Eurotour 2019

The New 2019 Years chapter has started. Happily I grab a pen and title the first page with “Marathon de Paris”. I’ve planned a family trip, where me, my brother and mom will travel to Paris by car, driving through Poland 🇵🇱 Germany 🇩🇪Belgium 🇧🇪and France 🇫🇷. We will be making stops along the way to meet my old friends and visit new places. Three of us will get a chance to see the Eiffel Tower and explore the city of love together, sharing our emotions and thoughts. We will have approximately 5,500 km to talk about all the things I’ve missed while chasing my dreams in the foreign countries, far away from home. We will reunite and strengthen the family bond between us three. It will be the first time I have my family cheering up for me at the finish line of the Paris marathon. 

Day 1

Woke up exhausted but excited about what’s coming. The amount of stress is peaking as I’ve taken a lot on myself, organizing and planning our family trip through the Europe. Approximately 5,000 kilometers are to be explored in the next few days. 
For the past 2 days, I’ve been sensing a weird tension between my mom and me. I initiated an intimate conversation with her to address my feelings. This eliminated misunderstandings that could’ve grown into something bigger. We clearly communicated our feelings, which I consider a great success as it made us both feeling better. Now we’re ready for adventure!

My godfather Nicola expressed the interest in traveling with us. Without thinking twice, I agreed to make a loop through Hanover 🇩🇪, helping him with his personal business. He’s funny and kind man, always joking and telling stories from his childhood. Me and him would switch driving whenever we get tired and sleepy. 
During one of those rotations I noticed an interesting thing. When got on the back seat to rest my mom offered to put my head on her laps so I can lay down. During one hour that I was asleep my heart rate dropped down to 36 beats per minute (my regular resting heart rate is 41-43). I felt like I slept for 5 minutes only. 
Approaching Poland border my godfather made sure we made mandatory stop at Duty Free store. According to him, two bottles of vodka he got, will serve as a medicine to improve his health and well-being. Can’t refuse to stop when it comes to his health. 
Crossing the border totally changed my plans, setting me onto a new trajectory for this trip and essentially for life…

At the border

Miss Olga, where are you traveling? – Immigration officer asked. To France! – She responded confidently.

Non gonna happen… my mother is not permitted to enter European Union through the Poland border due to the passport issues. She is forced to leave the vehicle and being deported back to Ukrainian territory. I hugged my mother and she walked away accompanied by border patrol personnel. 
Car stereo is off. Smiles are wiped off our faces. Months of hard Marathon training lost its value. In instant, time, money and effort I put into pursuing my dreams depreciated in the face of decision I’m about to make. The eyes across are full of fear, looking at me silently with a big questioning mark… There is no one else, besides myself to ask for help or advice. Within next few minutes I’m required to make a though decision which I am not ready for. No matter what I choose to do next, the relationship with the person I love so much, who gave me birth, will not be the same. I am given a power to change trajectory of life for my little brother as I set a benchmark of action and decision making in critical situations like this. 
Sasha, what to do? Will you look back with a sense of regret or pride? If you die tomorrow, how will your family remember you?

Day 2: Germany-> Belgium-> France 🏁

Despite the fact that my mother was deported back to Ukraine I made a decision to continue with the trip. It didn’t come easy and I left Poland in pieces. Having two drivers allowed us to cover about 1500 km in one day, meeting a sunrise in Germany 🇩🇪. We spent almost the entire day in Hanover running back and forth helping my godfather. However when the job was done I got really happy to get back on the road, with only me and Stephan in the car. 
To split the long leg of driving to Paris I made a stop in Liège, Belgium 🇧🇪. Saint Paul Liège Cathedral made a strong impression on both of us. What an amazing piece of architecture. The town itself is so beautiful, with its tiny streets and cute little cafes put back to back offering a vast variety of drinks and food. This is the town where I first tried the fried chestnut “Marrons” 🌰. I felt in love with it from the first bite. Sooooo freaking good! 
Back on the road. Covering the remaining distance to France, me and Stepan had a really good conversation we both enjoyed. I’ve said a lot, and he heard me. Tomorrow is the day I’ve been working so hard towards… I need to get my shit together. 

Race Day 🇫🇷

First time in past 6 days I got to sleep more than 5 hours. Marathon starts at 8:45, so I woke up at 4:30 to give myself enough time to get ready. 
Arriving at 6:30 am I got confused as the venue was dead empty. No people or signs of upcoming event. I anxiously starred in my phone, checking the address and contact info. 
A little cafe across the street lighted up, showing the sign of life. A guy opened the doors and began preparing his business for opening. I ran up to him saying “Bonjur Sir! Do you speak English?” The response was negative. Do you know anything about the marathon? Running? Yes, Yes! he responded and I felt a huge relief. He pointed towards the narrow street and said something about the stadium and 5 minutes walk. It was enough.
I then asked if I can get a cup of coffee at his place and he invited me inside. It was the best 3 euro I spent on coffee as I got a chance to hear his family’s story and see the place inside out.

His name is Boris, and the restaurant was his farther’s legacy that he got shortly after he recently passed away. Boris, in the past mechanic, moved here from downtown Paris to continue his father’s business. He loves to play golf and race his Yamaha dirt bike. He is really passionate about every little detail in the cafeteria he now owns, as it all reminds him of his dad. Two policemen helmets, he pointed at, represented the history of serving the country as jandarme by his father and grandfather. The amount of family pictures spread through the walls, would keep you engaged for hours. The place had no single modern piece of electronics and it seemed like I got inside time machine that brought me at least a hundred years back. Boris proudly put his hand on a blander manufactured in 1930, which definitely added to the charm of this unique place. 
Cheers! We finished our coffees and I left the place, heading towards the “stadium”.

Venue took place at the sports complex with hot drinks and even live music. I got my bib and started to prepare for the race.
Standing at the front line of the start line I got a good vision of the road ahead of me. 3…2…1… and we all set our bodies into motion.

1st MARATHON DE FRANCE race recap can be found here.

Day 4. Paris🇫🇷

I absolutely loved Paris. Every street is unique hosting the cutest cafes and restaurants. Beautiful happy people exploring the city impressed by its architecture and colors not less than me. 

At some point, walking around the city I felt a weird feeling that something is off, something was missing. With the speed of the lightning strike I realized what’s missing. Despite the fact that streets of downtown Paris were flooded with cars, motorcycles and bicycles, I haven’t heard a single car honking. No one got mad at each other behind the steering wheel. Wow😮

I was impressed by the amount of motorcycles and bicycles around the city. Every street has designated line for cyclists. This might be my paradise. 

On the flip side are the prices. “Gasole” – Diesel fuel and gasoline are crazy expensive compared to Germany, Poland or even Ukraine. Groceries are really expensive as well, forcing you think twice before putting that fruit or vegetable into the cart. 

Overall I left under a really good impression of France and Paris specifically. I will definitely come back to explore the city as I feel like I only tapped into the tip of the iceberg. 

Eiffel Tower

It was December 2017, when I set a goal to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I don’t know why, I just thought it would be really cool to see it with my own eyes. Indeed it was cool!

I could not believe I am standing in front of it. It’s gorgeous! It’s unbelievable! It’s bright! It’s so fucking cool! I have experienced what Daniel Goleman called in his book “Emotional Intelligence “, an “emotional flooding”. I am standing right in front of the Eiffel Tower in the heart of Paris. My brother is by my side, sharing this lifetime experience with me. Holly smokes am I lucky?!

You know, a lot of times the things you see in the movies, look way cooler than in real life. It is not the case! If you haven’t seen the Tower with your own eyes, I strongly suggest that you make an effort to do so. I’m still under the impression, carrying euphoric feelings I caught in Paris. I will definitely come back for more!

Notre-Dame de Paris & Louvre

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is my favorite cartoon of the childhood. I was amazed by the attention to the smallest details of this historical place. It gave me chills realizing how much history it carries within. How much work and energy has been put into raising this building. 

Standing inside the Notre-Dame I was imagining the hunchback anxiously running through tight hallways on his way upstairs to ring the bells. The air is electrolyzed here. Every brick in the wall is priceless. 

15 minutes is how much time you get before you experience another emotional flood. 15 minutes away by feet you get access to another place you absolutely must see – The Louvre. I didn’t get a chance to dive in inside but even just being there gave me chills. Details, details and more details. It’s incredible how much attention has been put into the smallest things. Not a single thing, a statue repeats itself and completely made from scratch by hand. Bravo! 

Day 5: Munich 🇩🇪

This is where I’ve met a buddy of mine whom I haven’t seen in 7 years. When I told him I’ll be driving through Munich, he nicely offered to drop the heat at his place. Oleg been living and working in Germany for the past 4 years, and definitely have few interesting insights to share about German culture, traditions, people and just his overall experience living there.

He is a beer fan so guess where he took us out? We went straight to German pub for a glass of traditional local drink and a great conversation. 

2.80 euro opens up the underground gates leading to subway station. The few stations that I saw, were really tidy and clean. Munich subway also seemed to be not too deep as I didn’t even loose the LTE cellular service while on the train. An interesting thing, when the train stops, to get out you have to open the doors manually. Without knowing that, I guarantee you will miss your station, waiting the doors open manually. 

20 minutes later, we found ourselves on the main square of Munich – Marienplatz. Wow! The first word I dropped seeing massive gothic buildings all around me. Hundreds of high end shops and restaurants light up Marienplatz better than anything else. Stepan look! There is a guy selling fried chestnuts 🌰. Money doesn’t matter when it comes to “Maroni”. 5 euro? Not a problem! Just give me that 15 pieces of heaven.

“Cheers for meeting!” – we each raised a glass of local brew (12 euro total). The beer was good, so good that Stepan finished both, his and mine =) I’ll be teasing him for a while.

It’s safe here, Oleg started. Going out at night, I feel secure. It is wild to see people fist fight at the pubs or night clubs in civilized country like Germany. People don’t get robbed. 

Grocery stored are closed early. It’s a problem to buy produce after 8 pm, therefore you better plan ahead what you will need for a week. 

Germans prefer to hang out within closed circles of people they call friends. This makes it a bit challenging to fit into the group and blend in.

A lot of people are smoking here. Unfortunately, a huge portion of them consists from females. When it comes to intimate relationships, just like for me, Oleg sees it as a dealbreaker. Girls here also have a strong need for independency, which could be perceived as the obstacle by many Ukrainian/Russian males.  

Overall Germany appeared as a great country to live at. Roads are perfect, gas and groceries are cheap, quality of life is high. Munich is an active, beautiful city, offering a lot of things to do to a lot of visitors and residents. I liked Germany!

Day 6. Wroclaw, Poland 🇵🇱

Leaving Germany the weather sucked and it snowed the entire time. However I relatively easy put 550 km on odometer, finding myself and Stepan in Wroclaw. 

Few words about Poland and my impression of it. I perceived this county as something similar to Ukraine. I was wrong. Life quality is waaaay higher. Groceries are cheaper than in Ukraine, Germany and especially France; Gas and Diesel is cheaper as well; Streets are clean with bicycle lanes; A lot of expensive cars on the road; A lot of construction throughout the city indicating the growth; Even being located within close distance to Ukraine, the weather is 5-7 degrees warmer, making Wroclaw ideal for running and cycling in winter time; And the last thing- a lot of pretty young girls consist the city population. 

I understand that every place has its own issues, however I’ve got a really good first time impression of the city of Wroclaw and Poland in general. My friends are really happy to be able to live and work in the neighbor country and share my positive thoughts about it. 

Serioga – a buddy of mine lives and works in Wroclaw. We share so many great memories growing up in our hometown Zhitomir. No matter how tired I am, stopping in Poland to see him is absolute must. 

Serioga and his wife Irina met us really warm. We felt welcomed and taken care of. He cooked delicious dinner, also considering my healthy food choices. I am impressed, bravo 👏 

Thank you guys! It was really nice to meet you. 

Day 7. Lviv, Ukraine 🇺🇦

My Eurotour has come to the end…

Not just yet. Lviv – the city of lion 🦁 located on the western part of Ukraine, close to the border with Poland. It is one of the most amazing cities in my home country that I’ve never been to. 

My mom wasn’t able to join me and my brother in Europe, therefore I felt I had to make an effort to compensate for the time we’ve been apart. Meet me in Lviv!

Leaving Poland and entering Ukrainian border was easy and fast. Totally different experience from what I’ve had on the way there. Few hours later I got squeezed in my mother’s tight hug. We made it, we back home. 

I never skip workouts and traveling is not and excuse to break the rule. 6 am: I’m wide awake searching for nearby lap swimming pools. “Outdoor swimming pool “ is located in Lviv. Quick weather check, negative 8 outside the window. Hmmmm…. interesting how this pool look like and what’s the water temperature in it in the middle of Ukrainian winter❄️. 

50 meter, 8 lanes of clear blue warm water surrounded by ice and snow. Holly smokes this is so awesome! Water temperature is 26-27 degrees Celsius, raising so much steam that it’s hard to see farther than your nose. I was impressed. 

The city is gorgeous and the best way to explore it is by feet. Even the laziest person will easily put 20-30k steps walking around the city. January is also the time of Christmas market, where you can try so much different foods and even by yourself a pair of real wool handmade socks to keep yourself warm while in Ukraine. Telling you from own experience, it was one of the best purchases I ever made😁

It was really nice to see Matthew my best friend, whom I grew up with. He made the city of Lion his temporary home.

We both changed quite a bit, however warm childhood memories remain fresh, not rusted by time and distance. Meeting with people that have known you for so long gives you the sense of change you underwent. 

Matthew served as our personal guide, keeping us engaged with the stories and interesting facts about the new city. He has always been a great friend of mine and always will. I’m really proud of you for all the things you have accomplished and all the great things that are waiting ahead of you. I’m sure we will get a chance to travel and experience the world together and I am really looking forward to it. Take care buddy. 

All three of us had an amazing time in Lviv. The best part of this trip was the fact that we finally were side by side and had a privilege to share the same experience of traveling and discovering new places together. 

Bonus Tip

Being constantly side by side for so long brings some challenges associated with misunderstanding and simply getting tired from one another. Even such patient person as my brother can give a crack while being with me for so long. You can find a key to everyone’s heart and here is the approach I used to smooth our mini-fights and eliminate any grudges that arose during our vacation: