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Donate today BECAUSE Logan will probably use the money to fund his upcoming RPG. More entertainment for YOU!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FUCK ORPHANS

COSTS

Shave, with electric razor, 30 HAU

Giant schwarma (a burrito like thing with chicken and miscellaneous stuff) and a bottle of beer, 30 HAU



ORPHANS

With a great deal of help from the locals, I managed to find the orphange. It is well hidden. Naturally, they had only a fairly rough degree of English. They had never heard of front page hostel. Additionally, the kids were all in school. I was also told the kids had no interest in speaking English. I'm not seeing any real reason to stick around.

I did get invited by a couple of girls I met up with while searching for the hostel for drinks. They ended up not being home later. Doh.



THREE MASTED SHIP

In the harbor, they had a three masted ship. In this age of motor driven boats, that's a rare thing. I saw what appeared to be a seaman smoking on the pier next to the gang plank. Smoking is an easy in. Soon, I got myself invited onto the ship and introduced around. The ship seems to have sat around for too many years. Hence, the students of the maritime academy get the pleasure (well, are forced) to work on the boat for stints of one month long The total amount of money needed to refurbish the boat is about one million dollars US. In other words, I don't think it will get done any time soon. If it was able to sail and I spoke Russian, I think the crew was friendly enough that I'd have gotten to go sailing. As it was, they assigned me two English speaking tour guides and was told I could go anywhere I wanted. The only exception to that turned out to be the control cabin. That was only because the captain had the keys and wasn't on the ship. I'd have liked to get some pictures of the controls.

Also, the officer in charge gave me a big picture of the boat. I didn't try to tell him I was living out of a backpack so I gave it to the hostel to keep.



SERGEY - PART 2

A different Sergey I talked to on a different day is studying international management and getting ready for exams which start on Monday.

Here's what I found out from him:

The best thing in Odessa is the language - it's a mix of Russian and Ukrainian as well as special 'Odessa worlds'. the language came from a district that had a mix of people living there and was made famous by a writer named Smirnoff - like the vodka.

Also, tourists say Odessa has the friendliest people and prettiest girls in the Ukraine. And the port.

The biggest challenge - the tourist season is only mid May to mid September.

I had asked about the corruption problem and he said that was a previous USSR thing.



GEORGIA

Here's some info I got from Sergey on Georgia:

They love their culture.
A lot of national pride.
Very friendly.



FOR MY FOREIGN READERS

This is a stairmaster.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

DANCE, DANCE DANCE

DANCE, DANCE, DANCE

So I walked across town to see Elena's (lady I met via couch surfing) dancing thing. So, I wandered over that way. I was working on avoiding spending money on a cab. Since I didn't know how long it would take to get there and such, I wound up showing up an hour and a half early. Elena seemed surprised I walked that far (me too) and seemed pleased I showed up. After that, a series of mis-communications. I asked if there was a place I could hang out. I was tired from my walk and hoping to be told about a chair I could go sit quietly on in the building somewhere while waiting for the time to tick by. She said 'perhaps after the performance'. So, I was banished from the nice cool building into the park across the street. She had mentioned various tourist stuff on the other side of the park I could go see but I was more interested in sitting quietly, even if it was outdoors. So, I waited around until it got close to the show time.

Eventually, it became time and I went in and sat down. I got a lot of curious looks. The show came and went. It was a lot of people who were in very good shape doing graceful things. What I was really looking forward to was the after the show time. While I do occasional cultural things for the experience of having done them, I'm not what anyone would call a cultural connoisseur. I was pretty much there to be able to have a nice chat with everyone after the show.

In America (note, I realize I'm not in America - this is why people keep speaking Russian to me) I've been to some plays and such in the past by invitation. After the play is the hang out time while the actors unwind and eventually everyone - actors, their friends, their acquaintances, the strange guy who doesn't speak a language anyone can understand, all go out to sit and drink somewhere.

This doesn't seem to be the case here. Apparently, it is a time for close friends and family only.

So, I was dismissed from the building and decided to wander off to see what else was going on in the city.

The answer was 'not much'.

So, I retaliated by sending out yet more couch surfing 'coffee or drink' invitations. I will find a way to talk to more people...

In later talking to other Ukrainians, they tell me the culprit may be American movies. When the girl takes the hero out, they invariably have sex. I'm not really planning on having sex in the Ukraine (or anywhere else for that matter) so I was frankly floored by this. I can see how people might be leery. I just want to talk to a table full of people and I'm happy. Sigh.

I suspect also there could be a cultural difference. For example, when I hung out with Diana and Suramon (the dark wizard) in Romania, I met their families, their friends, their business associates. I was made to feel very welcome into their lives - taken to run errands and so on. Here, it is a lot more segregated. I had asked Sylvia who runs the hotel about it and she related a story of how a lady from elsewhere who lived here never ever got invited out by coworkers for a drink or whatever after work despite getting on well with all of her co-workers.

I can respect that sort of cultural difference, but for me, meeting up with more people is what I'm here for. Fortunately, I've got a lot of the world left to look for where it is the opposite way.



SERGEY, ROKSANA AND DAVID

I met up with a couple - Sergey and Roksana who were both reporters. He covers politics and sports, she does human interest stories. She wanted to do a story on me as apparently, I am the only person in Odessa who does not own a cell phone. Interesting and weird. Sergey said he might have someone who could use a native English speaker to help teach the kids English. We'll see what comes of it. They were both nice folks.

David is a guy from Belgium who knows a bunch of languages (even by European standards) and learned Russian just for this trip. He is wanting to see the world and decided to start with Europe. Cool guy.



LOST IN TRANSLATION

Due to poor translation skills, side dishes are widely called 'garnishes' on restaurant menus.



NOTEBOOKS

I've finally gotten another one filled up so I will be sending Jana two this time, as soon as I find the post office tomorrow. I've been told it is close and no problem to find. We'll see how it goes.

In the Ukraine, they have a system for sending packages. First, you take the stuff you want sold to a little old lady who has string, tape and brown paper. She makes a nice envelope for you. The cost is about 9 UAH (a buck). Then, you take it over to the mailing counter in a different room within the cavernous post office. Cost to mail two notebooks to Jana, about 45 UAH.



NEXT JUMP

It looks like as far as couches to sleep on, Sevastopol (Ukraine) sucks. I'm going to probably look up people who might be interested in hanging out when I get down there.

I've got my train ticket down there ($21, second class sleeper. Yes, Pete, I specified a bottom bunk) for Saturday. Sadly, it leaves close to midnight.



COUCH SURFING

I'm also going to start working on Istanbul afterward to see if I can spend more time with locals. As of the time of this writing, I've sent out about 100 couch surfing requests to people in Istanbul. I've gotten a couple snooty letters back from people who didn't like a form letter. Tough. There is an amazingly low response rate on this. I haven't been keeping track of the exact numbers, but this is how it seems to go. Send out fifty requests. Five come back to 'maybe', depending on the time. Once I narrow down the time, I might have one or two that can accommodate me. Anyone who sends out ten or less expecting results will probably be disappointed.



COSTS

Siberian dumplings (a kind of ravoli which supposedly had three different kinds of meet in them) and baked in sour cream, 49 UAH. It was 300g of food which I couldn't finish and rated as 'OK'.



TOMORROW

I was told about an orphanage - I'm going to go check it out. Nike could always use more workers - right?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES

PLANS

I'm spending a week wandering around the city of Odessa. After that, I'll probably head down to Sevastopol, Ukraine. I'm not sure when yet though I should probably start sending out CS invitations and stuff. After that, probably Istanbul. I've heard that although Georgia is indeed cheap, it is dull dull dull (also mentioned by Kenmal from Turkey who is staying at the same hostel).



ODESSA

I've been wandering around Odessa with this song (start at :26) stuck in my head. Now, you can have it stuck in yours.

From a distance - it was closed by the time I made it over there - I got to see a stage where they were having a dancing contest for kids.



SAILING ADVICE

I'm putting this in here partially for my notes and partially in case someone else wants to go sailing - for free. From what I've learned from Adam (owner of the hostel) it is not all that difficult to get aboard with zero experience. They look for those people - because they don't have to pay them. You stand watches and stuff. I can do that.

So the reason they hire crews is to move around the yachts and such for the various races that the rich participate in.

Antigua sailing week, starts in the last week in April. The month before that, you need to be in Antibes in France where they only have one hotel and apparently it's horrible and expensive. The yachts and such stack up there and then all sail across the Atlantic. Two-thirds of the are going to Antigua. That is the beginning of the Caribbean season.

Buy yachting magazines. They have information on when the races are on. Crewing companies who advertise in them though usually want experience.

You can also deal with 'Bare Boat Chartering'. Basically, this is where a bunch of people (or one guy) rents out a boat with no crew and sails it around. The job of people looking for work with this is to go get it from whatever harbor it was left and bring it back to where it should be, etc. For this, Adam advises to head to Turkey, Greece, etc - every major marina - where they rent boats.

In September, boats in California (San Diego or LA) are headed to Mexico and (via stops) eventually for Costa Rica or the Panama Canal.



NOTE ON UKRAINIAN CURRENCY

I've been told it's as useless as tits on men outside of the Ukraine. Get that shit changed to Euros before leaving. Please, God, let me get it changed before leaving!



ANOTHER AMERICAN CUSTOM

The BBQ. Here a typical American BBQ's hot dogs. [Thanks to Christopher B for finding this traditional picture.]



COSTS

Weird throat spray with honey in, 20 HUA

Olympus camera I didn't buy, 1000 HUA

Samsung 5x zoom, 2gig memory card, case, 800 HUA which I did buy because my piece of shit has finally given up the ghost after consuming some batteries really amazingly fast and I'd feel like an absolute twat doing all of the traveling I'm doing without having a camera. It's not a beautiful thing but it is light, uses a LI battery and such. I'm hoping the 220v power doesn't fuck me later, but I suspect it will.

Juice box to celebrate spending 800 HUA on a camera, 4.5 HUA.



INTERVIEW WITH DAKSH ON INDIAN CULTURE

[Disclaimer - these are all paraphrases and the best I could do from my notes. I really could use a film crew following me around.]

India is between it's traditional culture and westernization. It has rapidly become westernized due to getting a lot richer as of late. Also, TV and the internet give easy access to how things are done in different countries. In addition, Indians living in America come back to India and tell people there what is going on in America. The generational gap may be one of the biggest things pushing the new change. People are beginning to question why they should continue to do things as they have in India.

Twenty five years ago (or so) - the father and mother had the children get married when they were under ten. Until the kids grew up to approximately age 21, they stayed at their own homes though they would be permitted communication and such. When the kids became 21 or so, they would then live together.

Twenty years ago (or so) - Arranged marriage, the couple got married at age 21 and saw each other for the first time on the night of the wedding.

Year 2000's or so - the mother and father choose the spouse, asking the kids if they liked each other first but no pre-marital sex.

Today - if the couple is certain they will marry they can have pre-marital sex. If they decide to break it off early however, it could get messy.

Because you have no history in an arranged marriage, you have a lot of discovery to make. Everything is 'new and shiny', so to speak.

Something that can be a real problem is if one of the people in an arranged marriage has a 'true love' outside of it. This happens a lot.

Dowries are optional today.

Daksh has a very organized mind - it was interesting to speak with him.



THE BIRDS AND THE BEES

You always hear about the birds and the bees but when I've seen birds having sex it is usually the hopping 'frolicking' sort. Today (before I'd replaced my camera) I saw something different. One bird was standing on the wings of another and pretty much pinning it to the ground while going at it. I'm sure in bird speech he was saying something along the lines of "Take it bitch!" or "Take it you dirty bird!". I'd never seen that before in my life. When he was done and hopped off the other bird nearly get stepped on while recovering. My comment was "I thought that bird was going to get fucked...Again..."



COUCH SURFING

One of the options you can take during couch surfing is to just sign up to 'meet up for a drink' - it could be tea, coffee, a dozen shots of vodka, whatever.

So I had sent out some invites for getting together for a drink. One girl said that she had a bad experience with couch surfing and didn't even want to get together for a drink. I'm thinking that's a profile she should delete.

In order to put people at their ease, I like to have a neutral meeting site and let them choose where we are going. Unless I am feeling in some sort of danger going to where they want, I'm good with where ever. Outdoor cafes on main streets to me seem safest.

I'd sent out about a dozen or more invites and got two people writing back interested to meet. I'd detailed the first meeting in the previous blog, the second was with Julia and Vlad.

BTW - I would suggest writing people for getting together for a drink as a 'low risk' way to get acquainted with couch surfing.



JULIA AND VLAD

[Note all quotes are paraphrased. I attempted to pull what I could out of my increasingly beer soaked notes. I have also put a J: for Julia quotes and a V: for Vlad. If they both said it or if I'm not sure who said it, no letter appears. Things surrounded by brackets are from me.]

J: The best thing in Odessa is the (sense of) humor and attitude toward life.
V: The best thing in Odessa is the mix of cultures - Greek, Italian, Bulgarian, Polish, Jewish, Russian, etc.

They do Bruderschaft (Brotherhood) here as well.

In April, only in Odessa they have an April Fool's day celebration. This is even a holiday from work.

Almost all of the bureaucratic structures are corrupt. This is because they have uncertain futures so they're getting what they can now.

In Odessa, every family has Jewish roots. Much of the humor are anecdotes where in Jewish people are the brunt of the joke.

J: Old people love Russia for the stability it gave. Their futures were assured. Plus, the propaganda helped. Morality was higher - they didn't think about their own money - they thought about their country. People who didn't were ostracized. They had children's organizations called "The Pioneers" which taught kids to respect old people, etc. Nowadays, it is more anarchy.

(Under communism) people's lives weren't as good but their security was better.

[Where is Ukraine going?] Every election brings a new government. Nobody is talking to the people. The government is doing what they want.

The European Union has too many bail outs.

Ukraine should go it's own way while being a good neighbor with the countries in the region.

In western Ukraine, more people speak English. They work in the European Union as there is no work in western Ukraine.

[A weird custom in the Ukraine] After a party, when everyone gets ready to go home, you must 'na-ken-yah' [spelled phonetically as my keyboard rebels against Cyrillic]. This is a last drink - regardless of your condition. You must drink one last drink to respect the owner. It's vodka. It doesn't matter if you are on the verge of throwing up - you have to have this last drink before going.

Getting drunk is a sign of weakness.

As of last year, drinking in public places is forbidden [by law].

Hitchhiking within the city usually costs money - about what a taxi does. Hitchhiking between cities normally does not. This is seen by people as a legitimate way to make some extra cash.

V: Saying "the Ukraine" does not mean a 'suburb of Russia'.

Odessa was the southern capital of the Russian Empire.

Due to the USSR, people here want to speak and write in Russian.

Kiev is more than 1000 years old - although [due to being bombed all to shit] the buildings are new.

Georgia may have the best wine in the world.

Moscow is (or was recently) the most expensive city in the world mostly due to the prices of real estate. Also, the food and such is expensive. In Odessa, a one room flat is about $300 per month. In Moscow, $1000 per month.

People in Moscow are cold and uncommunicative. Nobody seems to be from there. Everyone goes there just to earn money. The people are self centered. Other cities [in Russia] are different than this - like St. Petersburg.

Three to four times a year, Odessa has some sort of festival involving knights.

Visit Balaclava in Sevastopol. It has an 'English seashore' and was built during the Crimean war.

To get from Odessa to Simferopol (the capital of the Crimea) you have to take a night train (8 hours, 100 HUA). From there, you take a bus to Sevastopol (2 hours, 25 HUA).

Always bargain in the bazaar.

[Julia and Vlad were one of those fun young couples that has a lot of energy. If you wanted to go walk around the city and have them explain everything to you, I'm sure they'd totally be up for it. They were also OK with sitting around and talking once they figured out I was a crippled bitch. They know a lot of stuff about their city and as a bonus (to me) they had useful information on Turkey as well. It was a pleasure to hang out with them!]



TRAVELER'S LORE - ISTANBUL

(This information came from Julia and Vlad who had spent several months in Istanbul).

Beware of restaurant scams in Istanbul - they do 'bait and switch' scams. It is very common and a meal can end up costing quite a bit. Like a hundred euros. Eat at the small and shitty looking places and on the streets.

Visit the eastern side of Istanbul - it is a lot cheaper (inc restaurants and hostels). Take the ferry there - it goes every twenty minutes and is less than a dollar.

The buses in Turkey sound magnificent - take them instead of trains. They have good roads and a good bus infrastructure.

In Turkey, you bargain everywhere - even restaurants.

Friday, May 27, 2011

DEATH OF A DENTIST

NOTE ON EUROPEAN TIMES

All times are given on the 24 hour clock. One PM is referred to as 13:00. Since I was in the military, this is no big deal for me. We used it there. If you are confused by a time that appears too big, just subtract 12 from it. Personally, I'm glad they use it - AM and PM can sometimes get you into trouble.



DEATH OF A DENTIST

So I went back to the dental office. Today, they were telling me a different story. An X-ray of just one tooth is 40 UAH. Normally, switching the deal on Logan makes Logan say "Good day" and leave immediately but I figured I'd been delaying on this fucking tooth for long enough. So I bit my tongue, smiled and said "Certainly. Lets do it." They X-rayed the tooth. Two dentists took a look at it and discussed stuff. They then called Olga - the lady who has most of the English speaking skills of the office - and had her translate the verdict.

They said that they didn't particularly like the looks of it but nothing needed to be done. They suggested I have it X-rayed again in six months to get a new analysis then.

This concurred with my "I know I don't know shit about dentistry" analysis of the Xray.

I was a bit surprised though because this answer has pretty much zero chance of gaining them any money at all. I'm use to having medical places try to make sure I get their services so they get paid.

Weird.

So this issue is 'dead' for six months. At that point, hopefully I'll remember to get to a new dentist.



WANDERING AROUND

So, I was wandering around by the boat docks today and found one of those little cruise ships that was powering up to take off. I got lucky and found someone who spoke English. They said that the journey was about 45 minutes long and the boat returned to whence it started. It was only 70 UAH (less than $10) for a cruise around a tiny bit of the Black Sea. I'd never done it before so I figured 'why not'. Unless it turns into a Gilligan's Island thing I should have plenty of time to reach the church to meet Couch Surfer Elena by 17:30.

On the boat ride, I noticed that I was the only person who was staring out to see while we were riding around. Everyone else was looking back toward land. I had been talking to Adam the hostel owner about how a person would get work on one of the sail boats. Apparently they do take people who have no experience, skills or anything like that. They are looking for social compatibility for a small vessel for a few weeks. That I can do. And the ability to stand watch during various times. I was in the military and know exactly what standing a four hour watch starting at 02:00 is like. Tedious. But I can do that for a couple weeks to get a new experience.

The big problem is that you have to know where the boats will be leaving from and be there and available to go whenever. The availability is not a problem but these places the boats start from are fucking expensive places - like Monte Carlo. Not the kind of places you really want to sit around for a couple weeks hoping to get a boat ride for a couple weeks. So, the quandry continues. I'll get educated on it and put the info in the blog here. I'm sure that someone out there is also interested in where and when boats leave from and may want to try this out. The biggest barrier on this seems to be knowledge as well as luck to get taken onto a ship. I'm convinced I am a lucky bastard (look where the fuck I am now) so I just need to get the knowledge. And when I get it, so will you.

Note, I'm not thinking about becoming a full time sailor - I'm just thinking that sailing around for awhile in a small boat would be an interesting experience.


Through trial and error, I've finally learned how to navigate this city and find my way back to the hostel. What absolutely kills me is that Pete would have figured it out in a few minutes. Me it took a couple days. If you're thinking "Logan, you're too hard on yourself" - I've seen the man operate, I know of what I speak. If you're not thinking I'm too hard on myself, you're a mea person who sacrifices puppies to Satan. On the good side of the news though, I think I know this city better than Jana knows Prague. Zing!

According to Adam, most police shakedowns occur late night. They don't like to be seen doing it.



PHILOSOPHY

I've noticed in both Moldova and Ukraine - countries in which finding someone who speaks English is tricky, they seem to prefer American techno. This differs from the 1970's and 1980's music found further west. I suspect the people who like techno like it for the rhythms and such because they have no idea what the lyrics are. They haven't figured out a way to dub them like they do the movies (boo!) yet.

I've noticed a lot of girls (here especially) like to wear the tight/short shirts or short shorts - even if they shouldn't. If a girl has a beer belly, love handles or a muffin top I'm not sure why they believe that revealing clothing will fix this. Every time I see this sort of thing I am tempted to flash my huge hairy belly at them in retaliation.

I'm working on cutting a deal with the hostel for a reduced rate for the room if I am here longer. I may stay here a week and the go south to Sevastopol and check it out.

"A lot of people base security on routine." - Logan



COSTS

Skewer at an outdoor cafe, 59 UAH

Two cappuccinos and a fruit juice thing, 52 UAH.



ELENA

I met her through the 'have a drink' option of Couch Surfing and got to have a talk with her at a cafe. Here is what she told me [note that all of these are paraphrases!]:

Some people want to belong to Russia, others to Ukraine.

Russian people are rather aggressive, impatient, self centered and believe their point of view is the only right one. The Russians she talked to agreed and said "Yes, we Russians are like that."

The Russian government is very strict. In Ukraine, the media can criticize politicians and whatnot. In Russia, they don't have the freedom to.

In Russia, there are only five to seven cities with good infrastructure - the rest are villages. Ukraine is more developed.

People from Odessa love their city.

The older generation still likes communism. The younger generation thinks independence is better.

It's not about independence - it's about freedom of speech, thought and travel.

Corruption in Ukraine is as normal as saying 'hello'. You have to have the right friends (and contacts) to do things like open your own business.

She was a lot of fun to talk to and I think we're suppose to get together again later - though I'm not sure when just yet. I do know that I was surprised at how quickly the time went by. I'm looking forward to visiting with her again.



FUTURE PLANS

I'm going to try living cheaply here for awhile and see how that goes. I've paid through Friday, June 3rd and so I will be here at least through then. After that, I may head south to Sevastopol, Ukraine. We'll see what I figure out.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Refuse or send back or don't touch the bread they bring to your table (unless you want it) because they will charge you for that shit. The bread served in the restaurants isn't really worth a shit. Bert makes much better. Go to Blacksburg and try to bribe him to make bread for you. Better.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Transnistria (Moldova break way republic) photos can be found here.

You can see the current pictures that are up fro Odessa by clicking the title of this blog. Actually, you can click a lot of the past blog titles to see the pictures if you didn't know that.



LEAVING MOLDOVA

When I played NERO, my character Lumsie had a simple motto he followed: "Arrive unannounced, leave unexpectedly." That saved his life plenty of times - much to the frustration of evil doers. Especially other PC's. I still find myself doing that by habit. It paid off today. I had been talking about my blog to one of the guys I stayed with at the hostel in Moldova. He had asked for an example of the kind of things I wrote about in the blog. I brought up the articles on bribery because - face it - not a lot of people write about that sort of thing. Well, the 'how to do it' part. This guy had overstayed his Ukraine visa. The next day as I was leaving (unexpectedly) he came up with the idea of having me do the bribing of the Ukrainian border guards to get him back into the country. Being that this guy had been bitching just minutes before about losing or forgetting he spent a 500 MDL note and he was staying at a hostel, I'm thinking that he probably didn't have the money for bribing the border guards - much less bribing me to bribe them. Risking hassle for someone I barely know is not a cheap proposition. I dislike breaking laws when first entering a country unless it is a very special (for me) situation.

So I gave hi some tips and blazed off in a taxi. Later, I switched to a train. And so on.

Speaking of that, here is what I've found out about European border procedures thus far. The more expensive way you travel in, the more you are scrutinized. Plane, train, bus - in that order. Plane arrivals get asked all sorts of questions, trains might get some, buses who gives a fuck. I'm guessing that part of the reason is that the best English speakers get sent to the most expensive way in. If you know forty or less words of English it is damned hard to interview me about what I'm up to in your country.

Train border crossing - they bring on the stamps onto the train with them. They look at your passport, sometimes search the car for stowaways or that forgotten key of heroine you knew nothing about but will now go away for a long time for. They may ask a couple questions but unless you respond stupidly, they just don't care. They are more interested in the locals who are probably doing naughty shit than some scumbag backpacker.

The first time I did a bus crossing I got pretty freaked out. I'm still not comfortable with them for a couple reasons. The still do a perfunctory search into the luggage hold of the bus. It's quick enough that I'm thinking they are looking for a person or a bundle of explosives with wires coming out of it the bus driver somehow missed. The big difference of the bus experience is that they collect up all of the passports and just take them away. For what seems like a year and a half. You are not allowed out of the bus - just sit there and sweat. To make matters worse, instead of giving them back to the individuals, they are just handed in a stack (stamped) to the bus driver. He doesn't give a shit - he hands the stack to the first person who takes theirs and hands them to the next person. If anyone had any doubt what nationality you were, they don't any more. This is a bit more challenging when you are from a country that is renowned for being pretty warlike. [Reminds me of a quote: "People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome." - Serenity.]



ARRIVAL IN THE UKRAINE

Money in Odessa is the Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH) but if that isn't confusing enough, they call it the 'Grivna' in Odessa. Roughly 8 UAH = 1 USD at the time of this writing.

Honestly, there isn't a lot to tell. Roads in the Ukraine suck but they make Moldova roads look worse than washboard roads. If you ride a bus, you'll feel like shake and bake.

When I got here, I just consulted my little book and had a cab driver take me to the first hostel on the list, figuring if it sucked I could go to the next and so on. Easy peasy. No drama involved this time. That may be helping my overall opinion of Odessa. It doesn't make for fascinating writing yet but I'm sure I will go through some fucked up shit that will put a smile on your sadistic faces.



TIU FRONT PAGE HOSTEL

The owners/runners of the hostel are a couple named Adam and Sylvia. Sylvia is a really nice lady from Poland but I haven't really gotten to have in depth talks with her yet. Adam on the other hand let me pick his brain a bit. Adam would best be described as one of those 'colorful characters' you expect to see living on a remote island somewhere - for whatever reason.

Adam is a huge bald guy who is a sailor. He also wears a single hoop earring. I told him this fit in to my ideal of sailors (pirates) and I approved. In addition to a colorful narration of his life (which I won't repeat because hey, it's his story to tell) he also gave me several interesting quotes I present for you:

"People are limited by their desire (to accumulate) stuff (aka material goods)."

"When opportunity knocks, most people only complain about the noise."

"You can only get disappointed if you have a expectation. no expectations no disappointments."

On hostel running/owning: "The problem with most hostels is they don't focus on the core business. They try to do exciting things rather than focus on the mundane boring shit that makes a good hostel. Focus on the mundane - don't take your eye off the ball. When someone gets a business, the first thing they want to do is get away from the boring part - but that's what the business is all about. Doing the drudgery is what the business is all about."

It was an interesting conversation and I hope to have more with this guy. He is going to be opening/running/taking over (I'm not clear which) a hostel in the Crimea and I might head down there to stay at it after I get tired of Odessa.



ONE NICE LADY

In my preparation for going to the opera, I wanted to get some inexpensive binoculars or, ideally, opera glasses. I was willing to settle for either as I thought the chances of getting opera glasses was pretty slim. I'd have also been very pleased with a pirate spy glass - especially if it had a skull and crossbones on it and possibly a button I could push that would make it loudly spout a random pirate saying. I spoke to an Indian guy who is living at the hostel while he studies medicine. He told me about a he super mall thing where I could probably find something like that. I had bought a cheap Russian phrase book as I might (or might not) be here for awhile and a little Russian really helps turn the wheels of 'getting shit done' - especially since there aren't many English speakers here. I also looked up the word for binoculars on the internet in Russian. It is pronounced 'bi-noc-cul' - not too far off from English. Also, making the universally recognized symbol for binoculars (though in the USA it could be misconstrued for 'stalker') can get you what you want. So I caught a taxi out to the mall (20 UAH). I wandered around for a bit in the store. It all seemed to be food. Using my phrase book, I asked a random lady in a food stall 'Where (location) binoculars'? I also made the hand motion just in case. I expected her to point vaguely and try to explain in Russian. Instead, she told a lady at a different stall to watch her shop and then took me for a walk. we went out of the building, down the street, into another building. She checked with one place and cross questioned the lady. Getting no useful info (not even a vague hand gesture) from her, she took me to a different floor and a different shop where they had them. I was floored. This sort of generous nature in people and their motivation to help a complete stranger - not only at no profit to themselves but a possible detriment is amazing and beautiful. While she went back to whence she came, I picked up a cheap pair of binoculars (140 UAH) - they are small and a better magnifying glass with it's own case (10 UAH). In addition, I was given the choice of several attractive pistols with ammo to smite down my enemies. Prices started at about 1000 UAH. Since I had found what I wanted, I wasn't feeling particularly wrathful so I passed on the 'death' option. I made my purchases and decided to do something nice for the lady who had put herself out so much for me. Fortunately, my studies of cultural gifts indicated something which would not horrify any rational individual. Chocolates. There are some vegan and vegetarians who are indeed horrified by chocolates, but I did say 'rational people'. I asked the merchant I had bought the binoculars from where I could find a 'box of chocolates'. He then walked me out to another lady who only sold chocolate guns. I had no idea there was such a big market for them. If photography weren't prohibited in this mall, I'd have gotten a picture. I didn't think a chocolate 9mm would send the right message. Since the gun and binocular merchant had gone back to his stall, I then set about communicating my ideas with the chocolate gun girl.

My guess is that she'd lost every game of charades she had ever played.

I am nothing if not persistent. Eventually, she figured it out (kind of) and directed me back to the first set of (food) stores I had been wandering around in. Doh. Pete would applaud my 'spot hidden' skill as well as 'memory' skills, to be sure. Anyway, I went and looked around. They also didn't have exactly what I wanted but I found a mix of chocolates I could get (7 UAH - what a deal. I deserve a fucking medal for not buying any for myself...) and had them bagged.

I then brought them to the initial helpful lady.

Her face lit up like I'd just cured all of the ills of the world. I thanked her again and took off. It was a nice feeling.

I went and got a quick sandwich (31 UAH) and then took off to the opera in a cab (40 UAH).



A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

This the opera house in Odessa. I'm told it is the most famous and best in the entire country. I bought the most expensive ticket they had available to get the best seat I could (150 UAH). That was bit more than a night at the hostel (125 UAH) but I figured that for me, opera would be a once in a lifetime event. Probably ever. It is tempting to get some opera glasses because they would come in handy elsewhere, plus I can look like a toff using them.

And this is what I'm expecting.

Well, I'm back from the opera. It was "Rigoletto". I was confusing and over the top - all of the stuff opera loves.

When I had bought my ticket earlier in the day, I was talking to an older British couple who seemed to know more than I did. I said something messed up (made a joke) and some other guy started laughing. It is my way of finding out who actually speaks English. Humor wins. It turns out that his name is Roma. He ended up sitting next to me during the opera. Roma works for a company that deals with China a lot and he travels there half a dozen times a year.

Naturally, I interviewed him during the breaks and found out some information on Ukraine from him....

The Ukraine translates to something like 'the suburbs of Russia'. The 'the' makes a huge difference.

Peter the Great didn't think he could defeat Russia unless he split the Ukraine fro it. Roma agrees with this.

Ukrainians are basically Russians. Less than half of them speak Ukrainian, yet that is what the subtitles of the opera are in. According to Roma, it's a political thing.

He doesn't think the younger generation likes Russia as much as the older generation.

I think Roma said the 'Ukraine' wasn't really a country though I'm not really sure if I understood this.

The opera was about sixty percent full - not bad for a Thursday night. This would never happen in the USA because it would be in direct competition with all of the 'ladies night' drinks half off guzzling things going on. Note, I approve of people doing legal recreational drugs.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Allot a lot of extra time when going through a country border. It sounds trite but you want to allot several hours. They may be delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with you for longer than you think. Try to never have a 'connecting' transport scheduled immediately after a border crossing.



TRAVELER'S LORE

(Traveler's Lore is stuff I pick up from fellow travelers, usually at a hostel).

A Brit named Gary shared the following information on Thailand with me: Rent costs $150 per month, three cheap meals a day from 'street vendors' total $6 per day and girls cost about $40 each and are addictive as Almond M&M's.



PRICES

Cappuccino from a fairly trendy place, 20 UAH

Taxi ride in town: from 26-40 UAH; note that the nice cabs charge more on the virtue of their being 'nice'. Since I don't care what sort of rusted out piece of shit rust bucket death trap I'm riding in, keep it cheaper by looking for a worse cab.

Dentist - 40 HAU exam, 40 HAU for X-rays if the X-ray machine isn't broke as it was when I was there. Teeth cleaning, $55. That's USD. I asked them if they meant HAU but they said that they used the pastes and such from the USA. Since the last couple times I had my teeth cleaned in the USA they didn't use much paste (mostly scraped, actually) and I know there is no way they could use even a dollar's worth of paste) I figure they are out of their damned minds and I can get the teeth cleaned elsewhere. If they pull the same thing with any of the work I need on the tooth, I'll just get it done elsewhere. Paying $10 for an exam and X-rays is no big deal.

Night at the opera - your choice of seats. You can literally be in the front row middle if you book soon enough in advance. If you are willing to take a worse seat, it costs less, down to 25 HAU for "uncomfortable seats" - 150 HAU.

Not a bad chicken fettucini with a glass of Moldavian wine (14 HAU) for a total of 50 HAU.



FROM TJ'S WARPED MIND (NSFW)

I'm giving TJ credit for making this, whether he did or not. It's the kind of thing I could see him making. Personally, I think it's brilliant. I only wish that Jim Henson was still alive to see it. Yes, it might kill him to see it but it would be interesting.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JOURNEY TO A BREAK AWAY STATE

ENTER CHISINAU, MOLDOVA

Being that this is not the first time I've been to a foreign country, I carefully avoided all of the taxi drivers at the train station. They charge extra. I went wandering till I found someone and showed him the address I had written of a hostel. We haggled a price. He got under way and I had to change my mind. We haggled a new price. When he got me to where I was trying to go, he tried to argue for more. We had a heated debate until he gave up and shooed me from his cab. Later, I realized we were arguing over a dollar. Doh.

Before coming to Moldova (or Transnistria) bone up on your Russian and Romanian skills. Or get phrase books made. The amount of English spoken is pretty slight in Moldova, less still in Transnistria. If you don't prepare, you can practice your sign language and play the 'guess what I'm saying' game. I play this game a lot.

After dumping my pack in the hostel (and locking it to the bed) I went out to search for food - my one abiding pastime. I found a restaurant near where I am staying that I got to play the 'select some random shit off the menu because it's not in a language I recognize game. I ended up with Borst. I had no idea what it was and went through a lot of confusion when I was asked what color I wanted it. I chose red because it seemed interesting. It was a lukewarm red soup with meat - probably chicken - in it. Kid of sucky.



RETRO CINEMA

Later, when I was wandering around, I went to a place called the 'Retro Cinema' cafe. They had a beggar there who spoke excellent English. He wanted money. I said to him "You're dressed better than I am!" He got the look on his face like "Well, shit - you got me there." and shuffled off without another word.

I got amazingly lucky at Retro Cinema and met up with two people. Doron is a real estate tycoon from Israel who owns properties here in Moldova. Vadim is a banker and helps out Doron with his local dealings as Vadim is from Moldova. They were talking in English and I shamelessly got into the conversation. We all ended up sitting at the same table and talking. These are some really friendly guys.

Vadim knows interesting facts about Chisinau such as the building across the street from the bar/restaurant/beer garden we were at was where the first mayor of Chisinau - Karl Schmidt - administered from. Back in the 1960's and 1970's (?) Chisinau was 60-70% Jewish. Vadim also told me that the tap water is heavily treated here and has a lot of chemicals in it. I immediately stopped asking for tap water to try to build up 'good bacteria' in me.

Vadim also gave me the address and name of a contact of his (Vadim is a 'fixer' in so far as he knows a lot of people who can get things done but I believe all of his businesses are legal) who would be willing to cash in my BAM (Bosnian money). I was pretty excited about this.

One thing that Vadim told me about was the restaurant "La Placinte". It serves 'traditional Moldovian food'. Later I sought it out and the one I found was only a bakery - no interest in eating there so I moved on to another restaurant owned by the same guy called "Andy's Pizza". What was even more interesting than the rather mediocre food that Andy's Pizza served is the story behind the business. Vadim told me that a few years back when the president was still in power, he gave Andre (owner of Andy's Pizza) the choice between giving the president (or his family - not sure) half of the business or being framed for drugs and losing everything. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. I'm told this sort of thing is normal in communist countries. To this day, the ex-president still owns half. Given that they put corn on the pepperoni pizza, this is probably a fitting punishment. Having lived in NE Illinois for so long, I became a pizza snob. Considering Andy's was packed, I think financially he's doing OK.



QUEST FOR THE BOSNIAN MARK CASH IN

I'd asked the lady who runs the hostel what time Chisinau opens. She said 9AM. The next day, I was up and moving at 9AM to go find the currency exchange guy Vadim had directed me to. Everyone else in Moldova had assured me they would have nothing to do with the imaginary country of Bosnia or it's filthy money. I headed over to the corner I'd been told to go to and found not one but three currency exchanges there. The first two were no help and refused to deal with me. Seeing that I was running out of options on the third one, I showed the guy Vadim's name and phone number hoping for a 'oh, Vadim sent you!' Instead, the guy called Vadim. They had a conversation then the currency exchange guy took me back nearer the corner and into a grocery store. Hidden in the back of the grocery store - yet another currency exchange. It didn't open for another two hours. So, I wandered around seeing stuff and drinking a weird juice (25 MDL) and eating a weird roll bread thing (4 MDL) for breakfast.

I was absolutely baffled at just how many currency exchanges are in Moldova until I got told that one of their big exports is labor - and everyone sends money home.

They have a big open air bazaar along with a plastic roofed one that sells electronics. The water and stuff trapped in the plastic would occasionally spill on people passing under it, bringing back fond memories of Derek's best NERO event ever where the 'caves of chaos' were set up.

By chance, I ran into Doron wandering around. I hailed hi and he invited me for coffee at McDonald's. So I went. I don't really count coffee as eating there.

After we chatted for a bit he wandered off to do more business on his properties. I went back to the store as the guy should be there. He wasn't and the lady who worked the store part had no idea where he was.

So, I decided to hang out in front of the store. I watched a couple of birds swooping down and squawking loudly. I couldn't figure out what was going on till I examined the humans on the side walk. It turned out that one of them was - rather painfully for the bird - holding one by the wings. He would the repeatedly strike it to make it squawk as well as piss off the other birds. This was a source of great amusement for him and his buddies. I'm sure they were all supporting PETA. I got a picture of the man with his unwilling pet.

Eventually, Oleg, Vadim's friend showed up for work. I managed to get taken through the wash by getting my 170 BAM converted to 50 EUR and 10 EUR worth of MDL's. Not good at all and there was haggling and phone calls involved but it only increased it from it's original offer of 50 EUR up to 60 EUR. Nothing close to the 100 EUR I was going for, but better than using it as emergency toilet paper. Considering what a pain in the ass it is to dump, I'm feeling lucky to have gotten that. It really teaches me a good lesson of get everything changed to EUR before switching countries.

If I were staying here longer, I'd buy a better map than the one provided by the hostel. It looks like it has undergone heavy repairs, a fair amount of doodling and the creators of the map included large advertisements which obscure many important areas and part or all of various street names. I carried it around for a couple days because the hostel owner had gone through such trouble to get it for me. I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Eventually, I quietly returned it claiming I've memorized the city.

I'm also wanting a better compass. Who the fuck wouldn't mark which direction was north? Really? I go through phases where I think it's the red arrow. Later it's the green arrow. Still later it's neither.

I decided it would be nifty to go watch 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4' in 3D at the local movie theater. It would be kind of cool when someone said "Have you ever seen this move?" to be able to say "Yes, in Moldova." I went to the movie theater a couple different times during the same day and got to listen to a lady trying to tell me Russian is an 'international language' and that is why the movie is dubbed in Russian. Holy hell. Talk about stripping the personalities from the actors. I don't watch any movies that are dubbed - subtitles are much better. Apparently, all of the movies in this country are dubbed. I'm so out of here.

On 'international languages' - because a large portion of the population of the planet speaks a language (like Chinese) it doesn't mean it's an 'international language'. There is only one 'international language' and you're reading the blog in it. Welcome to 'being educated'. Unless you are a native English speaker - then 'welcome to being lucky'.



MISCELLANEOUS STUFF I LEARNED ABOUT MOLDOVA

Half of the country is communist, half is democratic. Due to the weird way that they have their system set up where you need a certain percentage of the vote (I think 55%) for the president rather than just a simple majority, they have had no president for the last two years.

They don't stand in line or 'que' well. They are actually quite petulant about it. If you aren't crowded in close to the person behind the counter you are trying to get help from, others nearby may assume you just don't want help badly enough and will cut in front of you. It worked better after I learned I needed to fill the space and throw others evil 'I'm fucking busy here' looks.

Chisinau is pretty much a gritty, newly emerging city - or appears to me to be that way economically. The amount of English spoken here is pretty bad. My daydreams of heading into the outlying villages to teach English went the fuck away after I got bored with their main city in just a couple days.

In the last few countries I've been in, I've asked men (when women were not present) what is best about your country and often the men said 'all of the pretty women in our country'. This is interesting. I have yet to encounter any country where someone says "Our women are hideous. Women from country X are much more beautiful." Not sure what. For me personally, pretty women are not a huge draw. Unless I'm getting directions from them, they pretty much ignore me. So I care about them...why?



THE MOLDAVIAN RESPONSE

Since I have to ask for directions quite a lot, I've had ample opportunity to study what I term the 'Moldavian Response' to a request in English for help.

Response 1: Put up hands palm outward, wave wildly while shaking head and hurrying off. I call this the "Don't talk to me, I don't want a file with the KGB!" response.

Response 2: Tell you anything you want to know - in either Russian or Romanian.

Response 3: Tell you what you want in English - usually horrible English but getting the point across is all that matters.

Response 4: Take you to the place you are trying to get to. This small percentage is what makes these people special.



MY FIRST 'BREAK AWAY STATE' - TRANSNISTRIA

It's looking like tomorrow (Wednesday) I'm leaving Moldova and headed to Odessa. I wanted to head over to Transnistria to check it out before I went.

My good luck was in full swing as I met a guy named Stan on the bus over there. He was literally sitting right next to me so that I didn't have to do my 'American thing' of yelling over a few rows to talk to him. Or maybe it's a 'Logan thing'. Either way.

This guy works for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and was knowledgeable in lots of areas, especially those dealing with his country of Transnistria.

Some facts he shared with me in no particular order:

Transnistria is pretty much owned lock stock and barrel by the ruling party (or relatives thereof) via the 'Sheriff' company. They own everything from the internet access, phones, grocery stores, etc. They make an assload of money.

Stan told me that this is a 'garden area' due to it's temperate climate. Because of this, the Soviets decided to make a bunch of factories here. I don't get that, but whatever. The Soviets then sent all of the raw materials here to be processed at the factories. A few years ago, whoever was in power as president said something along the lines of "We don't need these factories - we can buy it from China for less." Economically, this is a WTF are you thinking move. Apparently, things cost double from China, the quality is shit and all of those jobs were lost.

Moldova use to be one of the richest countries in Europe and now it's one of the poorest. I asked Stan why and he told me 'mismanagement'. The people in power are trying to get personal wealth, not help their country.

Sadly, Stan had to get off the bus in the city center. I wanted to be able to leave the city so I had to ride the bus on to the bus station so that I would know where it was. When I got to the bus station, I also took a picture of it so that I could harass locals into telling me where it was by pointing at it and being insistent they tell me. I figured if I was really lucky, I'd be tailed by the KGB and get assigned an agent who spoke English so I could make him into my unpaid tour guide. That didn't happen.

Transnistria was a lot like Chisinau in a lot of ways. It might be a bit cleaner - perhaps it's enforced. I know when I was there to make sure I was on perfect behavior. They still have secret police! They also have soldiers in camouflage and a hell of a lot less people speaking English. Part of the reason they 'broke away' is because of the language thing. They stubbornly stick to Russian here. Note that I didn't expect everyone to speak English. According to Stan, young girls were my best bet for English. Boys didn't want to study English - they could get a job in the factory instead. Huh.

After getting some MDL converted into rubles (yes, they call their money rubles - I think they want to be Russian) I went looking for food. I found a pretty upscale looking place with cloth napkins and such - but not at all expensive.

Naturally, the menu was in Cyrillic. Well, shit.

I made my fingers into horns and mooed until she pointed at something. I enthusiastically agreed and she went away to get it made. At least she didn't roll her eyes at me.

I'm just hoping fish don't moo around here.

I ended up with an extremely tender and tasty stake. With a black hair in it. I hope the hair is free. It also came with some sliced pickles, sliced tomatoes and black bread. Cost, 41 rubles.

Oddly enough, they did stock Kahlua there. Huh!

For something to do, I decided to set myself a task. I would find and buy bandanas. It wasn't easy until I found out the Russian word for them was...bandana. After that, no problem. Got two for 15 rubles each. I should have probably bought more.

I then decided to go through one of these Sheriff grocery stores. It looked like a normal grocery store - other than the fact they were playing Christmas music in May. I picked up two drinkable yogurts and a think of Eastern Europe toilet paper. There is no roll in the middle - it's toilet paper all the way through. Good for carrying (along with one I purloined from the train) in your pack for those "Oh shit" moments. I don't remember 'drinkable yogurt' in the states but it is popular here. And not very tasty. I'm not sure why I keep buying that shit but there it is.

So I had those three items in my clutches and was headed through the express line. Turned out to be three items maximum. I know because I picked up a cigarette lighter from their impulse items selection and the lady wouldn't ring it up. She made it clear that three items meant just that. I wonder if that would fly in the states. Probably not. We have more choices and like to go through the ten items or less line with two grocery carts of shit.

Despite a series of inaccurate directions from the locals, I eventually managed to make it back to the bus station.

Total, I think I spent less than $20.

I would like to point out you must buy your return ticket in rubles. Period. it's not expensive.

Sadly, I discovered that I still had some rubles on me after I left Transnistria so I got to go through the pleasure of having my pants pulled down during getting them converted back. I'm glad I didn't convert much, I probably only lost four dollars of my eight. All is well.

Sadly, as soon as Stan had to take off, the place got a lot less interesting. Honestly, I was tempted to just turn around and leave at the bus station but I decided to stick it out and explore.

I really need not have bothered. There isn't really anything to see there. I think the somewhat nerve wracking border crossing was probably as interesting as it got but even they directed me (just me) to an area where I could smoke. The same guy who helped me with my smoking problem even recognized me when I was headed back and winked at me.

I probably walked four or five kilometers. For me, this is a pretty good walk. While I was walking around, I found a couple old guys with a scale who were charging half of a ruble to weigh you. Their main customers are fat girls who are busy trying to fit into clothing they shouldn't be trying to wear. Anyway, I discovered I weigh 126KG/277LBS - down from the 300LBS I had started at and I suspect some of the fat has turned into heavier muscle. I'm good with that.

I saw a decent bit of Transnistria but felt that I wasn't really seeing anything interesting. It was much more interesting through Stan's eyes.

So, I left Transnistria after spending just a few hours there. Bah. If I'd gone out to meet up with Natalya and talk to college students there, it would have probably been much more interesting. It is sad that vague plumbing problems kept it from happening.

As a side note, they don't have physical walls keeping people in Transnistria but from what Stan was telling me, there are social walls. It is believed that the rest of Moldova is 'disgustingly dirty' and people say 'why would you want to go there?'



FUCK THE DENTIST - AGAIN

I finally decided to go to the dentist to see what is up. I decided not to fuck around and just took a cab to one that I had looked up on the internet. The lady at the dentist spoke English with the skill of someone who had been forced to attend class but hadn't really wanted to. I told her that I wanted to get quoted on how much it would cost for an x=ray of my full mouth plus a possible difficult molar extraction. I always opt for the 'difficult' so that they can't fuck me on the bill later. After deliberating with the other lady, she said she'd look first and afterward we'd talk. I agreed. She wet to work tapping on my teeth as though one of the would slide open a concealed door to reveal hidden treasure. After this had gone on for awhile, I stopped her and said "Are you hoping for a scream of pain or something?" "Da" she said. "It's not going to happen. You're just starting to irritate me." She agreed and suddenly went right back to it. I swear she did.

I countered by closing my mouth.

"What are you doing?" I asked. I believe this showed a remarkable amount of self control. In the states, I would have said "What the fuck are you doing, you crazy bitch?" but I am a guest here so I wanted to truncate my answer. She explained that she was tapping the teeth again. I demanded to know if they could do an X=ray. "Not here" she admitted. Really? A dentist office with no X-ray machine? i swung my legs off of the chair and announced "I am outta here!" Fuck it, I'll get that shit checked in Odessa.



BACK TO THE BAR...

Afterward, I headed back to Retro Cinema (Mihai Eminescu 55, tel 22-54-48). Note, they have no English menu. This country is ill prepared for tourism. A menu that doesn't include the international language is about as useless as wet toilet paper. If you think about how little real work that is to put on there and how much income it could net, it is sad.

I tried the trick of making horns with my fingers and making cow noises again. The beef here wasn't as good.

I went there to have a glass of my favorite wine "Izabela (rosu, demi dulce)". It is a light and fruity wine.

I'm not sure wy cigarettes are so amazingly cheap here but in preparation for me flipping countries tomorrow, I bought a couple cartons. $20 for two cartons. Wow.



COSTS

Apple juice in a restaurant, large glass - 18 MDL

Borst soup, bread (yeah, they charge for that shit) and two apple juices - 70 MDL

A pack of smokes or a soda - your choice, 10 MDL. That's a buck, people.

A Greek (kind of, not really) restaurant with upscale prices - grapeleaves, 400 MDL. It was sucky.

Smaller soda than you can get from a vendor from an upscale restaurant, 16 MDL

Retro Cinema - glass of wine (nice wine) - 20 MDL

Retro Cinema - Greek (not really) salad - 28 MDL

Retro Cinema - shots (50ML) range from 30 MDL for Pina Colada, 35 for Kahlua, 60 MDL for Absinthe.

Retro Cinema - deserts I don't understand, 18-29 MDL

Taxi to anywhere in the city - for locals according to Vadim 35 MDL. The most anyone has tried to charge me was 40 MDL. I stormed off angrily and walked for a kilometer to another cab before realizing he was trying to rip me off a buck. Doh!!

Andy's Pizza - Pizza 'supreme' (it's not) - 52 MDL

Andy's Pizza - 310g banana split, 35 MDL

Andy's Pizza - Tiramisu Sunday 260g - 40 MDL (I eventually broke down and had one - awesome)

Andy's Pizza - Tuborg beer 9which tastes like Coors - aka 'watered shit') 22 MDL

3D movie, horribly dubbed in Rusian, 40 MDL



COUCH SURFING STATUS

So far, I've had two great experiences and the rest were either 'sorry' with words around it or set up and then fell through. Aside from one which I aborted. My current opinion on it is that it can indeed work - but you have to send out an assload of invitations.

I've sent out twelve requests for Odessa - we'll see if any of them come back with anything.



CUSTOMS OF MOLDOVA

When you are looking for something a store doesn't have in stock and wish to ask the salesperson about where to find it, assume the question (regardless of the actual one you are asking, along the lines of 'do you know where I could find this?' to actually be "Do you have any hidden under the counter or know anyone who if you will refer me you will get a kickback?" If you assume this, it makes their next answer of ignorance make more sense.

Monday, May 23, 2011

ROMANIA LAYOVER AND OVER AND OVER...

ARRIVAL IN IASI

First thing - secure transportation. So, I went and checked on how much it would cost to go to Moldova. The good news on the pri - second class for 35 ROM and the first class is 83 ROM. It is a five hour ride. So - it's roughly either $12.50 or $30. I'm honestly undecided. I want to keep my costs down but could really use some sleep. It was close to 7 PM when I got to the train station. I was told that the train wouldn't leave till 3 AM. I freaked out a bit and told the nice lady "I'll be back." I figured I had plenty of time to go look into alternative routes - like buses and (fuck it) a taxi. So, I needed to find directions to the bus terminal. I went around asking taxi drivers what color the sky was. One guy laughed and said "It's blue, man!" I barely managed to get directions out of him before some guy hopped into the back and he took off. Never ever to be seen again. Doh. The directions were half a kilometer humping the pack. His directions were wrong. I found out from a couple of high school aged girls that the bus station I actually wanted was right across the street from the train station. Double doh. I could have farted fire. So, I went back and had a chat with the people at the bus station. It turns out they had a bus that bound exactly to where I want. Leaving tomorrow at noon. So, I headed back to the train station and tried to buy a ticket. They wouldn't sell it to me. I swear to fucking god, they wouldn't sell it to me. The third time the lady was angrily explaining in Romanian to me I said "I'm sorry, my language skills have not improved since the first time you tried to explain it in Romanian to me." I heard someone behind me snicker. Guess who became my newly drafted translator?

It turns out that the tickets are sold out of Frankfort (Germany). They close the ticket sales to the local stations 48 hours before the train comes.

What...the...fuck...

Because I could feel the anal intruder coming, I asked "How do I get on that train?"

She said I'd have to buy a ticket from the conductor.

Remember last blog when I said this was a really bad sign? Here it happens again. Basically, I'm suppose to jump on a train headed for the border. It's adventurous the same way that stepping on a rake can be. Since I've got my second wind in a restaurant with the obligatory TV chattering away like a 'Chicago Typewriter' in the background, I decided to try typing on the blog for awhile some stuff then probably get clubbed to death by the 'sleep monster' in the train station. I see some great fun in the near future. I'll have to see what this train station looks like at night, but it's looking better than Timisoara does so far...

After finding as secure (and warm) of place as I could, I let myself fitfully doze while keeping a death grip on my shit. Eventually, I managed to board the train - just barely. My sleep befuddled brain wasn't sure if it was the right one and with no ticket it made it more challenging.

And then I got a cabin. It had four bunk sleeping beds in it and was empty aside for me.

Some guy who was either drunk or tired with no uniform or tickets came calling. I couldn't verify whether he was the conductor or not. He didn't speak English or German. I showed him I had money. I let him examine that I had a passport but I didn't release it from my grasp. I know about the trick of 'give me money or I rip this up'. When I originally got on the train, my intention was to check out both the first and second class seating to see what I wanted to pay for. In my 'duh - me need sleep state' I found later that I had ended up climbing onto the first class cabins. And I think that I had accidentally negotiated a first class passage for second class price.

Hell, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Well, unless it's digital.

I was very confused if I should sleep or not. This strange guy with no uniform bugged me. I eventually gave into trying it out because it was the first horizontal surface I had encountered in a very long time. As soon as I had gotten comfortable, the door opened. It was the guy - and he had found his conductor uniform. We were already at the border. The very odd thing at the Romania border is that they take your passports. I mean like physically take them away to somewhere else. I watched and they did indeed take other peoples - not just mine. I'd have been freaking out if it was just mine. A different guy came through and asked me how much money I had. I showed him the fairly pathetic amount in the 'day wallet'. He looked completely disinterested and wandered off. My guess is that you have to declare over a certain amount. I had forgotten about the other currency that was in my special container but I think he would have been completely disinterested in my BAM (Bosnian Marks).

The customs official then pointed at my backpack and asked "Problem?" I thought about how well the pack actually seemed to be working and said "No." I didn't think his English would have let him comprehend if I mentioned I couldn't get the waist belt as tight as I'd like.

He then lifted up the seats to look under them. I really need to start doing this when I am in a train crossing a border. I'm sure if he found a dead whore and a couple keys of coke he wouldn't immediately leap to the conclusion that it had been left by a previous passenger. He might buy it if I loudly suspected Matt L but otherwise, I'd be hosed.

Anyway, he failed to find anything that distressed him so he left. The train then completely powered down which cut off the lights in my room. The only lighting is from the outside border lights. the harsh glare fills the room as we wait and my mind goes back to the movie "Top Secret".

My imagination hates me.

About a half an hour later, I had my passport cheerfully returned to me. I checked it out. My passport currently has eleven stamps. No clue what that means - some countries stamp, others didn't, some stamp one entry and one exit. Bah. Compared to someone who hasn't really traveled much, I've done a lot of traveling but compared to a lot of the people I'm meeting on the road, I've not really left the house.

Another fifteen minutes after my passport returned we were moving again. Into the Moldavian side. One border guard and one guy in camouflage came in. They asked in the "I know a couple words of English" type speeched where I was bound after this. I said "Maybe Odessa." This seemed to make them happy. They then inquired how long I would be in their country. I asked if the maximum stay was three months. They agreed it was. I told them "Less than that." I like to keep my options open. There was a bit of a pause then they shrugged and left. They seem to have been defeated by their own lack of English.

Between an hour or two at the train station and about two hours of sleep I got on the train, I was feeling fairly well rested. Or I was sleep walking.



NEXT EPISODE, CHISINAU, MOLDOVA!



COSTS

Shot of second grade whiskey, 12 ROM

Pizza - garlic, cheese, pepperoni, onions, 20 ROM



COUCH SURFING IN TRANSNISTRIA

According to my contact, the reason that there are few people willing to host in Transnistria is that you need a letter of an invitation from a foreign country to leave Transnistria. Hard to believe in this day and age. A lot of people feel put out because people apparently promise but do not deliver in these letters. Me? I'd move it.



TRAIN BATHROOMS - HOW TO USE THEM

For the ladies, they have one and only one option. It is called "Disinfect the toilet seat and perhaps add plenty of toilet paper around the rim so you don't have to touch it with your skin." I suppose they could also use the 'hold yourself over it and try to pee' option but the mechanics are mind boggling.

For men, we have two different ways to go to the bathroom.

The first is called the 'conductor lean'. Conductors are always leaning on doorways and such while the train is in motion so they are not bounced about by the constant jarring of the tracks. Well, in Central and Eastern Europe anyway. So, you lean on something and pee. That is the functional way to do it. Lean up against the wall and let it fly.

The second way I call "The Cowboy". It works just like a cowboy on a bucking bronco - see link. You stand unsupported in the middle of the bathroom and let it fly. Do your best not to touch anything - just try to keep your balance. Have a good time with it because chances are excellent there will be a lady waiting after your done. Try not to let her follow you to your cabin to kill you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

WOULD ANYONE MAKE A MOVIE OF YOUR LIFE?

"The movie will begin in five moments," the mindless voice announced. All those unseated will await the next show. We filed slowly, languidly into the hall. The auditorium was vast and silent. As we seated and were darkened, the voice continued, "The program for this evening is not new. You've seen this entertainment through and through. You've seen your birth, your life and death. You might recall all the rest. Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?" - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Doors_(film) For me, this quote has always bugged me. I'm not really thinking that it would be a very consistent movie. The part when I was in the army, young yet jaded then cut do twenty some years later and then I'm old fat and jaded. Hopefully, I'm back on track with a long ass part that is "And he did stuff". I did like the RPG's a lot and the people I met but those are already on podcast!



ROMANIAN LANGUAGE

Vagon means 'track'. useful to know if you're trying to find out what track you should be leaving on.



AND NOW BACK TO THE NARRATIVE

So, I had made my way back to Sighisoara and had two children beggars harrassing me. They were being over the top persistent. I was out of sorts from travel, lack of sleep and feeling pretty nasty and I forgot one of Logan's rules: "People may be talking in a different language but they are listening in English. Even those who have claimed and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding English may actually understand it. Take nothing for granted." So, I got frustrated and snapped "Fuck off" at the kids. Naturally, this was immediately understood. Worse yet, they started apologizing profusely for bothering me. Plus, the big brothers and family of these (presumably gypsy) kids could have been very close by. So, now I am feeling guilty, the idiot and a bit concerned. But wait, it gets worse. Possibly looking to see if I was dumb enough to give him a chance to see how fast on his feet he was with my stuff, one of the kids follows me into the store. And then he began translating to help me out. Wow, am I an asshole. So, now we go to my two rules on beggars. Rule one, they are probably faking it. Rule two, even if they are not faking poverty, you should not give them money because there is an excellent chance it will go one of three different places - booze, drugs or the boss of the beggars. Did you know beggars have a boss? I do. They are forced to give him kickbacks. So, give them food. They will be able to use it immediately. If they don't take it, see rule one. I'm not suggesting you give them your half finished ice cream cone but I am suggesting that if you buy them some bread or whatever, it will actually get eaten as opposed to shot up. Rule three - if accosted by beggars, talk in a totally made up language and keep moving fast. You should be moving fast or they will begin explaining via sign language. But if you're moving fast, it just confuses them and they look for someone else to rob. So, I buy the kids a big chunk of salami and tell them to go home. As I walk away I am thinking "They may not have one...Ass..." Rule four, avoid beggars when possible - you will feel like a dick no matter what happens.

So, i'm stuck at the train station for another two to three hour lay over.

Which gets another hour delay. The train is delayed due to unknown reasons. Unknown reasons always win.

But at least I'm back on the move again. Thus far, I've had two good experience and one lets call it 'neutral' experience. If I just wanted a place to crash, it would have probably been fine but it's not what I'm after.

In Sighisoara, I've seen more Americans than anywhere else in Romania. That is four all at once. I discovered later that "Dracula was born here" is the draw for Sighisoara. Weird.

So I met up with two American students, Hobie and Anna. Hobie lives in London studying politics; he's traveled quite a bit. Anna is studying to be a lawyer. Sadly, she left her passport in her backpack and it disappeared. She said that she's traveled a lot and that never happened before. I see that as the 'law of averages' catching up to her. They've done some interesting travel in Romania and were even ballsy enough to rent a car here. This is way too dangerous for Logan. Hobie and Anna seemed like nice folks, I hope their passport issue gets resolved without too much hassle.

After Hobie and Anna took off on a train, I sat around watching a literally filthy gypsy lady with three little kids. She's teaching her children how to go through the trash, beg from people, smoke and so on. It's rather sad. She was giving her eleven year old daughter cigarettes.

The countryside of Romania has a lot of 'quaint' (per Terry Pratchett) buildings connected by bumpy train rails and washboard roads. The landscape itself varies between hills, plains, fields and deciduous forests. It looks pretty nice. The cities are fairly flash but outside of the cities, horse and animal power is still used - which means (to me) life is hard.



TERRY PRATCHETT QUOTE

"Picturesque meant - he decided after careful observation of the scenerey that inspired Twoflower to use the word - that the landscape was horribly precipitous. Quaint, when used to describe the occasional village through which they passed, meant fever-ridden and tumbledown. Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, mean 'idiot'."



ON THE TRAIN

I found that some Hungarians living in Romania can't speak any Romanian, just as many oh lets call the 'ethnic minorities' (like many Mexicans I've met, for example) don't bother to learn English. I see it with the same "WTF" as I did in America. My German is pretty bad but when I found that I'd be there for two years I made an effort to learn it. If I was permanently living there, I'd sure as hell have learned it. It would probably still be a bit rough, but I'd make the effort. In talking to a couple of Romanian engineering students (Razvan and Dauria) I learned that many Hungarians can indeed actually speak Romanian but choose not to as some sort of 'autonomy' thing. Because they didn't want to offend other people in the car who didn't speak English, they didn't want to go into details (like proper nouns). It's an odd situation from my point of view.

I've also noticed that the Hungarian students became a lot more reserved and quiet around the Romanians.

According to Razvan who was sitting near the door and could smell it, our train conductor was drunk. [Note, from my other train rides this doesn't seem to be a real unique situation.]

Since Razvan and Dauria had very good English abilities I was asking the what they liked best about Romania. Razvan said the extremely varied terrain. You have literally everything here. Dauria said the 'Transfagarasan'. It looks like a pretty wild drive for a guy and a high performance sports car. Unfortunately, I'm thinking that you're going to be not just trying to stay on the road but dodge all of the other drivers, possibly a horse cart, livestock and so on. They did mention that global warming seemed to be messing with Romania's climate in a very direct way.

Dealing with Romania and the EU, they only have one year to get their house in order. Razvan and Dauria didn't think it was going to happen as they have to change both the educational system as well as the countries finances. If Romania doesn't get it done on time, they have to start a new five year clock. After the three Hungarian high school aged girls in the car got hustled off by the conductor for buying tickets that were 40 KM or so short of their destination (were they trying to save some money on tickets) and presumably tossed off the train (not while moving as far as I know...) we had a new cabin mate. This guy is a Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioner whose boss works with Steven Seagal. Apparently, when Nicolae Ceaușescu was in power, he was friends with the Chinese and martial arts came to Romania. Of the communist years, he assured us, the 1970's were the best. Toward the end of communism they had food rationing.

Abortions were also forbidden under communism - more workers. I am trying to think of another organization that forbids abortions and wants a lot of people. Hummm.

So, I was on a train headed to Suceacva and have no clue of where any hostels are and no way to look it up on line. If I press on to Chisinau (Moldova) I know they have some but I think the notes of them are in the notebook I mailed to Jana. That she still hasn't gotten yet. Shit.

Razvan and Dauria seemed interesting. Razvan contacted me via Facebook so I might hear from him again! Good times.



SUCEACVA, ROMANIA

Apparently, five hundred years ago, some monks made some cool paintings. Not a lot has apparently happened since. I wasn't really interested in going to see Christian paintings so I went instead during my five hour layover to find - the internet.

After trudging up a hill (Logan hates hills and...um...so does God?) I found a place advertising itself as a two star hotel. It turned out that I could get my computer plugged into their hardline internet for 10 ROM. Haggling time! I got that down to 5 ROM and then down to 4.55 ROM when it came time to pay as that was all I had in small bills.

I had pretty much as long as I wanted to look up things but after doing the research (called 'where are the hostels') I found I was too out of it due to sleep deprivation to put much on the blog.

My plan is to get to Moldova, rest up and meet up with the couch surfing lady who is willing to meet me in Transnistria. I'm planning on going to take a look at the place and stay with her for a couple nights. If I'm not comfortable with it, I'll head on to Odessa, Ukraine.

There is a girl who worked at the tourist information train counter booth whose English is a bit better than my Arabic. Translation, pretty bad. The fact she is at the 'tourist information' place tells me the monk paintings may not have a lot of draw or they'd want to get someone in there who speaks the 'international language' better than shitty. Anyway, she gave me some notes on a train that she believes will take me to Moldova. [Apparently, in addition to not being able to speak English, she also didn't know how to get to places as the information she gave me was wrong, misleading and would have gotten her fired at any decent company. She is just all kinds of 'fail' at her job when it came to dealing with a foreign tourist wanting to go to somewhere that wasn't a major Romanian city.] To top that, for mysterious reasons, she can't actually sell me a train ticket for this train - I have to buy it from the conductor. I wasn't very comfortable with this and was (sadly) proven right later. I was especially not comfortable with this when switching countries. Later when I tried to poke around and see if it could be verified, I got the same exact lady only more frustrated.

So, for some reason, I got the idea in my sleep deprived brain to go find a bank. I wanted to get some emergency currency ready in case my bank decided to have a little sex with my ass unexpectedly again. I figure Euros seem more accepted (and more stable these days) than the dollar these days so I'd like to have some for emergencies. So I see a guy at a currency exchange and he tells me where a bank is. I've got two different ways there he says - I can either walk about one kilometer each way or merely take the bus four stops and I'm there.

I stupidly decide the bus is the less painful option.

I really am wrong quite often.

So I head out there.

I made so many errors that day that it shocked even me. Here is the quick list:

1. Banks are closed on Saturday afternoons.
2. I could have bought Euros at the currency exchange.
3. I was in the land of really amazingly cheap taxis.

For my sins, I spent 6 ROM (three bus tickets; for long journeys the lady on the bus may demand another ticket be bought just because). It was a two hour hot sardine can.

Here is how buses work in Romania! First off, if you are thinking about using them, don't. Get a taxi. Don't be a tool and think you're going to save a couple dollars. Just get the cab. Seriously. If I'd been more awake I would have remembered Sam's fine example and just gotten a cab. But I can still hear you saying "No, I'm a masochist and want to ride the bus, how do you do it?" Well, you sick twisted fuck, here is how you do it. If you are at where the bus actually starts, you just get on. The lady won't ask for money till the bus actually sets off. The bus won't actually set off until the bus driver feels he has enough passengers. Once it sets off, she'll be by to collect 2 ROM from you. Note, the combination ticket checker and ticket seller - from what I've been told - is always female, just as the bus driver is always male. I have no idea why. A female bus driver can drive with the same sort of suicidal recklessness that I've seen the male drivers have - why shouldn't they drive? If there are schedules, they are well hidden from the prying eyes of tourists and foreigners.

So, I made it back to the train station. I looked at it as I'd just killed a couple of hours and nearly myself. I understand the people that go to saunas less now. I guess it's the same crowd that buys a 'stairmaster' instead of just living on the sixth floor of a building with no elevator.

My clothing is starting to get a bit more loose. I'm not sure if it's wearing out or if it is me getting slightly smaller. I don't feel much smaller so I suspect the clothing. I think if you want weight loss tips, talk to Julie J. She has posted her massive success on Facebook and I give her props. For me, my fat ass is just trying to climatize to Europe.

I'm starting to look rough enough that even the beggars are leaving me alone. Cops, however, are starting to give me that sidelong look. I'm guessing what is saving me is that I'm at the train station. Their reasoning could be 'soon, he will be out of our jurisdiction and no longer our problem'.

I'm starting to think about my next destinations and starting to wonder if I might need something more exotic. Africa sounds lovely aside from disease. Oddly enough, the disease I'm talking about isn't AIDS - I'm not really worried about getting that for some reason (could be my huge gut but lets let that pass) but I am concerned about Malaria. Malaria not only sucks ass but it can kill you Once you have it, you always have it - like Herpes.

India should be just as exotic and hopefully less on the disease angle. And good food I like me some Indian food. Note for Indian people I know - now is the time to start contacting people to get tentative 'sure the fat weird American can come stay with us'. I will eventually start plotting a route through there based on the invites I get. If you think I should see something (or want to get my take on it) get someone in that place willing to host me.

I'm still thinking I'll go through Turkey to Georgia but after Georgia perhaps India. Not sure on that. Getting there will be interesting but we'll see. I'll worry about that later.

Have you ever noticed that religions which have fallen out of fashion are now called 'superstition' while ones being practiced by at least a small group of dedicated madmen (or 'madpersons') are referred to as 'religion'? For example, if some pre-year zero guy stacked stones in front of a site they deemed to be 'holy', a book on it would read along the lines of 'the people of clan Cave Bear, being very superstitious, would always stack stones here.'

On a completely unrelated topic, the people of Suceava are very religious. Any time they pass by a church they make the sign of the cross three times. Combining the first and second thoughts, I'm guessing they are glad that Christ didn't get stoned to death or they'd risk knocking themselves out just wandering around this church infested town.

On top of it all, my train turned out to be forty minutes late.

It adds to the 'adventure' of it all. I've got to say that whenever I switch countries, I get a lot to write about. Travel itself is painful. You always end up feeling like you're going through the ringer, sleep deprived and stinky by the time you actually arrive at your destination.

I just noticed that in my notes I have written that I can go by bus to Chisinau for 50 ROM as opposed to the 84 ROM I have written down. Only a couple problems here. I don't know where the bus station is and I don't have the time to go look for it before the train arrives. Also, I'm not sure of the bus schedule. For some reason, whenever I search for the info Diana looked for, rather than the helpful, useful stuff she got, I get weird forum discussions in which they trade broken links on the Lonely Planet forums. Either way, I'm out of this country today one way or the other. I'm not overly stressed about the extra $12 or whatever but i must admit I'm curious about how long the trip will take. Sometimes, as Diana showed me, a bus is literally four times shorter in trip duration.

Well, another hour of trip delay got tacked onto my sitting on my ass at the train station. I went to the train they had said would carry me out of this train themed Purgatory. The conductor only spoke Moldovan and Russian. He told me that the train was actually bound for...Russia. Since I'm not a Russian sleeper agent, I don't think that would be a good idea to go there. The conductor summoned others and a pow wow got under way. There were about six train conductors in that group including my personal angel, a nice lady who spoke limited English. By limited, I mean really limited. But you have to take luck where you can find it. All of the conductors seemed to agree that the lady from the ticket window was full of shit. [Translation for non-native English speakers - the term 'full of shit' means 'you don't know what you are talking about'.] Had I gotten on the train bound to Russia, it would have been...interesting. For Americans trying to get into Russia, it is a complicated and expensive process involving invitations and visas. I have neither. It's especially expensive given the brief period of time you can remain there. I doubtless would have been spending many exciting hours in a holding cell entertaining my captors denying plans to assassinate their Prime Minister.

After a loud and long debate, the conference of conductors came up with a solution. I needed to go to somewhere named "Iasi". It is pronounced 'Yoshi' to add to the fun. Nobody could make it clear to me which country this was in but the word 'Ukraine' did come up several times. I couldn't tell if it was relevant. They then escorted (frogmarched) me to the ticket lady and made her sell me a ticket (14 ROM) to Iasi. She stubbornly had not been studying any English since I'd last seen her but the conductors spoke loudly and made big arm gesture at her until she sold me the ticket - possibly just to make them go away. In as much as I have little idea what anyone is saying, Ive been assured that I can get to Moldova from there.

The conductors happily trundled off, secure in the knowledge they had won against the ticket lady.

I then decided to go interview the cab drivers. They were happy to get out of their cabs, unlock the trunks and repeat the word 'hotel' at me in hopes it would induce me into their cab. I instead, loudly used my 'find out who really speaks English' skill. "What color is the sky?" I demanded of several cab drivers. The seven I talked to were absolutely clueless as to this nasty riddle and stood perplexed, halfheartedly repeating their mantra of 'hotel'. I decided to lower the bar dramatically and went and asked them all 'bus station'? This drew blank looks and a couple of mumbled 'hotel' responses. Apparently, whatever monk doodles centuries gone by exist here are not enough to draw the hordes of tourists that would cause learning of the 'international language' to become economically viable. So, I pointed into the distance and screamed the world 'church!'. While they were all busy crossing themselves the mandatory three times to keep God from being pissed, I escaped back into the train station.

I sure hope Isari is nice.

So now, I look and feel like a warmed over, sweaty death with a bad attitude. Even the police have gone, possibly to get reinforcements. More likely to cornhole a prisoner. If I can find one cheap place to stay in Iasi, I might even hole up (not cornhole up) for a couple of days if the town looks at all intrigueing.

I've always considered it the height of bad taste to ask the border guard 'what country is this?' I think it may make them a bit suspicious as well.

Maybe I can find some internet while I'm there. I don't have time to hike back to the place I had bargained them down at because the train to the mystery destination will come soon. I do know that if I get to this mystery country and they're using the Cyrillic alphabet, it will make me cry.

While I was on the way to Iasi, I met a nice lady named Alina.
She speaks excellent English so I got to ask her some questions on different topics. I HAVE PARAPHRASED ALL OF HER ANSWERS

On the European Union: "People think that when Romania joins the EU this will cause their standard of living to be where Germany's is. But this won't happen.

What's the best thing about Romania? "In the countryside, you get to see life one hundred years ago. There are a of of nice places in Romania but Romanians don't know how to take advantage of them to make them a nice place for tourists to visit."

What's the biggest challenge Romania faces? "Mentality. They're not hoping for any change in the future. They are complacent. They want to see change - but with others making it rather than themselves. People complain but do nothing. It's mostly the older people who are thinking like this. It's hard to change the mentality of people as the same thought process keeps getting passed on from generation to generation."

Where do the women go to the bathroom on these trains? "They don't."

What are you'r thoughts on 'the gypsy problem? "The problem is that if someone says 'gypsies' they just mean Romanians. It's stereotyping."

She also told me that a lot of people work for 6-8 ROM an hour doing things like handing out free samples. A lot of people work for 8-12 hours a day for 500 ROM ($178) per month. To support yourself, 400 ROM for rent and 350 ROM for various bills including cable and internet. Hence if you're making 1000 ROM per month, you're able to stay afloat though you aren't building up any savings. This is for city people - to people in the country, that amount of money would be quite a bit. She said there wasn't really a 'middle class' in Romania.

I felt very lucky to have bumped into a clever and nice lady who has interesting opinions on things.

Also, she told me that Iasi was in Romania - she seemed amazed I had no idea where I was going...

NEXT BLOG - ARRIVAL IN IASI!



PRICES

Sighisoara to Suceava (with a stop over in Brasov) 73 ROM second class, 111 ROM first class.

Car rental - 30-40 EURO/day - no idea if insurance comes with that.

Gas - 5 ROM/liter hence about $7 per gallon. And you think you've got reason to whine and jack those taxi rates up!

Cafeteria where they charge you by the weight of the food - 6 RON for another shitty, luke warm meal.

Lukewarm cappuccino at the train station, 2 ROM.



GEORGIA

The country, not the state. I've heard from other travelers that Georgians really like Americans. I have no clue why.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Keep your passport in a place that it is a real (not literal) pain in the ass to get to. You'll hold onto it longer.

In carrying toilet paper, if you have access, Eastern European toilet paper has no inner roll - it's just rolled toilet paper 'all the way down'. This might be handy for your 'emergency ration' of toilet paper.

Carry a lot of small bills for paying for stuff - especially if you haggle. There is nothing that will make you look like more of a dick than getting some guy to drop his price by half then paying with a large bill and demanding change.

If you are at a train station, you have two possible scenarios. You ca hand out some smokes to shameless smoke beggars or risk the wrath of your fellow passengers. Carry extra smokes! I suppose one nice trick would be to carry some crappy quality smokes to hand out. I don't suggest the small explosive charge in them however. Also, all of the people who have bummed them from me have been better dressed than I. I figure it is part of my 'foreigner's tax' as I've never seen them try to bum them from any of the locals.



AMERICAN CUSTOMS

In case I didn't mention these before in my big American customs posts I made earlier here and here.

Tailgating parties.

Large drinks with meals as opposed to Europeans which drink (to put it into a universal standard) say a bit over half a can of coke with their meal and that's it.

Tipping huge amounts. Most of the countries I've been in the waiters make considerably less (in base salary) than the waiters in America considering costs vs income. [In other words if you make $1000 and your costs are $500 then you are making more than the guy who is making 2000 money and spending 1200.] Yet, I've heard people on Facebook saying things like "If you can't afford to tip 20% don't go out." In many other countries you either don't tip, round up to the next small amount of money on the bill or tip a max of 10%. I've always felt personally that if someone is required to live just on tips and is not happy with the amount of tips they are getting, rather than bitch to others, find a better job. But that's just my opinion.



MOLDOVA MIXERS

Right- so I'm in the Republic of Moldova, trying to make a white Russian and the shit I bought that looked like milk wasn't. It was overly processed to 'make it good for children'. It tastes like shit so I'm thinking the parents have issues they are working out with their kids via torture.



PHILOSOPHY

When researching travel from your home, it's quite antiseptic. It looks straight forward. This is a lie. It is sitting around in your own stink and everyone else's and riding on amazingly bumpy roads and train tracks. I wouldn't give it up. It is the price of meeting interesting, wonderful people, experiencing new cultures, tasting new foods, seeing stuff that most of my friends won't and endless amounts of bitching.

"Security and adventure are opposites." - Logan said that shit! YEAH BABY, YEAH.

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 | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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