Crimea and Southern Ukraine 2012


DAY #1: FRIDAY MAY 18, 2012 (SIMFEROPOL)
I have already checked into the Suvorovskii House Hotel, Suvorovskii Spusk, 9, Simferopol, Crimea Phone/Fax: +38 (0652) 27-75-86, as I sit in Сковородка Бистро (Skovorodka Bistro) on Prospect Kirova directly across the street from the statue in Lenin Square in Simferopol enjoying a beer, some fried vareniki, and playing on the internet. The food is very decent, but it is a little on the pricy side. I don’t really care, since my vacation starts in two hours and I can’t wait. One last email check and I see that I have been updated by El in transit from New York. Everything is good and I settle up. It is getting on 9:00pm and at 10:40pm El's plane arrives to Simferopol Airport. The last time we saw each other in person was last October when she came for two weeks. We spent one week at my site and then a week between Kiev and Chernigov. This time she has less vacation time that she could take and we decided to make this a ten-day trip and that we would hit some of the cities/sites closer to my home, but without actually going to my town. Basically, she is flying into Simferopol and tomorrow we will go to Bakhchisaray. Then on to Sevastopol for a couple of days, up to Odessa for a few days, eventually making our way back when she will fly out of Simferopol next Monday. It is going to be a busy week. I pick El up at the Simferopol Airport. Her plane is on time and is the last arrival of the day from Kiev. I took marshrutka #115 from Lenin Park out to the airport, noting that the buses stop running out to the airport after 9:00pm, so I know I will need a taxi back to city center. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It only took about 20 minutes to get from the train station to the airport. The first thing is that I got bombarded with taxi offers. I try to explain that I do not need a taxi now, but this only fuels more questions, like “when will you need a taxi?” and "when you do need a taxi, where will you be going?” I don’t mind one or two of these confrontations, but it gets really old when there are many drivers waiting on a plane with nothing better to do than wait or try to get a fare for when the flight finally arrives. I find a bench to sit and watch the family and friends of incoming passengers get pounced upon by the taxi drivers. 

El, arriving like a bat into hell

It was either them, or the people waiting with small children who are just incapable of sitting still and would run around the mostly empty terminal with a parent chasing close behind. I eventually find a little shop on the premises of the airport. It is late enough that all shops and kiosks are closed in the terminal. I take the walk across the parking lot and get an ice cream and a beer to hold me over while I finish the wait. Before I know it, it is almost 10:40 and I go back to the terminal. Being that El's is the last flight of the day, most of the airport employees have gone home for the day. As happened when she arrived at the same time last year, the security officers ask everyone to wait outside on the sidewalk instead of inside the terminal. Then the shuttle bus with all of the passengers shows up, followed closely behind by a little flatbed with the luggage. As the passengers get their bags from the little carousel, they then exit through a gate directly onto the sidewalk to meet their party. While I was waiting, I decide to arrange for my taxi. I had asked at the hotel how much would be a reasonable fare from the airport to the hotel and was told not to pay more than 100UAH [$1US=8UAH/1UAH=approx. $0.12]. The first driver to approach me when I wanted to be approached was Misha who said he would take us to the hotel for 70UAH. We had a few minutes while we waited for the shuttle bus to arrive. As the passengers came out of the iron gates I could see El patiently waiting for her luggage which eventually came. We didn’t waste any time once she got it and came through the gate as she started to get attacked by taxi drivers. I grabbed her arm and led the way to our taxi and Misha. Within a minute we were in the taxi heading to our hotel. The rooms were clean and the staff friendly. The room was $72 a night, which in this country was a little overpriced, but it was the best option for us at the time based on the research I had done. 
Deciding if dried fish is what I want to buy

Since I had already checked into the hotel earlier in the day, I had some time to go to the store and get some snacks to stock the fridge figuring that El would not need to go out for dinner, but was not ready for bed immediately upon arrival. The beer, cheese, and cookie selection worked out great for the two of us. Knowing we had to get up to meet Erin (my Peace Corps sitemate) and Lenara (my Ukrainian counterpart) around 11:00am, we planned accordingly and went to bed soon after our catching up and winding down.

DAY #2: SATURDAY MAY 19, 2012 (BAKHCHISARAY)
You can see all of our photos from Bakhchisaray here: https://plus.google.com/photos/104791469459302393509/albums/5750821712748401217?banner=pwa 

Erin, Tracy (Erin's mom visiting from the US), and Lenara take a bus from Razdol’noye to meet us in Simferopol so that we can all go to Bakhchisaray together. We meet promptly at 10:30am at the train station. Lenara takes the lead in getting schedule information, a task that Erin or I could both do, but for the sake of time, Lenara is the better choice. We learn that the buses from the train station leave about once an hour, while buses from the west station (about a half hour away) are much more frequent. We decide to take a marshrutka to the west station and catch the 8.55UAH bus to Bakhchisaray. We wind up departing the west station close to the time of the next bus from the train station, but as Lenara pointed out we were now 30 minutes closer to Bakhchisaray than we were at the train station. The bus ride lasts about 45 minutes and drops us at the Bakhchisaray bus station which is located in the "new city". We have hotel reservations in the old city. I had gotten some information when I got my confirmation call from the hotel earlier in the day. We know to take the number 1 or 2 marshrutka towards the old city and exit at the stop for Школ Мастров (Shkol Mastrov). Then we were to call the hotel to get further instructions. This all seemed a bit complicated but I agreed to make the call. And it is a good thing we did. Since Lenara was with us we asked her to make the call. Again it wasn’t that we couldn’t make the call for our instructions, but the potential for the length of the call to cut into our touring time was high, so we did the right thing. We were told to stay where we were and that a hotel owner’s husband would come to meet us. We stood on the sidewalk with our suitcases looking like the biggest group of Americans to hit this town in an hour. Shortly thereafter the husband arrived in a car to pick us up. We five piled our gear into the trunk and everyone piled into the car. Five plus a driver in a Lada is possible only for the shortest of jaunts. We started driving up the hill and 3 minutes later we arrived to the Mini-hotel Dilara-Hanum 43, Ostrovskogo str, Bakhchisaray, Crimea, Ukraine +38 099 535 8070 at the top of the hill. The standard rooms are $40US or 320UAH cash only. We are thankful that we did not have to climb the steep streets with our suitcases and no idea which turns needed to be made. We were welcomed warmly by Dilara who had spoken with us on the phone. She invited us in and showed us around as if she was showing off her house. The place is called a mini-hotel. There is a common room with a computer and television, a full kitchen, and about 10 rooms. The views were wonderful overlooking the town of Bakhchisaray and we all got settled in our rooms before regrouping to head down to the Khan's Palace. We dropped our bags and freshened up and walked down the hill after taking some pictures of the town. On our way to the palace we were swarmed by people (taxi driver style) all representing different restaurants in the center of the old city. Every pitch starting the same way, "you speak the English?" and/or "our restaurant with real Tatar food is waiting for you." They give you a business card and usually lead you to some vantage point where you can see the restaurant or café all the while explaining in great detail all of the wonderful meals you can eat there. We navigate into the palace compound and look around for the ticket office. The cost is 50UAH each to get into the living quarters and private grounds of the Khans. There are some areas you can visit without paying- like the art gallery and common area. We send Lenara to inquire and then outline our options. She returns to tell us that there are no tours in English and that if we want she will translate a Russian tour for us. We are pretty easy since we only need the highlights and not the details of the points on the tour. The tour itself does not last more than 40 minutes and we see some really appealing architecture and art.

Khan's Palace compound

More Khan's Palace compound

The building style of the palace was really beautiful. There is another section of the compound that includes the cemetery and the baths, but that section costs an extra 20UAH. We are a little beat and thirsty, so we decide to forgo the cemetery, especially since we can see through the gates and determine that the architecture of the headstones is less impressive than the palace itself. We are comfortable with what we have seen and are glad we came. Exit the palace and turn left, almost immediately you will see a Tourism Information Center across the street. From the office you can continue on the same side about 100 yards and see Café Musafir. We have plans for dinner and decide to just stick with drinks. I pass on the hot coffees and go for a Coca-Cola and a bottle of water. We stay for about an hour and make some calls to confirm our dinner meeting with one of Lenara’s friends. We learn which bus to take and it happens to be the same one we came in on, the number 2 bus continuing in the same direction past the old city. It is around 4:00 and we had told Lenara’s friend Saiday that we would meet her at Restaurant Salachick that was recommended by Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Saiday works there, but not on Saturdays, so she agrees to meet us around 5:00. We get the bus and confirm our stop with the driver. We take it only a few stops- if it was a mile I would be surprised- and get out in the parking lot of Restaurant Salachick. We take some pictures of the surrounding canyon then head in. We are given the choice to eat outside or inside. Always preferring inside, I am outnumbered and choose outside. The restaurant is set up as several raised platforms where you sit on the floor at a table that is just high enough to fit your legs underneath it. After looking at the menu of Tatar offerings and having six at the table, we decide to order a plate of many of the dishes and share them among the group as El and Tracy have never eaten any Crimean Tatar cuisine before. 
L-R: Lenara, Tracy, Erin, El, Sim at Restaurant Salachick

There was monti (meat dumplings), plove (rice with meat and vegetables), shashlik (shish kebabs), sarma (stuffed grape leaves), chebureki (fried meat filled pastry) and a beet, walnut, and mayo salad.
 
monti

salad of beets, mayo, and walnuts

sarma

chebureki

plove

The food was really great. All of it. Sometimes the plove and chebureki can be very greasy, but these were prepared very well and we all thoroughly enjoyed our dinners. We even got to ask where Anthony and Zamir sat when they filmed the episode and were pointed to the spot in the center of the restaurant. Thank you Mr. Bourdain for another great recommendation. After, dinner we decide to walk back to the hotel. There does not appear to be much in the way of nightlife in this town, so we figure even though we are still full from our dinner and dessert, we would stop at a shop to buy some wine and snacks for later in the evening and just spend a quiet night in the courtyard of the hotel. Of course, in the dark there are no views, but the company was good and we all took advantage of the free Wi-Fi and checked our email and posted pictures from our day.

The weather was nice and we drank our wine and ate our snacks into the night, eventually turning in around 10:30pm with a plan to meet tomorrow at 10:30am to head to Sevastopol.


DAY #3: SUNDAY MAY 20, 2012 (SEVASTOPOL)

El and I woke around 8:30am to start our day by getting ready to leave. We coordinated with Erin and met in the lobby to check out and head down to a café that was recommended by Saiday last night. She said it was a café, although as hungry as we were we hoped for more of a restaurant to get food. We made our way past all of the hawkers and restaurant reps trying to get us to buy their goods and eat at their places. We made our best B-line to the café where we were greeted by the owner. He ushered us in and when we asked if he served food, he downplayed his "no" by grabbing me by the hand to escort me to the display case with an assortment of individual pastries. We were seated with a menu and Erin and I did our best to translate the offerings for our non-Russian reading guests. Then we all made a field trip to the pastry counter, choosing our breakfast while the waitress took dictation on how many of each we were ordering as a table. While we were waiting I ran outside to take some pictures. I was approached by the owner who was doing his best to schmooze the customer and eventually, he realized that my Russian was better than his English and before we knew it, he was showing me some points of interest in the area that we could check out if we wanted to. One of the points was a museum to the history of Bakhchisaray that had a 3D model of the city that electronically morphed spanning the time from conquering to modern day. An interesting feature to be sure, but the 30UAH entrance fee was a little out of our price range today. I introduced myself and asked where the nearest bus stop was. In front of the Pushkin statue on the right hand side of the street 100 yards from Café Musafir towards the new city. Our breakfast was good enough. I think we would have been better off with something a little more substantial, but the mini baklavas and sugar cookies were fine to hold is until Sevastopol. After breakfast we are wished well by my new friend Nieriman and head on down the street with eyes peeled for a Pushkin Statue.  It is literally 30 meters when we see the statue and bus stop. As we are walking towards it, our bus pulls up and waits for us. The 5 minute ride costs 2.50UAH and drops us at the bus station we came in from. El stands with the bags while Erin and I go to buy our tickets to Sevastopol. The buses run about every 10-20 minutes during the day. We are in line when a dispatcher comes out and announces that passengers for Sevastopol should follow him to the bus. We round up our group and within minutes are on the bus. The ride costs 15UAH and takes about 1 hour. The weather is looking a little rainy, so we start to consider our touring options before hitting town. We get into Sevastopol around 12:30pm and take a marshrutka with a Нахимова (Nahimova) stop which is the street that the Best Western (also called Hotel Sevastopol) is on. We get out with Erin and Tracy and decide to call our apartment owner and ask him to meet us here and take us to the apartment. I had arranged this apartment through a website http://www.roomme.net/en/ a few weeks ago. The website is in English, the application site was in English, the confirmation email was in English, and the payment form was in English. Unfortunately, after choosing your apartment, you need to call to confirm availability. Sadly, the phone conversation is only in Russian. I did the best I could to understand how the operation works, but eventually I had to give the phone over to Lenara to get the details of exactly how to pay. Outside major cities it is very difficult to pay for anything by credit card. The instructions we received were to pay for the first day through a bank account deposit, followed by an email from me to the owner telling him I had made the deposit and then I awaited further direction. Eventually, I understood to call him with a half hour notice to meet him for keys to the apartment. The owner, Andreii, agrees to meet us at the hotel and picks us up in his car. The instructions were not too complicated in terms of door codes and keys. We got the quick tour and he was off. Our apartment was typically Ukrainian in that the building was old and unattractive with a broken gate, the hallway smelled of human waste, the building door broken or propped open, but the apartment wonderfully bright and attractive. We paid 344UAH per night.  It was our place for the next 48 hours. We settled in and called Erin to meet to go to the Panorama Museum. We met at their hotel and asked the desk for directions. You need to take a bus from the main stop next to the hotel to a stop called Ушакова Пл. (Ushakova Plawshad). It is only a couple of stops away and we were there in minutes. We found our way to the cashier and understood entrance costs 45UAH. Additionally, you can get a guided tour, in English, for an extra 50UAH each. We thought this was a lot of money, but agreed to do it since we heard that this was one of the best museums around. We got to the window and asked for the tickets for the English excursion and were told that it was not available today. Well, that sucked. But we bought the entrance tickets anyway. We were ushered into the museum and saw a sign saying it would cost 25UAH to take photos. I wanted the photos and was directed to the top of the steps to buy the photo pass. When we got to the desk we saw that there was an English audio tour (that we all shared) available for 20UAH! Well, this is exactly what we were looking for. A self- guided English tour
that costs less than 50UAH each. Perfect. The museum is unique. It is a 
360o painting of the battle of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. It is a large room where you stand as if on the top of a hill as an observer to the Crimean War. The painting is 14 meters tall and 115 meters long and takes the viewer around as a witness to a battle scene.
close up of panorama scene

close up of panorama scene

panorama scene. difficult to see where foreground ends and painting begins.

It was one of the most remarkable museums I have ever seen and the audio tour was so worth it. I did not, in retrospect, think that we needed a guided tour as the audio program was plenty. As we left the museum, we tried to find a place called Vladimir Cathedral, but frankly the people we asked on the street could not seem to come to a consensus on how we should get there. The difference ranged from "go left", "go right", to "you need to take a bus to the other side of the city for that place". Our map was unclear and not as detailed as we needed for this job. We wandered a bit until we were sure that the church had closed. Then we just walked aimlessly expecting to find a pub or café at some point. The weather sprinkled on and off we were looking for a place to stop. We wound up walking in a completely residential neighborhood that had no grocery marts, let alone bars. We pressed on until we were good and lost. I knew the Monument to Soldiers and Sailors was nearby. I knew the harbor view was good and that the statue itself was pretty enormous. I had my eye out for it, but we just could not find it. As the rain got harder and harder, it became increasingly imperative to find shelter. We eventually found a cafeteria style place with premade food and plastic trays. We weren’t really hungry, but got some beer for our time out of the rain. We each get a glass of Lvivskaya beer and split a Camcya (meat pie). We sit and plot the rest of our afternoon and evening and begin to discuss plans for tomorrow. The rain lets up as we decide to press on. At this point we decide to part ways for the evening. El and I want to find a restaurant called Barkas and Erin and Tracy head off to do their own thing. We have the address and know where the street is, but have no idea what end of the street it is on. We start walking and follow the street of Kapitaliskaya around and as we get to the top of the hill we find ourselves standing in the shadow of the monument we were looking for. El and I take some pictures and press on. We are thoroughly lost and in a neighborhood that looks quite familiar. It turns out we have made a large circle and are walking the streets that we were on just before the rain sent us inside. We ask some people for help. One woman knows the restaurant and tells us that it is located down at the harbor (basically where we came from). We turn around and head back down to the harbor. Once there we look around and find our destination immediately. We looked up the best places to eat in Sevastopol and a restaurant called Barkas comes in as number one on Trip Advisor. It is a seafood restaurant. El and I start with a bottle of pinot grigio which arrives cool and takes most of the meal in the ice bucket to reach a refreshingly cold temperature. We start our meal with some hot appetizers: mussels with parmesan and mushrooms, and shrimp in sherry cream sauce. El gets bruschetta with eggplant. The shrimp are a little fishy, but I chalk it up to them using a fish stock for the sauce. Very decent, all. For our entrees, I got spaghetti and seafood in a red cream sauce and El got shashlik of chicken with a side of “cauliflower au gratin”. Sadly, the cauliflower arrived batter dipped and deep fried with a side of dill mayonnaise. More like Georgio frozen vegetables instead of actual au gratin. At some point in the meal I flagged the waitress and asked if she had any hot peppers, looking to kick my red sauce to a little more of a fra diavolo than the mild sauce it was served with. As I ask for the peppers she counters by asking if “Sauce Tabasco” is acceptable. Sure, I reply. Tabasco being such a rarity in this country, I thought, yeah why not? She delivered a bottle to the table. I remarked to El that just a few weeks ago I had seen a bottle of Tabasco in a grocery store in the city of Kherson and it cost almost 100UAH (about US$12). I applied a couple of shakes and ate the rest of my meal. It was a nice addition to the recipe. We decide to get the check and get our dessert elsewhere. I ask for the check and am a little disappointed upon arrival. Now, l know they charge extra for things that we, in America, take for granted as free. When they ask if you want bread with your meal, you will be charged for the bread. If you ask for mayo or ketchup with your french fries, you will be charged and it is usually about 3UAH each for condiments. Well, the line item on our bill showed that we had 2 portions of Tabasco each at 15UAH (that’s about US$2 dollars per person!). I try to explain that this is a ridiculous price for a few shakes of sauce. I did my best to argue lucidly in Russian, but the manager did not budge, stood her ground, and ultimately refused to remove the 15UAH from the bill. If you decide to eat there, don’t get the Tabasco! After dinner we head to Buonissimo Gelato Café for dessert. I get a dish of chocolate and coconut. After dinner and dessert it is still light out and we decide to walk to the Nahimova Memorial which is one of the centerpieces of the city. We walk up the steps and see a small park at the top. As we start through the park, about 10 meters in, we spot a little place called Бар Отдых (bar Otdeekh). We go in to see what kind of beer they have. It is a very small place with only 5 tables inside and 4 outside. The owner is Palad and he is very friendly and happy to have real live Americans in his bar. As he gives me our ordered beers, he also hands me a guestbook and explains that he would like me to sign it- in English with a note to him and his bar. Of course we obliged and he was happy. I am pretty sure we were the only customers the whole night. The jukebox/radio selection was a poor mix between Russian pop and American dance. We end the night here and walk back to the apartment which is only a few blocks away. We call it a night.

DAY #4: MONDAY MAY 21, 2012 (SEVASTOPOL)
We meet Erin at her hotel around 9:30am. El and I grab coffee and pastry at Chocolate Café next door. I get a hot chocolate with marshmallows and a napoleon which were both very good quality. The marshmallows were the dried kind you would get in a box of Lucky Charms cereal. From Best Western we take marshrutka 12 or 120 (you can take either one) to the stop called “5 kilometer”. Once you are let off you have to walk up the street 50 meters (kitty corner from bus stop) to the bus terminal. Here you look for the number 9 bus to Balaklava. The ride is a little bumpy and the road windy, but some of the views are really scenic. The trip from city center to Balaklava is around 40 minutes and that includes the change of buses at “5 kilometer". The ride is 2.50UAH each person, each leg. The bus lets you off right at the end of the boardwalk in Balaklava. Upon exiting the bus you are pounced upon to take excursions and boat rides, so if that's your thing, you will be all set. We know there are three things we want to do today: climb the hill to the fortress ruins, go to the submarine museum, and eat lunch at another Bourdain recommended restaurant called Tatyanin Mys. The weather is perfect for today. It is a little overcast, but any clearer and the sun would surely make the climb to the fortress hot and uncomfortable. The breeze is slight and cool and makes the climb most enjoyable. Once at the top we take the obligatory group shots and then break off to explore on our own.

at the fortress in Balaklava

view of Balaklava Harbor from the fortress

The territory isn’t too big, so just wandering slowly and regrouping as you bump into others is a way for everyone to enjoy the views in their own way, and still be together. I have been here two times previously, so I do the photos I want and then sit to journal while the others take in the site for the first time. The fortress ruins are more ruin than fortress at this point.
getting up is easy. it is the getting down that can kill you!

Even the scaffolding is falling apart as if an ambitious reconstruction project was started before someone realized just how ambitious it was. You have to figure that when your support scaffolding starts to fall apart, it may be time to start over again. While overlooking the Black Sea, we spot a group of dolphins and watch them playing for a while. When everyone is done, we walk down from the fortress and head towards the museum. We see the museum on the opposite side of the harbor, but have no idea how to actually get there. We ask and are told to walk strait and curve to the left after about 15 minutes. Even though some of the areas we were walking through made us double think our route, the people we asked for confirmation gave it and told us to keep on in this direction. Once we had actually made it to the other side of the harbor, we found a cashiers office (just past the rail yard). The options are rather limited in the there is an entrance fee of 40UAH. There’s a tour, but only in Russian and neither of our Russian is good enough to follow it. They do have free plan maps in English. There is no charge to take photos. Since the next tour is about to leave, we wait a few minutes to join it anyway. This way we can take the same path and listen to the Russian and maybe catch something we might miss on the self-guided style (realistically, the map is not very good and all it would do is show you the route, and there are places (side rooms) that the tour goes to that would have been missed if we didn’t follow the tour). 
nuclear blast doors at the submarine museum

At the very least we can be sure we don’t miss a stop. As we walk through I can’t help but think how useful an audio guide would be in this place because I am sure we are missing a ton of information. It is about 60
oF in the museum. Stop #4 is the dry dock. This is the spot that, during the cold war people (i.e. spies and governments) would have given anything for photos of and a glimpse inside. Today, as an American allowed to freely take photos inside, I stand amazed how far we have come in terms of relations between our two countries in just my adult lifetime. As we press on we get to see the nuclear blast doors and some displays of military medals and decorations, as well as some parts of submarines. At one point on the tour we get to a room with an exhibition of submarines and life on them. This is the only part of the museum that I notice the display signs are written with English captions.
"not touching, I'm not touching"

El, cracking herself up

Again, though, an audio guide would have been nice. The tour lasts about an hour and we are out just after 2:00pm. As we leave, we all remark how hungry we are. Now we need to walk around the harbor and back to the boardwalk to go to Restaurant Tatyanin Mys. We take seats upstairs on the deck overlooking the harbor. I start with a tomato, garlic, and cheese salad. It’s quite tasty. We are sitting on the outside deck and I am of the opinion that the weather is not right for this place. I am too cold to be comfortable. Hopefully the food will help me to forget this. The food is pretty good. There was a lot of cheese in my order, but the tomatoes and mushrooms were really decent. All in all a decent lunch. We end with a dessert of "gourmet" blinchiki (like crepes) stuffed with whipped cream and chocolate syrup ad a round of coffee. It is about 3:30pm and we are very full. We head back to the city center to rest up before meeting my friend Andrea after dinner for beers. Because of the location, I suggest the same bar from last night. It is equally client deficient and I ask Palad if he can keep the jukebox low if not off altogether. He obliges and we meet with Andrea just after 7:00pm. It is great to meet up with her, as always, and we trade stories and she gets to know El as we drink beer and nibble on snacks. El and I had a great time visiting with our friend and call it a night around 10:00. We leave for Odessa tomorrow, so we head back to the apartment to get to sleep.

DAY #5: TUESDAY MAY 22, 2012 (SEVASTOPOL)
We need to vacate the apartment by noon which leaves us a poor schedule. We have luggage that we don’t want to drag to the museums especially on rush hour crowded buses. We decide to get up a little early to get to the Diorama Museum when it opens at 9:30am. Then hopefully make it back to the apartment before noon, grab our things, and head to Simferopol for the afternoon before catching our train to Odessa tonight. Our first stop this morning is for coffee. Unfortunately, they tell me that they have no hot chocolate, but only kakao. I am not 100% sure what that is and the cashier seems to have little patience for me trying to figure out if kakao is what I call hot chocolate or not. It ends at an impasse and I order a green tea. When it comes, unfortunately, it is green tea with tropical flavors which is really not to my liking. El likes her latte and we write a few postcards before heading out. In order to get to the Diorama Museum we need marshrutka 107, but are unsure where to get one. We go to the main bus stop in front of the hotel and wait about 10 minutes. We see none. Eventually we head to the Best Western to ask where to catch the 107. After much discussion amongst the staff, it is agreed that we should take a bus across from McDonalds, down the block. We walk over to the stop and ask some of the other waiting passengers if this is the correct stop. They can’t seem to come to an agreement. Some say this is the stop for the 107, while others don’t think so, and then, of course, you get the people who want to tell you that they have an easier way for you to go that includes a different bus altogether. Folks, it is hard enough for me to get around, and while I appreciate that you know better than the hotel staff, I am just looking for confirmation I am in the right spot! After a good 5 minutes of deliberation, I think out of sheer frustration, this one old lady pretty much took me by the hand and said come with me and I will make sure you get onto the right bus. She didn’t know if the 107 stopped here, but she did know that one stop on her bus shared a stop with 107. So, from the stop across from McDonalds, we got on the 109 and took it to a stop just after the train station. Then she told us to get off but not to move from this stop because a 107 would definitely stop here. Then she told me how to call the museum in Russian (diorama konyeshnaya) and wished us well. Within a few minutes a 107 came and I used the new phrase she taught me when I got on the bus. The driver wasn’t 100% sure what I was asking and confirmed by asking the location of the museum (Sapun gora). We took the 107 to the last stop of the line which is basically across the street from the Diorama Museum. It is 12km from the city center and should take about 30 minutes to get to. Once we found the Diorama sign, we walked down the path until we saw the sign for the cashier. It costs 35UAH for each person and 25UAH to take pictures. There is a woman in the cashier’s office that speaks some English and explains that we can get to see the museum with an audio guide available inside the building. We agree and take our tickets to the central building of the compound. We pass several military tanks and models of ships. The museum, specifically the diorama, is dedicated to the battle near Sevastopol (on the Sapun Mount that you are actually standing on) at the end of World War II. The first floor is the memorabilia room and has all displays of uniforms and field used weapons and gear (none of the displays have English). It is only one room, so we are through it quickly. We are then escorted to the 2nd floor where the actual diorama is. It looks remarkably similar to the panorama museum only a lot smaller. When we got to the second floor, the woman started an audio program that was all spoken in English and we got a 10 minute explanation of the scene that was a 3D foreground that blended in with the mural (not as well as the Panoramic did).

a real battle scene from the spot the museum stands on. again, difficult to see where foregroun ends and painting begins.

the painting is in life size scale

Once the 10 minute program is over, you are invited to roam around the grounds and see all sorts of war memorials and monuments. The adventure was sort of fun, but the whole Diorama Museum experience paled a bit to the Panoramic one. If you can only do one, do the Panoramic. If you can do both, or if you are a WWII buff, then go to the Diorama Museum. It is now 11:00am and we have an hour to make it back to the apartment to check out. It is a lot faster to return when you know where you are going than it was to get there. We take our 107 bus back towards the train station where we will wait for the 109 to take us to the city center. While we wait for the 109, I see a 71 with a sign for city center. We jump on it and ride to Nahimova and exit near our apartment. Now, we have about 45 minutes before we need to vacate. While sitting and checking our guidebook we see that Vladimir Cathedral should be around the corner from us. We figure that if we are reading the map correctly, it should only take us a few minutes to find it. We agree to allot 10 minutes to finding it. Once on the street it is faster than we think to find it. It is literally separated from us by only a few large buildings which obstructed our view of it. We get there to see that the entire outside of the church is under reconstruction, making for a terrible photo opportunity. El had read about the view from the top of the church is one of the best in the city. Sadly, with all of the reconstruction going on, no one is allowed to climb it. I wait outside while El looks inside. I spot the Lenin statue nearby and take some photos. When El gets back I would like to get some shots with the tripod. With the view cutoff from the top of the church we have to settle for the view from the Lenin statue.
a larger than life Lenin

With 10 minutes to spare we walk back to the apartment and make our last minute packing adjustments. We run into the owner on the way out and thank him for the time. With our luggage in tow, we walk down the hill towards the ferry terminal. We are both hungry, so we grab a bite at one of the restaurants near the terminal. It is a bar with a full menu. I get a fresh vegetable salad, a cheese omelet, a side of mashed potatoes, and a beer. After lunch we take the ferry (2.50UAH each plus 1.25UAH for each baggage) across the harbor to the north bus station. We arrive at 1:29 and ask for a ticket on the next bus to Simferopol. Expecting them to say some time in the future measured in minutes (buses should leave Sevastopol every 10-20 minutes), we are told that the next bus is in 3½ hours! Damn!! I ask how I can get there faster and a man understanding our urgency ran to the bus in the parking lot destined to leave in 1 minute to Simferopol. Yes, there was a 1:30 bus and we were able to get on it. Ordinarily a 3½ hour layover isn’t the end of the world, but we have a train to catch in Simferopol tonight to Odessa. Even though the sign in the bus says it will take us to the train station, when we arrive to the west bus station, our driver tells us to get off and take a marshrutka to the train station. Luckily, it is the beginning of the line and it is easy enough to get spots to sit and also set our luggage. We take the marshrutka to the train station and are there at 3:30pm. This means we now have four hours to kill before our 7:36pm train departure.
our last hour in Sevastopol. overlooking the harbor.

We find the luggage storage room at the train station and drop our biggest bags. It costs 12UAH each bag, but so worth it to not have to drag them around with us while we try to find a café with Wi-Fi to kill our time. We walk to a few cafés on Lenina Park across the street from the train station, but the first two we ask have no internet. We turn around and start down the other main street along the train station (Gagarin) and ask every café along the way, getting turned down each time. We walk about a half kilometer and decide to turn around and check the other side of the street. As we start back I notice a small, very small sign for a Café Victoria. It is a sign that does not appear to be attached to any building, just nailed to a tree. We walk around back of the building, now more out of curiosity than anything else to see this café. We find the sign over the door to be smaller than the sign on the tree! We go in to find a small room with walls filled with soviet era photographs and deer hides and antlers. We halfheartedly asked for Wi-Fi expecting to get turned down again, and she says “yes”. We stay for three hours before hitting a supermarket for our train ride food. We go to the train station and retrieve our bags. Our train is already on the platform and we head to our kupe. We share with a mother, Yulya, and daughter, Nelly, who are on their way home from Simferopol. They are the kind of people you like to share a kupe with.

DAY #6: WEDNESDAY MAY 23, 2012 (ODESSA)
You can see all of our photos from Odessa here: https://picasaweb.google.com/104791469459302393509/OdessaUkraineMay2012?noredirect=1

We talk with Yulya and Nelly for a while and near the end of the otherwise quiet and comfortable train ride, Yulya asks where we are staying in Odessa. We admit that we have no reservation and plan to try my hand with the “baba brigade” (a group of old ladies who stand on train platforms renting apartments for a night or more). Yulya asks if we would like help with our discussions and we say “yes”. We lay out our requirements for an apartment with Wi-Fi, hot water, and located near Deribasovskaya Street. Yulya then remembers that she knows someone who rents apartments to foreigners and gets on her cell phone to inquire about availability. Unfortunately or fortunately it is already rented (I would feel bad if I had committed to take the apartment and then had to settle for something we really didn’t want in a location we didn’t want, we get to the platform and as if on cue, the babas start to swarm. Yulya takes the brunt telling us to keep quiet while she tells them what we want. She finds a woman who is ready to show us apartments for between 300-500UAH per night. She tells us that this woman will help us and that the apartment is so close to the center that we needed to take a taxi. This was a good sign. Just before Yulya leaves, I ask if there has been any agreement on price. She tells me there are apartments for 300-500UAH and that there should be a multiple night discount, but that no price had been agreed upon. During the taxi ride, the woman who is arranging the apartment for us turns to ask if this is my first time in Odessa. I tell her that I have been here once before, to which she asks if I stayed on Bazarnaya Street. In that moment I realized that she was the woman who owned the apartment we stayed at the last time we were in town. Now here she was arranging for us to stay in someone else’s apartment. We are warned that the building is in need of some repairs and I figure that if a Ukrainian is telling me this, it must be in a wicked state of disrepair. Her assessment was spot on and disrepair was an understatement! 

would you want to take this elevator? of course, it is not operational, like everything else in this stairwell

The stairs are broken, walls falling apart, the landings are boards strategically placed to prevent one leg from falling through a hole in the floor. Our walk is the longest (and most dangerous) four floor walk-up. We meet the owner, Alla, at the top of the stairs. She invites us in to what amounts to one of the most modern apartments I have seen in this country! There is a modern equipped bathroom, updated kitchen appliances, Wi-Fi and a decent view. It really is a night and day difference between the inside and outside. Alla takes all of our information and gives us the keys. At this point I am the one who asks, what is the price? She tells us that it has been agreed that we will pay 500UAH per night. I remind the owner that we are taking it for three nights. But she seems unwilling to budge on her price. She does offer to show us another apartment that we can have for 400UAH per night. We look at it, but it is considerably smaller than the first and a lot less updated. I counteroffer by saying we will take the first apartment for the second apartment price. This is not suiting Alla and she is now looking to the mediary to fix the situation since she probably knew the prices before we came here. This is exactly why I asked Yulya if a price had been agreed upon, because I did not want to haggle if she had come to an agreement, but at the same time I did not want to be bullied by the renters into paying a higher price that they told her at the station. I tried to stand my ground on the price of 400UAH for the better apartment. Alla started to say that if she accepted my offer, she wouldn’t have enough to pay the mediary. I said that I was a three day renter and that the arrangement between the two of them was none of my business. She reminded me that my three days was nothing compared to the people who rent for ten days at a time. With that, I called her bluff. We grabbed our bags and walked out the apartment door and were just about to start down the hallway when the two came into the stairwell and agreed to 400UAH per night if I would agree to pay 50UAH to the mediary. It was a done deal and we were in the better apartment just seconds later. This amounts to US$156 total for three nights in the center of a major world city. El was happy. They were happy. I was happy. All good. It is now about 9:30am and we are in need of a shower. Afterwards we check some guidebooks and maps and decide that the first place we should go to visit is the Odessa State Academical Opera and Ballet Theater [Tchaikovsky str, 1, Odessa 65000, Ukraine (048) 222 0152]. I have seen the house before and have heard so many good things about the inside. In fact you can arrange a tour of the theatre which costs about 500UAH. This is a ridiculous price and the tourism info office suggests that we just buy tickets to a performance, show up a little early, and skip the guided tour. As we walk around for me to get my bearings, I realize that we are not near the center of the action...we are in the center. Our apartment is just 50 meters away from the Catherine the Great statue which is one of the city's most famous. We are in a better location than I had originally thought. We walk to the opera house to see if there are any performances during these three days. On the way we pass some of the attractions that I remember from the last time. I give El the 5-cent tour and make it to the opera house in minutes. In the lobby we see a schedule of performances for each of the three days we are here. Tonight is Tchaikovsky's Iolanta. I wait in line and get to the window to order the ticket. I ask for two tickets in the 50UAH range. I have no concept of the layout of the theatre and she is not offering maps. She does, however, tell me that the price list I am looking at is for a different night's performance. Tickets for tonight are 100UAH each and I go for it. The show starts at 7:00pm and we need to be dressed appropriately (which I assume means nightgown and bedcap, pillow optional?). We now have seven hours to kill before the show. We continue our walk and make our way up Deribasovskaya Street to City Garden. We are full on into spring now and the flowers are really pretty in the park. The tourism info office is located in City Garden. It is a new installation and is located next to the Restaurant Jardin in the corner. We stop in and ask for a free guidebook called "In Your Pocket: Odessa". This is a great resource for bars and restaurants as well as an overview of things to see and do in the city. I have used these guides in Odessa, Kiev, and Sevastopol and have gotten some great recommendations from them. As we stand in the info office I see a sign on the wall that says "catacombs tour tomorrow at 11". We inquire and are told that there are two different catacombs tours. One to the museum and one to the actual corridors (they are called the "usual" and "unusual" tours). The last we looked into these tours it cost US$40 each (320UAH), but this time it was offered for 190UAH. We sign up for the 11:00am tour tomorrow and pay half now and will pay half tomorrow. We head from the tourist office to a place that I hate to love. It is a restaurant called Top Sandwich and it is like a mini-chain restaurant (I know of at least 5 of these in Odessa). Better than Cracker Barrel. Probably as good as Outback. The menu is international and of the three times I have eaten here I have enjoyed everything. Today I order a salad, spaghetti Bolognese, and a plate of sushi. That and a beer hits the spot for both of us. They have Wi-Fi and everything is clean...except the music. Wow, am I out of touch with the dance music of today that plays constantly in this place. It is dance/techno and nothing that I listen to in my personal life by choice. But the explicit lyrics entertaining people who are mostly not advanced English speaking is pretty funny. I just don’t like the music. After lunch we head to Primorsky Boulevard walking down to the Vorontsov's Palace and I point out the cannonball still embedded in the wall on the back side of the building. We pass the colonnade (called the Belvedere of Vorontsov's Palace) that is more known for its graffiti than anything else. We continue onto the Mother-In-Law Bridge with all of the locks that lovers put on the railings and toss the keys to signify everlasting love. We stop and read some of the lock inscriptions. We walk across and El points out how the sway of the bridge is really remarkable and I agree. We press on I show her the Orange statue and the House of Telemons. There is another thing I want to show her, but it is on another street and we decide to hit Café Gogol Mogul first. It has tables on the sidewalk surrounded by bikes of different colors. There is also inside seating available. I order an "iced tea". I confirm that the ingredients are limited to black tea, lemon, and sugar. She says “yes” and minutes later delivers what is either sangria without wine or grenadine syrup with floating lemon wedges. It is so sweet and not refreshing that I need to order a bottle of water to doctor it. It works and is good in more of a fruit punch kind of way than iced tea. El works on her knitting patiently as I catch up on the journal. It is getting on 4:00pm and we will need to get back to the apartment to change before going to the theatre. El thinks we will need to keep each other awake during the performance. As we walk back we do a time check and it is not yet 5:00pm. We agree than we do not need to eat until after the show. We head past the Potemkin stairs which has two very different views, one from the top and one from the bottom.
at the bottom of the Potemkin Steps

From the top down you can see only the landings and few, if any, steps. But from the bottom up, the construction’s optical illusion actually makes the steps appear longer than they actually are (the steps on the bottom are built seven meters wider than the ones at the top) we walk down, taking a few shots on the way. We cross the street at the bottom and head over towards the pier that is now home to the Hotel Odessa. A modern building that totally ruins the harbor view as seen from the steps. When you are there, though, you can get a good view up the steps and can ask others to take your picture for you. On the pier there are two statues, the Golden Baby and the mother and child waving goodbye to sailors. There is also a lighthouse in the harbor that we want to see how to get to. We take our photos and head back to the bottom of the steps to ride the funicular (2UAH) up to the top.
El at the funicular

Once at the top, we head straight for the apartment to get ready for the concert and take some photos of the hallway and steps leading up to the relatively luxurious apartment at the top of the stairs. We arrive a bit early to the theatre and they have yet to open.
opera house modeled after la scala

While we stand waiting for the doors to open El wonders what this opera is even about. We have about 50 minutes until show time, so we look for a café to get an internet connection to at least understand what we might see at the performance. Around the corner we find Café Fanconi. We don’t have that much time so El just gets a cappuccino and I get a whiskey. We get on their Wi-Fi and do what we came for. The opera is called Iolanta and although the synopsis didn’t seem to intrigue me, I did go into it with an open mind hoping to follow along and find some joy in watching it. Even though they are singing in Russian, I understand so few words that they are of no help for me to understand what is going on. The singing sounds like every other opera I have ever heard and I find no joy in listening to it. I can’t follow the story to save my life, even though El read it to me! I just sit back and try to find some redeeming qualities. Basically, the beauty of the opera house was the only thing I enjoyed and I think El liked it, so for that I am glad I went.
inside the opera house. the ticket specifically said "NO CAMERAS", so all we had was this crappy iPhone. Others had their full camera setup.

inside the theatre, dying for the performance to end!

Otherwise, a waste of money. Our seats were 100UAH each and it was a good experience and I am glad to say I can mark it off of my things to do. After the theatre, we go back to the apartment to change clothes and grab our bags to hit the town for the evening. It is only around 9:15pm and we are on vacation. We walk over to the bar called Friends and Beer on Deribasovskaya Street. They have Wi-Fi and really decent food. The beer is a little steep, but the quality of the food makes up for it. We stay about an hour and a half and leave...not because we want to, but because the music selection is repeating the same 5 songs over and over. Chumbawumba, Eric Clapton, Fatboy Slim, The Zombies, and Michael Jackson, repeat. On the sixth time Chumbawumba comes on we decide to call for a check and finish our beers. As we walk home, we decide to head back for the night. We have a few more days here and we did want to try to get in some walking around time before we have to meet for the catacomb tour tomorrow at 11:00am.

DAY #7: THURSDAY MAY 24, 2012 (ODESSA)
We set the alarm for 7:00am, but as usual, when the responsibility of work is not there to push us, it takes a lot longer to get up and out than we ever expect. Just getting our bags ready for the day, deciding what we need in our pack vs. what can be left behind to get charged or just left for the sake of not weighing the backpack down. By the end of a trip most of it has become routine, but the urgency of getting out the door usually escapes us. El got something called City Walks. It is an app that is available through iTunes. There is a free version and a pay version. She got the free version to start with which outlines a walk through points of interest in a city, Odessa for example. There are photos and brief explanations of the things that tourists may want to see. There are no routes or maps, just points of interest. Then, if she likes the guide, she will get a Wi-Fi connection and download the full app. We start out towards the opera house. It is sprinkling just enough to be annoying, but not enough to warrant a raincoat. We stop to get some shots of the theatre from the side and realize we are standing next to the Kids and a Frog statue. We take our pictures and see on the walking tour about a Monument to the Unknown Soldier which does not appear to be too far. We check the app and head in the direction. As we walk along the port we eventually pull out our street map. What we realize is that we need to get into Shevchenko Park. A good landmark is the stadium which is located in the park. It is a sizeable park and has many statues and monuments. There is a nice over look of the port (as nice as a working port view can be) and some of the monuments are very interesting. One of the funnier ones (not in terms of significance, but in terms of point-of-view) was the Monument to Sailors Lost at Sea. As you approach the monument head on, it looks like the bow of a ship with two sailor on one side presumably ascending to heaven(?), however if you come at the monument from behind on the left, you can see the bow as if it has been removed from the ship so you are looking from behind and off to the left as you walk around the monument, you first see the forms of feet (without a ground, remember they are ascending) and then hands resting at the side just below waist level. As I (and it turns out El had the same thought) walk around fully to the left, all I can think of is why do they have a monument featuring a hanged person?

a little difficult to make out the hanged men on the left

Although it didn’t make sense until I saw the ascension aspect, I really thought I would see a noose around the figure’s neck. We both laughed though. We continue to wander down the Suvorov Alley (the portside path of Shevchenko Park) and stop at a coffee truck. It must be a lonely job, selling coffee out of a truck in an empty park on a rainy day. But, we were customers. We stroll along with two, very good I might add, coffees in hand. Eventually, we make the clearing and get a nice, if not a little hazy view of the sea with the ships waiting to come into port. We take pictures. At the same time we have come to the Tomb of the Unknowns. We take more pictures and I begin to wonder how one country could have so many Tombs of the Unknown Soldier? If I am not mistaken the U.S. has only one in Arlington Cemetery and there are actual unknown remains in the tomb. I have no knowledge if there are remains in these tombs, but how do they decide which remains go to which tomb? We see in the guide that there is a monument to Afghan War soldiers. We ask some passersby who seem to have no idea that one exists in the park. We keep our eyes peeled and one woman does point is in the direction she thinks it might be. She turns out to be correct and we come upon a clearing with the monument. It is starting to rain harder now and we need to get some food before meeting for the catacombs at 11:00am. As we leave we get some pictures of the Taras Shevchenko statue at the park entrance, just now fully realizing that we entered the park through the exit and exited through the entrance...we may be the only ones with that strange perspective on the Sailors Lost at Sea Monument. We decide to head up to the City Garden area and get some food there depending on the time. With time to spare, I take El to the Passage which is almost at the end of Deribasovskaya Street. It is an atrium with some ornate sculptures and artwork above and shops on the ground level.
this is an indoor atrium, the passage

We exit through the other end of the Passage and turn left to Жарю-Парю (Zharyou-Paryou). A cafeteria for all intents and purposes, we get some food to hold us through the tour. El with a pastry and coffee, I opt for a little more substantial with pelmeni (like meat tortellini). We walk through City Garden which is in bloom much more than when I was here last, just two months ago. It really is done well and looks gorgeous. We make it to the information center with minutes to spare. We are told that we are alone on our tour with the guide today, as others had cancelled. The guide shows and we prepare to leave. We are told to sit as we are now waiting for the translator to show. We have both paid 190 UAH for the guided tour. We were offered two options: the “usual" catacombs tour (100UAH) which takes you to the catacombs museum in a town just outside of the city, or you can go for the "unusual" catacombs tour (190UAH). The office arranges for a taxi to take us to the bus station and we think we are getting on a bus, but we start to walk away from the platforms. We walk through an apartment complex and past several typically Ukrainian neighborhood fixtures. We walk about half kilometer and come upon what can only be described as the strangest excursion entrance ever (OK, maybe if you went on a tour of a cave, then you might get the gist) except this had garbage, broken bottles, cans, and the plywood and cushions that cover the hole in the ground.
the entrance to the catacombs

crawling through the entrance 

Our guide peels off the wood and cushions and issues us each our miner light. We are told to be careful as we begin our descent into the catacombs. The entrance is about 2 feet wide and high and you need to sit on the ground (or lay on your front) and slide down through the portal. He assures us that this is the only part like this (although it would have been nice to know to wear more appropriate clothing). We all (there is another couple, from Moscow, on the excursion, us, the interpreter and the guide).YOU CANNOT TOUR THE CATACOMBS ALONE (even if you could find an entrance)!! At this point I will admit that we understand that there are only a handful of certified guides for the catacombs and I am pretty sure Misha is not one of them. Don’t misunderstand, he knew what he was doing, where he was going, and gave us, what seemed like, reasonable information on the tour. It took about a half hour to get there; we spent two hours underground, and then a half hour back to the tourism office. Now, I do not know how the info office hooked up with Misha, but he was taking us to places that I am pretty sure are the reason that only certified guides can take you into the labyrinth. There are between 2600-4000 kilometers of corridors just meters below street level under virtually the entire city. The section we were in was 46km and it was plenty big and plenty creepy.
there is no light in the tunnels, so the flash is the only source of light for this photo (besides our miner lights) 

the tunnels are not used, so everything just sits as is

our guide, Misha and our interpreter, Nastya

one of the doorways that El did NOT hit her head on

There was a lot of graffiti on the walls. Some new, as people head down to the maze to party and do what trespassing partiers do, drink and deface property. But, we also saw writing on walls that was used to tabulate the number of quarried rocks as they were extracted from the halls many years ago (we saw markings from 1941 but excavations may have continued after the war. I am unsure. We walked over rocks that could easily result in a broken ankle if stepped on wrong. We all hit our heads while paying more attention to our step than our eyeline. There is no light in the catacombs natural or otherwise besides the headlamps we were given. During one point we all agreed to turn our lights off and sit in the dark for a moment. There is nothing to let your eyes adjust to, so you just sit there blind for a minute. These catacombs are believed to be the largest in the world that has not been fully mapped to this day. You can check the Wikipedia entry on the Odessa catacombs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odessa_Catacombs for more about them, but it is said that because of instability issues and the fact that not all parts have been mapped, the government is cracking down on unauthorized entrance to the tunnels, and as such dubs the excursions as "extreme tourism". At the end of the tour our guide asked us to try to find our way out of the tunnels. We worked about 10 minutes before we figured out which passage was the one we needed to get out. After the equally difficult exit from the hole in the ground we were back on safe ground again. We said our goodbyes to our guide Misha, and took a taxi with our interpreter Nastya back to the tourism center. We gave them each a 50UAH tip. The last time I came to Odessa we were offered an official tour for US$40 each. We passed based on the price. Today, we paid US$48 for the two of us. If you are ever in Odessa, go to the Tourist Information Center, ask for Yuri and tell him you want Misha to guide you with Nastya translating. We are so glad we did it. After we were back at city center we walked a little and decided to go for dinner. Unfortunately, we were not dressed for it and after our entrance into and egress from the catacombs, in need of a shower. We walked back to the apartment and changed. While there, the rain started fiercely. It was coming in sheets. We planned our route to the restaurant which was a ways away. We knew we would be soaked by the end of the walk and getting a taxi would be impossible in this weather. We dressed accordingly and went on our way. Tonight we ate at the Indian Kitchen at the London Restaurant in the Hotel London [different, by the way, from the Londonskaya Hotel on Primorsky Boulevard. This is across from the Starry Bazarnaya Park, on Upensky Yl. We made it, though thoroughly soaked from waist to toe, (we had our raincoats on). We were offered little stools for our bags. If you eat here, you need to ask for the Indian Menu specifically, otherwise you will get the regular menu with generic international dishes on it. I understand that they have an Indian chef and if he is working, they can offer his cuisine and not offer it if he is off. I start with a martini. The last one I ordered in Kiev was so disappointing that I have been looking forward to a real one since. Basically, they are not familiar with the gin, vermouth, and olive drink here, so if you order a “martini” you will just get a glass with vermouth. Luckily, the bartender knows what I want and I get my first martini in 14 months. The rest of the very well spiced and extremely tasty meal was plain naan, basmati rice, vegetable samosas served with 3 sauces, shahi murg tikka masala which was chicken with a light cream sauce, but not tomato based, and chaat papri potatoes, peas, and spices in a pori. El got sagi paneer: cubed deep fried homemade cheese in a cream sauce with cashews and garlic naan. We shared the appetizers. The meal, while my best Indian meal in Ukraine and excellent, by all accounts, was not really worth the 500UAH price tag unless you are on someone else’s dime. If you skip the cocktails and beer, we would have been 150 UAH less, which may have been a bit more reasonable. After dinner the rain is still coming, but lighting up. By the time we walk back to Deribasovskaya Street we just want to sit with some Wi-Fi and enjoy some after dinner drinks. We go to a whiskey club called Corvin. I update my journal and El works on her knitting. We relax long enough to want some dessert. I get a marshmallow cake with some chocolate syrup on top. It is not that great, but the Dewars' are making up for it. It is almost 11:00pm and I am ready for bed. We get our bill and call it a night.

DAY #8: FRIDAY MAY 25, 2012 (ODESSA)
We have no solid plans for today. We wake without an alarm and head down to the breakfast café called Fat Mozes located at 8 Katarinskaya St., 1½ blocks above Deribasovskaya Street. I had eaten here once before and gotten the vanilla waffles with cream and caramel sauce. Today, I opt for the fried eggs with bacon and mashed potatoes. The food is really pretty decent here and the waitstaff friendly. It is also possibly the first place in this country to not charge me for bread. All is right, and the latte is tasty as well. During breakfast I have an issue with my journaling PDA where it basically fries before my eyes and even after a reset does not work properly. Luckily we are near the apartment and I can run upstairs, save my work, grab El's PDA, and we can be on our way. I mention that I had eaten here before and wanted to mention a few things that are pertinent to visiting the city of Odessa that El and I may not see on this trip. The Tourism Information Office located in the City Garden offers two free English speaking tours a day. One at 12:00pm and one at 4:00pm. They both leave from the duc de Richelieu statue at the top of the Potemkin steps. The tours go in different directions, so you can take both tours and see different things. I have also eaten at a Mexican restaurant called Estrellita at 1 Ekaterininskaya Street on the circle with the Katherine the Great statue. They have Wi-Fi and the nachos were pretty good. We just snacked and had beer there. They even helped us move our table when we decided we needed an electrical outlet to charge our laptops. Nice staff and a good tide over if you need a Mexican fix, but not exactly the best Mexican you are used to. Conversely, on Bazarnya Street there is a 24 hour bar called (I think) Marrakesh. I had a very poor experience there last time I was in town that if other bars were open I would have gone to in a heartbeat. The staff was very rude to my companion and I on multiple occasions to the point that all we could do was laugh at how customer unfriendly our waitress and bartenders were. I Would NOT recommend that crappy place. Nor a place called Mick O'Neills which gets good reviews as an Irish pub, but I was unimpressed by the fish and chips I got for dinner. Another place called Dobre Piva treated us well for an evening with good beer and a quiet back room. Sadly, they closed around 11:00pm or midnight, forcing us to drink elsewhere. I have also gone to the Museum of Western and Eastern Art. The guidebook says it has great works by the likes of Caravaggio, but when I went, most of the museum was closed for renovations and only the small front galleries were open with rotating exhibits. The admission price was reduced, but I would have rather seen the good stuff. A bar called The Troubadour (Трубадор) also poured a nice selection of beer.
It starts to rain, so we go to the Archaeology Museum located just down the hill from the Opera House. It is the building with the replica of a Vatican statue called Laocoon in front of it. The cost is 40UAH each for entrance plus 40UAH for photos. Many displays have English on the caption cards and this museum is described as “must-see”. The displays are very nicely arranged and represent a good amount of prehistorical time. Some displays do not appear to have any caption cards at all. The first room is mostly, if not all prehistoric. The second is mostly about the Greek settlements in and around Ukraine in the 500 years or so BC and AD. There are lots of sculptures and relics as well as art and everyday tools and kitchenware. The third room has a lot of items from the Bosporan Kingdom and is said to be a magnificent collection. Although it does not seem impressively big (like, for example, the King Tut collection) it may say something to the rarity in quantity of relics uncovered from that time period. Other displays in this room focus on settlements on the Crimean Peninsula and Odessa regions specifically. Again, the displays are well presented and look more professional than many I have seen in the past year. The fourth room is downstairs and in addition to many displays of pottery, there are actual burials alongside many tools and weapons for the afterlife. There are also photos of the excavations that yielded the skeletons. The fifth room starts to see ancient clothing that had been recovered and the tools and implements start getting more detailed and "modern" looking. The art (sculptures) are well preserved and intricate. Room six focuses on Kievan Rus settlements. This is continued in room seven with reconstructed weaponry and armor of the Rus period. You start to see patterns and styles that are evident in today’s traditional clothing. Room eight centers on Egyptian artifacts and seem oddly out of chronological order to the flow of the museum. There is no indication that it is a temporary installment, although, I suppose it can be. The centerpiece of the room is a wood carved sarcophagus. It is artistically decorated. This room also includes a mummy in a wood coffin. After this room, you are done and walk out the same way you came in. On the way out, I read that this is the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Ukraine. Afterwards we head to The Children’s Literary Museum and ask about taking photos in garden (where the sign says no photography, but has some amazing sculptures). It costs 30UAH for a ticket and a whopping 160UAH to take photos! We pass and admire the sculptures through the fence. We press on to the Numismatics Museum located at 33 Grecheskaya Street as it looks like the rain will start again shortly. NO PHOTOS. The museum is small, only one room, and looks like a coin shop although I do not see much in the way of what people would come here for other than the look at the displays of antique and medieval coins. The coins range from very old money to currently circulating Gryven’ bills. There are coins from all over the world and there are probably 1000 coins or so on display. The museum is free and I probably would have been disappointed to pay money for it. They did give us two postcards that are worth 3UAH each, so we actually made 6UAH on the visit. In addition to the coins, there is also some antique pottery that seems like it would be better suited for the Archaeology Museum down the street. The guy working, besides giving me the postcards while asking where we are from, and answering my photo request with a resounding "NO", sits at the computer and says nothing. The weather today is remarkably chilly and some even call it cold. I wish I had a long sleeve shirt, but I don't. I just try not to stand outside. I keep moving or stop to sit indoors and drink a beer. We find a bar around the corner called Dva Karla which has an interesting sign using Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to advertise children’s parties, while in the same glance advertising their liquor and beer offerings. Somehow, I feel the Disney Corporation would disapprove. We pop in for a beer and find some other sites to hit today. Meanwhile I call the Restaurant Dacha to ask about which marshrutka line to take there also to make a reservation for this evening. They tell me they are booked this evening but take our reservations for tomorrow. Further, they tell me that there are no marshrutkas serving their area and to take a taxi. I make the reservation for 3:00pm on Saturday. After the beer, we head to the Central Synagogue of Odessa that El wants to check out. Even though I do not ask to enter and patiently wait for El, the guard makes sure I understand that I am being refused entry based on my attire. I assure him that I have no intention of visiting any house of worship that would refuse someone based on the way they are dressed and continue updating my journal. After this, although still breezy, we head off to a walking tour of sculptures in the park. Our first stop is Bazarnya Street to Starry Bazarnya Park (old bazaar park). The first statue we come to is a Cossack with a horse that cannot seem to be found on our map. El takes photos anyway and we exit the park heading towards the center. There is a fresh water fountain in this park where residents can bring empty jugs to fill from fresh springs. There are a few of these fountains around the city, but I understand this is the closest to the center. The next monument is Ivan Franko. The weather looks like it will turn worse any minute, so we look for a bar or cafe. The first is a bar called Rendezvous. When we go in it looks like a Hungarian restaurant and even though the sign says "bar" it is really more of a restaurant with only bottled beer. We pass and press on. We see a place across the park that says bar cafe and head in. It is called "Harley Rock Cafe". We get a menu and the prices for drinks are stiff. We each get a coffee and plan our next stop as the rain starts coming down. It only lasts a few minutes, but we are inside so it doesn’t matter. We stay for one coffee and plan the next stop up the street. Also, we start looking at dinner restaurant ideas. Since we can’t get into Dacha until tomorrow, I think tonight we will try Kompote. As for our next monument...I recently read a line that mentioned "statue burnout", and although I believe that was relating to the city of Sevastopol, I believe that it could equally characterize visitors to Odessa. Before we leave the owner, Luda, comes to give us a card for her other restaurant called Хуторок у Моря (Hutorock). We have no dinner plans for tonight and we tell her that we would like to eat there. We ask if she would call and make a reservation for us and a minute later we have table #37 at 6:00pm. She shows us where it is on the map and we are all set. While looking at the map, we also ask about getting to Dacha. Luda tells us that while it is true that no marshrutkas go there, Tram #5 goes right past the restaurant. She is very helpful helping us interpret the map. We continue on our walk towards (ул. Бунина) Bunina Street and turn left. Just before we hit our turn, we spot a small playground with two of the most dangerous items I can imagine. One is a balancing installment with two small platforms. The other a barrel that rotates on an axle in the opposite direction of parallel bars set at uneven heights.

maybe you'd have to see it to show me, but where do you hold on to that would support you when the cylinder begins to roll?

The rolling barrel spins about one meter off the ground. Because of the weather, we see no children in the vicinity, but I cannot grasp how either of these pieces of equipment has lasted without causing serious injury to legs or shoulders. A block later and we are in the park with a monument to a child story. It is a boy and girl sitting on a ball. We continue up the street towards the Church of the Transfiguration and catch a statue memorializing a silent film star who spent her last years in Odessa. El goes into the church while I journal. We see a couple of more statues in this park and across the street in City Garden. We see a tall and statue. An empty chair. A bench with a performer. And an aviator with a cast of a paper airplane. It is time to get back to the apartment to change for dinner.
in the City Garden

also in the City Garden

We make our 6:00pm reservations with minutes to spare. I order glass of house vodka infused with garlic, horseradish, and dill. It packs a punch. A delightful punch. This place is pricy, but gets good reviews. We start with green borsch. Share a plate of mushroom vareniki. And each gets our own entrée. Mine: pork cubes with porcini mushroom and cream sauce. It is 6:00pm and the kitchen is already out of two of El's choices. This is too bad. It turns out, also, that we have arrived in the middle of a children’s birthday party complete with a clown leading the kids around the room like the f'ing Music Man. Oh, joy! Now the band is tuning up. WTF have we gotten ourselves into. The first course has yet to arrive and El already tells me we should plan a different spot for dessert- she read my mind. Although it is too early to write the meal off, as I don’t want it to be spoiled before it starts. The green borsch arrives with a side of onion rolls, croutons, and smetana. We agree that it is very tasty and I haven’t yet had green borsch as good as (host mom) Tanya's, but this is really decent. Even though I requested the dumplings to come out between the soup and entrée courses, the chef thought it was better that they come out together. The vareniki and the pork are very good. I would have liked more porcini flavor in the cream sauce though. The entire meal was pretty good and the clown took the kids outside. The band started as we began our main course. The place fills up and it looks like a good thing that we had a reservation. We saw at least one party get turned away at the door. The meal was pretty expensive, but I expect our meal tomorrow at Dacha will be more so. We order the check and walk back at a leisurely pace to digest the heavy meal. On the way home we both start to feel a little queasy and start to think the worst of what we just ate. The consensus is that the cream base of the green borsch was just a little much for our systems. I have run into similar situations in Ukraine where it is not that the food is spoiled, but more something that my system is not used to and rejects. I would order the borsch again...just not as I am getting on an overnight train ride! We get back to the apartment and change before heading out for the evening. Besides having to check out at noon tomorrow and our lunch reservations at 3:00, we are otherwise uncommitted. We will probably spend some time tonight planning options for the morning. Around 9:00pm we head out. El wants to try to eat dessert at a restaurant called Kompote on Deribasovskaya Street. It gets high marks for food and is owned by the same people as Dacha. We head downstairs and get a beer at the first place we see: a bar called Ритм (Rhythm) on Lanjeronovskaya St. They have Chernigovskaya Beer that I like. We order one each and ask the waitress for a dessert menu when El reminds me of her intention to go to Kompote. I agree and pass on any dessert consideration. We resurrect a game of Scrabble, but postcards and journaling seem to take priority on this, our last evening in Odessa. After a beer at Ритм we head over to Kompote for dessert. It is 10:30pm on a Friday and it is packed. We ask for a table for two and are told there are only seats in the smoking area. He does not offer us a chance to wait for a seat to open, just a take it or leave option. We stand in the center of the room for a few seconds and I feel like I am being put in a position to sit in what can be an extremely smoky room while I eat. My choice is to get something to go and eat it at the apartment, but El is disappointed in my reaction. I think it is a situation of me being fed up with poor customer service in this country vs. El experiencing it for the first time. I agree to try again for breakfast and we also agree it may have been for the best given our still being satisfied from dinner. We call it a night.

DAY #9: SATURDAY MAY 26, 2012 (ODESSA)
We get up and pack a little on our last morning in Odessa. As promised we head to the restaurant Kompote for breakfast.

orders up at Kompote

It is kind of busy, but we are seated immediately in the no smoking section. The breakfast menu is limited to 3 sections: cheap (33UAH), medium (37UAH) or most (43UAH). We each get a medium (croissant with different toppings) and a kakao. This is my first time drinking kakao when that is what I know I am drinking. The waitress’ ladle it out of a large crockpot and it is served at the right temperature. Our breakfasts are really tasty and remind me of a small French café we used to go to in NYC. Breakfast is 101UAH and a worthy recommendation. After breakfast there is one more thing I want to do. We walk over to the Mother-In-Law Bridge and go to the large metal heart at the end. In the most unceremonious of ceremonies, El and I affix a lock.
engraved or written, the sentiment is the same

we see that the city has started to cut the locks off of the bridge an want people to attach them here.

I wanted to get it engraved, but we had to settle for a magic marker. It is the thought that counts and we know it's there. That's all that matters. We head back to the apartment and check out. With our bags in tow, we go to Kompote but, again, the whole customer service gap is making me feel like I have better places to spend my money. I stand at the unattended éclair stand for a good two minutes. Employees are walking past me with not one stopping to ask if I can be helped. I eventually ask who is making the éclairs, but the waitress gives a quick glance around and says "wait" as she grabs menus for some customers. I expect she will return shortly. I wait another minute standing there making sure I know what to order when the cook arrives. After another 60 seconds or so, no one has arrived to the table and I look around to see the waitress I had spoken to just standing there, leaning against the counter- never intending to address to my inquiry. I leave. We walk to the train station, wheeling our bags behind. On the walk, El stops into Свято-Троицкая Церковь (Svyato-Troitsky Church) on Katerinskaya. No photos inside, but El says it is very beautiful, more so than the Transfiguration Church she saw yesterday. We eventually make it to the train station and drop our bags at the luggage storage located at platform 1. It costs 40UAH/bag. A small price to pay for not having to wheel your bags around all day. Then, we walk through the bazaar looking for gifts for home. The bazaar is smaller than I remember, leading me to question if this is the central market or not.  We spot another location of the restaurant Kompote and El says she was thinking of buying some jam or honey, so we go in to inquire about prices. Well, the staff here is much friendlier than their counterpart location. We are able to negotiate a small set of jams for family home as well as getting solid directions to the Dacha Restaurant. El and I have a while to kill before dinner so we decide to walk to the place instead of taking the tram. On the way, we stop at a great little place called Кафе Буфет (Café Buffet). We only get beer, but see others have ordered appetizing looking food. It is located on Panteleemonovskaya Street almost at the intersection of Fransusky Street. We use internet to figure out it is 3.1km from here. We walk some and the take the Tram #5 the rest of the way to Dacha.
actually calls themselves a "farm to table" restaurant.

It is not really that far but the tram drops us off virtually across the street from #85. The stop is called Sanatoria Chkalovsky. Our table is ready at the rather large restaurant that has an indoor and outdoor seating area. We opt for indoor and get ready for lunch at the number one rated restaurant in Odessa. We start with 50ml of Dacha classical vodka (which tastes remarkably like regular vodka) and a Stella Artois draft. We split an Olivie Salat with pork and chicken, and a Dacha fresh vegetable salad. Next, we get an order of pelmini dumplings that arrives with Smetana (like sour cream) on the side. For the main course we get a chicken shashlik (shish kebabs) and an order of new potatoes with butter and herbs. All of the food was really very good and I am glad the place was recommended.
fresh vegetable salad

salat olivie

chicken shashlik

pelmeni

El and I spend much of the meal discussing Ukrainian deficiencies in customer service in both restaurants and stores. We have finished our food and beer and sit here with no food or drink on the table. It has been at least 5 minutes and we have not been offered a menu or dessert or coffee. Haven’t studies been done to improve sales in restaurants? Eventually, El calls the waitress and we order cherry vareniki (dumplings, recommended as a house specialty) and toffee ice cream. I also get a hot chocolate. Our lunch has lasted close to two hours. All in all it was good. Dinner, dessert, and drinks 565UAH plus tip. We still have 2½ hours until our train leaves. We may just walk back to the train station if we are up to it. This seems like more of a residential neighborhood than commercial, so I do not expect to find many places to stop and spend time in on our way back. Then again, we know that the Tram #5 stops at the train station. It takes about 45 minutes to walk back to the train station form Dacha (it would have been about 10 minutes on Tram #5). On the way back we decide to head back to Café Buffet for a beer and relaxing before heading to the train. I assume our train is starting in Odessa and will be on the platform a little early (as opposed to being a stop on the way from another city and only stopping for a short time). We will shoot to be there around 7:00pm for a 7:29pm departure as we will head back to Simferopol. We already have our hotel reservations. We just don’t know when we will be able to check in since we get in around 7:25am. This could prove to be an issue when we arrive to the hotel in the morning. Our experience has shown that some hotels will help you out and check you in when possible, while others refuse to check you in earlier without an extra nights pay. Either way, it is what it is and we'll let the chips fall where they may. Tomorrow will be our last day together and we will be in Simferopol for the day. Barring some miracle where someone tells us about a must see site, I expect we will be just exploring casually. As we get ready to leave Odessa it is pretty clear to me that there are two Odessas: one for people on a Peace Corps budget (me last time I came), and one for people on vacation when money is a lot less of an object (me this time). Basically, I hope that I have given some clue as to whether the places I have written about here are good for visits on the cheap or if they need deeper pockets to enjoy. As we get ready to leave the city of Odessa within the hour we were talking about this trip and our impressions, specifically of Odessa. I explained that I had been here just two months ago and actually considered rearranging our travel plans afterwards since I wasn’t sure I could fill four days in this city. When I had to buy our train tickets earlier this month, I wanted to spend three days on Odessa and three days in Sevastopol. But, with a sold out train on my requested date, we got one less day in Sevastopol and one more day in Odessa. This was a huge disappointment to me at the time. What was I going suggest to make it interesting to travel around this city that I found to be only mildly interesting the first time I came through. Well, besides the opera, catacombs, and new dining experiences and sightseeing to place neither of us had ever seen- I can safely say that we made the most of our time here, to the point I downright enjoyed this city this time! In the coming weeks, this city will be overrun with beach people, and I will be far, far away, and for now I would say everything has worked great at least so far. Maybe it is the company, or maybe it is the familiarity I am staring to feel in this town, but I will admit that it is starting to grow on me, and that is not a bad feeling. As I leave Odessa, I think that I have had a wonderful time and am very glad that I didn’t change one thing about the vacation, like I considered. I was speaking about customer service and had read recently that Odessa is a city that, among Ukrainian cities, is known as customer UNfriendly. I won’t say that every place was as bad as we have experienced, but some really allowed the city to live up to its reputation.

DAY #10: SUNDAY MAY 27, 2012 (SIMFEROPOL)
You can see all of our photos from Simferopol here:  https://picasaweb.google.com/104791469459302393509/SimferopolUkraineMay2012?noredirect=1 

We awake on the train. Our kupe mates are nice and quiet, but some mother trying to coddle a crying baby by walking up and down the wagon makes many of the sleepers restless. Why she couldn’t just go out to the space beyond the wagon door (where you stand waiting to exit) is beyond me. These last two train experiences are improving, if only slightly, my feeling towards overnight train travel. I have come around to a solid dislike from the previous loathing. Although I did have one fun dream last night about being in an earthquake and when I awoke, realized it was the jostling of the train that was causing it. We get into Simferopol around 7:30am and drag our bags behind. When we arrive, the receptionist remembers me from last week and pulls out the key for the same room we were happy with last time. By 8:15, we are into the room resting, showering, rearranging suitcases, and getting ready for our day. We start out at a little café called Kaffeine. They have an interesting menu in that you can select your coffee drink based on the type of coffee beans they will use. You can choose from stronger beans or less robust blends to decaffeinated, inronically, considering their name. My mocha is excellent. We play on the Wi-Fi for a little bit looking for things to do in this city that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of tourist attractions. On the corner of Rozy Luxemburg and Kirova St is a Café Eda. Behind the café, we find sculpture park and take pictures. The pieces are very cute and artistic. Wonderful in fact. There is a large piece at the entrance depicting all of the signs of the zodiac (although I can’t seem to find Aries). The small park has some standalone sculptures, artistically created benches, and even some fun looking, but fully functional garbage cans (one looks like shoes, another a canon, a third like the stump of a tree etc.).

El's cancer

Sim's virgo

artistic garbage can

\m/ heavy metal \m/

We take pictures of most of it including a motorcycle that after discussion we hope is meant to be interactive as we sat on it and took pictures. We felt very Ukrainian, although we did not hug any trees. We walk up to Lenin square and get the obligatory photo of the statue. We walk down to the bazaar near the train station. I do not know the market locations in Simferopol and the one near the train station does not seem to be the central bazaar. El is looking for some souvenirs to take home tomorrow, but the choices are limited to mass produced, machine crafted items instead of handmade crafts. We take the marshrutka to the Central Bazaar and walk around there for a while. We don’t really need anything, so we browse and take photos, just roaming and seeing what’s available. We buy some stuff for people at home that might appreciate some of the foods. We decide to hit a small café and get a beer and a chebureki to hold us over until dinner. We found a couple of well-reviewed restaurants in town and one is a vegetarian place that I have heard good things about and the other is a Crimean Tatar restaurant. El votes for this one as it may be one of the last times she gets good plove, which we love. We are in wandering mode and plan to wander until we are ready for dinner. We see something in the guidebook called Detskii Park (Children’s Park) which may have some interesting installations, and we can check that out in our travels as well. We catch the marshrutka back towards the hotel. Just before dropping our bags and cleaning up for dinner, we stop into a little dive bar called Nostalgia on Rozy Luxembourg St. They seem to be out of all of the reasonably priced beer and can only offer the full line of pricier beers. I get a scotch as a before dinner drink and El gets a beer. We won’t be here for more than one drink anyway. It is almost 4:00pm and I would like to rest up before heading to dinner. On our way to dinner, we walk through the Children’s Park, which seems like it may have started as a war memorial park (or they just have an odd idea of what goes into a “children’s park”!). There are some cute sculptures and lots of families. It makes for a nice stroll on the way to our dinner at Café Marakand. As we get closer to the café, we start to question our directions since everything in the neighborhood seems to be closed (though it is a Sunday night). We find it, and there are only a few customers in the rather large place, but we are welcomed heartily by the owner. Unlike many Tatar restaurants, they serve beer. With the small amount of other customers, I decide to keep a men and order as we go. We share all plates and the food is really very decent and reasonably priced. We get beet, and tomato and cucumber salads.
Chicken Marakand at Café  Marakand

An order of plove, lapeshka bread (kind of like thick pita), monti (like Chinese dumplings), chicken Marakand (like shish kebab chicken in a cream sauce with potatoes), and a lulia kebab (shish kebab using formed ground meat instead of chunks). At 134UAH this was just about the cheapest dinner we’ve had all week. Excellent Tatar fare and well worth it. After dinner we walk a bit and get back to the area near Lenin Square that we were in today. We had walked by a wine bar today and El thought she would like to try it. I concur that it looks like a decent after-dinner place. We get back to it. It is down a flight of steps and as we walk in we see several old people sipping wines from their glasses. We seat ourselves and wait for some sort of table service which never seems to come. Turns out it is a place where you order at the bar and sit with your drinks. When I approach the bartender and ask for two glasses of dry white wine he asks which kind I want. Having never heard of my options, I let him pour me one glass of each. One is nondescript and the other is even less so. Not necessarily bad wines and both are dry and white, but there is just zero character to either one. It is difficult choosing which one I would even opt for a second glass of. It seems that there is a brand here called Massandra and this must be their outlet since that is all you can get here. You can order many kinds of wine, but only of this brand. After all of that, I don’t think we will be staying long, as realistically our only option is to move to a red wine, and we like that less than whites and it’s not like that is bowling us over. Well, our choice has been made for us, as the bar closes at 8:00pm. The bartender comes around to tell us that he is closing. We leave looking for a coffee/dessert place. We pass a couple small coffee places, but this one catches our eye. It is called Kofein. The music is terrible, but we decide only to get a coffee (mocha in my case) and call it an early night as El's plane leaves early tomorrow morning.

DAY #11: MONDAY MAY 28, 2012 (RAZDOL’NOYE)

El's plane leaves from Simferopol airport at 7:00am. We know where the tram/marshrutka stop is at the corner of Lenin Park at the opposite end corner from the train station. We just aren’t 100% clear when they start running. I think it is around 5:00am. We get up at 4:15. I plan to go back to the hotel to shower and check out before going to the bus station to go home. We walk down to the tram stop and in a moment that could not have been timed any better; the first tram of the day comes around the corner just as we get to the stop. He sees our luggage and asks if we are going to the airport. We get on and pay our 2UAH each for the 12km ride that drops you off in the circle across the street (and through the parking lot) from the terminal. We get to the airport at about 5:20am for her 7:00am flight. The check in start is 5:40 and the check in ends 30 minutes before the flight. I wait until the check in opens, and like that I am off. Our vacation has come to an end. Of course I knew it would be a good time, but I was really happy with how our trip(s) turned out. Everything from cramming three days of Sevastopol into two, to rediscovering Odessa and having more of an appreciation for what it has to offer. But most importantly to know that we haven’t lost our ability to have a great vacation no matter where we are. Even the guidebook described Simferopol as a city with not much to see and do and we still found something to do for a full day there. If all goes as planned, I should probably see El only one more time in Ukraine. We have definitely seen more of this country than we do most others and considering how much time I am living here, that is a good thing. My vacation ends the same way it began, on an airport run on a marshrutka...and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sim 


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