Friday, November 30, 2012

irony explained: "room"

So you all do not live under the delusion that I am away living the high life - below is my hostel room in Kiev.

'Cosy' someone said to me.

But - location...location...location - it overlooks Independence Square at the very heart of the city.

It had a comfortable bed, a bedside lamp, a heater - what else do you need?

All that for just $18 a night!

(though I have to admit - it was the smallest hostel room I've ever stayed in!)

why I don't wear a watch...

Like a lot of people - I usually rely on my mobile phone to provide me with the time.

As I am not carrying my phone with me on this trip I needed a convenient timepiece - so when I was in Seville I bought a watch.

This is how it looked after 5 weeks:

The wristband broke at the end of the first week, and the cracked face occured when it flew out of my pocket and under a bus as I was heading to Moldova.

It still works.

No worries - it cost $6.

(yup - I'm still using it!)

kiev, ukraine: 12.20 pm nov 30, 2012

I can see the sun.

First time in 14 days - thought it blog-worthy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

sunless, steps and sofa beds

The Russian influence in Odessa is far more pronounced than in Lviv. Here Russian is the most widely spoken language and I've noticed a marked increase in the number of bottle-bleached blondes (probably Domestos), Ladas with rear spoilers, and here for some reason they seem to really like Telamons (male caryatids - those figures you see in Classical architecture holding up various bits of buildings.) They're everywhere.  

I caught another night train here - four bunks per compartment. Naturally I am in the one with a snuffle-grunting snorer. He sounded like a lawnmover being driven over gravel.

kupe klass kabin

At one point I had to leave the compartment as it was driving me crazy. Walking up and down the carriage it was quite apparent my compartment had the ONLY snorer on the entire bloody train.

This is why I no longer stay in dorms in hostels.  

Arriving in Odessa at dawn I am quite impressed by the grandeur of the railway station. I know my hostel is only 20-30 minutes walk so halfway I stop at a cafe for breakfast. Just after leaving I manage to fall base over apex on the footpath - not a gainly sight when you are carrying a rucksack, day pack and half full grocery bag. It was to be a lesson well earned. Odessa footpaths are dangerous things and not to be trusted.  

odessa central station

orthodox church near the station

Besides the grazed palm and bloodied knee I felt I quite liked Odessa. My very cheap hostel is in one of the very best neighbourhoods and about 90 seconds walk from the renowned Odessa Opera House. And with tickets priced between $2.50 - $19 and a performance on that evening how could I resist.  

Despite the cyrillic confabulation, even I could ascertain it was a performance of Don Quixote. So I coughed up $6 and turned up for a bit of a sing song. Shows how cultured I really am - it turned out to be a bally ballet.

odessa opera house


nothing in my backpack to wear for opera houses

Like Lviv, it is very cold here - days maximums have been around 2 or 3, and no sun to be seen at all.  

potemkin steps made famous in eisenstein's 'battleship potemkin'

scene from film featuring the steps

grand old hotel being renovated

old covered street called 'passage'

detail in passage

odessa city park

local colour

footpath numbers - not a clue

I overestimated the qualities of Odessa and realised 6 days was a tad too much. So I decided to spend a couple of days in Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) to see what it had to offer.  

Unfortunately not a lot.  

Inexplicably, accomodation generally was quite expensive but I fortunately found a single room for €15. It turned out to be a sofa bed in someones loungeroom.

my chisinau accomodation block

The owner is one of those bottle bleached blondes with a sullen teenage daughter and a yappy dog. It's like paying for bad couch surfing.  

One full day wandering the city seemed sufficient taking in the National Gallery, the main church and the two central parks. Not surprising when number 7 on the top things to see in Chisinau is the large shopping mall called...wait for it...Malldova.  

disused stadium

local hero - steven the magnificent...or steven the fabulous...or something or other

chisinau building

sovietesque sculpture ('nipples to the wind'!)

dry fountain

On the way back to Odessa I had the opportunity to pass through my first non-country Transnistria. (It is formally an unrecognised state.)

transnistria from train

Thursday, November 22, 2012

train to ukraine

There was only a night train from Krakow to Lviv in Ukraine (not 'the Ukraine' anymore please to note!) which is a pity as I love train journeys for a chance to see scenery.  

Facetiously (I feel) called a sleeper, it was as hot as Hades inside and with two passport checks half an hour apart in the middle and arriving at 5am Poland time and not 6am because of the time difference, I had bugger all chance of any sleep.  

On arrival, at about 2degC. in complete darkness I set off for the half hour walk to the hostel. I had no Ukranian money on me and the station had no money change open. Besides, all taxi drivers are thievin' bastards and I wouldn't in my wildest dreams attempt to get a bus. Often, if it less than 3 or 4 kms I much prefer to walk.  

The hostel let me in early and even gave me an unmade up room to wait in until my room was ready. I crashed for 5 hours!   The weather is still completely overcast, there is a fog that hangs around - much like as in Krakow. And it is a lot colder.

Lviv seems to be a blend of European style and Soviet Brutalism! Ukranian is the main spoken language.  

My hostel is on one of the exclusive shopping streets of Lviv around the corner from the main avenue.

I realise I will end up having four days here due to an early morning arrival and the fact that my train leaving Lviv doesn't depart until almost 9pm.   Oh my lordy lordy what to do with all that time?  

First impression is that there is a lot of public sculpture. But it is almost always 'in memoria' of some figure of history (arts/politics/sciences). Nothing whimsical or purely aesthetic in nature.  

Architecturally there seems to be a blend of Western Classical/Romanticism with a Soviet hard edge to it. Also, economically, the city shows signs of fiscal neglect.  

This was made very apparent when I visited the Museum of Fine Arts. A depressing slightly grungy building with woeful presentation, lit by fluoresecent light where about 30% were not working. I was the only visitor, and each floor I visited would be immediately preceded by a gallery attendant who would switch on the lights when I entered and turn them off again after I left.  

Gloria Jeans cafe on the corner of my street is apparently Lviv's apotheosis of style and class.

monument in town centre

view towards lviv opera house

architectural detail

big guy (no idea!)


wires 'n' spires


bloke on a horse (with snake)

bas relief

lviv university

uni mural

statue of lviv native - Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (or whipping post?!)


architectural detail

street sculpture - local physicist

boim chapel - mannerist marvel

ivan franko - local guy makes good

museum of fine arts

touch of the richard larters?

typical example of art in the gallery

blue road? nice one!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

to lick or not to lick

To be fair - Krakow didn't have the sunshine I had in Wroclaw, but even so I have to say in my opinion it didn't quite live up to the latter.

I caught the early morning train to Krakow which meant a 20 minute walk to the station in very cold fog. My train was very comfortable and was the first 'dog-box' compartment I had been in for many years.

On arrival I followed 'Old Town' signs from the platform, which led me right into the middle of a huge shopping mall above the station. It was an identical mall to every single mall in every Western developed nation. Suddenly I was bedazzled by a myriad of mirrored and reflective surfaces and a swarm of milling pedestrians which had the effect of completely obscuring any way out.

I finally resorted to adopting the 'poor stupid lost tourist' look and asked a woman who was trying to spray unsuspecting customers with perfume.

"Where do you want to go?" she asked
"Anywhere that is outside" I replied.

shopping mall shipping container

I had another 20 minute walk to my hostel which was ideally located by the entrance to the Old Town.

As I approached my hostel I saw what appeared to be a very large hole cut into the grey twilit sky.

It tuned out to be a sightseeing balloon and as the sun was almost below the horizon it gave no reflection and thus appeared to have no volume.

up, up and away...

The next morning I took a local train for about 45 minutes to visit the wonderful salt mine at 'Wieliczka'

Having operated continuously since the 13th Century, what is remarkable is the way in which miners carved chapels, sculptural tableaux and even chandeliers out of rock salt and salt crystals. The visit took several hours and involved descending 135 metres and walking over 3.5 kms through tunnels carved out of solid rock salt. There is a great temptation to lick the walls to see if they really are salt.

Maybe I did....maybe I didn't.

(While well worth the $22 entry I didn't feel like paying extra to take a few snaps - so these salt mine pix are from the web!)

(photo courtesy:

(photo courtesy: www.

(photo courtesy: www.

During the mine tour I met Ben who is (amongst many other skills) currently an Alaskan fisherman. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the day, wandering through the (very) tiny town of Wieliczka, and caught up again on my last day to kill a bit of time in downtown Krakow!

At one stage we wandered into the Archaeology Museum to find it full of religiosity - a potpourri of popery if you like. Mystified, on exiting we looked closer at the sign and the Polish for Archaeology and Archdiocese look remarkably similar to the untrained eye and we had in fact just visited the Museum devoted to the first non Italian Pope for 455 years, former Krakow Archbishop Karol Wojtyła later Pope John Paul II.

krakow main square

street sculpture

castle through the mist

wawel cathedral

had to try the polish zapiekanka

ben and his zapiekanka

Some warmth to take away the chill of Krakow came from the friendliness and humour of my hostel receptionist whose name I have unfortunately forgotten (I'm sure it had at least three z's, a j or two and possibly a vowel...)

green hostel friendliness