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The road to our last stop-over before Sighisoara took us through all that we loved in Transylvania, riding on tracks through the fields and woodland, past meadows of wild flowers, deer tracks, terra cotta villages nestling between the hills, and sheep and cows ringing their bells, and bees buzzing lazily in last warm rays of the summer sunshine.

We were riding towards the Siebenburgen area, which had until recently been the home of Romania's Saxons who moved there at the request of King Geza the Second in the twelfth century to provide a buttress against the onslaughts of the Ottomans. Here the Saxons lived, maintaining their own distinct culture and way of life until the 1989 revolution in Romania. After… view more »

Transylvania and fresh blood

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

After Stephen and Brian had set off on the night train to Bucharest to travel back to New York and Moscow, respectively, we prepared for the arrival of new flesh n' blood for our entry into Transylvania.

For the last week on the road, our new guests were my cousins Ghislaine and Liz, and a friend from the UK, Natalie. How would the first female guests during this ride manage with the long rides, the camping, the Transylvanian storms?

Our female guests were very pleased after arrival at Cluj Napoca to be welcomed to a Lippizaner stud farm, home to the lesser known black Lipizzaners, which left Liz wondering whether she might introduce this breed to West Malling.

After a night at… view more »

And so the crossing from Ukraine to Romania took us from North to South Bucovina, which is the most northerly part of Romania's Moldova, not to be confused with the independent Moldova. Confused? It is easily done. Why? Ask Stalin.

Bucovina means land of the beech woods and South Bucovina certainly lived up to its name as we rode through the gentle foothills of the Romanian Carpathians. Enormous beech trees provide dappled shade from the mid-August sun.

While waiting for two new guests to join, Robert and I explored the Putna monastery, resting place of Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), one of Romania's greatest heroes, having won almost every one of over 30 battles and named by Pope Sixtus IV as… view more »

Moonshine in the mountains

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Being somewhat ahead of schedule, we decided to spend a few days high in the mountains with Slavik's extended family. Maria, Ivan, Vasily and Vanya decamp to the high mountain pastures in May and remain there until September with about 80 cows.

Their daily routine is a hard one of early morning milking, evening milking and in between producing salty and bitter Brinza cheese. If the weather in the valleys is hot and humid, high up in the mountains, you feel very exposed to the elements. It is cooler up here and the skies crackle and rumble with thunder, lightening. Thick fog descends rapidly and is burnt away equally rapidly by the fierce sun. Nights are cold. Washing is in cold… view more »

For the past few days, we have been riding higher and higher into the Ukrainian Carpathians as we make our way towards the Romanian border. This journey has brought us higher and higher into pine-scented wooded mountain valleys where the imprint of the Soviet Union and modern technology is less and less detectable.

Slavik, our Hutsul guide, has been extremely happy to be returning to Hutsulschina, the land of the Hutsuls. This is a land of wooden huts, sheep and cattle farming where locals where traditional dress made of wool and cotton shirts with hand-embroidered collars. The blue green alpine rivers rush over pebbles are full of trout and the mountain air is warm and fresh.

The Hutsuls, who only number about… view more »

It was such a relief when Robert and I left the baking heat of the vast sun-drenched Ukrainian plains to enter the shady cobbled streets of Lviv. This felt like the Europe that I know and love!

Our horses would be stabled out of town for a day or so to allow us to rest our weary legs and enjoy the luxuries of running hot water and a bed each.

We were both walking rather like cowboys and our comfortable riding clothes now looked out of places in this oasis of urban sophistication. We felt (and looked) very much like country bumpkins entering this elegant city of Baroque and Renaissance facades. The bitter sweet smell of ground coffee and freshly… view more »

And so while the conflict rages in the East over a thousand kilometers from here, the locals of Western Ukraine are determined to maintain their passion for life. It is a land that Nikolai Gogol would recognise, but in contrast to his quote in the title, there is no need to ask for anything. Locals are intent on feeding us with hearty meaty dishes and providing us with potent distillations to "fortify the mind, avoid the summer colds and enjoy a vigorous life for many years to come".

While riding through a village on the way to Kremenets, we stopped to chat to a group of ladies busily painting their local church for a forthcoming religious festival. Surrounded by fields of… view more »

Inside Ukraine ...

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

It was with more than a little trepidation that I crossed into Ukraine. The terrible conflict in the East of the country is the prevailing image of Ukraine today, but Andriy, my guide in Ukraine, reassured me that the West of Ukraine was calm. And so it is. We would be starting the ride from Dolsk near the Belarussian border, over 1,000 km from the war zone. When I cross into Romania in August, we will still be over 1,000 from Kharkov and Slavyansk.

It is haymaking time in Western Ukraine, and the golden fields are full of men, women and children turning the hay in the sun and loading up their hay carts for their plump horses to trot back… view more »

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A night at a country dacha

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

As we rode nearer to Pinsk (the capital of the Polesiye region), the boggy countryside gave way to fields, drainage canals, and an enormous reservoir at "Veluta": legacies of the grand work plans of the Soviet period.

We passed large herds of Friesan cows, some of which tried to charge us in a very ungainly way with their full udders swinning back and forth, tipping them off balance. Sunburnt shepherds on horseback admired our horses and were keen to engage us in conversation, although they didn't have much to say when we stopped. During their long days in the field with nothing but cigarettes, bread and sausage, they just seemed keen to have someone around.

Although during the past few days… view more »

"Englishman like (sic) to ride horssssz!?" asked Nadia with an twinkling smile and a tone that made this seem like half question, half command! I almost expected her to add "Mr Bond" to the end of the sentence. This was not to the time, I decided, to explain the difference between England and Wales.

Nadia had the twinkling eyes of a Bond girl, and had learned her very clipped English on safari in Rajastan. She trotted past on her black and white Bashkirian mare and spent the next hour bobbing up and down in the saddle before me while I tried to catch snatches of the conversation that she spoke with a smile and a laugh, mostly into the breeze… view more »

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