2013 Viking River Cruise in The Ukraine

I was reading an article a couple of weeks ago before our trip to The Ukraine…

…After a chaotic period between WWI and WWII an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic emerged from its own civil war Then Soviet aggression and the Ukrainian–Soviet War followed, which resulted in Soviet victory, occupation and genocide of Ukrainians ordered by Josef Stalin, millions of people starved to death in 1932 and 1933. During the World War II the Nazis kicked off in Poland getting everyone’s attention and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army tried to re-establish Ukrainian independence and fought against both Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. But Ukrainians failed to repel the coming invaders and Ukraine was occupied by Nazi Germany. After Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945 it was reoccupied again by the Soviet Union until finally they got their independence, and that was just 27 years ago…

A bit heavy reading I know but it explains why things are the way they are in The Ukraine, hell these people have taken some hammer and they are a bit split down the middle as to how they see themselves, are they Russian or Ukrainian?

The alarm buzzed loudly it was Sunday morning or to be more exact it was the dead of night, it was just 04.30 for gods sake! We dressed went downstairs and ate breakfast on automatic. The hotels around Heathrow airport are a constant 24 hour buzz as folk are coming and going. Today we were on the outbound leg with hundreds of others as we prepared ourselves for the day’s journey to east. We drove into Terminal 1 car park circling it twice trying to find the little purple booth to leave THUG with the long term parking company people, an exciting five minutes of lane switching, nearly red light shooting action to get the heart rate pumping. This is all I ought to say about that in case they still have us on CCTV.

We now sat in the departure lounge and settled into breakfast after booking the cases in, sitting now waiting for the boarding notice to start flashing, the Formula 1 antics of an hour ago now a smirk and a memory.

The Airbus filled quickly with passengers the cases had been stowed underneath and overhead compartments filled to the brim with “other” luggage, it seems a bit daft as the airlines impose a 20K limit of luggage but allows “hand luggage” of mostly unchecked weight to be stuffed inside the plane perhaps it weighs less inside?

Our Lufthansa Airbus lifted from the runway at V2 tucked in the wheels with a thump, motors and servos whirred as the flaps were retracted and the gaps in the wings closed. The River Thames below led us east over the city, I pointed out some landmarks to Julie, London had been my hometown for about 15 years, so the lay-out of the city is still quite well known to me. Once over the sea the cloud covered Earth from our view and we climbed up through 10.000 feet at 500mph, our half way destination was Munich and sat approx two hours away. The clouds below looked like most of Yorkshire had looked over the past few weeks, lumpy white clouds squeezed together and rippled along for miles. After a light snack we began a long descent into Munich, dropping through the cloud base we emerged from the cloud base landing beautifully at Munich in grey damp conditions. We had a long walk to our next terminal and a two hour wait for our connecting flight to Kiev in the Ukraine.

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                   Julie sits with her Kindle at Munich International Airport

For me Germany and its people are to be admired for getting back off their asses after the war and the difficult reunification of East and West, Yes I take my hat off to them however I feel they lag behind in some things like… men’s haircuts and some fashion styles like their new 1970’s tight straight legged faded denims mullet haircuts and some social irregularities smoking in particular, and an over acceptance of raging gay blokes! I was amazed at some of the backwardness like those big glass booths for smokers to enter and gas themselves, the sign at the camel cigarette stand had me and a passing American laugh out in amusement. Inspiring creativity my ass!

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 100 years of inspiring creativity? Note the glass smoke booths behind

I just love people watching and find it even more interesting when faced with many different nationalities, Julie on the other hand was busy with the next chapter of some off world activity on her Kindle! It was soon time to go through the rigmarole of boarding again, we linger towards the back preferring to let the rush ease off, a nice stroll down the metal tunnel onto the plane and a fat person free few steps to our seats was just the ticket. We took off, we flew a bit, we ate at bit, we flew a bit more then we landed is about all I remembered about this leg, it was quite straight forward.

Kiev, (pronounced Kee-v with the v being almost silent) was noticeably several years behind as is most of the former U.S.S.R, Ukraine is finally independent but lacks the money, to do much about it as yet. Ukraine after all has only been free of the communist hammer and sickle regime for just over 20 years. We shuffled our way through the procedures in the passport area, the uniforms looked splendid and some and shabby and mismatched on others the officials were mostly young and efficient, minutes later we collected our luggage and walked into the arrivals hall to see a few guys holding name boards up, at the end was a red fleeced woman, she was waving a Viking River Cruise red lollipop. She asked us to wait in a group by the door as we waited for a couple of missing people. I got the first glimpse of my fellow passengers,we sounded like a mix of English, American and Canadian. Both Julie and I seemed to the youngest by at least 15 yrs. I do hope they have a decent bar on board! An hour later we had finally collected our missing couple and nipped over to the other terminal got a few more people and had pushed into the early evening traffic heading towards our ship. We passed through the housing area of Kiev, it looked tired and run down with building decay clearly visible. I say “housing” but to be honest it was block after block of horrible grey flats, hundreds of them to the left and right, several small markets were open with a few people drifting about and every bus stop had groups of people laden with plastic bags of shopping and were wrapped up like it was cold The buses were a mixture of left-over Russian trolly-busses from the early 1960’s and dozens of old small yellow mini coaches, but they looked more like converted vans, windows were cracked some had black bin bag liner covering them, the drivers cab often had a piece of lace curtain draped (against the sun I guess) All were filthy, run down and had their fair share of bumps and scrapes…..but they all seemed to work!

We crossed the River Dneiper (Pronounced Nee-per) our ship was moored up just a mile down the road at the special concrete barge that was lashed to a graffiti splashed concrete dock.

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At first glance the Viking Lomonosov was a very streamlined good looking ship with a fine rake to her and not a huge ugly floating brick of a hotel AND it had two bars! The Viking Lomonosov pronounced Lo-mon-OS-sof is very Cold War has few frills and has recently had its huge red star painted over in thick white paint. Rumor has it that this ship once carried around Soviet Union party officials on holidays! To say that this cruise was aimed at the old and very old I was surprised it had no lifts or as the Yanks say “no god damn elevators” Just stairs and steep step and gangways front and back going from the 1’s right up to the 4’s landing. Personally it didn’t bother us we were in our 50’s and quite fit, but I did wonder about some of the guests.

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                                             Good evening can I help you sir?

The ship’s crew met us at the gangway in spanking blue and white uniform, no salutes just big smiles and a “good evening and welcome” The reception staff at their desk were overwhelmed with our coach load of tired guests but got through us quite quickly, a key was issued and the cabin staff directed us to our rooms, the cases arrived a few minutes later with a tap at the door. At last we had arrived! With the two hrs added on we had been up and moving for about 15 hrs, a long time whatever one’s age!

The Viking Daily was the daily information flyer and an excellent idea it answered dozens of questions, had the weather report, the movie of the day and the times it was on and some relevant information and history of our next day’s destination, this was updated daily and we would receive a new one under the door every evening and also had the schedule of the following day.

A quick wash and into the restaurant for dinner. It was all looking a bit posh, gold yellow and white curtains and white linen tablecloths, flowers on each of the tables, every table equipped with a lot of cutlery, the tables were a mixture of two four or six person circular tables with more eating irons than to know what to do with and a dozen young Ukrainian ladies waiting for us to sit. We chose a table in the corner and ordered the first of the night’s beers, we could have chosen red or white wine but stuck to the beer, the beer was a light larger and very nice in a half pint stem glass, I didn’t feel it the right place to ask for a pint glass….or the HP sauce for that matter! The food was excellent this evening as every meal for the next 12 days proved to be, I never really studied the menu in depth as the days went on, breakfast was from the buffet but I did stick to one thing I have to admit, I had a plate of bacon and sweet tasting bread every morning. The place was buzzing now as more folk arrived to eat. I think we had a relatively easy journey compared to the majority. It was quite noisy now as the six Americans on the table behind started on their CV. “ Hi there, Nice to meet you, we are Tom and Nancy from New York, Tom is in banking and I do voluntary work and this is our 6th Viking cruise” The next couple announced themselves and so on it went. They were so God Damn LOUD! Talk about noise pollution for god’s sake! I wanted to lean over and have a word, but I didn’t think it would have put me in good stead for the next 12 days, and most of the guests appeared to be American! On reflection we were just a bit tired and irritable but hell they sure were LOUD! The guests were mainly American, quite a few Canadians, with a smaller and quiet sprinkling of English a couple from Scotland, a Kiwi and a couple from Oz to add flavour. The drinks in both restaurants were free at every meal time including breakfast, I even saw some guests helping themselves champagne at breakfast! Nobody chose to sit with us in the corner on this first night which on reflection was a good think as both Julie and I got more frazzled at the fooking noisy Yanks behind us. Poor Valentine was run off her little feet all evening as she padded up and down to the bar and back with “Moor bieers”. Our ears couldn’t take any more, tiredness and the drink was beginning to strangle our English reserve! We left the table and made our way out of the cacophony of noise to the sunshine bar on the top deck.

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                     Lyudmila                                            Viktoria

We met Victoria and Lyudmila the two ladies who ran this fine abode, we had it to ourselves which was great considering our deafened ears! Several more rounds slipped down the hatch, Victoria was the more talkative than Lyudmila who was in charge of the accounts for both bars so was trying to concentrate at the back of the bar as I got into my stride. Come 01.30hrs the bar shut and we tottered to our room down on the 3’s landing. We buggered about with clothes and bags, Julie went for a pee and came out soaking wet (hilarious) she’d turned the tap on but the shower kicked into life! It goes without saying perhaps that we were both a bit “shloshed” and giggled at the memory over breakfast. Steam had been let off and all was well in our eyes, the noise in the restaurant had gone back to normal we no longer wished anyone an early grave. In fact most turned out to be nice and very sociable like Don, a Henry Fonda look-alike he joined us with his lovely wife Rena for breakfast, the Hubers hailed from a place in Illinois and were a fun couple, we dined together for practically the rest of the cruise asking each time if they could join us, a very likable couple indeed and between the four of us we severely dinted the Lomonosov lager barrel!

We boarded our 4 buses for a tour of Kiev city after breakfast the weather was a warm 18 degrees with a clear blue sky, I put my shorts on but was the only one, everyone was between 10 and 20 twenty years older than us perhapsfelt the cold more. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991 Kiev became the capitol of Ukraine with a population of 3 million.

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                                                             Downtown Kiev

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                                                         Cathedral of St Sophia

We now travelled in the old part of town and not the ugly suburbs with the accommodation blocks. The buses took us downtown into the morning traffic jam! For us it wasn’t a hindrance we could take in the sights of the city streets and its people. The first stop was a UNESCO world heritage site, the Cathedral of St Sophia, this was a beautiful white and green building topped with golden “onions” It’s now a museum and dates back to the 11th century. The frescoes and mosaics are really something to see. Julie and I are not interested in religion at all but do like to look around the buildings as they are usually quite beautiful.The green cloaked non smiling ladies who look after the place must have worked previously for the Russian secret service, they appeared out of the dark corners to remind people not to touch the delicate walls, don’t lean on this, don’t lean on that. It was quite funny to watch them at work!

Our second stop was the fantastic Kiev Pechersk Lavri. This was a walled complex of several monasteries and cathedrals. Our guide Olga handed over to a local guide for this section. We liked Olga eventually,when speaking about the German occupation during WWII always called them Nazis. She told me later that her grandmother had fought in the siege of Sevastopol. In two weeks there is a German only cruise…..Olga says she is to go on going on holiday.

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                                                          The Pechersk Lavri

We went into the cave monastery  going underground in the pitch black into the subterranean labyrinths, down small narrow tunnels, it not for the faint hearted or infirm. These were caves dug out by priests who lived there as hermits. Their mummified remains lay shrouded in glass coffins and were lit dimly by candles. A rather strange and cold experience altogether. In the afternoon we had an afternoon “chilling” on the ship as another tour went around the Jewish quarter of Kiev. At 18.00hrs we slipped the mooring turned around and set off downstream at a slow speed..and then the bar opened, need I say any more about tonight?

We awoke at 07.00hrs and went for breakfast, a few people were about taking coffee and cakes at the drinks stations, one of these was at the end of every bedroom deck, it was a little like padding from your bedroom to the kitchen for a cuppa, the only difference was a half dozen strangers happened to in there helping themselves to the coffee pot! Everyone was very friendly and talkative especially the Americans. At the table at breakfast Liza and Dasha pounced with the silver coffee pot, I said I wanted a BIGGER cup and so every day after that a large mug replaced the petite cup without me asking again, the dozen or so girls attended their allocated group of tables whoever sat there and so for the whole cruise Dasha and Liza would serve us. The conversation always started.”Good Morning would you like some jooose?” At lunch and dinner it always started “Good afternoon / evening would you like bieeer?” Oh yes they had got us so nailed! The conversations weren’t expansive or varied by any means. As you know am just so informal and try to treat servants as ordinary people doing a job and not sub-serviants, this quite often puts them on the back foot for a day or two until they get to know me and is most probably not in their training manual! My breakfast was always a huge crispy bacon sarni in sweet tasting bread with a mug of coffee; Julie tried a variety ranging from yoghurt and fruit to the very tasty breads jams and honeys. Oh one morning I did have a bowl of Ukrainian lumpy warm fruity yoghurt stuff, very nice it was too but the lure of the warm bacon sarni was too great most of the time. We sat with Don and Rena and watched the world float by at about 8 knots as we cruised south. It was nearly eight o’clock the sun and bright blue sky had paired up to paint a calm chilled and serene picture. We couldn’t see land to port or starboard nor boat or bird. Yes folks we could see fook all! We made our way to the sundeck aft, our girls chirped together “Goodbye and have a good day”

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                                       Our lovely serving girls Linzi and Dasha

Not many folk were about outside on this first morning, a breeze blew the length of the ship I stood by the rail in my leather flip flops light brown knee length shorts T shirt and to begin with wore a light fleece, Julie picked a spot on the deck out of the breeze and got stuck into her book. I scanned the horizon with my pocket binoculars but couldn’t see diddly squat! I looked round and saw just two or three people out of the 120 supposedly on the boat, where the hell is everyone? I thought but I was kinda glad though because it meant some peace to look, contemplate and enjoy.

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Looking aft from empty the sun deck and looking more like the Atlantic Ocean than The River Dnieper.

Its the fourth longest river on the planet at 1,450 miles in length and has long lengths of it flooded and dammed with built in hydroelectric power plants which in turn generate huge amounts of power for the country. We were cruising down one of three huge reservoirs, this one being the Kremenchug It measured approx 95 long by 20 miles wide, was it any wonder I couldn’t see land? By late morning we came to the first of several dam and locks, we entered the huge Kachoc ship lock to drop 30 metres or more down to the next level, this took the best part of an hour to transit, I saw one man and his dog at the lock, over on the land we saw what looked like a dirt track for leaner drivers it was a curvy course through some trees an about a dozen ordinary looking cars drove slowly round and round. There had some kind of symbol on the roof of each car but I couldn’t quite make out what it said.

Dinner was called lunch and tea was called dinner, very nice it was too as we sat eating it staring at the concrete wall of the lock just a few yards away as we dropped down to the next level of the river. The size of the river was just beginning to dawn on me, it really was enormous we had sailed all night and day along just one reservoir! We were strolling round the deck in the early afternoon when the tannoy announced some events in the sunshine bar in thirty minutes including the safety briefing. Ok I thought, maybe we should attend this. So off to the sundeck we trooped along with most other guest. We were given short lectures of Ukraine and its people, all interesting stuff to the U.S and Canadian passengers, many of whom were actually on this voyage tracing their ancestors, lastly we were introduced to the very important safety drill, and much emphasis was placed on this, rightly so too. We were instructed what to do in the event of evacuation. They then tried to get us to practice gathering at the muster stations and to be led to the evacuation points by the staff. Personally I thought this went a bit far and was mildly insulting after all we British invented orderly queues didn’t we? Julie and I ducked back onto the sun deck instead. I noticed Don gave this a miss too, I saw quite soon that others ducked out too. I think perhaps this was mainly for staff to practice herding us about as it was the first cruise of the season, but we had some really old and infirm passengers, they would surely die if we sunk, a small point occurred to me……erm excuse me but haven’t we have been sailing all night and all day? What if we’d been torpedoed during the night??? I didn’t say it out aloud I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to have tumbled to this. Throughout the cruise little things like this kept occurring, like the time when we got rammed by another vessel whilst we were taking onboard highly flammable fuel! I’ll tell you more later on.

Don and Rena joined us for dinner again and Dasha and Linzi kept the beers coming and we talked about the day and a bit about ourselves. The safety drill affair was amusing and something to tell over a pint back home for sure or in my case something to write to you about! Don was a smart looking old guy he was a former U.S Marine and became an Air traffic controller when stationed in Japan in the 1950’s Rena was his wife an partner in fun and an occasional hand brake when he went too far! It wasn’t long before he was whispering “men only” jokes to me out of earshot. The bar welcomed us for the rest of the evening until around nine thirty when it emptied. It left just me Lyudmila and Victoria and the two German boys from the band until closing time at around 01.00hrs. This was the routine for most nights, sometimes Julie stayed with us in the bar before toddling off to bed around midnight. I had an interesting late night conversation one night with a wildlife photographer called Rob, formally of NZ and now residing in Canada. He looked at things a bit like I did and enjoyed talking about my former job, it seemed we were a similar out-looking pair, we certainly enjoyed a laugh with and at our fellow passengers and had a love of photography. Rob flew onto Rome with his wife after the tour to work on another film production. Another night I had a conversation about who won the war with an old Ice hockey player formally of Canada and now living in sunny California USA. Wayne was convinced America got nothing out of the war! Putting that minor detail aside we had a hoot, I laughed at his boating and hockey stories and he laughed at my colourful outlook of almost everything else. His wife Barbara kept interrupting complaining she had missed what he was saying and that she’d lost track of what was being said.

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                                                       Wayne and Barbera

Another morning arrived, people got up early to get their morning coffee and cake at the end of the corridor folk greeted each other with a friendly nod and a hello some were outside already doing their laps around deck 2, the only deck that had an uninterrupted racetrack around the ship. We went to breakfast, watched the river between fleece wrapped colonials as they tripped around the ship on lap five or six, they didn’t do a lot but there were a lot of them. I felt a familiar sense of be-devilment again and decided to do a nice walk around the same deck in the opposite direction just to be awkward. J.T laughed out, that’s just what George said he was going to do, all you damn Britishers think the same! She was laughing her head off as we slowly strolled on taking in the fresh air squeezing past each other them at regular intervals, At their table JT and George were in fits of laughter. The first to complain was an old girl from England. “You’re going the wrong way”! She wailed “Aye I know” I smiled and winked.

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This is J.T and George, they met whilst working in Spain and now reside in L.A where George works as a handyman for one of the casino’s. George hails from The Black Country UK and served in  the Airborne, a right pair of characters!

We had another morning on the sun deck reading and watching the world go by, one or two others had got settled on sun-loungers but were still wrapped up against the breeze and I was still in my summer shorts and shirt. Mary Beth and her companion Kath sat with us for a while chatting these two gals hailed from the States and had been in nursing for forty years. Mary Beth gave us some sound advice about the house white, don’t drink it it’s swill! She was an expert and had brought her own supply on board. What a pair they were funny all the way and laughed when I kept calling them “girls”!

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                                        The girls Kath and Mary-Beth

Today the river looked almost ordinary river size maybe twice the width of our River Thames, some signs of life came into view like houses and birds. They were summer houses, did you know that in quite a few European countries folk have summer houses either by the sea or their rivers. The ones I’ve seen are in Holland Belgium and Denmark. They are usually large shed sized in dimension the older ones are very basic built out of wood with a coating of tar all around with a roof of wooden planks or tin sheets and had the most basic amenities installed and intended just for short stays in the summer. I remember my Danish father-in-law’s place by a river was just that with a bed in the corner of the large 1 roomed hut, his pride and joy was the beer fridge in the garden, it looked like a discarded fridge door thrown on the ground in the veg patch, but in fact it was the top of a complete beer fridge buried in the ground, it doesn’t need electricity in the ground he said, the soil kept the beer cool and he was right! These houses here today along the river looked like they were made from corrugated sheets and were dotted along the shore line by the dozen I didn’t see any people though, it was still early spring. I saw large black birds flying low over the water all the time now, they were Cormorants. In fact for the rest of the cruise we saw them constantly they were either flying or sunbathing in the waterside trees with their wings and beaks ajar. I also watched another frequent group of companions they were a sharp looking black capped sea bird, these guys dived head long into the water all day returning back into the air often with a glinting little silver fish in their beaks.

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                                                                        Reed Beds

 The land by the rivers’ edge looked so quiet calm and undisturbed it looked like the river stretched far back through the huge reed beds deeper back through the reeds I saw hundreds of little islands, the river bled into the distance, eventually coming up against solid land. Occasionally I spotted a single white Egret standing about waiting for a passing fish to spear.

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Some Churches came into view; they were not in the middle of villages as in England but standing alone, sometimes alone on one of the small islands. A war monument hove into view at one point on one such little island an old WWII Russian T34 and an old green field gun sat either side of a monument the ships hooter gave one blast as it passed. Just half a dozen of the one hundred and sixty passengers saw this and well as the crew on the bridge.

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 The east bank of the river had all the industry and most of the buildings, the river certainly cut the country in half

I had strolled round the ship once or twice, and noticed just a hand full of passengers sat out of the wind along the various decks, one or two sat in the full force of the wind at the bow, a couple more sat reading in the library but apart from that everyone else must have been in their cabins? I can understand those guys who had the really large state cabins they were very roomy and easily the size of our living room at home they had huge balcony windows but there were only about a dozen of these, the rest had small sized rooms the same size as on the cross channel ferries. Just fit enough to just sleep in as far as I was concerned. It puzzles me even now as to where the hell everyone got to in the early days.

On Wednesday we arrived in Zaporozhe (pronounced Zap-Or-orsssh-e) we had a tour around the city by coach and stopped briefly in a square for a leg stretch and a little look around. This was the first time I saw the city’s archaic electric trolleybuses’ up close, Olga says these are the ones left over by the Russian era, The Health and Safety Executive would have had a field day with these wrecks, they dated from the 1960’s all the tar like roof paint was peeling off, the sides were rotting many windows had cracks and several had no back window, I saw several examples with a black bin liners stretched across the rear window and taped into place, yet every tram / bus was crammed with people, in between there contraptions drove yellow or white mini vans with windows and bench seats fitted and mini buses not quite so old but equally as tatty and equally as full. Even older small trams from the Czech Republic were seen, these too were full of people. There were lots of cars and not just Larda’s but a mix of Old Russian and modern Japanese German and other European cars, some European models were built under licence with a name across the boot but not readable to any westerner! The streets and buildings looked tired, advertising hording where about the only colourful thing of note though many of the pasted sheets were falling or torn. The bus queues were always long, it seems they can’t do away with the old buses yet, ever so slowly they are building newer buses. This place was hardly worth the stop but we did at least see a bit of Ukraine other then the pigging reservoir! We returned to the ship for lunch then back out again on the coaches at 14.00hrs for a trip to see a Cossack display on the nearby Island of Khortitsa.

Power lines and pylons will be my last image of this afternoon as we made our way around the huge hydroelectric power plant that straddled yet another huge dam across the river. Smaller forty foot electric pylons carried cables across school playgrounds garden allotments and gardens I even saw a row run through peoples communal areas. I’m sure it’s doing their health no good at all. This vast plant was engineered by an American engineer in 1932 by invite of the Soviets which is unusual in itself and shows how desperate they were for energy. It was the biggest of its kind at the time and developed half a million kilowatts. It was destroyed during the German Invasion during the war and rebuilt again in 1947. What the provided info doesn’t say is that it was blown up on Stalin’s’ orders to prevent it falling into the hands of the Nazi’s, but the resulting floods drowned umpteen thousands of Russians! Did you know that Joseph Stalin wasn’t even a proper Russian he was from Georgia and periodically put to death thousands of Russians whenever he felt threatened? The museum visit was about a much older period but interesting all the same, the Vikings came here too. It was quite funny because our guide Olga had negotiated a free pass to photograph as we pleased yet officials still followed us round. The question has to be asked sometimes, do they really want tourism? This was the same official stance for almost every place we visited regarding photography oh sorry but to take photographs is extra and the women officials who shadowed us were not too friendly. I paid on just one occasion during the tour, I may be a tourist but I’m not a fool.

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                                                             Team Cossack

A bumpy bus ride on a dirt track to an enclave brought us to fairy land…I mean the world of the Cossack, it was a wooden camp in the woods a singing display met us on the gates, we had prepaid on the ship however it was extra to take photos (what a surprise) again I didn’t pay (what a surprise) The horse display was a fantastic afternoon of horsemanship full of colour and noise whistling and shouting and bravado by the young men on the horses.

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                                                           Any which way AND loose!

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                                                           Is this John Wayneski!

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                            Cossack Julie takes centre stage on Vasha

Julie got her fix of horse for the holiday getting a ride on one after the show, I on the other hand got grabbed by one of the old girls for a traditional dance just as I was about to try a free vodka or two! I enjoyed my jig and I think the old girl did too, I gave her a quick peck and retreated to the vodka shack.

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                                    Bustin some moves with Mother Cossack.

We bought a few things then it was time to make the journey back to the boat were we would eat lunch. The Cossacks were a proud bunch of Gypsy type horse people who often plundered and stole, were excellent warriors and tried to live their own lifestyle the word Cossack roughly translated means “free living.” What they don’t tell you is that Catherine the Great had most of them murdered in the 1800’s and now, depending which leader leads Ukraine at the time depends if they support of the Cossack legacy or not! In spite of this it was a very enjoyable afternoon and was something we won’t see often in the flesh in our part of the world and was something we won’t forget for a long time, as we left everyone from the show came to the gates and waved us off.

The crew would be slipping the ropes mid afternoon and we would move across to the next lock by the power station, this time descending another sixty feet. During lunch back on the boat our mooring lines ware slipped and we edged away from the concrete dock.

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They dont have time for their envoiroment as they climb out of global crisis.

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      I had to look hard to see if stuff was actually in working order.

The infrastructure here seemed a little better than the previous few miles of small wharfs and seemingly rotting dock cranes and worn out looking factories with their tall thin chimneys. those few that did work belched out grey white smoke that turned the landscape hazy. We passed under an impressive looking road bridge, impressive until you looked closer at it. The steel reinforcement rods were bare in quite a few places as the concrete had corroded and crumbled, this bridge along with many old building s we had seen today was a tatty left over legacy from the Soviet times, at least here a new modern bridge was being constructed and would soon replace the ruin next to it. Things will take time I know but it’s still a shock to see how poor the country has been so recently, shaking off the Soviet influence is going to take quite a while and money. Upon gaining independence Ukraine had introduced a new currency called Hryvnia (Pronounced Greev-na) only as recently as 1996. That’s when growth finally started, though they suffered a set-back like the rest of us recently in the world banking troubles around 2008, happily growth it is steadily on the up again here in the Ukraine.

99 Double left click on the picture to see the corosion up close.

We slowed to a stop mid river and moored at an anchor point, the tannoy asked us not to smoke for the next three hours as they would be filling the fuel tanks from a fuel tender which was making its way towards us from the terminal. Dinner would be served shortly “Have a pleasant evenink” she ended.

Folk looked over the side at the oiler for a while as it lashed itself to us and the two guys in boiler suits hooked up the 2 inch fuel hose, clipped it into us and turned the pump on, after that there was not much more to watch so folk drifted off to get ready for dinner. I stood and took photos of a couple of boats and one in particular that same speeding out of an inlet it went down river and out of my sight, a few minutes later it came back still going quite fast, it was heading for the inlet then turned sharply towards us, it looked like he was showing off and was going to do a tight circle between the shore and our two vessels. He’s going to come a bit close I thought, can’t the fools see we are taking on diesel fuel? Closer he came a couple of scruffs on its deck started running up and down. He’s really cutting if fine now perhaps he’ll throw into reverse any, second, now. Ooooh fook! He’s going to ram us up the ass! I clenched the rail ready for impact. The enemy vessel stopped suddenly its bow rose then dropped and it began to reverse away. I never felt a thing but he did hit us, he back off and dropped anchor about fifty yds away.

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This is the boat that rammed us going down river before returning minutes later to ram us.

Through me binoculars I watched a number of scruffy “oiks” running from some kind of motor hut at the bow to the wheel house the bloke on the wheel kept shout orders to them, they kept yanking at a lever but it didn’t seem to be moving. Meanwhile some of our male engineers and crew began to lower a boat it was quite farcical to watch, it took them a good 5 minutes to work out how to lower the boat, when finally it was in the water three or four of them jumped across the water into it then someone threw some safety jackets and hard hats down to them! They slowly got organized the little boats engine chugged into life and made for the jetty to pick up a leather jacket official, the boat returned and hove to at the stern were he proceeded to take photographs. To be fair to them we weren’t actually sinking but it seemed to take them ages to get the boat into the water and moving. Meanwhile the oiler was still pumping diesel into our tanks as if nothing had happened. Some of our bridge officers had walked to the stern and were in conversation with the man in the big leather jacket from the shore. I walked downstairs to join Julie Don and Rena for dinner and to tell them what had nearly happened.

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                                                         Fender bender damage

But they already knew as the news swept through the boat. Out of the stern bay window we saw a twenty foot length of rail had been stove in, the flagpole had been wrenched from its mount and was lying on the floor in bits, debris lay around the stern walkway as the officers stood around deep in conversation. It had hit us after all! The sharp rake of the bow had hit us a glancing blow on the stern and ridden up into the rail bending it nearly flat to the deck. More people became aware that something had happened as they came for dinner,the Canadians and Americans were referring to the incident as a “fender bender” I couldn’t help thinking about the oiler that was still strapped to us and was still pumping diesel into us and what if…Then Don called out “Hey Dasha, 4 beers please” and that was that! Dinner tonight was a special Ukrainian theme night and the girls were wearing traditional dress, Dmitry our Bulgarian Chef came round to say hello to everyone and chat a while. After dinner we retired to the Sky bar upstairs for more beer and conversation. At midnight we were the last to leave the bar and retired to our beds after an exciting afternoon on the high seas!

We woke to find the oiler had long gone and we were cruising again down the Dnieper. Another couple lecture was on offer in the Sky bar at mid morning after which they had a Q and A session about the boat and crew, we declined opting to stay outside in the sunshine, I did ask an officer who said told that the boat that hit us yesterday had just been fixing a mechanical problem and it was going for a test run when something went wrong, the mechanical problem hadn’t been fixed after all!

Another “Taste of Ukraine” session was laid on for us on the sun deck, it was in the form of a cold buffet with fish meats and veg to try, one of the lads from the band walked amongst us with his accordion to get us in the mood. People were getting on fine now and began to form friendships and my sundeck filled up with people!

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                                    The kitchen staff out in the open for once

The Lomonosov docked again in mid afternoon whilst we ate and drank vodka, we had arrived in the port of Kherson, The Viking Cruise Company owned four coaches that followed us all the way and were always waiting for us when we docked, this afternoon they took us for a short excursion around Kherson.

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 Every vehicle tried to keep in the middle of the road where it was smoothest, only moving over when they approached each other head on.

It was a bumpy ride around the town; the roads held no surprises for us two having experienced Bulgaria and Rumania on our motorbike in 2007. There is still a heavy Soviet influence in the cities, live cables are slung across the buildings just 30 feet above us and criss cross all around the centre. We had a walk round some more religious buildings and drove down to the river to have a short walk around the square and view a couple of monuments, I doubled back to the park by the main road to a war memorial to the heroes of the Great War and a more recent one recording the Soviet struggle in Afghanistan which began in 1979 lasting 10 years during which the Soviet army suffered nearly 30.000 dead.

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                                  A monument to the fallen in Afghanistan

In various cities we saw several monuments to this conflict. We continued on a slow drive back through the city Olga pointed out the various buildings and another huge statue of Lenin. In the south of the Ukraine in particular Lenin is still well thought of, unlike the north and in Russia itself.

We arrived back at the boat with time enough to change and have dinner, tonight it was a pirate theme and all the girls were dressed up as such! Even the two Maitre d’ Natasha and Natalia dressed as pirates and helped serve us.

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                                                          Aaarrrrrr Jim Lad!

Up in the Sky Bar it was competition time as folk dressed up as pirates, they were great, finding clothes to convert into pirate attire for the night, Don had got from the engine crew a curved hook! Games were organized by Alyona the programme director, the games weren’t strenuous, after all we didn’t want any pirates dropping dead of a heart attack! Don was engaged in arm wrestling but refrained from using his curved hook to gain an advantage. Later he exclaimed ”Yeah, Geez I could have used it rip out his goddarm balls!” Rena told him to behave! Good old Don, ever the gung ho Marine! Julie and I shouted encouragement as did the rest of us who didn’t partake. It was good fun and a good laugh for everyone.

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              Pirates Don and Rena, note his godarmn ball ripping hook!

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                                                      Julie and Viktoria, pirate sista’s

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We were pretty lively after the Pirate frollicks had long since finished, everyone had gone to bed hours ago but we were having a great time when Big Frank came into the bar to see what the noise was about!  

The next morning we awoke to find us cruising finally in the Black Sea in bright sunshine clear blue sky and calm conditions as it had been since the start of the tour. It was getting exciting now as we steamed towards Sevastopol (pronounced Sevas-TOP-ol ) and the Crimea! It was a huge harbour fronted by statues at one side and a huge white blockhouse, a relic from the Crimean War on the other side; we parked up next to a Russian warship under repair. I could hardly believe my eyes we had moored less than a hundred yards from a Russian navy repair facility. Across the bay about half mile distant lay several grey missile destroyers. I never thought I’d ever sit with my camera taking pictures of these, oh how the world has changed! They were in fact warships of both the Ukraine Navy and Russian Navy. When Ukraine got her independence she inherited a portion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet including a couple of submarines which I later saw moored further up into the facility. I went into the trees from the road side and stood in a small clearing at the edge of the cliff edge and zoomed in and took pictures. Russia pays the Ukraine a sizable amount of rent money for the use of the harbour and its facilities it was very relaxed now compared to several years ago when Sevastopol was a closed city and you needed a special pass just to get into the city. I didn’t get arrested shot or shouted at so it must have been ok right?

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These have a U before the number on the bow so are Ukrainan warships

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   This huge missle cruiser is part of The Russian Black Sea Fleet

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 Sailors applying more paint, the white ship beyond is a hospital ship, both are Russian.

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A Russian warship moves out of port belching smoke, nobody seems to be running about on board so it must be the choke??

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                                            Two Ukrainian submarines

We climbed aboard our coaches again for the now familiar coach tour around the city, Olga told us of the history and the absolute devastation of the city during WWII and only around a dozen buildings were left standing in 1945 so most of Sevastopol is new. The people here are more affluent too and is largely ethnically Russian having ties closer to Moscow that Kiev. Which seems odd now as we are about as far away from Moscow as we can be and at the southernmost tip of The Ukraine. Russian politicians would have liked the city and port to have stayed Russian and a dispute erupted as recently as 1993 which was resolved with a treaty plus a healthy financial agreement for Ukraine. Though the locals frown as this money goes directly to Kiev. Sevastopol has highly developed fishing and shipping industries and has one of the warmest climates in the Ukraine, Today for instance it was a healthy 23 degrees as opposed to 16 degrees back up in Kiev. It has become a popular seaside resort and tourist destination for the Soviets and now since the fall of the Soviet Union westerners are arriving. But there is still no direct flight into the country, one still has to change in the likes of Germany Poland and Austria and getting around Ukraine is mainly possibly only by bus and is still the most common form of transport. Yes this place had more going for it, the number of newer cars and motorbikes showed that, those old tatty Russian electric trolley busses are still here but not in the same numbers as in the towns and cities further north, they were slowly introducing newer cleaner Ukrainian ones.

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                                                            Singing and dancing

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                                                  The Black Sea fleet band.

After dinner an extra tour was taking place for about eighty of us. We were driven to the Opera House to a concert by the Russian Black Sea Fleet Band. I was looking forward to this much to Julies surprise and probably yours too. We had the place to ourselves and treated to an exclusive show, the singing was excellent the men had great voices even though we couldn’t understand a word! The dancing was colourful and energetic and no they didn’t get me up to dance again! It lasted about an hour then we trooped back out to our coaches and returned to the Lomonosov. We went to the Sky Bar for the rest of the evening and stood with Victoria and Lyudmila and listen to some soft piano from the two man band. Once again I was the last man standing at the bar tonight following Julie to our cabin an hour later.

Today was going to be the highlight of the cruise for me, we were going to Balaclava to see where the Charge of the Light Brigade took place and to visit an old top secret Russian super secret submarine base nearby, it’s never officially existed and they say it’s not on any maps. The Soviets cut a huge canal into the mountainside and fitted it out with storage and repair facilities and living accommodation, basically the Black sea Fleet submarines could live and work from here undetected (so says the leaflets) The bunker was nuclear proof (so says the leaflets) and we the good guys didn’t know they were ever there (so say the leaflets). As ordinary people we never know the truth about such things but have to make up our own minds. During her talk for example Olga says whilst pointing at a particular model on display says the submarines were undetectable even deep in the oceans, several old Americans amongst our group made quiet disparaging remarks to each other at this.

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A diagram of how the whole complex looked when operational. followed by a long view of the passage way followed by Julie straddling a torpedo, then she sizes up a couple of submarine batteries for the bike back home.

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                                            I assumed these had been made safe?

We emerged from the cold and dark complex to look and stand looking at Balaclava and the hot looking luxury boats mixed in with the Ukrainian warships at anchor, looking down the line we could see white pointed bows. Coloured pennants. Lots of chrome..And the odd grey hull and sticky out matt black gun barrels!! We could see the remains of very old buildings overlooking the inlet Olga says some of those remains are from the Crimea age. Perhaps parts are from the old hospital where Florence Nightingale became famous?

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       Balaklava was fringed by hills and old battlements and ruins

We boarded the buses again and drove to the famous battleground. The tour guide then said we couldn’t stop here, the road wouldn’t allow it and the land was now private property, WHAT?!!! She quickly pointed out where the Charge of the Light Brigade began where it went and where the Russian guns were that decimated the 600. I just pointed the camera and pulled the trigger, panning the valley of death hoping to get one or two good shots. I was so disappointed we couldn’t get off the bus not even for a minute. I was hoping to at least stand where they stood on the start line. I complained to the tour officer on board on our return, I also wrote my feelings on the “Did you enjoy the tour” form at the end, I’m also going to ping a letter to the head honcho of Viking River Cruises. I know this wasn’t a specialist battlefield tour as run by Leger Holidays but the sales pitch in the brochure led me to believe we were going to do a bit more than have a bus drive past the battlefield. I felt I’d been “had over” by the bstards. The rest of the afternoon was an anti climax Fked off was not the word!

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Thi was the best I could do from the bus window on the move. The Charge of the Light Brigade went from left to right, the white buildings are where the Russian guns were.

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                   Big Frank toasts our health with a glass of white wine

Big Frank had just the answer with his vodka tasting evening in the other bar after dinner. This was another extra event. We joined the group and sat looking at half a dozen glasses each on our tables. Frank explained the ins and outs of vodka and told some interesting facts like Russia imports more winter wheat from Canada than anyone else because they don’t have enough themselves to make the vodka (they pronounce it wod-ka) after a night drinking this stuff I think I would be saying Wod-ka too! In between shots we were encouraged to drink some water eat a lump of raw fish or a slice of veg, I can’t remember what it was exactly now, but it cleared the palette for the next different shot, this went on for about an hour and to be honest I couldn’t taste the difference between the first shot of petrol and the last shot of petrol. We’re not huge fan of wod-ka but the evening was an experience. Big Frank knew his stuff and loved it! I had to finish Julie’s shots before we retired to the other bar to end to finish the night with some nice glasses of lager. I confess that on the plane from Odessa to Vienna I did buy myself a sample pack of Nemiroff Vodka.

The consistent thing about the cruise was the clear blue sky bright yellow sun and the warm temperature; the cruise so far had been quite tranquil with the sun deck pretty much to ourselves. To say there was 300 hundred passengers and crew aboard it was pretty quiet outside. Some passengers were dotted around the walkways on chairs drinking coffee and keeping out of the breeze, others were sat indoors in the communal spaces reading books or messing on their lap tops. Though I’m told the internet was a bit sketchy now and again. A large number I’m guessing were in their rooms? We had a peek at one or two and they really are big and luxurious but far exceeded what we were prepared to pay. The boat generally came to life at meal times as we poured into the two restaurants.

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                                     Our Maitre d’ Natasha, having a break

People became more familiar and chatted more freely as faces became friends. The experience of that first manic night in Kiev was far in the past now! We were getting on with well with Wayne and Barbara from Saskatchewan Canada, Don an Rena from that small town in Illinois USA, Crafty Ron from N.Z, Mary Beth and Cathy the two retired American nurses and a nice couple from Scotland, he was actually born 20 miles away from me back home in West Yorkshire a small world indeed! The rest of us were on nodding terms with. One or two were avoided like the Canadian he cornered us one evening for an hour he was an alleged ex special forces guy who had had his fill of war and says loved to dance but never seemed to on the tour, I heard some comments from other folk who had him on their tour bus and steered clear of him and his wife. We had a former tour guide who just couldn’t help herself offering help and information and butted in frequently when folk chatted, and the odd English couple from York who always bagged the front seat on the coach, were always first to wherever we needed to be and always tried to stand with Olga wherever we went. Julie enjoyed blocking them off during the tour of the Catacombs, “I could feel them trying to push their way past but I’d had enough of them and stood my ground” Good lass!

This morning was Sunday already, a week had flown by! We were now parting the calm sea en-route to Yalta 150 miles away at the other end of The Crimea. It came into view by mid morning through the hazy sunshine.

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The affluence was obvious through the binoculars, huge white house’s dotted the cliffs around Yalta which itself was quite small. Olga later told us that many of them had been built by rich Russians without permission and nothing much was being done about them. We slowly edged our way to the new looking key side which doubled up a promenade and was full of holiday people. Our boat was quite a celebrity. The Lomonosov name was heard constantly on the public address system on the promenade and people had photos taken of themselves standing in front, they always posed in front of the name plate. Quite a lot of people were from the nearby cruise liner. The liner happened to be the sister ship to the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that hit rocks and rolled over drowning many passengers and its swarthy Italian captain had naturally taken to the first escape vessel and run away like a good lad! It’s sister ship towered over the town of Yalta, it was like a huge oblong block of flats laid on its side, it was full of around 3000 people and looked bloody awful!

We stepped aboard our coaches again before lunch for a tour around Yalta, it was small town sized the roads small and tight, the town was barely able to cope with the traffic, we struggled and on occasion we had to back up to get around a corner or two. We head out of town up the hill side to get a view of the famous Swallows nest.

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    I had my 200m zoom so was able to see The Swallows Nest closer

The view of it from our coach was pretty rubbish and far away, it’s better viewed from the sea! We next went to the white palace of Livadia, made famous at the end of WWII as the place where Stalin met Roosevelt and Churchill to decide on the fate of the free world. I found it a beautiful building to look at from the outside, the gardens and sea view just as wonderful. Inside was a bit dowdy I thought and the guides concentrated on what the three world leaders sat on and of the table. A lot of photos where on show of the big three as they sat around the same table of the papers and the pens and what they probably touched. Quite right too I suppose as it was a life changing weekend for planet Earth.

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                                             The white palace of Livadia

We had an hour or two around the grounds before making our way back to spend rest of the day as free time. We spent the afternoon strolling a short distance and people watching, this is a favourite pastime of mine and to see affluent Ukrainian and Russian folk stepping out on the prom brought a smile to my face. It’s quite cut off now from the rest of the Crimea, having no airport and no rail station just a reliance on the old busses. Most of the tourist trade came in by sea. It used to be frequented by lots of rich Russians but since the collapse they have been able to travel further afield taking their money with them.

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                                   The people of Yalta         

The Crimea seems to have lost out and relies heavily on the visiting cruise liners and the twice month visit from Viking Lomonosov. Yep they still have a long way to go! Later in the afternoon as another extra tour we forty went out on the coach again this time to a nearby winery, Julie and I were taking advantage of many of the optional tours on this cruise. The Massandra Winery was a beautiful old building set at the foot of the mountains, our guide for the visit spoke of the galleries and we could see one or two giant wooden barrels they could hold over eighty litres of wine each,I think thats the number she said, then she switched on the lights, bulbs blinked on for a hundred yards, I now saw a double row I couldn’t quite count them but saw about a hundred, and there were another six identical galleries, she showed us another tunnel with old bottled wines from several special ones dated as far back as the 1700. I was gob smacked.

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                                  Images from the Massandra Windery

Ive never been to a winery so didn’t really know what to expect and so I was completely stunned into silence I just couldn’t take in the size of the place. It’s hard to describe really “awesome2 springs to mind but it’s an overused word. Naturally the wine tasting was entered in with good will and we did as she said but Im just a bloody heathen with regards to wine. Suffice to say the stuff got sweeter the more expensive it was, very nice but wasted on us to be honest! One fat lad started talking bollox about the fruity aroma etc etc, Oh for gods sake shut the fook up and just drink it man.

I took a day off yet another tour to take a leasurly stroll around the real Yalta, the Yalta behind the façade.

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                                      The graffiti in Yalta was very well done

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I saw about half a dozen street markets selling what they could, it looked quite run down if not a little desperate in places.

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Behind the battered Lada was a ground sheet with junk laid out for sale

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A typical trollybus of the region, anothr left over from the Soviet era

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           I wasn’t really sure what these two characters were doing

As you can see from the photos I took myself down the back streets to wonder amongst the people and their markets. Everyday goods and the contents of the garden shed were for sale. A lot of second hand stuff was for sale, I get the impression folk were selling their possessions to make ends meet, these people were the  locals and not tourists or visitors fromup north.  I took time to stand and watch the world go by or should I say crawl by as the morning traffic struggled to negotiate the small roads. Julie meanwhile went off to another palace in the morning with Olga on the coach with most of the others, this time to the Aloupka Palace this is where our wartime PM Mr Winston Churchill stayed during his time here attending the Yalta Conference and so the following photos are from Julie.

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Various pictures taken by Julie from her visit to The ALOUPKA PALACE

The sleeping lion in the last photograph amused Mr Churchill so much that he stroked it every morning or so the story goes! In the late afternoon back on the boat we had an afternoon of cocktail drinks and nibbles, the ugly cruise liner had gone before us and now we slipped our lines and back away into the open waters turning when far enough out we sailed back west towards Odessa and our last port of call. After dinner we had a short meeting in the bar to tell us how they were going to turf us off the boat in a few days time for our flights onwards or homewards, the first flights were at 07.00hrs so they needed to be gone from the boat at 04.00hrs. We had to leave at 12.00hrs for our flight to Vienna. The last group would leave a couple of hrs after.

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A bit of larking about before the “proper” photo with Rena and Don

We sailed on all afternoon having yest another party on the sun deck, it went on until dinner we saw Yalta slowly fall further away to our stern and looked forward to spotting Odessa in the morning at the other end of the Black Sea. The evening went pretty well as all the other evenings had gone, a nice dinner with friends then a stroll up to the Sunshiner Bar until closing time.

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Odessa wasnt pretty to begin with, but then docks are working places!

We spotted land again sometime in the morning, but we were cruising really slowly, I think this was to accommodate the paying up of bills which was done deck by deck by the accounting girls in the library, extra trips bars bills and anything purchased from the shop was signed for via a yellow chit and now was the time to pay up we had totted up our copies and it came to about £450, we did all the extra trip offered except two plus the wine tasting and vodka evening with Big Frank plus the bar bill …erm correction! I meant MY bar bill! Half a pint of lager was approx £2.50 and the occasional short was frankly too obscene to repeat.

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                                     The boat is parked up for the last time.

We docked mid morning in the vast Odessa complex, apparently the docks and terminals took up 50k of shoreline. I suspect it’s more like a collection of places that have steadily merged together. Now we could see where the money was coming in, it just needs to speed up a bit more. We took to our coaches for another city tour which didn’t take long, we got of and did a fair bit of walking, maybe half a mile (which for this tour was quite a distance) Odessa looked lovely at first glance and very un Russian looking. In the 19th century it was the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw Its historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau Renaissance and Classic.

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        This is NOT my photo but ot shows the main square beautifully

But as usual the frontage at eye level did look great. BUT when you looked up to the higher floors for these grand building it looked quite horrifying, chunks of guttering was missing, large pieces of stone from the fancy eves had fallen away and thick electric cables threaded through and round metal staples that were fixed to the higher regions of the larger buildings, we explored later on our own and went just one street back from the colourful fronts and found buildings in even worse repair the only thing missing was dead soldiers bullet holes and shell craters, it really was that poor in places behind the colourful façades. Yet no rubble or fallen masonry did we see nor injured and squashed pedestrians, maybe it only happened during the night?!

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OMG! The more you looked the worse you saw, especially when travelling further away from the show piece buildings, where’s my bloody hard hat?

The nice parts though really were nice and worthy of a steady stroll along the wide tree lined avenues, the Opera house was a huge regal looking building round in shape like the Albert Hall in London but twice as pleasing to the eye the buildings along this morning stroll along the Primorsky Bulvar,painted in pastel colours of yellows oranges browns and white. It was all so very clean.

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                              The Potemkin Steps…. HOW many steps did you say?

We  walked to the famous Potemkin steps, in 1905 Odessa was the site of a workers’ uprising supported by the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin) and also a film of the same name. It commemorated the uprising and included a scene where hundreds of Odessan citizens were murdered on the great stone staircase (now popularly known as the “Potemkin Steps” in one of the most famous scenes in motion picture history. The actual massacre took place in streets nearby and not on the steps themselves.

All the same it was a real eye opener of the area was wall to wall beauty, in the afternoon we went to the other extreme. Let me explain. Most of the city’s 19th-century houses were built of limestone mined nearby. Abandoned mines were later used and broadened by local smugglers. This created a gigantic complicated labyrinth of underground tunnels beneath Odessa, known as “catacombs”. During World War II, the catacombs served as a hiding place for partisans. They are a now a great attraction for extreme tourists. Such tours, however, are not officially sanctioned and are dangerous because the layout of the catacombs has not been fully mapped and the tunnels themselves are unsafe. The tunnels are a primary reason why no subway system was ever built in Odessa. We walked just a hundred meters or more down to the second level and saw a snapshot of the like underground. Many tunnels are now sealed off, Olga said that one tunnel went on for over fourteen miles.

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Olga explains about the machine gun in the Catacoombs and the underground school, in fact a little living working fighting community under the city.

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Notice the locks on the railings,all have a decleration of love etched in

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      More and more locks, all with love declarations etched on them.

We spent the next day, the last day at our leisure and had a walk around the best parts of Odessa again, we first visited a bridge called “Mother-in Laws Bridge” so called because a former government official lived across the road from his wife’s family, the road cut through a gorge so he had a pedestrian path built for his convenience hence the name!

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We strolled back to the area around the Opera House just in time to seen a gathering of red flags music and old soldiers in WWII army uniform adorned with medals, They were members not only of the former Red Army but of the “Odessa Original Party of Communism” Behind them marched a younger group from The Union of Anarchy of Ukraine, they were told to march behind the old boys and at a distance, there were about a hundred people altogether and just us few bystanders and about a dozen police, maybe there were more people at their destination, we took a few photos then wondered off.

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                                The old guard.. Old but still impressive

                                                           Their banner says

                               ODESSA ORIGINAL PARTY OF COMMUNISM

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                                            The new Guard? young and free

                                                          The banner says..

THE UNION OF ANARCHY OF UKRAINE. FREEDOM OF SELF CONTROL

There is a still corruption and greed here in Odessa and so demos like this from the flustrated youth will take place. We looked at things and the people people at our own pace pausing here and there to look into quiet courtyards and to just stand and stare without worrying about keeping up with the group and Olga. I bought a few T shirts and touristy things at the top of the Pontemkin Steps. We then walked all the way back down them. I realized I’d just ticked a very unusual box, how many folk in the UK have actually walked up and down the Potemkin Steps

COOLPIX S6100266                                                       See me see you!

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The evening on board felt a bit sad because it was the last one, I wasn’t actually ready to come home yet, which is nothing new! All the staff  had become friends, my bar girl Victoria, Big Frank Bieschewski the hotel manager even though he was a Dortmund FC fan! He wanted me to go with him one night to an IRISH bar somewhere in ODESSA to watch a GERMAN football team, I fear he would have got me drunk on Wod-ka and the inevitable salute would not have gone down well! Ill also miss both our Maitre d’ Natalia and Natasha and all the girls in the restaurant especially my two personal nut cases Liza and Dasha…”U want 4 More Bieers or just jooos”? I won’t ever see them again except on FB.

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This was the last day, our suitcases stood out in the hallway, we had our last breakfast and said bye bye to all the restaurant staff, this would be the last time we saw them, we said goodbye to the guys up in the Sunshine Bar too. Groups of people or should I say groups of friend now gathered about on deck and at their usual sitting spots to while away the last couple of hours until our numbered coaches arrived which then took us in order of departure to the airport at Odessa.

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The airport wasn’t a grand affair it had the feel of a small regional airport and was in need of a lick of paint and some D.I.Y along with most of the Ukraine. We checked in passed security then sat in a hall staring at two glass doors forty feet apart that stepped out onto the same tarmac. Many of my American friends dithered here because the Gate 1 and Gate 2 signs appeared a bit contradictory. WTF? Springs to mind…two glass doors 40 feet apart onto the same tarmac leading to ONE bus. Don thought the same too but managed to convince Rena it would be fine and got her to sit down. Watching folk fail at this last hurdle amused me no end! Our plane landed and we were called to the gate, yes it was that quick! The bus did a couple of trips to our plane driving past the mobile ladders and the runway bicycle. The chap let just half a dozen up the steps at any one time which was a god idea as it folk saved waiting on the steps or being held up in the aisle as folk fussed about with their coats jacket hats cardi’s and “hand luggage?” I think mini-suitcases would be a truer description. Finally the pilot released the hand brake and we trundled down the length of the single runway, it was like driving down the old A1. Dum De dum De Dum we went, the strip was made of large concrete squares that were held together by thick tar banding, a dip or two was felt as we ran to the very end. I said to Julie “this is going to be good fun, especially if we hit that bump” The brakes came on as pilot Boris did his last check and shoved the flaps out to the max, then he pushed the throttles fully forward the revs came up quickly, dumping the clutch and releasing the brake pushed us into our seats as we shot forward. The Dum D Dums went faster as we went past ramming speed the nose came up and we came unstuck, thankfully we missed that bloody bump half way down! We banked around to miss the city and turned heading north west towards Vienna in Austria just two hours away. From there we caught a new and beautiful Austrian Tyrol airways aircraft to Heathrow just two and a half hours away.

We were blessed again with clear skies over London and so at medium height I could point out places to Julie and could work out the area were I’d spent 1996 to 2000. Landing back at Heathrow was very colourful, somewhere between here and the Ukraine there must have been an invisible line for I saw no different colours or cultures, it’s funny that it wasn’t until London Heathrow terminal 1 when I noticed. This was an unusual experiance for us, sat on our asses exploring new things at a top speed of about 8mph! Watching the world flow by at a steady pace with a boat full of strangers, mostly Americans, and do you know what? It was alright and yes I do seem to be getting more tolerable!

5 Responses to 2013 Viking River Cruise in The Ukraine

  1. Excellent write up Dave. Personally I love the Ukraine, all sides of it and the people are fantastic. You are right that they have had a very very hard time. Stalin murdered million in one winter in the 30’s by tipping all their grain into the rivers and starving them to death, estimates between 8 million and 20 million dead…….on in three/four of the then population. He, like Hitler later would do, wanted their fertile lands to feed his peoples. Interesting to note that in the early 90’s the Ukraine bought “Holomodour” before the European Courts to be labelled as “genocide”…..which it very obviously was. The EU turned it down because Russia objected…..and oh yes…..Israel and the Jewish population objected as….”it might overshadow the holocaust” ….a name that they “picked” in the 1960/70’s, rather similar to Holomodor. Then in WWII Stalin sent the Ukrainian units into front line combat and they took the heaviest losses of all, then Germany occupied the Ukraine. Finally Stalin and Russia took back Ukraine and sent millions of Ukrainians to Siberia…..of course that was the ones he did not have killed first. A good good peoples and a peoples that have had a very hard time in the last 100 years…..and our european brothers!!!

    • David Sharp says:

      The more I read about the Ukrainian peoples plight the more I was appauled, they were treated worse than the Poles.as for the bleeding jews….

  2. Don and Rena Huber says:

    Just finished reading your blog, certainly enjoyed your comments and observations. It seems we forgot some details, probably due to all the lager we consumed with you two on the Ukraine trip.
    Thanks again for recovering so many of our photos. We love all the photos you saved, they are all printed and going in our Ukraine album. Your USA friends, Rena and Don from ILLINOIS.

    • David Sharp says:

      Hiya you two, Im glad you saw our cruise through my eyes and enjoyed it. glad your getting the photos for your album, its almost like nothing went wrong!!

  3. Pingback: An update and some thought provoking stuff | Come into my world

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