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Thread: Travel Blog; CIS/ex-USSR countries (i.e. Russian speaking)

  1. #1
    Hanna
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    Travel Blog; CIS/ex-USSR countries (i.e. Russian speaking)

    I'll be travelling in some Russian speaking countries and will share my experiences as often as I can/want to. Watch this space!

    I am a single woman in my 30s, nationality Swedish, occupation; IT project manager - normally living in London, United Kingdom.

    I might need help from native Russian speakers!! I have been studying Russian as a hobby on and off for ~2 years but unfortunately I still have to rate myself as a beginner. I can communicate with people, I think, but only just..

    My reasons for travelling in this area is:

    1) Practice Russian
    2) Interested in history and culture of Russia and nearby countries + am aware that there are some fantastic sights to see in this region.
    3) Get away/relax/de-stress...

  2. #2
    Завсегдатай
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    I can't wait to hear about your adventures.
    Good luck!

  3. #3
    Ann
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    I'm envious! Please post often.
    Пожалуйста, говорите медленнее.

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    Увлечённый спикер
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    Hi! I'm from Belarus. And I'm going to trevel to Crimea soon! If you'll need some lingual help or advice you're wellcome. You can bravely phone/SMS me +375297633689 I'll be glad to help you with russian. In exchange for your English You also can contact me either on Skype "iWhiteKnight" or ICQ 114623496 or by e-mail: lozhkindenis(antispam)gmail.com

  5. #5
    Новичок
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    Hello from Ukraine,
    I would be glad to help with Russian in exchange on your English.
    Post your questions in private or public here on this forum.
    Regards

  6. #6
    Увлечённый спикер
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    I'm really looking forwards to reading about your trips, Hanna
    I myself have managed to visit 4 post-soviet countries so far, but really hoping to see more of them, pretty much for the same reasons you have enumerated.
    Do you travel on your own? Are those trips organised by travel agencies, or do you do it all by yourself?
    Kamka

  7. #7
    Завсегдатай chaika's Avatar
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    Hanna, I'm interested too. Planning a trip to Moscow/SPb in the fall. Where you going?

  8. #8
    Hanna
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    ROMANIA

    Romania is always presented in a bad light in European media; the gypsies, poverty, crime etc.
    But really, it is a beautiful country (landscape) with interesting history and many sights to see. I am glad I went here.

    To my big surprise, there is a border control when entering Romania from other EU countries. I was in a sleeping car on the train, and woken up by border police to check my passport at 2 in the morning.

    The people here are incredibly helpful and kind. The go out of their way to help a traveller and do not expect anything in return.

    A lot of Romanians (like many Eastern Europeans) are very well-read, intellectual and interested in philosphy, politics, religion, good literature. They've been through crazy times in the 80s as the Ceaucescu regime failed the people, a violent revolt took place and crazy cowboy capitalism in the 1990s. Now they have the same split of newly rich people and really poor people as Russia etc. They do not trust politicians.

    I was surprised to learn that most people in Romania are very suspicious against the EU. Nevertheless the EU flag is hung along the Romanian on many buildings.

    Romanians are both nationalistic and quite religious. Some are Catholics, some Orthodox.

    Today I just popped my head in a cathedral in a city called Iasu. But I ended up having a fantastic experience:
    A nun (an Orthodox nun! They wear completely different habits than Catholic nuns) noticed that I was a foreigner; went and got an English speaking priest who gave me a private tour and taught me a lot of things I did not know about Christianity in general and Orthodox Christianity. He was an incredibly smart and inspiring person; chatting with him really strenghtened my faith.
    It was the first time for me, visiting an Orthodox church.

    All day today I have been stupendously tired because of a crazy mixup that happened yesterday as I was taking the train from Bucharest to Iasi. Romania's trains are very old and dated. The stations are not maintained to a European standard. There is no public announcement system on the train and the staff do not speak any foreign languages whatsoever. The train stations are very poorly lit in the evening. On the platforms, there are hardly no signs to say what station the train is at.

    For this reason, I as a foreigner was sitting in the wrong carriage (the first class) which detached from the rest of the train and sent on a branch line which was near impossible to get back from. It cost 8 hours, in the evening and night.

    In the poorest country in the EU - frankly I was just waiting to get robbed. But instead kind people on the train called friends who spoke English, rallied up a school boy on the train who could speak English and managed to explain the situation to me, and what I'd have to do.

    The only foreign language that a few people can speak, is.... Italian! Which I do not really speak.
    Of course, there are some similarities between all Euro languages, and many words you can guess if you know a few langauges...

    I think it's the influence of Christianity and perhaps the experiences of communism that have made people rally together to sort out a problem and help someone. I don't think a stranger would have been so well treated in the UK for example. Whatever it is, it's a really nice thing. The language barrier has been really tricky while being in Romania and people have gone to extreme lengths to help.

    The train I travelled on, when returning from the branch line, was so scruffy I was surprised that it was even running...
    It was like a ghost train in the dark, hardly lit, with interior from the 50s.

    In the end, 3 different people chatted with me during this branch line experience- keen to talk politics.
    To sum up their views; Communism was good in many ways bad had some bad points. Capitalism is generally crap, but has a few good points. Their country has been screwed over and the people's property was stolen. The revolutions in Eastern Europe were staged by some mysterious force, particularly the one in Romania, and they offered some quite convincing "evidence". The EU should be treated with suspicion, Gorbachev was possibly a CIA spy and Russia has "stolen" Moldova from
    Romania.


    I arrived at my 4 star hotel in Iasi at 3 in the morning. Nice hotel - Grand Hotel Traian. At which point my wallet somehow went missing, just after I paid a taxi driver. I did not have my main cards or cash in the wallet so it was an inconvenience, rather than a serious risk. I only lost two cards, a Visa debit and an Amex which I never use anyway. The Visa replacement card can apparently be DHLd anywhere in the world. Amex "Platinum Service" is a joke - I will never use Amex in the future.


    MOLDOVA


    I decided to move on - to Moldova as planned.
    I ended up in a taxi with 2 other girls and a guy. I am pretty sure I paid many times more than what the others paid for this journey. Still, 25 Euro is no big deal. The journey takes 3-4 hours and involves leaving the EU, and entering Moldova.

    The driver was funny though; He was driving his car to Moldova, because some auto repairs could be done there for 1/3 of what they cost in Romania. He was in fact a doctor though, and told me his interesting story in a mix of French and Russian. He had been educated in Moscow (being Moldovan), then emigrated to Romania.

    When he realised that I was staying at a hotel called "Cosmos" he got very nostalgic since it was the grand "hotel de ville" in his childhood. After we arrived, he bought me a drink in the hotel lobby, then I excused myself.

    This hotel is actually very Soviet style so I can see his point. Not exactly a chic hotel, but it is as central as you can get in Chisinau, and has free wifi.
    A totally crazy thing happened in this hotel:
    I accidentally went to a room at the exact opposite end of a long corridor, to my actual room. I did not notice at first - put my key in the door and turned - and realised I was in the wrong room! How could the key work there too?
    I had walked straight into someone elses room - luckily they were not there.

    In Moldova, everyone can speak Russian
    , it seems. Great!

    This is indeed the poorest country in all of Europe. There are no motorways, many people drive old horse carts.
    Charming in a way, but of course, many people are no doubt suffering badly from poverty.

    Both the men in the car started telling me that it had once been quite nice in Moldova - in the 70s and 80s.
    - good roads and much better opportunities for people. They seemed a bit ashamed that I, a foreigner should see the problems in the country. I, on the other hand, felt embarrassed that I am better off - these are fellow Europeans, possibly both smarter and more hard working than me.

    Everyone seems super-religious here, crossing themselves a lot, and every kilometer along the road, I saw little shrines, crosses etc. Is there an English or Russian words for this? I saw hundreds of them today.

    Too tired to continue more soon!

  9. #9
    Властелин
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    Do old people in Romania speak Russian?

  10. #10
    Ann
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    Hanna: Just curious, how much luggage are you taking on this trip? Do you feel that you've overpacked/underpacked?
    Пожалуйста, говорите медленнее.

  11. #11
    Hanna
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus View Post
    Do old people in Romania speak Russian?
    I don't think they do actually. In desperation, I tried Russian with the Vienna -> Bucharest train conductor, who I was totally unable to communicate with. I said "Может быть по-гусский вы понимаете?" He responded with emphasis, in English "Never!" Unfortunately he practically knew no other words in English so I was not sure what to make of the response. I also asked an older lady on the train, in Russian, if she could speak it. She just looked confused.
    I don't think they speak Russian. When I studied Russian in school. one of the reasons to convince students to choose it, was "then you can speak with everyone in Eastern Europe". That is just not true.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ann View Post
    Hanna: Just curious, how much luggage are you taking on this trip? Do you feel that you've overpacked/underpacked?
    I stuffed full a bag from Osprey, called "Soujourn". It's an 80 litre wheel/backpack combination bag. I also took a smaller day pack type rucksack from Osprey; The main bag is so heavy I could never put it on my back. That's about the right level of luggage, I think - but mine is very heavy because I bouight some Russian books (that I have not yet opened). And a laptop.



    ------


    Losing my wallet put me off a bit and I am worried about going to Ukraine now. I had not even left the EU before something like that happened. The absolutely worst case scenario would be ending up without passport or a penny somewhere in the middle of Ukraine. I am really trying to be low-key and careful, but what happened with the Romanian train and the wallet was discouraging. I was really keen to see Ukraine but nobody I knew wanted/could come. Perhaps I am being naive. Maybe I should just get on a train straight to Belarus, which seems safe.

    I chatted with a girl in the taxi - in Russian. She did not seem to think it was a good idea to travel to Ukraine alone but because of my bad Russian, it was not possible to have an in-depth conversation.

  12. #12
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    It was very interesting! I did not realize that situation is so dire in Moldova now, but it's great that most people were friendly and willing to help.
    I'm a little confused, though. Why are you so afraid to go to Ukraine? Does it have a bad reputation or something? Do you think it's less safe than Romania or Moldova?

  13. #13
    Hanna
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    Quote Originally Posted by gRomoZeka View Post
    Why are you so afraid to go to Ukraine? Does it have a bad reputation or something? Do you think it's less safe than Romania or Moldova?
    Actually, I don't know, but there are some "horror-stories" on the Lonely Planet travelling forum. I was not very worried until I read those, just recently.

    At first I thought that the people who got into trouble were just acting silly; non-Europeams who have a different view on Europe and travelling than I do... It seemed they were falling for obvious scams, flashing expensive gear to thieves, perhaps going with prostitutes.... One person said "anyone in Ukraine is a potential thief, I wouldn't trust anyone with any personal information or belongings..." I don't believe that at all, but the fact is, this person has been there, and I haven't! And I still remember the "Wild East" rumours from Russia and the Black Sea in the 1990s - some of the stories were probably exaggerated..... but, I am travelling alone...

    jTo be honest, I Just had a scare when I sat on that "ghost train" in the Middle of the night, not knowing where I was or was going; unable to communicate, then eventually a boy started chatting to me - specifically about gypsies who rob, rape and kill people.... Ugh!

    My friend Lilly went to Kiev a few years ago and had a really nice time - she was super impressed by architecture and nice people (she can not speak Russian at all) this was a work/tourism combination trip. She didn't even want to go on these trips at first but her work required it. She ended up really liking it and told lots of friends about her plans to see more of the CIS area, particularly the Black Sea. She hasn't got around to it yet though.
    She was also in Minsk for the same reason, and liked that a lot too, although I think Kiev was more to her tastes.

  14. #14
    Властелин
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    When I studied Russian in school
    Хорошо ли учат иностранные языки, кроме английского, в школе в Швеции?

  15. #15
    Hanna
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    TRANSDNIESTR REPUBLIC (!!!???)

    It turns out that there is a "country" between Moldova and Ukraine, that is not on the map because it is not officially recognize.
    But it has its own borders, currency etc.

    I think I need to pass it to get to Odessa from Chisinau (aka Kishinev).

    The country is called something like TransDniestr Republic. It is a Russian speaking area that did not want to be part of Moldova and declared independence. Apparently there was a war about this, I did not know that.
    I know that such areas exist, but I thought they were in the Caucasus.

    Reading about the place, it sounds interesting in many ways.
    I'll get a passport stamp from a country that doesn't officially exist!

    The capital of this country is called Tiraspol.
    There is a really good 4 star hotel there - I am thinking about spending the night there before going to Odessa. Apparently the place is pretty tightly run, with lots of militia etc, therefore safe.

    Apparently crossing the border there can be problematic at times.

    Does anyone know anything about this - is it a place to visit, or avoid?

  16. #16
    Hanna
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus View Post
    Хорошо ли учат иностранные языки, кроме английского, в школе в Швеции?
    English is compulsory.
    Everyone has to do one more language -- usually German or French.
    If you want to go to university, you have to do one more language. Usually either Spanish or Russian can be selected at academic schools.

    I only studied Russian for a short time in school, I swapped for Spanish after one term or so, because I thought Russian was too hard and I did not like the teacher. But my interest in learning it remained.

    Russian is probably the hardest language to learn in Sweden because there are not a lot of good teachers. I read that there are lots more students who would like to study it than there are teachers who can teach it. The Russian teacher in my school was an Estonian man who had simply taken a course on teaching, and was already fluent in Russian. But he was not a good teacher.

  17. #17
    Старший оракул CoffeeCup's Avatar
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    Losing my wallet put me off a bit and I am worried about going to Ukraine now. I had not even left the EU before something like that happened. The absolutely worst case scenario would be ending up without passport or a penny somewhere in the middle of Ukraine.

    TRANSDNIESTR REPUBLIC
    It turns out that there is a "country" between Moldova and Ukraine, that is not on the map because it is not officially recognize.
    But it has its own borders, currency etc.
    ...
    Does anyone know anything about this - is it a place to visit, or avoid?
    I, personally, would be more suspicious to Moldova and the "Transdnestr Republic" in the point of safety. Some my friends frequently visited Ukraine last years and had not meet any problems whatsoever. I believe that the place you are staying now (Moldova and the Transdniestr republic) is the most dangerous places in that region.

    As for pickpocketing, It can happen everywhere, just be careful.
    So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

  18. #18
    Завсегдатай BappaBa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hanna View Post
    One person said "anyone in Ukraine is a potential thief, I wouldn't trust anyone with any personal information or belongings..."
    Видимо, интурист плохо разбирается в географии, и вместо Украины съездил в Бостон. =)


  19. #19
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    I really can't tell how safe is Ukraine for a foreigner, because I'm a resident and some things that can be problematic for a person who is not fluent in Russian/Ukrainian obviously go unnoticed by me, or do not apply to me.
    But I agree with CoffeeCup. Moldova and even Romania seem more dangerous from where I stand. I'm not sure about Transdnestr Republic, I think it's about as safe as Belarus, which is pretty safe (but I've never been there).

    I visited Kiev (Kyiv) last summer. People were friendly and mellow. I was surprised by the number of people who spoke Ukrainian (about 15-20%, I expected less than that), but everyone understands Russian of course, so it should not hinder a Russian speaking traveler in any way. I stayed in a hostel, and there were a lot of foreigners from all over the world. All of them looked happy enough, I did not hear about any serious problems. Since it was center of the city, there were plenty of polcemen even after midnight (I've never seen so many of them in my city ).
    I can post some photos, if it can help you to make a decision. Unless (judging by your last post) you've already decided to visit Odessa?

  20. #20
    Hanna
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    Quote Originally Posted by gRomoZeka View Post
    I can post some photos, if it can help you to make a decision. Unless (judging by your last post) you've already decided to visit Odessa?
    Yes, I have decided to go there; I always knew about it and was interested in going.
    What about Yalta? Has anyone been there, and is it enjoyable?
    I have not read up about it, but from what little I know, it's know as a beach holiday destination and for the naval base at Sevastopol. Perhaps there might be a ferry from Odessa to somewhere nice on Yalta.

    @Whiteknight
    - thanks for the offer, I might get in touch when I am closer to Belarus!
    @Opal, thanks a lot - will get in touch when I am in Ukraine... ! First, I have to survive Moldova and the Transdniestr Republic, LOL!

    PS - more on Trandniestr; check out their official magazine on http://www.pridnestrovie-daily.net/gazeta/default.aspx. The state emblems probably indicate the political orientation of this "country". I have no view on that, but I am trying to find out what the situation with "visa" is. It seems to be down to the individual border guards at the time. Not a re-assuring setup. Frankly I do not wish to be blackmailed by some old time border guard, or subjected to some mini-USSR charade, so if I am not more re-assured that I can cross this "border" without hassle, I might try to circumvent "Transdniestr".

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