Thursday, June 30, 2011



Hanging out with Karolis, Vytas (AKA Vyts) and Tadas and talking about the lack of crime in Georgia. Vytas told us about someone stealing less than half a bottle of water from him in Tbilisi. We were all moved by his tragic tale of loss.

I'm not sure of the proper spelling of his name but it is pronounced "Iraq-Lee". He is one of the four owners of Batumi hostel. He came in to visit for a week. Last night, we finally had a Supra and he was Tamida (toastmaster). In the past Iraq-Lee has described his English as 'not very good'. Last night, I thought he did an impressive job as Tamida. This leads me to wonder 'In his native tongue, this guy must be a really amazing toastmaster'!

For the readers, sorry not more dramatic stuff is going on right now but this is my 'hunker down and try to save money' period. I'm thinking I'd like to do this until say mid September then go through Turkey, (possibly Bulgaria), Greece and into Egypt to winter. Fuck snow. I have zero clue what to do after the winter is done.


Backgammon in Turkish is Tavla ("tau-lah").

For those keeping track of regional rules differences in Backgammon, it seems to be a regional difference for Georgians that 'in your own house' you cannot kill then move with the same piece. By own house I mean that area your pieces go to before getting moved off the board. The Turkish folks I have played with thus far have assured me that attacking then moving with the same piece is OK. That's also how I'd learned to play from Kevin originally. This situation doesn't present itself often but it is interesting finding out about these regional differences.

In addition to at the hostel where I've been playing Lasha when he has time (and he's a tough opponent) I've started playing backgammon at a Turkish coffee house/hang out. I played a Turkish guy (older guy) named Abdulla three games to five points each and managed to take him. He is a lot more knowledgeable than I am in the game but I am lucky with the dice. The downside of that place is that the chair I was sitting on that day was a low plastic stool. By the time the games were done, my back and legs were on fire so I had to hobble off slowly. It was probably more funny to watch than do it.

Every time that I've been there, I've had to fight (very politely) to buy my own drinks. I've had people ask why I do so instead of letting other people buy them for me. This is because (assuming I get to stay here for awhile) I'd like to make it a hangout rather than just mooch off of people.


From conversations I've had with them, they seem to have a mutual dislike and distrust for each other. I'm not sure why. Probably historical stuff.


I'm working on wearing my flip flops more as they are more comfortable and I've noticed that I'm already starting to wear out my walking shoes I purchased in the Czech Republic. Personally, I think it's probably a good thing that I'm already wearing out shoes - it shows I'm making an effort to walk more.


Train ticket to Tbilisi:
First class 40 GEL
Second class 23 GEL
Third class 13 GEL

White room, 8 people eating a lot, beer flowing - 50 GEL

In Turkish restaurant - tea .5 GEL, coffee 1.5 GEL, Fanta 2 GEL

Haircut (not gotten yet but priced) 5 GEL

New cloth strap flip flops as the plastic strap plus walking a long, long way in the old ones was destroying my feet, 9 GEL

Baklava from a Turkish restaurant, mediocre, four bites, 3 GEL

Tuesday, June 28, 2011




A good question to ask yourself is 'how hard is it to replace'? As an example, when I was in the states, I had a bunch of extra cigarette lighters when I was in the states. I hated to throw them out so I stuck them in the pack. This is an item that you don't care about the brand (or really, the quality so long as it makes a bit of fire) and they are dirt cheap in most places. Not a good thing to pack extra as they're widely available. A different example is deodorant. When you're sitting in the states, you've got your favorite you always buy. Realize that it is probably not going to be available (or if it is it could be expensive) in other countries. Just dealing with the loss of that particular brand will allow you to pack much lighter. Also, you get the pleasure of experimenting with new stuff as you go.


For those wondering if the underwear I purchased when I was with Oleg are working out - they seem to be so far. I'll let you know if they disintegrate in the wash. We might have a winner.


I met a guy from the Netherlands named Wander Apoteka. That's like 'wandering drug store'. I consider 'wander' a great name for a traveler, and he has been to a lot of different places. He's also a really tall (2M+) and thin guy so if you see anyone like that, ask them if their name is 'Wander'.


Lasha didn't know of any English speaking doctors in Batumi so I decided I still had a couple cards to play. I went to the information center. I figure they'd have a list of English speaking doctors. This city is trying to become a tourist center. I figure there is nothing that would ruin the reputation of a city more than having something like a tourist get sick and die here. So, I went there to request their list of doctors.

They reacted in much the same way as you would if a stranger approached you with a carton of eggs and demanded you make a pyramid out of them.

They suggested I go to a clinic called 'Medina' via 'marshuka' (a small bus with an insane driver common in Georgia) because they are 'sure' they would have an English speaking doctor. It is an expensive private clinic. I asked if they could just phone 'Medina' and ask but at first I was told this was impossible because 'there was no money for the phone'. This means it is a long distance call and they can't call it on their office phone. I really had no desire to go for a ride on a crowded marshuka for an hour on her being sure of anything because I was very unsure of her. The fact that she had not one but three phones sitting in front of her was a bit of a sore point with me as well.

I gave the lady a level stare and then quietly asked 'What would you do if a tourist was seriously ill?'

I got stared back at for awhile as this question oozed it's way slowly through the ladies brain. She may have been struggling with the fact that she had a book lying out she obviously wanted to get back to. I say obviously because it was in front of her.

I began to relax into my chair and make myself comfortable.

I'm not sure if it was me looking like I might become a fixture in her office that prevented her from reading her book or if she just figured out the answer on her own that finally got her mobilized. Or it could have been the fact that I pulled out a small hard bound book and began to take furious notes (for this blog) and she got the wrong idea from that. I'm OK with people sometimes getting the wrong idea.

She passed the problem one level up to her boss.

Her boss somehow magically added money to her cell phone. It made a chirping sound to let us both know money had been added to it. Her boss also asked me what the problem was.

Now, in America, when someone comes to you and says they need a doctor you don't ask why. It is considered personal. What if the answer was something like 'genital warts'? Not good to hear about. [Note, I am excluding nurses and such from the people who should mind their own business on this one. Also, I had specified a 'general practitioner' when I had originally talked to the inept lady at the information booth.]

At heart I am a bastard sometimes (or more) and I was thinking about saying explosive diarrhea that I could feel getting ready to burst even as I talked to her but I told her I was looking for immunizations for Africa and Asia. The boss seemed satisfied with this answer and went away. [Note she made various promises to find a local English speaking doctor in Batumi as well but this never occurred. Since I seem to have gotten an answer I am OK with that.]

Through use of the newly charged cell phone, the local 'information lady' (who seems to be an expert in marshuka routes but little else) had me call and talk to a cardiologist in 'Medina'.

He told me that of course they couldn't help me in Batumi - they had nothing like that here. That's OK - I figured it might happen but I wanted to check. He did give me the name and number of an Irishman working in Tbilisi who might be able to help me.

Lasha said I can use his phone to call. More on this later.


So, while I was feeling frustrated and irritated anyway sitting in the information office, I decided I should knock another irritant out of the way and asked about teaching Georgians to speak English. The lady knew a different information booth I should go to about an hour away. I asked if this would be a local call. She grudgingly admitted it would be though the walk would be 'good exercise'.

The Erik Cartman retort was stifled quickly. It was painful, but I did it.

Keep classy, I told myself.

I smiled.

Well, that was the intent. I swear to God, it was the intent.

I think what she saw is all of my teeth. She may have thought, "Oh God, he is so fat - I'll bet he's killed and eaten a lot of people, now he is going to do it to me too."

She grabbed the phone and began to dial.

After talking to the lady from TLG to find out the possibility of me being able to teach Georgian policemen English (cool) I discovered that they had absolutely no desire for me to do so. I wasn't even looking for money - just pitch in for an hour or two every day for awhile. Make new friends, that sort of thing. Nope. The only people they have an interest in are those that signed contracts for six months or a year. What the fuck.

So, I don't think I'm going to be teaching the kids or the cops German here.

Especially since TLG never responded to my e-mail.

Christ, I hate bureaucratic crap.


Mediocre baklava, per piece: .8 GEL

Box of noodles that fills up my tiny (inner, obviously) belly, 1.2 GEL

Saturday, June 25, 2011



The German group includes the following: Kai, Oliver, Max, Hardy and Vitik (who is actually from Poland traveling on his own).
Note - my memory of exactly who I was drinking with on a given night may be a bit scrambled...

Prior to drinking, we were feeling a bit peckish so we went to a nearby restaurant with the German group to have a Weiss beer. While we waited for our food, a beautiful aerial display of fireworks was set off. According to Lasha, no permits are needed in Batumi to set off fireworks. Hence, whenever some person or organization feels like it, they light them off. This makes for a lot of interesting - although noisy - stuff to see in the city.

After the restaurant, we needed alcohol for a really good drunk. We went to another 'mom and pop' restaurant and were discussing the different options. The owner of the store insisted we taste some vodka from an unlabeled bottle. Naturally, everyone did. I don't think it had anything to do with the different brands we were considering (I think it was Cha Cha - homemade vodka) but we certainly bought alcohol shortly thereafter.

We took our two purchased bottles to the hostel. Lasha, master of hospitality, produced another bottle and a half. There were no survivors.

After a night of drinking,
morning came and I hiked off to find some breakfast. I went to the grocery store. Although it was open, they were unable to do any business for several hours at this busy store - because the cash register was broken. One broken cash register manages to stop the steady flow of customers and the line that is usually at least two deep. If I was the owner, I'd be strangling kittens and farting fire with rage. Maybe he was. The lack of charred felines told a different story. So, I went to one of the hundreds of small 'mom and pop' grocery stores that exist on nearly every block to pick up what I thought were two containers of drinkable yogurt. One was, but the other was an unholy fusion of apple and pineapple. I discovered that not all things with 'apple' in their name really go together.


Well, I finally think I convinced Lasha that taking a break now and then is OK. Everyone else from the hostel (including Lasha) took off to go clubbing. I'm hanging out in the hostel to keep watch over it and tell any hopeful people that come it is full. I don't think anyone will come but it's still important to have someone around rather than an empty building. I personally would hate to be forced to stay in the hostel 24/7 so I'm glad to give Lasha some free time. Ironically, while I was 'running' the hostel (and by that I mean sitting on my ass watching South Park) one of the other hostel guests told me about a possible job opening that will come soon in a new hostel opening in Batumi. I recalled Adam's words in my mind about keeping yourself open for new opportunities so I said I'd be happy to meet with her and see what's up. I don't know if it will go anywhere or what the offer is but if I end up getting a free bed, food, etc out of it I don't see that as a bad thing. We'll see what happens.


I got to meet Lasha's friend "So-So" (AKA Joseph). He is a really funny guy who speaks great English. He has a problem in that he has a really big vineyard and a lot of wine that he wants to move. I discussed my ideas with him on it such as 'harvest festivals' and things that tourist and 'tourist workers' would be interested in. We'll see what comes of it.


I was doing my 'daily constitutional' ie wandering around, usually lost. I was working on talking to people about trying to find a new watch. The one I brought with me is pretty bad and getting worse. I ran into a great guy named Oleg. He is a retired sailor who now runs a small shop in the bazaar which sells children's shoes. His family (or village) owns a vineyard. He offered to help translate for me. After checking a couple of nearby places and not finding what I needed, we went for a ten minute walk (or more) to a different part of the huge sprawling bazaar. Note, this is not the 'big bazaar' - just a local one. After we at last found a watch I asked him where we could get a beer. I had no interest really in drinking a beer but I wanted to thank him for spending so much of his time helping me out. He showed me the place but absolutely refused to let me buy him a beer.

He insisted on buying me one instead.

He even asked if I was hungry. Seeing where this was going, I quickly denied any hunger urges at all least he make me feel more in debt by buying me food as well. Afterward, he took me back to where I came from and gave me the gift of a bottle of wine from his village.

This is the kind of over the top hospitality that makes this a country I'd highly advise travel in.


The insane Scottish group consists of Annaka, Hannah, Rebecca and Chris (a guy). With them travels Lilly from England who they were working on converting.

Annaka said that she could really use a weiss beer. Fortunately, I know a restaurant nearby that serves it (cheaper than you can get it in Germany) so I took the group there.

We had a round of beer.

Although I was suppose to be going with Robin (Switzerland) and Stefan (Germany) to the White Room at 17:00 the Scots exercised some sort of mind control on me and I found myself ordering another weiss beer at 16:30.

As I was cutting my visit short with the Scots (and as of yet unconverted English) and making my way out of the restaurant, Robin tracked me down. So, I went back to the hostel with him and picked up Stefan. We went to the White Room. They liked it a lot.

I'm guessing this marks the place you're suppose to do it. Or you can be a dick and just keep slowly walking your girlfriend by it...


Switzerland if Logan ran it - or 'another reason Logan is not allowed to run countries'.

While at the hostel in Batumi, Georgia I had the pleasure of meeting Robin from Switzerland. From conversations with him as well as some demented dream I had (which I would guess is sent by God) I managed to piece together the following.

Everyone knows that Switzerland is famous for their knives. The quality and popularity of their ingenious knives is known throughout the world.

Most people have heard of 'William Tell'. Although people think that he used a bow to shoot an apple off of his kid, it was actually a crossbow. William Tell apparently off'ed some guy in the 1500's (read as assassinated with a crossbow) that pleased his countrymen mightily.

What is not known widely is about is the following: God really hated a schmuck named Gessler. Gessler is the guy who threw his hat on top of a pole and told the people to bow to it. This really pissed God off. [It was due to Tell disobeying this order that Gessler imprisoned him then forced him to shoot the apple off of his kids' head or both of them would be put to death.] So, when Tell bumped this Gessler off, God told Tell that he would reward his country - in four hundred years. [People often say it is a divine mystery why God would wait four hundred years while others believe he is a huge procrastinator.] You see, not many people talk about Tell's son. He lived! And more over, he got married and had kids who had kids and so on. The line broadened and changed name several times. Eventually, a person named Wenger was born. It was four hundred years since the Tell's Arrow shot and then the prophecy was completed. God showed Wenger in a vision (as well as some other guy but whatever) what he wanted done. Due to Tell pleasing God so much (God really hated Gessler), Wenger was able to make a device whereby God would know the new chosen and by their carrying of this device they would be permitted into heaven.

And so the Swiss Army Knife was born.

It is usually the duty of the godfather of the child (or his parents or other relatives) to give the child his first Swiss Army Knife. Thereafter, he will bring shame to his family name should he loose, damage or use the saw from the knife.

Without it, God shall not recognize a member of Tell's country and put him in the long line to Heaven. Without this knife, he must take a number just like everyone else.

Should a Swiss person lose his knife overseas, he will not be admitted back into the country because if God doesn't love him, they sure don't.

And this is Robin (who is Swiss) proudly displaying his badge into Heaven. Robin's father is named Walter which is eerily enough William Tell's son's name.


Drinkable yogurt, 3 GEL
Shitty juice, 1.4 GEL
White Room for five, everyone stuffed, 34 GEL
White Room for three, everyone stuffed, 21 GEL
Cheap digital wristwatch (which I immediately hand the band cut off of), 10 GEL
German weiss beer, 4 GEL


United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia (very briefly), Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia (briefly), Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, crossed the black sea via ferry and Georgia.

Friday, June 24, 2011




Batumi is a very easy town to navigate. If you head north or west, you will eventually hit the ocean. While wandering around, I do get a few long, unflinching stares from Georgians. This is probably because I don't quite blend in. Other than America, Land of Bacon, I'm really not sure where someone my size would fit in. A friendly 'hi' or 'hello' usually changes the stares to shy smiles. These are, I think, an openly curious people. No, pretty girls don't look at me like that. Ever. Anyway, Batumi seems to me to be a well laid out city. Rather than the 'spaghetti pattern' used in some older towns - where the roads follow ancient wanderings of chickens or some such - Batumi is laid out on a grid. I have no idea how 'prepared for western tourists' the transport hubs are - I suspect they're not - but the road signs are in both Georgian and English. That helps immeasurably. Despite hordes of 'do gooders' and others descending upon Georgia to teach English, it doesn't seem it has really paid off in people who can speak English yet. I was told that due to school being out now it would be quite impossible for me to find a part time job teaching English so I'm just hanging out and talking to people. I haven't yet started contacting Couch Surfers in this area to meet up for cups of coffee and such but that time will come eventually. As Adam would sagely point out, I have plenty of fucking time.

Although I had a mild stomach pain for the last couple of days, it seems to have succumbed to the Georgian cure of bubbly mineral water and a light diet. We've gotten enough new people into the hostel today that I suspect there could be heavy drinking involved tonight. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

This is not a culture that appreciates a good fart. I'm pretty sure there are a couple (which I can't remember) that take the passing of gas after a meal as a sign of appreciation of a good meal. One day I shall find them and they shall make me their king.

The police presence here seems strong but unlike other countries I've been to, they seem relaxed here. There was one whose body language told me that as I prepared to cross the street he was thinking of giving me a jaywalking ticket. So, I reversed directions and went back to the sidewalk. He shrugged and wandered off.


To my fat brothers and sisters - pack extra underwear. I found a shop (not the bazaar) that sells XXXL. They're not. And at 10 GEL for a try, I was leery.


I was hanging out with Andrew from Australia and we went in to check out an orthodox church. Some random guy in there told me (via sign language) that wearing shorts in the church was forbidden. Despite two women wearing them in the same church. The church itself was a fairly typical one and had nothing that really stood out from other churches so we left. Strange rules that don't apply to all equally.


Compared to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Batumi (Georgia for those who have failed to note where I am yet) is quite clean. There is liter around but the Georgian people seem to be diametrically opposed to the Czechs (in Prague) too littering. Oddly, there aren't nearly enough strategically placed waste bins around to throw out all of the garbage so I'm guessing they take it home with them. It does make for a cleaner city than many.


The Georgian people have a high tolerance and disregard for such things on foreigners but will mock other Georgians who sport piercings and odd hair styles including the Sleeztak. [For those new to my blog, the Sleeztak is a hairstyle that makes the hair on your head into a point - like a penis. And yes, it makes you look like a dick.]


It doesn't look like I'm in what I have termed the 'Kahlua zone'. This 'zone' includes countries where you can easily buy Kahlua. I suspect that if I found a specialty liquor store I could indulge. I might at some point. However, I am following Adam's sage advice on this. "When in Rome, get drunk what the Romans do." [Note, I have left off the part where he added 'because it's cheap you silly bastard' because it doesn't sound as good.] So, I'm sticking with vodka, beer and wine (which are really cheap) right now. It's still a lot of different stuff to drink. My beloved Kahlua will have to wait.


When I was in a grocery store, I found a can of chilled coffee. I always liked the Starbucks variety:
and the stuff they had in a much shorter can (1.6 GEL) so I said 'what the heck' and tried it. Take a pass on this - it was watery and not very good.


When I get to Turkey, one hostel I should check out is in Dalyan, Turkey called "Bauhans Youth Hostel". It's about 23 Turkish lira per night ($14) to stay. This includes breakfast. They also have a swimming pool, pool tables, and all kinds of stuff. The downside is that they are strict on the 'no outside food/drink' thing because that is where they make their money. They serve dinner for about $10 per person (but it is suppose to be good) and sell water, beer and such at a markup from what you can get it fro the grocery store. Sounds like kind of a good news/bad news thing but it could be good for a few days.

From Turkey, it is possible for me to get into Northern Iraq. This is where the Kurds live 'Iraqi Kurdistan'. They apparently really like Americans there and you can get a free stamp (visa) for Iraq. This probably pisses off the other government of Iraq but I'm thinking it could be an interesting way for me to visit it at some point. Go hang out with the Kurds and see what's up.

In Iran, the people of this heavily oppressive government blow off steam in quite a wild way. According to Gary (Ireland) two married people host a party at their home as it is impossible to do it at a hotel or some such without being discovered. The party involves homemade alcohol, drugs and sex - a normal teenage romp in the USA but I'm suspecting the kind of thing that could get you stoned to death there. I found this interesting but personally am not eager to attend one due to the high risk.


Thanks to Lasha for sending me this and this.


Reading light that straps to my head, 12 GEL

Train to Tbilisi in a 2 person coupe, 23 GEL (seems low, maybe a special deal)

The hostel named 'Why Not', 25 GEL/night

Turkishs in Tbilisi, 30-50 GEL, +20 GEL for scrub and massage

Open air Ethnographic Museum for English tour guide, 10 GEL to see homes of Georgia's past. Located in Tbilisi

Wednesday, June 22, 2011



For someone my size, the bathroom at Hostel Batumi presents a series of daily challenges. There simply isn't a lot of room to maneuver. Additionally, there is very little shelf space to put my toiletries clothing when I prepare to shower. Although the plumber was out and suppose to fix the toilet two days ago, this hasn't happened yet. It is my belief that the tank of the toilet leaks which adds to the bathroom the 'wet floor challenge'. Nothing must touch the floor - not my feet, old clothes, new clothing, nothing. The floor is slick with water at all times despite the drain in the floor. But, I am a fairly tough, resilient world traveler. I can handle it. It takes just a few extra minutes every day. So, I go through all of the careful maneuvering and handling of things to ensure they don't fall on the floor and that I do not accidentally tear apart the bathroom. I then approach the shower clad in nothing but flip flops. In that small, windowless room the power then goes out plunging me into darkness. Neato. Slower, more careful maneuvering then takes place to get my glasses and towel. I am a fairly tough, resilient world traveler - I have a flashlight in my bag I carry everywhere. Aside from into the bathroom on this particular day. Towel in place, I dart (lumber) out and grab it. All of this is no big deal. I am either as far east as you can get in Europe or as far west as you can get in Asia depending on who you talk to. Shit happens. Flashlight in hand, I return. More careful maneuvering and placing things not to fall upon the dread floor. The flashlight is hung up to provide feeble light to the bathroom. I turn on the water. I suppose this is a good time to tell you how the water heater works. In America (as well as many other countries) the water heater is a huge tank that contains heated water. The heat is applied when the water is either used up and refilled or cools beyond a certain range. The water heater here doesn't seem to work that way. For one thing, it is tiny. I suspect that it heats the water as it is used. Not nearly as good for a couple reasons but I'm guessing it is more cost efficient. So, I now have a choice between 'cold' and 'icy'. On top of that, my carefully hung up flashlight begins to flicker showing the end is neigh for the batteries within. I am a fairly tough, resilient world traveler - I can wait until tomorrow for a shower.


Gary from Ireland, free range pharmacist. Unlike myself, he is a much more adventurous explorer. He entertained us with some of his tales of dealing with corrupt police and nearly being killed by them in Nigeria. He has had enough adventures that he (and I) thinks he should be writing a blog but a blog is a lot of work.

Gary has a very irregular work schedule as he works by substituting for other pharmacists. This allows him to have long periods of free time in his work. Gary is also responsible for the 'traveler's lore' tips below.


I was told it is permitted to bring your own wine to some restaurants, such as the White Room. This tells me that if you wanted a FEAST (with two bottles of wine) for four people it would cost about 32 GEL ($20 total or $5 per person). That so rocks.


The 'Georgian salad' is made from about 45% cucumbers and 45% tomatoes. The remaining 10% seems to be comprised of very small pieces of onion, some green herb I can't identify and perhaps some light oil I can't really taste.


I hear that the government is encouraging larger families because 'Georgia is a small country'.

From what I've seen Georgian's are extremely indulgent with their children.


Adjarian Autonomous Republic: I've been told this is almost like a separate country but not quite. In 2004, a politician wanted it to be a completely separate republic. He even tried to blow up bridges that connect it to the rest of Georgia but the people rioted at this and he fled office. Now, it is kind of like being a state within the United States. The two completely separate republics that joined Russia make Georgians angry and nervous. But, there is nothing they can do about it as Russia has stationed troops there.


This is hanging out in your neighborhood or no your street. Just hanging out. You might hang out alone or other people may show up. Could be called 'chillin' in American English. Due to the more interesting uses of computers (games) this custom seems to be disappearing.


'Flagging' is a fun game many people play. I hadn't heard of this since I was in the military and a few guys were playing it. At that point, I knew the game as 'Fuck the Planet'. 'Flagging' is a much nicer name. If you know a 'flagger' that has a home, you might consider getting them these wonderful bed sheets. Thanks to Travis G. on Facebook for that pic.

Northern Iraq likes Americans. They are Kurdish and apparently America liberated them from Saddam and such.

The Yellow Book aka vaccination book. This book has nothing at all to do with the King in Yellow but it is a record of your inoculations. Suggested inoculations for Africa (and possibly Asia) include Hep A & B (a drug called Twinrix may do both), typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, cholera, yellow fever, rabies and meningitis. Thanks to Gary for this information. Some of these inoculations seem to take up to six months to administer but the shortest one lasts for three years. I'm thinking it may be a good idea for me to begin searching for a doctor to get this stuff from. Part of it may involve a trip to the big city (Tbilisi) but I'm going to try to get it done here.


Bottle of excellent Georgian wine, 8 GEL

Small cup of Turkish coffee, 1 GEL

Cheap, plastic flip flops from bazaar, 8 GEL

Cheap underwear from bazaar, 4 GEL

Basic corkscrew from bazaar, 1.5 GEL

Lunch at a restaurant in the bazaar (salad, main, bread, beer) 13 GEL

Swiss style army knife, bigger and heavier than I'd like but it's a knife, 10 GEL


Sylvia (TIU Frontpage Hostel in Odessa) had traded me for a book on Russian literature I had picked up for a book called "The River of Doubt" by Millard. I was wary of it because it is a) a biography b) dealing with Roosevelt c) historical. I figured that it would be another of these 'get a bunch of incompetent people together and go on a voyage we're totally unprepared for with our own ideals and not take local stuff into account at all' voyages. I was right, though I am still (for some reason) reading it. Usually, if a book doesn't interest me in a page or two I toss it. Anyone that reads through a book and tells me they didn't like it I see as having wasted a lot of time. There are literally millions of books out there you can try instead. But something about this keeps me reading. I blame Sylvia for getting me interested in it. This is also my last hard copy book, after this I am switching to the Kindle.

Every day, I am the first person who rises at the hostel. I usually get up, shower and am on the internet by say 9AM. Others may get up anywhere from noon to 14:00. This gives me plenty of time to type, reflect, whatever I need to do.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011



Despite being given completely wrong directions by someone who worked on the boat as to where the exit was, I managed to eventually escape the boat. The four of us (Max, Andries, Inga and I shared a taxi. We got dropped off at the hostel, Max went elsewhere for his business.

Because too much Logan is not good for anyone, I decided to set off on my own. After asking directions for things and discovering nobody knew where anything I was looking for was located, I just decided to do it the "Logan way". There's the right way, the wrong way and the Logan way. The Logan way is the wrong way, but faster.

In this case, it worked out nicely. Within an hour of arrival in country, I had a place to stay, a shave, an English-Georgian dictionary and a Turkish meal. Not bad. I think I am getting a bit better at dealing with new countries. Part of the trick seems to be sticking to smaller population centers, or in the 'old town' district of a city where you can actually find shops and such rather than spending hours wandering in endless residential areas.

One of the things I was concerned about was the Georgian script but it turns out that many of their signs are also in English.

I did discover you should be very wary of stand up urinals as some of them seem to be the 'surprise mutherfucker' variety. Rather than just flushing away your piss, they spray you with water and perhaps your own piss. Good times. Roll your dodge!

After accomplishing that, I just settled down into the hostel.


Aside from the words 'Hostel Batumi' and 'knock here' printed on the door, there isn't a lot to let people know this is a hostel. The layout is a big square inside. Starting at the bottom middle of the square, you walk into a small room that contains a couch, two somewhat uneasy chairs and a wooden chair. There are also (and only) six gear lockers for small valuables. I'm not sure what happens if seven people want to store shit in them, but I've got one geer locker. There is sometimes an inflatable rectangle capable of seating two people, three if they really like each other. There is a rickety table in the center of the room. going either left or right, you walk through a door into a room containing four beds. Going up either side of the square you find another room with a bathroom on either side. One of which has a shower. The water is usually but not always hot. The beds are moderately comfortable but still of the 'slat' design. They are bunk beds, four per room with four rooms. The middle top of the square is occupied by the kitchen. Well, it has a refridgerator and a sink but not enough space or facilities to cook. Even the people who work here don't cook anything. They send out for food - it's cheap to eat out here. Thank God.


Other guests staying at the hostel:

Lasha from Georgia - he runs the hostel. There are other people but he's the guy who during my stay is pretty much always around. He is a very good host and his generosity impresses me.
Ellia from Finland - a short, cheerful, whimsical bundle of energy. Ellia does not like to eat animals that fart. "I don't eat people, either." she quipped.
David from Canada - he is a musician who travels with both a guitar and a violin.
Suzie from Hungary - she is a writer and makes jewelry.
Holgar from Germany - very cool guy studying to be an engineer and is traveling while he can.


This is a country I can (and have) gotten 'a decent meal' in. And cheaply. One of the places to eat cheaply here are bakeries. These are not bakeries as thought of in the West making pies, cakes and whatot - these are places where they may make perhaps seven different things and that's it. They make hamburgers, mini pizzas and several varieties of 'bread with shit baked into it'. This shit might be cheese, onions, whatever. I like to refer to it as 'mystery bread' because nobody at the bakery speaks English and you have no idea what's inside until you bite into it. Or sometime later, depending on how little is in it. You can get a filling - if bready - meal for about half to one dollar and twenty five cents. When I say filling, I am of course referring to 'Logan is full'. If your inside stomach is still 'American size' (or if you are ravenous) double or tripple the price to be completely full. I have no idea at all how these bakeries keep open other than a 'brisk trade'. They charge hardly anything for their wares and employ a staff of eight. The bakery itself is say a 'standard US living room and a half big'. Not very large at all.

Since I'm planning on being here for literally a few months, I am hunkering down in my hostel. Walk around and see the town and such. Read some books. That sort of thing. Or so I thought... (Que dramatic music...)


Due to a day and a half of rain, my otherwise picture perfect three month streak of weather has officially ended. It's true that I didn't really need to go anywhere anyway, but still. Bad weather does help Logan save money so I suppose I should be greatful.


The rain wasn't really that hard on the first day but it was enough to cause mudslides and knock out the road. I've been advised by natives that if I'm wanting to go anywhere, I should use the train. It may cost a little more, take a little longer but it is more comfortable and won't get turned back due to flooding.


Lashi has a friend named George who lives in Tblisi and was coming here to visit. George, Lasha said, enjoyed talking to foreigners and such. It was obvious who would be hanging out with him. George's actual name is pronounced "Gee-ah" but he answers to 'George' and it's a lot easier for my pickled mind to remember. George use to have a job as a sales manager but decided to instead go back to college to study public relations.


Yes, he's on my Facebook. He's a German from what I always think of as 'up north' (ie not Munich) in Hamburg. His English is good enough to ask him if I can't remember a word.


Holger, George and I decided to go to the bazaar to see if we could find a few things. I was in the market for a traveling Backgammon set and some underwear. Yes, excitement is my middle name. Holger was looking for some socks. George was enjoying hanging out with us.

When we went to buy the backgammon board, the guy was selling them on the stairs of some building. He said he liked foreigners and was willing to sell the smallest board he had for just 10 GEL. George seemed surprised - he felt that such a board would normally sell for 15-17. Personally, I was a bit disappointed as I was looking forward to haggling. So, I asked for a couple extra die, expecting this to start some sort of haggling. No, he was happy to include them for free. I bought it.

I'm not really sure if I want to even try lugging around this backgammon board but even if I keep it for just a month or three, under seven dollars US is not bad to pay for a wooden board with wooden pieces as well as chess pieces. I can live with that. With just the games we've played on it so far, I've probably gotten my money's worth - and that was just the first day.

After failing to find underwear that will fit my fat ass, it was time to get some drinks. We found a hole in the wall place that had the best deal on coffee and beer I have seen yet here. Georgian coffee is much like Greek in that it is served in small cups. It is strong and bitter, despite the sugar they suposedly put in there. For six of those and three half liters of beer the total came to an astonishly low seven GEL. I'm going back to the bazaar just to go hang out at that place again. Cheap, cheap, cheap!
An excellent time!
On the way out, I found that one of the street vendors Holgar described as 'They carry everything, yet nothing' actually had something useful aside from the miniture plastic guitars that nobody ever buys. He had larger die. Very small die I call 'sneeze die' - you sneeze and they're gone. I wanted something larger.

Can you believe this is the entrance to a restaurant?

Here is what you see from the front.

Considering George is actually from Tbilisi rather than Batumi where we're at now, he seems to know this city really well. Better than Jana knows Prague even. (Yes, Jana!) Anyway, he took us to a restaurant that unless you were a local, you would have no way of even knowing there was anything even in the alley it was in. They have a simple menu of not very many different things - maybe fifteen. In Georgia, the custom is to order a few dishes that everyone shares. In this way, you get more variety. We ordered several different things and had a big huge feast. I was a bit concerned. It was a lot of food - we could have easily fed a fourth. The bill was a huge shock at a mere 16 GEL. That's like $10 and the food was very tasty indeed - the best meal I've had in a long time. This is quite exciting to me because this restaurant is in walkable distance from the hostel. Even if I get something by myself I can still work my way through their menu. Who knows, it could become a regular hangout. And I will have the time, especially since this town will probably be cheaper for me than Tbilisi.

In addition, small meals (noodles and such) from the store as well as things from the 'bakery' I should be OK on inexpensive food.


Holgar and I decided to go the next day to pick up some food at the White Room restaurant. We had George write down what we were suppose to get and we were going to try to get them to package it up and let us return with it to the hostel to feed George. A lot of restaurants really haven't gotten much call for food 'to go'. This place had never heard of it but they were game to try. While we were waiting for our food they directed us into the dining room.

Within the dining room, there were five men who were drinking and partying rather heavily. Being that they were Georgians, they immediately invited us over to their table.

It became a party.

It was Levaia's birthday.
(Logan pictured with Levaita who is nicknamed 'Al Capone'.)

Celebrating with him were his buddies Ele, Ooo Cha, Ko-Ba and Demetri #2. Obviously, these spellings are my phonetic renditions.

We were drinking homemade vodka called "Cha cha". I'll leave it to your imagination to think of the strength of home made alcohol...

While we were there, Holgar showed his train ticket that said he needed to leave soon to go to Tbilisi then dramatically ripped it in half. This caused quite a bit of cheering from the assembled Georgians. [And Holgar was out less than $10...] It was a very cool gesture since while we were drinking with them he decided to show quite a bit of spontaneity and change his travel plans. Unfortunately, spontaneity is not valued in Germany so he may not be allowed back into the country.

I paid attention to the toasts and discovered they were almost ritualistic in nature. By American standards, the toasts were very long (perhaps 1-2 minutes - real minutes) and can follow a distinct order. See the section on customs for details.

During the toasting, I asked if it was permitted for a foreigner to make a toast. They looked a bit surprised but said of course it was allowed. I said something along the lines of "All of Europe knows of Georgian wine but Georgian hospitality is known throughout the world and I thank you for the hospitality you have shown to Holgar and I." They seemed to like the toast very much.

Eventually, we felt that it was time to take our leave so we collected the food we had ordered quite some time ago, went back to the hostel - and had another party...


A swimming beach is within fairly easy walking distance of the hostel. I got quite a surprised when we got there. Unlike every other beach I've been to, this one was made of rocks. Lots and lots of rocks that hurt my feet. David said that these black stones are how the Black Sea was named by the Romans. I don't have any confirmation on this but it sounds like a good story to me. I went into the sea in my flip flops and played around for a bit. After a couple hours I got bored on the beach as I'm not really into sunbathing. So, I went back to the hostel and showered up. The rest showed up an hour later.


All of the following information comes from Lasha and George.

When the people are at their get together drinking, this is called a 'supra'. We don't really have a good translation I've found in English. The group itself is not a 'supra' but when they are drinking together the event itself is.

By general consensus of the group, a toastmaster (in Georgian, 'Tam-ah-dah') is elected. If there are both men and women in the group it is either extremely rare for a woman to be elected toastmaster. According to Ellia who has been present at some of these, the women really didn't seem to take part. They pretty much sat there and sipped their alcohol. The toastmaster gets to call a toast when they see fit. They may choose to use the traditional order of toasting or not.

The traditional order of Georgian toasting is as follows:

1st toast: Ask for God's blessing and peace.
2nd toast: Situational, usually for the reason of the get together. This could be pretty much anything - wedding, just out drinking with friends, honored guests recognized, etc.
3rd toast: For the dearly departed; those who have died are remembered.
4th toast: Life and children.

Keep in mind that each of these toasts seems to average a minute or two in length though there is no set time limit. A toast can literally go on for a half an hour 'so long as their words are not empty'.

The toastmaster may monitor the conversation and make appropriate toasts based on the topics discussed.

The toastmaster determines if they need to stand up when giving the toast or not as well as if others (excluding women) need to stand up. [I asked why women do not need to stand up and was told 'because they are women!']

The toastmaster ma also assign a penalty drink for anyone not paying attention during the toast. This is consider a bad thing because "for a Georgian man there is nothing worse than drinking without saying anything".

Whether you need to completely drain your glass at each toast is determined by the toastmaster. If you must, that toastmaster is considered 'strict'. If you have some sort of health problem you can be exempt.

Between the toasts (with the exception of after the toast to the dead) you can sing, dance, talk, tell stories - whatever. Toasts may also purposefully be followed by these things. After the toast to the dead, there are only certain special national songs you can sing.


Before the Rose Revolution, Georgia was best known for it's mafia. These mafia people were often called 'robber in law's'.


I was curious about this so I asked Lashi, one of the four owners of the hostel, why Georgians like the USA so much. He told me there are two reasons for this - first, they really, really hate the Russians. I'm thinking something about the little war they had with Russia just three years ago might have something to do with that. They see the USA as often working against Russia. The second reason they like the USA is that America helps out with money, teachers (of English) and other things. I've got to say that being from the USA here is quite nice. If you want (certain select groups of) people to be instantly more friendly, just say "Fuck Russia". Me, personally, I like the Russian people I have been privileged to meet thus far. I haven't met their government officials yet and have doubts I will get to in the near future.


Bottle of water, 1 GEL

Main course in a Turkish restaurant, 7 GEL

Salad, 2 GEL

Bed in a hostel, 20 GEL

Georgian/English dictionary, 11 GEL

Shave off my fucking beard that had bothered me for days, 5 GEL + 1 GEL tip

Beer in a 2 liter plastic bottle, 5 GEL

Four plastic cups that you think the kindly shop keeper is including with your beer for free but in reality you are getting charged for them, 1 GEL

Six 'kinkelees' which ake a meal even for my fat ass, 4 GEL

Weissbier imported from Germany, 4 GEL

Hamburger at bakery (with tomatoes, meat, some sort of cheese), 2 GEL

Mystery pastry at bakery, 1 GEL (or less)

Three pair of decent socks from bazaar, 5 GEL

Four six sided die, 1 GEL

A very small backgammon board with extra die, 10 GEL

Skull and crossbones bandana from an upscale shop, 2 GEL. I'm not kidding, yes, I bought it. Well, you can never have too many bandanas.


Mad-loba, thank you.

Didi-mad-loba, thank you very much.


Georgian hagglin isn't the same as in some other countries. In Georgia, they start very close to the price itself. On single items, haggling is often not possible. If you are buying multiple items you may be able to bring down the price by something like ten percent.

Avoid flip flops with wood or wood like products in them. Instead, stick to plastic ones. The wooden ones take longer to dry out and retain feet stink.

Sunday, June 19, 2011




One of the passengers (who shall remain nameless) was approached by a lady who asked (bad English) if he had anything to drink. He took her to his room and gave her a drink. She then pointed at the bed and held up three fingers. Apparently, she was wanting some extra spending money when she hit Georgia. She was politely refused.

Andries who'd learned to play backgammon the previous night was annoying people who'd played all their lives by winning. Repeatedly. He has a sharp mind.

The boat stopped a distance outside of the harbor. Apparently, it's a busy harbor. After waiting there for a couple of hours, the boat made it's way into port. Everyone was assembled ("mustered") in the lobby room to wait for customs control. That took another couple hours of people shamelessly cutting off each other. People are really horrible at queing in this part of the world.

After that, we went to the non-functional elevator for awhile then eventually managed to exit the ship. I was given incorrect directions by someone who worked there. Idiot.

And then on to Georgia!


For some reason I can't fathom, hostels aren't listed on all of the various hostel pages. You'd think if someone had a hostel, they'd spend a few hours at regular intervals finding all of the hostel web pages and making sure they are listed on at least the major ones. This doesn't seem to be the case. Andries and Inga found a hostel that is Batumi - I didn't know it existed. So, I decided to go with them to it. If I like Batumi, I'll stay there longer. Andries and Inga will be in Batumi for a couple days before going on to Tbilisi. We'll see what I think of the town but I have no desire to crowd them. But if Batumi sucks, I'll follow them to Tbilisi.


The Russian dubbing is the worst I've ever seen. Usually, one person speaking in a monotone doing both sexes parts.

I personally detest dubbing because it strips the actor's personality. Even if I am watching something in Chinese, I prefer subtitled.

Stubbornly speaking Russian... It's almost as if the people in charge of the TV station want to prevent folks from learning another language. I was thinking about this because Andries mentioned that subtitled TV helps a lot with learning a language.


"There is no adventure in working for someone else, only drugery and security - but that's fine for most people." - Logan Horsford.

Whenever someone asks me 'What sort of music do you like?' my answer is always the same. "None. I'd rather listen to you." Normally, people don't ask that question unless they are planning to subject you to the crap they think of as 'good'. No matter how good you think a piece of music is, no matter how it uplifts your soul - there will be other people who hear it and say it's shit. Music is too individualized to be subjeted to the general asses. It is my belief that public music is a form of noise polution. I'd rather listen to whatever music I like on headphones.


In both Sweden and the Netherlands, when you sit too long, you can say that you've gotten 'wooden ass'. A very strange phrase for Sweden but I could see it in the Netherlands to go with their shoes.


"Watching the cat come out of the tree". This refers to the Dutch custom of waiting to see how someone reacts/is/handles things so that they will know how to interact with that person. With each other the Dutch are very direct but they will never tell a foreigner to their face they don't like them.


Discussing what type of TV shows they like may be deemed 'too personal' of information to divulge by some people. Honestly, I don't know how they make friends - or maybe it's just me. I don't know.


Cup of mediocre coffe aboard ship - 8 UAH.
Can of mediocre beer aboard ship - 24 UAH.
Bottle of decent vodka aboard ship - 100 UAH.
Small can of peanuts aboard ship - 24 UAH.
Pepsi aboard ship - 16 UAH.


If you are not sure of the exact (ie it's not printed on your ticket or for all travel by ship) departure time, do your shoping the night before in case you have to run screaming out of the door like a maniac.

Ships in some parts of the world have narrow gang planks that go onto them. Imagine a ladder. If you can't carry your shit up this, you may be fucked. Try to pack stuff that you can lug up one. If you are carrying a rolling bag up there, be aware you might drop it into the sea and possibly land on your head on the docks after falling ten or more meters.

For rooms and such, an even number of travelers is always best.

After getting clear of the nightmare airports have become, a real Swiss Army Knife seems to be a good investment.

When you're getting onto a boat or long haul transport, always be extra nice to people you meet in the ticket office, waiting room, etc. You will be living in very close quarters with them for several days. If possible, bring food/alcohol in such quantities that you can share it with a large group of people. This helps set the mood for a friendly journey. I'd personally suggest several bottles of very good - but inexpensive alcohol. The problem (for me, and maybe you) of course is the weight of ten large bottles of alcohol - but it will make you very popular. You don't need to bring them out all at once. The big parties are when the boat initially leaves and (I suspect but have not yet experienced) before it docks.

Bring a lot more money for the ship than you think you'll need. All prices are literally x2 to x4 what they were on land. This is what a lack of competition does.

Tobasco or some such spicy sauce may really help allieviate the blandness or otherwise horrible taste of much of the food in Central and Eastern Europe. If you do carry one, be sure to get a bigger bottle than you think you'll need so that you can generously share it with everyone at your table. And, perhaps people from other tables that wander over and request it.

Always try to arrive at a new place during the daytime. Walking around at night with a heavy bag on containing all of your worldly possessions in an unfamiliar place sucks and increases the risk.


[A lot of this came from Andries as he is an extremely experienced traveler.]

Ships have to be completely self reliant. The larger vessles have a machine shop to make parts should something break.

On all Russian transport, it is necessary to know what time it is in Moscow. All Russian transport runs strictly on Moscow time. This time also appears on your tickets.

Some ships update their clocks as they pass into new time zones. Others, like the one I'm on, update to the new local time once they make port.

To measure the speed of a boat, drop something off the front, measure how long it takes to get to the back. [I thought knots had to do with a knotted rope, but I was told the knotted rope is used for measuring depth.]

If you go down stairs and gangplanks of a ship backward, it minimizes the distance you will fall.

According to Inga, it is usually illegal to photograph harbors and train stations. [I'm guessing all transport hubs are included in this.]


In an effort to make life a bit easier for those of you who don't know how to see someone's other albums within Photobucket, here is some help:




I was lying in bed, groggily wondering why I was awake in the midle of the night. My alarm I had set went off telling me it was time to get up, shower and head to breakfast. This is the disadvantage of not having a cabin with a portal - it is perpetual night. I suppose that's much better if you are a night shift worker.

My roommate had left a bag and a pair of leather shoes. I had heard him use the restroom while I was asleep as well. This is the only evidence I've seen thus far of my roommate. I figure that if I didn't see him much all voyage, this could be either a lucky or unlucky thing. [As it turns out, I think it's a lucky thing.] Later, he left his ticket (in Cyrillic) and phone to charge. His bed was not slept in. I haven't a clue if or where he is sleeping. I don't know if he came in while I was sleeping and was disheartened at the noise or if he has some other mysterious schedule he is keeping. Agatha Christie would doubtless make him a red herring in one of her murder mystery books. If she was still alive. Which she isn't. Hence, you won't see him in one of her books. Sorry.

I eventually found my roommate crashed out on his bunk during the daytime with his back to me (Andy Capp style). If he is wanting to sleep in shifts different from mine, I'm totally comfortable with that.

On Western sea going ships, the bar seems to be open from morning till late in the evening. The actual hours it is closed are relatively small. Due to wanting to earn all of the money possible for their wildly over priced goods, the people who run the ship staff the bars pretty much non-stop. This is not the case on the ship I now find myself. There are some hours when only the bar is open. Others when only the dining room is open. Some hours when both are inexplicably closed. It is (again) as though the people have a general concept of capitalism but don't quite get it. Or, the bartender is the only one that works here [Later note: He is... Weird. His name is Oleg and his English is passable with respect to 'bar stuff'.] and needs breaks and sleep. Or is pressed into other mysterious duties.

While on a boat, your choices of things to do seems to be narrowed to the following:

Talk to other people
Play games (usually with other people)
Sit and stare mindlessly at TV in a language you don't understand
Sit and read
Sunbathing (weather permitting and skin cancer optional)

I suppose their are other strange activities you could do. I suppose I could come up with a list of ridiculous things such as sit in the shower for hours, mastrubate wildly and hope your roommate doesn't wander in, exercise, try to take over the ship, take a refreshing dip in the Black Sea and hope you get rescued before you drown, etc - but none of these has any appeal for me.

Naturally, any time you get a lot of people on a ship, you will have some completely out of control kids. These kids like to do things like play kick ball in the common areas, striking random passengers with the ball, bouncing it off of full ashtrays, TV's, etc. The parents seem to watch on rather indulgently. These are the same kind of kids that seem to be getting raised in America where the parents don't spank the shit out of them. The parents don't seem to know what 'preemptive consideration' is. That's what happens when people aren't forced to read this blog.

Eventually, dinner came. I thought that it was bad fish but according to my fellow passengers it was actually bad chicken. I think simply not knowing whether it is chicken or fish illustrates what I think of the food. I think carrying a bottle of Tabasco (big enough to share, of course) would help with the food as would ritualistically beating the cooks after every meal.

After dinner, we went out and watched a brilliant purple and blue sea sunset - the majesty of which my camera utterly failed to capture.

As the sun was setting, we saw the submerged island of Rse'll - sister island of R'yell - emerge like a beheamoth from the cold depths of the black sea. The island was covered with angular buildings of non-Euclidian design. I tried to get the ship to stop but the captain said he had a schedule to maintain so I couldn't stop to attempt to rip a hole in space and time and summon the Elder Gods to enslave humanity. Fortunately, phrases for these things (as opposed to different types of water I want to order) were in my Russian-English phrase book. Unable to bring about the End Times, we chugged on.


I've finally gotten to see my roommate awake, and perhaps cracked the mystery of why he is always gone. He was staggeringly, forget to lock the door, I smell like shit, drunk. I don't recognize him of anyone I've spoken (or attempted to speak) to. It appears he is working on drinking his way heavily across the Black Sea.

I've finished reading the biography on Sean Connery I'd bought and passed it on to Andries. Personally, I thought it was the kind of reading you have to do on a boat. You wouldn't sit through it otherwise. Also, it ended in the 1980's, making the book horribly outdated. [This is written in 2011.] The next book I'll be either re-reading or reading (spotty Logan memory) is Crichton's 'Timeline'. I doubt I'll finish it before we make port. I've heard we may make port either tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon but nobody seems sure. I've spent about half the morning and half of the afternoon typing (to here) my notes thus far. Making a blog is difficult.

Andries and Inga keep a blog but their belief is that nobody wants to spend over five minutes reading it - hence they keep it brief. I prefer to go the other way and keep a lot of information in mine for two different reasons. First, this blog is for me as much as it is you, the reader. This is my surrogate memory. If I am old, tired and wanting to relive my adventures I can reread about specifics rather than entries like "Crossed the Black Sea - took three days in a cargo ship." Not really gripping narraitive. Not that I'm saying anything else I write could really be described as 'gripping' but I hope that it does paint an accurate (from my point of view) life aboard an East European ship. An experience unlikely to be had by any of the twenty percent of Americans that actually bother to own a current passport.

For lunch, we again had soup with some sort of dead brown animal in it which was described by my fellow diners as 'more bones than meat'. Since I'm not a big fan of something that looked like road kill with very small bones in my soup, I managed to get rid of most of the animal and just focused on the ever present rice and potatoes that are the standard filler.

The Italians who were sitting at our table agreed that this is the exact sort of food which is available in the afterlife. in one of the two possible destinations, anyway.

This is the best diet food ever. Inga said the cookies were probably good - last year.

The weather has been ideal for the journey. There is no real wind, no waves, the sun is shining and the sky is cloudless. My fellow passengers have kept themselves locked to Russian TV.

My playing of the card game 'Hearts' has gotten much better as we've played it for hours. I would avoid playing Andries in chess as he is a nasty, tricky opponent. And that is in 'speed chess'. I have no idea how nasty he would be if we were doing the boring 'taking forever' chess move thing.

Well, my roommates towel and such is still at it's initial starting location on his bed. this tells me that despite the clothing he presumably brought in this bag, he's choosing not to bath. Kind of a bummer - it's a good reason to travel in even numbered groups.

Andries has fulfilled one of his goals in learning backgammon from someone who spoke no English though I was there giving him what knowledge I had on the game. Who would have thought that when I was learning Backgammon in Blacksburg, VA the first chance I'd really have to use it was a cargo ship plowing through the Black Sea? From the number of Georgians playing it, Backgammon seems popular there. While I have no delusions that I am still very much a beginner, I win an occassional match due to luck. Who knows - perhaps some day I will be in Jamaca and get to play Kevin who initially taught me the game.

This morning, my roommate who had been looking rougher and rougher the longer the trip progressed came to me. He wanted to borrow my key. Oh, hell no. I had to turn in my passport and I didn't want the drunken lout to cost me the passport. I needed that. I took him the two meters to reception. They said to get back your passport, you need to have your key. [Note that later this proved to be a lie.] I figure my roommate wanted his passport back. He had lost his key. I figured rather than having my 'stay drunk and not bathe for the trip' roommate have my key, we'd get a spare from reception. Turns out he'd already lost that one and there was only one spare. No more keys. Weird.

How would I describe Ukranian transport? In a train, a clean white linen cloth over a dirty table. On this boat, a floor clean enough to go barefoot on but food crumbs on the unused chairs.

On shipboard, they have some games to keep the passengers fromm going insane. They have two ancient backgammon boards, a couple decks of cards not quite worn enough to be transparent and the slow opium drip of TV for the mindless. To prevent any possibility of conversation, the TV's are played at monstrous volume.

The ship was registered in Panama. According to Andres, there are a few ports that charge minimal or no tax for flying their flag. Panama (and the Netherlands) are among them.


I was speaking to Max - his English is excellent. He was saying that he felt life in the USA must be rather boring. Everything is set. In Eastern Europe, every day brings with it a new problem/challenge. There are always new strange laws from the government, a mishutka (small bus) driver who is completely insane, etc that you have to deal with. I told him that it is my belief that in the USA this tedium is what causes us to concentrate on (making and consuming) culture. People get into movies, music, books, video games, TV and such to distract them because they don't have to worry about some new problem/obstacle/challenge on a daily basis.

Max had an unusual opinion on what the best thing about the former USSR was and that was 'children's lives'. Kids were very happy and well taken care of in the USSR. They had free camps, lots of activities, teachers and such. The biggest problem of course is that everyone gets the same status/level/money. You couldn't really get paid a very much more to be a doctor than a factory worker, hence no incentive to excel.

Also, according to Max, some Turkish hostels won't deal with Russians because Russians have what they call a 'White Soul'. The meaning of this seems to be 'party animal'. Oddly though, a lot of Europeans seem to be falling into this same idiotic behavior due to the phenomina of the 'all inclusive vacation' packages. In other words, you pay a fixed amount for your vacation. Whether you drink one beer or one hundred, you aren't getting charged any more or less - hence people tend to go wild.


Europeans find it deeply offensive if you joke about accidents they could have. While I was fairly drunk, I made an off joke about Max needing a lifeguard (max is a swimmer). In American, you can cheerfully joke about someone needing to avoid cutting off their hands in a machine they are working with but this is out of bounds in Europe. I'm speculating that this came about due to unsafe conditions, inadequate medical care and perhaps even some sort of superstition - but that's just speculating. Just know that if you use that sort of humor you may as well threaten them.

After that, moods and attitudes cooled distinctly and the evening wound down.


I think it was TJ who gave out the link to this wonderful children's book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011




I work up at 09:00 and was ready by 10:00. I sat down to read my e-mail and see which time, 14:00 or 18:00 the boat would be boarding. It was neither - it was 11:00. And an hour away. I calmly continued to (quickly) eat my yougurt as Sylvia freaked out for me. No good going off on an empty stomach. I reasoned that the minute or two I wasted continuing to eat my yogurt wouldn't have much of an effect, plus the humor value watching Sylvia saying things like "Oh my God, I can't believe you're still eating!" was totally worth it. Plus, I was still really waiting for my brain to boot up. I even forgot to respond to his e-mail which demanded a response so that he would know that I got it. I figured this would fuck me hard later. [Fortunately, it hasn't yet.]

I showed Sylvia the directions I had - she took them and called a cab. Fortunately, she speaks some Russian and/or Ukrainian. I'm not really sure which but it always manages to bring a cab. She told me that the faire would be 85 UAH and she had given the directions on where I needed to go. Sylvia also advised me to keep the cab around after I go to the ferry company to check in to take me further to get to the boat. I figured "How far could that possibly be?" Second thoughts, however, told me "This is Ukraine! Any silly shit is possible."

So, I packed fast, made sure I had everything. If anything was to be forgotten, I wanted to be sure that it was at least not blindingly obvious. Like my backpack or shoes. I said my quick goodbyes to everyone present and hurried downstairs. I jumped into my cab and we drove away. I said to the cab driver "You know where we're going, right?"

He didn't have a fucking clue.

Despite Sylvia calling and carefully explaining everything to his dispatch office, they didn't bother telling him anything other than where he was to pick me up and he was headed to the port in or around Illichivsk somewhere.

This sort of wild inefficiency is not uncommon. As people are fond of telling me, "This is Ukraine!"

So we went through town with me explaining as best I could along the way.

The cab driver actually spoke some English. He was cheerful and performed well above the normal you'd find a cab driver willing to do. Whenever we weren't sure where we were suppose to be going, he'd bound out of the cab and ask other locals. I kept biting my tongue as we were pressed for time and it seemed to me we were going a lot slower than I'd like. I didn't want to push the cab driver for more speed though - driving through Odessa is dangerous enough.

So, I've got about five hundred and fifty HUA in my pocket - which is more than I'd like to have but I never got the opportunity to buy 'rations' - food, water, smokes, snacks, whatever.

Sylvia was right - the ferry office was about 2 KM or so from the building I eventually had to wait for the ferry at. In my opinion, I got remarkably lucky to find a cab driver that could speak English however badly and had the energy and drive to jump out and run over to ask various people directions. I think I could have eventually found it myself but it would have taken hours more time than I had. Plus, humping the pack that far through unfamiliar areas would have sucked ass. I paid the cab driver double the fare by way of tip. A good chunk of this money was comprised of giving him all of my small change (bills). This is expensive by the standards of Ukraine but it means that I took an hour long cab ride with the cab driver bounding in and out of the cab to get directions to a difficult to find place for a total of less than $22. You can't really step into a cab in many places in the USA for that!

The buildings themselves that housed the ferry company as well as their customs and control office were in no way labeled in any language and looked run down and tacky. The people within them gravely examined my ticket and passport and added various stamps to the paperwork.

So, now I'm down to about four hundred HUA in my pocket with no sign of a currency exchange anywhere. I figure I might be out about fifty dollars because the chances of the ship having a currency exchange are not good.


So, I got to then sit around the waiting lounge for a few hours.

People reading this are probably going to think "Ah, so you really didn't need to hurry after all?" Not the case. I only had a limited window to get checked in with the ferry company, a limited window of time to show my passport for the first of six times to someone at the area the waiting room is housed in, etc. I have no idea what would have happened should I have been late but given the 'Soviet' way in which things are done (with draconian attention to the times) it would not surprise me if the person who I checked in with at one of the spots left immediately after their small open time opened making getting onto the ship quite impossible.

In the states as well as parts of Western Europe, people are paid to sit on their butt and do their job even after the normal time of check in, to accomodate late arrivals and such. Here, this doesn't seem to be the case. They don't say "I'm sorry, check in was fifteen minutes ago." Instead, they simply leave the area so that you cannot bother them. Nobody present will know where they went or why. So you have to be on time. One you've traveled for even a short time in areas which use to belong to the former USSR, you begin to be able to get a feel for the way things are done - and they haven't changed in many aspects since the USSR.

So, I sat in the waiting lounge and got to check out my fellow passengers.

I found a young Dutch couple doing what I consider to be a high adventure thing - they are going through Georgia on the way to central Asia. They seemed very cool and so I was happy to hang out with them. It is a bit of irony considering that just the previous night I had been drinking with the Dutch and they said a day ago they were drinking with another American. Their names are Inga and Andries.

There were also other people who had a surprising number of bags. Without thinking about it, I helped some very young guy get one of his bags into the office. No big deal, just a common courtesy thing. I did it without thinking of the reprucussions of that simple act.

Later, in the office, I learned from Inga and Andries (who are much more experienced travelers than I am) that the reason so many of the other passengers havve so many bags is that they are actually smuggling things to sell in Georgia. This is also why the families are brought. Everyone (regardless of their age) gets one hundred kilos of luggage for free. Since it looked pretty obvious to me who was smuggling (look for exessive baggage) I figured it was more 'grey market' than 'black market'. Even the guy I'd helped carry in the bag of had a whole lot of baggage. If these guys are smugglers, I figure it must be a very lucrative thing being that all of the people have a three day and approximately two hundred dollar cost each way investment.


So, I didn't have time to shop the night before. I figured, 'no big deal'. There might be a shop near where the boat was and I've heard there is definately one on the boat, right?

There was a shop at the custom control office. They just kept the door which could give us access to it locked. There were people that went in and out of it with products but I didn't actually get to see a shop keeper.

And I had just discovered the aweful truth.

I was completely out of cigarettes.

Non-smokers will think this is no big deal or worse still adopt the pompous ass "Well, maybe this is a good time to quit" rhetocic that smokers never get tired of hearing. Had I been interested in quitting, I'd have done so years ago. But I'm not. I was fucked. Madness lurked nearby and saw a lack of cigarettes as a way to rapidly gain more ground.

Andries began to immediately feed me cigarettes because he's just that kind of guy but I always feel like such a dick when I'm bumming cigarettes from someone. I was telling Andries and Inga that I hoped there was some sort of shop on the boat that sold cigarettes.

The young guy I'd helped with the bag stepped up and said "Cigarettes? You want cigarettes? I give." He went into one of his bags ad produced a pack of strange cigarettes. I began to dig around for small bills, knowing I'd just given them all to the cab driver as a tip and wondering if this guy could break a hundred Grivna note. He started saying "Gift!" until I stopped fishing for my money. I thanked him effusively and he headed back to his mountain of baggage.

That's a massive amount of repayment of a very small effort. Karma really paid off quick in this case. Very nice kid.

Eventually, we went through customs. It was a relatively painless process. I got to see what my bag looks like when it goes through an X-ray machine. It looks like a mess - same as it does when I open it. Cool. Eventually, we got to board a small bus with our bags and were taken to the ship.


The ship is called the 'Greifswald'. Oddly, the name looks like German for 'world of grief' but that can't be. Who would name their ship that?

Andries also got to show off his physical prowess. There was an old man (turns out to be Steve from Sweden) who had a rolling case. The gangplank looked pretty difficult and despite Andries being sandwiched between two packs offered to help Steve with his case. Andries was impressed with just how heavy it was. I watched him struggle up the narrow stairs with it and I wondered how on earth George was planning on getting that case up there. For the young and fit Andries it looked to be a Herculean task. Note that there were no ships personnal who looked like they were at all interested in helping people with any baggage. Hell, I was hanging on tight and being very careful with my backpack on. I also got to discover that some of the ropes and such have grease on them. Happy days.

When I was checking in, they also took my (and everyones) passport. They will be holding them for the duration of the voyage. I have no idea why or when I'll get them back. Since, I've discovered this is not common but I do remember during the days of the USSR having to relinquish my passport to the hotel I was staying at for the duration of my visit. I suspect they are doing it so they can get back their room keys though I could be wrong on that. According to Andries (font of knowledge) holding the passports is highly irregular.

They also had me initial a paper showing that I understood that I was only authorized to smoke in the three main smoking areas. These included the upper and lower longue and the bar. I've heard that if you are caught smoking in an unauthorized area it is a $20 (US) fine. I've not bothered trying to smoke in unauthorized areas because the only ones left passengers have access to include their cabins, hallways, children's play room and on deck.

On the ship, as I received my keys, I was told that breakfast was at 08:00, lunch at 13:00 and dinner at 18:30. I made careful note of this as I have a pretty good feeling for how things are done. By this, I mean 'if you are late, fuck you, no food'. Frazier's 'Soup Nazi' skit rang in my head. They usually do announce meals, but hey - it's in Russian. No translation.

My cabin is one of the cheapest cabins. It has an internal shower and bathroom but no portal to see outside. I figured that if I went too cheap on the cabin, I might have too interesting of room companions. I reasoned that I really didn't need the portal. I don't know of a ship in the world that doesn't have some way for people to be able to go up on deck.

Compared to a lot of the hostels I've stayed in, the room was pretty nice indeed. I immediately laid claim to the bottom bunk as the thought of levering my fat ass up to the top would be something that would only be loved in a comedy movie. I felt that it would be a good idea to hang out in the cabin to meet my new room mate. So, I hang out in there for a few hours reading a Sean Connery biography. Nobody ever came. I figured that I may have gotten very lucky indeed and been alone in my cabin.

After a brief self guided tour of the ship, some Georgians treated me to some of their famous wine. It was very nice and they certainly seem a hospitable people.

Eventually, while the ship was still in dock, it became dinner time.

I figured I was good. There is only one type of food I really can't stand and that is fish and things that come from the water. I don't know why but the smell makes me gag. I had talked to Adam and Sylvia when discussing the dining arrangements I should be expecting on the ship. They assured me that fish was difficult to keep fresh and was a bit more expensive than other foods. Hence, my chances of being served fish were minimal.

Naturally, the first meal was fish.

Remember the yogert I'd eaten before the crazy cab ride? That was the only food I'd put into my body since dinner the previous day. I was pretty damned hungry. I ate it quickly 'and thought of England' to use an old expression. I thought of Sylvia attempting to disuade me from my two cups of yogurt but was happy I'd eaten them after all.

How dinner on this ship works, I'm told, is different from how it works on some other ships though this is not an uncommon way of doing it. On this ship, when you are allowed into the dining room, all of the food has been set out. You sit at the table and eat your food. If there are eight seats at the table, there will be eight pads of butter on a plate. You get one. If you eat two, you have just eaten someone else's food and they won't thank you for it. There are eight small squares of napkin. You get one. Really. You cannot get any more food or drink than what is on the table. Period. Unless, you go steal food from the other tables - preferably after everyone has eaten and departed. If you don't like what is served, fuck you, eat it or go hungry. If you have special dietary concern (vegiterian, Jewish, etc.) fuck you. Don't eat it if you don't want it. If you ask for extra food (as Steve from Sweden attempted) they look at you like 'Why are you bothering me?' (See also Czech service). Obviously, you don't get whatever food you were silly enough to ask for. Maybe you'll find something you like on your next meal. I am not kidding at all on this sort of thing and it is not at all uncommon practice for the former USSR areas. All of the food you get will range in temperature between lukewarm and cold. It may have been hot once, but then been put onto your plate a half an hour before any of the guests are let into the dining room. You have about half an hour to eat, then get the fuck out. Really. You are assigned an eating table based on a mysterious system that either has to do with check in time or what room you are in. Since I was tagging along with Inga and Andries, I got assigned to the same table for eating. Hell, I'm enjoying their company enough that I may briefly travel with them. We'll see if they can still stand me after the ocean voyage.

After dinner, the Georgians graceously treated me to Georgian 'TBIVISURI' - coniac. Instead of liquid chasers, they use cookies to cut the burn. And, they taught me new Georgian hand signs.

After a night of yet more drinking and talking (given the severe language barrier), I headed off to bed.


Thumbs up - good.

Thumbs up while using your other hand to sprinkle something over it - very good.

Snapping the side of your neck with your fingers - 'snaps' = 'schnops' = any kind of alcohol.


{{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 | Thailand: Bangkok | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2018}} Ukraine: Kiev - Chernihiv - Uzhhorod

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