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Thursday, March 31, 2016

GEARING UP FOR UKRAINE

[Disclaimer:  Some of this has appeared previously on my Facebook.  Some has not.]


THE EXPECTED RANT

Eastern Europe.

SE Asia is nice but it seems like I've been here for quite a while and would like to bugger off for a bit.

I'm thinking of living near Kiev for three months in a rental property. Since Russia grabbed Crimea like a fat kid grabs candy (or Logan alcohol) their currency has crashed hard.

A furnished apartment with all utilities is under $200 per month. Maybe under $150 per month. For a nice place. With fucking wifi. It better have fucking wifi. I've been assured there will be wifi. Deep breaths.

The problem is 'after'. Fortunately, there are several countries which are only a few hours from Ukraine. Many even touch it.

Starting to think 'hey, I might be able to explore E Europe again'.

My goal in living for three months (in Logan's terms, that's a long long time) in one place is to save money so I can eventually get a new laptop (GTA5, etc), visit the USA and save the world.

The problem - it's going to be almost as much to fly to Kiev as the USA. Believe it or not. Apparently, a lot of (horny) people from the USA - wait - did I say horny? I meant 'hungry for culture'. Anyway, a lot of people fly from the USA to KL/Bangkok, hence the airline fares are much cheaper than (where the hell is) Ukraine.

Downside about Ukraine? Russian and Ukrainian languages. Really a bummer. I can get by (basic stuff) in like fifteen languages but no Slovak ones. At all.

So that will be a bit of a burden.

We'll see what happens.

Another fun fact, the only place that I have found (thus far, still looking) that sells 'reasonably priced' (under $600) tickets seems a bit on the dodgy side of 'a layover in one of the 'Stan' countries. Yeah. So that will be just loads of fun. Heavy research needed as it seems that no matter where I fly, the cost is about the same for some reason.



SUPER FUN RESEARCH

Research.  To some people, it is a way of 'dream building' their vacation.   They love nothing better than taking a few hours, days or weeks to find just the right hotel.  Figuring out the schedule.  To some people, it is a way of going on vacation without ever leaving their cubical.

Did this for years with co-workers and bosses I'd have gladly lit on fire.  Hated it.

For Logan, it is just a huge pain in the ass.

Either way, it is an integral part of travel.   As a philosophic traveler once told me, "A traveler without information is a bird without wings."

If you have a lot of money and don't mind spending it, you don't need to do as much research.  If you have even more money, fuck it - hire someone to do your research for you.  And guides.  And porters.  And people you can hurl whiskey bottles at when you're feeling low.

That's right - drink first, then throw!

Since I'm poor (and know absolutely no 'wealthy' people) I do my own research.  Like most people who read this.  Hopefully, you'll have more fun with it.

Because research is vital and you will be doing it should you ever decide to travel, I am putting down my research notes for your perusal.  They can be skipped if you really don't want to read about the work that goes into travel but if you've read this far you'll probably give them a light scan.  Unlike my brain, I will try to keep these notes on topic.  When talking about birds above, a couple minutes went away to fantasizing about eating turkeys.  No turkeys in SE Asia.  It's very sad.

Disclaimer:  There are actually turkeys here according to the internet but I've never come across them on a menu so as far as I'm concerned - no turkeys.  No gravy, cranberries, decent mashed potatoes (you'd think this isn't that hard to make, you'd be wrong), stuffing, etc.  Gosh I miss that.

All of this is being prompted because my long (free!) visa in Malaysia is coming to the end of it's 90 days.  I've explored a bit of the Island of Borneo and haven't been that impressed.  The people are friendly, you don't see a lot of tourists but there isn't anything you can't see on the mainland here that I've come across.  Sure, there are loads of 'wilderness sanctuaries'.  If I was thirty years younger and didn't rely on wifi for my very soul I might be more interested.  Well, that's a lie.  I've never given that much of a shit about being eaten by mosquitoes.

If there is even a small hole in the mosquito netting, you might as well have this for all the good it will do you.  Either way, sleeping under netting sucks so much...  (For those who don't know why, it is damned hot - no air movement.)

I've got a couple friends who are a husband/wife reporter team I've known for a few years.  They live in Ukraine.  I'm fortunate enough to get occasional correspondence (via Facebook, long may it reign) from Sergey.  He told me (and I quote) "one one-room apartment rent 80 USD with WI-fi and utilities, tasty and big pizza delivery 4 USD, 40 minutes of massage performed by a doctor 3 USD, beer in Restaurant 0.8 USD".

I thought "Isn't that interesting?"

"On my way!"
[As an interesting side note, to get this picture I actually googled 'Logan Horsford happy'.  Odd because being on a camel is not a happy time for anyone with testicles.  Also, I don't take nearly so many selfies as much of the world seems to.  I count that as a win.]

After messing about in SE Asia for another month I was bored of it.  The only three countries I kind of like are Cambodia (Mexican food), Thailand (good value for money) and Malaysia (most modern of the three).  The rest, not so much.

Sick of SE Asia.

This is what you get when you google 'sick of SE Asia'.  Funny.

The town Sergey lives in is near Kiev and Chernobyl - as in 'whoops reactor go boom' back in the old days of communism.  Sadly, just like all those plastic bags that last forever in landfills, that whole radiation thing is still with us.

But the area he is talking about is well out of the Fallout zone.

Some people actually know why he is doing the thumbs up and looking only through one eye.  Count yourselves as clever and educated if you do.  If not, just believe he is a happy fellow!

Let's be honest though - for those prices I might risk being a whole lot closer to the radiation zone.

And being in Ukraine does put Eastern Europe pretty damned close to me.  Closer than many trips I've taken to play NERO.

Problem 1:  Getting to Kiev.

The plane schedule from where I am (Miri, Malaysia) to get to the big hub (Kuala Lumpur AKA KL) looks like this:

10:00 - 12:15
14:20 - 16:30
18:55 - 21:05

The flight from KL to Kiev looks like this:

10:55 - 20:45

You know what that means?

That means I am fucked.

Imagine being the person who actually took this picture saying to their friends "Guess what I saw today?"

Yep.  It will be a long assed night wandering the terminal, smoking and sitting around with all of my shit.  Oh, but why not fly there, get the train or an over priced cab into town to pay top dollar for a grotty place to sleep so that you can get up real early  to try to make it to the airport three hours before your flight leaves?  And spend a bunch of useless money?

Because it's not really a clever idea.  Even if part of me thinks "Yeah, sure, I'd only have to get up by six in the morning, find a taxi running that is happy to rip me off..."

If you google 'evil taxi driver', you get the zombie taxi driver from Ghostbusters.  Apparently, actual evil taxi drivers are too evil to photograph.

Nope.  It's a lot of useless money I'd rather give to Starbucks in the airport so I can bitch about their wifi.

So I have a long night to look forward to.  Not a huge deal at KL airport.  They don't close it and drive the patrons into the streets like some airports I've been to in the past.

Once in Boryspil International Airport (the one the plane flies into) it is a 50 UAH (thats about $2) bus into Kiev.

Because as my good friend and travel mentor Adam posted...

OK.  Got that part settled.

Sadly, the town Sergey was talking about doesn't seem to have a lot of rental properties.  Switch to plan B.  Kiev, Lviv then Chernihiv.  They go down in price in that same order as well.  The latter two also put me close to the borders of other interesting countries.   If prices are cheap (or you are rich), plan B is not difficult.



BUYING AIR TICKETS ON LINE

Buying tickets on line is always stressful.  Because they really don't have their online shit together as much as we all wish they did (especially from less tech savvy countries) buying airline tickets always feels like wagering a good chunk of money at a craps table.

Not that I've ever gambled a 'good chunk of money'.  You have to have one first with which to gamble.

Getty Images - not really realizing that once you put a picture out there that putting your name on it won't keep people from using it or caring.  Getty Images is gratefully acknowledged as having either taken or bought this picture.  Like you care.

So anyway, it feels a lot like you are gambling several hundred dollars on a bet.  Will the ticket go through?  Will you think it did but it didn't?  Will the company keep your money and blow up the plane?  Who knows.  Either way, when you click it, it's gone.

Unless your fucking credit card doesn't work.


My bank (in the states) though helpful is way overprotective.  I have to literally tell them about every country I want the card to work in and update them frequently.  Apparently, they hadn't been planning on me doing business with 'one of the -stans'.

After calling my bankers (I love skype) I got the payment pushed through.

The day after, I went to check the bank (and Paypal that I'd used for the local ticket Miri to KL) to see if the payment went through.  This is actually a good tip - inspect what you expect.  The big ticket went through, the Paypal one is still 'pending' for some damned reason.  I sent them a message.  You see?  Stressful.  In addition, you should receive confirmation letters and such in your e-mail.  Check out all of this stuff closely.  Make sure they have been paid and are happy.  Other travelers tell me stories about their payment not going through and the airline looking all surprised when they showed up with 'reservations' - but no tickets/seats.


THE HUMP

Of course, you need plane tickets to get over what I personally think of as 'the hump'.


I'm pretty sure that I've discussed it before but these are the countries I wish were cheap, safe, fascinating tourist meccas (probably not the right word there...) but sadly they've gone the other way.  I need to take a plane to get over them.  Generally, they are not good places to go either because of high cost or low survival expectations.

And getting over the hump is always a few hundred dollars.  No budget airlines fly over the hump - which is sad.  It's weird but the price to get over the hump is about $150 less than it is to fly from KL to the USA.  Strange, eh?



UKRAINE RAIL MAP


I think there are a lot more minor rail connections than are shown but this does tell me they seem to have a pretty extensive rail system in Ukraine.  If prices are as cheap as I'm seeing, there could be some sightseeing and exploration by rail going on.  Yes, I know I am one to take advantage of a countries' problems but this is a unique opportunity to see a bit more of Ukraine.  Possibly before Russia decides it wants another slice.

"Hey - I am too cool being - like your Fonzie.  But with a nuclear missile where my dick was."

Oh that crazy Putin.  What ever will he do next...

Anyway, since I need to absorb off the cost of flying to Ukraine, for my first couple months I'll be seeking and staying in places for a longer term.  A month - two if very nice and I'm not sick of the town.  Then, go outside of Ukraine for a bit - check out other Eastern European countries then back in unless I'm sick of the place.

It's a solid plan and oddly, my travel mentor isn't telling me it is a stupid plan.  This makes me feel pretty good about it.


He also advised me to bring some extra 'hard currency' as a negotiating tool for rent.  It's been so long I had to double check what he was talking about.  Yes, dollars and euros.  Same kind of 'hard currency' they use to go on and on about back in the bad ole days of the USSR.  Sadly, it is a pain in the ass to get in Miri as banks regard it as the job of the money changers.  The money changers regard it as their job to rip you off.



TRAVELER'S TIP

The day after making a payment (especially for airfare) look at your accounts online to see if the money was actually paid out.  If not, make inquiries.  While it is an extra step you shouldn't be required to do when dealing with professionals, remember that the merchants frequently aren't and that banks are mutherfuckers.  Though the people who help you individually may be quite nice.  [I put that disclaimer in for all the really nice people who have helped me over the years at my bank.]



BOOK REVIEWS

I'm listening to The Walker Papers.

It's a decent urban fantasy series...aside from the fact that the author makes all of the men again attractive. Does this mean the author owns a lot of cats? I don't know - but that does seem to be a common theme for romance writers.

One of the ladies various love interests (they always juggle several because...cats...) is the captain of the police force she works for.

Ever see the TV series "Person of Interest"? Remember the dirty cop who was strong armed onto the good guy's team and eventually became a good guy? Fusco? Yeah. I have retaliated and am using his image as her captains.


This makes me rebelliously happy and makes some of the scenes much more interesting being that he is 'short and blocky' and I'm thinking not considered handsome by any women in the classical sense of the word. Maybe not any sense. I've no idea.

Why am I listening to a book series (not just one book but a series) that I am subverting? Because there just don't seem to be enough decent series out there in the urban fantasy stuff. Most of them are written (and consequently read) by women. There are some women readers who are OK (like the one who reads the Walker Papers) but many of them make me wish I were gay.

Sigh.

I'd put this series at a 5/10. It's a book series for when you are needing something to read.



MOVIE REVIEWS

(Hell, reviews of both books and movies?  This blog really has it all, huh!)

War of the Worlds (2005)

Gave this really freakishly expensive (though it did make a lot of money) a 3/10.

The positives: Lots of nifty death and dramatic action.

The negatives: The most annoying, unlovable family who I desperately wanted to have get picked off one at a time all survive despite logic and common decency.

Why they would want to make the main characters so annoying and ones you'd like to back over with your car is strange. Usually, you want people you would hope to have survive so that you can get all sympathetic and cheer them on. I cheered on the Martians though I knew they were doomed from the beginning. Wells told me so.

What really scares me is that some of my readers will know who Mr. Wells is by sight.  [For the rest of you, am I fucking with you?  Yes.  Yes I am.  Enjoy.]



PRICES (MIRI)

Local food - small dinner, under 10 MYR.  Big dinner, double that.  Includes 1-2 plates of food (small or big) and two ice teas.

Beer:  Fuck that, it's way too expensive here.  Only tourists, rich folks and desperate alcoholics drink a bunch of that here.  Go to Cambodia to drink.

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PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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