Note from Julie: Sorry! I was really slow posting this one for my Mom as I was in Calgary last week. So… this is a week old… but better late than never.

Well here we are on the Dnieper River in the Ukraine. It seems like we have been gone for weeks when in fact it has been only a couple of days. We arrived at the airport at 1:30pm and left Vancouver at 4 pm on Sept. 13th. We arrived in Kiev at 11:30 pm on September 14th. Customs was slow, so the cruise line pick up left without us. We couldn’t find a telephone and couldn’t find anyone who speak enough English to help us out right away. Eventually, thanks to a couple of helpful taxi cab operators, we were able to phone the ship and find out that we indeed had been left behind. Once it was sorted out and we arrived at the ship it was 3:30 am on the 15th. A very long trip just to get our travels started…

Construction Everywhere in the Ukraine

Construction Everywhere in the Ukraine

4 hours later we were up for breakfast and a city tour of Kiev, a 1,500 year old city and one of the oldest in Europe. There are many cranes and signs of repair, growth and progress but they have a very long way to go. The tour of the Monastery of the Caves where hermit monks lived from the 11th century was very interesting. There are over eighty buildings and monuments on the sight. For many years the monks lived in a labyrinth of caves in the mountain then later used them as a burial ground for the monastery monks. We walked through the tunnels with our beeswax candles for light, being careful not to hit our heads. With ceilings never higher than six feet high, and barely enough room for one person to pass through width ways, we all came out of the caves covered with white limestone dust on our sleeves from rubbing the walls as we walked through.

Wish I could tell you more, but it’s foggy. We got back to the ship at noon, slept until dinner. We ate, then returned to our cabin and slept until 3 am then 4 am then 5 am and at 6 am we got up feeling pretty good. By noon we were heading back to our room for a nap, which lasted until dinner!

Kiev old to new buildings

Kiev old to new buildings

By the next day, when we were cruising down the river, we started to recover. We met some fellow passengers, played some cards and caught some more  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s. Amazingly we met a couple from Deep Cove, another from Horseshoe Bay and of course our friends from Victoria so British Columbia, Canada was well represented on the ship.

September 17th. Dawn brought us to Zaporozhye (which means ‘beyond the rapids’) the ancestral home of the Cossacks of 1770. The Cossacks learned to navigate the deadly rapids of the Dnieper river and would take travelers through for a fee. They were a brotherhood of men whose wives and children lived outside the walls of the men’s fort. A ‘guns for hire’ group feared by many, they were serfs that came from many surrounding areas. We enjoyed the Cossack Museum, some of their folk music, and a performance of horsemanship. Then we tried a little vodka (well I did, Rick is a teetotaler), rice and meat. Watch the Vodka it is VERY potent stuff, especially on an empty stomach!!

zaporozhye-kherson-cossack-demonstration

zaporozhye-kherson-cossack-demonstration

September 18th we arrived in Kherson where most of the boat boarded a smaller boat and headed to Fisherman’s Village for an afternoon of traveling to a small fishing village and market. We skipped it, and had a wonderful nap. We are still waking up at 3 am thinking it is time to get up, but we’re almost adjusted. But, we like naps.

Sevestopol secret Russian sub base

Sevestopol secret Russian sub base

We left Kherson at dinner time, heading south towards the Black Sea and Sevestopol. Before dark, we were stopped in our tracks, along with several freighters, as there was a cyclone ahead. Our ship is a flat bottom boat and can only handle two meter seas so we expected to be held longer than the freighters. The cyclone passed by morning but a couple of others were forming, so we spent the day anchored in a quiet sheltered spot on the delta where we would remain calm and safe. We had some terrific lectures by our guides on the history, the politics, and the icons of the church as well as a lesson on a few basic words and the 33 letter alphabet. The lectures, a couple of card games, a nap, three meals and it was time for bed and there was an announcement just before dark that we were able to proceed from the delta into the Black Sea.

Although we had lost a day, we still managed to fit in all of the included tours and the optional tours in Sevestopol. In Sevestopol our dear friend Dave had an Appendicitis attack. The ship carried on leaving Dave and Joan behind while he had his appendix removed. Without internet or a world phone to keep in touch we felt pretty helpless, so we can only imagine how they felt. They were stuck in a city where the main docks are still leased to the Russian Navy, complete with submarines, and the hospital staff can’t or won’t speak English, and cats prowl the corridors of the hospital with kittens in tow. Joan had to buy the drugs and bandages at the local pharmacy before they would perform the operation on Dave. When we left her behind her main worry was that of secondary infection. Hopefully that does not become an issue as he recovers enough to fly home. We were fortunate to have one of the staff at reception call the hospital a couple of times to find out how he was progressing. Although we have been unable to contact Joan and Dave personally reports are that he is up and about and they maybe heading home on Saturday.

My impression of the Ukraine is one of confusion. Many of the people seem to be very pro Russia while others are gritting their teeth in fear of a return to communism. They have been seventeen years rebuilding what was returned to them after Communist rule. Many beautiful buildings that were used for other purposes or left in ruin are being rebuilt, renovated and returned to their former grandeur. Only 11% of the people earn enough money to drive a car or go on a holiday. Of that, 3% are considered wealthy so the other 8% are the middle class although considered to be more of an upper class with so much poverty throughout the country. The other 89% are working poor trying to make the day to day ends meet somewhere close to the middle many by having up to three jobs.

Tax on income is 15% which most find tolerable after the previous 40%, but it is not enough to rebuild all that needs to be rebuilt.

While in Sevastopol we went on a tour of the secret Russian Submarine base. It was interesting to see how they bored so deeply into the mountain and just how well hidden it was. It is a vast complex and we only saw a small part that has been restored as a museum.

Another fascinating museum of war in Sevastopol is the Panorama, voted best war panorama in the world. It was originally done by F.A.Rubaud. All but 84 sections were destroyed by fire during the war. These sections are kept in the archives. The new panorama was done by several artists that worked together to re-create the likeness of the original. It is the 1854-55 siege of Sevastopol from points around the hill including the French, English, and Russian troops.

My next next favorite was Yalta a more southerly city of the Criamean Peninsula. This city is under a major building boom. I think it is the summer playground for many of the wealthy Ukrainians and Russians as it has a reasonably temperate climate, lots of sand and of course the Black Sea.

Yalta Playground to the Wealthy

Yalta Playground to the Wealthy

Cathedral in Yalta

Cathedral in Yalta


My favorite is Odessa.
I would have liked to spend a few more days in this city. There is some form of reconstruction on almost every street in this city and the results are beautiful. New parging, new paint, major upgrading, pedestrian friendly walkways, parks, memorials, great views, good climate and proud citizens has made this city my number one in the Ukraine.

We managed to go to the Opera House for Le Traviata on our last night before leaving the ship. They spent ten years renovating and upgrading the Opera House and it is truly breathtaking with all of its guild and heavy draping. The acoustics are so good you can hear a sigh on stage, or cell phones ringing in the audience. One lady even answered it and whispered but we could hear her!

Well the cruise is done and we headed out at 5:20 am on to our next adventure making our way to Frankfurt…

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