With our Romanian mission complete and my little sister shipped back safely to the UK, the next thing to do was to start our road trip!
As a bit of background, on New Years 2012, my freind Radu unleashed his vision a road trip round the Black Sea. The plan that was eventually hatched involved driving through Romania, Ukraine, going toKazantip festival, getting a ferry across the sea to Georgia (to avoid the beauracracy and corruption associated with driving through Russia!), visit Armenia, drive through the whole of Turkey from East to West, through Bulgaria and then back to Romania where we started.
At this point, I would seperate from the trip and head north to the Ukraine, Russia, etc. on my trip eastwards across the world. Anyway, the map on the right shows our route across Ukraine - First to the port town of Odessa to buy tickers for the ferry, next to Kazantip, then back to Odessa to catch the ferry.
Time was tight as these ferry's only run every week, so if we didn't manage to get tickets for the one we wanted, our whole plan would be sent out of kilter. So anyway, we kicked off our road trip on 1st August 2013. The contenders were: Radu, Beatrice, Jamie and myself. The vehicle of choice? A Renault Clio (diesel) a.k.a "White Fury".
To make it to the Ukraine from Romania by car, you need to first cross through Moldova. This means a LONG time of waiting around - You have customs and immigration on the out of Romania into Moldova, and then again on the way into the Ukraine.
We spent a grand total of 1 minute in Moldova as we passed through in the Ukraine. At this point, I had no idea I would be coming back to the country later :)
The border crossing was very intense and took about 4 hours. the Ukrainian border guards are generally intimidating and seemed to need to check every single little detail about 3 times. They also made some vague hint at a bribe at one point! We saw a van load of Germans, and they had emptied there whole van and were searching through their bags and everything with a fine tooth comb! I was glad not to be them at that point...
Once we got into Ukraine, we quickly realised we were in really quite a different world! Huge, long roads, expansive countryside, brutal soviet architechture, really old vehicles, very poor country folk, but generally helpful considering the lack of a common language. Everything is in the Russian alphabet script (Cyrillic). and probably most memorable was the terrible state of the roads! you will be dodging massive potholes, ones that basically split the road in two, for hours on end! ridiculous, bumps, dodgy overtaking etc. Progress by road is very slow but also interesting and a great adventure.
So after asking a few locals for directions (road signage isn't great in Ukraine), we drove for many hours on our path to Odessa. Of course we had tunes rinsing out all the way. Eventually we had to stop for supplies and to try and find somewhere to set up camp. It was the middle of the night, dark, and we were in a country none of us had ever been in before so I for one was slightly dubious about our chances of getting a very good sleep that night...
In the end we came across the 24 hour mini-market (pictured right...the cyrillic reads "prodookti"). The cashier didn't speak english, however she made a phone call and quick on the scence was a very helpful fellow who did speak some basic english. He indicated we could camp in the forest, and drew us a little map (take a right at the T-junction, drive 2km, go over the train tracks, etc...)
We stocked up on beer, cheese, bread, sausages etc. and followed his directions. I for one was actually very pleasantly surprised to find that his directions were spot on and the little forest was a great little spot, ideal for camping!
It turns out the Ukrainian locals were generally really helpful to us when we needed directions, etc. We probably had 5-6 little maps drawn for us (often complete with sound effects) to guide as towards various locations, in particular when we were looking for places to sleep.
I can't remember exactly at what point this happened but at some point we were driving round looking for a place to camp. We thought we'd found a place but it actually turned out to be a swamp so Radu stopped these people on bikes who gave us directions to a spot we could camp. We'd left the car door open and the light on and found that the whole car was completely infested with Mosquitos. Cue a big panic, especially from me and Jamie as we frantically tried to stamp and squish the hoardes of mosquitos and spraying that DEET mosquito stuff all of which left a very bad taste in our mouths indeed. We got out of there as quick as possible!
So we made it to Odessa in the end. It's a big port town with a big beach...really quite a massive place, seemed to be equivalent to large city by UK standards. We had a bit of a mission to sort out as a priority which was sorting out our ferry tickets, a pretty critical element if our coming trip was going to suceed. This involved a bit of running about town but we got it sorted, i'll give more details about that in a future section. Other than that, we wandered around a little bit...We toyed with the idea of getting a tour round the city, decided it was a rip off but instead took their map and walked around a bit by ourselves. I was impressed by the gun cabinets full of automatic weapons and the ridiculously massive selections of vodka available in the little mini-markets about the place.
Anyway, partly as a result of the big size of the city we ended up at a bit of loose end, trying to find a decent beach to go to and a place to stay. It turned out that the proper beach to go to was actually way south of the main "city beach" (yes Radu you were right!). We also found out about an area of town called 'Arcadia' which is where all the night life was supposed to be, so after having a quick (cold) shower dumping our stuff, pre-loading on a bit of vodka we headed out to see some of this so called night life.
The Arcadia bit of town was indeed full of nightlife. There were strings of bars, clubs, games etc. all about the place, loads of neon lights, lasers etc. lighting up the whole place. It seemed pretty cool to me, although sadly the music coming out of all of the clubs basically wasn't doing it for me and I wasn't particularly interested in going into many of them. There were girls handing out flyers and accosting guys that we presumed to be hookers. We were already pretty nicely drunk anyway and took to just wandering about the area and along the beach, was generally a good laugh...the main thing that stands out for me is standing on a rock in the sea, arguing with Radu about something or other.
It was a pretty cool place but I personally probably wouldn't want to spend more than evening or two there. It basically seems to be catering for rich Russian tourist types than anything else. If there was any kind of underground music scene, I didn't get any hint of it, but who knows, if we'd had more time in the city maybe we would have found it.
POLICE BRIBE SITUATION
After leaving Odessa, we ran into a couple of issues with the police, which involved having to pay two bribes to police in the space of one day! It transpired something like this...So we'd been out drinking all night before. The police flags the car down, Radu is driving. The officer asks him "have you been drinking?", and Radu of course is like "no of course not"....
Just imagine the police officer with a thick russian accent...
Police: "Please, blow into my mouth..."
Radu gives a small blow out the corner of his mouth.
Police: "No, no, no, blow PROPERRRLY.!"
Radu gives a proper blow.
Police: "COUGH COUGH... you been drinking, no?!"
Radu: "No, no no, definately not..."
Police: "This could be BIG PROBLEM for you!"
They took Radu off to a police car. The following is from Radu told us...
Police: "Yes, in this country drinking big problem for you, no driving today, no go to Yalta...we go to police station, we do blood test..."
Radu then comes out of the car and grabs my notepad, and proceeds to write down 50 EURO's and gives it to the officer.
Police: *Laughing* ha ha, no no no... 100 EURO!!
Radu offers 80 Euros, which the officer goes to check with his superior.
Police: "No, no no, 100 EURO!"
So in the end, we didn't really have a choice, unless we wanted to risk being properly busted and having our whole schedule ruined, as these police have way more time than us!
I should add that the officer was extremely good spiritied during this whole interaction, very freindly, big smiles...obviously he was very excited about the prospect of the money he was just about to recieve! He even drew us a little map showing how to get out of the city.
After we paid, he gave Radu one piece of parting advice
Police "Next time...next time, before drive...EAT! Always eat something!!! GOOD UKRAINIAN BORSCH!
Ah yes of course! Thanks for the advice officer!
BTW Ukrainian Borsche is a soup, I ended up having quite a lot of. Its something like minestrone, I like it.
Later on that day, Jamie (UK) also got busted on his turn to drive for speeding. They'd set up in an extremely sly place, right as people start to speed up as you come out of a town. But yeah, they had him bang to rights. This time the price was only 60 euro...obviously completely unofficial, he didn't actually get a ticket or anything!
Nothing like a good ol' bit of ukrainian police corruption to make things more interesting and keep you on your toes! :) Incidentally, when I was planning my big trip, before I left the UK, I assigned an amount of my budget for 'bribes'. My budget for bribes was well and truly blown after this situation! :)
I think it best for the sake of each of our's sanity that I stop writing at this point. A hell of a lot happened during our various road tripping and camping adventures around the Ukraine, too much to go through everything that happened and I've got a lot more to write about!
From corrupt police, helpful locals, terrible roads, expansive stretches of countryside roads, brutal soviet tower blocks, quaint little villages, dodgy driving...all these factors combined to make road tripping the Ukraine a major highlight of my trip so far. The country may be a bit backwards in some ways,there is plenty of scope for adventures here and I would highly recommend you try it!
Although Ukraine is generally a poor and a somewhat backwards country in some ways, that really doesn't detract from it being an awesome place to visit! Food and drink stuff is really very cheap by UK standards, as you can imagine - you will get a full meal inc starter and a beer, coffee for around a fiver, although stuff was slightly more expensive than in Romania. It's a bit of an adventure to drive in the country i'd recommend it - the locals, particularly out in the countryside in general seem to be freindly, helpful and they love drawing maps...learn a bit of cyrillic to make things seem not quite so foreign, and don't take any notice of the over zealous border control guards (unless you happen to be carrying or otherwise doing something dodgy, in which case definately do take notice!)
Our road trip involved driving to Kazantip festival (next section) and then back to Odessa again to catch our ferry. I'm not going to go through every single little detail of this so instead I've provided a gallery below of pictures to give you an indication of what we got up to!