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To explore the cities, as in 2013, I walked quite a lot, often 15 km per day (ca. 25 km per day has been my maximum). Walking is the best way to see everything in a city, all the stores, monuments, bad roads, all types of buildings, well, anything that might be of interest. I always bring drink with me (orange juice, other fruit juice, and/or soft drinks. This time I brought 2 water bottles that I normally use for cycling, and fill them with the drink I want to use for a walk. They fit into the left and right hand outer pockets on my backpack. The Deuter backpack is not as good for this purpose as the Jack Wolfskin ACS photopack that I used last year as it's hard to get the water bottles out of the backpack, and back in again, without taking off the back pack. Update: In 2016 I used a different back pack, the lightweight Scrambler 30, which does not have so many pockets, and no frame which doesn't mean it's worse, on the whole it's better. See my experiences with back packs and travel bags.
I went to Odessa from Amsterdam by airplane, via Warsaw.
I noticed that in Warsaw and at Schiphol they were less annoying about wifi access than last year, almost unlimited access. But in Warsaw I could not use ftp to access my website, for some reason...
The runway at Odessa is pretty bad, worse than at Borispol and Zhulyany. But the airport is cute. I much prefer small airports to the big mess that is Schiphol in NL...
Then I wanted to take trolleybus 14 to my hotel. Taxi drivers tried to convince me that I should not take the bus as it would not take a direct route and would take 30 minutes. But that is exactly a big point of my trips, to see more of Ukraine, and experience life there, and not just to go to tourist attractions. I don't want comfort, I want reality. The directions from a web page about Odessa (I thought it may have been a site by the city itself, I will add a link) where the bus was, were unclear and I asked someone, who said that he just saw it had left. Well, he offered me a lift to the train station (my hotel was close to the train station) and he said I would get other chances to ride in a noisy trolleybus :) We talked about life in Odessa, in Ukraine, and about Crimea. More on this further on.
My impressions of Odessa: It has a beautiful railway station, as often in Ukraine. In the evenings before the station there were some people performing, sending little illuminated helicopter type devices (but no motor) into the air. It felt as in Amsterdam with street performers (often music), though I don't like the performances I've seen in Amsterdam. This type of art/performance I could appreciate much more.
I walked around the city for 4 days, and Odessa has a lot of nice old buildings, along with amazingly bad sidewalks (worse than Sevastopol, which already was amazingly bad, but it's not a detraction, it's just the way it is there), and lots of traffic, cars, and in particular noisy cars. It feels a bit like Kiev, where the people 'who have' feel the need to show off by driving fast, with a noisy car.
I went to the Potemkin steps, and counting them it was odd that the next to last one has 19 steps instead of 20 (the last one 13 because some of the last steps were removed to make way for a road). I also saw the building where the fire was and the pro-russian activists died... There were lots of policemen standing in front of the building (which is quite close to the train station)...
Odessa is not my kind of city, because all the buildings are too close together which exacerbates the noise issue. But interestingly, I saw a squirrel running around in the city in one of the places with green and trees that are almost big enough to be a park. This I had experienced in 2012 in Sumy too. I've never seen a squirrel in a Dutch city...
Then I wanted to go to Crimea, and see what has changed.
Before my trip to Ukraine/Crimea I had to find out about getting a visa, esp. the tourist voucher, needed for indefinite stays e.g. when you are not sure how long you will stay in a certain hotel/city, and I have to say that much of the visa process, esp. the tourist voucher, is just a money making scheme for Russia.
xxxxxx more on this to come xxxxx
In a Dutch TV report the TV crew who went to Crimea by train from, or via, Kherson, was sent back to Simferopol by the Ukrainian border guards. As far as became clear the issue was this: there is an entry stamp into Ukraine, and an entry and exit stamp from Russia, but no exit stamp from Ukraine. This means an illegal border crossing... The Dutch government warned too on their website on 'safety in the world' (for travelling) that you would need to get permission from the Ukr. government. But where? The reporter of that TV report (June 2014) had placed an email address on nos.nl where this programme could be watched, but she never responded. I called the Ukr. embassey in NL and they didn't know, except that I should ask in the town where I leave from. I was going to travel to Simferopol from Odessa, and luckily there is a border guard post there (for the ships),so I asked there and a border guard there asked a friend in Kherson, who said that it is no problem, no permission needed. This turned out to be correct. To be sure I asked the border guards in Kherson, and they said it would be all OK. Then in Armjansk, the Russian border guards put a stamp in my passport. Leaving Crimea I went from Simferopol to Kremenchuk by night train, with border checks in Djankoy (Russian) and Melitopol (Ukrainian). The Russian and Ukrainian border guards both took a long time with my passport. I think the Russian border guards found it strange that I would come for tourism, they were talking about it for quite a while. I guess I was one of few tourists they come across... The Ukrainian border guards also asked a lot, where I was going to, which transportation I would use, after Kremenchuk, etc.
What is worse now:
All of this meant the first day in Simferopol was very annoying. I had to walk for ages to find a bankomat that works, get an MTS phone card, then to the hotel.
As I was in Simferopol in 2013 too, I could compare the situation then and now.
I've seen no improvements in Simferopol, on the contrary, and my impression beforehand is more or less confirmed: everything is more closed, more restricted (not just the border), just like Putin's mindset. This of course is evident by the forced switching off of Ukr. TV channels in Crimea, and the world war 2-like propaganda on Russian TV...
Prices for food seem to have doubled in many cases, which concurs with what someone from Crimea told me a few months ago already. I heard that wages have doubled for government employees, and for pensioners. They would need to spend relatively less on transport and housing (until the prices go up in those areas because the people working in transportation or renting housing, don't make enough money!), but do they gain much? For others whose wages have not immediately doubled, the situation is negative.
The problems between Russia and Ukraine mean both currencies are worth less than a year ago. The UAH suffered most which means average people in Ukraine will soon start to notice higher prices from more expensive imports. Exports could improve but these will generally not benefit the average person, but instead businesses (and their owners!). The rich getting richer...
Prices for local busses are very low, not sure if those prices increased and if so by how much they increased as I didn't use busses within Simferopol in 2013. I've been to Yalta and Foros but not by bus so I can't compare prices to my trip to/from Sevastopol in 2013. I didn't get round to asking the price of a bus trip Simferopol-Sevastopol at the bus station, but I suspect all prices for fares have not increased, e.g. the train ticket from Simferopol to Kremenchuk in a coupe was directly related to the devaluation of the UAH, 600 rubles at the service centre, i.e. about 12 euro, instead of ca. 190 UAH last year, which was ca. 19 euro and would be ca. 11.5 euro now.
Prices for local busses for a trip from railway station to my hotel (ca. 7 km trip) just 10 ruble, i.e. ca. 0.20 euro. Actually, the fare is fixed, for any trip on those busses, not depending on where you get on or get off.
I went to the supermarket Silpo, close to Pushkina street, and the assortment of food and drink was dire. much worse than what I'd seen in Sevastopol in 2013, in a possibly bigger Silpo store, but that doesn't really matter. No 'Bon buasson' soft drinks for example, very few soft drinks at all. The same is true for most small stores that I visted so far, some were half empty, only 1 had some 'Bon buasson' drinks... Small stores in Ukraine have more choice in many types of products than this fairly big Silpo in Simferopol. This was not nice, I like to try out new food, drink, sweets, anything, when travelling, but here in Crimea, I found almost nothing of interest in the shops. I saw various food, soft drinks and sweets that we have in NL, but I'm not interested in eating in Ukraine and Crimea, what I can buy in the Netherlands. I was told that the shortages are caused by insufficient supplies of Ukrainian products, and there are no replacement Russian products yet... Apparently Silpo's product range is largely Ukrainian and this means they need to reorganise.
I like targun (the green drink), and bought a bottle from the brand Krim (Крым) but I didn't like the taste, it was strange, seemed a bit salty like their mineral water... When I got to Kremenchuk I bought a bottle of targun by Bon buasson, much better...
In Odessa I was given a ride to the railway station by an inhabitant of Odessa who came to pick up a friend from the airport. we talked about the situation in Crimea and he told me that in Crimea it's dangerous, as in the early 1990s in the Soviet republics when authorities were failing to keep it safe. So he thought that people getting robbed, happens a lot. This seems to be more disinformation that happens on all sides, caused by many people make big stories out of little, or exceptional, incidents. I saw plenty of policemen near the station, and other places where there are lots of people. I never felt insecure anywhere and I didn't notice any problems.
Every time I saw a bill board "one Russia" (can also be translated as "unified Russia") and "Russian Crimea" it made me angry... It's not just Russia, i.e the politicians in Russia, who are to blame for what has happened in Ukraine, it is also those of the people in Crimea who voted to be with Russia. Who wants to be part of a country with psychopaths like Putin and Lavrov at the helm? Not just that, by choosing Russia those people helped to destabilize Ukraine and helped Putin feel that his 'games' of infiltrating Ukraine, and manipulating people, were good tactics.
I heard that getting treated in hospitals and elsewhere is now free in Crimea, but wasn't that supposed to be the case already in Ukraine? (I know that in practice you need to pay, caused of course by too low wages)
I went to the Scythian necropolis/museum (I wanted to visit it last year already, but I got there too late and it was closed) and interestingly, entrance was no longer free, so another example of the changes. I liked it, it was interesting with the tour of the site. More on this to come with pictures.
I also went to Yalta, but forgot to put on the t-shirt with Ukrainian flag that I bought in Odessa... On the subject of the Ukrainian flag, I saw one place in Simferopol with the Ukrainian flag. It was on a building of Tatars (who were against being part of Russia), I was told. I made a picture, will be added.
More on Yalta to come.
Then on to park Foros, and a bit later I tried some cheburyeki :)
Now, my feeling for Crimea, as in 'Russian-Crimea', is all in all disinterest. I don't care about anything here. Well, nature is great, and I like the archelogical sites (Khersones, Scythian necropolis, and there are remains of Greek settlements in e.g. Kerch), but I don't like the narrow streets in towns and how closely all buildings are built together. I liked the rest of Ukraine more than Crimea last year already, now the feeling is stronger.
I left Crimea, and went to Kremenchuk, where I spent some time last year too. I walked around to see what might have changed and I noticed that the big statue of Lenin is gone! Perhaps this was done because of the conflict with Russia, and Ukraine not wanting to feel as Russia, being 'in the past'? If that is it, it's pity as it is something iconic and interesting...
From an internet search, this seems indeed to be the reason, but the way forward does not need deconstruction of history. Lenin was not as bad as Stalin, and an essential element of the 'experiment' of communism. Suppose people in Ukraine destroy all old buildings, buy new western cars, eat the same food, watch the same TV shows from the USA, then this means a loss of culture. A problem I see in all cultures is that they start to look too much alike and consumerism (i.e. american influences in most cases) changes culture/society. So to me seeing essential differences in a country compared to others is interesting.
The internet search results also told me that the statue was removed on 24 Feb. 2014, and not just in Kremenchuk, also for example in Sumy.
I like Ukraine in the sense that it is so different than the Netherlands, and the mentality of many people is more philosophical than in NL which I also like, but the loss of Crimea, I feel as a loss, and the destruction of Lenin statues is just a loss I feel of something that is part of Ukraine's history.
I went to a supermarket called 'Villa' (вілла) and noticed the price tags for products show flags for the country the product was made in. Because of the conflict with Russia? Again it seems my guess (it's not hard to guess these things!) is correct.
In Kremenchuk I also found tea with the colours of ukraine, from the brand 'Askold'... picture to be added.
The bus trip from Kremenchuk was quite long, 8 hours, but interesting...
The evening that I arrived, I watched a bit of TV and noticed a news channel that had a live feed to Kharkov, and something was going on with the statue of Lenin there... An hour and a half or so later it was destroyed. Hmm....
More to come
in the centre I saw a bill board with a picture of Darth Vader, which said "'war нет, peace да. дарт Вейдер"... Is this by the same group who wanted to have a guy in Darth Vader outfit as president? (I couldn't make a picture, no time, as I saw it while in a bus, then it was gone, then when exiting Kiev, I saw it again but, I was too late again with the camera! :) ). It is so unusual that I like it, though I wouldn't like it if I were Ukrainian. It's similar to this: I liked the UK TVprogramme "have I got news for you". I used to watch it many years ago, but I couldn't stand the Dutch version. There are 2 reasons for that: The Dutch comedians are nowhere near as good as those from the UK version, both the regulars and the guests, secondly, and even more imoortantly, the problems are real, the inept and or crazy politicians that the jokes are often about, stay in power when that TV programme is over...
After walking in Kiev, see further on, I found a bill board with this poster so I made some pictures. (to come)
From Sumy I went to Kiev with marshrutka, cost 150 UAH, travel time 5 hours, with a 10 minute stop about halfway.
From the endpoint of the marshrutka, next to the railway station of Kiev, you can immediately go to platforma 18, from where the marshrutka to Cherkassy leave. In my case at 12.30 and I was told they go every hour from ca. 8, to Cherkassy. Cost is 90 UAH, travel time 3 hours, with 2 stops.
Alternatives: Apparently trains to Cherkassy leave Kiev at 15.30 and arrive 19.45 or thereabouts in Cherkassy, daily (from what I found on the web). I want to travel more with trains next trip.
In one of the travel guides Cherkassy was described as a picturesque town and it looks that way, it also seems a bit different than other Ukrainian towns in the aspect of fewer small shops. But I haven't walked much in Cherkassy yet. More on this to come.
Cherkassy seems different indeed, my impression of fewer small shops along the road remains. And near the beach, houses are built quite close together, and various roads are going down, which means this town is a little like Crimea in some parts, and more like other cities in Ukraine further away from the beach. This makes Cherkassy give me a different feeling to many other cities.
In a Ukrainian restaurant in typical style for old houses, I had some fabulous varenniki with cottage cheese and smetana on top. These were only just beaten by the phirozhki I had in a (very expensive) restaurant in 2012 in Kiev. Btw, those phirozhky were not fatty as others I tried since then (perhaps they were steamed, I should go back to that restaurant even though I don't want to go to way too expensive restaurants in Kiev...).
Feelings in Cherkassy about Russia: I found out that here, in centre of Ukraine, people are very angry but also afraid of what Russia might do. I didn't expect this, as in Sumy, quite close to the Russian border I didn't experience this at all... I haven't been to south-eastern Ukraine, but from what I've seen, people there often look to be indoctrinated by the Russian BS on their TV channels, so it's a good thing that Ukraine has disallowed transmission of Russian tv channels (not sure how many people have sattelite receivers though which could make this ineffective, not to mention watching programmes via internet), perhaps people there will start to look at reality instead of listening to the fairy tales on Russian TV)
I stayed at the Lybid hotel where I stayed in 2012, it's conveniently located not far from the railway station, but for some reason I noticed this time more how noisy it is from the traffic! Kiev is generally noisy, but this is just awful, opening the window to get fresh air and cool down the room is no fun.
in Ukraine the bad roads are esp. noticeable outside the cities, and further in places where it's not a problem, such as close to flats, where few cars ride anyway, and by now, in NL it is often just as bad in lots of places within the city in places with small roads, because of the speedbumps that make riding by bicycle, e.g. in Alphen aan den Rijn where I often come, a nuisance. I remarked several years ago already, that by that time you needed a full suspension mountain bike to comfortably ride in Alphen a.d. Rijn, and it's only got worse since that time... So the roads in Ukraine are worse than in NL in the cities (but not much considering speedbumps), a little worse than the roads in germany, a lot worse than NL on all roads outside cities, and the same for Germany where it must be noted that all roads in Germany are worse than in NL.
The airplane makes various course deviations in the air, then taxiing is also a very long slalom course. When you've arrived you need to walk 10 minutes to the baggage hall, there wait another 10 minutes for baggage to arrive. On smaller airport (Borispol, Zhulyany, Riga, Odessa) the distances are smaller, baggage arives far quicker. What are the good points of Schiphol again?
In 2012 I already felt that people in Ukraine could be more nationalistic, and not just want to leave Ukraine, as I know many people in Ukraine would want if they had the opportunity. They live in a country with beautiful nature, interesting history, many very beautiful buildings (and bad sidewalks ;-))
The agression from Russia, has made this happen. You see Ukrainian flags everywhere, on busses, in and on cars, on flats, painted on the posts of streetlamps, railings on bridges have been painted yellow-blue, etc.
I will place this section on a new page soon.
People in Ukraine generally seem more philosophical, exactly as I read in some of the travel guides, but this seems to be so especially in women... On this subject and many others I got talking in 2012 to a clever Russian (who studied economy and languages), living in Odessa. He said that the bad economic situation in Ukraine in the early 1990s caused 2 things: men drink a lot of alcohol, and women become philosophical, thinking about life. I don't think this is correct, young women in Ukraine are often already philosophical so they would have barely noticed the situation at that time, and men in Russia and Ukraine seem to have, from my impressions from various sources, always been drinking more alcohol than in western Europe.
In the Netherlands what annoys me is that people are always trying to buy stuff for the lowest price, it's never cheap enough, even if they can easily afford it. This is annoying especially when selling something second hand... And generally I don't like that people in NL are so closed.
I like people in Germany more than in NL, they are more open, more interested, for example in what trip I was making, when I made a bike trip in 2013 from NL to east Germany and back. The difference was quite clear when crossing the border...
About people in Ukraine I can't tell enough yet on some issues, as I'm not quite fluent in Russian yet, but as to the issue of people being surly, in hotels etc., which was mentioned in the travel guides: I made a comment about it in my report of 2013 already, and it's similar now: I didn't really notice it, I think your own attitude is much more important: Smile and get a smile back... And I don't forget that for people in Ukraine life is harder, so I don't take offence on some issues...