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Saturday, April 26, 2014

BUS, BUS, MAGIC BUS!

ODESSA TO VARNA

Because long time readers of the blog enjoy Logan's pain like a vampire does blood, here is a recounting of the trip.

The mortar shells of the rebels had still failed to be launched as I boarded the bus.  The paint on the side proclaimed it to be a 'first class bus'.  They adhere to rigid truth in advertising all over the world.

Toward Moldova the bus plodded, picking its way carefully through roads already prepared for the next post apocalyptic "Fall Out" game.  Swerving down the one lane road the driver decided the grass was continuously greener anywhere but his assigned lane.  Many smaller cars and a couple other buses were ruthlessly bullied onto the shoulder or worse.  Any bus calling itself a 'sleeper' was turned into a lair on these roads.

Along the sides of the road, various stone crosses had been set up in spots where the drunk, unlucky or careless had met their end.  Like a ship offloading floating mines to honor sailors lost at sea, these will not only see but cause more death.

The hamlets in both Ukraine and Moldova were alike in that the traffic passing through received a lingering look as though this would be the day's entertainment.  Gray sullen buildings surrounded by unremarkable fields, as exciting as a drive through Kansas.

Felt sorry for the Ukrainians at the Moldovan border.  This is a quiet dull border with little traffic.  The offices are made from three shipping containers so that you know what living in a freezer is like.  A zombie outbreak would probably be a welcome change of pace.

In the past, I've fired pistols, shotguns, sub machine guns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launcher and so on.  Today was the first day I'd ever been 'felt up' by a sub machine gun.  It was on the guard's back and the bus was pretty narrow when he turned.  Felt like he then bobbed up and down a few times.  Afterward, I wanted a cigarette and a cuddle with the SMG but he was gone.  Heartbreaking.

A class of young, chattering, enthusiastic and drunk naval academy students took up most of the bus.  At a border, one of the girls checked out the outhouses.  Simple wooden buildings with a hole cut in the floor and twenty male visitors with bad aim.  "So sorry!"  she shouted.  "This is Ukraine!"

I laughed politely though this wasn't the first time I'd heard that phrase.

All of the currency exchanges were either closed or lied about not having dollars and euros - despite being able to see them in the drawer.  Rather than add to my mini 'Jason Bourne money collection' I exchanged with the professor leading the maritime class at a very favorable rate.  For him.

The bus ride started at 1 PM and arrived at 8 AM the next day.  We'd passed through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and into Bulgaria.  These borders were all lightly trafficked.  A border guard would board the bus, collect the passports, leave with them and they'd return from a bus worker stamped later.  The seat of the first class was uncomfortable enough I feel as though I'd received a spanking.  Not that perverted 'please spank me' British thing but an American 'go pick a switch'.



BUS PROTOCOLS

Taking long distance buses within the USA is a fairly rare occurrence.  Generally, the people using something like Greyhound are either extremely poor, foreigners, people without a license or convicts just released from/broke out of jail.  The toilets generally work, regular breaks are made and the only thing you have to remember to do from time to time is jump up brandishing a shiv and yelling "Don't touch my stuff!"

1)  Watch the driver carefully.  Not to see if he will snap or drive you into oncoming traffic though this is always a possibility.
If the driver gets out for a smoke, you may have time to dash to the bathroom.  Should he sit down to eat, chow down.  When the driver is climbing back into the bus you should be right behind him.  People often get left behind thinking the bus will wait for them.  Sometimes it does.  Those incompetent and inconsiderate enough to hold up an entire bus rightly receive the hatred of everyone else on the bus.

2)  Use the restroom whenever possible.  Finding out when the next stop is can be tricky.  You should always carry toilet paper and water with you - don't expect to find either en-route.  Even when you are assured the bus comes equipped with a toilet they are usually locked because nobody wants to clean them.  Or broken.  Or so disgusting and cramped that using them would leave you in worse shape than just wearing an adult diaper.
The night before traveling on a long trip is not the time to try a new restaurant or 'interesting' food.  The less you eat and drink before leaving and while on the road the happier you'll be.

3)  Guard your gear!  Tourists love to leave iPads and other electronic gizmos worth three months of someone's gross pay on the seat when they go to the bathroom or fall asleep then are indignant when they wake up without it.
Valuables such as computers go in a small backpack that goes everywhere with you.  Passports and credit cards are often put into this pack but a security pouch worn under the clothing is much safer.  Losing those important things while overseas can mean a week of fighting with bureaucracy rather than enjoying your vacation.

4)  Talk to your fellow passengers - especially the natives!
It requires being outgoing.  People traveling with others generally only speak with their companions.  They miss out on meeting interesting foreigners.  On the most recent bus trip, I met up with a physicist who was a teacher at a naval academy and who spoke six languages fluently.  Putting yourself out there and talking to people also garners goodwill with other passengers.  They will happily point out important information you would have missed not speaking the language - this break is only five minutes, there is something interesting/historical/significant, this is your stop and so on.

5)  On long trips going to different countries, always exchange local currency before boarding the bus.
  Although most border crossings have currency exchanges, your bus may not go anywhere near it or have time for you to use it.  The currency exchange may not have dollars or euros for you.  They may lie about this.  Take care of it before you board the bus.


Prices (Bulgaria)

Fine dining; main course, appetizer, two beers - 22 lev
Wine, from wine store - 10 lev
Bag repair, 4 lev
Bag re-repair, 2 lev (it was my fault on this one)


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PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

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