I leave NZ and arrive in the Crimea

Sunday 15 August

I was due to fly to Wellington today to attend a digital photography seminar tomorrow on Monday, it was raining as I left for the airport, it is snowing as I walked into the aircraft, we sat there in the plane for an hour and then we were off loaded, and about 30 minutes later were told the flight had been cancelled and we should go to reservations to arrange another flight.

I kept on reading a magazine and eventually went down to reservation and they had a line going right out the door so I thought chances of getting to Wellington within the next 24 hours are extremely remote.

At that point I paid my eight dollar parking fee for half a day, drove home through the gentle falling snowflakes, telephoned Air New Zealand, was told there was no show of me getting to Wellington (which I knew) so I cancelled my ticket and sat down and watch a movie.

This morning there was at least 4 inches (100mm) of snow on the car out the front, and is a beautiful covering of snow over the whole countryside, with the snow still falling.

On the second attend I managed to get the car out of my reasonably steep driveway and drove into the city, I guess my house must be at about 300 feet above sea level, because when I got down into Sumner, which is at sea level, there was no snow lying about. It looks like there may be snow on a regular basis every winter where I live from now on, or perhaps I should not be surprised if there is, previously it was a rare event, but this is the second year in a row that I've had snow around the house in the and considering we are at 43° latitude south (the same as Antibes in the south of France) and by the sea I had thought we may be free of that white stuff.

18 August.
Peter drove me to the airport getting me there about 12 noon, I checked luggage through to Kiev with no problems, then went up to the business lounge to wait for the boarding the plane, eventually we were called, I was flying economy back to Frankfurt, and on the flight from New Zealand to Singapore there was a nice amount of space on the Singapore airlines plane, so I read a book from Christchurch to Singapore. I had a three-hour wait over for the next plane, so I looked around the duty-free which seemed to have increased in size substantially since I was there four months ago, there were many things that I wanted, but I resisted them all, again waited in the lounge for the boarding call, the next plane with Singapore airlines had less space, but I still managed to sleep without the aid of the sleeping pill most of the trip to Frankfurt.

Another three-hour wait over and Frankfurt for a Lufthansa flight to take me to Kiev, the business class section had about the same amount as space as the economy flight from Singapore, but had leather seats, which I assume made it business class, all I can say is...... big a deal! It was an hour flight to Kiev and then it was a four-hour wait for the plane to Simferopol, so while I was waiting I was chatting to an American petroleum engineer, who is working in Egypt, who was going to Melitopol to meet a lady he been corresponding with on the Internet. He was flying by a propeller driven plane and I was fortunate flying by a reasonable size Boeing.

While we were waiting there was a reasonable amount of attractive ladies walking about and I thought the American was going to go into cardiac arrest with the sight of some of them, I only rated them at about 9.5, but I had to make allowances for him because he had been in Egypt the last few months.

His plane was due to depart 30 minutes before mine but I guess because there were more passengers on my plane, so my flight was called first, so whilst I was waiting he went on and boarded his plane and was gone before my flight was called. No doubt we rapidly overtook him.

Eventually the plane arrived at Simferopol, luggage was collected from the middle of the car park, at least they checked the luggage tags to make sure you got the right case, then Chris, who was renting the apartment to me in Sevastopol, appeared he had a taxi so we loaded the luggage onto the taxi and were away, a 90 Minute Drive and I was fighting to stay awake every kilometre of the trip.

Some 41 hours after leaving Christchurch I was finely at my destination, totally exhausted, I don't know what is wrong with me, 30 years ago I used to be to do trips like this without batting an eyelid, even 10 years ago I could flight to London and back on the next plane without getting the bad effects I had on this trip, but it must be something to do with the water I drank on the plane, I can think of no other possible explanation.

Fortunately there were some baked beans and orange juice left in the apartment so I managed to have a bite to eat before going to bed and of course I did not need any rocking to sleep.

This morning I rose early, had the rest of the beans, did a little bit of computer work, went out for a walk, saw a Mac Donald's is in the distance, and decided to go there to have a little bit of culture. Back to the apartment to wait for Chris who came to collect the money, remove the toll bar on the telephone, and made arrangements to come back this afternoon to sort out my Internet connection in any other problems I might have.

Chris bought me an Internet card for $US25 which also gave me a Ukrainian e-mail address and almost unlimited time on the Internet. My next job was to go to my Xtra e-mail access page and request all of my e-mails be forwarded to my Ukrainian address. This will save me several hundred dollars because the access cost through IPassConect is not cheap.

The downside is of course that you do not get the benefit of the Xtra Spam filter so I am currently downloading between 60 and a hundred e-mails per half day with 99.9% of them being Spam. I guess the main point is that I am saving money, I keep repeating this to myself as a delete all the Spam.

The apartment is on the third floor, No there is no elevator, it is a three-storey building, so it is the top floor and I found out that the rule of thumb is that up to a five-storey building, there is no elevator over five stories there is an elevator. It seems that the buildings go 2, 3, 5, 9, 12 stories. What you do not need is to get a penthouse on a 12 story building, and have the power go out just after you have done the grocery shopping, and I will tell you are a little bit more about the grocery shopping in a moment.

The apartment Chris has renovated totally, it has a small gas heater for heating hot water which seems to be very efficient, a gas cooker with an electric oven, a new kitchen unit so there is new clean cupboards, plenty of standalone wall units for storage throughout the apartment, bedroom consists of a double bed, the lounge is a bed settee, large television with cable TV (one English channel which is the BBC News which was only on for two days) so if you speak Russian there was plenty of television, a lot of programs are dubbed in Russian. There is a DVD player so you can buy or rent films if you need some entertainment, and there is a good stereo system.

All the bed linen Etc is supplied, and all you have to do is buy your food. I spoke previously about the interesting experience shopping in the old Eastern bloc, let me tell you some of those places were good. There are about two shops close by that sell a small range of groceries. Nothing like the dairies you find in New Zealand or perhaps the 7/11 in America, these sell first & all the most important ingredient, alcohol and has a whole section in the shops for this commodity, you may find some bread, there will be butter milk and eggs etc., soft drinks, produces, a small range of tinned food, chocolate a very small delicatessen section in a fridge and that is about it.

Vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, dairy products, and most of the other bulky products you go to the general market. You of course walk (I will tell you about cars shortly) and whatever you buy, you carry, I am in the centre of town so I am very handy to everything, an de even so it takes about 15 minutes of walking time to go from the market to the apartment. Of course once you get to the building you then have to walk up three flights of stairs.

The central marketplace is quite something, I am told that there are marketplace is scattered all over the city, which has about the same population as Christchurch, and some of the marketplaces specialised in different products, I was at one the other day that specialised in telephones and TVs and other electrical products along with a good supply of fruit & vegetables.

I'm told there is a large supermarket out on the number 12 bus route, but that does not equate to the supermarkets as we know them with a variety of products. Also on the number 12 bus route is a market that they call the five K. marketplace, I believe it sells lots of clothing and all appliances and plumbing supplies for a house.

I'm told the apartments sell for about 20 to 80,000 American dollars, depending on location, and often when they are sold they are stripped bare, which of course could be an advantage as you probably want to renovate one if you were considering purchasing such an apartment.

Secondhand cars and furniture etc., Chris tells me fetch almost new price. Even the Scrappiest old car he says sells for US$1000. And if you have a car, so Chris was telling me, you'll be lucky to find insurance company that will insure it and if they do insure it, and you have an accident don't count on them paying out. Then of course you have the underpaid police force that regularly set up roadblocks to collect what Chris calls donations.

At all that, if that is not enough, you have to have somewhere to park the car, to protect it from vandalism and theft. Consequently almost everybody walks or uses public transport which is extremely good at of course extremely well patronised considering the circumstances.

Chris is using a young interpreter, she is about 25 and is paid about US$ 30 per month, she was telling me she lives a 20 minute bicycle ride from the centre of town.

A lot of the apartments are being bought by Russians from Moscow as their summer holiday homes, money to these new rich is almost irrelevant. There are a few Europeans also buying apartments, I guess now is the time to buy before the Ukraine really opens up.

The cost of living is very low even the household appliances that I have seen seem to be cheaper than European prices, which is interesting because that's where most of them are from.

Chris had a new door fitted to the apartment three days ago, it's about a 29 tumbler lock with a double sided key which throws four stainless steel rods into the steel door frame along with one top and bottom. It is faced with wood so it looks just like a normal door but that of course is far from fact.

Well it is a little about what happened since the last newsletter, some of the first impressions of living in Sevastopol and it will be interesting to see how I handle staying on the one spot for longer than a week.

The next newsletter will be when I start moving again, I'm sure you don't want me to keep on telling you about all the beautiful ladies and high-heeled shoes that I saw on my last visit, because as far as I can tell nothing has changed, and I do not like repeating myself.

well that is from me .....roughing it in the Crimea.......

Friday 3 September
Here am I in Sebastopol, living in pretending I am a native of the area except of course I can't speak Russian or Ukrainian, but I do not let that deter me, I just talk slowly and clearly in English, not that that helps the least it lets me think I am attempting to communicate.

I have found a city block to walk around like at home, it takes about an hour, except it makes me realise just how flat Christchurch is, I know your think I'm exaggerating, some will even say it is impossible but as I walk around this block I'd swear every road is sloping upwards, and I do not want any e-mail's telling me that this defies Newton's laws of relativity, or whoever's laws they were, but you cannot beat practical experience to put all of these fancy laws in their place.

I daily pass one of their large war memorials remembering their dead. They seem to have more than their share of memorials, there's almost always one in view as you walk around the centre of the town. Of course when one considers that the Crimea was on the main route for most of the wars in the last century and beyond one can realise that they do have a lot of battles to remember.

This is one of a larger memorials, for what they call the great patriotic war, we called it Hitler's war or the Second World War, they have what I would assume it would be an ever burning flame and some secondary school children, in uniform, the obviously had some military drill experience, standing at attention in each end of the large marble edifice. Most times there is a boy and girl at each end, the boys holding in an AK-47 and there was one older cadet with the red armband supervising the guard duty. Every so often he gives an order and the cadets do a modified goose step through to the other end and do a form of about turn and again stand to attention.

Every so often they change the guard and you see the new guard marching slowly from the assembly area at the rear of the memorial, to the footpath, and at the main steps to the memorial where they go through the drill of the changing of the guard. Then they reach the memorial they all go down on one knee for about one minute before goose stepping to their "Guard position" for the next 30 minutes. It is interesting today that the cadets in charge of the new guard was a young lady, she was carrying an AK-47, the two boys in the squad will also carrying AK-47's, but the two young ladies were not. It is the two young ladies that were the interest to me, one had what you only classify as sensible laceups shoes for her guard duty, and the other, a pretty young blonde, had probably 2 inch high heel shoes on, backless of course, but she was still managing to do the modified goose-step successfully.

One good thing in my mind about this guard duty as it makes the teenagers aware of the war memorials, why they are there and a little bit of their history. I think there is a saying somewhere that tomorrow's history is based on what the current generation knows of yesterday's history! It is not a saying it should be!

The weather has been incredibly warm, sometimes too hot, here since I have been here, and I note with the weather report on the Russian television the rest of Europe is often suffering rain.

Most of the schools throughout the great European continent started back at school on September 1st, so it has been a noticeable drop off of people walking the streets as they settle down for another school year like everywhere in the world.

Monday 6 September

I remember being in Italy at a caravan park and we had just arrived and our neighbour was telling us that they were leaving tomorrow because it was the first day of autumn, we laughed for a day. Today on my walk there was a cold autumn and wind blowing, it made me start thinking of warmer clothes and warmer climates. Fortunately the afternoon was hot.

Two days ago my Ukrainian e-mail provider stopped working for two days. Nothing would work. So I went out and bought a cheap card for another Internet provider and with that was able to look at my Ukrainian e-mail site and clear out the 144 valuable e-mail spam offering to enhance my sex life or giving me the opportunity of rescuing 44million that is hidden somewhere in Africa, and that was one real e-mail which I was glad to receive.

This told me, through my new card, that I still had 90% of my e-mail prepay as credit and that my mailbox was still valid. The helplines were not working, the technical help was not working, then I heard in a roundabout way that they had had two days holiday, and sure enough the following day I was back online without any other action but waiting. That seems to be part of the secret in this country.

It's hard to realise the feature of apartment on the third floor until you have lived in it for a while and have walked up and down the stairs several times a day for a few days, or weeks. Would you probably more interesting to have an apartment on the fifth floor with five flights of stairs but I will leave that experience to others. This is walking everywhere, carrying heavy parcels, three flights of stairs gives the visitor a fraction of understanding of the healthy lifestyle there is in the old Soviets.

It is an interesting thing, the mind, the things you believe happen, circumstances, coincidences, all can be well woven together to make you believe things that have no logical explanation, but then perhaps you should not question them and just accept them for things that cannot be explained.

I had an old photography friend who was well into her eighties who had a wonderful personality and whom I admired very much. I knew she was very sick and when I last checked with her son some six months ago was aware that she was terminal. Life carries on, we get busy, and things like this go out of our mind.

Friday morning, (evening in New Zealand) I was doing the usual walk around a block in Sevastopol in my mind was reasonably blank, and there was nothing much to do except walk and look at the pretty girls in the high heel shoes and that all of a sudden I thought of Audrey and wondered how she was doing. My mind briefly went over some of my pleasant memories of Audrey, her personality, her wit, and the interview I had with her for the photography history of New Zealand, and thought nothing more about it except wondering how she was.

Sunday morning I received an e-mail from Ross telling me that his mother had died approximately the time I was thinking of her. An interesting coincidence!

Wednesday 6 October

I have been here in Sevastopol since the 19th of August and I had one wet day to date. Every day has been sunny which when you look at the rest of Europe is remarkable. Today is going to be another hot day, but as I did my walk around the city this morning at 8.30 I was glad I had my leather jacket on. As the sun gets lower in the sky and takes longer to get up in the sky this time the year the temperature at either end of the day is considerably cooler.

Well after a month and a half in one of the old Soviets I am impressed by the reasonably healthy lifestyle that is forced upon the people of this country. There is a lot of walking that everyone has to do, you shop for your vegetables and fruit at the open marketplace where you carry all of your purchases home in plastic bags that you provide. Your apartment is quite probably at the top of the flights of stairs which will either keep you fit or will kill you! If you had a Western income you would find it incredibly cheap to live here, it seems that all of the old family values are still alive and well…..

However there is an obvious abundance of alcoholism, people have no hesitation in pushing in at the top of a queue, and if somebody sees a bus they want to catch, and your walking in a straight line, they will push in front of you to get to their bus and you will have to stop or walk into them. All these situations I believe you can trace back to the Soviet times when these attitudes spell survival.

If you are at the bottom of the employment marketplace irrespective of whether you are an intensive care nurse or somebody that's sweeps the streets, both of which get very low wages, you will find survival in the old Soviets a daily battle. You will be find yourself living in one room with your whole family, perhaps in a communal apartment where they made up of 20 or more families all living in single rooms, with one toilet, one bathroom, and one kitchen for everyone to share.

I met Eugene, my tour guide from last year, and he was asking me if I noticed anything different about the Ukraine in the 12 months since I was here last. I made the comment that no I did not see any difference in that it would be probably 50 years before things settle down and life got as good as things were in the West.

Eugene said, you are just like the communists! He said they told us that things would be wonderful for our grandchildren, now you are saying the same! It is certainly an interesting comment and shows a little bit of what the ordinary person has to put up with whilst they are waiting for the basic things we take for granted in the West and expect as our right.

It is no wonder that the people that can are moving to other countries.

Today I went out to be five kilometre market, it's a large open-air market covering about two city blocks, all with little cubicles, basically is the haven of hundreds of individual traders selling clothing, footwear, house fittings, basically almost anything for a home or body external and internal (food). It contains a large area of people selling second-hand clothing and lots of people selling, what would be in the West, junk. Open every day except Monday and is one place to avoid during the weekend because of the massive crowds that are spending their money.

Thursday 7 October

Decided to splash out and buy some new glasses here, bought two pairs of graduated, one photosensitive, and 80% dark brown. Including the eye examination and the frames NZ$456 which might buy me one pair of plain glasses at home.

Shopping is a challenge with all of the labels in Russian, but at least with cheese buying it bulk, you can ask for a taste, and they cut off a small piece then ask you how much you want. The block was about 1.6 kilo in weight and that will last couple of weeks and save the problem of having to taste another lot, so I said I would take the block the girl almost dropped over in shock and the girl beside her almost wet herself laughing. It came to NZ$9.80 which is considerably cheaper than at home, so that will give the girl is something to talk about tonight at home about this mad foreigner buying all this cheese.

It is quite interesting looking at the prices of things like cellular telephones in the shops and you realise that the multinational marketers price their product according to the country in the economy in which it is selling which obviously sometimes bears no relation to their actual cost.

I am renting quite a few DVD films, which is very economic costing about NZ$1.11 for 24 hours, and of course I have the choice of watching it with English subtitles, Russian subtitles, all Russian or English speech. I wonder when my new glasses arrive if I will be able to read Russian with them seeing they were made in a Russian speaking country, or do I have to go to Russia to get that added advantage.

The thing you do miss being in a country like this for so long is the written English word, in the form of books or newspapers or magazines. It's probably okay in places like Kiev where they possibly have a shop selling English publications, but when you get into the smaller cities of 400,000 or less you don't have a show.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004
Today very cold, I will have to buy some winter clothes, if it stays like this I will go home early!!!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

While the weather has not remained cold, today it is trying to rain, and being in Sevastopol now four over 60 days I can only recall one the day of rain which makes this an incredible area to live, that is if you're looking for fine weather. They do tell me the winter's here however can be severe. By the was it did not succeed in raining today….

Went to the market today as you do every second or third day, after I had done by shopping for the necessities, I wandered into the meat hall where they sell all types of meat, eggs, cheese, and other dairy products. It is quite an education if you are used to meat shops in the West, they do have the cooked and the raw meat and separate areas, all poultry is together along with pork in one area and beef in another. It is all laid out on marble counters and seems to be mainly women selling the meat. About every two metres there was a different person with their marked off piece of the marble counter.

Have to say it is quite an experience to walk in to this very large hall with all of this meat and all of these people selling the meat with almost as many people there to buy the meat. There were two dogs wandering around I guess to see if they could get lucky, but apart from that it is just another normal day in the meat market.

I did wonder, initially, with the way I dressed, if I would stand out as a foreigner here in Sevastopol, but I guess I do not with the amount of people that regularly speak to me in Russian, asking for the time, to light their cigarette, for directions or what ever, however at the market they have learned that I speak English because they point to their product and say good, good.

I decided to get all of my photographs printed here in Sevastopol, so I printed 890 photos at a cost of 80 Hvr each, my initial quota was for 75 Hvr each but when I went back they had upped the price to 90 and when I complained bitterly the reduced to back to 80, so much for written quotes, and the one man owns all the labs in town, as I discovered after stamping out of the one that didn't over honour the quote and going off to another and getting the same quotation and then being told it was a one-man town, as far as mini labs were concerned.

Now we are talking about big-money here, the initial quote was for NZ$0.2089 and I had to accept their second quote of NZ$0.2228, so this means I had to pay the ridiculously high price of NZ$198.29 for what would have cost me NZ$534 back at home!

I've seen some very interesting cellular telephones here, one of the most swept up one's was a Motorola with built in e-mail, Web, Bluetooth, camera and goodness knows what else, with a Bluetooth earpiece all for NZ$654 which is about the same price as I saw the earpiece is being sold for in New Zealand.

Alcohol does appear to be a major problem amongst the men in the old Soviets, it appears that was commonplace for men once they are in their forties to take to drink, I guess it does deaden the pain of the hopelessness of the situation for the average person. I have seen a tremendous amount of women doing the work that one normally associates men with in the West. Some of these jobs are roadwork, sweeping the roads, plastering, painting and of course there are very many women doctors, engineers, and every other sort of occupation.

It is very interesting that while the West appears to have a massive shortage of doctors, here in the old Soviets they pay their doctors very little money and a lot of the doctors have taken other occupations like bookkeeping, cosmetics or anything else that places them into a privately run businesses. Anything to do with the State is extremely lowly paid.

Well that's all the news from the Crimea, I move on about the 10th Nov and wander around a few more countries before getting home a month later.

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