Bonjour mes amies -
Ah, the simple pleasures of travel. Last night I was eating gelato on the Spanish Steps in Roma before catching an overnight sleeper to the Riviera. I stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice after my simple breakfast of cafe au lait and pain au chocolate in a cafe catching the sun's warmth in the bright Mediterranean morning. There's time for a stroll through the ancient ville and an early dinner of Moules/Frites before catching the late train on to the Pyrenees. A man sitting on a bench nearby listens to his IPOD while rolling a cigarette and sipping from a bottle of champagne.
But so much for the mundane. Surely you don't think that the Geezer Traveler has succumbed to such decadence. You're interested in more significant places. Like ..
I arrive by Air Amavia early in the morning and make my way to the railway station. It's 9:00 am and people are having the Crimean breakfast - a beer and a cigarette. Men and women. Seems that, in the Ukraine, beer is considered a soft drink. I settle for an espresso.
I do not charge into "The Valley of Death" immortalized in Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade". It is now a vineyard and I am sure the ambience has been lost.
Instead I take a side trip to Bakhchysaray where I spend a grateful few hours in the Khan's Palace. Here, a descendent of Genghis Khan built himself a simple country palace amidst gardens and with only a small harem. The khans ruled here for almost 700 years. Later I hike in mist and rain up the steep path to the deserted cave city of Chufut-Kale and a darkly handsome fall day gazing out over the mountains of the central Crimea.
I spend the morning at Chekhov's house. He resembles Eric Clapton. In the afternoon I go down the coast to Livadia Palace where FDR, Churchill and Stalin met at the end of WWII and portion off eastern Europe to Russia. Livadia was built as the Tsar's summer retreat from 1911-1917. Family photos of him, his wife, and children adorn their private rooms. The young Anastasia just a year before she is executed is a gamin child and I am depressed. Any cause that requires the death of children is beyond my comprehension.
Still later, at a band concert on the Yalta promenade (Think Santa Cruz) a geezer gaggle of old people come out dressed up in their finery and dance like they must have done back in the 40's or 50's while a statue of Lenin stares disapproving out at the McD's and the Nevada automatic Casino that block his view of the Black Sea.
Overnight train to Odessa and the Potemkin Steps. Broad leafy avenues; decaying old 19th century and turn of the century buildings. A lovely restored Opera House. Cold. Cold. Cold. An old pile of a Soviet hotel. Huge rooms. One bath per floor. But very secure and very clean. The fire extinguishers are carefully padlocked.
Helpful people; clean, well lighted places to eat; and I wish you were here. Salieri's, Fat Mozes, Kalabaka. The food is definitely improving. There is always a spot you can find to hole up in and pass a few hours. My last dinner I am seated next to a table where an American man is interviewing a young Ukrainian woman as a possible bride. I keep my thoughts to myself.
Chisinau, Moldova -
The hostel is packed. There are five of us in a tiny room but we are are travelers and have been on the road for between two and nine months. We exchange information in an age old ritual. Three of us leave for dinner nearby. Chisinau is much nicer than I had anticipated. Nothing like as poor as Albania. And at least now I can read the Cyrillic script.
The following day, the three Italians from other room and I make our way to Trans-Dneistra. It only takes an hour to talk our way through the border control. Our passports are passed from hand to hand, carried into the back room, returned, taken back; we are questioned and accused of being journalists. Tirapol is quite Soviet in demeanor. This is said to be the only country (recognized by no one) that is still recognizably communist. At least there is no obvious poverty. But neither is there any beauty.
And so it goes . . .
Another ten days in the life of the Geezer Traveler. Ten points for each destination you recognize.
Wherever you are. Good travels!