Here are a few words on our journey through this part of Eastern Europe that I didn't have time to write when I last updated this blog!
We discovered after leaving the beach that we wern't going to be able to get a direct train to Kiev and that we would have to go via Bucharest, and also stop off in Moldova for a day or so. This turned out to be a good thing in the end, as both places are worth a visit!
We only had a few hours in Bucharest, which to me seemed like a perfectly decent city. The old town is really nice and there are lots of nice little restaurants and bars and stuff. We had some food and beer before catching an overnight train to Moldova - this was actually the first time I'd ever caught a sleeper train, so it was a nice little taste of the type of travelling I would end up getting pretty used to!
Chisinau, the capital of Moldova is quite a small little city, and is a cool place to have a little wander around. There were several markets of varying descriptions in the city, one of which was kind of like a carboot sale with people selling their various random wares off sheets laid across the ground. People didn't really speak English here, but were friendly enough. We had to take a few 'lucky dips', randomly choosing items of the menu and hoping for the best!
Bucharest old town, Romania
Moldovan blanket sale
I don't give even a single fuck about pranging my car...
Sleeper train compartment
No rollerskating gunmen, please. Pretty dogs are OK though.
There's not that much more to say about Moldova, we were only there for 6 or 7 hours or so while we waited for a connecting train to the Ukraine. It's an interesting little place to vist, there's not much in the way of tourist attractions or anything like that, but being a bit off the beaten track it has this unique russian/romanian vibe to it, has super cheap beer and food and so gets a thumbs up from me.
Next up we got on the train to Kiev. We met this nice Ukrainian man and had a long conversation with him, he was eager to practice his English. He was a very friendly guy, he had this look of melancholy or something in his eyes...with some insistence, he gave us his pork sandwhiches that his wife had made him. Bless.
Arriving in Kiev was a bit of a shock to the system. For one thing, it was damn cold...and it dawned on me that I had just left the glorious sunny weather of Romania, Turkey etc. behind me for the forseeable future - as I was only going to be heading even further North from here, I could say goodbye to warmth for the time being! It was kind of like I had transitioned from summer to winter in one overnight train journey!
Aside from this though, at least on the surface, Kiev came across as a gloomy, moody, overcast city with a grimy metro and big grey concrete soviet style buildings all around. One thing that really didn't help our first impressions of the place was trying to sort out my onward train tickets to Moscow, and it generally being a stressful and experience as the sour puss women behind the ticket counters (and they are all women!) were generally less than impressed at my attempts to communicate through drawing pictures/train times in my notebook. My vague grasp of the cyrillic alphabet did help out a bit, but I still managed to book the wrong ticket first time round, and it took a long time to convince another grumpy woman to give me a refund/replace the ticket!
So it wasn't a great start...but on the plus side our accommodation found through Airbnb was really nice. Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of nightlife or even many places to eat in our immediate area. We traipsed around for ages just trying to find a normal bar/somewhere to eat but in the end were defeated and had to settle for eating in the restaurant of some posh hotel.
It wasn't all doom and gloom though! Things improved significantly the next morning when the skies cleared up and we could see the city in a much brighter light. There's actually a lot to see here. There is some really impressive architecture, the city is full of historical soviet relics and some properly pimping churches. There are some really quite nice and quaint atraditional houses and cobbled streets in some of the older bits of town. Food and beer can be had cheaply, they sell those 'Mojito in a can' things and - of course, you can go to visit Chernobyl which happened around 100km from the city.
It seems apparent that this city, and the country in general has gone through it's fair share of shit over its long and turbulent history, including being destroyed by Mongolians, succombing to the soviet iron fist, Stalin's holocaust and associated famine, a nuclear disaster and as I'm writing there is a violent protest that has been raging for months in the bitter cold winter weather. Those Ukrainians are a hard bunch.
Protest against the political imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko
Notice the 'high-heels' warning in the top left!
I think that Kiev is a city that takes a little while to get under its skin, and we probably didn't have enough time to get that far into it....but it is a really interesting place to visit for sure. In hindsight, when compared to Moscow, I found the people here to be quite a bit friendlier and willing to have a bit more patience with us random tourists.
Our time here did come to end rather more quickly than we would have liked. Lisa had to go back to UK and I had a train to catch to Moscow. This was the point where the reality started to hit that I was officially going to be completely by myself for the next few wintry months, in increasingly more foreign climes. At this particular point, having just come out of a totally awesome summer was both an exciting and nervewracking prospect! Next stop, Moscow!