Ron and Susan's 2009 Black Sea Adventure travel blog

“Why Did You Come to Ukraine?”

We’ve been in the Ukraine for almost 3 weeks now, and on several occasions we had an English conversation with locals. One of the questions they all asked was “Why did you come to Ukraine?” They seemed surprised that we would visit their country; we were surprised at the question. Our answer was usually “because we can”. Why pass up a chance to see a communist country (or recently communist)? We’ve seen some wonderful things here in this former Soviet country, and we’ve really enjoyed it. Here are some overall comments.

Yalta. As schoolchildren, we heard about the 1945 Yalta Conference where Rossevelt, Churchill and Stalin met. We were very keen to visit Livadia Palace where this historic meeting of “The Big Three” took place. They could see the end of WWII coming, and it was here that they began planning the future of Europe. Unfortunately Roosevelt failed to appreciate “Uncle Joe’s” ambitions for communism, which resulted in the takeover of Eastern Europe and the dropping of the “Iron Curtain”. We were not disappointed at all, and actually were moved to be within the walls where this historic meeting took place. The palace and surrounding grounds were beautiful, and the meeting well presented.

Crimea Peninsula. The site of the legendary military misadventure which was immortalized by the romantic poet Alfred Lloyd Tennyson in his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. It is here that the gallant 600 rode into the valley of death “…theirs is not to question why, but to do and die…”. This bloody field is now a vineyard just north of the road between Sevastopol and Yalta. The Earl of Cardigan led the charge on the vague orders issued by Lord Raglan that resulted in this debacle (did they own a sweater factory!!! Haha).

Massive Buildings. The communists-built government buildings and the Imperialist-built Tzar’s palaces are huge. They are truly beautiful – but built at the expense of the workers, I’m afraid, in many cases. Sometimes they tore down grand historical churches and blocks of homes to build them.

The Brides. It is the custom in Ukraine that after the wedding ceremony, the Bride and Groom and some of their bridal party drive all over town, getting photographed at the various monuments and sites. We ran into bridal parties everywhere we went. At the pier in Odessa, I saw 4 brides at one time!!! They loved to get photographed by the boats!!

Saying goes that if you come upon a bride, it is good luck, and you get to make a wish. One bride and groom walked down the pier to be photographed beside Gemini. When we heard the commotion outside, we, naturally, invited them on board to be photographed. What a hoot!

“Stretched and Strutting”. This is what Ron and I called these beautiful women of Odessa: thin, very tall, with the longest legs you’ve ever seen. They look like super models. And their skin is clear and smooth. And they dress like Saturday night sparkly and slinky – all the time!! Especially noticeable are the high stiletto heels and short skirts, showing off their long legs. Some of these heels are so high, you need a seatbelt to keep you from falling over!!! They were really amazing, and we did not see this type of women in Kiev or Yalta. And once again, they like to get their picture taken. And when they pose for a pic, they really strike a pose!! We even saw the little girls put their hand on a hip, turn their head, and smile. And the men you ask? Who notices!!!!!

They dressed like Saturday morning.

The 5 Gold Domed Cathedrals. Every town has one, and they stand out above the trees from distance away. Beautiful frescos inside, too.

The Food. We enjoyed the borscht, lagman, varenko (little dumplings filled with veggies or meat or cheese), potato pancakes, good sausages (made from what we don’t know), the breakfast crepes, cheap vodka and cognac. We tried chicken kiev at several places, and were disappointed with all. Incidentally, at all the restaurants and cafes, if you asked for anything extra, like butter or ketchup, you were charged for it!! Even at McDonalds!! And you are charged for bags at the markets.

Port of Odessa. The port was very busy with all kinds of commercial ships coming in, loading and unloading their cargo: Container ships, bulk carrier ships, tugs, and tankers. Our boat was moored at the Nautical Club where many personal sailboats and motor yachts were moored. We also saw cruise liners of all sizes, river cruise boats, ferries, military cruisers and fishing boats. The railroad runs to the docks, of course. They carried these odd pieces of metal: small triangular shaped, no rust, but magnetic. Ron couldn’t figure out what they were, but they were heavy because the railroad cars were only loaded 1/4 full. We were happy with our stay at the port, but walking into town was a bit of a workout. We leave the dock, walk up 3 flights of steps to the top of the terminal. Walk about 3 blocks-worth across the terminal dock and the overpass of the railroad. Walk down 2 flights of steps to the street level. Walk 1 flight of steps down to the tunnel under the street, cross the tunnel to the other side, and then up 1 flight to the street again. Here you have a choice: climb 192 steps up or wait in line for the funicular (a cable car). Then it’s about 3 blocks down the pedestrian walkway, up the hill by the Opera House, over a couple blocks and you are on the main street!! Whew!!

The Cyrillic Alphabet. This was a big problem for us. The Ukrainians use Ukraine and Russian language, not that we knew the difference. But both languages use the cyrillic alphabet. I can’t even give you an example because my laptop doesn’t have those keys!! I took a couple pictures in Sozopol which illustrate the difference. Some letters are even numbers, some are backwards, and some are upper case and some lower case. This alphabet was used in Bulgaria, too, and I only learned to say hello!!

The Steppes of Russia. We had always heard about the Steppes, and now we have seen them. And they go on for miles and miles and miles. No wonder it was the breadbasket of Russia.

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