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Sunday, June 12, 2016

TRUDGING THROUGH THE CARPATHIANS

UKRAINE TO ROMANIA

Though Lviv is very close to Poland, I'd gotten a very attractive offer from a friend of mine named Diana who lives in Romania to stay at one of her properties free for a month.  After that, she would help me to find a different place to stay (we both assumed I'd be bored there after one month) that I could rent for a reasonable (to Logan) price.

Worth crossing Ukraine for.

Unfortunately, many of the places in Ukraine that have web pages may make you think you've slipped back into the 1990's.  Go 'MySpace'.  Also, a lot of the information you get will be found to be inaccurate.   Sometimes wildly so.  I'm sure that if you spoke Russian (or Ukrainian - very similar for those who care) and knew the web pages to go to that you could probably get what you want.  I have seen people do it - and had flashbacks of 'dial-up' for those who are old enough to know what that is.  Or a dial tone, for that matter.  If you are too young, put it under 'things pre-internet that are best forgotten'.

So, I'd researched a bunch (while sober, even) and the internet told me to cross the border at the town of Tyachiv.

This was what we in the border crossing business call 'a lie'.

You can't cross the border there.  You can cross it about an hour east at a town called Solotvino.

This picture has nothing to do with what is being talked about.  Please ignore it.

For those who want one of those '90's style web pages with information on where the actual border crossings are for Ukraine, I direct you to this.

Even if I have to get a taxi it won't be a bad cost considering going from Lviv to Tyachiv - crossing the  entire Ukraine north to south is under 4 USD (100 UAH).

Yeah, buddy.

Thinking moving around in Romania will cost more.

My research into how to get from Tyachiv to Solotvino is not going well.  It may be one of those 'jump and figure it out when I get there'.  [Edit:  It was.]  Because I suspect there may be a few of these moments, I'm leaving earlier than necessarily needed.  And it is long past time to get out of the steadily worsening situation at the house.

To clarify my position on living with other people:  If you go to live with some friend or friends for a week, that is often a magical situation.  Wonderful.  You get to hang out and do stuff.  Once you have hit the one month mark - even if you are paying rent - shit often starts to slide downhill after that.

It may just be me.  In some respects I am a pain in the ass to live with.  I do enjoy living alone.

But visiting with people for a week - so cool.  Even if as during LHI or the European tour I stayed with several different households for a week - still cool.

But for just living?  No - fuck that - alone for me is best.

Again, nothing to do with the blog but I did listen to Stewart's autobiography recently and thought I would distract you with this image for no good reason.  And make you read shit.  Which you fell for.


LEAVING LVIV

I nearly out waited my train.   Found out the advertised track number was incorrect.

Despite asking for 'just a seat, I don't want a bed', they naturally gave me a bed.  On the top bunk.

Really.

Just looking at it, I could tell there was even less stuff to get up there with than normal.  Fortunately, the girl who had the bottom was happy to switch with me.  Note that the various conductors and such will not help you with this sort of problem.  Their view seems to be 'if you didn't want the top, why did you book it' and 'if you don't like it, you can always book another train...eventually...'.  So it is best to just find someone yourself.

She immediately identified herself as a 'Jehovah's Witness'.

I was super happy for the language barrier.

Like this weird happy Batman is happy.

Especially when I had automatically responded "I'm sorry."  Looking at devout religion as a form of mental illness does not help one to get the bottom bunk!

The train bed itself - fairly torturous.  I thought that I didn't get the extra pad everyone else did.  Discovered at the end of the journey that they were stored above the top bunk.  Doh.

I do this a lot while traveling.


ONE TRAIN STATION TO ANOTHER

Talking to various people who had some English (about where my Spanish is I'm guessing) told me that the border was within walking distance.

Later, I discovered that talking to young, fit, healthy and relatively unencumbered people gives a different definition of 'walking distance'.

It was a couple clicks.

The only taxis?  At the train station.  And actually snapped up by the other train passengers.

So it was a walk.

Had I been going the other way (Romania to Ukraine) there would have been a big assed hill.

As it was, I was actually getting a bit dizzy and stuff as I was walking.  No where to sit down and often no side walks, I walked along looking for softer places to fall down.  My plan was to twist as I fell if I didn't just lose complete control of my body in order to spare the computer.  I may heal - the computer won't.

I just kept plodding along, one foot then the other and concentrated on breathing.

Yes.  Technically I was hiking through the Carpathian Mountains with literally everything I own.

Managed to not pass out (a couple times it was very close) or fall down all the way to the border.

Yea!

(Applause)

Pretty shagged out.  Were there any taxis?

Hell.

A box and a manually operated level crossing.  That's about it for this international border.

Sure, there were unmanned booths for little things like currency conversion and such, with the key word being 'unmanned'.

This is not a great place to cross for amenities.

One of the young guys asked me if I had any tobacco or alcohol.  I joked with him that I'd sure like it if he was offering those to me and began asking questions about where the train station was so I could get a ticket.  Played up the selfish tourist angle while being funny.

Didn't want him to look into my backpack.  Nothing serious - just personal use cigarettes and a whole bunch of pills.  My medicine.

But, anyone who has been reading this blog long enough knows my attitude toward authority figures.


I immediately set off toward the two (?) klicks away train station.  Hanging around - never a smart idea.

Eventually, I drug my ass into the train station.



SIDE RANT

One of the best things about 'not Ukraine' is we are back to the Latin alphabet.  A bit over a third of the people of the world use the Latin alphabet as opposed to four percent that use the Cyrillic one.  [Source]


This, in my mind, gives using the Cyrillic alphabet is about as smart as not being on the metric system.

The Latin letters make things so much easier.  Heck, both parties can even use the same phone with google translate!

There is a reason Logan has said "I don't care about learning the Cyrillic alphabet".  Yes, I have gone completely metric.  I'm about 1.8 meters tall and weigh under one metric ton.  But not enough under.  Good times.



THE TRAIN STATION

Scott: "Yeah... um, listen. We're trying to get to Berlin, Germany. Do you know if there's a train coming anytime soon?"
Tibor: "Oh yes! Very soon! They are building it now!"
     - Eurotrip

Felt this quote when I walked into the partial train station.  It was under construction.

Every experienced (and some inexperienced) travelers know that it is possible to buy a ticket on the train much of the time.  Knowing which train is yours is the problem.  They don't label them as clearly as I'd like.  Why that is, I do not know.  Later, it will lead to more butthurt.


At first, the lady was zero help.  No, she couldn't hold on to my bags so that I could do another two kilometer hike into town to get cash out of the ATM.  No, she could not make my cards work on her card scanner.  Did you know that whether you swipe the card along the side or stick it in the end, there are four different possible positions?  Only two of these eight total positions are incorrect.  I watched her try six different positions before putting the card reader aside and announcing it would no longer be used today.

Thinking she didn't get a lot of training on it.

Times like this require a lot of patience.  I've seen a lot (lot, lot) of tourists break down and start yelling, demanding to see managers and so on.  While this may work in some first world countries it means you are 'done' in most countries.  The item or service is no longer for sale and they don't care who you rant to.  You won't meet with the boss and there is no better business guide for people to complain to and the majority of people to ignore.

Honestly - it takes a special kind of person to read through their reviews and such on a regular basis and these people are rare.  If you are one of them and want to object and say you are not rare, you can reterm it as 'special'.  You have now moved into the 'special' category.

Right.

So - arguing doesn't work.  Unless you are Russell Crow.


Assuming you are not 'fighting round the world' (I try not to) just keep looking for new ways to go after the problem.

I got a taxi and paid him to take me into town to hit a bank, get a new sim card, some food (my last for about thirty hours as it turned out) and return me to the train station to wait for six or eight hours.  On food sellers - I'm thinking there must be a reason or law against people selling food near the train station or even on the trains the way they do in Asia.  It seems like there would be quite a market as a lot of these trains (even ones crossing countries) don't bother with the dining car.  But there isn't.

Lots of waiting.

After all of the walking and nearly passing out, even had I a place to store my luggage for a couple hours, touring the village wasn't a priority.  Possibly due to the hard rain which started after I got back and situated with a ticket.  It did look nice and picturesque.  This reinforces my opinion that - if one had the money and time - doing a summer time tour of Romania and staying in various nifty places would be fun.  Given the horrible time tables for the trains, probably a private motor car (I'm feeling British) would be the way to go.



WAITING IN DEDA

The last town before I finally got to my goal is a tiny (4000 people) town of Deda.  Easily memorable name, long four hour lay over.

Obviously, I was totally out of it by the time I'd reached here - between close to twenty hours of travel as well as hauling all my earthly possessions through the Carpathians.

And it got cold.

Like really cold.

I put on my sweater but unfortunately nodded off, thus lowering my body temperature even more.

Just sat there in the totally empty railway station having a good shake for a long, long time until my body warmed itself back up.  Not the coldest I've ever been (Korea, 1986 or so) but damned cold.


After boarding and crawling around the wrong train, I managed to find someone who got me onto the correct one.

Nearly got off at the wrong train station as well.  For some reason, just one Targu Mures train station is not enough.  They also have a 'Nord' (north) one.  The only interesting thing there was some old guy who was unloading bunches of meter long sharpened wooden stakes.  I remarked "All these crazy new fangled vampire hunting techniques these days!"  Some lady passing began to laugh hysterically.

I got back on the train and was met by my buddy Sorin.

As we partook of McDonald's (hey - not a lot of breakfast choices at 7AM on a Sunday in Eastern Europe), I remarked that it is rare for me to be able to hang out with people you've known for five or more years.

Simply because many of them are not motivated enough to travel.   Sad face.  But as Shadow said in "The Fifth Element", "I will be among you...soon."

For people in the USA - LHI2, The Second Coming.

Not as funny as Russells' Second Coming show but should be fun.

(If you missed LHI1 and would like more information about how to get involved, contact me on Facebook - Logan Horsford.  If you are not already a friend of mine, please mention you read the blog as I get a lot of spam friend requests and routinely block those bitches.)



SUMMARY

If you have your own vehicle, the Ukrainian to Romanian border crossing of Solotvino to Sihetu Marmatsiei is nice and quite.   Probably relaxing.  If you are on foot, avoid it if possible or allow for the fact you will probably be walking six kilometers, possibly up a decent (very long) hill.

This was not a happy forty eight hours for me in any way.  At all.  Even after being installed in the new place by kindly Sorin (no relation to the dark lord Sauron) I kept falling asleep - even after two (yes, two) different naps.

Avoid if possible.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

The platform they say the train will arrive on may be a lie.  Find some station attendants and double check - especially in the 'not first world' countries.  Sometimes, there will be multiple trains on the same track and at the same platform going wildly different places.

Going on a long train journey?  Don't plan on the station, anywhere near the station or the dining car (which will not exist) to feed you.  Pack a picnic.  An extensive one.


How often should you clean your backpack?  Never.  The more disgusting and ratty it appears, the better chance that would be thieves will look elsewhere for their 'phat l00t'.  If you like snazzy looking equipment, I recommend travel insurance!

Adjusting windows and such on transport.  I've watched this for years and honestly, it rarely goes well.  Want a little extra air and the window is up?  Once you lower it, it will magically say 'fuck you' and be broken forever in the down position.  Arctic winds will assail you.  Or the window will simply break off in your hand.  Or refuse to budge.  Or the glass will fall out.  Or have not been there for years.  Pretty much, trying to make any of the little comfort adjustments - really bad idea that often seems to make it worse.    Hell, even moving around the train with your over large backpack through doors that get stuck half way open, are inexplicably locked or only one door moves lead to a nightmarish feeling that only intensifies if you have to take a sudden, violent shit.  Instead, make the adjustments on yourself rather than the environment.  I carry coats and such in case it gets too cold, seat padding, etc.




COSTS

Taxi for a couple clicks and some waiting, 20 LEI

Sim card with a bunch of wifi, 25 LEI

Cigarettes, a bit over $3 per pack - about 3x Ukraine.  Welcome to the EU taxes, bitches!  Oh - wait - I have to pay it.  Shit.

Train from the border train station to Targu Mures (place I will be for a month), 66 LEI


Friday, June 3, 2016

BITS AND BOBS IN UKRAINE

FOLLOW UP ON LOOKING FOR A PLACE

I'd contacted six different places - three agencies and three private individuals.  Only one agency bothered to get back to me.

"Oh, we're poor!"

"How's your business professionalism?"


So in another little nip, the son of the lady I'd made the agreement with informed me that this house is neither his nor his mothers.  And, in an amazing bit of coincidence (since it is on the day my rent is due) his evil landlord has raised the rent and so he will raise mine.  He wanted $40 more, I negotiated it down to $30.  Not much of a haggle on my part.  It is annoying.  Not sure whose idea it was but I did e-mail his mom to let her know I'd be staying for another month despite the rent being raised.

Honestly, I really dislike business in Ukraine but the prices are the counterbalance to the shenanigans.

Fortunately, my old friends in Romania are going to make me feel very welcome there and so I've got that to look forward to.



MORE EASTERN EUROPEAN RESEARCH

The possibility - from Ukraine to Romania to Moldova back to Ukraine then on to Poland?

Not sure what to do after this.  Look for somewhere warm in Europe to hole up for the winter?  Because 'fuck the cold'.

Romania:  My friend Diana said she would take care of Romania so I'm skipping research on that.

Moldova:  I did the capital a few years ago and boy did it suck.  There was absolutely nothing there I wanted to see.  Going here would be a place to put between so I am just not going back and forth between Romania and Ukraine.

Note to self - might have to go through Transnistra.  Check to see if this can happen or not.  Train might be a way around it.

Another note - there seems to be absolutely nothing I am at all interested in within Moldova.  Been there, done that, didn't like it last time.  Figure out something else.  Croatia?  Bosnia?

Ukraine:  I'll have to look for somewhere else.  Between Moldova and Ukraine, I will need to burn a total of three months so that I can get back into the Schengen Area.  Then, I can get back in to visit...

Poland:  It's looking like I can stay in some really sexy cities for $300 per month rent.

After Poland, I'm really not sure where to go.   My goal is to be outside the Shengen area and somewhere warm.  My goal would be (after wintering) to head back to the USA in April (?).


Note to self - research how to get a Schengen extension.   It looks pretty rough.  Probably better to just duck out then back in later.

Later musings:  Europe during the six months of warm weather - nice.  The other six months - cold and sucky.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out a place to winter.  Not really thrilled about going back to Morocco and eating a bunch of 'tangine'.   Finding non-Schengen countries that are warm and not overly expensive to hang out in for half a year until it is time to go to the states - rough.  Especially since much of northern Africa either sucks or are busy squatting in burning villages polishing their AK-74's.   I'm not sure why the entire continent of Africa generally sucks so much - or if it is decent it's a bit pricy.




DAILY GRIND

By the gods I hate staying in a place more than a month. However, it is much easier on the pocket book. Since saving up for LHI2-TSC and a new computer that can play more than FV2 is important, I'm just sitting on my ass in Lviv.

It's weird but I find that I fall into a pattern depending on which part of the world I'm in. My pattern here is after my start up sequence (aka 'waking up') I will walk into Lviv (about 6KM) to a cafeteria restaurant. Honestly, the food is about the same quality as the other restaurants and about half the price. I can eat (with a drink) for under $4.

After that, I grab some supplies (diet soda, cookies to balance that diet shit and possibly alcohol. Note, I only drink on days ending with a 'Y'.) and get on the bus to get back. The bus costs .16 USD. Not a typo, it is sixteen cents. No idea why they bother to charge at all. Probably to get the bus driver to stop. I suspect they get the money or at least manage to shave off their cut.

After getting back, I will shower, mess about with the computer for awhile and possibly take a nap. You are suppose to sleep less as you get older. Still waiting for that part to kick in.

After waking up, I'll order pasta and a salad (note the health conscious thing there with the salad!) from a delivery place. The delivery guys seem to like me as I may be the only person in the country that tips them. I generally give them a dollar. Only the USA (due to Prohibition) is afflicted with the tipping BS. Dinner generally costs around six USD, including tip. Begin drinking when food is delivered.

Here, I am drinking wine mixed with diet soda. Considering a decent bottle is two USD, it's a treat. As my travel mentor once said 'When in Rome, drink what the Romans do'. IE drink what is cheap. Here and now, it's wine which is fine with me.

After consuming a bottle (or two if it is a special 'fuck the soda' night and I want a bit of a buzz) and stuffing my ever widening ass with sweets. They actually go into my mouth - though it would make a better story if I fed like a giant sea cucumber. Yeah. Take a moment to look it up to see how it feeds. Internet FTW.

After that, and watching a few movies (and possibly posting a bunch of stuff to the FB group 'Movie Geeks' if I am MST3000) I will go to sleep to start it all up the next day.

Note that my schedule (as well as what food I eat, etc) all might change depending on which country I am in.  Also note that I love my schedule and freedom.  If I were rich, I'd have even more freedom.  If I was really rich, I would begin distributing some of that freedom to my friends.



ON VENEZUELA

Thanks to David H for pointing out this excellent article on what's going on there now.

Best not to visit a country where the word 'bloodbath' is making it into articles.



TRAVELER'S TIP (UKRAINE)

Wheels on the bus go...

A lot of different backpacker sites are always talking about taking a bus (while loaded down with your gear) to get around the high cost of taxis.

Since I take one or more buses daily in Ukraine, here's the deal:

Don't.

When you get to a town, your best option is to call (or get someone to call) a taxi.  If you take the rip off artists on the street (independents) you will pay double, triple or as much as they think they can soak you for.  Don't fall for the 'let's use the meter' scam - they can set the meter for whatever the hell they want.  If you have to use one of these bastards, negotiate hard for a fixed price before you even step in.  Do NOT accept the meter unless you have lube.

As to the bus, if you have anything over a small bag of groceries - and sometimes even with just that - it is too crowded most of the time.  On about seventy percent or more of the buses it's standing room only and not much of that.

If you travel during a busy time (when people go or come from work or lunch) it is Japanese Pusher crowded.

This is Japan - not Ukraine.  But packed in like hot dogs kind of feels the same either way.  Your only hope is that you are gassy - because believe me, someone else will be.  It's a built in defense mechanism!

Getting on and off the bus will be hell and honestly, it's not fair to the other poor commuters.  Suck it up (Buttercup) and get a cab.



COMPUTER CLEANING

Been trying to play a bit of Skyrim and was stymied that my computer would sometimes shut itself off.  Searching the internet told me that the insides were probably dirty.

Of the computer.  I know my insides are no picnic.

Except to a cannibal.

Lots of people enjoy taking their fancy computer to a coffee shop and doing stuff there.  I don't.  Especially when the computer is about half a years wage to the locals.  For a black market resell.

So I stuffed it into a backpack and tried the closer of the two places I'd found which advertised they cleaned computers.  He quoted 350 UAH (about 14 USD).  I asked him if it would be possible to do it right the hell now and let me watch for 500 UAH.  "Impossible - I am very busy right now."

I pointedly looked around his abandoned, silent dusty shop.

"Riiiiight."  I responded.  "I might be back later."

I often feel like him when dealing with people.

I always like to say that I might come back later.  It is better than saying something you will be refused service for later.  Went to the other place on my list.  It was tricky to find, located within a courtyard of a building and the only signs in Cyrillic which I should learn but just can't work up the caring.

They only wanted 300 UAH, it would take an hour and I couldn't watch.  Offering a couple hundred bribe to watch didn't work though the guy did snap two pics of the dirt inside for me.  That was nice of him.

It's always good to watch when you can because they may take more care with your computer and I may learn something.

Got back the laptop.  Parts of the case still needed to be snapped together but the computer did actually start back up (yea!) so I am happy.  No water drained from it either.

Super.

Unfortunately, they also scrubbed the paint off the LED light which I had painted over meticulously.  Now, I have to find more paint or white out or something to cover it up.  It is annoying and distracting.  The LED is one that DELL felt necessary to have light up should you decide to disable your thumb pad.  Why is this necessary?  Because someone at Dell is a moron and morons up the chain decided to go with it.

Bernie Mac had a solution for those kind of people. 



ALTERWORLD


I would like to say that there are some disadvantages to the novel. While I love the concept (oh, if only in real life!) and enjoy the story...

Well, the author has what in the USA would be considered 'extremely sexist' views of women. Not having been to Russia, I don't know if this is a 'typically Russian' viewpoint. To me, it seems a lot like a USA 1970's viewpoint. "Oh, look - the little lady has a job! Isn't that cute!" type of crap.

And a bit of casual racism. Again, much like in the 1970's USA. If someone is a skinflint, he is 'jewing you' type of crap.

Again, if I'd ever been to Russia, I could always say it fits in with the Russian stereotype - but I haven't. No clue. It could be just the way this guy is and not even realize he's doing it.

It reminds me a bit of this.



PRICES

Getting the dust and grime of two years of road dust out of your laptop, 300-350 UAH.

PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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