khar_muur: (khar_muur07)

TOP 3 best (omni) restaurants

1. Khevron, Odessa, Ukraine
2. Café Pushkin, Bakhchisaray, Ukraine
3. Rustic, Baia Sprie, Romania.

TOP 3 worst border crossings
1. Lithuania – Belarus
2. Belarus – Ukraine
2. Ukraine – Romania

TOP 3 most English spoken
1. Lviv, Ukraine
2. Vilnius, Lithuania
3. Sighișoara, Romania

TOP 3 accommodations
1. Casa Olarului, Baia Sprie, Romania
2. Hunting House, Kujbyshevo, Ukraine
3. Hotel Telecom Guest, Vilnius, Lithuania

TOP 3 most impressive cities

1. Minsk, Belarus
2. Odessa, Ukraine
3. Lviv, Ukraine

TOP mammals
1. Cow
2. Dog
3. Horse
4. Goat
5. Chicken
6. Cat
7. Sheep

Bonus mammal:
+ Donkey

TOP birds
1. Pigeon
2. White Stork
3. Sparrow
4. Western Jackdaw
5. Barn Swallow
6. Rook
7. Hawk

Bonus bird:
+ Peafowl

Achievements unlocked
⭐ Drove through the Carpathian Mountains during thunderstorm
⭐ Swam in the Black Sea
⭐ Sat in the chair of a missile base command centre
⭐ Saw the elusive city of Minsk
⭐ Bribed a police officer in Ukraine
⭐ Climbed the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa
⭐ Saw a white stork in a nest on the roof of a house
⭐ Saw a flock of bats flying over us on a dark forest road in Transylvania
⭐ Visited a crypt in Transylvania

Cases of blatant animal suffering witnessed
😡 a man striking a horse hard with the blunt side of a pitchfork (Bonțida, Romania)
😡 multiple cases of tying horses' legs together (to prevent them from wandering away, one assumes) in Ukraine, Moldova and Romania; saw two horses hopping down a road with legs tied in Romania
😡 dozens of strays everywhere, the majority of them ill and/or malnourished
😡 dog strongman contest; the animals were made to pull very heavy loads, and kept alone in small cages inside cars. Judging by the picture in the event poster, the dogs are pumped with steroids. (Gmina Wasilków, Poland)

Things the border guards inquire after or search for

- girls, tasers (Ukrainian; Belarus to Ukraine)
- petrol (Polish; Ukraine to Poland)
- gifts for guards/Finlandia vodka (Ukrainian; Ukraine to Romania)

Craziest drivers:
Kiev (Ukraine)

Best roads:
Belarus and Poland

Most white storks:
Romania

Most Hesburgers:
Lithuania

Easiest hotel to find:
Vila Chesa, Romania

Most difficult hotel to find:
Vilari Guest House, Ukraine

Most horse carts:
Romania

Most strays:
Ukraine

Coolest museum:
Strategic Missile Forces museum, Pervomais'k, Ukraine

Most insane memorial:
Dzyarzhynskaya Hara, Minsk, Belarus

Best cemetery:
The cemetery of the Church on the Hill, Sighișoara, Romania

Best overall service:
Ukraine

Best starry sky:
Crimea, Ukraine

Greatest bird density:
Belarus

Lushest lands:
Middle Ukraine

Most epic memorial:
Батьківщина-Мати (Mother Motherland), Kiev, Ukraine

Most impressive church:
The Church of the Saviour at Berestove, Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine

Highest temp 30°C (Polish-Ukrainian border, day)
Lowest temp 13°C (Kujbyshevo, night)

khar_muur: (khar_muur07)

A quick stop to get some cakes to boost us up, then off to the border we go. Sparrows have built nests between and under the ceiling structures, and they whoosh above the queuing cars and lorries. Past the initial check-up the radio only plays Belarusian schlagers.

The amount of paperwork it takes to get to (and out of) Belarus is simply incredible. I keep thinking, "This is why EU. This very thing." They check our luggage every chance they get, and stall us due to some minor details in our documents, but after two hours we're done with it all and on Belarusian soil. It's warm. Fields and meadows everywhere. The road is brand new and in excellent condition.

Horse carts, doll houses, broken-down houses, storks flying over our heads, little rivers, forests. Cows, sheep. More cows. People working in the fields. Warnings for potential speeders ("Your licence will be revoked"). This country is extremely flat, and the highest point stands at 250 metres high.

TomTom takes us through Valožyn, which has us confused a while, but I consult the map, and everything is in order.

Overall I get the feeling that this country is run on strict rules and regulations, with little tolerance for deviants of any kind.

Approaching Minsk, the first thing we see are enormously tall buildings at the horizon. The closer we get, more buildings appear, then suddenly we're smack-dab in the middle of a 60's inspired science fiction metropolis, with buildings tall as the sky, neatly in rows, streets pristine and colours harmonious. Some SU era houses look unpolished—in fact, everything only seems to be either brand new or Soviet, nothing is older or in-between. I begin to understand what a belarusian fellow told us at the border. "You must visit Minsk", he'd said, "beautiful city, new city!"

We meet with my family by the Palace of Republic, a ginormous multi-column building that is impossible to miss, even amongst the other pompousness that is this city. We shoot some pics at the plaza, then we must carry on with the journey. I dread that we have yet another border to cross today.

The southern side of Minsk offers far less dramatic views, and sci-fi turns into modern Europe. Soon we're back at the countryside, with the endless fields, road construction sites and colour-coordinated cow herds. The police randomly stops both of our cars to check our documents. A little dog is trying to cross the heavily trafficked road, which breaks my heart. Everyone drives quite recklessly here, and there are lots of new cars on the highway.

Our plan now is to drive straight to Kiev, Ukraine, ETA 2:45 AM. The evening proves uneventful, and we watch the sun set at around 10 PM. This part of Belarus resembles the Carelian Russia in many ways, from the colourful but shabby houses to the weird bus-stops and the constant sightings of smoke from, one assumes, burning trash. The only significant difference is the quality of the road.

The four stages of Belarus are: 1) field 2) forest 3) tiny village, and 4) Minsk.

When we cross the border, the cars get sprayed with disinfectant. Getting out of Belarus is surprisingly painless, and into Ukraine the only additional nuisance (besides the mosquitoes) is an officer who searches both cars and asks strange questions, such as if we've got tazers, or either girls or drugs in our car—the guy's pronunciation was quite interesting. Well, we had none of those in any case, and got to be on our way.

It's stupid o'clock and still we drive towards Kiev, current ETA being 4:31. It sure paid off to get those two good nights in a row. Roads here are more random chance than in Belarus.

First impression of Kiev: shabby. We arrive at 3:51 AM, ogling at the blinking lights, lorries parked in the middle of the road, and very dodgy buildings. This looks a lot more like Russia than Belarus, only messier. Huge billboards dominate the cityscape. Some new buildings resemble the sci-fi ones at Minsk. On the other side of the river Dnjepr is clearly the newer and cleaner part of the city, also one mind-bogglingly gigantic statue. Clearly, this city has it all.

I'm posting this update a little late, since our hostel's Wi-fi didn't reach our room or, specifically, my bed.

Road Trip!

Jun. 2nd, 2013 12:57 am
khar_muur: (khar_muur07)
At approximately 6:00 AM, it begins. The little journey we've been planning. See new countries. Speak new languages. Navigate new routes. Eat new foods. Capture new images.

We'll be leaving on a ferry at nine o'clock today, and returning somewhere around midnight on the 17th. First across the pond, then driving through the Baltics and to Belarus, then, circling the Black Sea, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania; and returning via Poland and again through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I'm just filling in an online form at matkustusilmoitus.fi so if we end up in a ditch somewhere, the Finnish foreign ministry will know which one to drench. I'm really excited, not very nervous, and slightly tired from all the organizing and tidying and shopping... mostly just excited.

Most hotels we've booked have free Wi-fi; if it's not a complete hoax, I'll be sure to send some signs of life when possible and/or convenient.

Yay!

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A Journey in the Dark

March 2016

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