Odessa – Bucharest, the shortest way

I recently went to France for a couple of days. I had a flight from Bucharest to Paris, a city about the same distance from Odessa as Kiev, so not as remote as it might sound. The problem is that there’s no really convenient way of travelling Odessa-Bucharest. I have done it once before, then I took the easy way and went by bus through Chisinau, a little far but this is the conventional route and what most people would recommend. However, this time I decided to try a straighter but very custom route, something that proved to be a real hit for a dedicated traveller. I went the same way both to and from Bucharest, but these two trips turned out to be quite different. I’m writing this to anyone who is thinking about doing the same trip, alternatively to someone without anything better to do than to read about me going from one place to another in a corner of Europe.

Odessa – Bucharest

  1. Got up early and took the tram to the central bus station in Odessa
  2. Was lucky and within 20 minutes I was on a bus to Reni, a town down in the south western corner of Ukraine, just by the border to Moldova and Romania.
  3. Arrived after 4-5 hours. The driver turned out to be a local celebrity and stopped a dozen of times to talk to people on the street while driving through Reni. People started to jump of one by one until only me and one other guy were left. It turned out that we were both going to Romania, so the driver drove us to the border in the outskirts of the city, let us off and wished us good luck.
  4. So now I had a travel mate, Daniel. A young Ukrainian gentleman studying economy in Bucharest and on his way back after the May break. A very nice companion, not only for the good company, but who did the trip several times before and now naturally lead the way.
  5. We walked up to the first border control, which turned out to be a combined Ukrainian and Moldovan one with two offices located on the road opposite from each other.
  6. After some standard border hassle and silly questions we got our stamps and walked about 3 km, through the very southern tip of Moldova, until we reached the Moldovan/Romanian border
  7. This border is not allowed to cross by foot so we had to try to find a car. After many rejections by people who probably thought we were trying to bring something fishy into the EU, a guy stopped and offered us to cross with him for a symbolic fee, of course we said yes.
  8. We passed the Moldovan and the Romanian border checkpoint and our driver was kind enough to drive us all the way into Galati, the first Romanian city on the other side.
  9. Got to the Galati bus station only to realize that the bus to Bucharest was full, so we walked over to the train, waited for a couple of hours, and 4 hours later we arrived in Bucharest. I said goodbye my new friend with a promise to stay in his student dormitory whenever I happened to pass by.
  10. The trip all in all was about 12 hours and 560 km. I even had some time to visit a friend in Bucharest before I got out to the airport a little after midnight and continued to Paris a couple of hours later.

Bucharest – Odessa

  1. After a couple of productive days in France I once again found myself at the airport in Bucharest, Henri Coandă International. The trip I had in front of me should show not be as easy as last time.
  2. Went straight from the airport to the train station, Gara de Nord. Was lucky and had a train to Galati departing in 8 minutes and 4 hours later I arrived in Galati, so far so good.
  3. Took a while before I managed to find a reasonable taxi to the border, but eventually found one and a little later I got dropped off by the Romanian border checkpoint.
  4. Found myself standing at a more or less traffic-free road together with a Romanian border police waiting for a car willing to take me across the border. This time I had to wait much longer, Sunday afternoon turned into evening and was not until I joined a group of three Ukrainians, standing by the road of the same reason as me, I managed to get a ride, this time for an even more symbolic sum then last time. The driver also offered to drive me all the way to Odessa for 150 Euro, I said no.
  5. Once again I walked the 3 km through Moldova to get to Ukraine. I asked the border guards if there possibly was any chance of getting to Odessa in some way this late Sunday evening. The answer was “probably not, but if you wait for a couple of hours there might be a bus from Varna heading for Odessa passing by. Otherwise I could advise you to hang around here and try to get a seat in a car going in the right direction”.
  6. Really needed to be in Odessa the day after, so I walked down to a bar some 100 meters into Ukraine and asked around. I ended up hitchhiking with Konstantides, a Greek truck driver in a beautiful Volvo, transporting an elevator from southern Greece to Moscow.
  7. The roads down there in the south western corner are quite terrible (or “katastrofa” as my fellow Greek repeated at regular intervals) and we sick sacked between the holes and bumps in 20 km/h for 60 km, listened to Zorba and managed to have some kind of conversation despite Konstantides very primitive Russian.
  8. 3 hours later, an hour before midnight, I got dropped off on a pitch black road outside of the city Izmail, where my driver planned to spend the night. I found three women standing by the road having a late night neighbour to neighbour talk. I explained where I came from, where I was going and asked the way into town. They said it’s not every day a Swede who left Paris in the morning gets dropped off by Greek truck drivers on their road, and helped me to call a taxi.
  9. It was the best kind of taxi, old-Soviet-man-in-very-well-taken-care-of-Lada. He drove me with great enthusiasm to the train station, I had my last piece of luck for the day and got a train ticket for the train to Odessa at midnight. I even had time to have a well-deserved steak at one of Izmails culinary venues before I left (first time I had to eat anything since my breakfast Ciabatta on the plane).
  10. Got on the train, travelled the 250(!) km, arrived in Odessa at 07.00 after 7 hours sleep and went straight to the office, boosted with energy after the wonderful trip. This resulted in a total time of 20h for the trip back to Odessa, but since it included almost a full night of sleep I still consider it a success.

Crossing borders

We took a combined work and leisure trip to Chisinau Friday-Sunday with our Niva last week. In this way we got some real insights in the specifics of crossing the border between Ukraine and Moldova as two Swedes in a Ukrainian car (according to the reaction of the border guards, it’s nothing they see every day). We chose the passing in the very south-east of Moldova, which means avoiding Transnistria, but also that you technically need to pass the border twice since there is a small slice of Moldova to be passed before you exit to Ukraine and then go in again. The system for this is quite well organized, you just get a small note telling how many people you are in the car passing the first control, you continue on the one road to follow, and then you give the note back at the end of the slice. We got a hitchhiking Ukrainian border guard onboard for this stretch, it’s normal. The more unusual help we gave to a Ukrainian border guard at the “real” Moldovan border crossing. Basically, he had locked his key into his own Lada, and wanted to test if our Lada key could work instead, it did. 30 seconds of tweaking, and his car was open. Maybe we should consider investing in a steering wheel lock.

Next step was buying a green card -road insurance for Moldova, I thought it was a bit expensive (20 EUR), but was informed that this insurance was valid not only for Moldova, but also for Russia and Belarus, and for 15 days, so I would get a lot of value for my money… right. Anyway, the crossing continued with us getting some comments about our nice car, and the usual questioning session on what we have been doing in Ukraine, what we will be doing in Moldova and so on. One guy thought it was a fun thing to call us the Swedish hackers, so he did so about 10 times, each time followed by his characteristic laugh. A second guy, in the passport control, looked at our latest edition Swedish passports, turned them in inside out with the comment “what kind of a country is this?!”, it was followed by a discussion with a colleague weather we have finger prints or a chip in the little “window”, just for interest. A third guy took a careful look at our car papers, to make sure that we are really allowed to take this car abroad. It’s hard for a foreigner to officially own a car in Ukraine, so the papers of our car is on the old owner and we have a document saying that we are allowed to use it and so on, it’s normal. A fourth guy was seriously interested in joining us to the Leningrad concert on Saturday (which was truly great btw). The last step was paying the road tax of about 5 EUR, since we didn’t have any Moldovan Lei, we had to do it in another box where Ukrainian Hrivna was ok, for this, we got no less than 3 A4 papers as receipts.  The whole process took less than one hour waiting included, and in general, it was a very cozy and relaxed border crossing.

On Saturday we had the experience of crossing another, less official border, the one from Moldova to the generally unacknowledged autonomous region of Transnistria. The idea was to join one of our friends (and business partners) who were going to do some paragliding over the Dniester river. Arriving at the border, the first sight is parked tanks and soldiers equipped with rifles (no need to mention what kind) and dressed in Russian uniforms. You also get the chance to have your passport checked by KGB, in our case represented by a polite and nice guy. Filling the immigration card we got a special note to fill out our “otchestva” which means fathers name. Since my father is Eje, I am Andreas Ejevich Flodström and Gustav is Magnusovich Henman when travelling in Transnistria.

Right after crossing the border, we were stopped by the police at the first crossroad, apparently it’s a common procedure to do so with foreign registered cars. He was looking for some “safety issue” to remark on and it didn’t take him long to find our tinted windows (in fact, even looking for safety issues with two Swedes carefully driving with their seatbelts on is a bit funny considering the safety of some of the other cars that passed). I had to walk after our documents into the police station to sit down with the officer. I pretty much know the normal procedure by now: Let the officer sit down and talk about the seriousness of your “crime” and how much trouble this could cause you. Make him understand that you pretty much understand the non-seriousness of your crime, that you were not born yesterday and that you are not going to open your wallet without any proper motivation. So I got to read the actual paragraph in the law which states that our side windows shouldn’t be too dark. I asked him how we could fix the “problem” since it was obviously both dangerous and illegal and got the answer: “Naaaaaahhh, it’s nothing scary, just pay me the fee, and nobody will bother you more”. I asked to get a receipt of the fee (about 5 EUR), which I got and even managed to get him to write the date. He asked me for my “Otchestva”, I said I don’t have any, he said “but you have a father” and ones again I got a paper saying I am Andreas Ejevich Flodström, maybe I should put them all in a nice frame on the wall, maybe together with some Transnistrian Rubles. The officer wished me a good day and a safe trip, and we where off. On the way back a few hours later we were stopped again by his colleague who soon realized that we already had been there. “Ahhh, you have already visited us haven’t you? Then have a nice day!”

In general, I don’t want to make a to big deal about border crossings, but rather about the very beautiful landscape of both Moldova and Transnistria! I am truly impressed, and for every time I visit Moldova, I want to see and feel more of it. Considering how our partner relations in Chisinau are developing, I will probably get many more chances. Our overall experiences of Moldova, are highly boosted on the plus side. As for Transnistria, I would like to see much more of it, it’s probably the place in the world that has kept most from the Soviet times, a fact they seem to be quite proud of.

The soundtrack of this trip =)
http://youtu.be/QD9ODx2_nNU

No electricity

Yesterday evening the electricity went out for the whole block. It has shown some signs of instability for the whole week, but there have never been any longer breaks, so I expected something similar. Now the electricity has been out for 12 hours, and I am reminded on how electricity dependent I am. For the first few hours, I could continue working almost as usual in the dark with my mobile internet. My Samsung Android eats battery fast though, so I soon lost my connection. The warm water and the stove are both by gas based, so that’s fine, heating is also not electric, so no need to worry really. But my phone is out of charge, and soon my computer as well.

I had 30 to-dos on my list this morning, 6 of them I can perform without internet. Without computer, I could perform 2, and they are done. I guess better go and find some nice café, and then buy some candles for tonight.

A first experience of Ukrainian e-commerce

Rozetka

About time for Beetroot’s second half to start screaming here as well (and not only at ryssen.se where I’ve been writing sporadically until now). Since me and Andreas often spend time at different places, doing different things and getting different experiences this will hopefully widen the picture of all the exciting activities we have going on down here.

Rozetka

For the moment we are both in Odessa establishing our new main base and office. We haven’t been this stationary in a long time which includes a lot of new experiences. For example, yesterday I did my first online purchase ever in Ukraine, at rozetka.com.ua. The conclusion is that e-commerce works quite different here than what I’m used to. However, the first steps are quite similar; choose the products you like, put them in your cart and proceed to checkout. This is when your world starts to turn upside down. The checkout includes a form where you fill out your name, address, phone number, way of delivery and payment method. The only two options for how to pay is by cash on delivery or by bank transfer (if you have an Ukrainian bank account), card payment is not an option. Delivery can either be made to your door for a democratic sum or for free to a central pickup point. You then press place order and get the message “thanks for your order, we will contact you soon”. It took 10 seconds before I got an sms confirming my order and 30 seconds before I got a call from a very polite sales person. He read out loud and asked me to confirm every single entry in the order form. We then discussed when it would be suitable to get the delivery since I need to be present to meet the delivery guy, show my face, sign some papers etc.

The fact that e-commerce works this way in Ukraine most probably depends on a built in mistrust in people, internet and electronic payments. It will probably take a while to overcome these doubts and until then, e-commerce will continue to work in this transitional, compromising way.  Anyway, good experience and I’m now awaiting my delivery on Saturday sometime between 12-16, will get back on the accuracy of this.