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Kiyv (day 1)

Apparently the locals prefer the Ukrainian spelling of the city Kiyv rather than the Russian Kiev that most people will be familiar with, hence the title of this post.
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We flew here using the airline aerosvit & I'm afraid that at one point we were considering replacing the v with an h when referring to them.
We arrived in plenty of time, which was probably a mistake as it gave us far too long to contemplate our fate & got us out of bed too early. When we arrived the board said that the flight was "delayed 11 o'clock" however the corresponding flight in the other direction was estimated to arrive at the same time & as Jason & I were familiar with usual practice being that one plane flies out & then back with a turnaround time of 30 minutes (20 if you are ryanair) it seemed unlikely that we would fly any earlier than 11:30. Given that we had figured this out by 8:15 & shortly after checked the outbound status in Kiyv (showing it as 95 minutes late there & some way from setting off) we resigned ourselves to a long wait. Anyway the slim line Embraer (3 seats wide) was pleasant enough when we actually boarded it.
On arrival in Ukraine, passport control was intimidating & we had to fill in a visa form however we did not have a pen causing the official to be rather exasperated with me when I presented one in pencil. When I went back a second time the next official thought I must have come from Almaty in Kazakhstan for some reason. Eventually I was allowed in & got through customs to the taxi drivers who charged us £30. This was the first indication that Kiyv was going to be much more expensive than our previous two venues.
Once we had booked into hotel lybid we ventured out looking for food & chose the first place we found that seemed like a half decent restaurant. As a restaurant, it was fine, with coverage of the formula 1 race showing however the menu was solely in Ukrainian & we could not so much as hazard a guess as to what to order. So we picked at random, avoiding what we presumed were the starters & anything particularly expensive. I got a fish with lemon & Jason a grilled fish steak with some vegetables. Jason was quite relieved that his was edible, (I'll generally eat anything).Thus refreshed we set off & after a walk we got to St Vladimir's cathedral, the first of several beautiful orthodox churches. Our peregrinations next took us to the golden gate. This is one of the oldest structures in the Ukraine & the last remains of the ancient city walls, the gate where dignitaries were once received into the city. St Sofia's, the second cathedral is an UNESCO world heritage site, including the surrounding complex. Here we climbed up the bell tower giving us vistas over the city. Here I felt keenly the lack of a wrist-strap on my phone which I'm currently using as my main camera.
Third cathedral in a row was St Michael's monastery. Here a service was in progress & the haunting chants reverberated just the way they were meant to.
We then walked on past the closest we found to a triumphal arch in Kiyv, actually a ministry building, the curved archway was built into the façade but was actually all the more impressive for this. From here we descended Andrew's descent which started at the final cathedral of the day (St Andrew's which we could not enter) & went down a cobbled street. These cobbles were not like back home in Yorkshire, they were sharp & uneven. The street was lined with lots of vendors selling artwork from full paintings to Lenin t-shirts. By the time we were at the bottom we were tired & sweating, it was getting on for 7 in the evening & the vendors were packing up but the temperature was still in the high twenties & it was humid. We thus set off for a funicular railway to get back up the hill. Despite reading about it in the guide we couldn't see it on the map but given reasonable expectations of funicular railways we set off in what we reckoned would be the right direction. We had more or less given up & were assessing our options when, Lo & behold it was there in its art-deco glory. Taking us straight back to st Michael's monastery. From there we set off back towards our hotel. I attempted to navigate a more direct route back but got turned around in some smaller streets & eventually returned to the route we arrived on having actually gone further than simply retrain our steps, though we did see a few statues & a mural on the way. When we got back to St Vladimir's we gave up & hired a taxi for the equivalent of £5 when the journey would have cost maybe £3 in Bradford. Intimidated slightly by our ip-dip meal earlier we went to the hotel restaurant & once we saw it on the menu we could not resist chicken Kiyv. This turned out to be quite nouvelle cuisine. From there we then set off to find somewhere to watch the world cup final. This took much longer than we hoped but after a mile & a bit more we found a cafe we could squeeze into & watched the dutch rack up a record number of yellow cards.

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Chişinãu

We had arrived in Chişinãu late at night & we were surprised after reading the foreign office advice that street lighting was not top notch that while lights existed in the airport carpark, they were not switched on. We had a couple of cheap local beers in the hotel bar (about 75p) & retired to bed. not got the hang of how big these end up composing on the mobile ...Collapse )The next morning we went to Transnistria (see the relevant post) & on our return we retired to our room to recharge & avoid the rain. After a while we set off for refreshment. We ended up in a cafe that sold a wide variety of dishes but all from a buffet where you point at a dish & a server dishes up for you. All the labels were in cyrillic & I ended up with a liver based dish. We then tried a few bars before a post pub pizza & bed. In the morning Chişinãu was wet but being British this did not put us off. The lonely planet guide lists only a handful of sights, all very close to each other so we wandered in the right direction. We stopped at a cafe & I had a very nice hot chocolate that was so thick it was easier to spoon it out. Soon enough we found the central area with a grand orthodox church, a triumphal arch (such arches are very much the theme of this year's trek), a statue to Stefan the great & some dry fountains. We attempted to use the rain to our advantage & tried for arty reflection shots where possible. One young lady put us to shame however, while we sheltered from a heavy burst of rain under the entrance of the church she stood in the center of the courtyard in front, kicked off her shoes, put her bag down & danced while listening to her phone. She then went inside & we noticed her prostrated before one of the larger icons.
Having exhausted the lonely planet guide, after lunch (my enigma salad was quite nice) we set off exploring ourselves & found various interesting buildings. At around this point Jason suggested that we go to an old monastery maybe 20 miles outside the city. After looking at the logistics I reckoned this was impractical, it would be more of a day trip. We found a good looking religious complex but a guard turned us away.
We relaxed again back in our room for a while. When we set off for an evening meal the weather had finally improved & we got some nice evening shots of the central church. Nadia had mentioned seeing the football & after some texts we set off by taxi to meet Richard in a sports bar. We haggled a bit & walked away from a couple if taxi drivers before agreeing a price. The sports bar was concrete & functional but the beer was served in 2 or 3 litre dispensers to enable patrons to sit & watch the match without too much disruption. We may have consumed one too many but we got up to catch our plane, sore heads notwithstanding. Sadly on arrival at the airport we found that the plane was at least 2 hours late & I am composing this while waiting.

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Tirasapol Transnistria

We set an alarm this morning as we had an early pickup to go to Transnistria (various spellings exist) we sampled the breakfast at hotel cosmos & waited for the pickup at the unearthly hour of 10 am. Richard our fixer did not accompany us but his young wife Nadia did, along with a licensed taxi driver.
We drove through the Moldavian countryside, it was largely arable with only the occasional farm animal but it was green & rolling. We stopped for fuel after a while (lpg notably) & the driver bought some cucumbers, which he picked fresh from the plants growing in the field by the petrol station. Hours later I still regret not eating one when offered though at the time my breakfast was still sat in my stomach.
After an hour or so we got to the border. This proved to be something of a trial. Our driver had to demonstrate the emptiness of his boot repeatedly & then complete some transaction at a booth. Then we all had to fill in a form & queue up for our visa. We queued for some while & one then another of the officials on duty went for a break, the queue mounting all the while. At one point a rather heated discussion broke out as to position in the queue involving our guides & another young lad who appeared to be pushing in. I felt unable to comment due to my lack of appropriate language skills & Jason had not realised that we were losing places (surely his legendary queue rage would kick in should he suspect such an infringement!) Actually I do Jason an injustice, I have seen no evidence of queue rage for years. Eventually we were issued visas & we could continue. Bendery, the border town, was small but it had a good looking church, a triumphal arch & a medieval fortress. The fortress is however currently occupied by the independent Transnistria forces who are strongly against their pictures being taken. We didn't stop in Bendery travelling on to Tiraspol. As an aside, I seem to be quite out of practice with taking pictures from moving cars. Having got reasonably accomplished during my Scandinavian trip this was a bit of a disappointment. Anyway, Tiraspol. We changed some money into the local roubles (definitely not widely accepted elsewhere) & bought some local "Kvint" brandy which was recommended by our guides as a local speciality. We saw the memorial to the fallen of the war for independence from Moldova in 1992 & the local church which has been constructed only recently but is beautiful. Nadia surprised me by a bit of god-fearing which is quite unusual these days in England. We also saw the local market & the satellite flea-market (which was unofficial, by the side of a path, selling old clothes & mechanical bits & pieces)
There are a couple of good statues, one to Lenin & one to the Russian generalissimo Alexander Suvarov who founded Tiraspol. We wandered along a bank of the Dinestre river in search of a bar. The first one we tried for was closed but we found another. As we walked we picked some ripe plums from some trees lining the path which we thoroughly enjoyed. Once we got to a bar we had some food, I ate a salted fish, lemon & olive dish which is apparently usually associated with heavy Russian drinking sessions. Nadia was quite sceptical that I would like it but it was quite nice.
We had expected poverty, communism & a military dictatorship. Certainly there were soldiers all around though several seemed to be off duty while still wearing fatigues. The cafe menu was in cyrillic with no concessions to other languages (while the waitresses t shirt proclaimed "most likely to steal your boyfriend" in glittery English). The flea market looked pretty poor but there were no beggars.
We then headed back. The border crossing was much easier in this direction. Sadly as we approached Chişinãu the rain caught up with us. Around Tiraspol we had had hot if slightly hazy weather.


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Bucharest day 3

We had already ticked off most of the to-do list in the first two days so today was likely to be relaxed. I tried the breakfast this time which was quite continental with bread, sliced meat, cheese & cake.
We set off to tick some more off the to-see list. We were a bit more persistent this time in our efforts to see the patriarch's cathedral & a helpful cleric encouraged us on in the right direction when we were unsure. He did warn us to be careful though because we might find god... We did find a beautiful church & a huge patriarchal palace which if it did not share a city with the presidential palace would have seemed worthy of a great line of kings. Next we tried to catch a view of the city from atop through usirii shopping mall. The top floor foiled us but Jason was persistent enough to try the next floor which turned out to be an open plan arcade with an excellent view.
Next we found a lone Russian style church. There are many orthodox churches but they are Greek rather than Russian. Then we stopped for a coffee & snack. Jason ordered an English breakfast saying that he doesn't get enough of them in Qatar. Then we saw the communist ministry where Ceauşescu gave his last speech before he fled in a helicopter from its poor reception.
The last thing we saw was a dracula theme restaurant. Inevitably it was slightly tacky but the lighting was dim enough that it was quite effective. This left us with a bit of time to kill but we judged the money pretty well so I'm writing this in the airport before catching a flight to Chisenau in Moldova

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Bucharest day 2

I woke up much refreshed after a lie-in & we set off on the second day of our odessey, the full day in Bucharest.
Breakfast was an optional extra on the hotel deal & we had slept in past a reasonable breakfast hour so we looked for a brunch option nearby. We had cheese & bacon omelettes & thus fueled we set off. We got to the presidential palace again & noticed this time how the flats flanking boulevard unirii were 10 stories tall in their marble clad way, hiding older parts of the city. We sought out an older part, Ankin monastery which was impressive with beautiful murals & an orthodox church at it's centre which was decorated with mosaics on the outside.
Next was one of a series of orthodox churches that we photographed the outside of. Then we headed north to the piaţa revoĺuţie which commemorates the 1989 revolution. Then we had a drink in the trendy coffee bar in the basement of the building that housed the feared communist security service where we chatted to a waiter for a while about the revolution & the state of Romania today.
We pressed onwards but after a while we git to a point where there were a couple of sights a fair distance north & we were pretty warm so we tried the metro. After reference to our guidebook we successfully purchased tickets, boarded and got to the right destination. The metro was apparently built in 5 years flat. The mind boggles as to what the disruption was like during those years. It is a shallow cut & cover tube line, quite serviceable. I liked the way the connections between carriages was open to passengers moving down the train being only marginally restricted compared to the main carriages.
We found the Romanian version of the arc de triumph & headed back south towards the centre. The museum of the Romanian peasant was highly praised in our guidebook so we tried that. It was not really our thing but considering that was quite engaging. It has a house, a church & most of a couple of wind/water mills all inside the museum.
By this point we were hungry & caught the metro back south. We ate at a Lebanese cafe where we struggled to get by with English for the first time. We ate something nonetheless.
We headed back north to see the scene of the bloodiest fighting of the revolution. There were a couple of crosses but only one decrepit building still showed bullet holes that we could see. We stopped for a beer then caught the metro again heading back towards our hotel. This one challenged my navigational skills a bit as the metro station we used was not marked on any of the maps we have.
We freshened up & put our electronics on charge before heading out for an evening meal. We timed it wrong this time, heading out only 10 minutes before the second semi final started. Thus it took much wandering around before we found a cafe with a couple of seats left. Once we did however we had a very pleasant evening. Once the final whistle blew we headed back ready for the next day which will be mostly Bucharest with a flight to Chisenau in the evening.

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Bucharest day 1 part 2

I seem to be rambling. Oh well i'm afraid you may need to put up with it dear reader.
We explored Carol park which has been designed as a lead up to a huge monument & mausoleum for the fallen of ww1. Then we failed to find the entrance to the patriarch's cathedral & found a working atm on our third attempt.
With a slightly more reassuring amount of the local currency (romanian lei) in our pockets we set off exploring a bit further. We found the presidential palace next though in truth it is hard to miss, being the second largest building in the world. We relaxed with a beer which caught me out a bit by being quite strong at 7% then headed on. We got a bit further & felt hungry enough for tea. We ate at a pizzaria called d'eight which we can recommend & by the time we were about half way through the Netherlands Uruguay semi final came on so after eating we watched the rest of the match with a couple more beers. It finished after 11 local time so we headed back.

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Bucharest day 1

As mentioned in the previous post we got to Manchester with no serious incident. The flight to Heathrow was late to post a gate on the screen but that was barely worth mentioning. We found 30 minutes of free wi-fi as well. Heathrow posted a gate number early on but we failed to find free wi-fi & the flight set off half an hour late. Oh well, such is life.
Anyway we got to Romania no problem. The luggage took a while to turn up on the carousel so we were starting to think it was lost like Jason's from earlier in the week. But that was just us being nervous. Once we passed through customs the scrum of people waiting was quite impressive but we had organised a pickup & we headed off into Bucharest.
The driver seemed keen to get us to the hotel with a lots of pushy overtaking manoeuvres. Then near the end he started to feverishly make the sign of the cross. I'm not sure what prompted him to do that.
Our hotel has a strong red theme to its decor but seems pleasant enough. We checked in & git the code for the wi-fi then I had to ring 3 mobile on the old phone to get roaming activated on the new phone which was slightly annoying as there was no reference on the documentation or website indicating this was necessary or I would have rung up for free while I was back in the UK.
Then we went exploring.
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on our way

Well Jason & I are killing time in Manchester airport. I have got up at some unearthly hour after worrying all evening about what to take & getting about 3 hours sleep as I feel is traditional the night before a holiday. We are through the first of countless security checks. Next stop Heathrow's lounge.
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gratuitous technology

I appear to have entered the world of 3g & can now post to my lj from wherever I happen to be. In this instance Halifax train station waiting for the last train home. I've had a good weekend away with Sarah & her family in the lakes. Signal has been intermittent at best so not really worked out how I'm going to work with my new HTC desire. Should be interesting finding out...
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Pristina

After last nights update we let the rain die down & braved the remnants of it to find an eatarie. After a pleasant pasta & a few beers we retired for the evening. This morning we had breakfast, a varied continental style breakfast notable for some portions of rose jam. The weather had turned almost British with rain being the predominant feature of the day. We sought out a couple of museums, first the Ethnographic museum which showed how Kosovans lived over recent centuries with traditional dress on display. It was noticeable how there were several different traditional dresses from different regions of the country. The other was the main Kosovo museum which had a relatively small number of exhibits but tastefully displayed & a big sign campaigning for several thousand artifacts which are currently in Belgrade to be returned to Kosovo. The exhibit with pride of place was a 6000 year old figurine the likeness of which can be seen in many places around the city, including on official Taxi signs. On the floor below there was an exhibition of photographic work by a group of deaf students which was of a very high standard. Next we went for some lunch. We asked for a hot-dog, the result was in my opinion better than a standard hot-dog with several "dogs" sliced up in a chunky sandwich with salad & sauce. Unfortunately Jason has an aversion to mayonnaise (& it's sibling salad cream) & could not face eating his. As it had only been a Euro we went to another eaterie where we specified no mayonnaise. The hot dog came back with what looked like mayonnaise on it. Jason was set to pay & leave with it uneaten but after some persuasion he complained & got a replacement, this time with cheese & tomoato sauce which he wolfed down (as is his wont). It was still damp out & we had run out of attractions to seek out so we went back 2 our hotel & it's wi-fi to kill a couple of hours before heading for the airport....