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)

We're almost done at the guesthouse, raring to go, when the ceramics artist's son offers to show us around the workshop. He's apprenticing for his father. And by gods the artist is skilled! Both the little and large figurines and statues and the vases, pitchers and oil lamps are impeccably crafted. There's even a self-portrait there. We indulge ourselves on his very affordable wares, then hit the road.

Up the hill we go, towards Sighetu Marmației and the Ukrainian border. The serpentine road is shaped like a cooked wheat noodle at the bottom of a soup bowl. By the road runs a lively stream, in which father decides to dive. We drive through some very pretty villages, and every now and then we spot a huge stork's nest on top of a pole, usually with one adult stork and at least two young 'uns. I've now seen more storks on this journey than I can count.

At Sighetu Marmației we visit the Memorialul Victimelor Comunismului și al Rezistenței, a communist-era prison turned into a large museum and a memorial for the victims of communist oppression. Small booklets are available in English, and we dash through the chilling hallways, and peek into the cells now displaying parts of the exhibition—apart from the two solitary confinement cells which are pitch-dark, in the middle lies a set of shackles, and there's nothing else.

We're in a bit of a hurry, because you never know how long it's gonna take at the border, and this time it does take quite a while. In the end, we get through. Immediately the road is full of holes and bumpy all over. It's just like in Carelia. Seeing a small bunhc of road repairspeople inspires a spontaneous cheer in both cars and we wonder if there's some kind of fund we might donate to. Feeling quite shaken, possibly a bit stirred. Wel-sodding-come to Ukraine.

The rough roads go on for what seems like forever. Hours upon hours of wobbling here and there is seriously getting on my nerves, and I can only imagine what it's like in the Toyota (father's, sister's and brother's vehicle), what with it being old, low-set and clunky. I must say I'll be surprised if all our precious ceramics survive this party. Finally joining the smoother M-06 feels like flying.

Western Ukraine gives off a slightly different vibe compared to the east side. Once the mountains are behind us, factories and other industrial buildings constantly dominate the skyline, but the landscape mostly consist of fields and petrol stations, just as before. There's more churches either newly finished or under construction. Lviv is supposedly more Central Europe than Kyiv, and the unofficial culture capital of Ukraine.

Arriving at Lviv at dusk, we're first greeted by very large and very ugly Soviet-inspired concrete apartment blocks. A bit further and closer to the centre the view slowly changes to include some more variety in architecture. Unmistakably a Central European city. The hostel is much crappier than expected, but it is of little consequence.

Once again, we sit at a restaurant at the end of the day, and have to wait for the food quite a while this time. When the dude at the next table lights up his third cigar, I call it a night and go to bed.

khar_muur: (Default)

We leave Târgu Mureș with slightly damp clothing (I think they forgot about our laundry at the hotel until this morning), heading towards Baia Mare via the following castles:

1. Kemény Castle, Jucu de Sus
2. Bánffy Castle, Bonțida
3. Kornis Castle, Manastirea

The winding road takes us through villages; some people are dressed traditionally, and a particular fashion seems to be a wide-brimmed hat, some kind of a suit, and a gigantic moustache. More sheep than before, and nearly as many horse carts as there are cars. In Râciu we drive past a strange little parade with schoolchildren, people of all sorts carrying large crosses, and the flags of Romania and EU. At nearly every crossroads is a small shrine-like construction, usually complete with a colourfully-painted crucifix.

Fields here aren't as lush as before, as the more fertile grounds are past us and also it's clear that the most powerful agricultural machines and tools aren't available here.

Those EU flags really are everywhere. Clearly displaying some serious EU pride here.

As a huge herd of long-haired goats nearly leap in front of our car, I realise I may have mistaken them for sheep earlier. Definitely seen sheep too, just probably fewer than I thought at first.

Kémeny turns out to be both small, boring and off-limits, but Bánffy of Bonțida is interesting. Its construction was started in the 1500's and finished two centuries later. After years of neglect, all the buildings are nearly ruins, but they're reconstructing it now—there's builders hanging around and about the place. There's much to do, but both what's left of the original and what they've already built is looking mighty fine.

Kornis Castle is nothing more than a ruin, but a particularly attractive one for one detail: the old gateway is guarded by two unicorn statues. Yes. Unicorns. With the horns made of steel and hence mostly intact. Next to the castle ruin is a neglected mansion, probably dating back to the mid-19th century, with two horses grazing on the yard. Tall pines, broken windows, caved-in roofs and tall columns all together give a slightly haunted feeling.

It starts raining when we get back on the road for Baia Mare. Passing a nasty-looking accident. The road's good, but it matters little if you're driving recklessly.

Our hotel, or guesthouse, for tonight is Casa Olarului, a potter's house, and as picturesque as they come. Father and I go scouting up the nearby hills, to find out about a curious-looking spot on the topographic map. It turns out to be pasture for the most part. The way up is incredibly beautiful, dashing through a thick forest of tall, slim, bamboo-like trees, on an old stone slate road. We run into some Italian tourists while up there, beyond a mine and a skiing centre. I'm further away taking pictures, but apparently they're quite the travelers—they've been to Finland, and to Turku, even.

The grande finale for tonight before bedtime is a restaurant called Rustic, which lives up to its name and is strangely in line with the aesthetics of our pensionat which, by the way, we have entirely for ourselves.

Tomorrow we'll be leaving Romania for Lviv, Ukraine.

khar_muur: (Default)

Today brought us the unarguably tourist-y but very gratifying Sighișoara, the birthplace of Vlad Tepeș, and its Medieval citadel. We climb the furrier's tower and the clock tower, visit the incredible Hill Church and its crypt—"Visit a crypt in Transylvania, check!"—and the adjacent atmospheric cemetery. The church's friendly guide apparently speaks every European language, and presents the church like a Romanian David Attenborough. He also recommends us the town of Brașov and the strange salt mines of Praid. At this point I know I have to return to this country, preferably sooner than later. Next year, maybe!

After Sighișoara, we take a quick turn at the little hamlet of Biertan, sad but not surprised to notice the castle has closed for today; then, we travel back to Târgu Mureș, take a stroll around town, sit down for a while in a café (they all seem to double as bars in Eastern Europe), and return to the hotel, preparing for an early start tomorrow.

khar_muur: (khar_muur07)

We went for a drink (and ended up doing some grocery shopping in a 24/7 market) after midnight in the very sleepy Chișinău. Monday is, unsurprisingly, not the busiest night of the week.

The hotel apartments were quite comfy, apart from the little maggot friend I found in our bed. Meh, as long as there's Wi-fi.

Moldova is very rural, most of it fields and cows and goats and tractors and hills and vineyards and fantastic landscapes wherever we go. (Other animals: ducks, dogs, chickens, horses drawing carts or grazing, various birds of the Corvus family, one family of turkeys, and very infrequently, sheep.) A friendly billy goat I'm trying to photograph nibbles at my hand with its flabby lips. TomTom is firmly of the opinion that there are no roads here. Radio plays energetic folk music and international hits.

Crossing borders is relatively easy, and roads improve immediately.

România is beautiful, what can I say. Plenty of houses look brand new and people look well off, if a touch surly. Mushrooms and other goods are sold by the roads. Horse carts aren't uncommon, and there are lots of wells in every village we drive through. Towns and cities look and feel very different, chaotic and grungy but interesting and occasionally also very impressive. Churches, shrines and monasteries are everywhere. Here and there they fly the EU flag together with the Românian flag.

There's a storm brewing as we reach the Carpathian Mountains, but so far only one ruin of a castle sighted. The lightning strikes inside a cloud a few times, rain pours down on and off, thick mist blankets the tall pine trees and nearly touches the ground, and I can't remember the last time I was so overwhelmed by the landscape. Words simply fail me. The moment I saw the mountains I knew I'd always wanted to see them. Transylvania, a (mild) storm, some bats—only the castle is missing.

This part of Transylvania is partly Magyar; most signs are in Romanian and Hungarian.

We stop by a large field to admire the rainless thunder light up the entire sky. (Yes, there are pictures.) Hope we'll still get inside the hotel at this time of night, with all these delays...

This hotel is the only one we've been to that advertises itself well ahead, so it's laughably easy to find (unlike a few others); just follow the huge sign and the flashing neon lights!

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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