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Friday, July 1, 2016

WINTER IS COMING

WINTERING

Had the good fortune to get to chat with Sorin last night (one of my hosts here) and he suggested a clever bit of lateral thinking.

I wish I could take credit for it but honestly, I didn't even come close to thinking of it.

From about September or October until April (when I want to be back in the USA), Europe sucks for the cold. Unless you have plenty of money and want to go to some rich people hang out like the south of France or Greece.

He suggested that I leave Europe early for somewhere else in North America. Spend time in the southern part then move north when it is time.

Later, I'm going to have to do some research on Mexico.

What a great scene!

Aside from 'Fun with Kidnappers' I am not sure how much it would actually cost to do Mexico. I remember it is a bit more expensive than other places in Central (nope!) and South America but they are almost guaranteed to have Mexican food.



ENCOUNTER

Exploring a town within Romania, a mother waited awkwardly for her son. Half hidden in the brush on a hillside he squatted, his bowels having taken him by surprise.

Three strides past the mother, stopping, turning and returning. She watches nervously as my bag is opened. A plastic small bundle is offered. She shakes her head. I glance at the child and offer it again. She takes it, realizing it is toilet paper, smiles.


Careful not to add to the embarrassment of the child by glancing his direction, my journey resumed, thoughts of similar within my own past - both distant and recent.



BREXIT - what's Logan's opinion?

Yes, believe it or not, I have had some Romanians ask me this.  Like I even know what country I'm in half the time.

First point:  The day after Brexit was voted 'lets leave the EU', the second most popular Google search term in the UK was 'what is the EU'.   Hilarious.   That is one of the funny sad things - like a clown falling into a wood chipper and his monkey turns it on.


Second point:  Logan thinks (may or may not be right) that much of it (Brexit) was about racism, nationalism and possibly some other -ism's.  Logan doesn't think much of people who like -ism's.  When the BPS (their money) went down to the lowest rate since 1985, I'm thinking "I wish I had more money so I could buy some of theirs".

Third point:  If the BPS dropped down to where it was 1 to 1 with the USD (who knows - Logan could get lucky and the UK taken with 'surprise buttsex') it would make an affordable vacation there for Logan.  Hell, I could even afford to get Matthew drunk.


Fourth point:  Enough people are now whining that they didn't know what the vote was for, didn't realize that their vote counted and wishing they could go back in time that I wonder if they will have another vote.  Keep voting till you get the result you want?

Last point:  Will one country leaving the EU cause the rest of them to fall out?  I doubt it.  I know a lot of people seem really paranoid about that but it makes you wonder what kind of idiots think that things that are together will always stay together.  Just because the USA has been around for 200 years, do I think it will be around forever?  That is ignorant.  If it survives another hundred (less if Trump is elected) that would be impressive.  Things fall apart and become other things.  That's just how it seems to work.



GOSH LOGAN, WHY ARE SOME COUNTRIES POOR?

The sad thing is that the beggar in this pic is dressed better than I do.  I'll have to steal his clothing later...

When a country is poor, there are usually reasons.  Fairly obvious ones.

Most often it is high levels of corruption coupled with low levels of education.  Anyone thinking politicians want educated voters haven't really figured out that stupid people count the same.  Sadly.

When I was in the USA, I worked in purchasing/supply chain/logistics for about a dozen (?) years.  Here's roughly how it works in the USA.  When you buy something in a store, it gets scanned.  In most countries, this tells the person how much you owe and computes the change they should give you - as otherwise they'd have no clue.  In the USA, it goes a step further and marks off unit(s) sold into a data base.  This data base also has levels for reordering - often automated.  When they get down to five units left, reorder.  One unit left, emergency rush reorder.

Because in the USA, businesses want your damn money.  As much of it as they can get.

Sadly, the same thing doesn't take place in non 'westernized' countries in the rest of the world.  If stock gets sold, it seems to rely on them going completely out of stock and a manager to eventually wander out of their office - possibly lost and confused - to see the gaping hole in the inventory before maybe thinking they should reorder that shit some day.

A lot of the behaviors I've seen in retail around the world would get you instantly fired in the USA.  Horsewhipped too, if they could get away with it.


And that's why - despite the heat - three stores don't carry mutherfucking fans.  That's right.  I asked where they were and when they would have them in.  They explained it has been hot and they sold out a week or two ago and they didn't know when they'd get more in.

I'm always thinking "With their business practices, how in the fuck do these stores stay open?  They have to pay rent, employees, utilities and so on."  In the USA I know they'd have closed long ago and the owners would be sitting around wondering what happened.  In much of the world, I suspect leprechauns (like my buddy Matthew L. who is an evil one) of using magic to keep these places open somehow.

Fucking fans.  It is like having rain for the last few weeks and everyone having been sold out of umbrellas for the last few weeks.  Then bitching they are fucking poor.  Yeah.  It must just be one of those strange things.  You know any leprechauns?



I'M A FAN

But for me change it to "A fan at last, a fan at last - thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster I have a fan at last."  Not to take away from the great MLK but I am very thankful to have at last found a fan.

I had wandered over to the big mall (via bus) and was traipsing around there when I came across a fan.  It's 35 cm across - not huge but enough and a floor model for 'easy to trip over' features.  Immediately grabbing it, I glared about to make sure hordes of no central air peasants were about to mob me for my prize.

None were.

I scarpered.

After arriving home and removing it from the box I was sad to discover that some bright spark had chosen to save less than a dollar in packaging by making it 'some assembly required'.  I looked at the multi-lingual instructions.


Nine languages and you mutherfuckers can't be bothered to do the 'international language'?  Really?

OK.  Got to put it together in French.  Hint - I used the pictures.  Downside - not many pictures.

But fortunately only a couple of pieces to put together.  Cool.

When staying at a friends house, going through all their shit looking for tools is not cool so I gave my buddy Sorin a call.  No tools at this house.  Maybe the people at the tattoo shop downstairs.

Stunned, I hung up.

This was a huge culture shock.

In the USA, if you don't have tools and materials to make your own trebuchet (add that word to my dictionary online - why doesn't it have it?) then how will you defend yourself in the upcoming zombie apocalypse?

If you can't build one of these from things lying around your dwelling, you aren't even seen as human among zombie survivalists.

Also, pretty much every household in the USA has tools.  In some, they are the male equivalent of the little delicate china figurines that some women collect; in other homes they are penis replacements.

If you remember this, you are either an old fucker or watch too many reruns.

In homes of henpecked men they are the simple justification for having a workshop somewhere on the property they can retreat to, leaving their shrew behind.

For some law enforcement officers, they are used in the hobby that keeps them from just executing everyone.

The real mystery is always how he gets the boats OUT.  I suspect a huge secret door and tunnel.

For some men, they are not used - just bought for display in case anyone wants to see if they are real men.

Who the hell is this and why is he in my blog and what is up with his hair and crazy look?  His appearance does remind me of one of my friends though.

Some men just get tools just to masturbate over.

And I would like to point out that for LGBT people (as that is a hot topic these days) I do not believe that confines them to the Hello Kitty tool set.


Though honestly if they are decent tools (and I had a fixed abode) I'd accept them as gifts, sure.  I really don't care what the tools look like.

So...  No tools.

Screw going downstairs until I had to.  Roll your jury rig skill!  Success!  You have found things you can temporarily use as tools!

The fan was assembled.

I'm really happy about it partially because I have been keeping the place pretty closed up.  They don't  have screens (for some unknowable reason) in Europe and every time I open a window mosquitoes come to visit.

After nearly dying from one biting me, I am a bit on the paranoid side.

The fan will remain here after I leave.  Since I will be here for a month for sure (probably two - they keep urging me to stay any time I ask if they have a place in mind I can go rent) the fan will be a nice 'thanks for letting me squat at your house' gift.



BOOK REVIEW


Review on the book "1632".

The title is descriptive as it is the year the book is set in and honestly, much more creative than many of the titles I've seen. If you can search for your title on Goodreads and find it a half dozen times, here's a hint: Try harder.

Anyway, the good, bad and ugly format.

The good: I like the stories where a stalwart band of Yanks (it's always yanks - apparently other nations just don't have the gumption to get sucked back in time) get sucked back in time (like the "Islands in the Sea of Time" series  ) to 'show them how it's done'.

The bad: Unlike pretty much every other time travel book out there, nobody seems to either care or even mention (in the first book, later it's mentioned and dismissed) the whole 'might we start a really fucked up paradox by not only marrying the locals but killing several of them, starting revolutions and introducing tech a few hundred years early? Nope. Nobody even thinks about it. Mind you, I don't think it would have changed anything. Being told "You know, we should destroy all our stuff and kill ourselves so we don't potentially cause a paradox" is not something that is going to go over big with too many crowds. But you'd think someone would at least mention, speculate or possibly even fret a bit about it. For half a page even... Another problem - sometimes the book starts to sound like a dull history textbook. Once they move away from what I think the interesting part of history is (history is the stories of individual often interesting people) and onto more abstract stuff (here is a discussion of the strategic military hard points that only a history nerd with a map could follow and nobody will actually give a shit about it), you feel like you are just wading through crap to get to the interesting parts.

The ugly: Holy shit, it's like the Game of Thrones stuff. Sure, there are some people who can keep track of characters that appear every now and then but there are so many of them you end up fixating on your favorites and feeling like you're just wading through the rest. It makes me with they'd trimmed down the cast of who the story is actually told through.

In summation - I'm into the second book (strangely named 1633 - didn't see that one coming, can't wait to see what the third book is named) right now. Looking back on the first - there is some interesting stuff but you have to do some wading to get to it. Sometimes fairly deep wading. Is it historically accurate? Probably more than I care about.

5/10. Decent but not sure if I'd go back and re-read it.

Follow up - I made it up to the third book before giving up.  Some good parts but just too much bullshit to wade through to get there.



PRICES

750ml bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, 60 lei

35cm fan - about 30-40 USD - not sure.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

TRUDGING THROUGH THE CARPATHIANS

UKRAINE TO ROMANIA

Though Lviv is very close to Poland, I'd gotten a very attractive offer from a friend of mine named Diana who lives in Romania to stay at one of her properties free for a month.  After that, she would help me to find a different place to stay (we both assumed I'd be bored there after one month) that I could rent for a reasonable (to Logan) price.

Worth crossing Ukraine for.

Unfortunately, many of the places in Ukraine that have web pages may make you think you've slipped back into the 1990's.  Go 'MySpace'.  Also, a lot of the information you get will be found to be inaccurate.   Sometimes wildly so.  I'm sure that if you spoke Russian (or Ukrainian - very similar for those who care) and knew the web pages to go to that you could probably get what you want.  I have seen people do it - and had flashbacks of 'dial-up' for those who are old enough to know what that is.  Or a dial tone, for that matter.  If you are too young, put it under 'things pre-internet that are best forgotten'.

So, I'd researched a bunch (while sober, even) and the internet told me to cross the border at the town of Tyachiv.

This was what we in the border crossing business call 'a lie'.

You can't cross the border there.  You can cross it about an hour east at a town called Solotvino.

This picture has nothing to do with what is being talked about.  Please ignore it.

For those who want one of those '90's style web pages with information on where the actual border crossings are for Ukraine, I direct you to this.

Even if I have to get a taxi it won't be a bad cost considering going from Lviv to Tyachiv - crossing the  entire Ukraine north to south is under 4 USD (100 UAH).

Yeah, buddy.

Thinking moving around in Romania will cost more.

My research into how to get from Tyachiv to Solotvino is not going well.  It may be one of those 'jump and figure it out when I get there'.  [Edit:  It was.]  Because I suspect there may be a few of these moments, I'm leaving earlier than necessarily needed.  And it is long past time to get out of the steadily worsening situation at the house.

To clarify my position on living with other people:  If you go to live with some friend or friends for a week, that is often a magical situation.  Wonderful.  You get to hang out and do stuff.  Once you have hit the one month mark - even if you are paying rent - shit often starts to slide downhill after that.

It may just be me.  In some respects I am a pain in the ass to live with.  I do enjoy living alone.

But visiting with people for a week - so cool.  Even if as during LHI or the European tour I stayed with several different households for a week - still cool.

But for just living?  No - fuck that - alone for me is best.

Again, nothing to do with the blog but I did listen to Stewart's autobiography recently and thought I would distract you with this image for no good reason.  And make you read shit.  Which you fell for.


LEAVING LVIV

I nearly out waited my train.   Found out the advertised track number was incorrect.

Despite asking for 'just a seat, I don't want a bed', they naturally gave me a bed.  On the top bunk.

Really.

Just looking at it, I could tell there was even less stuff to get up there with than normal.  Fortunately, the girl who had the bottom was happy to switch with me.  Note that the various conductors and such will not help you with this sort of problem.  Their view seems to be 'if you didn't want the top, why did you book it' and 'if you don't like it, you can always book another train...eventually...'.  So it is best to just find someone yourself.

She immediately identified herself as a 'Jehovah's Witness'.

I was super happy for the language barrier.

Like this weird happy Batman is happy.

Especially when I had automatically responded "I'm sorry."  Looking at devout religion as a form of mental illness does not help one to get the bottom bunk!

The train bed itself - fairly torturous.  I thought that I didn't get the extra pad everyone else did.  Discovered at the end of the journey that they were stored above the top bunk.  Doh.

I do this a lot while traveling.


ONE TRAIN STATION TO ANOTHER

Talking to various people who had some English (about where my Spanish is I'm guessing) told me that the border was within walking distance.

Later, I discovered that talking to young, fit, healthy and relatively unencumbered people gives a different definition of 'walking distance'.

It was a couple clicks.

The only taxis?  At the train station.  And actually snapped up by the other train passengers.

So it was a walk.

Had I been going the other way (Romania to Ukraine) there would have been a big assed hill.

As it was, I was actually getting a bit dizzy and stuff as I was walking.  No where to sit down and often no side walks, I walked along looking for softer places to fall down.  My plan was to twist as I fell if I didn't just lose complete control of my body in order to spare the computer.  I may heal - the computer won't.

I just kept plodding along, one foot then the other and concentrated on breathing.

Yes.  Technically I was hiking through the Carpathian Mountains with literally everything I own.

Managed to not pass out (a couple times it was very close) or fall down all the way to the border.

Yea!

(Applause)

Pretty shagged out.  Were there any taxis?

Hell.

A box and a manually operated level crossing.  That's about it for this international border.

Sure, there were unmanned booths for little things like currency conversion and such, with the key word being 'unmanned'.

This is not a great place to cross for amenities.

One of the young guys asked me if I had any tobacco or alcohol.  I joked with him that I'd sure like it if he was offering those to me and began asking questions about where the train station was so I could get a ticket.  Played up the selfish tourist angle while being funny.

Didn't want him to look into my backpack.  Nothing serious - just personal use cigarettes and a whole bunch of pills.  My medicine.

But, anyone who has been reading this blog long enough knows my attitude toward authority figures.


I immediately set off toward the two (?) klicks away train station.  Hanging around - never a smart idea.

Eventually, I drug my ass into the train station.



SIDE RANT

One of the best things about 'not Ukraine' is we are back to the Latin alphabet.  A bit over a third of the people of the world use the Latin alphabet as opposed to four percent that use the Cyrillic one.  [Source]


This, in my mind, gives using the Cyrillic alphabet is about as smart as not being on the metric system.

The Latin letters make things so much easier.  Heck, both parties can even use the same phone with google translate!

There is a reason Logan has said "I don't care about learning the Cyrillic alphabet".  Yes, I have gone completely metric.  I'm about 1.8 meters tall and weigh under one metric ton.  But not enough under.  Good times.



THE TRAIN STATION

Scott: "Yeah... um, listen. We're trying to get to Berlin, Germany. Do you know if there's a train coming anytime soon?"
Tibor: "Oh yes! Very soon! They are building it now!"
     - Eurotrip

Felt this quote when I walked into the partial train station.  It was under construction.

Every experienced (and some inexperienced) travelers know that it is possible to buy a ticket on the train much of the time.  Knowing which train is yours is the problem.  They don't label them as clearly as I'd like.  Why that is, I do not know.  Later, it will lead to more butthurt.


At first, the lady was zero help.  No, she couldn't hold on to my bags so that I could do another two kilometer hike into town to get cash out of the ATM.  No, she could not make my cards work on her card scanner.  Did you know that whether you swipe the card along the side or stick it in the end, there are four different possible positions?  Only two of these eight total positions are incorrect.  I watched her try six different positions before putting the card reader aside and announcing it would no longer be used today.

Thinking she didn't get a lot of training on it.

Times like this require a lot of patience.  I've seen a lot (lot, lot) of tourists break down and start yelling, demanding to see managers and so on.  While this may work in some first world countries it means you are 'done' in most countries.  The item or service is no longer for sale and they don't care who you rant to.  You won't meet with the boss and there is no better business guide for people to complain to and the majority of people to ignore.

Honestly - it takes a special kind of person to read through their reviews and such on a regular basis and these people are rare.  If you are one of them and want to object and say you are not rare, you can reterm it as 'special'.  You have now moved into the 'special' category.

Right.

So - arguing doesn't work.  Unless you are Russell Crow.


Assuming you are not 'fighting round the world' (I try not to) just keep looking for new ways to go after the problem.

I got a taxi and paid him to take me into town to hit a bank, get a new sim card, some food (my last for about thirty hours as it turned out) and return me to the train station to wait for six or eight hours.  On food sellers - I'm thinking there must be a reason or law against people selling food near the train station or even on the trains the way they do in Asia.  It seems like there would be quite a market as a lot of these trains (even ones crossing countries) don't bother with the dining car.  But there isn't.

Lots of waiting.

After all of the walking and nearly passing out, even had I a place to store my luggage for a couple hours, touring the village wasn't a priority.  Possibly due to the hard rain which started after I got back and situated with a ticket.  It did look nice and picturesque.  This reinforces my opinion that - if one had the money and time - doing a summer time tour of Romania and staying in various nifty places would be fun.  Given the horrible time tables for the trains, probably a private motor car (I'm feeling British) would be the way to go.



WAITING IN DEDA

The last town before I finally got to my goal is a tiny (4000 people) town of Deda.  Easily memorable name, long four hour lay over.

Obviously, I was totally out of it by the time I'd reached here - between close to twenty hours of travel as well as hauling all my earthly possessions through the Carpathians.

And it got cold.

Like really cold.

I put on my sweater but unfortunately nodded off, thus lowering my body temperature even more.

Just sat there in the totally empty railway station having a good shake for a long, long time until my body warmed itself back up.  Not the coldest I've ever been (Korea, 1986 or so) but damned cold.


After boarding and crawling around the wrong train, I managed to find someone who got me onto the correct one.

Nearly got off at the wrong train station as well.  For some reason, just one Targu Mures train station is not enough.  They also have a 'Nord' (north) one.  The only interesting thing there was some old guy who was unloading bunches of meter long sharpened wooden stakes.  I remarked "All these crazy new fangled vampire hunting techniques these days!"  Some lady passing began to laugh hysterically.

I got back on the train and was met by my buddy Sorin.

As we partook of McDonald's (hey - not a lot of breakfast choices at 7AM on a Sunday in Eastern Europe), I remarked that it is rare for me to be able to hang out with people you've known for five or more years.

Simply because many of them are not motivated enough to travel.   Sad face.  But as Shadow said in "The Fifth Element", "I will be among you...soon."

For people in the USA - LHI2, The Second Coming.

Not as funny as Russells' Second Coming show but should be fun.

(If you missed LHI1 and would like more information about how to get involved, contact me on Facebook - Logan Horsford.  If you are not already a friend of mine, please mention you read the blog as I get a lot of spam friend requests and routinely block those bitches.)



SUMMARY

If you have your own vehicle, the Ukrainian to Romanian border crossing of Solotvino to Sihetu Marmatsiei is nice and quite.   Probably relaxing.  If you are on foot, avoid it if possible or allow for the fact you will probably be walking six kilometers, possibly up a decent (very long) hill.

This was not a happy forty eight hours for me in any way.  At all.  Even after being installed in the new place by kindly Sorin (no relation to the dark lord Sauron) I kept falling asleep - even after two (yes, two) different naps.

Avoid if possible.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

The platform they say the train will arrive on may be a lie.  Find some station attendants and double check - especially in the 'not first world' countries.  Sometimes, there will be multiple trains on the same track and at the same platform going wildly different places.

Going on a long train journey?  Don't plan on the station, anywhere near the station or the dining car (which will not exist) to feed you.  Pack a picnic.  An extensive one.


How often should you clean your backpack?  Never.  The more disgusting and ratty it appears, the better chance that would be thieves will look elsewhere for their 'phat l00t'.  If you like snazzy looking equipment, I recommend travel insurance!

Adjusting windows and such on transport.  I've watched this for years and honestly, it rarely goes well.  Want a little extra air and the window is up?  Once you lower it, it will magically say 'fuck you' and be broken forever in the down position.  Arctic winds will assail you.  Or the window will simply break off in your hand.  Or refuse to budge.  Or the glass will fall out.  Or have not been there for years.  Pretty much, trying to make any of the little comfort adjustments - really bad idea that often seems to make it worse.    Hell, even moving around the train with your over large backpack through doors that get stuck half way open, are inexplicably locked or only one door moves lead to a nightmarish feeling that only intensifies if you have to take a sudden, violent shit.  Instead, make the adjustments on yourself rather than the environment.  I carry coats and such in case it gets too cold, seat padding, etc.




COSTS

Taxi for a couple clicks and some waiting, 20 LEI

Sim card with a bunch of wifi, 25 LEI

Cigarettes, a bit over $3 per pack - about 3x Ukraine.  Welcome to the EU taxes, bitches!  Oh - wait - I have to pay it.  Shit.

Train from the border train station to Targu Mures (place I will be for a month), 66 LEI


Friday, June 3, 2016

BITS AND BOBS IN UKRAINE

FOLLOW UP ON LOOKING FOR A PLACE

I'd contacted six different places - three agencies and three private individuals.  Only one agency bothered to get back to me.

"Oh, we're poor!"

"How's your business professionalism?"


So in another little nip, the son of the lady I'd made the agreement with informed me that this house is neither his nor his mothers.  And, in an amazing bit of coincidence (since it is on the day my rent is due) his evil landlord has raised the rent and so he will raise mine.  He wanted $40 more, I negotiated it down to $30.  Not much of a haggle on my part.  It is annoying.  Not sure whose idea it was but I did e-mail his mom to let her know I'd be staying for another month despite the rent being raised.

Honestly, I really dislike business in Ukraine but the prices are the counterbalance to the shenanigans.

Fortunately, my old friends in Romania are going to make me feel very welcome there and so I've got that to look forward to.



MORE EASTERN EUROPEAN RESEARCH

The possibility - from Ukraine to Romania to Moldova back to Ukraine then on to Poland?

Not sure what to do after this.  Look for somewhere warm in Europe to hole up for the winter?  Because 'fuck the cold'.

Romania:  My friend Diana said she would take care of Romania so I'm skipping research on that.

Moldova:  I did the capital a few years ago and boy did it suck.  There was absolutely nothing there I wanted to see.  Going here would be a place to put between so I am just not going back and forth between Romania and Ukraine.

Note to self - might have to go through Transnistra.  Check to see if this can happen or not.  Train might be a way around it.

Another note - there seems to be absolutely nothing I am at all interested in within Moldova.  Been there, done that, didn't like it last time.  Figure out something else.  Croatia?  Bosnia?

Ukraine:  I'll have to look for somewhere else.  Between Moldova and Ukraine, I will need to burn a total of three months so that I can get back into the Schengen Area.  Then, I can get back in to visit...

Poland:  It's looking like I can stay in some really sexy cities for $300 per month rent.

After Poland, I'm really not sure where to go.   My goal is to be outside the Shengen area and somewhere warm.  My goal would be (after wintering) to head back to the USA in April (?).


Note to self - research how to get a Schengen extension.   It looks pretty rough.  Probably better to just duck out then back in later.

Later musings:  Europe during the six months of warm weather - nice.  The other six months - cold and sucky.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out a place to winter.  Not really thrilled about going back to Morocco and eating a bunch of 'tangine'.   Finding non-Schengen countries that are warm and not overly expensive to hang out in for half a year until it is time to go to the states - rough.  Especially since much of northern Africa either sucks or are busy squatting in burning villages polishing their AK-74's.   I'm not sure why the entire continent of Africa generally sucks so much - or if it is decent it's a bit pricy.




DAILY GRIND

By the gods I hate staying in a place more than a month. However, it is much easier on the pocket book. Since saving up for LHI2-TSC and a new computer that can play more than FV2 is important, I'm just sitting on my ass in Lviv.

It's weird but I find that I fall into a pattern depending on which part of the world I'm in. My pattern here is after my start up sequence (aka 'waking up') I will walk into Lviv (about 6KM) to a cafeteria restaurant. Honestly, the food is about the same quality as the other restaurants and about half the price. I can eat (with a drink) for under $4.

After that, I grab some supplies (diet soda, cookies to balance that diet shit and possibly alcohol. Note, I only drink on days ending with a 'Y'.) and get on the bus to get back. The bus costs .16 USD. Not a typo, it is sixteen cents. No idea why they bother to charge at all. Probably to get the bus driver to stop. I suspect they get the money or at least manage to shave off their cut.

After getting back, I will shower, mess about with the computer for awhile and possibly take a nap. You are suppose to sleep less as you get older. Still waiting for that part to kick in.

After waking up, I'll order pasta and a salad (note the health conscious thing there with the salad!) from a delivery place. The delivery guys seem to like me as I may be the only person in the country that tips them. I generally give them a dollar. Only the USA (due to Prohibition) is afflicted with the tipping BS. Dinner generally costs around six USD, including tip. Begin drinking when food is delivered.

Here, I am drinking wine mixed with diet soda. Considering a decent bottle is two USD, it's a treat. As my travel mentor once said 'When in Rome, drink what the Romans do'. IE drink what is cheap. Here and now, it's wine which is fine with me.

After consuming a bottle (or two if it is a special 'fuck the soda' night and I want a bit of a buzz) and stuffing my ever widening ass with sweets. They actually go into my mouth - though it would make a better story if I fed like a giant sea cucumber. Yeah. Take a moment to look it up to see how it feeds. Internet FTW.

After that, and watching a few movies (and possibly posting a bunch of stuff to the FB group 'Movie Geeks' if I am MST3000) I will go to sleep to start it all up the next day.

Note that my schedule (as well as what food I eat, etc) all might change depending on which country I am in.  Also note that I love my schedule and freedom.  If I were rich, I'd have even more freedom.  If I was really rich, I would begin distributing some of that freedom to my friends.



ON VENEZUELA

Thanks to David H for pointing out this excellent article on what's going on there now.

Best not to visit a country where the word 'bloodbath' is making it into articles.



TRAVELER'S TIP (UKRAINE)

Wheels on the bus go...

A lot of different backpacker sites are always talking about taking a bus (while loaded down with your gear) to get around the high cost of taxis.

Since I take one or more buses daily in Ukraine, here's the deal:

Don't.

When you get to a town, your best option is to call (or get someone to call) a taxi.  If you take the rip off artists on the street (independents) you will pay double, triple or as much as they think they can soak you for.  Don't fall for the 'let's use the meter' scam - they can set the meter for whatever the hell they want.  If you have to use one of these bastards, negotiate hard for a fixed price before you even step in.  Do NOT accept the meter unless you have lube.

As to the bus, if you have anything over a small bag of groceries - and sometimes even with just that - it is too crowded most of the time.  On about seventy percent or more of the buses it's standing room only and not much of that.

If you travel during a busy time (when people go or come from work or lunch) it is Japanese Pusher crowded.

This is Japan - not Ukraine.  But packed in like hot dogs kind of feels the same either way.  Your only hope is that you are gassy - because believe me, someone else will be.  It's a built in defense mechanism!

Getting on and off the bus will be hell and honestly, it's not fair to the other poor commuters.  Suck it up (Buttercup) and get a cab.



COMPUTER CLEANING

Been trying to play a bit of Skyrim and was stymied that my computer would sometimes shut itself off.  Searching the internet told me that the insides were probably dirty.

Of the computer.  I know my insides are no picnic.

Except to a cannibal.

Lots of people enjoy taking their fancy computer to a coffee shop and doing stuff there.  I don't.  Especially when the computer is about half a years wage to the locals.  For a black market resell.

So I stuffed it into a backpack and tried the closer of the two places I'd found which advertised they cleaned computers.  He quoted 350 UAH (about 14 USD).  I asked him if it would be possible to do it right the hell now and let me watch for 500 UAH.  "Impossible - I am very busy right now."

I pointedly looked around his abandoned, silent dusty shop.

"Riiiiight."  I responded.  "I might be back later."

I often feel like him when dealing with people.

I always like to say that I might come back later.  It is better than saying something you will be refused service for later.  Went to the other place on my list.  It was tricky to find, located within a courtyard of a building and the only signs in Cyrillic which I should learn but just can't work up the caring.

They only wanted 300 UAH, it would take an hour and I couldn't watch.  Offering a couple hundred bribe to watch didn't work though the guy did snap two pics of the dirt inside for me.  That was nice of him.

It's always good to watch when you can because they may take more care with your computer and I may learn something.

Got back the laptop.  Parts of the case still needed to be snapped together but the computer did actually start back up (yea!) so I am happy.  No water drained from it either.

Super.

Unfortunately, they also scrubbed the paint off the LED light which I had painted over meticulously.  Now, I have to find more paint or white out or something to cover it up.  It is annoying and distracting.  The LED is one that DELL felt necessary to have light up should you decide to disable your thumb pad.  Why is this necessary?  Because someone at Dell is a moron and morons up the chain decided to go with it.

Bernie Mac had a solution for those kind of people. 



ALTERWORLD


I would like to say that there are some disadvantages to the novel. While I love the concept (oh, if only in real life!) and enjoy the story...

Well, the author has what in the USA would be considered 'extremely sexist' views of women. Not having been to Russia, I don't know if this is a 'typically Russian' viewpoint. To me, it seems a lot like a USA 1970's viewpoint. "Oh, look - the little lady has a job! Isn't that cute!" type of crap.

And a bit of casual racism. Again, much like in the 1970's USA. If someone is a skinflint, he is 'jewing you' type of crap.

Again, if I'd ever been to Russia, I could always say it fits in with the Russian stereotype - but I haven't. No clue. It could be just the way this guy is and not even realize he's doing it.

It reminds me a bit of this.



PRICES

Getting the dust and grime of two years of road dust out of your laptop, 300-350 UAH.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

UKRAINIAN RAMBLINGS

WHAT TO DO WHAT TO DO

I suspect that through sheer laziness combined with the un-professionalism of those attempting to do business and desire to save money coupled with lack of funds, I will probably be remaining where I am (Lviv Ukraine for those who have lost track) for another month.

My time at the current lodgings started out well enough but 'the deal got changed' part way through.  And the deal never changes in a positive way.

Oh, if only...

When I first moved in, it was me and the guy who normally lives downstairs.  Great.  Aside from occassional overly emotional outbursts toward his long distance girlfriend on the phone, he's quiet.  After a week and a half, his cousin moves in.  Now don't get me wrong, his cousin is nice and all - but it's still another person.  Who likes to sometimes play loud music.  And we all know how I feel about loud music.

My chosen super power would be blowing up things that play music with lightning!  Probably invisible so I don't get beaten like a red headed step child.  (Note, if you are a red headed step child who got beaten by their foster parents and think that's insensitive - fuck you.   Get over yourself and make me a turkey pot pie before I shoot you with invisible lightning.)

So the place has moved down in comfort.

Logan gets on the internet and begins to research.

I'm not sure of the price in the USA for places that help people find places to stay (do we still have them?) but here they charge half the rent again for short term and a full month's rent for long term.  Not sure if it's just me or that price is on crack.  It does have the effect of turning a 'good deal' (say $200 per month rent) into a pretty 'standard deal' of $300 per month rent.  Which I can get in lots of different places, including 'not here'.

So that seems a bit high to me.  Fortunately, I can take consolation in two things.  First, I've only got another month or month and a half to go here.  Second, the internet should eventually completely decimate their business like Netflix did to Blockbuster.

Not that I'm vengeful or anything.


So anyway, I'm doing research, looking for a place rented by the owners themselves.  And this is where the lack of professionalism kicks in.  You see it a lot in businesses here (like in Asia) where they demand change from the customers because they didn't bother to stock up on any.  I'm beginning to think that for the poor people and poor countries - yeah.  There is usually a series of reasons.  Some are obvious enough that even I notice.

So I'm going through the ads and realizing that a lot of people (including on AirBnb - I did check) seem to have a very unrealistic view of how much their place is worth.

But keep in mind that I'm looking on the low end.  Charging more than a couple hundred bucks for some of the places I've seen moves into a different kind of robbery.

Sadly, a lot of the places listed don't have valid phone numbers, contact information, etc.  See also previously explained lack of professionalism.

Right now, my plan is to see if I can continue staying where I am.  If not, I may as well go to the next town to check that out.  Plus, it gets me a bit closer to Romania.  Sadly, the train schedules to that town seem to have been set up by sadists.  There are some ride sharing options I may explore as I've not done that before.

Update:  They wanted me to stay.  I expressed my only concern (the music) and was told that a set of earphones will be used.  While I have doubts this will actually be stuck to, I will (in the interest of attempting to save money and general laziness) stick around for another month.  Lviv is a good place to drop two months.

I'm going to also work on doing some research this month.  That is the one sucky thing about Europe - more research is needed.  It's not like you can just drop into a place and say "What do you have for $10?"  The answer might be 'nothing at all'.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

If you are going to a party, be sure to have an escape route planned.  After a couple hours of listening to a language you don't understand (nobody will translate for you - plan on that) it will be time to escape.


In doing my research on Romania (my possible next stop after Ukraine) it struck me that if someone had the money to drop $25-$35 per night for guest houses and such, it would be nifty to go on a train or car tour of the country for a couple months.



COSTS (Still in Lviv, Ukraine)

A $25 to $50 (anywhere sane) pair of sandals, $125.  Not kidding.  Pretty much anything imported (shoes, clothing, etc) is completely insane in the prices - but you can still get a nice $2 bottle of local wine.


Apartment agency:  For three months and shorter rental term, 50% of the price of the apartment.  For longer term, 100% the rental price.  In other words, if you want a $200 per month place for a month and they find you one, their fee is $100.  I found that on the WTF side of unacceptable.  In Bulgaria it was something like $30.  No clue what's up with the high price.

Friday, May 6, 2016

DRUG QUEST

DRUG QUEST

There is nothing so boring as long winded 'oh this is all the shit wrong with me'.  Honestly, nobody cares.  Not even your doctor and he is paid to care.   [Old people talk about this partially because it is on their minds a lot and partially because they have nothing else going on in their lives.  Pity them before you push them into oncoming traffic or pelt them with donuts.]

I'm not going to bother telling you what is wrong with me, just the medical story because it could help someone.

The other day I was in the rheumatology department of the 'railway hospital' (described in a previous blog).  The opthamologist who had seen me then took me through that huge maze of a building over to see the nice lady after the wait of an hour.  Not bad for no appointment.

She prescribed a new medicine for me.  I had specified that I wanted something easy to get.  The other medicine had the effect on pharmacists of saying I needed to get laid, do they have any rohypnol in large sizes I could get?  She assured me the new medicine would be easy to get.

So I went on what I think of as 'drug quest'.  Totally different than what most people think of as 'drug quest'.

What nice scenery!

It appears I had forgotten to specify 'cheap' within my criteria.  The pill comes out to a bit over $1 per dose.  Considering I take five different ones daily (read as 'cocktail' just for the romance of 'drug cocktail') this is freakishly high.

Especially in Ukraine.

But not for this drug and sex fiend!

Considering how little money I deal with, I needed to find something cheaper.

Back to the lovely internet to find out what the generic is.  Found it and the next day went back out on the streets.

Less of this drug than Charley Sheen's virtue.  Could not find any of it.  Was told that it didn't exist within Ukraine.  Possibly anywhere else for that matter.

Not good.

Back to the maze.  Hospital.  Maze hospital.  Surprised that I don't come across parties of survivors looking for the exit, lost for years within it.

You can now play your own game of 'find the doctor'.  Good luck!

Approaching it in typically Logan fashion, I just found someone in a white coat and showed them my phone saying I was looking for the rheumatology department.  Eventually, a native guide was provided and they took me up several floors so that we could go down several floors later.

They pointed it out and I burst in to the doctors' office playing the crazy photographer from the movie Apocalypse Now.

"I'm an American!"

The poor doctor was one third curious, one third taken aback and the rest wishing they had hospital security.

I never did convince him I wasn't insane but he did give me a new medicine name after several bad translations on the phone and even guided me back out of the building.

Of course, the next two pharmacies I hit only had one packet each of the tablets I need but it's down to about a dollar for ten doses.  I can live with that.

Tomorrow is 'drug quest' day!



ARTEMIS FOWL (audio book series)

This one kind of snuck up on me. It didn't seem like something I'd like but I kept finding reasons to keep listening.

Essentially, the plot boils down to a couple of things -

The protagonist is twelve years old. And an evil genius.

Also, fairies and such exist.

I'm not going to go into everything (no spoilers) but I've come to like the characters.

Also, unlike pretty much every book series out there, the main character is not purely reactionary until the wrap. This guy makes plans and carries them out. Good plans. Obviously, we the readers don't get to find out all of the plans until they happen in order to keep some suspense and such but it is refreshing not to have a protagonist that just reacts all the time to stimuli.

I'd put it down as a quirky, fun series. Currently, I'd rate this as a very strong 6/10 - possibly a weakish 7/10. I enjoyed books two and three more than the first.

Still listening to the series.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Due to it's connection with the old pagan religions and their moon cycles, Easter is celebrated on different dates in different years.  Also, Orthodox Christians seem to have a totally different Easter than their western counterparts.  Were one so inclined, Easter could be celebrated twice yearly.  For the traveler, this makes all the usual problems with transportation and finding cheap places to stay.  To compound the problem, Easter is two to three days (depending on the person and what kind of job they have) long.  This results in the usual shop closures and such.  Though many are still open, it would be wise to stock up and hunker down for a week before and after the three day long holiday and just observe the festivities.


On dealing with moms and such here:  It may often feel very uncomfortable having someone who will come in to your residence, clean it, cook for you and so on.  Be advised that there is nothing you can do to alter what will happen.  The best you can do is to thank them graciously.  Saying things like "that is not necessary" will be completely brushed aside.  Buy nice wine and share it with them - that is pretty much all you can do.  Trying to avoid a meal or cleaning will result in bafflement or their taking offence - and the end result will still be the same.  Trying to get out of being taken care of (hospitality) would violate local mores/folkways, hence should be avoided.  A good example (for men) is that the men typically go to a different location (outside, different room) to drink and chat while women do the dishes and clean up after a meal.  For a man to volunteer in such 'women's work' (NOT Logan's term) would be seen at the least as odd, at worse as believing them incapable of performing simple tasks.  Hence, it is just better to thank the women for the meal and head off with the men if you are male.  As a woman I am unsure if you would be allowed to clean but you could probably managed to at least sit in the 'women's room' and chat with them while they are doing it.  Offering to help as a woman might be appropriate but I am uncertain on this.  [Does Logan always approach other cultures like an anthropologist/sociologist/psychologist?  If it helps me to not stick out too badly, make too many blunders or insult/offend my hosts - yes.]



TEMPEST AND THE PLAGUE, A NERO STORY

(A short story in the NERO LARP)

Everyone sometimes has a 'John Wayne' day.

 Not sure why it's called that but every packet hits and the incants just flow.

Lumsie was traveling through some woods, got jumped by half a dozen ogres and shocked everyone (himself most of all) by having a John Wayne day. Taints for everyone. Taint's all around. A taint for yer taint - you get the idea.

The problem was that Lumsie only carried a dagger (the Squid of Horribleness) and beating down an ogre took longer than rubbing one out and is a lot less rewarding.

So a bunch of tainted ogres were wandering through the woods, throwing up.

At this point, Tempest the Dragon shows up and suspiciously asks his party necromancer (and healer) what happened.

"Plague!" Lumsie responded.

"Plague?" demanded Tempest.

"Oh, real sudden like! Best I should go before I catch it!" And Lumsie slowly hurried off leaving Tempest glaring.



COSTS

McDonald's - every now and then I need a jolt of moderately crappy food and nationalistic shame so I hit the local 'Micky D's'.  In Lviv Ukraine at the time of this writing (May 2, 2016) the price for a complete meal with extra burger is just under 100 UAH.  That's about $4.  Half or so of the usual price.  I suspect that due to the local currency taking a nose dive, they had to cut the price (or keep it the same in UAH) just to keep the doors open.  Cheapest meal I've had at McD's for years.


Friday, April 22, 2016

LOGAN'S VOYAGE - PUTTING THE HAMSTER INTO THE TUBE

LOGAN'S VOYAGE - PUTTING THE HAMSTER INTO THE TUBE


And...moving on!



HAVE YOU EVER TRIED COCAINE, LOGAN?

No.  I worry that the experience may be something like this and that would hook me.



DENTAL DALLIANCES


When you can't remember the last time you had your teeth cleaned, it's probably time to get your teeth cleaned.

I was wandering around as usual (lost - don't judge me) and espied a dental office. I went in and asked the lady dental assistant how much for a teeth cleaning. Three hundred. (Every hundred is about four dollars). My buddies research showed that was in the normal ball park. Three hundred to four hundred. I was thinking that and an Xray. They had no xray machine. This is sadly not uncommon.

She wanted me to make an appointment. I blathered at her and made it clear that I'd wander out. She had me sit down. Eventually, the dentist who had a few words of English.

I explained that I was just passing through and if I could wait for an opening, I would. Otherwise, I could just wander off. She didn't wand money wandering out the door so I was asked to wait.

Good answer.

It's also a good way to discover if there is anything seriously wrong with my teeth. The dentist wants to get some more money so if they find something they generally don't keep it a secret.

Naturally, they found something. It seems I had a hole in one of my teeth. Like a little pit. Yes, something should be done about it. Yes, they were happy to do something about it. Right now was fine. They'd said it would be three hundred more but it turned out to be four hundred and fifty.

Honestly, I really didn't mind the extra six dollars in this case. Like all work on Logan, it seemed to take quite awhile.

The put some sort of plastic into my mouth that surrounded the individual tooth. It really did make it feel like I was attempting to fellatiate a giant rubber man. Or a monster cock made of balloons. Weird.

The most painful thing was closing my mouth after I'd held it open for over two hours.

It seems they did good work - which is good because I'm not sure where the dentist office is or if I could find my way back there.



PRICES  (prices in UAH; at the time of writing, divide by 26 for USD)

Dentist:  Cleaning, 300; filling 450.  (Did I pay the 'foreigner price'?  Could I have bargained it down cheaper?  Considering I was an unscheduled walk in and the cleaning and filling were less than $30, I am not too alarmed.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

LVIV UKRAINE!

A STREETCAR NAMED "MULTI-PASS"

Watching other folks on public transportation is vital when you don't know what the hell you are doing.

I'd heard that the fare for the street car is two 'hryvnia' (at the time of this writing, that is .08 USD - not a typo) unlike the bus which costs double that.  To pretty much anywhere they run.

Anyway, when you get your ticket on the street car, you are not quite done.  There are little discrete machines mounted irregularly spaced on the walls to punch holes in the ticket.  If you don't have holes punched, you may have well not bothered buying the ticket.

To get around the crippling graft (all those less than a US dimes really pile up every hundred years) they have inspectors who look just like regular passengers until they stand up and shockingly reveal - small ID badges.

I'd seen this trick in Germany so wasn't stunned by it.

I wasn't sure what they guy wanted as I don't speak Russian (or Ukrainian) but I immediately pulled a Fifth Element...

MULTI-PASS, BITCHES!

The ticket collector smiled and nodded to me as though I'd done something much more impressive than Milla (above) ever did.

The Ukrainian across from me - busted for no ticket.  I could tell the ticket collector was heaping some extra abuse on him.  "Even the fat tourist who doesn't speak our language or know our customs - right there - even HE has a ticket!"

Poor bastard.

I'm not sure how much the fine is for no ticket.  Given the fare, it can't be all that much...



HOW IS LVIV?

Oh look - original Logan artwork.  If you are thinking about reusing this on your own site, go for it.  I know how the internet works.

Honestly, not too bad.  There seem to be quite a few places for me to explore.  There are sidewalks - so I am less worried about getting greased by some motorist who is more intent on their cellphone than the thousand kilos of metal they're pushing down the road with dead dinos.

I still look both ways before crossing a one way road - that has saved my ass numerous times in the past.

The city is set up with little pockets of stuff (businesses and such) here and there so I am just taking my time and getting to know it.

The commute (via standing room only bus) into the city center is less than a half hour but there are a lot of different places to see.  I've not even done my 'buy a street car ticket and just ride around' trick yet.

So I'm enjoying it so far.



TWO HANDY SITES

This one is good for figuring out the date without playing the count shit on the calendar game. Good for business people and travelers who worry about what day their visa will expire. And business people so they can threaten other business people. "Better have that here within 90 days, Fred!" Then smirk as you know Fred will be counting days on his calendar and muttering non work place safe curses.

Another handy site for travelers who are trying to figure out where their stamp is or non travelers who want to see what bureaucracies of the world are up to - and blow a couple minutes in idle curiosity.



TRAVELER'S TIP

Several years ago, before I started to travel I researched a bit.  One of the things I remember seeing was some travelers whining about how they got charged a lot more in the restaurant than they thought.


Here is a pretty typical menu.  Yes, I took a picture of a menu.  Note the second column from the right.  That is how many grams.  In the case of 'spinach-stuffed chicken breasts', 290 grams for 57.  You'll probably get 290 grams for 57 UAH.  Anything that says '100' means 'per 100 grams'.  Not sure why they don't make it more obvious but it is something to note.  In other words, they will weigh your t-bone (that's how they buy it) and multiply by the price.  Whether you are on a budget or not, it is important to note this so it doesn't ruin your day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

WOULD YOU BRING A STRANGER HOME?





MY APRIL 1ST FACEBOOK POST

For those who missed it:

On this special day, the anniversary of my travels and the start of a new year I would like to take the time to remember:

All of the very kind folks who helped me out on my journey - giving me a place to sleep, food and alcohol.

All of the great folks I have met along the way.

That this was originally New Years before Christianity.

It is interesting that I feel just as excited about traveling now as when I started. I've gotten a little wiser (and fatter) in my travels. I would say even wise enough to find whole new ways of really screwing the pooch.

So to all of the people I've had the honor (or honour if you are English) of coming across - thank you. It's been a hell of a ride so far and I'm looking forward to more to come.



MALAYSIA WAGES

Charwoman/hotel cleaning woman - 800 MYR/month.  Not sure what other benefits (food, lodging) may or may not be incurred.  No, I have no idea why people like to tell me how much money they make when I don't ask, but I thought I'd pass it on.  Note that the size of the establishment does not seem to matter - the lady I was chatting with was paid the same working at a very large hotel as the small hotel she now works at.  She switched places just because the small one is easier to clean.



APRIL 11th

Having what I choose to call an 'interesting night'.

Got to Kiev. All this is happening when I am out of my mind with lack of decent sleep and my body is doing the red flashing light and warning siren thing.

Didn't think ahead about the weather and such so I got here dressed for a country that the rain steams when it hits the ground. It's not 'cold' here but it is considerably cooler.

A taxi driver tried a bit of meter robbery for 250 but I yelled at him and it dropped to 150. It should have been 100 but close enough.

The hostel I got dropped at didn't have any beds available. OK. Went to the next with their directions. They gave me the wrong address.

Fortunately, the proprietor found out and came out to find me. Almost tripped on the stairs going up due to my horrible Malaysian this is the only size that will fit you round eye shoes but managed to catch myself.

They had no lower bunks left. Only upper. Due to being extremely cripply, upper bunks are extremely hard on me. Managed to talk him down in the price (which is high) for the private room. Decided to celebrate getting a place to sleep by going around the corner to a small market to buy some water and maybe a little alcohol. Decided on a beer.

When I was coming back, a guy who decided he didn't like his shoes and wouldn't wear them any more (either drunk or insane, both wander the streets) wanted my water. I'm not sharing water with him so I pretended not to understand. Being multi-lingual is a big help when begging. He asked for a cigarette. I gave him one.

When I was headed upstairs, my stupid shoes caught the stairs followed by my nose. Lots of blood but it isn't broken. I'll probably get yelled at for leaving the blood on the stairs. My key doesn't work on the door. Some lady staying here fortunately opened it for me. After a shower, decided to have small victory beer. Now wearing victory beer, room smells like beer which exploded - probably from earlier fall. Also have beer on the only pair of pants I own. Fuck it. Didn't finish opening beer, just put it in the garbage can.

Mopped up beer with the tiny towel I got with the room. Put down some of my water then mopped with towel some more. Will probably get talked to for room smelling like beer. Moving beyond caring. Need to unwind so I can sleep.

No victory beer - having non-victory water.


The next day, I made quite an epic mistake and ended up booking a hotel right in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing around but 'dutchas' (cottages in Russian - it actually is pretty much what people in the USA think of as a 'typical suburban home') for a couple kilometers.  Nearly did my feet in going on an extended hike and looking for a working ATM.


A note on the ATM's within Ukraine.  Holy shit are they bad.  They give out 2000 UAH at one time.  Currently, that's only $78 USD.  Sometimes they will only take one transaction per day.  Seriously, WTF.  I realize that the hryvnia has wildly devalued since the Russians took part of their country but wow - $78 maximum.  And it isn't like the local banks can get you money through their cashier for a transaction fee.  They just don't do that here.  Possibly because nobody else wants them to.  Part of the cost of doing business when you are the 'wild east' as one friend puts it.

That refers to the heavy corruption they have here.  The government actually admits it is a problem.  Rather than fighting it in a logical fashion, they just put up posters asking people not to bribe officers.  Since getting out of an expensive ticket with a cheap bribe is always preferable, and customary - and since the cops still aren't paid shit - I'm not sure if 'poster power' is really going to do anything for them.

My (admittedly crappy, non-international) bank won't even let me access their website to check on my balance from here.  I'll have to ask if that is intentional on their part.

Unfortunately, the floor plan is a bit too open in the place I'm staying.  It is a lovely wooden house with balconies on the rooms.  I think it would be a good place to just take over with a larger group of friends - but it is pretty remote.  Apparently, people come here to be near the river...for some reason.  But the food is good.  Actual 'home cooking' that isn't just a marketing gimmick.   Plenty to eat for 100 UAH.  Darned good meal and cheap.



WOULD YOU BRING A STRANGER HOME?

Well, I had wanted to visit my friends in Ukraine.  I'd say everything just didn't seem to be working.

They couldn't find a place for me to stay.  OK- they didn't have a lot of time and quickly finding good deals on temporary rental property is a skill set that not a lot of folks have.

They found me a hostel which I thought was booked but then the hostel called me and, oh, they just remembered the hostel was closed due to renovations.  Well, here is the name and number of a different - slightly more expensive hostel.  Which said "No English" and promptly hung up on me.

I don't expect everyone in the world to speak English (though it would be nice if they did) but someone who works at a hostel?  Who stays there?  Just locals?  It's not like Ukraine is really excited about hosting a lot of Russians at the moment.   With the recent invasion and all.

So we found another place.  An apartment.  My buddy even talked to the guy.  I had a train ticket in my pocket.  But then my buddy (Sergey for those keeping track) calls me up and tells me the guy doesn't feel right.  "Creepy" is the word used.  And he's wanting me not to get murdered by this guy.

After a bit of thought I said "It feels like we're forcing it.  Maybe I should just go to Lviv."  Sergey agrees.

I really don't like lying down on trains.  It's not very comfortable and I seem to get more sleep sitting up and being shaken a bit.  Probably due to all of the buses I've had to take in the last few years.  I discover there is a train with seats I can use leaving in just an hour and a half.  Plenty of seats.  I buy one.  First class on a fast train.  It's only a few hours to get there.

Turns out my seat is next to a nice lady who can speak English!  Hey, that's great.  We chat.  She's interested in learning more English.

Eventually, I tell her my plan is to go to Lviv and rent an apartment for a month or two.  Maybe she knows someone, I think - or can give me some ideas.  No.  She has an apartment I can rent.  Due to a bit of the language barrier, I'm really not getting it but we put it off by agreeing to just have me come take a look at the place.  And, she tells me, I can stay for free for a couple nights to test it out.

The price is right at $200 per month - everything (utilities, etc, etc) included.

Yeah.  Assuming I can find food nearby and Lviv the famed walking town doesn't totally suck ass I'm in.

So I am here now.  It seems that I will be living in the same house as her mid-twenties son.  Big surprise for him.

He has a room downstairs.  The only room we'd be sharing is the kitchen.

To get into town, I'd need to take a bus that costs 4 UAH - in USD that is too little to care about.

Tomorrow - exploration and settling in time.








Thursday, March 31, 2016

GEARING UP FOR UKRAINE

[Disclaimer:  Some of this has appeared previously on my Facebook.  Some has not.]


THE EXPECTED RANT

Eastern Europe.

SE Asia is nice but it seems like I've been here for quite a while and would like to bugger off for a bit.

I'm thinking of living near Kiev for three months in a rental property. Since Russia grabbed Crimea like a fat kid grabs candy (or Logan alcohol) their currency has crashed hard.

A furnished apartment with all utilities is under $200 per month. Maybe under $150 per month. For a nice place. With fucking wifi. It better have fucking wifi. I've been assured there will be wifi. Deep breaths.

The problem is 'after'. Fortunately, there are several countries which are only a few hours from Ukraine. Many even touch it.

Starting to think 'hey, I might be able to explore E Europe again'.

My goal in living for three months (in Logan's terms, that's a long long time) in one place is to save money so I can eventually get a new laptop (GTA5, etc), visit the USA and save the world.

The problem - it's going to be almost as much to fly to Kiev as the USA. Believe it or not. Apparently, a lot of (horny) people from the USA - wait - did I say horny? I meant 'hungry for culture'. Anyway, a lot of people fly from the USA to KL/Bangkok, hence the airline fares are much cheaper than (where the hell is) Ukraine.

Downside about Ukraine? Russian and Ukrainian languages. Really a bummer. I can get by (basic stuff) in like fifteen languages but no Slovak ones. At all.

So that will be a bit of a burden.

We'll see what happens.

Another fun fact, the only place that I have found (thus far, still looking) that sells 'reasonably priced' (under $600) tickets seems a bit on the dodgy side of 'a layover in one of the 'Stan' countries. Yeah. So that will be just loads of fun. Heavy research needed as it seems that no matter where I fly, the cost is about the same for some reason.



SUPER FUN RESEARCH

Research.  To some people, it is a way of 'dream building' their vacation.   They love nothing better than taking a few hours, days or weeks to find just the right hotel.  Figuring out the schedule.  To some people, it is a way of going on vacation without ever leaving their cubical.

Did this for years with co-workers and bosses I'd have gladly lit on fire.  Hated it.

For Logan, it is just a huge pain in the ass.

Either way, it is an integral part of travel.   As a philosophic traveler once told me, "A traveler without information is a bird without wings."

If you have a lot of money and don't mind spending it, you don't need to do as much research.  If you have even more money, fuck it - hire someone to do your research for you.  And guides.  And porters.  And people you can hurl whiskey bottles at when you're feeling low.

That's right - drink first, then throw!

Since I'm poor (and know absolutely no 'wealthy' people) I do my own research.  Like most people who read this.  Hopefully, you'll have more fun with it.

Because research is vital and you will be doing it should you ever decide to travel, I am putting down my research notes for your perusal.  They can be skipped if you really don't want to read about the work that goes into travel but if you've read this far you'll probably give them a light scan.  Unlike my brain, I will try to keep these notes on topic.  When talking about birds above, a couple minutes went away to fantasizing about eating turkeys.  No turkeys in SE Asia.  It's very sad.

Disclaimer:  There are actually turkeys here according to the internet but I've never come across them on a menu so as far as I'm concerned - no turkeys.  No gravy, cranberries, decent mashed potatoes (you'd think this isn't that hard to make, you'd be wrong), stuffing, etc.  Gosh I miss that.

All of this is being prompted because my long (free!) visa in Malaysia is coming to the end of it's 90 days.  I've explored a bit of the Island of Borneo and haven't been that impressed.  The people are friendly, you don't see a lot of tourists but there isn't anything you can't see on the mainland here that I've come across.  Sure, there are loads of 'wilderness sanctuaries'.  If I was thirty years younger and didn't rely on wifi for my very soul I might be more interested.  Well, that's a lie.  I've never given that much of a shit about being eaten by mosquitoes.

If there is even a small hole in the mosquito netting, you might as well have this for all the good it will do you.  Either way, sleeping under netting sucks so much...  (For those who don't know why, it is damned hot - no air movement.)

I've got a couple friends who are a husband/wife reporter team I've known for a few years.  They live in Ukraine.  I'm fortunate enough to get occasional correspondence (via Facebook, long may it reign) from Sergey.  He told me (and I quote) "one one-room apartment rent 80 USD with WI-fi and utilities, tasty and big pizza delivery 4 USD, 40 minutes of massage performed by a doctor 3 USD, beer in Restaurant 0.8 USD".

I thought "Isn't that interesting?"

"On my way!"
[As an interesting side note, to get this picture I actually googled 'Logan Horsford happy'.  Odd because being on a camel is not a happy time for anyone with testicles.  Also, I don't take nearly so many selfies as much of the world seems to.  I count that as a win.]

After messing about in SE Asia for another month I was bored of it.  The only three countries I kind of like are Cambodia (Mexican food), Thailand (good value for money) and Malaysia (most modern of the three).  The rest, not so much.

Sick of SE Asia.

This is what you get when you google 'sick of SE Asia'.  Funny.

The town Sergey lives in is near Kiev and Chernobyl - as in 'whoops reactor go boom' back in the old days of communism.  Sadly, just like all those plastic bags that last forever in landfills, that whole radiation thing is still with us.

But the area he is talking about is well out of the Fallout zone.

Some people actually know why he is doing the thumbs up and looking only through one eye.  Count yourselves as clever and educated if you do.  If not, just believe he is a happy fellow!

Let's be honest though - for those prices I might risk being a whole lot closer to the radiation zone.

And being in Ukraine does put Eastern Europe pretty damned close to me.  Closer than many trips I've taken to play NERO.

Problem 1:  Getting to Kiev.

The plane schedule from where I am (Miri, Malaysia) to get to the big hub (Kuala Lumpur AKA KL) looks like this:

10:00 - 12:15
14:20 - 16:30
18:55 - 21:05

The flight from KL to Kiev looks like this:

10:55 - 20:45

You know what that means?

That means I am fucked.

Imagine being the person who actually took this picture saying to their friends "Guess what I saw today?"

Yep.  It will be a long assed night wandering the terminal, smoking and sitting around with all of my shit.  Oh, but why not fly there, get the train or an over priced cab into town to pay top dollar for a grotty place to sleep so that you can get up real early  to try to make it to the airport three hours before your flight leaves?  And spend a bunch of useless money?

Because it's not really a clever idea.  Even if part of me thinks "Yeah, sure, I'd only have to get up by six in the morning, find a taxi running that is happy to rip me off..."

If you google 'evil taxi driver', you get the zombie taxi driver from Ghostbusters.  Apparently, actual evil taxi drivers are too evil to photograph.

Nope.  It's a lot of useless money I'd rather give to Starbucks in the airport so I can bitch about their wifi.

So I have a long night to look forward to.  Not a huge deal at KL airport.  They don't close it and drive the patrons into the streets like some airports I've been to in the past.

Once in Boryspil International Airport (the one the plane flies into) it is a 50 UAH (thats about $2) bus into Kiev.

Because as my good friend and travel mentor Adam posted...

OK.  Got that part settled.

Sadly, the town Sergey was talking about doesn't seem to have a lot of rental properties.  Switch to plan B.  Kiev, Lviv then Chernihiv.  They go down in price in that same order as well.  The latter two also put me close to the borders of other interesting countries.   If prices are cheap (or you are rich), plan B is not difficult.



BUYING AIR TICKETS ON LINE

Buying tickets on line is always stressful.  Because they really don't have their online shit together as much as we all wish they did (especially from less tech savvy countries) buying airline tickets always feels like wagering a good chunk of money at a craps table.

Not that I've ever gambled a 'good chunk of money'.  You have to have one first with which to gamble.

Getty Images - not really realizing that once you put a picture out there that putting your name on it won't keep people from using it or caring.  Getty Images is gratefully acknowledged as having either taken or bought this picture.  Like you care.

So anyway, it feels a lot like you are gambling several hundred dollars on a bet.  Will the ticket go through?  Will you think it did but it didn't?  Will the company keep your money and blow up the plane?  Who knows.  Either way, when you click it, it's gone.

Unless your fucking credit card doesn't work.


My bank (in the states) though helpful is way overprotective.  I have to literally tell them about every country I want the card to work in and update them frequently.  Apparently, they hadn't been planning on me doing business with 'one of the -stans'.

After calling my bankers (I love skype) I got the payment pushed through.

The day after, I went to check the bank (and Paypal that I'd used for the local ticket Miri to KL) to see if the payment went through.  This is actually a good tip - inspect what you expect.  The big ticket went through, the Paypal one is still 'pending' for some damned reason.  I sent them a message.  You see?  Stressful.  In addition, you should receive confirmation letters and such in your e-mail.  Check out all of this stuff closely.  Make sure they have been paid and are happy.  Other travelers tell me stories about their payment not going through and the airline looking all surprised when they showed up with 'reservations' - but no tickets/seats.


THE HUMP

Of course, you need plane tickets to get over what I personally think of as 'the hump'.


I'm pretty sure that I've discussed it before but these are the countries I wish were cheap, safe, fascinating tourist meccas (probably not the right word there...) but sadly they've gone the other way.  I need to take a plane to get over them.  Generally, they are not good places to go either because of high cost or low survival expectations.

And getting over the hump is always a few hundred dollars.  No budget airlines fly over the hump - which is sad.  It's weird but the price to get over the hump is about $150 less than it is to fly from KL to the USA.  Strange, eh?



UKRAINE RAIL MAP


I think there are a lot more minor rail connections than are shown but this does tell me they seem to have a pretty extensive rail system in Ukraine.  If prices are as cheap as I'm seeing, there could be some sightseeing and exploration by rail going on.  Yes, I know I am one to take advantage of a countries' problems but this is a unique opportunity to see a bit more of Ukraine.  Possibly before Russia decides it wants another slice.

"Hey - I am too cool being - like your Fonzie.  But with a nuclear missile where my dick was."

Oh that crazy Putin.  What ever will he do next...

Anyway, since I need to absorb off the cost of flying to Ukraine, for my first couple months I'll be seeking and staying in places for a longer term.  A month - two if very nice and I'm not sick of the town.  Then, go outside of Ukraine for a bit - check out other Eastern European countries then back in unless I'm sick of the place.

It's a solid plan and oddly, my travel mentor isn't telling me it is a stupid plan.  This makes me feel pretty good about it.


He also advised me to bring some extra 'hard currency' as a negotiating tool for rent.  It's been so long I had to double check what he was talking about.  Yes, dollars and euros.  Same kind of 'hard currency' they use to go on and on about back in the bad ole days of the USSR.  Sadly, it is a pain in the ass to get in Miri as banks regard it as the job of the money changers.  The money changers regard it as their job to rip you off.



TRAVELER'S TIP

The day after making a payment (especially for airfare) look at your accounts online to see if the money was actually paid out.  If not, make inquiries.  While it is an extra step you shouldn't be required to do when dealing with professionals, remember that the merchants frequently aren't and that banks are mutherfuckers.  Though the people who help you individually may be quite nice.  [I put that disclaimer in for all the really nice people who have helped me over the years at my bank.]



BOOK REVIEWS

I'm listening to The Walker Papers.

It's a decent urban fantasy series...aside from the fact that the author makes all of the men again attractive. Does this mean the author owns a lot of cats? I don't know - but that does seem to be a common theme for romance writers.

One of the ladies various love interests (they always juggle several because...cats...) is the captain of the police force she works for.

Ever see the TV series "Person of Interest"? Remember the dirty cop who was strong armed onto the good guy's team and eventually became a good guy? Fusco? Yeah. I have retaliated and am using his image as her captains.


This makes me rebelliously happy and makes some of the scenes much more interesting being that he is 'short and blocky' and I'm thinking not considered handsome by any women in the classical sense of the word. Maybe not any sense. I've no idea.

Why am I listening to a book series (not just one book but a series) that I am subverting? Because there just don't seem to be enough decent series out there in the urban fantasy stuff. Most of them are written (and consequently read) by women. There are some women readers who are OK (like the one who reads the Walker Papers) but many of them make me wish I were gay.

Sigh.

I'd put this series at a 5/10. It's a book series for when you are needing something to read.



MOVIE REVIEWS

(Hell, reviews of both books and movies?  This blog really has it all, huh!)

War of the Worlds (2005)

Gave this really freakishly expensive (though it did make a lot of money) a 3/10.

The positives: Lots of nifty death and dramatic action.

The negatives: The most annoying, unlovable family who I desperately wanted to have get picked off one at a time all survive despite logic and common decency.

Why they would want to make the main characters so annoying and ones you'd like to back over with your car is strange. Usually, you want people you would hope to have survive so that you can get all sympathetic and cheer them on. I cheered on the Martians though I knew they were doomed from the beginning. Wells told me so.

What really scares me is that some of my readers will know who Mr. Wells is by sight.  [For the rest of you, am I fucking with you?  Yes.  Yes I am.  Enjoy.]



PRICES (MIRI)

Local food - small dinner, under 10 MYR.  Big dinner, double that.  Includes 1-2 plates of food (small or big) and two ice teas.

Beer:  Fuck that, it's way too expensive here.  Only tourists, rich folks and desperate alcoholics drink a bunch of that here.  Go to Cambodia to drink.

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev

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