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.


  1. Well my spies took photos of a large sweaty Americanski lugging his ass onto the Greifswald ferry to Georgia....we compared it to our mugshot collection.

    It was Logan...
    ...and just like Elvis, Logan had indeed
    'left the building'
    (or in this case the country).

    We informed our guests, the neighbours, the local shopkeepers, and the cops...
    Logan has left us

    .....somewhere in Odessa a church bell began to peel.

    My connections in Batumi informed me that a large sweaty Amerikanski had got off the ferry and had passed thru Georgian Customs...

    More bell ringing in Odessa...spontaneous street parties have erupted
    The news has even filtered down the 'hostel grapevine' to Sevastopol...

    Logan is gone.
    The Sevastopol marching bands parade thru the city centre....twice.

    Logan originally wanted to travel to Turkey, but then, I really like Turkey.

    So I sent him to Georgia instead.
    I hate fuckin Georgia and the Georgians.

    Whilst he was in Sevastopol, I distinctly recall telling Logan 2 important things to remember:

    1. That there were no shops or concessions on the ferry to Georgia..

    2. Always leave plenty of time to get where you are going and be prepared.

    I'd tell Logan.... 'I fuckin told you so'
    But sending him to Georgia was even better.


    Adam Contra
    (Hostel owner, World traveller, Logan survivor.)



{{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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