Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meet Bob

I have a little black furry houseguest at the moment, called Bob (christened by my friend Liz). Poor Bob was abandoned by his owner in the garden of Liz's apartment block when his ex-owner moved out. I'm so mad that someone would move out and just leave their pet like that! How could you be so cruel?

It was heart-breaking going round to Liz's and seeing poor Bob getting more and more desperate, trying to run into his old apartment and into Liz's apartment looking for food and shelter and affection. Liz was giving him some food, but she has a new(ish) little kitten of her own (who has already made an appearance or two on the blog) so she couldn't take Bob on as well, and obviously she didn't want him coming in and stealing her kitten's food or maybe even fighting him for it. He's not an aggressive cat by nature, but you could see he was getting to the end of his rope, like he'd run in at dinner time and Liz would try to chase him out and the poor thing didn't know what to do, he was torn between being scared of her and being starving, so he'd just run around in confusion. Presumably no-one was feeding him at all when Liz went on holiday for 3 weeks, poor thing.

I had hesitated to take him at first because I was going on holiday and because the old owner's reason for leaving him behind was because he wasn't an 'indoor cat' and she was moving somewhere without a garden. Okay, fine, but you work something out so he goes to a shelter or you advertise for someone to take him. You don't just cast him off. Presumably she had some notice she was moving - I got bloody evicted from my last apartment and even I had notice! But I couldn't bear to see him in distress, so last Monday I packed him up and brought him over to my place.

Sadly, I think the old owner might have been right on him not being an 'indoor cat'. As far as I can tell, he hides under the bed all day long (the first day it was under the cover where the toilet pipes run against the wall in the bathroom, until I pulled him out of there and put some newspaper in the opening). He's got a bit less timid with me, and will come see me sometimes for some pats and cuddles, but he's still pretty wary and never seems to purr. Pretty understandable considering how his whole life has been turned upside down in the past couple of months I suppose.

Reluctantly, I think Bob has gots to go. As well as him not being too happy in the apartment, I'm not too happy that he managed to pee/spray on stuff 4 times and poo on stuff twice in the space of the first week. I wrote it off as nerves/distress the first night, but he definitely knows where the litter box is now, so I'm not optimistic he will stop. So far it's always been on stuff that's relatively easy to clean (he's banned from the living room because there would be big trouble if he sprayed on the new clic-clac) but still, it's a hassle and I feel like there's a faint smell of cat wee when I walk into the apartment, and then I'm running around sniffing everything in sight and not being able to track down the source.

Quite possibly it's coming from the three reusable carrier bags currently soaking in a bucket in the bathroom. Reusable carrier bags seem to be Bob's wee-target of choice. Admittedly, that's better than his favourite thing to wee on being caviar and silk sheets or something. Although, come to think of it, maybe he *does* want nothing more out of life than to wee on caviar and silk sheets, like some louche Roman Emperor of the feline world, and he's resorted to pissing on my carrier bags in a fit of pique over them not being available in this lower-class establishment I call home. While I was initially writing the blog before I noticed him eagerly rubbing up against my handbag - turns out he had not only pissed on the reusable bag hanging out of it, but he was now rolling in it. Great. Full marks for somehow avoiding my handbag and the electronics etc. inside it though! Handbag now goes on to the list of things that have to be put out of range of Bob.

Then there's dealing with the litter tray and the bits of litter that get tracked all over the apartment, without a vacuum cleaner I might add. As I've said before, I've come over all house-proud in the new place, so it's bumming me out having litter stones and dried cat food on the floor etc. There's also the issue that he's not neutered and it could cost a lot of money to do that, especially if it turned out he needed other stuff as well. Right after the whole apartment debacle, I don't really have money to be throwing about.

I do feel guilty about (planning on) abandoning Bob again, but I'm trying to look at it that I've done a charitable thing in giving him a place to stay and food to eat, not a terrible thing in sending him to a shelter. Right now the shelters are full, since apparently it's a French summer tradition to go on holiday and abandon your pets, so I'll look after Bob until I know he has a place to go. Then I think handing him over will be the right thing for me and for him, even if I won't feel great about it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What you've all been asking for...

For once in the history of the blog, it's actually true, people have been asking (and not just my Mum!) I spent an exciting and glamorous Saturday night cleaning and here's some pics of the new flat avec furniture. I'll let you in on a little secret though, I have yet to throw out any of the boxes which currently occupy pretty much the whole east side of the living room. I dragged them out of the way for these photographs, and it actually looks really empty without them ha ha! Maybe I should keep them on and make a fort or something. I'm afraid no photos of my bedroom, I couldn't be bothered putting away bits and bobs like makeup and so on to make it look nice. Maybe another time. Oh and the bathroom pretty much looks the same, except with a big washing machine and more junk in it.

The kitchen:

I had to get a fridge magnet in Ukraine just because the fridge is so fricking massive I had to stick something on it! Currently I have a 'save the date' for a wedding I won't be going to (in New Zealand, masel tov Tiana and Gavin) and a list of things I want to buy for the apartment.

The living room

Note the coasters! Not the ugly ones from the market, I bought these at Kiev airport but there's only two because they cost 3 euro EACH! Normally wouldn't blow that much on coasters, but I had a bunch of Ukranian money to get rid of and a stupidly low dutyfree alcohol limit (and then I had to check in the vodka anyway...) Also a candle from the same airport gift shop. Mum and Dad may also recognise the poster as the same one, lovingly professionally framed, that is languishing in a basement room at theirs.

The gaping chasm normally occupied by millions of cartons:

Just to give you some perspective on the relationship between the kitchen and the living room (to wit, next to each other):

This is mostly to show my expert handiwork on the towel rack. This thing literally cost me blood, sweat and tears to put up (well, definitely literally blood since I cut myself trying to put the metal bars in, probably sweat. No tears though). It is possibly the crappiest product I've ever bought, and that's saying something. I was very suspicious that a suction-based towel rack liberally festooned with Chinglish would actually work, but I was persuaded by the fact that it cost 10 euro, and you can get away with selling out-and-out-crap for like 3 euro but not, I naively believed, for 10. Firstly, the suction cups didn't work on any kind of surface - wallpaper, shower cubicle, painted wall or wood. Secondly, the whole thing relies on lateral force somehow holding the metal bars in between the plastic endpieces, there's no screws or anything in there, so as you were trying to get it to suck on to stuff, it would just collapse. So first I tried putting blutack in the holes (during which I cut myself and bled all over it). Then I thought about taking it back to the shop, but decided they probably wouldn't take it, seeing as it was now "enhanced" with blood n' blutack, so I resolved to forge ahead and cellotape the bars into the thing. Still had the suction problem, tried blutacking it to the wall, didn't work. Finally, as you can perhaps see, I bought some hooks and forced them through the rubber backing (quite difficult, perhaps that's where the sweat came in) and hammered the bloody thing to the wall. So much for trying not to put more holes in the flat! Anyway, it looks and feels as though it will collapse at any moment, but I'm still putting it down as a DIY triumph!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 15: (Narrowly) failing to kill babies in Paris

Sigh, I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I'll finish up my last day of the trip on the last day of my holidays.

I was up pretty early on the Wednesday and I felt pretty refreshed despite the heat and 5 am start of my roommates, so I decided to walk to the Musée Jacquemart-André (I think I wrote that the wrong way round last time), all the way along Boulevard Haussmann (and some other streets, but basically one long straight line). It was a bit further than I thought it was going to be, but it was mostly sunny without being too hot, and I quite enjoyed it. A good feature of Paris in August (like most of the north of France I think) is that the locals leave, and since this route didn't take me through any of the uber-epicentres of the tourist trade, there weren't too many of them around either.

Not the Arc de Triomphe

Can you imagine a shop called "The mixed-race woman" in your home town? And to add insult to injury, it's a plus-sized shop!!

An iron church built under Napoleon

A couple of the rooms of the museum were closed, so I got a bit of a discount on the ticket (I looked in the guide in the giftshop later and I don't think I missed much). It's one of those museums that is left in the condition its owners had it, so you have a combination of admiring how some very rich Parisians lived in the 19th century and looking at the individual works of art. There are some real treasures, such as several Rembrandts, Tieppolo ceilings and a fresco, other Venetian works, Mantegna and Botticelli paintings, and, the highlight for me, Ucello's St George and the Dragon. It's a good size as well - small enough that you can have a good look at everything without getting bored or tired, but big enough to occupy a couple of hours. It comes with a free audioguide and I had to laugh at the posh British guy referring to "Don Quicksoat". Nice one!

Detail of Uccello's St George and the Dragon

Detail of a Tiepolo fresco

I just found this painting of some saints amusing. You probably had to be there though

I think this was a painting by Botticelli. If so, I want us all to start referring to people as having "the face of a Botticelli donkey"

I'm just not sure that mahogany statue really fits with the rest of the museum?

Oh go on, go on, go on, you know you've got a spare 85 euro lying about to spend on an umbrella

After the museum, I walked back the way I came, admiring Haussmann's handiwork (presumably), had lunch, and then headed off to the train station. As you will recall, the extensible handle on my suitcase had broken the night before, and it was a real pain in the arse dragging it to the metro and through the corridors at an awkward lean and with the suitcase bumping against my feet every couple of seconds. Worse was to come though! I was transferring between lines in Chatelet (a lengthy process) and had to lift it up by the cloth handle on top of the case in order to come down the stairs. Imagine my horror, when, following two guys carrying a PRAM down the stairs, the strap snapped and my suitcase tumbled down towards them! You have to laugh really, but at the time all I could do is gasp in terror, thinking "please don't kill the baby, please don't kill the baby!" Thank goodness some other metro-ites saw the runaway suitcase and intercepted it, because, ya know, baby-killing would have really screwed up my day. Given that I'm known to be no friend of the babies who lurk among us, it probably would have been interpreted as a hate crime or something. Plus a runaway pram just doesn't look as cinematic coming down the Chatelet metro stairs as opposed to the Potemkin steps...

So, great, now both the handles were broken, so getting the suitcase to the train and off again was a painful process (I had to pull it by the one side of the broken extensible handle that was left, and then turn it on its side to use the other strap for going on stairs and so forth) but I tried to keep zen and remind myself that I had left plenty of time and I could just take it slowly and not stress out. Slow walking is one of my pet peeves, but I forced myself to take it easy and stand still for the whole 10 km (not actually 10 km) of insanely slow moving walkway in Montparnasse station, and I got there in the end.

I was super-duper pleased to be back home and I've just been chilling out (enjoying some nice weather too), doing some stuff around the flat etc. etc. since I've been back. Now we just have the challenge of getting up for work tomorrow (groan) and I'll know my summer holidays really are behind me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 14: The long way home

I didn't want to go to the beach on Monday because I didn't think I'd be able to have a shower since I was checked out of the hostel (actually I did sneak back and have a shower, joke's on them) so I just spent the day breakfasting and lunching and sipping beverages in the sunshine, very relaxed.

As I said I was planning to, I went on the hunt for souvenirs – well, by “hunt” I mean I looked around all the stalls in the park I wound up in. I was particularly pissed off with the culmination of my Ukraine-wide search for coasters. Don't get me wrong, I'm not coaster-obsessed. In fact, I think this may be the only time in my life I've actually felt the need for coasters. But I have my flat now and my tables and I think in the week and a half I was there before going on holiday I had to clean off marks two or three times left by... um... I'm sure it was some unidentified non-alcoholic beverage... yes, that's it, non-alcoholic beverage. Anyway, after coming to the conclusion that Ukraine's tables were destined to be repeatedly violated by the horror of the sticky ring-mark, you can imagine my joy when I finally came across a set of coasters and snapped them up at once. On the very next stall, I saw some nicer coasters, and then I swear to god, every stall in the market had coasters! I wouldn't be so annoyed, but I'd even been to this very market the day before and not seen any (I wasn't looking very hard, but still). So now I'm stuck with a particularly ugly set of Odessa coasters rendered for some reason in that sort of "half-burnt poster from the Wild West" style. You'll know I love you very much if you get these in your Christmas stocking.

A very big post office with no postcards

I think this is an Islamic centre

You know you've been in Ukraine too long when you look at this and seriously think "I wonder what language ti 'nivol m'i is? Moldovan? Duh...

After going back for my suitcase and a quick shower, I decided to walk from my hostel to the train station, which wasn't particularly close, but I had time to kill and I've hauled heavier suitcases under worse conditions before. It was pretty much in a straight line as well, so even I couldn't manage to get lost. It did really hammer home the condition of Ukrainian footpaths though – tripping over about 20 times had already made me aware that they were very uneven and broken, but hauling the suitcase added a new dimension of curbs and gutters every few feet. It was fine though, took about 45 minutes to get there. I hadn't had a chance to get dinner, so I grabbed a kebab which was saucily delicious. Unfortunately, it was saucily delicious all over my pants. I had elected to walk down in my sleeping garb – tracksuit pants and a t-shirt – because the last time I tried to change from a dress into this on the top bunk of a second-class compartment it was quite the production - I attempted to do it lying down under the covers. I think the guy across from me turned the light out halfway through less to save me embarrassment than to save himself the sight of what must have resembled either a fiercely unsexy version of the dance of the seven veils, or (the metaphor I think my Dad would choose) the thrashing of a demented worm trying to shed its skin while caught in the trap of a funnel-web spider. Anyway, so now I was wandering the train station clad in a daggy tracksuit with a giant kebab sauce stain on my pants (a stain that I fear will now be a permanent reminder of my trip to Odessa), so I could not have looked hotter. I consoled myself with the thought that if I were in an American teen movie my peers would probably refer to me as 'kebab stain' for the rest of the film, and shun me accordingly. At least in real life, if people were calling me 'kebab stain', I was blissfully ignorant of the fact, and running around in a country where you can barely hold the simplest of conversations and people shout at you at the least provocation is pretty much like being shunned anyway, so I was really none the worse off for my kebabby badge of dishonour.

Kebab shame

I'm currently in Frankfurt airport, with about three and a half hours to go to my next flight. After an overnight train trip (very hot and delayed for two hours), followed by an immediate departure to the airport and one flight already, I'm pretty tired, and I have obviously the wait here and another flight to go, then the RER train into Paris. I also am definitely coming down with a cold, my ears were just about exploding on the first flight. I hope not literally, since one of my eardrums literally did burst when I was a kid, due to an undiagnosed ear infection (I was on painkillers from having my tonsils out, it wasn't due to being a neglecterino), and while the memory is thankfully quite hazy, I'm not in any hurry to repeat the experience, cos I'm pretty sure it hurt like the dickens. But I should say hurray for Lufthansa! It's been ages since I flew on a proper airline, not since I got to Europe, and it's a pleasure to have people bringing you food and drink and not trying to sell you something literally every second of your flight (hello RyanAir?). And having an assigned, comfortable seat. Plus the flight wasn't full this time, so the middle seat was nice and empty. I think I'm window again for the next leg, which is nice.

Oh but I think I might have been nekked scanned at Kiev Airport, eee! Instead of walking through the normal metal detector, it was a little room with footprints for you to stick your feet on and then you held up your arms. For some reason, nekked scan didn't cross my mind, and I was expecting that little blast of air where they somehow mysteriously check you for explosives (come to mention it, it's kind of weird that they don't do that one at airports, at least not that I've ever seen). So it wasn't until about 5 minutes later that I put three and three together – little room, footprints, no blast of air, no pat-down, and came to the conclusion that I had been NEKKED SCANNED! The indignity!

Not very legible cos I didn't want to get into trouble for photographing it, but you're meant to declare at customs if you're taking any "printed materials, audio, audiovisual, or other stored information sources" out. What?? Is this still the Soviet Union? I ummed and ahhed about whether I would get in trouble, but decided it was probably far easier to just walk through the green channel

Also at Kiev airport, I went to the loos and the woman who came out right before me had left the gross, used paper toilet-seat cover on! Uh, lady, the point of that thing isn't to preserve the sanctity of the precious toilet seat you know... I realise I sound obsessed with toilets, but honestly, this country has so much to learn.

I'm looking forward to sleeping in a bed, even if it is in a dorm room, and being back in a country where I can speak the language, and most of all I'm looking forward to being home! Have the day in Paris first – not really my favourite place in the whole world, but since I couldn't get a flight that came in early enough to get a train back to Tours the same day, I thought I might as well go to a museum since I was forced to stay overnight there anyway. The day after I get home I have an appointment to get the internet hooked up as well, so that'll be good. Super high-speed fibre optic, here we come!

The next day

Hello all, it's Wednesday morning and I made it to my Paris hostel mostly without incident. Security wouldn't let me back on the plane with my duty-free vodka from Kiev, which was annoying because I'd asked like 3 people if I was going to be okay before going out into the terminal at Frankfurt. Obviously I wasn't going to make a big issue of it (although the guy was all "it's not from the EU" and I said "isn't that the point of duty-free?" Well - isn't it?) and they suggested I go back and check it in. Lufthansa was nice enough to do it free of charge (otherwise it wouldn't have been worth paying for it anyway) and amazingly it survived the trip in a plastic bag stuffed with old newspaper a nice man in the newspaper shop gave me.

Unfortunately the handle of my suitcase broke off when I was rushing to get on to the RER train from the airport to Paris. When will I learn that cheap suitcases are a false economy, do you think? I was soooo irritated, this guy was right in my face on the train going (in English) "welcome, welcome, no problem, no problem" and I said "YES problem" and he goes "is it broken, no problem" so I snapped "I'M REALLY NOT IN THE MOOD!" and stormed off. You can fecking decide whether it's a problem or not when you're going to be carrying it around for me! It has already proven a pain in the arse, but it's not that bad, I have the normal handle (just not the pull-out one) and at least it's at the end of my trip, but seriously, mind your own business, even when you're not dealing with someone who slept maybe 5-6 hours out of the preceding 36 and had been travelling for over 24 hours.

I slept okay although everyone in my room took about an hour to leave at 5 in the morning, so I wouldn't say I'm totally refreshed. Got woken up by a text though and thought I might as well get out there for the day before yaaaaaay home time! I think my mum will be finally able to relax for the first time in a couple of weeks (already since I've survived the Ukraine - incident-free I might add, other than the bank panic, which was nothing to do with Ukraine at all)!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 13: Doing nothing in Odessa

Just a quick one for the completists out there... Another uneventful day yesterday, I was up pretty early again and went to the beach, but after a couple of hours it got too hot and then after I had lunch it had started to cloud over and was still hot so I decided to call time on my beach dallying and took a circuitous route back to the hostel, getting in probably around 2 for a shower and a nap. Woke up to pouring rain and feeling pretty out of it. Luckily the rain stopped and I went out for another wander and for a very leisurely dinner, just at a chain place, but quite nice pizza! Made a change from cheap Ukrainian food (which I like in general, but I've been trying to watch my money, so I haven't eaten anything spectacular lately). And I couldn't come to Eastern Europe without having one of the legendary thick hot chocolates!

So thick you can stand a spoon up in it! Just like [insert name of person you consider especially stupid here]

Park on Deribaskaya (I probably completely misremembered that) Boulevard

The "Pazazh" (Passage) arcade

After I got back to the hotel, it poured down again. It's fine at the moment, but forecast is for cloud today, so extra glad I got my beach time in at the right moment!

Today I'm going to have a look for some souvenirs - everywhere sells the same crap, but you never know. Coasters have still proven elusive. My friend Liz bought me back something from Russia, so I need to pick up a little something for her, but the problem is I know it's all the same crap she would have seen over there, so it makes life difficult! Will pick up a couple of bottles of booze as well. Then I might go to the archaeology museum. First task, though, breakfast!

My final overnight trip is tonight from 11 to about 8 in the morning. Again, I'll be stuck on one of the high bunks in second class, boohoo! It's meant to be a bit cooler than it has been, I hope so, since I will be going pretty much right to the airport (my flight is at 2, but I'm a nervous nelly when it comes to making it to flights on time) and then I have a bit of a wait in Frankfurt, so I think I get into Paris at about 10 pm Tuesday night. By the time I get into the hostel, it will probably be midnight, by which time I won't have slept in a bed for 36 hours or whatever, groan! Should have made a concerted effort to sleep in this morning, at least it might help me sleep on the train...

I planned to go to the Musée André-Jacquemart in Paris on Wednesday, before my direct train to Tours at about 4, but we'll see how I'm feeling. I will definitely be pleased to be home! Holidays are great, and I have been mooching about recharging my batteries these last few days (and refusing to feel guilty about not "doing stuff") so I'm not feeling as tired as I was in Lviv, for example, but there's no place like home, and holidays help you appreciate that! Unfortunately, the cupboard at home is bare, fridge has been unplugged, but at least I cleaned and changed my sheets etc. before I left, so I'll probably just crawl into bed when I get back (around 6) and worry about unpacking and so on the next day. I have the rest of that week before work starts up again on the following Monday - arggh, seems too soon! But it's definitely good to have several days' with nothing on, I hate going straight into work after a holiday, you're often more tired than before you went away!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 12: Basking by the Black Sea

Not really too much to report about today, since I woke up at around 5.30 after hitting the sack early last night, blogged yesterday and mucked about online and then was out I think around 8, getting to the beach about an hour later, where I stayed until 5.30 or so. Still, a very pleasant day!

Nice and quiet at 9 am

Lots busier at 5.30! I was actually on the next beach over though, which was less crowded even though only a few hundred metres away

One of my early tasks was locating a loo *with* doors, for reference purposes. The next one I came across not only had no doors either, it was squat style AND you could see in from outside the toilet block! I don't know why it had these graphics spraypainted on it, because there was no peeking required in this joint!

Thankfully, I tracked down a loo that cost 2 1/2 times as much, but I've learnt now to regard doors as a luxury worth paying for!

The only other thing of note was a stall owner who was really sweet and patient with me. It's a small thing, but when you've literally been screamed at for incorrectly responding to the question of what sausage would I like on my hot dog, you appreciate the small things. And she earned the reward of me coming back to her for all my purchases that day - the last time she said to her colleague "here's our girl!" and I wanted to give her a hug. Instead I told her to keep the change, which was the equivalent of about 10 centimes (although a bit more in real value) so hopefully came off as sincere appreciation and not patronising.

It's funny, while I lived in Moscow (and admittedly, at least at the end of my two months, my level of Russian was quite a bit better), I was always coming across people who seemed genuinely impressed that a New Zealander with no family connection to Russia could speak any Russian at all. Here people seem more put out that I dare come here without being fluent. This despite the fact that, with the exception of the time at the bank and at the hostels, I've never tried to speak English with anyone, I've always done my best in Ukranian or Russian, and for simple things I can usually get it, especially with gestures or so on to help. It's true though, that while I'm getting that phenomenon of surprising myself by remembering random words I had long forgotten, my level of Russian is crap.

Anyway, walked back to the hostel via a beach that looks over the port, taking a few photos along the way:

Me in front of another war memorial. Recycling clothes again - didn't think there was much point dirtying another dress just to have it on for a couple of hours in the day at the beach

This made me laugh. I'm sure it's supposed to have some profound meaning, but it looks like he's heading for a spot of cottaging to me!

Pictures of the port:

Day 11: Odessa... Odessa!

As I think I said yesterday, I had a pretty slow start to the day. After dropping my bags at the hostel, my first mission was walking to the Potemkin Steps. It didn't give me the best impression of Odessa, as I quickly got, not lost, but entangled in a series of unattractive, traffic-choked streets around the port area. Odessa is still very much a working port, and, like the port in Auckland, it's not particularly attractive. It also doesn't have great street signs (better than Kiev though) and there seems to be very few places to cross the road, so you're always trying to dart between endless streams of traffic. While Kiev seems to have a classic, bustling, chaotic post-Soviet energy to it, and Lviv and Chernivtsi are replete with faded gentility, Odessa has an air of 'the New Ukraine' about it - it seems more moneyed and more capitalist somehow. While I can't say I'm a Ukraine expert now, of course, it has been good seeing some very different parts of the country. I'm having to get used to speaking (basic) Russian again too, just when I was finally remembering to say djakuju instead of spasibo, it's back the other way again. My guidebook says Odessan Russian is regarded as a 'comical, gangster dialect' by some - I'm in no position to judge, but I did notice when talking to the girl on the train last night that there is a bit of a different accent to standard Russian that even I can pick up on, so it must be pretty pronounced!

Statue of the founders of Odessa, topped by Catherine the Great, who ordered its foundation after the Russians conquered the area in 1789

The Odessa opera

When I finally stumbled across the Potemkin Steps, I seriously had to get out my guidebook to confirm that I was in the right place. Honestly, they're not that great-looking, especially coming upon them from the bottom. Very ordinary in appearance, and the bottom has been built over so they no longer run down to the sea, rather to a busy road. And I was most disappointed to see not a single child-wielding transvestite or runaway pram. (If you haven't been forced into a bit of Eisenstein in your day, here's the famous Potemkin Steps sequence: ).

The steps from the bottom...

...and the top

Me on the steps, not that you can really tell. And yes, I'm still in my clothes from the day before, this is before checking in!

At the top of the steps stands a statue of Richelieu, descendant of the cardinal, who was given the governorship of Odessa in 1803. He's responsible for the look of much of the city

After a spot of breakfast, blogging, and a shower, I decided it was time to hit the beach. It wasn't the absolute perfect beach weather, since there was a thin veil of cloud all day, but at least that kept temperatures down and made lying on the beach tolerable. As long as the weather's nice I don't think I'm going to do all that much more with my time here - a bit of exploring on the way to and from the beach, but I'm definitely ready for a bit of sea, sand and sun after being trapped in land-locked Tours. I think one afternoon on the beach last August is all I've had for as long as I can remember. (And, I know, I hardly ever bother going to the beach at home when there's tons of (not that great) options right on my doorstep, but it's different when you never get to see the sea.)

Again, finding the beach involved a lot of wandering around on ugly streets (and getting lost inside a sanitorium, not the type I should be locked up in, but an old-school Soviet-style health spa) , but I finally found it, yay! I must say, all the rumours I heard about Odessan beaches being filthy and standing-room only (literally, apparently the old way of sunbathing here is to do it standing up!) are much exaggerated. Yes, there may be a few too many cigarette butts, and I didn't go in the water, but they're not that bad, and there was plenty of space. Definitely better than the rubbish pile I photographed on the Kiev beach.

I don't know if it's black exactly, but definitely darker than on the Cote d'Azur, for example

In general, I think people like to make things out as harder than they are. The guy in the hostel at Chernivtsi went on and on about how going to Odessa was a mistake, it was all prostitutes and their Turkish johns, it was filthy, it was sleazy etc. etc. Not all that helpful when you've already got firm plans to visit. And, while I perhaps shouldn't speak too soon, my guidebook (while being quite positive on Odessa really) chimes in with making a trip to Ukraine seem like a perilous adventure. It's definitely not the first overseas trip you'd take, and you do need a knowledge of Cyrillic at a minimum and the ability to keep your wits about you, but honestly it's not that scary.

Other than the toilets, that is. While these are actually remarkably clean and toilety (as opposed to a hole in the ground) for Ukrainian public toilets, this girl needs doors! And I had to pay for the privilege of not using these things

Oh PS I tried some kvas - I had tried it already when I lived in Russia, but I had forgotten what it tasted like (other than 'odd'). Still odd-tasting, but it actually grew on me as I was drinking it and I finished the whole (small) glass. For those not in the know, kvas is made from old black bread, not the most tasty starting-point for a refreshing beverage. You can definitely taste the same sort of tangy molasses flavour that the bread has.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 10: Chernivtsi and a very long journey

Here I am a couple of hours in to what will be a nineteen hour trip to Odessa, eep! I had thought it was fourteen hours, and even that seemed daunting, but 19, yipes. I'm very glad I decided on the first class ticket, even though it was very expensive compared to second class (but not really compared to Western prices, about 60 euros, which for an overnight trip in first class is pretty decent). This train is not as nice as those that ply the popular Kiev-Lviv route (or Kiev-Odessa, so I'm told), even little touches like the biscuits and tissues I got given on the Kiev-Lviv aren't provided. On the other hand, so far I appear to be the only person in first class, so other than the creaking of the train, it's nice and quiet! I'm assuming that even if we do stop at other stations, it won't fill up. It would be pretty cruel anyway to stick someone in with me when the rest of the entire carriage is empty! Update, a few minutes later: Bah, a child has taken occupancy of the adjoining carriage. At least it's not in here. We just went through Kolomya, which is in the opposite direction to where we want to be going, so I guess looking at the map in my guidebook we're backtracking the whole way to Lviv and then going south? Joy. That also makes it more likely that people will get on at Lviv and I'll end up having to share my compartment.

Anyway, trying to amuse myself by reading and sorting some of my photos, and writing this of course. I don't think I brought enough food with me, I waited for like 20 minutes in this little minimarket for someone to serve me on the deli section but there were like 4 of them just wandering about and no-one helped me so I gave up in disgust. Thus I have 5 litres of water, a packet of chips, a loaf of bread, and some chocolate which turned out to be all white and crumbly and has been rejected. Boohoo :( It may become unrejected depending on how hungry I get over the next 16 hours. The train is doing a lot of annoying sitting about in sidings – I heard a long time ago that they maintain impressive punctuality by building in a ton of waiting around time on the way. I mean, the train's slow enough as it is, especially if we are going to bloody Lviv.

Anyway, I fell asleep last night pretty much right after uploading my last Lviv trip report and slept right through to the morning, when I got up bright and early, blogged about Khotyn and K-P and then headed out to take a look at Chernivtsi. Amazingly enough, this small city no-one's ever heard of (or I hadn't anyway) used to be the third largest in the Austro-Hungarian empire (after Vienna and Prague), when it was known as 'Czernowitz'. However, before that it was founded by Galicians, sacked by the Mongols, and under Moldovan control in the Middle Ages. From 1918 to 1940, the Romanians (Romania and Moldova are very close, we drove within sight of them on the trip yesterday) had control of 'Cernauti', before the Soviets got their hands on 'Chernovtsy'. How cosmopolitan... Most of the nice old buildings around the place were built under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so it has a similar look to it as Lviv. Basically I just walked around for a few hours in the sunshine and checked out whatever interesting churches and buildings my guidebook told me to:

602 years seems an odd milestone to celebrate

The university

The university gates

The outside of the local art gallery

Close-up of the mosaic on the art gallery

The Armenian church, built by the same architect as the university

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit - described in my guidebook as 'pale pink' - I think shocking pink is more accurate, although it might not look it so much in these photos

Cathedral with the statue of some Metropolitan (like an archbishop) or other

Me in front of the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

I think this is a cafe, interesting building anyway

The town hall

A nice building on the town square

Inside the Church of the Assumption

A pretty effect of the light coming through the windows in the Church of the Assumption

One of the windows in question, kind of 'The Scream'-looking I thought

The 'drunken church' of St Nicholas, so called because of its unusual cupolas. They're actually straight, they only seem twisted because of the windows. You can insert your own joke about how in Ukraine, even the churches are drunk...

Inside the 'drunken church'

I think this is an icon of Tsar Nicholas II? It's written in Old Church Slavonic, so it's hard to read, but it definitely said Nikolai on the right and on the left it looks like Tsar but I can't be sure. Looks like him anyway

Pearls before swine?

1607 old church of St Nicholas. I was disappointed that the gates were locked, so I couldn't get a good look at this. Still, it's interesting to see a glimpse of what a simple, country town church would have been like back in the day - very different from the ornate, befrescoed, onion-domed numbers!

At about 11, I had a brunch of sorrel soup (erm, interesting) and varenniki filled with cottage cheese. You may recall I quite enjoyed my varenniki in Lviv, but these were awful! Unfortunately the cottage cheese had an odd sweet flavour, but they were smothered with sour cream. Blech! I ate one and gave up. Luckily the whole meal – soup, bread, juice, and varenniki – cost 2 euros, so not too much of a loss. My train left at 2.10, so I just had time for the aforementioned unsuccessful food shopping before picking up my bag at the hostel, where the owner very kindly gave me a lift to the station. The hostel was TIU Chernivtsi in case anyone reads this who's planning a trip – definitely deserve a plug.

The next day :

A Ukranian girl got on at Ivano-Frankovich (or something like that, I forget), about 3 hours into the trip. So I did have to share, but it wasn't too bad. She was nice, but she had for some reason elected to come on a 16 hour train trip apparently without any reading material, laptop, ipod, whatever. I think she had been banking on talking to me the entire time, but while we did chat a bit, my level of Russian (and, frankly, unwillingness to struggle through a conversation for 16 bloody hours, presumably left her disappointed on that front. Turns out we did go all the way back to Lviv, where we stopped for an hour and I got a snack, so didn't end up having to raid my meagre supplies anyway. The trip wasn't nearly as bad as you'd think for a 19 hour train journey, I slept averagely I suppose, woke up about 7 and got into the station at 9. Went out this morning for a bit before coming back to the hostel to check in, will grab a shower and probably head for the beach. I think my priority here will just be relaxing!

PS I'm adding photos to my last day in Lviv as we speak!