Entering Cyrillic speaking territory...

Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
Trip End Dec 16, 2010

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Privolzhsky,
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hello dear all,

Sorry for my lack of personal emails to most of you. Due to lack of time and internet availability I am not online much! Luckily I can do this writing en route…And I have to warn you: the stories are getting longer and longer!


Entering Cyrillic speaking territory, with Watermelons, Vodka, High heels and Police checks. We cannot go from the Danube Delta, Romania, straight into Ukraine, so we go via Moldova. It will make 15 countries in total to cross until India. This is the first country we encounter using Cyrillic language. Time to get back into Russian again! Border crossing are becoming stricter with more checks and paperwork. Once in Ukraine you get a real sense of contrast. Cities like Odessa and Yalta almost have a posh feel to it, while villages show us hard farm life with people walking their geese! And again it shows: the poorer, the more people share.We spend a few days at the Black Sea, sun bathing with the other sardines on an overcrowded beach, walking the funny boulevard at night. Even indulge ourselves with a day 'camping' at a hotel resort with swimming pool. By taking a ferry we enter the next country: Russia! The country of Vodka and Police checks….and more watermelons! The people are curious and friendly. We spend some time with Don Corleoni and his family, enjoying all good things Russia has to offer: Banya, Shashlik, Russian Mercedes Truck ride, vodka and pivo! Also had our first under-the-table-bargaining-police-encounter!

I left you with the news that we were about to leave horse and carriage land-Romania, but from the Delta we cannot go straight into Ukraine. So had to travel via Moldova, now we will cross 15 countries on our way to India!

Crossing borders into Moldova: already notice it is stricter with more paperwork and car checks. Procedure: We pass Romania customs without stopping and then stop at Moldova customs, where one person comes to check passports. Another person checks chassis nr. in car and does inside check. Then one of us has to go to a desk to show car papers, green card and passport owner vehicle. We are told to pay 2 euro at other desk and return with paper to desk nr. 1. Again car inside check by this person. Then all is signed and ok. We are the proud owners of 2 pieces of paper and the transit receipt. We can enter Moldova. Total time: 45 min.

Moldova: The first country we will encounter using Cyrillic language. Time to get my Russian Phrasebook and old notes out and getting back into it again! This was one of the first languages I learned when I started my travels over 3 years ago. Many followed. It is so funny and difficult. They use the ABC, but with more characters and what you see is not what you should read; C = S, P = R, H=N,  N=I, M=T and to make it more complicated the A,E and O are pronounced different according to the character order. Example: PECTOPAH = RESTAURANT. I have added a photo of a menu to give you a little taste of what we have to deal with on a daily basis ;-)))  

Having lunch in Moldova, we make it easy on ourselves by pointing to the neighbor dish and ordering the same!

No time to stop in Moldova, so on the same day we leave the country again, with another border crossing, this time going into Ukraine. Just before Moldova customs we are already stopped by the police for papers check and most likely out of curiosity. He starts to laugh in misbelieve when he hears about our plans to travel al the way to India. With this thing? Yep. Leaving Moldova: We stop before a gate and what for someone to open. Maybe we should go into the first office, but we act stupid and let him come out, which he doesn’t, the gate opens. Passport & car papers check. The little papers are handed over; one of us goes inside where more info is put into a computer. And another car check. Luckily they seem taken back by the amount of stuff we have inside and don’t ask us to take all out! We can move on.

Ukraine Customs: We have to fill out Arrival/Departure papers, passport check, car papers check. We may enter customs area. One of us has to go to the first desk with Green card, passports and car papers. We receive a little piece of paper, which we have to hand over to the guy at the end of customs area. All ok. Welcome to Ukraine! Total time: 1 hour. Quick, as I was afraid it would take forever looking at all the desks and serious faces.

Ukraine is huge! Destination is Black Sea with harbor city Odessa and the Krim as the 2 chosen highlights. Halfway to Odessa we stop in a little village for the night. As soon as we stop, the first person comes our way, curious and hospitable. We sleep in the van, but the next morning we are invited for breakfast, while another woman also offers us some grapes & goat milk! The table is set and early morning we taste potato soup, cheese, yoghurt and fish, all homemade of course. And we are not to leave empty-handed: A watermelon, cheese, bread and tomatoes are coming with us as well. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they thing Mira looks too thin and should eat more, more…more ;-))

Within a few hours we are parked in Odessa, and what a contrast: Here posh cars are everywhere and fashionable people on HIGH heels color the streets! With bankomats more then you can count to take your cash, sushi restaurants, WiFi places and designer shops all over the place! Strange and funny at the same time. With the LP as our guide we explore the center with its easy-going feel. I let Mira have her day of luxury ;-) Eating out in a restaurant, enjoying café latte and starting the next day with sushi for breakfast! Can it get more posh then this on an overlander trip?! Have to admit I enjoyed all of it to.

Time to move on, the Black Sea is awaiting us. The roads are full of holes and dips, so we cannot travel fast (bear in mind our maximum speed is only 100kmh anyway). In 2 days we make it to Yalta, city on the peninsula Krim, locally known as the Black Sea Riviera. And we are not the only ones who know this. As soon I as set my eyes on the beach I have to laugh: It is looks like a can of sardines: people on little towels as far as the eye can see, with hardly any space to make it into the sea! But we are here now, so I wanna try to take a dip into the blue/green sea! We manage to find a spot Ukraine way: You have to be quick and take over a spot as soon as people leave. The beach is a real paradise for people watchers: people sun tanning in the most unusual positions and Baklava sales people quickly making their way on the beach, without tramping on sardines! being just 2 examples.

At the end of the afternoon we try to find a campsite. Not easy at all! We have seen some camping signs but they turn out to be some kind of apartment places. In Alusta, when it is getting dark, one guy directs us to an Aftostanka (fenced off parking area). Turns out a woman named Ira is running the place and for 1 euro we can stay the night. She even gives us hot water for tea. Later that evening the guy who helped us out pays us a visit, we share Ukraine and Hungarian wine, trying to communicate in Russian/English. His wife it visiting family nearby…yeh right ;-)

As the fridge is still not working properly, we try to put a bottle of water in a freezer at every opportunity. This time Ira helps us out and returns it the next morning with again hot water for tea: Ochin Spasiba! (thanks a lot). Although difficult in urban Yalta, we try to find a camp spot again. The only "Kjemping" people can direct us to turns out to be hotel resort, where we may ‘camp’ in the back of the parking area behind the swimming pool. Not exactly what we mean. After looking for hours in vain, we decide to arrange a room with one of the locals, posted at the side of the road. Vladimir, who speaks English, turns out to be very helpful. In need of some time without being on the move, we decide to stay for 2 nights. This provides us with plenty of time to get a real feel of Yalta, the beach full of sardines during the day and it’s crazy boulevard in the evening. Although far too touristy to my liking, Yalta has a funny vibe: combination of Kermis, Leidse Plein in Amsterdam and Scheveningen. A Place full of history, but with a feel of Black Pool, a place where it all happened (in the past). You can find it all on this boulevard; food and artisan stalls, musicians, huge telescopes and to top it up a place where you can have your photo taken while posing on a motorbike dressed in kinky cloths and a wig!

After 3 days of boulevard & sardine-like sun bathing and the necessary internet session we’ve had enough. Not completely relaxed yet, we drive to the “Camp” Hotel resort and arrange to stay there for one day. For a small amount we can use all facilities, even get the key of a room so we can use the fridge! A few moments later we are install ourselves in reclining chairs at the swimming pool: Traveling is so hard ;-). And I manage to arrange someone’s mobile phone so I can spend an hour on the phone with Miranda: Super je te spreken meis! With thanks to www.televergelijk.nl

Totally relaxed we make our way to the end of the Krim, following a beautiful coastal road, where we pass a place with great camping possibility right on the beach

(to other overlanders: It is on the road P29, between Alusta and Feodosiz!!). Such a shame we did not know about this before. In the evening when looking for a place to camp, a german guy helps us out and directs us to a huge open area with a few beach café’s for a beer or two, where we can camp right on the seashore! Yes! Another morning dip in the Black Sea! Whenever Cigaronnes is banned in Spain, this is the place to set up new camp guys!

Although we both feel we could stay here for a week, time is pushing, so off we go. Quick stop at the local winery (red wine and a great bottle of Port for 1 euro!) and continuing to Kepyb, where we can take the ferry across to Russia. Nothing is clear, but turns out we have to wait by the van for a plastic thing, which we have to hand in at the cashier and pay for the crossing. Just before passing the gates, a guy comes up to us: Do you have Russian car insurance? Green card not valid. I knew this already from Jeroen, so we decide to buy it from him (20 euro for 15 days). The fact that all cars behind us have to wait until this is settled seems not a problem. Once inside, the customs kermis starts: passport & papers check (2x), van check (2x) and we are able to board. By then we are 4 hours later! 30 min. later we are on Russian ground. Procedure Russian Customs: Waiting…and waiting. Then Mira has to go into one line for passport control, I go to desk for Vehicle owners. Papers check, Van check, incl. drugs dog. Once more I have to go with papers to a desk, where more information is entered into a computer, which produces an official looking paper that will cost us about 8 euro. Humm (double insured now?). Finally we are allowed to continue. Total time: 7 hours. Welcome to Russia!

5 km on our way: police check-point! Ahhh. Luckily all ok, Mira can show him the international driver’s licence. Good buy girl!

After a short night sleep, we drive East, doing the usual things on the way: Buying a national road map, finding a bankomat, shopping and getting petrol. (Water)melons all over the place…sold at the side of the road. We stop to buy some. The people are so amazed to meet us that we get the melons for free ;-) The first encounters with the Russian people are good. They seem friendlier and interested then their neighbors.

As we stop in a village at a lake, in which unfortunately we cannot swim, it seems to be a holiday with a fancy fair and local talent show in progress. The singing is not even that bad! Later that night a guy keeps us company for a while, interested in Mira, but being drunk and difficult to communicate with, I send him away at some point. His Russian present: He kicks over our ‘table’! Thanks a lot dickhead!

Luckily our neighbors are more friendly, in the morning we have our frozen bottle again. Must admit she looked a bit wary when I knocked on their door, but a smile appeared quickly.

Big driving day ahead of us, which starts very unpleasant as we pass a traffic accident with a dead woman on the road, not nicely covered up! I can just about hold my tea down. By the end of the day we stop at a tiny (fishing) lake, where Serg (the local guard) checks up on us. He invites us for tea, fish and even a place to sleep. All in Russian, so not sure I understand correctly. He comes back with his boss, who tries to explain the same thing. He is the owner of the Russian Mercedes (read: one of those great blue trucks), so I ask to go for a ride in it, sure. I am even allowed to drive myself! Super! Still undecisive about what to do, they bring the fish and the bottle over to us! That evening we spend the night with him, his wife, 2 daughers and some friends, while more beer and vodka are put on the table. Intending to leave the next morning, but they heat the banya (typical Russian bathroom/sauna) especially for us and invite us for shashlick later as well. What to do? So we spend another day with them, which improves my Russian lots! Unbelievable how much beer and vodka they drink ALL day long…. typical Russian family? For alcohol sake I hope not. Cannot believe how hospitable they are, your house my house. If it was up to them, they would not have let us go. And only after we are given fruit, homemade cheese, a knitted sweater a, a ferret skin and a toy rabbit of 5-year-old Sofia!.

Time to make our way to Astrachan, a city at the Caspian Sea near the border with Kazakhstan. Just on out way we are stopped by the police. I was driving too fast, camera proof. Shit! Papers check, how much will the fine be? I see the two talk and just after he takes me apart, writing 200$ on a piece a paper. He must thing I am stupid! No way! So I tell him in Russian to give me a NORMAL fine, not tourist-rip off bullshit. He starts to threaten me that he will take my licence, because I made a traffic offence. Sorry mister, I am not intimidated quickly! More waiting, then….out of the blue: Skolka? (How much?). Ah, the unofficial bargaining has started. I decide to try 500Rb (about 10 euro). Offering my usual smooth talk at the same time. After promising him that we will go for an evening of Banya, shashlik and dancing when I come back from India, all it settled. We can continue. Later that day: 4 more police checks, luckily only paperwork and curiosity stops…

In the afternoon there is a change…like as if we crossed an unofficial border. The landscape has changed, big steppe plains as far as the eye can see and the people look different to. As if we are already in Stan-country. It reminds me lots of Mongolia. When we stop in a little village for the night, we are a big attraction and not before long the first villagers come to talk to us. By nightfall we are the proud owners of 8 melons! Telling them we already have some, does not work! The only option is to accept. Luckily we both like melon….but for how much longer ;-))))

And Frits: He is doing very well. Some headlight problems easily solved by fixing a lose wire, continues flat tire solved by fixing the extension ventiel. I still hear noise from the gearbox or back axl, but so far so good. Going slow uphill, but getting there. The real challenge lies ahead…
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mixolidius on

Great travels...
Thanks for the great stories!
I begin envy your adventure, sitting in my dull office.
Your pics make me feel like ET on another planet, with great urge to explore new galaxies.
Keep us udated, thanks!
With love to both of you,

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