back up is by elevator!




Entrance/ticket office to the mines, with a giant knight-in-armor outside that I can only assume is there purely as an attention-getter.

Massive timbers hold back the immense weight of the surrounding earth.  Over time, salt is drawn into the wood, making it incredibly hard.

Equally stout bracing is required for stairways and landings.

Descending into the deep mine is pretty dramatic.

Some of the "passages" are huge.

A ballroom carved out of hundreds of feet below ground level, with chandeliers also made of ... salt!

Displays depicting salt mining abound.

Artificial lighting makes for a dramatic photo op.

Remember, pretty much everything you see has been patiently carved over the years from salt by volunteer carvers.

Bas relief carvings are pretty intricate.

A 3D rendering of The Last Supper.

A cathedral in the mines.

Close-up of a salt crystal chandelier.


A self-portrait of one of the most prolific carvers.



Day 49 - 29 Jun 2008 - Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, Poland

Those members of the World Tour who began on the Japan Hanami Tour had the somber opportunity to visit the A Bomb Museum and Park in Hiroshima, Japan, where the US Air Force dropped the first atomic bomb in the closing days of WWII.  An even more chilling immersion in man's inhumanity awaited us 50 kilometers (32 miles) from Krakow in our visit to the Holocaust site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Third Reich's concentration camps.


The horror of nuclear warfare lies in the immediate and immense destructive power of a weapon.  The horror of the Third Reich's genocide lies in the planned torture, starvation, murder and cremation of an estimated 1.5 million human beings from 1942 to 1945.

Prisoners, as many as 20,000 each day, arrived from German-occupied Europe by rail.

The main station house of the rail yards.

The infamous entry gate, crowned with the phrase "Arbeit macht frei" (Work Will Make You Free).

Double rows of electrified barbed-wire fences surrounded the prisoner's barracks.

Empty canisters of the pelletized Zyklon B cyanide gas used in the "showers" where most children women, disabled, and elderly men were gassed.

Cups and dishes confiscated from prisoners.


Prosthetics from disabled prisoners.

Footwear. . . .

Luggage. . . .

Toilet and washing facilities.

Bunks, mostly for able-bodied men, who worked in arms factories.

The dreaded cremation ovens.



Images from the World Tour 2008


Because he was forced to take accordian lessons as a child, Mike Paull's least favorite instrument is the accordian, but this classical quartet playing in the Market Square in Krakow might change even his mind.  The hear a snippet of their music, please click here or the photo above (photo and snippet courtesy of Dan Townsley).



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