Thursday, June 11, 2009
En route to Ukraine, and Odessa
Excerpts from my journal:
I feel like a real backpacker for the first time in a long time. My shoulders are aching, I'm sitting with the locals at the train station. I've got enough food for 3 days. And I have watered down "Multivitamin" i.e. European fruit punch. It's always called Multivitamin though. You can't really get this flavor combination in the states. Not to my knowledge anyway. Really, one sip and I'm back in France. Two sips and I'm in Germany. But now I'm on my way to Ukraine. At least I'm on my way to being on my way...
The platzkart. It's cheaper, but it was hot, no doors, and everyone in there was angry. For a short trip maybe. 35 hours? No thanks:
I thought I wouldn't be able to do the Transiberian Rail by myself, but now I think maybe. People here have been so kind. Valeri-the ex philosophy student who soviet times, or maybe just family life forced to work on the train. Galina- She saw me in the hallway eating because the people in my cabin took up all the space and she found me an empty cabin to eat in. (in my journal I labeled her as Elena, later I realized Elena was another woman. I originally thought Galina was the name of the samovar. Everyone got a kick out of that) Even the big guy in the cafe. He knows I won't buy more than coffee, but when he saw me in the hallway eating, he demanded I come back to the cafe. When I didn't and he passed again-I was no longer eating-, he demanded again, saying it was cooler there.
Later that day:
I just spent 15 minutes taking pictures of people selling massive stuffed animals to the плацкарты, the people in the 3rd class train. I think if you bought one of these stuffed animals, you would have to buy another train ticket.
Before that I had a most delightful meal on the train with Veleri and his Любовница, mistress Elena. Сало(pure fat pieces), some sort of blood sausage with peices of meat, smoked pork, boiled potatoes, some excellent smoked fish, and a delightful cucumber tomato salad. Wait-excellent fish? Delightful cucumber? Oh yeah, and I liked the blood sausage too! Though I didn't eat what was obviously pig skin holding it together. Nor did I eat more than one bite of Сало. Then we had tea. Well Valeri had fresh milk. We talked about his wife, and his girlfriend, and his kids, and the fact that American's don't really carry documents. My brain started to bleed with all the Russian. Of course I didn't understand more than a quarter but I understood enough.
The Belarussian border was interesting. As I mentioned before there is a bit of strain on the relationship between the US and Belarus. For some reason they don't check you going in. But on the way out... Valeri later told me that as soon as border patrol got on, the first thing they said was, "Where is she." I'm fairly certain I was the only foreigner on the train, much less American. They definitely came to my cabin first. Two boys in fatigues start looking my passport over. Then a lady in a tight military skirt, shiny stockings...you know, think Hot Lips, but fuller figured. She's got a laptop set up on her like a guy selling hot dogs at the ballpark. She looks at the other people's documents quickly and then takes mine from the boys for a full inspection. I start to relax when she pulls the stamp out. She stamps it and hands it to the boys, there are now 3. She smiles, says something about "boys!" and walks away. Now these child service men are thoroughly inspecting my passport. But not with scrutiny so much as interest. I understand one say something about Turkey and I say Da. And then I understand them say something like "Maybe it's a similar word in English". And then Galina steps in (not the samovar) and says "She understands Russian". They look a little ashamed, like kids caught with the cookies, but continue perusing my passport. Then they are asking me how many states are in the US, etc. Pretty sure I'm the first, and possibly last American they will meet. Cute little conscripts. Wouldn't mind taking them to Odessa...
Odessa, Day one:
Arrived, met a Pole and a Cannuck. Had some Georgian food. Met an Aussie, S. African, and some Dutchies. Went to the beach. Saw some boobs, men in tiny bathing suits. Drank way too much.
Chess game at the beach:
Odessa, Day two: Massive hangover.
head to the train station to get a ticket to Kamyanets-Podilsky. She sells me something to somewhere else, but I can't be bothered to deal with that right now. To McDonald's, where I mistakenly order in Ukrainian...She confirms my order in Russian. The national language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, nearly all signage is in Ukrainian, but in the East, the first language is Russian. Back to the hostel to sleep and eat again. Really, maybe I should have just gotten up later. Not my style. Eventually begin the arduous process of getting a correct ticket that involves the Polish hostel owner, a Brazillian and a Ukrainian named Fight. Very seriously, very quietly, Fight gets to work and within an hour or so, everything is sorted.
Odessa, Day three: Respect your elders.
Headed to the opera house. Pictures.
Headed to Potemkin Steps. WHY? Perhaps there is some history there, but I just saw some steps. And this group of high school graduates dressed as french maids...with angel wings. Dead French Maids? Is this some sort of social commentary on graduating high school and entering the world?
Coffee, Borsch. Lovely.
Hallelujah, the sun comes out. Too late to get to the beach, so I head to a park bench to catch some sun. Where I was shortly berated by a crazy old man. I lay on a bench and within a few minutes, he sits on the bench near mine. Immediately, "Ах, такая красивая девушка, АХ, Такая, Красивая Девушка". (ah, what a pretty girl, AH! What a Pretty Girl!) and so on. He repeats this until I tell him in English that I don't speak Russian. He continues in the same vein and I'm pretty sure threw in some inappropriate suggestions. I ignored and continued to pretend I didn't understand anything. Then he's standing just next to my head. "Возми Веши!" (take your things!). My bag was under my legs, safe enough. But not for this guy. I said something like, Yeah yeah, everthing's fine, and closed my eyes again. And then he slapped me. Across the face and none too lightly. I had been half asleep and was quite shocked but the funny thing is I'd kind of been expecting it. I don't know why, but I'd had this thought of him hitting me when he was still sitting on the bench, but I have an overactive imagination and the thought was absurd...so I thought. I was so shocked, I didn't know what to do. In my half asleep state, I was considering beating the shit out of him. But then, he's just a crazy old man. He starts telling me he's leaving and to take my things, still in Russian. I say fine, go away. He doesn't, so unfortunately I had to. I couldn't exactly get in a fist fight with an old man. I took the oppurtunity to pack my things and then found another bench before taking the absolutely slowest taxi bus to the train station, barely making my train.
Some street musicians I saw on my way to the bus:
Where I found myself in a cabin with two young guys and fat man in his 50's who didn't care to wear a shirt. It was excrutiatingly hot though. I barely slept. At some point though, I woke up in the middle of the night to find that we had crossed the Arctic circle, and was now freezing.
A couple more shots for good measure.
I should go finish packing for my bus to Estonia.