Border issues and vodka
11th August, North East Crimea (Ukraine)
We successfully crossed into the Ukraine last night after about 6 hours at the border. The Russian side could potentially have been a bit hairy, but thankfully it all turned out OK. For some strange reason, TT had only been given a 2 week visa for Russia, whereas our visas were for one month. We hadn’t realized this until we had been stopped by the police the previous day, who had noticed the error and informed us of it. They were cool though and suggested that we just go to the border and explain that there had been a mistake when we entered Russia at Troitsk.
When I last blogged we were waiting to pass through Russian customs and Ants had just been stung on her bottom. I did tell someone to F off in Russian, but Ants told me to say it and then immediately told me that I said a very rude thing. Basically, we had been waiting in a queue for over three hours and this cheeky bugger drove right down the outside of the queue in his Lada and pulled over just in front of TT. I was pushing her forwards rather than starting the engine to move a few metres and so he managed to sneak in before I could stop him. After I threw a wobbly at him, a babushka jumped on the bandwagon and he got so much grief that he had to go to the back of the queue or he would have suffered death by babushka bashing. You should have seen the look on his face when I said my rude Russian words- it was classic.
Eventually we got to the front of the queue and TT’s overstayed visa was discovered. We had to go and speak to the boss in his office and he seemed none too pleased with us. My heart rate had increased and I thought we may be about to get in big trouble. Ants was trying to explain in her best Russian that it was an unintentional error and that all the rest of our documents were in order. As we had nothing to lose I whipped out the Kazakh paper with our photo and article in it. The previously fierce officer read the article very slowly and carefully and then photocopied it. Then, he gave us some local currency and 15 Euros for Mind, before escorting us out to TT for a photo shoot. Goodness knows what affected him in the article, but something seemed to click- amazing.
The Ukrainian side was easier as we didn’t need a visa and had already purchased TT’s insurance. It was a bit frustrating when they wanted to check the Chassis and Engine numbers, because I cannot remember what part of the engine they are on- all I know is that they are not very easily accessible. Luckily, after about 10 minutes searching they got bored and gave up. So, we tukked into the Ukraine and headed for the nearest biggest city on the M23- not the lovely M23 that goes from London to Brighton. We were pretty pooped, having just crossed a border and camped the previous night. We decided to find a hotel in Maryipol and after a couple of false starts and getting a bit lost we found one of only two hotels in the city. We managed to get the last available room and our bags were carried to our room by our new Russian friends, Sacha et al. They had introduced themselves while Ants went inside to speak some Russki, while I sat in TT and tried to communicate in sign language and the few words in Russian I have heard Ants repeat endlessly. When I think I am telling them about our trip, I am probably actually saying that in Thailand they like tomato salad and bread and that in England I would like to drive on a road with macaroni!!
We decided to have a beer with Sacha and his pals, who were all from Siberia. A beer turned into supper, which then turned into an invite to the local nightclub to drink Russian vodka. Because Sacha had paid for our supper and beer, we felt obliged to say yes. We went upstairs and had a shower and changed, feeling like we had had the energy sucked out of us by a hoover.
We caught a taxi to Santa Barbara, a brightly lit venue right on the Sea of Azov- a sea I had never heard of until we arrived in the Ukraine. Then two large bottles of Russian vodka arrived, along with some cartons of orange juice, water and plates of cold meat, fruit and vegetables. This turned out to be a far more civilized way to enjoy vodka than just knocking back shots. Ants and I had quite enough, danced the night away and finally got a taxi back to the hotel at 2am with the world spinning quite rapidly. That is the first time I have been drunk on this trip and the most drunk I have been in over 3 years. That is not to say we got absolutely hammered, just that I drink only a few times a year. Vodka tastes to me like I imagine paint stripper to taste i.e. minging a la Jade Goody. If vodka wasn’t alcoholic nobody would bother to drink it- ask yourself this question, what tastes better, vodka or fruit juice? The alcoholics are all saying vodka and the non-alcoholics are probably agreeing with me, aren’t you…..?
We woke up the next day and didn't feel at all hungover. Both of our heads felt slightly wooly, but that was probably tiredness as much as the vodka. We packed up TT and headed south west to the Crimea at midday. The road had now become the M26- not the one in Kent. It always makes me laugh when we drive down roads with the same names as English ones, especially when they are so different. Contrary to what we had expected we were not stopped once by the police and the ones who saw us just waved. We finally crossed onto the Crimea after about 6 hours driving, only to be met by grey skies and the threat of rain. We weren’t sure if we would end up camping again and so stopped at some roadside stalls to buy fruit and veggies. The stall holders proudly told us that they were Crimean Tartars (long ago descended from Genghis Khan) and proceeded to give us two melons and a box full of delicious fresh vegetables, all for free. The generosity we have been shown on this trip is truly mind blowing and incredibly humbling. As we drove off it began to rain and there was lots of fork lightning. I worried about TT’s sparks and so drove like a true granny. We found a hotel at a café and decided to stay for the night, as we didn’t know when the opportunity for a bed would arise again if we kept going. A final strange point, there is a grey tom cat here who looks like my mum. I know that sounds weird, but that is the second time a cat has looked like my mother. In Laos a stone Buddha looked like Ants’ dad AKA ‘the biggest boffin in the business’!