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  • Along the Pamir Highway

    Written by Levien van Zon

    More pictures with this story: https://goo.gl/photos/gGuSuEXRN6cQKNFR7

    Just months ago, I knew next to nothing about Central Asia. Probably like most people, I knew there was a group of countries just west of China, with names that all end in -stan. I was vaguely aware of a connection to the old Silk Routes, the former Soviet Union and a few acts of recent Muslim extremism. I had read something once on the near disappearance of the Aral Sea due to irrigation of cotton crops. That was about it.

    Flying from Moscow to Bishkek, one passes over empty steppes and deserts for hours on end. Kazakhstan is in the top-ten of biggest countries in the world, yet somehow I completely failed to notice it on the world map that has been hanging above my bed for over 5 years. The country is dry, flat and grassy, and most of it is covered by the vast steppes of Eurasia that are the evolutionary home of most grasses as well as grazers, both of which have been essential to humanity. These steppes are also the home of the Turkic languages that we currently associate mostly with Turkey, but which actually originated in current-day China and Mongolia. While seeming empty and lifeless from afar, up close the steppe is home to various kinds of birds, rodents and insects, as well as herds of animals and the occasional settlement or yurt. To the north of the steppes are the forests and tundras of Siberia. To the east, vast mountains separate the “Stans” from the steppes and deserts of China. South of Kazakhstan, the mountainous countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are a prelude to the Himalayas.

    My first acquaintance with Central Asia was the city of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan before the president decided to build a new capital city called Astana (Kazakh for “capital city”) at a more central location in the middle of nowhere. Almaty is a fairly pleasant city, although its many black SUVs and fancy shopping centres betray the fact that Kazakhstan is an oil producing country, and therefore among the wealthier of the Stans. We took a two-day trip to see some canyons and a lake with our guide and driver Sergey, a Cossack and former tank-driver in the Russian-Afghan war, who looks oddly like a Russian version of Sean Connery. After Almaty, our journey took us south, to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. But not before one of our party was held at the border when trying to leave Kazakhstan, had to go to trial the following morning for failing to register within five days with the proper authorities, and subsequently got deported from the country we were trying to leave anyway. Such bureaucratic weirdness is one of the more unfortunate leftovers from Soviet times.

    From Bishkek we decided to travel further south, a two-day trip over the mountains to the city of Osh, one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia. From Osh we would start a ten-day trip through the Pamir mountain range, a remote region with high snowy peaks and mountain passes, salt lakes, plains and high altitude deserts. The main road through the region is the aptly named Pamir Highway, apparently the second-highest altitude road in the world, which is only accessible during late spring and summer.

    As soon as you drive over the Taldyk Pass (3650 m) into the Alay Valley, you feel like you’ve arrived on another planet. While the grassy northern plains transition from winter to 30°C in a matter of days, the Alay Valley was still mostly covered in snow. To the south, “Peak Lenin” (7134 m) and the Alay range tower over the valley and separate it from Tajikistan. An abandoned Soviet “meteorological station” with two giant half-broken radar domes added to the otherworldly feeling, as did the dusty town of Sary Mogul where we spent the night. The town could easily feature in a Star Wars movie, if it weren’t for the constant sound of chickens and braying of donkeys (and of course the conspicuous lack of alien lifeforms).

    Apparently we were among the first tourists this year able to cross the Kizil Art Pass and the no man’s land beyond, into Tajikistan. In places the road was still covered in snow and ice, and a 4WD was certainly no luxury. Beyond the pass the road runs along the rusty “Systema” border fence for over a hundred kilometres. The fence marks the no man’s land between China and the former Soviet Union, although large parts of it have since fallen over or are now missing altogether, presumably used as firewood. Despite the snow and lack of vegetation, there were quite a few birds and marmots, and we could spot the occasional vulture circling high above. Once in Tajikistan, the road descends toward Toktokul, the “Black Lake”. Despite its name and high salt content, the lake was still completely frozen over, and therefore quite white. Beside the lake lies another dusty Star Wars town with low mud-brick houses and a small forest of disconnected telephone poles. There is no electricity supply here, but most houses do have a small Chinese solar panel on the roof, which is connected to a 12V lead-acid battery. This is sufficient to charge phones and power a few LED lightbulbs in the evening, and sometimes a small television. People cook meals and boil their tea water on stoves powered by animal dung and dry desert shrubs (which unsurprisingly are becoming increasingly rare around towns).

    The strip of land between the town and the lake is covered with salt, rusting car parts and animal carcasses (or parts thereof). Several yaks graze in a marshy bit of land by the lakeside, slightly downhill from the town. I was surprised that such large animals can find sufficient food in such sparsely vegetated lands, but undoubtedly they have large fat reserves, and apparently the region is much greener in summer. Despite being dry and dusty (and sounding like a place in Mordor), Karakul is not a lifeless town. Everywhere were groups of children in colourful clothes, eager to practise their “Hello” and “Goodbye” on passing strangers. Walking to the lakeside, we were joined by a little girl called Fatima and (presumably) her two, somewhat over-active brothers. Fatima, with her purple dress, pink plastic boots and white flower in her hair, turned out to be a fairly good portrait photographer, once I had lent her my camera. I am now the proud owner of around forty group portraits, taken from the perspective of a six-year-old. Despite having no language in common with us, she was able to express very clearly who needed to be where in which picture, in the peculiar way that way only small children can.

    Night was not spent in Karakul but in Murghab, the largest town in the region, and the home-town of our driver Muhammad. Like most towns of the high Pamir, Murghab features mostly dusty streets, low buildings, telephone poles and rusty car parts. In theory there is an electricity supply, but it was out of order for an unknown period of time. As Murghab and many other towns cannot be reached for half the year, people have to stock up on food during the summer months. Even in summer the town is mostly supplied by container trucks that have to traverse hundreds of kilometres of unpaved roads through steep mountainous terrain, so this is not exactly the cheapest place to buy supplies. No wonder that many people keep a small herd of animals, that graze in the river valley and on the hills around town. Also no wonder that the food in this regions consists mostly of mutton, potatoes, onions, carrots and rice, as these ingredients are easily obtained and keep well through the year.

    After saying goodbye to our driver for the night, we decided to try and find a place where we could exchange some money. We rang the doorbell of a travel agency, as it seemed that they might speak English and may be able to help us. To our great surprise it was our driver Muhammad who opened the door of what turned out to be his family home, where we were promptly invited to tea with home-made pastry. Unknown to us at the time, Muhammad’s grandmother had died two weeks earlier, and the family was preparing a feast to mark the end of the mourning period. We were happy to have this opportunity to visit a local household, although we were also slightly embarrassed when we learnt of the occasion for the festivities. The next day, we were invited again to come and eat a meal and drink tea, while town elders gathered in the family home to eat and pray.

    Two more days of beautiful and otherworldly landscapes followed, including a visit to the Pshart Valley, a moonlit but very windy night in the remote town of Alichur and a visit to the even more remote Bulunkul town and lakes (reportedly the coldest place in Tajikistan). Then we crossed the Khargush Pass (4344 m) into the Wakhan Valley, the southernmost part of Tajikistan. The Pamir river flows through the valley, and further downstream becomes the Panj and then the Oxus (Amu Darya). The river also forms the border with a strange, narrow strip of Afghanistan known as the Wakhan Corridor, created in the nineteenth century as a buffer zone between the British Empire (current-day Pakistan) and the Russian Empire (current-day Tajikistan). The eastern extremity of the Wakhan Valley is known as the Pamir Knot, the meeting point of several major mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun and Hindu Kush. However, we travelled west along the river, toward the mighty Hindu Kush range (“Killer of Hindus”) which rose in the background and beyond which lies Pakistan.

    The Afghan side of the river has only a narrow dirt road running along the mountain side. There were few signs of habitation there, just some goats and the occasional Afghan on a horse or walking with a donkey. Our side was not much different however, there were only a few (abandoned) buildings along our dirt road, which sometimes ran along the river bank and sometimes along a steep crumbling cliff side with the river far below. We met only a single person, probably a soldier walking from the remote checkpoint at the pass, a good two-day walk to Ratm, the nearest village. Near Ratm, suddenly green fields appear in the rocky valley, plowed by farmers using oxen and old tractors. The dry soil was irrigated through a system of simple canals that divert water from nearby mountain streams. While the people of the high mountains were traditionally Kyrgyz shepherds, the people in the lower valleys speak Tajik (a Persian language) and look more Afghan in their features and clothing.

    We spent two days in the lovely town of Langar. Spring had only just started in the valley, so fruit trees were flowering, green leaves just started to appear and everywhere we saw newborn lambs, calves and baby goats. On the lower slopes of Peak Karl Marx and Peak Engels we met two old shepherd ladies, guiding their flock among the rocky terrain. One of them was hand-spinning yarn from the wool of her animals. Trade routes ran through these valleys in ancient times, and the remains of several forts and temples can still be seen on the mountain slopes, overlooking the valley in strategic places. One of these forts is actually still used by the Tajik army to guard the border with Afghanistan, near the town of Ishkashim. However, the young border guards were very friendly and gladly showed us around the ruins, on the condition that we didn’t take any pictures of “military installations”. Apart from a small barrack, an outside cooking stove and an antenna array, we failed to see any military installations. There was one mysterious structure with lines on the ground, which we thought might be some kind of helicopter pad, but turned out to be a volleyball field.

    Our guesthouse in Ishkashim was next to a police station, which featured a large machine gun on the roof. As we found out later, there had been fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces several days earlier, some distance from the border. This is probably why Ishkashim has a strong army presence, and official buildings are well-guarded. We had hoped to visit the Afghan market on an island in the river, between both countries, but it turned out that the market was closed for safety reasons, and it had been for three years.

    The rest of our journey through the Pamir region followed the Panj-river northward, over increasingly bad roads as the amount of traffic increased. Large Chinese-built container trucks crawl up the hills from the capital Dushanbe over the narrow unpaved road to Khorog, and from there to Murghab and Ishkashim. The many trucks and frequent landslides don’t really contribute to the quality of the road, or the comfort of the journey. But at least there is a road. On the Afghan side of the river there were still few cars, and on some sections road workers were hacking out a path through the rocks with pneumatic hammers, a task that looked like it could take at least several years of hard work to complete. Toward Dushanbe, the Tajik roads at least get better. Road workers there were busy constructing concrete walls to protect against landslides. However, a few hundred meters beyond, large sections of the newly constructed wall had already been destroyed by said landslides. I guess in the end, the mountain always wins.

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  • Macedonia

    Instead of walking back Bulgaria I decided to go west again and discover new countries in the Balkans like Makedonia (Skopja) 

    Skopje

    About

    Skopje is the capital city of Macedonia. It is a barely new city as result of the several destructions of the original one along the history. Located sever kilometres away from the first roman city it accommodates half of the population of Macedonia. With one million inhabitants is the bigger city of the country.

    As it lacks of a great historic past, the government is building it, filling the city with statues and monuments. The old town is one of the little vestiges together with the castle that remains.

    Getting to Skopje from Sofia

    I took the midnight bus from Sofia to Skopje. I was told that the bus takes 5 hours between the two capital cities. That day it took just 4 hours. I expected to spend the night in the bus, but at 3:00 am from Macedonia I was at the bus station of Skopje. Yes, Macedonia is UGT+1 as the rest of Europe. I forgot that fact as well.

    The bus station was an old station under the train station. At night, it had a look of an abandon building. At the main room of the station there were some other travellers accommodated in the chairs. Some of them in group other individually. I found a place for me and seated I hugged my best friend, my backpack and try to get a nap.

    It was not comfortable at all, but nap by nap the clock got to 6:00 am. As I couldn’t sleep more I decided to go to the city centre and look for a coffee shop. It was still night and the streets were barely empty of cars and people. Everyone was sleeping. I walked next to the river and get my first big impression of Skopje.

    First impression

    On both sides of the river I could see the neo-baroque buildings lightened, the new bridges full of statues. The bridge of culture with all kind of artists, and the bridge of history with kings and heroes. I wondered how was possible that a country barely born from the division of Yugoslavia in 1991 that had no precedent as an independent country in history could have all these historic celebrities.

    Following the river, I get to the old stone bridge and the mayor square. I was already surprise of the megalomaniac investment to create a capital symbol of the nation, but I end up wordless when I found myself in front of the fountain of Alexander the Great. Far from a beautiful monument it was the most megalomaniac statue of the modern times I had ever seen.

    The experience

    What a surprise when I get to the hostel, the staff told me that I was about to stay there on my own. He showed me my room, the facilities and gave me the key of the hostel before leaving me on my own. I had a full hostel for my own!!

    I was tired but decided to join the Walking free tour at 10:00 so I had a fast shower and went out. The walking free tour of Skopje might be one of the funniest I have attended so far. The guide, a real entrepreneur that started the business in Macedonia by his own was polite and critical. Probably sometimes a bit too much subjective. The tour started with a fast overview of the history of the territory now called Macedonia and how it belonged to several cultures and nations. The result is a multicultural country where different cultures and religions live in peace most of the time. The country is mostly Slavic orthodox, but there’s a big Muslim community as an Albanian in the southwest.


    During all the walk around the new centre of the city the guide showed us his disagreement with the governments investment on monuments and statues. He agreed that the country had not that much to presume. As the colour revolution supporters, less than one year ago, he considered that this investment would be more useful in sanitary, education or other social aspects.

    The colour revolution was a demonstration of the citizens of Skopje against the monuments. For showing their disapproval, they painted statues of monument in colours. You can still see the traces of the revolution. Personally, I think that it might be the only original trace of history in all the monuments. How sarcastic!

    With the guide, I discovered how deep gets to be the arguments between Greeks and Macedonians. As I’ve been told and confirmed in my research, Macedonians had to change their original flag design due to the Greek pressure. Greeks claim that Macedonia and all what is related with the classic Macedonian culture, including Philip II, Alexander the great and his empire are Greeks, no Macedonians and they are fighting for it. They even blocked trades with Macedonia due to the flag design.

    Now a day the fight is focus in the name of the country as Greeks are blocking Macedonian progress to be member of the European Community if they don’t change the name of their country. How crazy!

    Among these monuments, we visited the Memorial House of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was born here in a humble house next to were now is located the big horse of Alexander.

    Mother Theresa Memorial

    In the Old Town, where the old medina was, we learnt about the history of the people that use to leave here, no matter the country who they belonged to. The old town is like an Arabic medina on one side of the hill that goes to the fortress. From the old fortress, there is a nice panorama of the city and the new national stadium – another polemic investment of the government. Unfortunately, all these historic buildings are not restored neither well preserved. It is ironic to me, or I don’t get to understand properly, the intention of the investment in creating a new past but not investing in the real one.

    The Mosque of Skopje

    During the tour the guide offered to us some local Rakia in the restaurant we came all together to eat. Having lunch was where we get to meet each other of the travellers. We arranged there to meet again in the afternoon for a drink together.

    The night, I went out of the hostel to meet the night life of Skopje. Together with some friends, we had a drink in a cosy bar out of the city centre that we had been suggested and then went to the old town. The old town I must say is always full of life. During the day like a medina, with restaurants and shops and during the night with bars and tea shops.

    We ended the night on top of the medina in a craft beer bar with live music and Tabaco smoke everywhere. Yes, in Macedonia there is no restriction concerning smoking cigarettes.

    Matka canyon

    Getting there

    The following day, I went to the bus station to figure out how to get to Matka.

    The bus was supposed to pass by at 13:50 but it never appeared. Lucky me, I start talking with two other guys that were there waiting for the same bus. As the bus was not coming we decided to share a taxi ride to Matka as I did already in Neuswanstein Castle.

    The experience

    The gorges of Matka are located south of Skopje and are worth a visit. As we were told by the taxi driver, Matka means “vagina”. There in the gorges there are the caves considered one of the largest caves in Europe and probably of the world. It seems that there still places to discover inside them.

    To get to the caves you need to take a boat next to the restaurants and the monastery. We chose to go for a hiking along the river instead. Together with my new friends, a polish guy and a Belgium one named Piotr and Jonathan respectively, we went for a walk. We walked all the way until the end of the path. We get to see the entrance of the caves, but from the other side of the river. YOU CAN NOT GETT TO THE ENTRANCE OF THE CAVES BY FOOT!

     

    The walk was full of anecdotes and stories with my two new friends. Piotr works as a journalist in Poland and he taught me about the Polish and Ukrainian history and current situation. He’s been working in Donetsk were now a day is the Ukrainian conflict. As a speaker, and I believe as a journalist also. He was very objective always showing the positions and ideas of both sides of the conflict without judging.

    We went back to Skopje by bus, the bus station is at the entrance of the parking, in front of a restaurant. The crew of the restaurant knows perfectly the timetable of the buses and hopefully, this time the bus was there on time. I would not be surprise if I meet again Piotr on the way. He seemed to have such a free soul as mine.

    While having a beer back at the craft beer bar at the top of the Old Town is when we get the news that Motorola, a well-known soldier of the independentism faction in the Ukrainian conflict. Taking about him I realized how important might be that he passed away for the history of the conflict and how irrelevant it is for the rest of the world.

    Have you ever heard about him?

    Alexander the Great

    Ohrid

    About

    Ohrid is a little village in the south of Macedonia. In the banks of the lake Ohrid, is the summer holydays village of a country without sea. It is also visited in summer by Germans, Turkish and Netherlanders. You can feel that the city might change a lot from high to low touristic season.

    It is located in the border with Albania, which is in the other side of the lake. It is also here where Macedonians claim that Naum, student of Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic alphabet.

    Getting there

    It is pretty easy to get to Ohrid from Skopje, there are several buses along the day that cover that distance and they are pretty cheap.

    Once you get to Ohrid, the bus station is away from the city centre, but if you ask the driver he can stop next to the city centre before continue all the way to the bus station.

    The experience

    I had no accommodation booked in Ohrid, but I wasn’t worried at all. Jonathan and Piotr told me that here is common that people approaches you to offer an accommodation. So that is what I did. Not far away from the bus stop where I get out of the bus a man asked me if I needed a room. His English was basic but we get to understood each other. He offered me a one bed apartment. The price he was asking for it was reasonable, but in my long trip I need to save money. I just need one bed and a shower, so I believed I could get something cheaper or a hostel. I rejected his offer, before leaving he stopped me and called a friend. His friend showed me a little studio, after burgling we get to an arrangement.

    Naum happened to be a friendly old man, electric engineer retired that had always left in Ohrid.

    At 8:30 I was in the laundry with the intention of catch later the earliest bus to the Monastery of Saint Naum and visit in the afternoon Ohrid. However, after leaving my clothing on the laundry at the bus stop I found out that the bus was at 8:30 and the next at 11:30 as I had to be back to pick up my clean clothing at 14:00 I thought that missing the Monastery was the only option.

    I had the full day to visit Ohrid which is a little village, so I took my time to walk around all the little streets if the old town. The main sightseeing are the Castle on the top of the hill and the Monastery of St. Clement and Panteleimon. Near the lake is also the Church of St. John the Theologian. In the old town, there are several orthodox churches a byzantine basilica and a roman theatre. At one end of the main street of Ohrid is the mosque and there a perpendicular street with many Turkish tea and pastry shops.

    Old Port of Ohrid

    Monastery of St. Clement and Panteleimon

    Church of St. John the Theologian

    Cyril and Metodius

    Old gate

    After a long day walking I went to enjoy the sunset at the old port of Ohrid. Then I meet a couple of couchsurfers and travellers. She from Bulgaria and he from U.S.A. they were also traveling around the world doing volunteering work. In Ohrid, the showed me the little hidden treasures of the village: Some mosaics next to the old theatre that I didn’t find on my own and a paper store with original gravures. We ended the walk at one of the tea shops having Turkish tea along the secondary street of Ohrid. The main is a commercial pedestrian street that goes from the port to the mosques are. The second one is perpendicular to the first on near the mosques and is full of tea shops and Turkish pastries.

    Nest day I had the idea of leaving my studio to go to Tirana, Albania, as I had planned. But at the same time, I had this feeling of tranquillity and peace inside of me telling me to stay and relax here a little more. So I checked hostels in Tirana and Vlora. The prices where more or less the same that what I was paying for an studio for my own. After that I decided to contact my landlord and ask him if I can stay two more nights. He accepted with pleasure.

    Struga

    I went to visit the village of Struga nearby. This village is like Ohrid, a touristic summer destiny for Macedonians. The main difference is that here there are almost no historical remains. It is mostly a new city.

    Getting there

    As Struga is the main city in the area and is few kilometres away, there are buses every 20 minutes from the main roundabout near the city centre that goes straight to Struga. However if you want to go to Struga bus station, you better tell the driver in advance as he won’t go there if no one ask for it.

    The experience

    When I get there I went to the bus station from where I have to departure to Tirana to get the information about the journey. Thanks to doing this I get to know that the bus station was far away from the city centre and quite hidden.

    From there I walked the canal of Struga until the lake side where I encounter a lovely French old couple travelling in a caravan. In the city there was nothing really interesting to see. As I visited it, the greater attraction was the main commercial street and walking along the canal.

    Anecdote

    Visiting the city, I get to one of the orthodox churches they have. As I approached to the entrance an old man said me something. As I couldn’t understand him I continued. He raised his voice and pointed a bunch of bills he had in his hand. I assume that he wanted to charge me an entrance fee, but I nodded my head saying “no” and continued. He started yelling to me, but I peacefully continued in my way in. Most of the Orthodox churches I’ve visited you cannot take pictures inside, so to admire them you not need to act like a tourist. When I was getting in I felt how the old man did stand up in my direction. I already was getting in the church. Once inside I step in the middle and prayed at the time I was looking around me. I might not be Orthodox but after visiting so many churches I learnt how praying works.

    The old man stayed out of the church at the door. When I left the church in rehabilitation he did say nothing to me.

    The way back to Ohrid from Struga is the same as coming to Struga. There is a bus every 10-20 min that goes from the city centre of one village to the other one.

    Monastery Saint Naum

    I woke up early to catch the 8:30 bus to the Monastery of Saint Naum. The Monastery is located 30km. from Ohrid on the border with Albania. The monastery is a byzantine orthodox monastery next to natural water springs. It is there where Cyril and Methodius are buried.

    Getting there

    During the high season, there are several buses that goes from Ohrid centre to the monastery. However, out of tourist season, they get reduced to 3 or 4. The best was to catch the earliest bus at 8:00 am to so you can get the one back at 13:00 having time enough to visit the monastery and the surroundings. There are also taxis and shared taxis that will charge you more, even more if you don’t speak their language.

    Anecdote

    Waiting at the bus stop at 8:00 a man approaches to the locals waiting there. He told me together with them to join in his car. From the previous day I knew that there were taxis that try to pic people from the bus stops to their destiny for a bit more than the bus price. This car was not a taxi and the people that came in were locals so I felt confident and joined. He dropped people in the way and picked others. He was doing a service as a taxi and people were paying him. Normally about 40-50 denars.

    When we get to the monastery I asked him how much it was and he asked me for 20€, what in terms of denars was 1200. I told him that this was a robbery that I can only afford the price of the bus, 150 denars. At that time, I had no idea what was the real price of the bus. He asked me for 300 both ways, I ended up giving him 200 and I will give him 100 more when he picked me up from there at 10:00.

    The experience

    The monastery is a small orthodox monastery on top of a little promontory over a port. It was beautiful and the views of the Ohrid lake and the mountains from there are amazing. At around 9:50 I was ready. Waiting to the car driver to come I asked the time and price of the bus. It was 110 denars. While waiting, I thought that it was early in the morning, too early to come back to Ohrid to do nothing, looking around I found that I could visit the water springs by foot hiking around the little lake. Considering than taking the bus will be only 10 denars more than what I was about to pay the driver at 10:00 I started walking. In the way, I discovered a spring inside of a little chapel and walked in the nature in the only sunny day I had in Ohrid. There were also a little chapel and another monastery in the other side of the springs. In the way I could see snakes and lizards.

     

     

    At noon, I took the bus back to Ohrid where I had lunch at the port. Next to the centre of Ohrid, along the lake there are several restaurants with terraces. If you pay attention to the pricing and the look of the food in other tables you might find a good deal as most of them have prices for tourists.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling near the lake. Next step was Albania.

  • Blog
  • Bulgaria

    After landing in Bulgaria with Maremoto Jan, we decided to travel across the country to Sofia. Traveling with Jan makes always a difference.

    About

    Bulgaria is a Balkan country, the first of my RodTrip. As most of them, it is a melting pot of cultures and it’s full of history. Their language is heritage of the Slaves, with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, their folklore and gastronomy is more related with the Balkans. The majority of the country is Christian Orthodox, but there are still Muslims from the Ottoman Empire.

    Bulgaria is now a day is a member of the European Union, but still it is not part of the Schengen Zone nor the Euro. Europe requires them to end up with the corruption. As if we had no corruption back in Europe. Even though the quality of life I felt it was as good as the European standards. In terms of economy, it is a cheap country. Not as cheap as Ukraine, but approximately.

    Varna

    My journey in Bulgaria – I may say “our journey”, as I travelled with Jan – started after we disembark from the Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta 2016. I sailed on board of the Atyla Traing Ship and he controlled the Regatta communications from the Bulgarian vessel Royal Helena.

    About

    Varna is the mayor city of Bulgaria in the Black Sea. It is the summer destination not only of Bulgarians, but also of Russians and other Balkan citizens. As you may imagine, it is full of hotels, restaurants and activities for tourists. Varna, it is also a business and university centre, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine.

    Thanks to Jan travelling at the Royal Helena we made a good friendship with several citizens. Among them, the Captain of The Royal Helena, Stoil, and his engineer. Super gently people that let us stay on board of the vessel while we were in the city.

    After the regatta as I was saying in the previous post, few vessels rested in Varna with the Royal Helena and the Kaliakra. One was the Akela, which young sailors were about to rest a couple of weeks after their long journey from Saint Petersburg to the Black Sea. The second one was Pogoria from Poland. Pogoria, due to a problem in their engine had to rest to be repaired.

    Pavel, the engineer of the Royal Helena, in his great generosity helped the crew from Pogoria to get ready to depart in a couple of days. Meanwhile, we had the chance to meet and eat with their crew. I must say that Krzysztof, Captain of Pogoria, was a storyteller worth meeting. Pilot and now captain of the Polish training ship he told us about the discipline on board and about many anecdotes in his adventurous life. He made us laugh in every dinner and drink. In his generosity, Kryzstof, even offered me to travel with them on board. Unfortunately, they were going to Poland and I was supposed to be heading East.

    We shared many moments all together as a big gang until Pogoria left Varna back to Poland and we left to Veliko Tanovo. I felt so comfortable with all of them, the captains, the crew and the liesson people that helped us while we were in town.

    Bye bye Pogoria

    I visited Varna on my free day while I was on board of Atyla. Among the interests of the city I might highlight the monument at Park-pametnik na balgaro-savetskata druzhba, the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, and my favourite, the Primorsky Park.

    The Primorsky Park is a long park in the coast that separates the city from the sea. It is a garden dense of vegetation with an open-air theatre, a dolphinarium and several monuments. As it is next to the seaside but elevated from it, there are several point of views with nice panoramas of the Black Sea. The long alleys and the zig-zagging paths are perfect to have a walk or some workouts. In the weekends and sunny days, it is full of people. Still I think that what I liked the most of the park is how a green open space separates the city from the beach.

     

    Primosky Park

    With Jan I visited again most of the sightseeings in the city centre and some other places we found in our way like the puppets or the marine museum. We also liked to get lost in the city around the residential areas looking for good places to eat or have a drink, on our own or with our new polish friend Marta.

    Marine Museum

    Puppets museum

    Veliko Tarnovo

    About

    Known as “the city of the Tsars”, it is a small city among three hills capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Thanks to his history and the architecture it attracts many tourists. Even though, there are only few hostels in the old town and few restaurants.

    It took us a while until we finally remembered the name of the city. For some reason since Varna, until we were in Veliko Tarnovo we weren’t able to say where we where travelling to. Thanks to the walking tour we not only learned about the city history, but also that the name came from “Terranova” and to distinguish from another Tarnovo was added the Bulgarian prefix “Veliko” that means “Great” attending to it’s relevance during the Second Empire.

    The old town is located among the three hills what means that walking in the city is going up and down steep streets and stairs. As well there are nice panoramas of the city from the top and of the city from bellow.

    Panoramas

    In the old town there are magnificent architectural remains of the old capital, Orthodox churches, patios, houses and streets.

    City centre

    But the main sightseeing is the Tsarevets. It is a Citadel in one of the hills where is the Palace of the Bulgarian Emperors and the Patriarchal Church.

    Tsarevets

    Here we also learned about the Baldwin I. It happened that the first Latin Emperor Baldwin I and count of Flanders died in one of the towers of the Tsarevts after being captured by the Tsar Kaloyan. According to the legend, the wife of the Tsar felt in love with Baldwin. He rejected her several times not to betray his marriage. In revenge, the Tsar’s wife accused him of raping her for what he was hanged in the tower. Now the tower where he was prisoner is named after him.

    The other main sightseen of the city is the Monument Asenevtsi. It is in the other side of the river and it represents the four emperors of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

    Monument Asenevtsi

    As it started to be usual in our journey, Jan and I, in between visits we liked to try the local gastronomy. As Bulgaria wasn’t an expensive country we didn’t mind to visit the three main restaurants of the city. We really enjoyed eating and drinking well. In one of our romantic dinners we get to try a local wine called “No man land” according to Jan it was our place to be.

    Plovdiv

    About

    It is considered one of the oldest cities of the world with remains from the 6th millennia BC. The city has known Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders and Turks. All of them left behind a trace of their culture and architecture.

    Plovdiv is crossroad in the Balkans and a commercial city from it’s very origins. Plovdiv, as Rome was settle among seven hills. However, only 6 of theme remain. In difference to Rome, it is located in a great fertile esplanade where the hills that reach even 250 metres are the landmarks that makes a difference with the environment.

    Our next stop in the way to Sofia was this historic city that we didn’t get to find so interesting. The little cheap hotel where we stayed didn’t help so much, but we overcame that fact by meeting new people. In this case other travellers.

    To visit the city as it came to be common in our travel we take advantage of the Free Walking Tour. With it we visit the remains of the romans in the city centre, the main street, the old town, the area of Kapana and walked up one of the hills of the city. By our own we visited two other hills. The clock and the big monument.

    Plovdiv

     

     

    We stayed in Plovdiv two nights, more than enough. Unfortunately, we left before the fest in Kapana It looked great. That was the area of the city where we used to eat at. It is kind of an alternative square with plenty commerce. Just note that the service in the Balkans is not like in Europe.

    IT was in Plovdiv where I visited my first Mosque in this trip. We were already in a former Ottoman region and getting closer to the Middle East.

    Mosque

    Sofia

    About

    Sofia is the mayor city of Bulgaria and its capital city. It is as well one of the cosmopolitan cities of the country with Varna. Among its population there are many Muslims, Jews and Catholics even if the majoritarian religion in the country is the Orthodox Christianism.

    The experience

    We get to Sofia by bus as we used to travel all around Bulgaria. The station was as always far away from the city centre, and we walked to our hostel having a preview of the Bulgarian capital city. In our hostel we slept in a 20 beds dorm to save money. It was a dark mansard turned into a room on the top of the building. There were 10 beds in each side and ours where at the end of the room. The roof was low and as it seems common to me and Jan found out fast, I like to hit my head daily. At the room, I increased my average. The good thing is that the lobby of the hostel was always full of life but not all the staff were nice.

    The time we stayed in Sofia the weather was rainy and a bit cold. Winter was coming. Between rain and storm, we visited the city. It is not a big city and the old town is easy to visit it in one or two days.

    The first day there, after the rain we catch the Free walking tour of the afternoon. We ended it frozen. With the Free tour we learnt about the Romans visiting the roman remains and walked the “Cardos” of the former settlement. We crossed the Byzantine walls and visited the cathedral. Also, we passed by several Ottoman mosques and the Communist political headquarters.





    Among the particularities of Sofia my favourite is that you can find a temple for the different monotheistic religions around the main square, must of them preserved by the communist as cultural buildings.

    After such an overview of the city we visited some museums and the more urban areas looking for nice places to eat, chat and hang out. As we had three days in Sofia we had plenty nice meals together and we even share some of them with people we met on Couchsurfing, Tinder or just in the bars.

    Anecdote

    Bulgaria is a country with a nice wine region in the south. We didn’t visit although we thought about it. We hadn’t the time to visit all. But we knew to taste it there was no need for it. We found a nice-looking wine bar next to the city centre. We tried to take a wine there every night but there was always an event there. Hopefully the last night we slept in Sofia the event was a Wine tasting that we could join even if we get there late.

    We get to taste 5 Bulgarian wines for less than what we expected to spend. After everyone from the event left, we stayed at the bar talking with two American girls from next table talking with the waiter and a girl that came to meet us there.

    That was the beginning of a crazy night that will end up with Jan missing his next-day morning flight after several Raki.

    Raki is a strong alcohol that in Bulgaria is made from grapes and is not sweet at all. It’s about 70% and Bulgarians say won’t cause you a headache. Not true!

    Even though, the night was kind of magical and special. Unfortunately, I had to sleep in the couch as when we finally manage to get home Jan’s bed was taken by someone else so I put him into my bed.

    Living in a rush after waking up, Jan get it to the next plane back home, unfortunately for him, he owes me a great big hug plus the interests. ;P

     

    That same day after visiting all the temples in the main square, I left Bulgaria.

    Thanks again Jan fur such a magical experience with you in Bulgaria.

    Travelling Bulgaria

    The best way to travel in Bulgaria might be by bus. It is a cheap way and connects almost every city. However, do pay attention at the schedules and that the bus stations are rarely next to the city centre.

    Regarding safety, it is a safe country were you just need to pay attention to pickpockets and some scams for tourist, mainly by taxi drivers next to the airport, bus or train stations.

    Food is great in Bulgaria, really tasty and perfect to marriage with local wines, and generally is cheap.

  • Blog
  • Russia

    Visiting Russia was achieving a dream. There, people showed me how much Russians are generous, sociable, friendly and warm. Who said that smiling in Russia was exceptional?

    Train to Moscow

    As I already told in the previous post -> UKRAINE , I was in a hot 3rd class wagon. Once again, as I find it comfortable and it was cheaper, I get an upper bed. The one here had less space towards the celling as on top was the space for the luggage.

    Next to me, in the upper bed was a Russian guy with whom I didn’t get to chat too much. Bellow us to women, one from Russia and the other form Ukraine. Between them all the three spoke in Russian. None of them spoke English. However, one of the woman helped me a lot with my passport, offered me to sat next to her, and told me about her family. If you wander how we get to talk about all that, just by willing. My favourite international language, hand shaking! She even introduced to me a lady from England that was crossing Eurasia and was about to catch the Trans-Siberian. In one week, she would be in Vladivostok. That would be the fast way for me. I prefer always to take the long way.

    1515 Entering Russia

    The passport control on the train took one hour and a part form the surprise of the policeman and the soldiers that escort him when they knew that I was Spanish, we had no other surprise. As a little anecdote. One of the soldiers started playing with a kid and at the end gave his phone number in a paper to the mother.

    Moscow

    Moscow is the capital city of Russia. Heart of the Soviet Union in the past and of the communism. That is something that you can see and feel all around. AS the USSR was the “victorious” of the Second World War and the Communism ended progressively, all the monuments and symbols of that time still everywhere. There is a debate if they shall remove some of them or leave them as part of their history.

    Also, the communist even being non-religious and non-monarchical, they left many churches and palaces as treasures of the city with a didactical purpose. Other buildings that had been demolished or destroyed during the communism were rebuilt as they were originally.

    The city is a huge city perfectly connected with a concentric and radial underground. In the heart of the city is the Kremlin and there are big open areas everywhere. Not only the red square for political demonstrations, but also green gardens and parks. Even if there’s people all around the city, I never felt Moscow as a busy, crowded city.

    One of the most amazing thing in Moscow is the Underground or Metro. In the city centre, most of the stations are masterpieces. That is due to the fact that the USSR government wanted to make the labourers that they were the power of the city and that all this was made for them as the communism was great for everyone. Anyway, also the new or more contemporary stations in the outskirts of the city are also impressive. However, these ones have no trace of Communist symbols.


    13/09

    My host in Moscow sent a friend to pick me up at the train station. However, it took us almost an hour to find each other. As I couldn’t find her I looked for some open Wi-Fi next to the station and contacted her.

    She took me to Lepold’s house and told me a little about the city, where to go and what to eat. Then she went to work and left me alone. I took my time to have a shower and waited for Leopold to meet him.

    With Leopold, I spoked in French as he wanted to improve his French speaking. The first moments he asked me several times to slow down. I was so excited for being in Moscow that I forget about it.

    We ate something and he took me for a bike ride around the city centre. It was already night and a bit cold, but I really enjoy passing by the Kremlin, the Red Square, and the Church of Jesus the Saviour.

    Mockba

    Church of Jesus the Saviour

    Me and my new host at hos favourite metro station

    Also, I start to learn how was Leopold. He told me about his life in Russia and his family. With him I felt like I will bother him if I asked too much, so I just let him tell me rather than inquiry him as I tend to do sometimes.

    Back home we had a tea and went to bed.

    14/09

    Leopold went to work in the morning and when I woke up I went to visit the city centre. I started next to the Bolshoi Theatre and walked to the Red Square; around the Kremlin; across the river at the Church of Jesus the Saviour and back to Old Arbat Street.

    I didn’t want to visit any monument as first I wanted to have an Idea of what was Moscow as a city. At least the heart of the city.

    Bolshoi Theatre

    History museum and the Red Square

    Church of Jesus the Saviour

    As happy as if I were in Moscow

    I must say that everything was clean and all the buildings were well preserved. It was because it is the capital city and have to be impressive? Probably. I doubt that all Russia will be as impressive as Moscow.

    Regarding the security, there are police everywhere and bag and metal controls in every entrance to a public building: Commercial centres, Monuments, Museums, and the Metro. I felt completely save.

    As I’ve been told, Putin recently renew all the police department, the former Militia, to finish with the corruption and to grant security. All the police officers were young fitted agents.

    Back to my tour, Old Arbat is a long commercial street were the youth goes for shipping. It is one of the alternative areas of Moscow. At the end of the street is the Palace of Justice. One of the Staling Imperialist Style towers. There are seven in Moscow – and one in Warsaw. Also, next to Old Arbat is the house of the Russian architect Melnikov. As an architect, I had to visit it.

    Walking along Old Arbat Street

    Melnikof Studio House near Old Arbat Street

    Pace of justice

    After a long day walk I went back to Leopold’s to meet him there. He planned to take me to the Russian Bath.

    He prepared everything, even after asking him what did I need to go, his answer wasn’t clear to me so I just helped to put everything into a bag to go together.

    The Russian Bath is basically a big sauna next to a shower and some cold-water baths and out of the wet area a big room like a restaurant where you can drink and eat. Locals use to come once a week or a month to relax after work. They talk about football, politics, women, and hobbies while they have a Vodka or a bier with some shrimps.

    We ate some snacks and drunk water as a first-time experience. We spent 15 minutes at the sauna, whipped each other with a plant they use to open the pores and then a cold bath, a shower and 5 to 10 minutes resting at the bar. We did that like four times in two hours.

    After the experience, I felt completely relaxed. Back home we had a tea and went to bed.

    15/09

    In the morning, I tried to get early to the Kremlin to avoid the crowd and the tours. When I get there, I found no one. Not even someone that could tell me where was the entrance.

    Finally, I found out that it was closed on Thursdays. Every board was in Russian, so I couldn’t understand anything so far. Disappointed, I started thinking what to do then. At that point I saw two men struggling looking where to buy a entrance to the Kremlin. I approach them and told them that it was closed. They appreciated the information and after telling me that there were about to stay only one day in Moscow, I decided to take them around and showed them the little I discovered with my host.

    Former KGB building

    I showed them the former KGB building, the Bolshoi and the Old Arbat Street. We ate together and then they went to catch a flight to Siberia. There were two men from the U.S.A. One of them was married with a Russian and was about to move to Alicante. They came to Russia to pick their car and made a Road Trip across Europe to Spain. As you might see, we had a lot in common to talk about.

    That afternoon Leopoldo was about to meet with some friends so not to bother him I had a date with a girl from Couchsurfing. Vika showed me the University, Another Stalin Imperialistic Tower, she showed me the fanciest supermarket I had ever seen and took me for a cheap 50% reduction dinner. I felt a really good with her and we talked about many things. She was of those smiley people I like to encounter.

    University of Moscow

    The fanciest Supermarket ever

    Back to Leopoldo’s, his friends still there and we chatted and drunk together. They didn’t speak a fluent English, but we get to understood each other.

    Once they left Leopoldo and I we had our goodnight tea while I told him how happy I was feeling in Moscow.

    16/09

    I woke up after Leopoldo left the house so I had breakfast and went out. Not to end what he had in his house I went every day to the supermarket next to his place and brought some products like fruit, bred and chocolate for both of us. He almost never took of what I brought.

    Days were getting colder little by little. Winter is coming. As Leopoldo told me, normally by this time of the year it is much colder and rainy. I felt lucky. As the day was uncertain about the rain I took an umbrella and went to visit the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

    Total disappointment. It is as an History museum filled with replicas. I can understand it might be good to have some replicas as support to teach the kids, but then it should be much cheaper the entrance fee. Create a replica it is much cheaper than preserve an original.

    Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

    In the afternoon, I went to try to accomplish one challenge. Elise sent me a letter to Moscow. As I have no address she sent it here. I told them to send it to the central post office, so I could pick it up there. The challenge was to recover the letter.

    I went to three post office from one they send me to another. No one spoke English so I had to explain myself with a paper a pen and mimic. There I found what a different make someone willing to help against someone who doesn’t care.

    At the end I didn’t get the letter as Elise happened to drop it at the post box rather than presented at the post office where she would have get a number to follow the letter. Pity!

    Le Corbousier in my challenge to receive my letter

    As in Russia I get a SIM card, I contacted some people to meet in Couchsurfing and we went for a beer. What started with some beers at 8 pm., ended at 4 am. with gallons of beer. We had fun though!

    Moscow fast CS meeting

    17/09

    I was alone at Leopoldo’s as he went to meet his family in a village at the outskirt of Moscow. How gently that he left me alone. I even ask him twice if he would have preferred me to leave. I really get to feel like home with him. I cleaned, cooked, and did everything I would have done at my house.

    After lunch as I woke up a bit late, I went for a relaxing walk at the park next to his place. The day was again uncertain, cold, sunny and rainy from time to time. The perfect day for a walk on a big park with nice views to Moscow, some Orthodox old churches and a forest to get lost.

     

    I wanted to relax after last day non-stop. So back home from my walk I cook some dinner and watched a movie. I had an invitation to go to a birthday party that night though. It happened to be really easy to make friends in Moscow so far.

    18/09

    As that morning, the weather was cold but it was not potentially rainy I went to visit the Kremlin. This time I didn’t care about the crowd. I just went there. And yes, it was full of tourist everywhere. AS you may imagine there is a hard security control to get in. It is there where Putin works.

    At the queue, I get confused and at the beginning I stopped in the groups one. I thought it was the only one. But it is not. There is one for independent visitors that goes much faster.

    Inside of the Kremlin you can visit most of the area and the Orthodox Churches. Also, the Kremlin museum, but you cannot take pictures inside of the buildings. Also there is normally possible to visit one of the towers, but that day it was closed due to the wind. I guess they fear that the tower may fall down. If not it make no sense to me.

    After the visit to the Kremlin, I attend a Couchsurfing Pic-Nic at the Gorky Central Park of Culture. To get to there I walked along the river watching the monuments and observing people all around. Someone told me not to smile too much in Russia and that Russians weren’t close together when they were walking in couples. All lies or inventions, they behaved the same as does people in the rest of Europe.

    At the Pic-Nic I met a lot of people and I end up talking with a girl that was learning Spanish by her own.

    Later on I had an appointment with another girl from Couchsurfing. A designer. With her we walker her favourite street, Old Arbat. She wanted to show me the house of Melnikof even if had already visited, we went back. What I wanted was more to learn about her life in Moscow rather than the city. I really liked to meet her and get to know many things of Russia with her. Also, we spoke about design art and architecture. We disagreed in our appreciation of Zaha Hadid, but that made it much more interesting.

     

    As it was about to be my last night at Leopoldo’s I get home before him to cook something for him. I prepare “Pisto” for four and none of us eat more than one dish. Hope he liked it as I left him food for the whole week.

    19/09

    This was my last day in Moscow and I was not in a hurry to get to visit anything. I knew I was leaving many big parks and monuments behind, but I was happy of my Moscow experience. So complete.

    On Facebook I get suggested to visit the Orthodox Churches at the south of the Kremlin. Half way from Leopoldo’s to the city centre. So that I did. There are all in line along the main street and when I get to the end I had a magnificent view of the Red Square and the Kremlin from the other side of the river. I spent most of the day walking the area.

    Back at Leopoldo’s I went for him to get back from work to say farewell and went straight to the train station where I had something for dinner.

    Once again a 20 hours night train. This time the destination was Volgograd. Once again in the upper bed of a second-class wagon. However, this time everyone in my compartment was speaking English.

    At the compartment, we were two girls, one was a teacher of Russian and the other her chines student. They travelled to Moscow to solve some Visa issues. The fourth was Irakli. There I met a great friend.

    Irakli lives in Volgograd and came to Moscow for some businesses. I spent most of the ride talking with him. Also with the girls, but he told me a lot about what to do and where to go in Volgograd. I know that if I hadn’t a place to stay he would have host me. He happened to be originally from Georgia when the USSR. So when I told him that I was going there he offer me the contact of his friends to help me.

    I think I have never found someone more generous than Irakli. He might be in the top class with my mom.

    Volgograd

    Volgograd, former Stalingrad. The city changed his name to the city of the Volga, the river after the Troika. Locals didn’t want their city be named after Stalin as they believe that he committed so many cruel actions.

    The city is 120km. long and host only one million inhabitants. It is a linear city along the Volga and you may take from one to three hours to drive from one to the other side of the city. Hopefully, the few touristic places of interest are in the city centre near the train station.

    It is more an industrial city rather than a touristic one. Their main business is the metallurgy industry. Due to the global crisis, their economy has fall down and many factories stopped their production.

    20/09

    Anecdote

    I get to Volgograd in the afternoon and walked to the Hostel I was about to stay. It was raining. I went to the address of the Hostel and I couldn’t find a trace of it. As I thought that I might have been wrong, I walked in the other way of the street to see if I could find it out. It wasn’t there either. I asked some police man and private security where was that address. No one spoke English, but they helped me a lot. Finally, they all confirmed me that it was where I started to look for it.

    I was checking the comments of other guest to find the location. The place had a 9.4 on Booking it shouldn’t be so difficult to find it. But yes, it was. It was in the back of a building and without any indication. Once I get to the hostel it was a regular house adapted. They simply change the furniture of the rooms to bunkbeds and that’s it. The toilet was disgusting. Soo disgusting, that I changed my stay from two days to one in the fact. And for sure I didn’t have a shower even if I felt as I need one.

    However, I spent the night there as I wasn’t in the mood to look for another place. I just went to the supermarket to buy something for dinner. I cooked and while cooking I was drinking a beer. When the landlady saw me, she freaked out and explained me that I could not drink Alcohol in the hostel. I apologised and she explained me that was the law, but I could finish my beer. My solution, and I did it in front of her, was to finish a bottle of juice I had from the train and refill the bottle with the beer. She couldn’t do but smile to me.

    After eating I spent the night talking with a Israeli guy that had a strong bond with Russia. He told me about his travels in Russia and worldwide and about Israel. We had a good chat, so good that I forget to ask his contact. Like him there will be lot of people that are going to light my day, gave me an interesting chat full of knowledge and then vanish from my life into the world.

    21/09

    First thing in the morning, moving out. I checked for another hostel in the area and move there. Not even booked online, just get to the place and asked for a bed. Again, the girl at the reception spoke no English, but we get to communicate. Half an hour later I was clean and on the road to visit the city.

    As I told, Volgograd is about to mayor streets along the river. I walked one, Lenin Street, north. In the way, I found the Tourist information, where I decided to stop to ask for a map of the city and some advice.

    There were three ladies working there. The three of them spoke English, and one also French. I spoke in both languages with them. Anastasia, the one who spoke more directly to me, explained me all I could do in Volgograd. I guess they were happy that I came in as they interview me about how I was there and my trip. I end up telling them all my story.

    Such a nice encounter. We even exchange contacts. Ans they offered me to help me in whatever I might need in the city. What a kind and generous ladies.

    From there I walked to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. What a shame that it was closed and it was about to be closed just the days I was in Volgograd. At the beginning, I thought they were restoring. But all the police control all around the museum made me think differently.

    Stalingrad Museum

    Pavlov’s House

    I continued by the house of Pavlov and the Lenin Square North to the site of the new Stadium for the World Cup. It was under construction, I could see the structure, what already caught my eye.

    Then I get below the hill of Mamayev Kurgan – Motherland – This is a huge monument of a women holding a sward leading Russia to Victory. This hill is a memorial to the Russians dead in the World War and to the victory against the Nazis.

    On the way to the top there are several memorials to the working class and the army. Before getting to the top, on the right side is the monument to the unknown soldier. I get the chance to see how they change the guard. Event that happens every hour.

     Mamayev Kurgan


    Unknown Soldier Memorial

    Behind Mamayev Kurgan is the Army museum and a little soldiers’ cemetery.

    Cemetery

    It is a long walk from the hostel to Mamayev Kurgan, but I walked back again. In the way back I ate something in a menu restaurant next to the University and cross the University to feel the environment and then I continued next to the river back to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. Pretending to be a tourist I tried to reach the gate until a Policeman stopped me and told me that It was closed.

    I crossed the railway to visit an Orthodox Church that Irakli suggested me. And in my way back to the hostel I had the chance to see the sunset and the night coming up from the top of the Train Station.

    Train Station Night

    I thought it was early to get back to the hostel, but there was not much to do around. Against my feeling I bought something to cook at the hostel and went back in. At the hostel, there were only two other guests that seemed more to have been there for a long term. We slept all in the same room. Also, there was a guy at the reception. Well, all the three of them were watching a stupid film in the TV. None of them talked to me neither said “Dobro” to answer my salutation.

    22/09

    I had all the day in Volgograd and I had already seen almost everything interesting. I had only one other suggestion from Irakli, a church to the south. I decided to walk there. First I walked to the riverside next to my hostel. The Volga is impressive. I could imagine the people having a sunbath in summer in the other riverside. I walked south and crossed a bridge to the real Volgograd. The side my hostel was, was more bureaucratic and touristic. The other side was full of people walking on the streets, shops and commerce all around. It really made a change. I walked watching people and I realized that there was a big community of students from India and China.

    The Church was a long walk south, but I had plenty time to walk back. I spent my time visiting the vivid areas of the city to see people behaviour. Walked to a mall and a street full of fast food restaurants. I ate at one of them and continued my way to the hostel where I picked my backpack

    That day Irakli called me, he picked me at the hostel and took me for a ride in his car to the other side of the Volga. He showed me the little things I couldn’t visit as they were a little too far. What a genuine great guy. I wish I would meet him again.

    He dropped me at the train station to catch my train. The entrance of the train station is the fountain of the film Enemy at the Gates and I couldn’t avoid sending a picture of it to me best friend Laura with whom I had shared a lot of comments about the film when it was released.

    That afternoon I had another 20-hours train to Sochi. At that time, I was already an expert on how to travel by train in Russia

    Tips to travel by train in Russia

    I prefer an upper bed in a 2nd class wagon. They are cheaper even some times that the lower bed in a 3rd class wagon.

    Over the door you can place your backpack and access to it whenever you need it without disturbing anyone.

    If you want to chat with someone get a cabin with people, if not, the best option is to get one empty and probably you can get the whole cabin for you on your own.

    There’s no plugs inside of the cabins, but there are two pairs of theme in both sides of the wagon. Approximately between the second and third cabin in both sides. Getting a bed in one of those cabins allow you to plug your device and keep an eye on it from inside the cabin.

    Normally people starts buying their places from the centre of the wagon as is the farthest from the toilets that might be smelly sometimes. I prefer however to take the one that’s in the other side of the cabin of the wagon assistant. Is quitter.

    The waggons assistant will serve you hot water for free all the ride and help you with any issue. That makes people walk to that side more often than to the other.

    As you have hot water all the way I suggest to bring Noodles that you can cook with the boiled water in five minutes, and some bags of tea or soluble coffee. Also, some chocolate, nuts or chips to share with the other people in the waggon. That makes friendship in matters of minutes no matter the language.

    I had the chance to travel on my own most of the way. The waggon was half empty. So, I spare as if it were my room. Just a guy came in for a while and went out all the night. I bet he was working on the train. And sometime in the night a couple occupied the two lower beds for not even 5 hours. I even play music with my phone.

    23/09

    Sochi

    Sochi is a little city in the coast of the Black Sea. It is a summer tourism city that during the high season receives Russians from all the country, specially from Moscow. It is considered to have a microclimate that mild the cold temperatures of Russia. For sure, most of the businesses here are related with the tourism.

    Also, is one of the main trading ports of the Black Sea what has a big influence in Sochi’s economy and infrastructure. However, if the name of Sochi sound familiar to you is probably due to the Winter Olympic Games of 2014. Hosting this event Sochi built a mayor Olympic city with modern architecture next to the border with Georgia.

    Even if everyone told me about the good weather here, I get in a tropical style rainy day. I had to cover myself and my backpack with my raincoat and as I was wearing my sandals to be comfortable at the train, accept that my feet where about to get wet.

    I walked under the rain to my hostel. Even if it was raining, the temperature was good and some lights of sun trespassing the clouds were predicting a sunny afternoon.

    I get to a hostel ran by an Italo-Russian family that barely speaks English. Just the daughter did. However, Italian and Spanish are friendly languages, so we get to understand each other. As I wait for the check in I did the laundry and had a shower, so I could be ready as soon as possible.

    Before coming to Sochi I have been struggling to find out my way out from Russia. My visa is going to expire, and my plan to go to Georgia from Sochi has been changed when I realized that crossing Abkhazia was a problem. Abkhazia is a region in the north of Georgia on the border with Russia. Recently, 2 years ago, they claimed their independence from Georgia. The point is that only Russia recognize Abkhazia as an independent country.

    Georgia still recognise the region of Abkhazia as part of their territory, but they have no control on the border with Russia. So, if I get to Georgia across Abkhazia, when I get to Georgia police control I would be considered to have entered in the country illegally. This would not only difficult my way out from Georgia, but also can take me to four years of prison. No need to take the risk.

    The other option to exit to Georgia is to surround Abkhazia. The problem is that will take me a couple of days. So, I will have to run to get it before my visa expires. I also checked if there where ferries from Sochi to Batumi, but they only work during the high season.

    Talking with Jan, a friend from Malaga that I will meet here in Sochi we found another possible solution.

    Jan is one of my sailor friends from Malaga. We meet thanks to the events I used to organise back there and came really good friends. He came to Sochi at the same time as I did not to meet me but to sail from Sochi to Varna, Bulgaria in a Tall Ship Regatta across the Black Sea. As there where several vessels leaving Russia we thought that maybe I could find a place in one of the vessels before I get there.

    Maremoto-Jan and I

     

    Jan was part of the organisation, so he knew most of the people of the event. He started asking for a place for me before I get there. How ironic is life sometimes, that he found a place for me in a boat with a Vanuatu flag made in Bilbao whose captain is called Rodrigo.

    To join the crew, I had to get to the port as soon as possible, to meet the captain, arrange with him my inscription and also with the Regatta and the Customs. Lot of paperwork to do in so little time.

    Once ready, I met Jan at the shipyard. Meeting him in Sochi, dressed as an organizer of the Regatta was weird but amazing. As social as he is, he started introducing me people of the Sailing world. He really welcomed me to his sailing family.

    After a little tour around we went to Atyla, the Vanuatu Sailing ship of Rodrigo. There he explained me what was to be a member of his crew and how would be my day-a-day as Trainee. He asked me to think about it before taking any decision. It just took about one hour to confirm him that I wanted to joining the Atyla Training Ship.

    Atyla

    Documents fulfilled I was welcome to join the vessel whenever it pleased me. I decided to do it the following day.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon with Jan from one corner to one another of the decks and meeting new people.

    The night was the Crew Party. All the crew members of all the vessels had a party in every city they visit. This time was in an hotel where we had beers for free and some snacks. Basically, Potato Chips. There I met for the first time the crew of the Atyla and end up talking with a Russian guy that was about to leave the vessel the day I would join it.

    Crew party

    At the end of the night Jan get lovely lost and I walked back to the city with Chuck. In the way, we met a random Russian guy with whom we spoke about the political situation of Russia, Putin and as I like to say, we fixed the world.

    To be continue…

  • Blog
  • Ukraine

    This was my first time in Ukraine and first country out of the Schengen zone. Here Latin typography changes to Cyrillic. In Ukraine I can say that I overcame my comfort zone to the East.

    05/09

    From Warsaw to Lvov

    I spent the morning chatting with Adriana my couchsurfer host in Warsaw and checking some information about Kiev and the train to Russia. The breakfast was at always fulfilling, not only for my stomach but my brain. This girl is someone who can give you references about any topic. Before living her place to pick my BlaBlaCar to Lvov she even granted me with a beautiful postcard with the references we talked about and a little beautiful text.

    13:00 I had the appointment with Mikhailo, the guy who was about to take me to Lvov. Before meeting him behind the Cultural and Science Centre I get something to lunch. The ride was about to be 5 hours.

    The ride to Lvov was quite as Mikhailo didn´t speak English and I did not speak Ukranian or Polish. However, we get to have some conversations about events and things we watched in the way.

    At the border with Ukraine we had a double control. First to get out of Poland and the Schengen Area and then to get in Ukraine. As Mikhailo told me we have been lucky as we needn’t to wait any queue. Even, both police control went fast.

    Ukraine BorderAt the border

    Once in Lvov Mikhailo picked up his friends and drop me next to my hostel. He was so gently that he offered me to contact him if I had any trouble.

    It was already night when I get to Lvov and the day was cloudy and rainy all the way from Poland to Ukraine. The city looked like a grey city with not much light in the streets. It made me feel a little sad. That night I went to an ATM to extract some cash and then to buy some food for prepare dinner.

    Lvov NightLvov by Night

    Back with the food I met Haci, a Turkish guy that was staying at my same room. There was also a blond girl who didn’t even answer when I salute her. Haci offered me to dinner with him of the fried vegetables he was preparing. In exchange, I offered him a beer and some chocolate as desert. His English is not perfect, but I guess it might be funny to see us talking.

    That night he told me a little about his life and I told him about mine. We didn’t go out but stayed at the lunchroom of the hostel till late. I forget that here it’s one hour later than in de European Community.

    06/09

    Lvov

    Lvov is a small city at the west of Ukraine. It used to be one big cultural Polish city, but after the Russians occupancy most of the wise people of the country had to emigrate or face death. The Soviets gave education to the mayor of the population int heir occupied territory, but they did dislike people with their own ideas, different from the ones of the government.

    Lvov was and might be right now the cultural capital of Ukraine. With a magnificent Opera and majestic buildings. Its Old Town is full of churches. This region of Ukraine is mainly Catholic. However, you can start to see the presence of the Orthodox. It is fascinating how religions, as ideas change as you travel. It is not related to politic boarders, but cultural influences.

    Lvov was a small city where I had planned to stay several days. Worried of getting annoyed I decided to slow down my rhythm while visiting the city. The day wasn’t shining so I took my time to leave the hostel.

    I went to visit the Cathedral first and the garden named after the Hero of the city, Ivan Franko. He wasn’t a warrior or a king as people might expect from a Hero. It was a writer.

    Lvov CathedralCathedral of Lvov

    Ivan Franko GardenGarden of Ivan Franko

    From the garden, I went to the boulevard and to the Opera Theatre.

    Anecdote

    As I had good references of the Opera House of Lvov I was wondering if it would be possible to visit it. When I get to the door I saw people getting in through the main door so I followed them. I thought that it was open to the public. Once in the main hall two big groups get separated in both sides of the hall. It was then when I realised that I had just squeezed inside of the Opera as a member of a tour. I took some pictures of the inside and as I was not part of the tour I went back to the entrance. The door was close. I was locked in with two tour groups in Ukrainian. I followed one of them from far away, seeming sometimes that I was coming always with the other group. I get to visit all the Opera without talking to anyone.

    Lvov Opera HouseTheatre Opera House

    Lvov Opera House

    Lvov Opera HouseBack to the city I started to visit it zig-zagging from the side of the Opera and the Boulevard to the Castle. Not willing, I keep following the tours of the Opera jumping from one to another around the churches of the city.

    Back to the market place I went back to the hostel to see if my Turkish friend was ready to go for a walk together. He has a hangover from yesterday night. I couldn’t explain it as we had drunk the same and I did not felt tired in the morning.

    As he preferred to rest, I went out again to continue on the other half of the old town. In the direction of the Fireman station.

    Walking Lvov

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    img_2441-webWalking in Lvov

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    I left the castle to visited with Haci. This time when I went back to the hostel he was ready to go for a walk. Together we visited the Southeast part of the old town. And surrounded it on the East to the north to get to the market. It was late and most of the market stores were closing. We were looking for some chicken for dinner. But we couldn’t find it. Neither in the market or the supermarket they had chicken. We bought some vegetables and cooked them for dinner.

    Dinner with Haci

    As the previous night we took dinner together chatting about turkey and Ukraine. We didn’t drink as the previous night, so we went to bed earlier. We planned to continue visiting the city the next day and what to dinner.

    07/09

    Second day in Lvov. I felt like if I had already seen everything here. Thinking of 3 days more here made me feel a bit like I’m wasting my time. Sometimes I’m so hyperactive. I took then the decision of do a bit every day and try to put my blog up to date. Also, to chill out and learn to relax a bit more.

    The day was sunny and warm. Much worth for an outdoor walk than the previous day. So, after doing the laundry, cooking a nice breakfast for Haci and me, arrange all my stuffs.

    During the morning, I chat with an Australian man that sleeps in our same room who also has been traveling al around the world. His son 28yo. had already visited 70 countries when he was 14. So you can have an idea of how much he travels. He did a 6 months’ travel from China to Europe. More or less the opposite way that what might be my journey.

    I went with Haci for a little walk and the train station. He showed me where to pick the bus and how to get in the evening to the High Castle.

    The public transport here is really cheap 2PLN and everyone approaches to the driver to pay their ride. It would be really easy to get a free ride, but no one those it.

    At the train station, I take the challenge of buying my train ticket to Kiev. I could have done it at the hostel on internet, but I preferred to try face to face. Here almost no one speaks English, what makes it a bigger challenge. It wasn’t difficult. I had the chance to meet the nice cashier. By writing in a paper the references of the train, the hours of arrival and departure and the prices we get to understand each other.

    Ticket in hand, we went back to town visiting the nearest Church of St Olha with his clean Neogothic style. The transparent windows made the interior so light as it was the aim of the gothic architecture.

    Walking with Haci

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Haci

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    Then we walk back the garden of Ivan Franko. There we split as he had a date. I continued my walk passing by the hostel and then up to the High Castle.

    Getting to the top of the High Castle is not a big challenge. It is a little hill at the East of the old town from where you can have a nice panorama of all the village. In sunny days like that day, at the top there where a musician, a painter and lots of couples having a romantic time together. Some of them brought up a bottle of campaign to cheers for the sunset.

    img_20160907_182547-webPanorama of Lvov

    Back in the old town I went to the Tourist information to find out what to do the following days. The girl at the Tourist information really did help me with things to do here in Lvov and the surroundings.

    As she advised me I went to dinner to a restaurant at the main square and then I went back to the hostel where I met my friends and a new British guy, Miroslav. His mother was Ukrainian and he with a friend was starting his journey across Europe to Portugal from here.

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    Miroslav playing the bass

    08/09

    Zhovka

    In the morning, I cook breakfast for me and Haci as the previews day. After breakfast, as I considered that I had already seen everything, I went to a village nearby. Zhovka, is a town on the north of Lvov. A small town with local architecture, a fortress, several orthodox churches and a synagogue.

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    Bus in Ukraine

    When the girl from the tourist information told me about the village it sounded to me as an interesting place. However, it wasn’t that much. I get there by bus after 45 minutes. I stopped in the bus station next to a street market. It was next to the Synagogue. The Synagogue was a ruin. An abandon building about to collapse.

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    Synagogue

    A bit farther in the way to the city centre were the Orthodox churches. I went to visit the first one and the complex was open, but the church was closed. I asked a woman if it was possible to visit the church. She pointed to the doorbell. I ring the bell and insisted but no one came. After a while I desisted and tried in the next church.

    The other church was under restauration so it was impossible to visit. The same happened with the Fortress.

     

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    Churches and Fortress

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    Fortress

    It seems that they had receive recently an investment to repair the whole town. AS it was lunch time I went to one of the terraces in the middle of the old town to have a sandwich. After lunch I tried again the first church, just in case it was close due to lunch time. But no luck. Still closed. I walked the abandon park behind the fortress and visited a little church with a particular local architecture style next to the bus station.

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    Traditional Architecture Church

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    After walking with locals that looked at me as a Martian and 45 minutes in the bus I get back to Lvov. At the hostel, I met again Miroslav and co. and they offered me to go out for a drink with them. I was supposed to have dinner with Haci, as it was about to be our last night together. However, he wasn’t there. I cooked but he didn’t get back so I left with the guys.

    We went to a bar that was supposed to have live Jazz music. Instead they had a bad singer singing in Ukrainian. Then we went to a bar under the opera that was supposed to have a river across it. The river was just in the entrance. The rest was a regular bar with, again, a teenager’s local band that didn’t play so well. Finally, we went to the bar we called the fetish bar. It is a bar where the waiters are dressed in leather costumes and they slash you with a whip when you get in and from time to time when they pass next to you in the bar. Lvov is a bar full of theme bars.

    After several drinks and watch some whipping challenges I decided to get back to the hostel. At the hostel, I found Haci that was cooking the spicy soup he said he was about to cook. I was feeling like going to bed. It was already over midnight. However, as he insisted and it was about to be our last night together, I joined him. Won’t regret doing it. We drank beers and a drunk Russian joined us with more beers latter. The soup was supper spicy and we offered to everyone that came back from the party to see their reaction. Memorable night. The Russian guy dances and tricks made our night.

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    09/09

    Next morning, I felt a bit tired when I woke up, however I wanted to visit the cemetery of Lvov. I went there with Mathew, a guy from the hostel that had it in mind as well. The cemetery is on the north of the city passing the University.

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    The cemetery is a big complex where are buried many relevant persons of Ukraine, including their hero Ivan Franko. Also, there are areas dedicated to the war heroes and soldiers. Mainly one for the first world war and other for the second world war.

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    Cemetery

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    From the Cemetery, I wanted to visit a an Art Nouveau House that passed from a Nobel family to a cultural centre and now a days is exhibited as a museum of itself and host several meetings and events as weddings. Mathew joined me as he had nothing else to do. The house is spectacular. However, as a multi-functional place it was too empty. The hall and the stairs where impressive, not talking about the details on the fence of the stairs and the ceiling.

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    Main Hall

    From the house, we went back to the hostel. There I just charged my phone and prepared to go to the train station. I was about to take my first night train to Kiev. I went before time to the train station to get something for dinner there. It was there when I found why in all the menus they advise the price and the portion size. I though they charged me double for my piece of cake, but it was because the weight of the piece was the double of what was written on the menu.

    At the train, I had an upper bed in a second-class compartment. As it was almost midnight, the other passengers of the compartment where already sleeping. In my bed there were missing lining and cover, but as I was inexperienced at that time and I had no one to ask I managed to cover myself with what I found around. It was far away from a comfortable night. But the only discomfort was the lack of pillow and lining, not the train itself.

    10/09

    The morning, when I was getting to Kiev, I found out that you can have tea at the train for less than 1€, that was nice.

    Kiev

    Kiev is the capital city of Ukraine. To understand Kiev now a day, you should consider the history of Ukraine. At least that it is a Post Byzantine Orthodox Christian country, member of the Soviet Union occupied temporally by the Nazis and then back to the Soviet Union until 1990. During most the post-soviet period the government was pro-Russian. Until 2014 when a student revolution that ended with students killed in the capital. From then started a movement towards Europe that divided the country. That is the cause off the current situation on the East of the country. Ukraine is in war inside of his territory. An independentism movement supported by Russia is claiming their independence in the East.

    This is something you can feel in the city. The students killed are called heroes of the revolution, and the communism is regarded negatively at the time that many monuments persist in the city as symbols of the nation. In the streets and religious buildings, you can feel the consequences of the present conflict.

    One way or another, Kiev still an immense, in extension, city. It is full of activity and culture all around. There are several universities next to the old town that fills the city with young people and new movements. It is easy to recognise the old town more alternative, the commercial and administrative area, with big avenues and Imperialistic architecture, and the religious complex.

    In Kiev, I was about to stay with Inna, a Couchsurfer. She told me how to do it to get to her place and after a coffee and one hour I was with her. She showed me her amazing and clean house in a growing area of the city. As she told me there’s a lot of people migrating from out of the city to the capital looking for new opportunities. Also, a lot of students come and go to the several universities that are located in Kiev.

    After a long introduction Inna had things to do so I went to have a walk in the city centre on my own following her advices. I made a long walk from the Circus Theatre, passing by the University and the Opera House to the main street of the city.

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    Opera House

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    Park in front of the University

    On this street is the main square of the city. There I found the first memorials to the recent revolution. Among the monuments of the plaza there are statues of all the cultures that passed over this lands, even the Mongols. Below the plaza is a commercial centre.

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    In one side of the plaza there’s a slope which roads leads to two religious complex. I visited first the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Went to the top of the tower an inside of the Cathedral. There I played Seek and Hide with the guardians to take some pictures.

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    In the other side of a big esplanade is the statue of the Princess Olga and the monastery of Saint Michael. This one is free, but once again, you are not allowed to take pictures.

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    From the monastery, I walked down the hill to the river through the garden. Other option might have been taking the funicular, but I am young to do such things.

    In the lower level of the city I walk to the old town where I simply get lost before and after having lunch. I visited a feria of products from Georgia and Ukraine, several Orthodox Churches, a modern city market and the museum of Chernobyl.

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    To get back to Inna’s I took the long way across a residential area where there was nothing of interest. Walking this area at sunset, crossing areas with no buildings but isolated ruins I realised how comfortable I was feeling. I hadn’t felt so far in danger yet. The words of friends telling me to take care in the eastern countries sounded in my mind, but I was felling right. When would I need to take care? Would I be able to recognise a dangerous situation or I am too optimistic to that?

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    Walking Kiev

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    Back to Inna’s I wait for her at the bar under her house having a local craft beer. We ate together dinner and chatted about what to do the following day together. Also travels, she had recently been traveling in Spain. She told me about the struggles Ukrainians need to pass to obtain the Schengen Visa. I thought getting my Russian visa was hard, but for Ukrainians with Schengen countries is the same or worst.

    11/09

    We had a good breakfast together and went out for visiting the city. Inna had the day off and wanted to show me some monasteries, monuments and memorials. From her place, we went to the Orthodox Monastery of Pechersk Lavra.

    In the way to the Monastery we passed by the Ukrainian Genocide Holodomor Memorial. A candle with a bird symbolizing freedom and a starving girl to reflect the misery.

    Ukrainian Genocide Holodomor Memorial

    At the monastery, I had to pretend I was coming to pray not to pay the touristic visitors fee. It was easy as I was coming with a local. I simply had to walk next to her and say nothing. She told the guardian that we came to pray and that was all.

    The monastery is one of the multiple orthodox sites of the city. This is the biggest one congregating several churches, chapels, and the most interesting for me, caves where were buried priest, saints and monks.

    Inna told me about the rituals, the praying and the services of the Orthodox. It is something I’ve been watching since I get to Ukraine, but till that moment no one told me about it.

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    Monastery of Pechersk Lavra

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    We continued our way to the military memorial and the Motherland. There is the Army museum with tanks, aircrafts, helicopters and canons from the last wars in which Ukraine has been part off. Don’t forget that now a day there is a war conflict inside of their territory.

    Motherland is a huge statue of a woman that represents the Ukrainian Nation. It is located in one hill with an esplanade with a panorama view over the newer part of Kiev.

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    Army Museum

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    Motherland and panorama.
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    We walked back to the communist city centre passing by a modern area and the Water Tower of Kiev.

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    Water Tower

    Next to the city centre we passed by several government buildings. They all recall the imperialistic communist architecture. Also, we visited the place where two years ago the students died in the Ukrainian revolution.

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    We visit the Gorodetsky House an eclectic building with figures of animals decorating its external walls.

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    Back to the centre we went to one of the old gates of the city, the Golden Gate. To finish the afternoon, we had dinner next to the Stadium built for the Poland-Ukraine UEFA Euro 2012.

    Back home we kept on chatting about the history of Ukraine, her view of the world and our future plans.

    12/09

    In the morning Inna had to work so I left her apartment with her, but I had my train at night. Another night train. This time to Moscow.

    First I went to the train station where I left my backpack and lighter I went for a random walk along the places I had already visited. I just let myself go on the streets and parks watching the people coming and going from one place to another. I even came into the University to see the people daily life.

    I chilled out at the garden next to the University and at night I went straight to the train station.

    The train I was about to travel to Moscow was a super long one. My compartment was a 3rd class wagon. What means that there is no division inside. All the beds are in one single space. It was so hot inside and there where already people in that came from Lvov.

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    I will tell you the train ride to Moscow in the next post.

  • Blog
  • Farewell Spain

    Last weeks of July I spent them across Spain, from Malaga to San Sebastián meeting friends and relatives to create some new memories that will remain in our hearts.

    Malaga

    The 20th I left Malaga and a wealthy life there. I quit my job, left my house, sold my belongings and enjoy until the last minute my friends. Last days in Malaga I even happened to meet new amazing people that I wished I had met them before, as the few days and hours we spent together seemed too little for me.

    Sevilla

    In Sevilla I stayed at my mum’s spending most of my free time with her as she is the one I am going to miss the most even if after a week whit all the nervousness we end up arguing a couple of times. It had been a month almost since my last time in the city, so I tried to meet this time all my friends and colleges I still in contact with to enjoy one more time together. I was so emotive to see them that even forget to take pictures of the meetings (sorry readers).

    Sevilla

    “Hosting till the last minute”

    I didn’t expect, but during my last days in Sevilla, Ana, a Couchsurfer that had already spent one weekend with me in Cadiz, came to our place. Instead of staying for 3 nights as we talk at the beginning, she stayed until I left. It’s because of the people like her that I have met in Couchsurfing that I want to do Couchsurfing along my journey. Hosting Ana happened to be very helpful as she shared with me not only great moments in HellVille (Hell + Seville), but also all her knowledge about shopping in Decathlon and preparing a backpack.

    Couchsurfing

    Madrid

    After Sevilla I went to Madrid to meet one of my childhood best friends and my aunt from Mexico. I took the chance of being in Madrid to buy some last things I where missing like a shaving machine or sandals. As it was not my first time in Madrid and the weather was really hot, I didn’t walk much along the city. Just went to el Retiro and around the city centre.

    Madrid in familyMadrid in family

    The night with my friend Amanda, she took me to a place called Hamburgesa Nostra at Bilba metro. I must admit it was delicious. So if you ever have the chance, try it.

    Madrid

    From Madrid to San Sebastian I went by BlaBlaCar. I had the chance to meet a guy who also loves to travel and has work along Spain and America. We spent most of the travel talking about travels, life experiences, Mexico and the Basque Country. It is incredible how easily I happen to meet really interesting people.

    Donostia – San Sebastian

    In Donosti I stayed with my dear friend Goocha and Marta. Both friends from the time I use to live there. As every time I come to Donosti I meet again Nahiko, one of those friends that no matter how long it takes without talking, when we meet each other it seems that we have always been there. But the what was new this time was meeting Marta’s friend Ainara. Such a nice girl from Lo Viejo. It is so emotional to come back to people you haven’t seen in a long time and feel like time has not pass by in your relationship. We talked and had fun as the first time we met. I have the feeling that this is not going to be the last time I feel something similar.

    San Sebastian

    From Donosti-San Sebastian we went hiking the Udalaitz which might be the next story to tell.

    Udalaitz

    Now the travel continues north. From Hendaya across France.