Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chooo Chooooooooo

By now we have spent about 44 hours on trains in the last few weeks which has been pretty full on. All overnight trains, the first two we took first class and the last two second.
First class cabins are for two people which is perfect for us, your bunk is already made and the loos aren't too bad. It was a good way to go for us being new here, relatively luxurious really.
Second class holds four people, you hire sheets and make your bunk up yourself and by the end of the journey the loos are for emergencies only.
On our first second class trip from Odesa to Lviv we shared with a couple called Pavel (Paul) and Olga who both had some English which was great. Paul was from Prague and Olga from Odesa but living in Prague. They cracked out the wine (from Crimea, more of a port than anything) and food (Olga's mother's Paella made with mussels Paul caught off Odesa hmmm) and were so generous we felt bad for only having cheese, bread and juice to share.
We had a great time talking to them both and learning a few odds and bods about Ukraine, such as why every single man seems to be called Sasha, turns out it is a shortening of Alexander which is a very common name, seems every man in the country shares the name.
Half way through the Paella Paul pulled a tiny pearl out of his mussel which was pretty cool. We have a funny feeling we may have ingested one or two ourselves.
On our second shared trip we had a couple of fellows early in the trip who looked like they had never clapped eyes on a set of backpackers then a lovely lady called Elina who had very little English but flicked through our phrase book for ages to make conversation. Turns out she is a single mother who is a soldier at the local airport, we have her address now so we may have to polish up our written Ukrainian.
The whole train thing has been quite an exciting process really, something we had planed for a long time and to have everything work out was wonderful.
Photo: Adam keeping busy playing snakes and ladders on the train (sorry it is sideways, we have no way of turning it)

Catch up time...

We arrived in Sevastopol and decided to head to the centre for tea, simple enough if you possess a sense of direction which in this case we did not.
After some time wandering about in dodgy seeming, unlit areas with ankle breaking footpaths and passing several donkeys on stairways we got back to where we started and set out again, this time remembering our sense of direction.
By the time we ended up getting in to the city we were that knackered we used fallback option No. 1. McDonalds. Tasty.
The next day we headed out to a town called Bachaysaray to visit a Khan's Palace and Chufut Kale, an ancient cave city carved into a mountain. It was so much fun exploring all the caves with absolutely no direction or safety whatsoever. A few times we would find the caves leading straight into a sheer cliff face, lucky it wasn't a clumsy day. It was a brilliant day though, so much fun.
The following day we began our epic train journey to Lviv via Odesa. From Sevastopol we grabbed an overnight train to Odesa where after failing to find a place to stay we decided to make it a day trip and continue on to Lviv that night, i don't really know what frame of mind we were in at the time but that is a lot of train travel!!
Odesa itself was a magical place, it just seemed to have something about it which made it appealing to us. Whether or not this was because it contained our fallback option No. 2, an Irish pub or because the whole town was clean, vibrant and just plain nice.
One thing we noticed about Odesa was the massive amount of street sweepers. Not the kind you drive but men, women and children with homemade brooms made out of sticks doing there best to keep the streets clean.
The street sweeping practice we had already noticed elsewhere and had raised the question of priorities. Why employ so many people to sweep some of the worst footpaths and roads we had ever seen? Wonder what sort of frenzy there is in the peak of Autumn?
We then headed to Lviv, but we may just expand a little on our rail adventures first...
Photos: Cheese market in Odesa, Chufut Kale


The people we have met during the last three weeks have been a real mix. We have run the gamut from being looked after and shepherded to frustrated and ignored.
For example the other day we got ourselves a little lost (again) on a tram in Lviv. Once the conductor realised we had no idea and we did not 'speaka za deutch' she employed a couple of fellow passengers who were headed the same way as us to show us where to go and what to do. A little embarrassing but helpful all the same.
On the other end of the scale we were in the middle of updating this blog the other day when the girl in charge of our console just switched our connection off with two minutes to spare. No warning, nothing. All our valuable blogging lost too.
As the guide book pointed out, a sense of humor and flexibility is essential and we have made good use of ours.
Surprisingly it has been the transport staff who have been most helpful (even if you do have to visit 3 desks to get the right info.) We were always looked after and one lady was particularly amused when checking our passports and realising our names were Adam and Eva. She cracked up and let everyone in the vicinity know what was so funny. Once again embarrassing but nice.
We will be a little sad to leave Ukraine as there is quite possibly no other place like it in the world..

Friday, August 25, 2006

Getting out and About

The last week has been really full on but we'll try and fill you in a bit....
After a hasty recovery from third degree sunburn we decided to head up the coast from Yalta to visit some of the sights it is famous for. Alupka Palace was the first of these, a beautiful place between huge mountains and the Black Sea. We almost got trampled by the masses of coach tourists though.
From Alupka we headed down to Swallows nest, a small castle literally hanging off a cliff over the sea. A Count built it for his mistress in the 1800, not a bad present really.
The highlight of the day was a cable car to the top of Mount Ay-Petri the highest peak along the coast. The cable cars seemed to be in working order and the slightly nervous trip (not helped by the fact that there seemed to be no load limit as such) was well worth it when we reached the top where we ate at a Tatar restaurant. The Tatars are an Ethnic group originating from Turkey who were exiled during Stalin's years. They are only just returning now and aren't wasting any time in setting up great kebab stands and restaurants. Oh, and selling bootleg wine. They had several kegs on a table near us which they were giving tastings from and decanting into plastic bottles for people. All of a sudden there was this huge operation to remove any sign of this little business from the front of the restaurant and sure enough a couple of minutes later along come the Militsia (yes that's what the Police are called) checking all the shopfronts for dodgy plonk.
After a busy day sightseeing we headed back to Yalta only to continue again the next day by Visiting Livadia Palace where the 1945 post war conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin was held. There were a lot of great pics of the conference as well as a lot of reminders of the Palace's original purpose, as a Summer residence for the last family of Romanovs. They only got a few years in at the Palace before they were arrested and killed during the Civil War.
That afternoon we had to head on to Sevastopol by bus where we booked into our first Soviet era hotel. Hmm, more on that later.
Photos: Swallow's nest, Adam looking cool at Alupka Palace, The place where we had lunch (note the Militsia out front), Eva looking good on Mt. Ay-Petri

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Hello all, at the moment we have been unable to post many photos with our entry, due to most internet places not letting us. When we find a place we will upload a few. Cheerio...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Almost as good as Charroty Salad

In Sudak and now in Yalta we have discovered the coolest (and cheapest) way to eat. Cafeterias. They are everywhere and offer really good food, you just go along with your tray, point, and Slop! there's dinner. You can get everything from borshch to chicken kiev to yummy pancake desserts.
But the icing on the cake was a cheese salad at the joint in Sudak. Don't know what was in it but it was addictive, we even went back for more the next day. Sweet!

Хтонебудь розмовляе англуйською мовою?

Does anyone here speak English? As crazy as it sounds we were pretty unprepared for the almost complete lack of English in Crimea. It has made us realize how much the few English words people have known on our previous holiday and in Kiev really help. What's more our phrase book has been rendered useless by the fact that everyone we come across is Russian and not Ukrainian. We thought the two languages were quite similar but not enough to be of help to us. Needless to say this has led to a lot of monosyllabic conversations and the honing of our charades skills, fun.

And on to Yalta

Another beach bums paradise, Yalta is a resort town packed full at the moment with holidaying Russians and Ukrainians. So packed full we once again struggled to find a place to stay and ended up having to splurge for the first night on a $120 US hotel. These things are bound to happen though with us just winging it in peak season. We are now staying in a much more modest guest house (an ex-brothel to boot).
We've been taking it very easy here deciding to have a few days R&R and sampling some of the holiday culture of this place. Think Victor harbor during schoolies week and times it by 20. If you wish you can have your photo taken in Ye Olde dress, Biker gear atop a massive fairy lit Harley, or if nature's more your thing with a harnessed monkey, owl, possum thing, snake, eagle and any number of other adorable little creatures.
We then decided a dip and a spot of sunbaking was in order so headed off to the beach. Not exactly what we would call a beach, rocks, water and rubbish really but popular nonetheless. Not being able to grab a spot on the beach (yes it really is that crowded) we invested in two inflatable mattresses and took to the water for some of the best fun we've had in ages. Adam really has NO balance. By the time it was over he was exhausted from trying to mount the thing and Eva was exhausted from cracking up laughing at him.
Once Adam was settled on his mattress we accidentally had a bit of a kip and floated seaward for a bit. Not the best idea really, we got back no problem but Eva is sporting some of the worst sunburn she's ever had. Sorry Mum! Luckily it is clearing up pretty quick though. The sun just doesn't seem to have quite as much bite as back home. Thank goodness.
We're of to see some of the sights around here tomorrow and get back into that whole backpacker thing. It has been nice pretending we're just another beach bum though.
Photos: A night out in Yalta, Is this not the ugliest dog in the entire world!!!!

Sudak (Судак) and Back

After a very long train journey from Kiev we arrived in Simferopol where we fought through crowds of baying taxi drivers to finally find a Marshrutka (private mini bus thingos) to Sudak. The name of these buses literally translates to 'public transport route' and boy do they pack out. It makes us wonder why the public transport authorities don't just put more services on, they'd make a killing at this time of the year.
The two hour drive was pretty relaxing even sitting in the front with no seatbelts and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. There was plenty of use of the mysterious 3rd lane which basically is pushing through oncoming traffic at speed but we felt very safe with a friendly driver who stopped to fill up his water supplies at a natural roadside spring and offer it to us.
On arriving in Sudak it was very HOT and busy. So busy we struggled to get accommodation and had to do a fair bit of traipsing to get a room.
Sudak itself was a little beach resort town with a massive Genoese fortress looming over the town and the sea. Pretty amazing scenery. Speaking of scenery we have never seen so many people wearing so few clothes through the entire town. Not just ordinary people but tanned, fit, jaw dropping bodies too. Feeling very overdressed Adam got his top off in no time and Eva invested in a sarong, when in Rome...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Golden domes and Soviet Pomposity

We arrived in Kiev, safe and sound. We had a very shaky flight with Aeroflot, especially the landing in Moscow. Phew we made it! Kiev is nothing like we expected it is beautiful, clean and hilly, very hilly. The first day we went on a bit of a walking tour around the city, taking in some of the golden domed churches and monasteries and Soviet sculpture, quite a contrast really. The photos we included are the Caves Monastery churches and only a small part of The WWII monument. Unfortunately we couldn't capture the piped music playing what sounded suspiciously like old Soviet anthems.
On Saturday we got a bit more in depth with a few sites such as the Caves Monastery and Chernobyl museum. We also witnessed the mindblowing amount of brides traipsing through the city with their entire wedding party to be photographed in front of the city's monuments. At one place we saw at least 40 brides.
Other than that we are just soaking up the idea that we somehow are in Ukraine and just chilling out with the occaisional 600ml bottle of beer that the locals drink on street corners from 7:45 at earliest sighting.
Today we are stocking up on supplies for a 15 hour train trip to Simferopol in Crimea, just in case we hadn't spent enough time sitting on our bums in the last week. it is a sleeper though so hopefully we'll spend most of our time asleep.
We can't believe it's been a week already. We've been lucky to hear from everyone back home, it makes us feel so close to everyone still.
Till next time....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bangkok to Kiev

Well the time has come to leave Bangkok. We have had a great time, especially when we discovered the Khao San area which is the backpackers party market area. We are just about to head off to the airport and we still do not know about our accomodation in Kiev. Fingers crossed it will all work out OK. Next time you hear from us we will be in Ukraine.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Around the world in 90 litres

Well this is our first post on our travel blog...Hmmm I think that means it's all really about to happen.
The house is packed and our bond returned, the car is sold and the turtle has been adopted out. We're down to these two backpacks. One 50L and one 40L (No prizes for guessing whos is whos)
That's apart from all the wonderful family who have given us cupboard and shed space for our other worldly possessions. Cheers guys.
I suppose we ought to give a rundown of what we're hoping to do over the next couple of months. Keeping in mind it's all fairly vague to us as well.
On Monday we leave for Bangkok for three nights of relaxation (hopefully) before we meet the slightly more difficult task of navigating our way through Ukraine for three or so weeks. Mind you we were told many times that even getting a visa for Ukraine is extremely difficult and we managed it quite easily. Perhaps the difficulty we have had described to us regarding independent travel through Ukraine is overstated. Fingers crossed anyway.
After Ukraine we'll be moving on to Romania for about a month, we're leaving our plans fairly loose on this leg as Romania seems to have an awful lot to offer us and we just don't know yet how we're going about getting around etc. One suggested mode of transport is by horse and cart at the small cost of a couple of Romanian cigarettes. It will certainly be an adventure.
From Romania we need to make it to Sofia in Bulgaria by the 9th of October to catch a budget flight to Budapest, Hungary. There we will be catching up with Nug Dogg (aka Stuart) and Melanie who are passing through on their way from Scandinavia to China. After a few nights partying with those guys on the Danube it's another flight back to Sofia to continue exploring Bulgaria which promises to be a whole other kettle of fish, at least by this stage we'll be slightly familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet.
Somewhere between Bulgaria and Christmas we'll be heading to the UK to think about earning some pounds to further our adventures. We promise to try and perhaps maybe keep this blog up to date so hopefully maybe someday you'll hear from us soon.