Borders of Former Soviet Countries

Trip Start Jul 02, 2007
Trip End Jan 2008

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

We left Istanbul with a bit of a shaky start.  Our ferry was due to leave midday, so we thought if we arrive approximately two hour earlier we should be ok.  It turns out that check in closed about 3 hours before take off and they did not want to let us on the boat.  I explained to them very sincerely and with a pained look on my face that we were told nothing of this, all the while quietly panicking to myself that they would indeed refuse us entry and waste that tidy sum we paid for our own private cabin.  Well, we must've looked a sorry sight because soon enough the two grubby, sweaty exhausted backpakers that they were going to kick out on to the street suddenly found themselves in their own cabin (and rightfully so!).  We complained at reception that we were not informed of this but they just looked at us with insolent former Soviet stares and told us to complain elsewhere.  So, what else could we do?  I suppose we should be happy and relieved that we did finally get on the boat.  (And that we didn't have to sleep on the filthy hard floor this time.)

And a relaxing journey it was.  Nothing like eating, sleeping & reading for 24 hours in pure comfort!

Our lunch companions were a nice Moldovian family (Samer, his wife Irina and their two children) who were just coming back (overland in their 4wd) from Syria after visiting the family of Samer for the summer holidays.  They descibed that Syria is quite beautiful place and also assured us that it is as safe as any western country (safe enough).  Another country to add to my list of places to go.  The other reason I'd like to go is that I just read a book "The Crusades as Told Through Arab Eyes", an account of the crusades from Arabic chronicles.  Much of the action takes place in Syria & Palestine.  A very rich and interesting history which I will not go into detail here.

Anyway, our ferry arrived at Odessa port at about 7am.  We were told that we would be out of there by 10-11ish.  Well, just like the unexpectedness of check-in closing three hours before the departure of the boat, it took us more than 6 hours before we actually left the port!  Odessa port must hold the world record for longest border crossing!!

Anyway, Samer gave us a lift to the railway station and helped us find a little old lady who was offering accomodation for the night.  She was a very lively and chatty ald lady with a few gold teeth by the name of Valya, who told us that back in her day she was a dancer that had travelled the world.  Then we went back to her place which was quite far from the centre in a rundown looking neighbourhood with large packs of dogs roaming the streets.  Then we went to another place to get rail tickets for us to go to Kiev the next day.  The thing that I did not forsee is that this particualar weekend, many people were coming back from their summer holidays and that there was absolutely no tickets at all.  No problem.  Valya (like a martyr) sacrificed her holiday for an extra day (she was meant to go to a dacha with her daughter near the sea that evening) and came to the bus station on the opposite side of town to help get us tickets.  Success!  We got almost the very last seats that they had to offer for that day (we were in the second last row).

So we went back to the home of Valya and had a celebratory dinner of sushi, fried eggs and tomatoes.  Tried to sleep on lumpy beds that had many tiny blood spots on the mattress (is that a symptom of bed bugs?), didn't get bitten by bed bugs but the dogs barking and attacking each other out side our window didn't help us sleep very much.

The next day we woke up early to be driven to the bus station by taxi, which was a Lada Zhiguli driven by a maniac.  The roads were wet, he drove very fast but we didn't die (Incha'Allah... no... what am I saying?  Bozhe moi!!)  We were very early so we waited ages before the bus departed.  I suspected that Valya sent us very early so that in our half wakedness we would forget about asking her for the change of what we paid for the accomodation the previous evening.  Well, I didn't forget but I wasn't going to argue for a couple of euro after she went out of her way to help us, but I'm sure that it was part of her plan.  Very shifty  (ochyen hitraya).  I'll remember that one for the future.

We get on the bus.  Laura feels sick (probably from the dodgy supermarket sushi).  Our air-hostess is one of the most insolent people we'd had to deal with sice the start of our travels (yes, worse than the Greeks), it's as though she'd never met anyone with an accent before.  But we do indeed make it to Kiev without chunder or without strangling the hostess.

We arrive to Kiev.  I try to ring Alex (my cousin).  For some reason the number didn't work.  After trying about 20 different variations we finally hear the voice of Svetlana on the other end.  She's coming to pick us up.  YAY!
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