Monday, September 29, 2008

From Simferopol to Fiodosia, Crimea

Hello from Simferopol. I'm staying here with a lovely family: Zhenya, Elena and their six teenagers, five of whom they have adopted - more or less - from a local orphanage. What a lively bunch.

They found room for me at their dinner table as well as an empty bunk bed in the girls' room. I am indeed blessed. Above is this dear family plus Sam, back row, visiting from Oklahoma.

So here is a map of Crimea, the part of Ukraine that dangles down into the Black Sea. We're in Simferopol where Zhenya preaches for the congregation here. But Friday we headed to Fiodosia, two hours east on the coast.

Our route above on taxi-van was two hours to Fiodosia, an ancient city on the coast.

From there we went south of there to Ordgonikidza. There we attended a fine Christian conference, the University of Jesus.

Folks from all over Ukraine attended, 470 in all and it was a taste of heaven. The singing was magnificent.

The fellowship was so encouraging. Several folks from the US attended, including Stan from Oklahoma. Stan has been in visiting and helping in Donetsk for many years.

Alexander, above, preaches in Donetsk and broadcasts a weekly television program. Among the conference attendees were folks who have responded to the TV program and wanted to learn more about God and his plan for people. An invitation was extended and 17 people decided to become Christians. We went to the beach for a baptism service.

We were there quite a while. The service was very special. Above one young lady just prior to her immersion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Train South to Simferopol, Crimea

Tuesday evening I caught the overnight train direct from Rostov, southwest to Simferopol, Crimea. Please see map below.

Simferopol is the capital of Crimea, an independant republic of Ukraine, as I understand it. Off-season, 350,000 residents. The city mushrooms each summer to one million. Needless to say, this is quite the resort area. Or rather, Simferopol is the connection point for travel to points south and resort area along the Black Sea.

In our train car was a group of guys was traveling together. They were a swim team and I considered them good security. Not that safety has even seemed much of an issue. Then again, I feel constantly surrounded by a flock of guardian angels.

They are from Astrakhan, a city near the Caspian Sea. Nice guys and well-mannered. Two were in my compartment and more about that later. . .

Just after midnight we were at the Russian border for an hour, as per routine. And then 30 minutes later, at the Ukrainian border for half-an-hour. This chops up the sleep, waking up to answer questions, open luggage if requested and such. Always nice to get through that and eventually get lulled to sleep as the train lurches along.

Wednesday morning, fields of harvested sunflowers on the north side of the tracks.

On the south, fields with hills in the distance. The Sea of Azov-Black Sea would be not far beyond.

You know athletes, they do need their sleep. So here it is 10:00 a.m. and they're catching up. But here's a view of a train compartment.

Sleeping swimmer on top berth and my spot was below.

Train stopped at Djonkoi for 18 minutes or so. Our train, right was next to another train, direct from Moscow to Simferopol.

Sign on our train: Simferopol (Crimea, Ukraine) to Kislovodsk (Russia), which would be in the Caucaus Mountains, a resort area in southern Russia.

Care for some fish? Here's something yummy for sale. This fellow was hawking his fish along the train car.

Some caviar on the side? Following the fish man was the caviar guy. Question: Is the caviar guy also a cavalier guy? One can only assume.

Our compartment ended up be the gathering place for games. Here a couple swimmers play nardi. It seemed to be quite entertaining and attracted an audience.

But UNO is my favorite. I usually travel with a set and then have a bit of a dilemma when folks fall in love with the game: to give away my own cards? Or to mail a set to them? In the past, I've done both. Now I don't even think about it. Anyway, UNO was quite a hit with this bunch. They caught on quick and put a quick end to my winning streak.

UNO, continued. I bought these cards in Rostov, believe it or not. So this version is multi-lingual, I guess you could say. The cards have no words on them, only symbols. And the directions are in Russian, Polish, Czech.

So that's a quick tour of the train trip from Rostov-on-Don to Simferopol, Crimea. Thanks for coming along!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Squatters Rights

Finally I managed to capture a squatter. Or rather to shoot a squatter. Several of them, with the camera of course. Let me ask you this: When you're waiting and your legs get tired, are you tempted to squat? Well some folk here do that and the very sight hurts my knees. But let's have a look anyway. . .

Last week at the train station in Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine we were buying train tickets for me. And over there I spotted a squatter. It was the chance I'd been waiting for. . . to capture a squatter. Just for you.

We were waiting around because suddenly it began pouring rain and you know us pedestrian types, we're not venturing out in that especially when the umbrellas are at home. Silly, silly to come out without the umbrella, which in Ukrainian is called a parasol.

So a look back at the original squatter and it appears to be contagious. He's joined by squatters friends. Dear friend Lyda, partially visible here on the left, was so helpful, letting me hide the camera behind her. But she did have to laugh at me, that I found this so interesting. And here's why: the next day look what I spotted in the kitchen. . .

Here's Lyda herself peeling potatoes. Never mind that some of us do this sort of thing over the sink, peeling into a bowl of some sort. Lyda peels squatting, the peelings falling straight into the trash. Squatters have their rights, you know.

Well, whatever works!

How about you, dear blogging friend. Do you find squatting as comfortable as sitting?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Across Ukraine: Through the Window of a Train

Train north from Ivano-Frankovsk to L'viv, western Ukraine.

View from my lower berth, across walk-way looking east.

On the curtain, Pre-Carpathian (Railway), the line at the foothills to the Carpathian Mts in southwestern Ukraine and into Hungary.

View into the next along the walk-way.

Out the window. Where are we - southern Ohio? Kentucky? Nope right here in Ukraine.

Ah, yes. An Orthodox church, looks like at this distance.

Could be. . . east Texas.

Well, arrived in L'viv for a very nice day of sightseeing with new friend Larisa.

And while there I took so many photos, so many rainy-day photos with dear Larisa holding the umbrella over me and the camera. . .

. . . that I put my camera away for a while. And which is why as the L'viv - Adler train was chugging across Ukraine from northwest to southeast, I needed a break from dear Olympus 4040Z. Even good friends need some time apart, don't ya know.

. . . which is why rather than capturing for you the Dneiper-Petrovsk area and our passage over beautiful sparkling rivers and such, I managed to haul the camera back out later only in time to catch coal mining area of southeastern Ukraine, the Donetsk area.

In the southeast, we passed field after field full of spent sunflowers. From a distance the colors were pretty. But here is what I managed to capture for you. See, I had a few really important things to think about at the time, such as my high-stakes UNO games going on with neighbors. Just kidding about the stakes part. . . they weren't high at all. ;)

How about you, dear blog readers, what have you done to pass the time on long-distance trains?

Yippee Yahoo Back in Rostov

Just off the train across Ukraine. Map gives general idea.

Monday I guess it was, took the 3-hr trip from Ivano-Frankovstk north to L'viv, as per the yellow line above. Then overnighted in L'viv with dear Larisa and her husband (previous post) and then sometime recently - it must have been Tuesday afternoon, caught the L'viv to Rostov train, a direct route as per the blue line above.

Oh, but that blue line is deceiving. I know because this time I checked up on things: plotted our train stops on my spiffy map of Ukraine and I must say we zig-zagged our way across the country, went slow and stopped, stopped and stopped some more. Which is why it took us 29 hrs. I have no idea how far. That's a question for another day. . . Can you wait for that information? I certainly can.

So here you have two flags of Ukraine flying together in unison. The flag is so simple but it represents the blue sky over the golden harvest of Ukraine. And whizzing flying past the train window was all that blue and gold.

Dear Bogdan and Larisa in Ivano-Frankovsk. This dear family allowed me to camp out on their living room coach for an entire week. They're so very special. And I could write a whole chapter in a book about them. Which is exactly why I went there. . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Viewing L'vov Ukraine from Under an Umbrella

Greetings from L'viv. Today I took the 3-hour train from Ivano-Frankovsk north to L'viv here in northwestern Ukraine. And tomorrow, the good Lord willing, I plan to catch the train from L'vov to Rostov-on-Don, a 29-hour trip. Attached should be several fascinating images - should be, I know, but not attached. But that's quite another story. . .

Last Tuesday on the train from Kiev through L'viv to Ivano-Frankovsk, I shared a koopay - that's a 4-person-compartment - with a lady from L'viv. We had a delightful visit and as we were approaching L'viv, she gave me contact information and invited me to come visit sometime.

You're serious?

Da, absolutno!

No need to ask me twice. You know us missionary-types! So guess where I'm spending the night! With my best friend in L'viv, that would be with Larisa and her husband. We hiked around town this evening in the drizzle. They're great tour guides, love to practice their English and enjoy getting to visit with other gypsy-types.

Here's what's almost funny: none of us can find the flash-drive-plug-in-deal on this computer. Larisa is a psychologist and teaches at a local university. Her husband is in business - he's accustomed to solving problems. I have a rather assorted background - different from a sordid background let's make that clear - and none of us knows the answer to this one. Nor are we particularly motivated to solve it. So. . . just imagine photos, okay?

Anyhew, this L'vov is quite the city: part of the former USSR, before that part of Poland, before that part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. First identified as L'viv in 1256. But apparently fortresses and such go back to 200 A.D. Quite varied culturally, as you might imagine. This evening Larisa and I stopped into a Catholic church for evening mass. That's the Polish influence - versus the Russian influence - and the service was in Polish. Although Ukrainian is the official language here and it's spoken, preferred even, in this neck of the woods. Different from eastern Ukraine where there's more Russian influence and thus Russian is spoken there.

Last week in Ivano-Frankovsk was simply great. Attached would be-could be-should be neat photos of that place. In the foothills of the Carpathian Mts. A young, growing city of 300,000 whereas L'viv is 1 million.

Have had UKRAINE on the brain this past week, doing some digging for information. Here are some neat tidbids: Ukraine is twice the size of Poland. Ukraine is larger than the state of California and almost exactly the size of Texas. Ukraine's population is twice that of Texas'. This baffles me: There are only a handful of big cities: Kiev has 3 million, several cities of 1-million and that's it. But where the numbers swell, it would seem, is in the villages: 35% of Ukrainians live in rural areas or small towns.

Lots of national pride here. Quite the complex and diverse nation. And some wonderful people! Well, until we meet again, greetings from L'vov. Find that on your map! Oh - guess what - it is on the map from yesterday's post. Look carefully and you'll see it there in the northwest. Over and out!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Sunday Morning in Zhitomer, Ukraine

Care to join me for a walk through Zhitomer? It was a warm Sunday morning last week and I had a few hours before church started at 2:00 pm.

First, lets get ourselves oriented. See Zhitomer there on the map. It's 90 minutes west of Kiev by taxi van. Vans run like every 20-30 minutes between the two.

The street-sweeping lady was busy tidying up her assigned area. Those brooms are something -- ever tried to sweep with a short-handled broom? Perfect for persons 3-4 feet high but for the rest of us, oh my aching back. Ukrainian folks are a tough breed though: You'll hear no complaints from any of them.

Meanwhile a wedding was about to begin. The mother of the bride, above, pulled aside the bearer of the wedding bread to make last-minute adjustments to the traditional loaf. It really was pretty. But. . . talk about wedding jitters. The bread'll do it to ya.

Serve your country: Join the army. Protect the independance of Ukraine.

A stairway and charming archway from a busy street to a quiet neighborhood.

McDonald's coming soon to Zhitomer. Attention students: Work at McDonald's and you can have money of your own. A concept we all like. Especially parents.

T-shirt Trivia

The latest in English-language t-shirts for you. This one modeled by the Lena, the dear and lovely 16-year-old superwhiz from Dontesk with whom I shared a Kiev apartment for three weeks. I got treated to quite a few violin concerts - songs composed by Lena herself. She got treated to my chuckling at this t-shirt, apparently a favorite.


Good news: Whever this shirt came from, there are probably more in stock. Should you decide that you've just gotta have one too, just let us know. . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Electrical Outlet Spotted in Hotel Bathroom

Talk about getting shocked - in a good way, that is. Do you see what I see? Study the photo below carefully. Last weekend in Zhitomir, I opened the door to my hotel bathroom and something hit me right between the eyes.

See that 220v on the bathroom wall? That is very special. Let's zoom on in for a closer look.

Ladies and gentlemen: Announcing (drum roll please) an ELECTRIC OUTLET in a HOTEL BATHROOM in EASTERN EUROPE! Admittedly I may have missed something at during my 9-plus years in this neck of the woods. But this is the first I recall seeing a real, live, electric outlet in a bathroom. Particularly a hotel bathroom in a Soviet-era facility.

I am still in shock. Happy shock of course. Because there seems to be this philosophy that bathrooms and electricity don't mix. Then when I need to repair my lovely coiffure, I need: 1) a mirror, 2) an electrical outlet nearby 3) a something to set the hot appliance down on. A sink will work. Even the back of a toilet. But in Eastern Europe, most often the mirror is six to eight to ten feet from the electrical outlet. This calls for an extension cord. Fortunately, an extension cord is something I tend to travel with. But it's really for the computer. So priorities: electricity for the laptop or for the hair-repair because so far, I've been able to draw the line at dragging the computer into a bathroom.

Three cheers to the Hotel Zhitomir for their innovative thinking: that a bathroom, a mirror and an electrical outlet can be combined without loss of life.

Selected Images: Zhitomer, Ukraine

Got to spend last weekend in Zhitomir - pronounced Zhit-OH-mir, 90 minutes west of Kiev by taxi van. I've heard about this town for so long from dear friend Cindy from Richmond, Virginia because she and church friends have come like 15 times or so over the years. But it was the invitation fromTammy S. that nudged me into going. Tammy is a missionary-publisher-educator sort of person who has lived in Zhitomer eight years, as I recall. Tammy happened upon my blog, wrote and introduced herself and. . . we keep in touch. Below are a few photos from Zhitomer.

Visit another expatriate and where's dinner going to be? New York Street Pizza, of course! Tammy is one of those people who's a fount of information on many subjects. Lucky me! She's also a gypsy-type-person. Quite like me. . .

A beautiful Orthodox cathedral in town.

What's the name of the cathedral?

Well, it doesn't have a name. It's just the cathedral, was the usual answer.

Zhitomer has been around for quite a while. The display above announces that Zhitomer is (was) 1,123 years old. Do the math on that, and realize the place has been around quite a while before, say, the Boston Tea Party. Thanks to Tammy and her orange Chevy, we got off the beaten track and I enjoyed quite a tour of the entire area.

Memorial obelisk to World War II - the fallen and the veterans. Ukraine was a major battleground during the war.