In the Ukraine, obtaining tickets to get a car + passengers loaded onto what is essentially a massive freight ship is about as difficult as it sounds. Its not exactly customer freindly, lets put it that way! But then I guess not that many passengers are crazy enough to go on a 3 day trip across the Black Sea (to Georgia) from the Ukraine...so it does makes some sense.
It involved getting in touch with VLADLEN who always writes (and talks!) in CAPS. We were understandably confused when the messages we got back didn't make huge amounts of sense e.g.
1) I CAN CONFIRM YOU NOW RESERVATION THE PASSENGERS PLACES AND CAR ON VOYAGE 07 AUGUST,BUT NO FACT OF DEPARTURE FROM THE BERTH PORT ILICHEVSK 07 AUGUST
2) FERRY IS FERRY,OR 7 OR 8 AUGUST.
3) MEELS EVERY DAY INCLUDID
Okay, okay... well the third point does make sense at least, thanks Vladlen! So anyway as is the way in most of the world in fact the only real way to sort this out was to go and visit their office in Odessa.
We met Vladlen at his office which was very nice, and he is a very nice and very LOUD Ukrainian guy. And something must have got through as he did sort us out the last available 3 berth room on the ship and assured us further about the quality of the meels that would be provided.
I also found out that our ferry "Griefswald" is also supposedly the the biggest vessel in the world in the class of "PASSENGER / RO-RO / RAILWAYFERRY.". The ferry was so big it also loaded up with TRAINS i'd never seen that before!
The overall process of getting on the ferry was pretty drawn out! We had to go to one office to pay for the tickets. Then we had to take our tickets to get them stamped. Then we had to go to get a form to pay additional money for the car (which was handled seperately). Then we had to go to the port. Then we had to find a tiny office (which was apparantly a bank). within the port itself. Then we had to do all manner of customs admin, including getting 6 photocopies of all of our passports and the car documents. But we were slowly getting closer to the ship....
I noticed that Saindbury's supermarkets of the UK has obviously sold off some of its old trucks to this part of the world assuming no-one would recognise them here :). We also had a bit of a panic and embarassing moment just before we 'thought' we were going to be loaded onto the ship...we'd manage to run the battery down on the car! Luckily i'd spotted some Germans in a landrover...obviously they would be prepared enough to have jump leads! Turned out to be a good thing in the end, we ended up hanging out with those Germans quite a bit on the ship.
But that was before we'd encounted Ukrainian customs, immigration and vehicle control! I won't go into the details and it was really no surprise to me at all at this point but to give you a picture - from when we were told to arrive at the port (9AM) to the ferry actually leaving took 12 HOURS. We even had one of our meels on the ship before it had left port as thats how late it had become. My theory as to why is probably linked to corruption in the country...the border guards go through everything with a fine toothcomb in case they can find a handle on some little beauracratic oversight or other offense upon which they can extract a bribe.
Thankfully, the meel was good and we were treated to a nice sunset as we left the Ukraine behind!
OFF WE SET
Life on-board this ship was actually a really good laugh. I like to think of it as a poor-mans cruise. The Black Sea is really calm so it hardly felt like we were moving. Our cabin was a decent size, nicely fitted out and had a sea view. The food was good, and we had 30 degree sunshine out on the deck all day long.
The best thing by far was the people, our fellow travellers! Obviously mostly the boat was full of georgian and ukrainian truck drivers, with whom we had a few kind of funny pissed up conversations and drunked hugs...but the other travellers were great as there was a really interesting bunch. I've highlighted these bits as these charachters definately made the trip what ti was!
The German couple who gave us a jump start turned out to into psychedlics and clubbing. I was arguing at one point with the guy over the benefits of free-parties vs. clubbing, I don't think he properly understood the freeparty scene but then not many people outside of the UK do. He's studying medicine, we also had a debate over placebo's/homeopathic medicine etc. That got pretty heated!!
A German motorcycle dude taking a couple of months break from his family, had come all the way to Ukraine from Germany and was continuing across Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan etc....
A trio of cyclists who had cycled this far all the way from SERBIA! One was a german guy, one was a brazilian (who used to be a cowboy) and finally an italian girl who'd been living in Paris doing anthropology. In a massive coincidence, I met this girl again over a month later in a Mongolian hostel!
A cool and freindly Iranian guy...I liked this guy a lot he had a really positive attitude to everything and it was cool to find out a bit more about Iran from a young person actually living there. We ended up exchanging a lot of music, and chatting a lot.
A safe matey from Azerbaijan. Listen to this, he was buying classic Mercedes Benz cars in Ukraine for around €20,000 before taking them back home to Azerbaijan on this ferry and selling on for closer to €100,000. Sounds like a nice little earner! He also gave us some hash to smoke on the deck :)
In conclusion, after a hell of a lot of faffing around to actually get on it, the 3 days or so we had on the ferry passed by at lightning speed and in a haze of drunken debates and discussions. All in all was totally awesome and I'd definately do it again!
"White fury" and German motorcycle dude assessed at customs
On-board port-hole and sunset over black sea
Route across Black Sea - right back past Kazantip!!