Sunday, July 30, 2006

I'm still here!

Hi to all of you, my favourite friends. I am still here, even though I don't make an entry very oftern. I leave that to my kids because they are doing such a great job and covering everything that I would be saying. Europe so far is great. We walk down the streets enjoying all the wonderful smells that are coming from the little outdoor cafes. It's too bad that we can't afford to test the cuisine and eat there. We just go to the store and buy sandwich or pasta makings. It's a good thing we have kitchens in most of the hostels. Everyone is strong and healthy, and always ready to go except for after those overnight bus rides.
Love to all.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Relative Perceptions

I think I'll skip the Polish history lesson as European history is just too much and I'm no expert. The main thing these days is WW2 history anyway which you must know already. Poland, of course, was occupied by the Nazis the longest and suffered a ton through the whole thing. The majority of the major cities (the exception being Krakow) were completely destroyed and nothing more than rubble by war's end. As beautiful and peaceful as these old towns are, we have to keep reminding ourselves that it is all reconstructed and 60 years ago everything was so different.
Poland so far has been fun and yet hard on me. It has been quite a shock for us too. Summer in Poland means tons of tourists, which means few beds and more logistical trouble for me. We have started to do, out of necessity, what others are doing, and booking beds ahead on the internet. I can't tell you how sacreligious that is and makes me feel all wrong because it defeats the concept and purpose of "backpacking". Never before have I had to do this, but at this time of year with 4 (soon to be 5) people it must be done. With all these other backpackers around, it's gotten much more interesting on the conversation front too and I've been regularly staying up until 4 or 5am chatting away with people. I'm only averaging a few hours of sleep per night in this country, especially when you factor in the sleepless nights in buses, cars and trains. But it's been fun. Hostels here are also stuffed with all sorts of goodies like free internet, laundry, kitchens (great for the budget), movies and the like. The trouble is finding time to get a turn....
I was in Poland very briefly 2 years ago and I am finding it a very different experience this time around. I have to emphasize this because it just totally plays into the concept of relativity. For example:
1. Costs. We must be the only backpackers in Poland complaining that it is expensive. Everyone else is laughing at how cheap it is. 2 years ago I came from Scandinavia and Moscow to Poland and thought it was cheap too. The reality is that we are paying ~$15/night each and ~$4 for a cheap meal. Transportation is the real killer.
2. Driving. Everyone we meet complains about the Polish drivers and how crazy they are, not following the rules or the lines on the road. We had thought they were perfect. They even stop for pedestrians. I also thought 2 years ago that they had really small cars here. Now they seem big and the streets crowded with vehicles. People complain about bad roads and small 2 lane highways (which most are) but honestly it's heaven after where we've been through.
3. English. The first time, coming from Scandinavia (where they all speak fluent english) to Poland, I found it difficult. Now, I could swear that they all speak english here (not even close to true) and it's so easy.
4. Women. Polish women are beautiful. No denying that, and yet, coming out of Ukraine it's actually going a small step down on the beauty scale (though Polish women are far more human and normal). Also, seeing so many female smokers and girls with short hair, while common at home, seems so odd now to me.
5. Temperature. Everyone seems to be commenting on a heat wave all over Europe this summer and it being a problem. We had no idea and still have a hard time believing it because 35C is a nice, pleasant temperature to us now and we don't really notice it.
6. The concept of time and distance. We are definately in a different part of the world. I'm starting to think that the west really does live too fast and everyone is too hasty. This is well illustrated by the fact that people look at you funny when you say that you'd rather pay 1/2 the price and take the 5 hr train to the next town instead of the 4 hr express one. What is 5 hours to us now anyway? Damn, we used to do that before breakfast, not as a whole day's travel. I have a hard time believing it's only a few hours between capital cities here. Poland is apparently also a big country and cities are far apart. Haha don't make me laugh.....
7. Poverty. Another problem with arriving in the "west" (or almost west anyway). These people just aren't happy. They try too hard and look too much to their western neighbours to be able to enjoy what they do have. You constantly hear from the locals how poor and miserable Poland is and how lucky we are to be in the west and rich and have slacker, trouble-free lives. They have to work so hard to make ends meet, blah, blah, blah. Um, last I checked, they all had cars, homes, tv's and cell phones like we do (er, make that YOU do). They even have cheap booze to enjoy at the outdoor cafes. Having seen what we've seen in Asia (and they were happier in their poverty too I might add), I just want to throttle these whiners that think they have nothing. Talk about ungrateful. Georgia and Armenia were the same, though they do have bigger problems than here. The only thing easier for us than them, is international travel but even then, how many of you at home are barely making ends meet and are dreaming of going on a vacation abroad someday? It's not like we didn't sacrifice anything to be where we are now but they have no concept. The western propaganda machine still works I guess.
8. Racism. Wow. In a country that suffered so much at the hands of the Nazis and then the Soviets, how can racism and skinhead, neo-Nazi groups be so strong today? Didn't they learn anything? Same thing in Ukraine and Russia these days too and apparently it's becoming a bigger problem as hate crimes are on the rise and the governments don't seem to care. (It's even been suggested that it is quietly supported in places like Russia as it is like a sense of nationalism that ultimately supports the government and blames the government's shortcomings out outside groups.) Again, coming from multicultural Canada, and traveling through countries where we were the minority and very vulnerable, it's crazy to think that it's like that here. They have hardly any minority people running around anyway. On a side note I just want to say that I've never seen worse popular hairstyles in my life than I have this past week. Shaved heads except for a short poof at the back. I looks like they had a mohawk and then accidentally shaved off the top part. Tons of people also have Mohawks and we've even started seeing dredlocks again (nonexistant since India). Everyone seems to wear some form of camo clothes, be it pants, skirts or whatever, even the girls.
Anyway, it's just interesting how people's perceptions change with different experiences. All the more reason for people to travel.
I'd never been to Warsaw before, but I had been to Gdansk, up on the Baltic sea coast. We decided to go up there anyway as I wanted to see Malbork castle (which I missed last time) and the girls wanted to check out the beaches. Busy place and the beaches are nothing really compared to India and that end of the world. Of course coming straight from home, I'd probably have nicer things to say... We hung out there anyway, wandered around Gdansk and even went to see the movie Pirates 2, just so Bre would shut up about it. It had Polish subtitles but was in english. As Bre mentioned before, we met 3 Polish-Canadian siblings (Monika, 21, Adriana, 17, and Marcin, 15) that had a car and were travelling the country visiting friends and family. We got along great and had loads of fun but unfortunately our time together was too short. Our time together ended with the completion of the road trip to Wroclaw where we spent 3 days doing absolutely nothing. In the end I never did get to see Malbork castle, making that 2 failed attempts to get there. Unbelievable.
In Wroclaw they had a film festival going on and the little square in front of the opera house was covered with a "pool grass" carpet and had lots of lounge chairs for well, doing nothing. Great for us, and we spent most of the 3 days just people watching and taking it easy. Adding to that excitement were the nescafe guys giving away free coffee.... Wroclaw is nice, as the old town square is huge and very pretty. It's also the perfect example of how frustrating this language is. Wroclaw is actually pronounced "vrotswahf" and Lodz as "woodge". Yeah, go figure. They also have way too many strange consonant combinations like cz and sz everywhere. Good thing they speak enough english for us to get by.
From Wroclaw we took an overnight train to Zakopane. It's the Whistler of Poland, right on the border with Slovakia, south of Krakow. Very pretty but as the main ski resort, quite Whistlery and full of local tourists at the moment (just like the beaches around Gdansk). Unfortunately it was raining all day today.
On another note, it turns out that my beating in Ukraine was worse than I thought. I'm still sore and think I've got 2 really bruised or cracked ribs in my upper right pec. They totally don't feel normal and smooth any more. Hmm, don't think I really deserved all that. Guess extreme sports are out for the next little while....


The best thing is being able to meet and chat with all the other backpackers but even better on those very rare occasions when you run into another family. Especially one from Canada. In Gdansk we met 2 sisters and a brother, from Toronto, who were on a short summer vacation and we spent 3 days with them. We all felt that we had known each other all our lives and were constantly trying to figure out where we had met before. Even though it was impossible for us to have ever met before, we just couldn't stop trying to figure it out. We spent a day in Gdansk together just roaming around town, doing random things and taking lots of goofy pictures. It was so much fun! Our theme of the day was Canada as we all had our hair in french braids (including Ammon) and I drew Canadian flags on our arms. We were so hyper and pumped up that day! We took pictures with breakdancers, street musicians, stupid videos of us goofing off and doing lots of cheerleading moves. The best part of the day was definately the cheerleading stunts and as I am the only one with experience I got to coach these clowns as well. I was impressed with how much we actually pulled off. We couldn't stop laughing. You'll love the pictures when we get them up.
They were travelling in a rental car and happened to be going in the same direction as us so they were crazy enough to give us a ride. I say crazy because there were 7 of us and all our bags in a 5 seater station wagon, in a country known for crooked cops and rules against India-style travel. I'm sure it was inconvenient and a hassle for them since it was so squished but it was all good. We ended up driving through the whole night from Gdansk to Wroclaw and they dropped us off at a hostel in the morning. We never got caught but there were plenty of cops running around. Yikes! It was sad to say goodbye but we will have to see each other again sometime in the future. I'm really loving Poland, it's up there with my favourite countries of the trip so far. I'm super psyched for Terri to come and I know we're all not going to have any sleep as we are wild beasts. Poor Ammon, another girl added to the trip.
PS. Follow in Terri's footsteps and join us for a bit.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

To Hel and Back Again

Yes, Hel. "We 're going to Hel! Get ready to go!" "Ammon!?!? Isn't it a little sacreligious to be going to Hel on a Sunday?!" Yup, so our fierce leader took us across the waters into HEL!!! Well, they weren't lying when they said it would be hot, hahah. But I didn't know it was going to be so blue and gold. I always pictures it to be more red and black......
Now I did keep that promise when I said we wouldn't be sailing across the Baltic Sea but I never said we weren't going on or in it!! It was a 2 hour ferry ride to the other side. We spent the whole day walking along the golden beach and swimming in the blue water (Bre and I did at least). Yesterday we went to Sopot which is another beach town and it was a lot more crowded than today. It was really nice but I think we've been really spoiled on this trip in the beach category. I couldn't believe how burnt some of the people were and how many people (mostly old foggies) were walking around in there florsecent white bra's. WOW! I always imagine a beach as something like "Bay Watch" but when you get there....oh boy! I never knew people could have such huge beer bellies. It was a good chilling day and it was about 35C (but I think you Canadians are dying in your heat wave, haha suckers! We're immune to the heat now!) When we caught our boat back to Gdansk tonight it was about 20-25C and our fingers went numb and purple from the cold!! OK, so we are just killing time and relaxing right now. We'll be going on a few more day trips before heading south.
See ya (if you come out here),

Friday, July 21, 2006


Leaving from Ukraine to Poland we took a 10 hour overnight bus. It was actually quite funny when we went to the bus station to catch our bus and saw all of the fancy, big coaches going by and assumed we would be going on one of them. Mom literally said, as we were walking up "It better not be that ugly thing in stall #3!" Sure was. OH well, it's just our luck. I've definately been on worse and thinking of what we were on not that long ago I'd say it was an improvement. We arrived at the borders at midnight and it took us three hours to get through. The worst nights are definately the ones where you're aching to just put your head down for 5 minutes but you can't! UGH! As soon as we arrived at 8:00 a.m. in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, we loaded ourselves up and started walking barely awake, stiff and half alive. It was roughly 4KM to the train station but I was too full off happiness to really care how sleepy or heavy my pack was. I just couldn't help myself from leaning over and saying " We're in Poland! BRE, we're in Europe!!" all day long. I just wish I could share this feeling with you guys. As it is, I'm sure any of you (other than the people who already live here) would be excited just to go to Europe but it's a totally different level for me. Imagine just coming from a bunch of third world countries after 14 months, to THIS. I'll give you just a light example of the drastic change. Not even 2 months ago we used/had fly infested, poo piling, rickety, half closing, wooden outhouses in the backyard that almost made you gag just going near them to gorgeous, (YES! A bathroom can be gorgeous) sparkling clean washrooms with hot running water (rather than a cold bucket of water), good lights and doors!! After spending a year in a dirt infested world (I am totally not complaining and I would never take back the experiences) it's a nice break to have. In other's nice to have a shower that doesn't leave the water black!!! Hahaha! Our clothes even went into shock when we sent them swimming in a real live WASHING MACHINE (after a year of tender loving hand washing)! The hardest part now is trying not to get too comfortable or it will surely be hell going back to real backpacking. I can just imagaine what Africa is going to be like!
We went to the brand new uprising museum in Warsaw for our field trip. I actually found it really interesting and never knew museums could be enjoyable (which I'd hate to say about a war museum) . We spent hours in there and came out feeling so gloomy and upset. 40,000 innocent civilians died in Warsaw in only 2 days! All for one man's greed and retardedness!!! Argh! Some of (well, actually most of) the stuff in there is real footage and photos that really disturb you. So it was kind of cool to go to the rebuilt Old Town after just seeing clips of when it was completely reduced to rubble! I couldn't help picturing the tanks, screaming women and children, soldiers and barracades on the exact same streets of 60 years before, as I was walking down them. The Old Town is like an endless walkway of building paradise. I'm already shocked by how perfect it all is but Ammon says it's only the beggining. It's like a scene from the movies with the violinists, singers, sidewalk cafes everywhere, center squares and pedestrian cobble stone streets with a few horse and buggies, and all the different color combinations and statues on the buildings! I must admit that when Ammon said we were going to the Old Town my first mental images were of pictures #32 and #42 in folder "India With Sandra" at on album page 3. I thought of the muddy/dusty, smelly, narrow streets with cows, carts, padestrians, cars, dogs, tuk-tuks, chickens and kids all shoving their way through the crowds, crap, chaos, noise and markets!! I am on a completely different time zone or something because it wasn't even close to being like that. It's more of a stroll through these ones, something not possible to do in India, Pakistan or Afghanistan etc. I also just have to mention how practically everyone has "Inski" somewhere in their name.
Just a quick funny story. The other morning in the hostel I was down stairs waiting to go onto the computer and when Bre came down the guy behind us asked "Are you guys twins?!!", we always get that question and simply said "Nope! Just sisters." "OMG! I thought she (me) was you (Bre) the whole time I was sitting here!!" The funny thing about it was that Bre had been talking to the guy the whole night before and he must have thought she (I) was really rude to not even say "Goodmorning" to him the next day. We've considered buying the same clothes and trying to get a room for 3 people and sneaking one of us in and just never be seen together. It would totally work if they thought Bre and I were the same person, ahhaha.
We just arrived in Gdansk on a 5 hour train ride. Beautiful scenery and very different from the other countries we've been in. I think we'll be chilling here for a bit and do a couple side trips to see a castle and go to the Baltic Sea (I'm pretty much guarenteeing you we won't sail across that one, haah! But then again.....).
We'll keep you posted,
P.s. I am proud to announce that FINALLY my best friend in the whole wide world, (I've been to a lot of places around the world and haven't/won't find a better one ever!) that I haven't seen in over a year, is flying into Warsaw to see us on August 5th!! I am soOoOOo excited. You have no idea!! TEEERRRRIIIII.........

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tortured Soul

Ok, putting aside the Ukrainian women for a minute, I must say that the Ukraine is still a great country. Highly recommended for travelling around. Kiev and Lviv are both very beautiful cities and it's great to walk around and look at all the buildings (uh, yeah, I'm looking at the buildings). Peter the great (who single-handedly created the magnificent St. Petersburg) also had a hand in construction here too, so the city centers are much more St. Petersburg style than Soviet block. Clean, efficient and well decorated, right down to the metro again. A nice change from the Caucasus.
For some reason (having to do with the recent pro-West alignment in the government) prices have skyrocketed across the country in the last year. There are hardly any foreign tourists here too so competition is still not driving down accomodation prices any either. Grrr... We came without a guidebook or plan, which has detracted from the experience as I'm sure there are things in the country and lots of general background and history that we are missing out on. There is still no tourist office, only 2-3 hostels in a city and no english bookstores so we just make do any way we can. Fortunately, it seems that many of the younger generation speak some english so we have been able to get some aid. Our biggest help came from the missionaries. We looked them up on the internet, invaded the mission office and pleaded insanity until they helped us out. Actually, there was little they could do but it did get us oriented.
As to the women, well, lets just say that the population is young and the sex ratio has finally swung over to more females than males. I've heard it said that Kiev holds the world record for highest heels, shortest skirts and lowest necklines. Uh, yeah, I'm not going to argue that claim because you'd have to cheat and look at a nudist colony to see more skin showing under everyday conditions. I suppose it's not really a surprise when half of the female population are selling themselves as brides while the other half sells for much shorter commitments. Oddly enough, the guys here totally don't look at them, the girls aren't aggressively coming on to anyone and nobody makes any eye contact and it seems like they are all stuck doing the model walk (perfect for it as they are super tall and thin) focused on nothing at all. I don't know how the guys manage here because I'm barely alive. I have discoved the most cruel form of punishment and torture a man can endure. If you don't believe me, YOU come to the Ukraine with your mother and sisters, no money and a coldsore on your lips and see how you feel. If my Russian bride doesn't pan out, I know where I'm coming back to get a new one........We've moved quickly through the country, a painful necessity, but then if we'd actually gone down to the beaches on the coast I'm sure I'd commit suicide. In any case, it's the first time the girls have had to tell me to keep going as our walking tours have become more of a walk to the square and people watch rather than go anywhere. Much more interesting pasttime, haha. People don't actually talk to you much but then they are really friendly and helpful (generally, especially if you avoid the scary, old Soviet ladies) once you start talking to them.
I really hate having to leave places I like so much when I want to stay longer. But then I have to remember how lucky I am to have gotten the chance to see them at all in the first place.
On a darker side of the coin, I have to relate a very different experience that happened to me today. We were walking around Lviv sightseeing when a rather rude and impatient driver (common here) wanted to run me down while I was crossing the street and trying to take a picture at the same time. No big deal, we had the green walking light anyway. He honked and I yelled at him, as is the norm. Then a quick shouting match with a few gestures, etc. Ok, sure, I don't like drivers anymore as most I've dealt with lately have been taxi ones anyway. No big deal, that sort of stuff happens all the time. Not quite. 15 minutes later, the driver and his friend (who had been parked ahead and waiting) ran up from behind and jumped me in front of all the vendors while I was heading down the stairs for the underground walkway. The girls had run off ahead (I was taking photos) so missed it all. No clean shots on me but it was more to prove a point I guess and then they took off. The guys were older, looked like ex-thugs, probably mafia connections so I didn't continue the contest. What a bunch of cheapshot babies with tender egos.
I suppose there are a few points to that story.
1. It means that that kind of stuff is still alive and kicking (literally) over here.
2. I need some backup (Jesse, where are you?)
3. After attacking people, yelling and trying to pick fights with taxi drivers for over a year in Asia, it took less than a week in Europe to get into one, clearly indicating to me which is the more civilized and safer place.
4. Uh, and I'll have to watch it in the future. That could have been a lot worse and I have to remind myself that I am now in a different culture and part of the world.
5. And you guys have to remember that the rumours of which countries are safe and which aren't can be (and often are) totally wrong.
PS. That totally doesn't change my opinion of the Ukraine and I still like it.

Friday, July 14, 2006


"If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all!" So I guess I won't say anything about Georgia, teehee. It was pretty hilarious to hear the Ukrainian crew on our ship dissing "Pig Land" as they called it. I really loved the boat and it was tons of fun. I didn't think we'd be going that way but then again, we do change our plans fast and go with it. "Where ever the wind takes us!"
My first European country...WOW! This is great! I love it! I guess I'll never hear the end of Savannah bragging about spending her 16th summer in Europe!! Pft! The subway/metro is pretty funny because Savannah clings to me with her death grip as she has no sense of balance what so ever. Poor little lass. Most rides we end up laughing our heads off. Don't ask me how, it just happens that way. One goofy look from either of us and it's all over! There have been a few times Ive had to save her from falling flat on her face with her big pack on, to save us from the embarrasment. Rush hour is intense and crazy. I've never seen so many white people at once in my life. Big crowds like India but it's nnot a push and shove contest and not to mention how clean it is everywhere. There is just one problem with coming out of so many countries where we are the only ones who speak english and that is that we've been able to speak out loud to each other about everything and anything we darn well pleased. It's a hard habbit to break and now have to watch what we say with all of the ears around. For example: Savannah and I will say "Wow! Check out that guy he's really hot!" Seconds later he turns around with the biggest grin on his face. "OOPS! Hehe"
The first thing we did in Kiev was hunted down the LDS missionaries to say hi. They're very helpful and lots of fun as always. We even mentioned Angela Leehmuis and one of the sisters remembered her from when she served a mission there. We had a blast chatting.
We are now in Lviv, a smaller city in western Ukraine. We are here for a few days until we hopefully catch a train or bus into Poland. This city is soo amazing and beautiful with all the different buildings to see. We just don't know which ones to look at because we have absolutely no information due to no guidebook or maps. Zippo! It is more expensive and I can see why everyone is so skinny with the size of servings being so small. They practically charge you per bite instead of per plate!! I'm excited to go to Poland........

Thursday, July 13, 2006

OOPS, Another Wrong Turn

And I quote " After surviving such places as Central Asia, the Caucasus and Afghanistan, we decided we were invinsible! Reckoning that suddenly altering our plan to enter the Ukraine, instead of crossing the border into Turkey, without guide book or plan would only be a minor struggle, easily over come. Easily! Never the less spending a record breaking 48 hours on a rat infested, rusty, half sunken cargo ship (it was actually really nice though, haha) across the Black Sea was still a little intimidating!" That was Ammon being the narrator to our trip right as we decided to actually do it!
Yes, it was the calling of the sea (let's just hope the next chapter isn't "Under the Sea") that took us across the Black Sea to Ukraine! It all started that sunny day in the park and sitting on the shore of the sea. Ammon approached us with his newest options. He gave us the choice between plan A or B. You wouldn't believe but we ended up taking plan D! Plan D was basically "Forget about plan A and B and take a completely different route". Those are the times that everything starts to spice up. Most of our extreme changes and altering of plans are drastic and decided upon very quickly (I'm still trying to decide how much thought we really put into doing it before hand. Pretty much a leap before you think really, hah!). We were in Batumi trying to figure out how the heck to catch one of the cargo boats going over that way. We got stuck there are few days longer than we'd have liked because they are so unhelpful and just say "Come back next week". You'd think it would be a quick go down to the office, ask for a ticket, buy the ticket and make sure you catch the right boat....No no no. It gets a lot more complicated when you're trying to work with a bunch of different people who barely speak english, aren't willing to put in the extra effort to decode your sign language and either they plain old don't have a clue about a boat (even though they're working for the company) or you get 10 different answers of dates, times and places. Therefore you're left hanging not knowing if a boat even exists!! Geez mareez! A couple days later Ammon went asking around again and came back very...very pissed and frustrated. I think it would be best if I didn't quote the things he said then, hahah. They were saying that the boat didn't even leave from Batumi but from another port town 1 1/2 hours up the road in Poti. It didn't take long before I was in my room packing everything then basically running down the street to the Avtovaksal (bus station) to catch a bus to Poti.
The next day we went to go find the office where we could buy tickets. The first thing they told us when we asked was "Come back in one week" but then they changed there mind and sold us a ticket for the one going at 1:00p.m. Hahah, it was 11:00 a.m. when we were there so we had to rush back to the hotel, throw everything into the bags as fast as possible, then bolted back to the office. We made good time! We got a bus to the dock where our ship was anchored. So exciting!! It's kind of funny because we ended up sitting on the boat for 8 hours before it even left. They were loading all of the cargo trains and trucks etc. It was so cool to watch the tiny tug boats help push us out to sea...They're adorable! The two sunsets that we saw were beautiful. The rooms were really rather big, clean and livable, we got 3 meals a day(those are both nice changes, hahah) and the crew was extremely nice ( a change from Georgia, haha) like a cruise! I can't get over how much I love boat rides. Always reminding me of Titanic (isn't that supposed to make me NOT like them!?!? haha). Bre and I are such dorks and still go "I'm flying Jack!" and "I'll never forget you!" and all the other quotes "I see the statue of Liberty already. Very small of course!" Lol. Bre and I got to go below deck and play ping pong with the crew ( all Ukrainian)and poke around with all the stuff in the "employees only" sections that were "forbidden", muahhah. The crew even had a pool! I really had a blast considering I was stuck on a boat for 2 days with not many places to go. I was really sad to leave all my newest friends. I had great first impressions of Ukraine.
When we arrived we had planned to stay in Odessa but instead hopped an overnight train to Kiev, 10 mins. later! Everything has been really boom boom boom, pronto lately. I love the trains and am so excited to be using them again. We haven't ridden one since India. The sunset that night was one of the best so far! Brilliant orange, pink and purple over the endless fields of sun flowers. Now I know why man was inspired to make floresent colors. In the middle of the night I woke up thinking "Oh great! That's it. The boat's going to sink this time" because of all the rocking and noise on the train. Hahah, then I leaned over and saw the trees and said out loud to myself half asleep...."Trees?!?! That's not water. Oh're on a train Savannah not a boat!" I miss my boat!!!
Now we are in Kiev and leaving to another city tonight on another overnight train. We have to get my new passport but it'll take 3 weeks and it's too expensive here to be sitting and waiting. We'll be in Warsaw, Poland really soon. I'm really really liking Ukraine and wish we could stay longer!! Oh yes and poor Ammon is druelling over all of the long legged girls in their short, short skirts and blond hair. He says "I'm going to have to poke my eyes out to stay sain!!" I think I'm going to have to too with all these blue eyes, blond haired beauties (obviously the guys) walking around in no shirts. "Hubba hubba, meow meow, woof woof!" There are lots of cathedrals here in Kiev and I love the style and architecture. I could listen to the chanting and music in them all day long....... I have to admit though, I'm not the biggest fan of their paintings. I guess you'll hear from us in Poland soon.

Georgia and Armenia

Ok, it's the return of mr. negative. I just have to say that it is no contest and the worst country of the trip so far is definately Georgia. It rubbed me the wrong way as soon as we crossed over and never recovered. The only redeeming quality is that the country is beautiful and unfortunately for them, I can see that kind of scenery in lots of other places too.
The people are ugly. Ugly in body, heart and mind. They are not curious at all and it's the only place we've been where nobody ever came up and talked to us though they knew we were foreigners. No help at all and I think we missed our bus stop every time because nobody helped us. I suppose that is the advantage of travelling somewhere where you totally stand out, it's obvious you are lost and people help you. Here I guess they could just assume we were one of them and knew what we were doing. Not that we fit in at all or you could even pretend that we weren't stupid tourists.
Armenia is very similar but at least they have a little more heart in them. We did meet up with a group of kids that wanted to chat (even though they were actually skipping their english class at the time) and it was a little cleaner. One thing I've definately noticed lately is the smell. Now that we are out of Asia things definately smell different, especially the people. Diet must play a huge role in it as we smell different too. That might sound wierd but I'm sure of it. The Georgians smell really bad. They don't wash or something. I guess if their water is unreliable and it's always cold (and the country is not very warm) but in India the people wash all the time, even if it was in the ditches with muddy water but lots of soap. Here they just don't bother and it's gross. They are also huge, rude and like to fight or something because they are always yelling at each other. I'm totally starting to see how their only national "hero" is Stalin......
I know that Georgia has had hard times recently with lots of civil war stuff but that was 10 years ago and it's not an excuse. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are in much worse shape and have way nicer people and a better feel about them. Honestly the place needs a few more years of tourists to get something organized better. Everything is totally run down and it's only been in the last 2 years (since the rose revolution) that the street crime and corruption have finally disappeared. You can still feel the echo of that violence around though and I'd feel less safe in Tbilisi than just about anywhere else on this trip. In fact, I swear the whole population looks like someone cloned the 10 scruffiest dock-worker ruffian types they could find until they had a few million people. They all look rough and the same. The women look perfectly wrecked for these type of guys too. Ugh!
Armenia was a little better but again the transportation and accomodation mostly suck. Some people were a little more helpful but in general their attitude needs some work too. Yerevan is a nice enough town and we enjoyed it but it is very, very Soviet block style and is currently a huge construction yard. Again, a few more years and it should be good. Unfortunately the summer weather creates too much haze because they have great views of Mt. Ararat in Turkey (the resting place of Noah's ark btw). We left the country rather quickly though and head back to the Black sea coast in Georgia where we encountered more of the same but with 25C and rain as well. The surroundings of Batumi really look exactly like Vancouver, complete with bad weather.
Our diet has also changed. Out of kebabs and rice and mutton in central asia finally. Georgia is known for it's cuisine but to be honest we never tried any of it. We mostly ate the little street food snacks (cheese-stuffed bread) or are living off Nutella and fresh bread. It is apricot season over here too so we've been eating them by the bucket load for the last couple weeks. Delicious, if you can get past the worm in the middle...... Savannah quickly gave up and decided the worms were just extra protein, eating them first before the fruit. Eww!
In Batumi we ran into an Israeli backpacker (there are very few in the Caucasus) that hung out with us for a few days. Fortunately for us, he loves cooking and we kidnapped him and made him our chef for those few days. Finally a good home-cooked meal again. Never mind the fact that the huge, scary, monstrous ladies whose place we were staying at hated the fact that he was using their outdoor kitchen and were totally paranoid whenever he went in there. I still can't figure out what their deal was, but we left there under bad terms again (no surprise in Georgia). Why be a homestay if you hate people? It's so common over here. Even in Yerevan. I'm convinced the people there were trying to kick us out too. Why else do you ask 4 people (that fills the place) when we are leaving so they can have 1 or 2 others come in?
If you are starting to think that it is just us let me just say that I have heard plenty of horror stories from Georgia and lots of people have had nothing good to say about the people here. The countryside with it's monasteries on the nice green hills is great but just wasn't worth the trouble for us.
I promise next time I'll say something nice again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What we've been up to

Okay, here I am to save the day and wake this blog up! Geez, we sure have been a bunch of slackers on this thing, haven't we?! To prevent everyone from yawning I'm only going to do a quick summary of what you've missed in the last little while. If anyone wants specific details on certain towns I mention just give a shout and we'll deliver.
Crossing from Azerbaijan into Georgia was a quick and easy border as always. Our first stop was in Sighnaghi, a tiny village on the top of a hill, providing a great view of the surrounding land. Georgia is the first Christian country I've been to in a long time and there are lots of little and big churches scattered everywhere. Whenever someone passes one you'll see them cross themselves three times. We only stayed a night there before catching a marshrutka (minibus) 2 hours to Tbilisi, the capital. We went directly from there 3 hours to Kazbegi, a village in the Caucasus mountains right near the border with Russia. The next day we went on a simple but pleasant hike up the hill to see a church perched way above town with great views of the snow-capped mountains. Wow! I have to admit that the Georgian people aren't the greatest and they are very messy BUT the scenery is amazing, I'll give them that!
After a short stay there, it was back to Tbilisi to stay a few days to see it and the nearby old capital, Mtskheta before skippping south to Armenia. We hadn't really planned to go to Armenia so soon but....meh.....oh well. Our plans always seem to change so fast and with so little thought, that I just go with the flow and see where it takes me.
We crossed into Armenia on our bus planning to make our stop in Stepanavan, a little town along the way to see some nearby sites. Ha..ha...well so much for THAT plan. The bus didn't even stop there.....or ANYWHERE really. I'd like to say it was just hauling butt to get to Yerevan, the capital, but then again....I wouldn't call 25km/h "hauling butt"! We hadn't been expecting the 9 hr drive so therefore weren't prepared at all. It wasn't until the 8th hour that the dude finally stopped for a bathroom break!! What's with these people? For the past umpty ump months of bus riding we got used to (though were still annoyed by) stopping every hour for food or toilet breaks. Even on a 2 hr ride. "Seriously let's get on with it" In the Caucasus they don't stop at all and they drive slowly compared to Central Asia. We ended up in Yerevan in a totally deserted bus station, at 7pm! It is the main and busiest station in all Armenia and it completely shuts down at 6pm!! What the heck?! Transport sucks around here and nobody travels.
As far as Yerevan goes, it's a very pretty city and good shopping, if I had the money to do it that is. There's so much variety, design and style. It's all well and good until you look down and see the size heals they're wearing and the kind of streets they're walking on. On our 14km, Ammon walking tour, we went and saw some things and the Genocide Museum. Wow, that's some pretty brutal stuff and I can't believe how people can be so mean to each other! The following day we went on a little excursion to see the headquarters of the Armenian church at Echmiadzin. Since Armenia is the world's first Christian country (1700 years ago) and the church there is on the site of the first one built in Armenia, does that make it the first official Christian church in the world ever? We also went to Garni, with a little difficutly finding the right bus, to see a Greek temple, the only one in the Caucasus.
In the park, right across the street from our homestay they were having a free outdoor concert. Ammon, Bre and I went out for a couple hours and had a good time listening and watching the live performances. It was really great fun. There were kids, teenagers, old foggies, baby strollers and people just walking their dogs in the crowd. People going wild over the folk music. We were wanting to do more in Armenia but cut it short. We saw another church in the next town, Gyumri before coming back into Georgia.
We stopped in a scary, little, hick town called Akhaltsikhe (I'll never be able to pronounce half these places). We took a day trip out to see the very cool cave city in Vardsia. I'll let some one else elaborate on those. We get a lot of rain here in Georgia, some heavy exciting storms. I love it. It's so wierd to go outside and have to worry about RAIN. It's such a foriegn thing for us after barely having any in the last 14 months! (14 months and 1 day on the road, wahooo!) We are now stationed in Batumi on the coast of the Black Sea! Waiting..........