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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.

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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 |

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