Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rendez-vous with Boro in Odessa

Day 16 on my trip was a much anticipated one because I had arranged to meet up with my old mucker from Nottingham University, Andrew Smales a. k.a. "Boro". For reasons I'll try to explain later, he is currently actually living in Odessa, so fate had provided the perfect intertwining of life pathways at a point in time and space where we could both watch the opening of the Word Cup together.

16th Day - closing in on 30% complete

I woke up in my nice hotel room in Chişinau with a few things on the agenda.

1) Write my blog from the day before

2) Pack

3) Buy some of that nice Moldovan wine I sampled last night to take with me to Odessa.

4) Check Out

5) Get a taxi ride to the bus station

6) Get on the bus to Odessa.

Having accomplished the first two, I only had about 40 minutes to do No 3, so I had a bit of a panic when Professor Google told me the wine bar/shop I'd been to last night did not open until 11 am. So I went to reception and asked the rather beautiful Russian girl there if she knew a shop that was open that sold nice Moldovan wine. She said she did and proceeded to scribble on a map the location and how to get there. It was the same place I'd been to, Invino enoteca.

"But on Google it says it's closed" I spluttered.

"No. Is open" she corrected me

So, that was good enough for me. I knew where it was and positively marched across Chişinau city center with real purpose - this is probably the first time I'd done that on the trip. Usually it's a lazy, aimless meandering.

Anyway, I got there. The shop was open but the guru guy wasn't there. Sat in the corner, apparently not doing anything was a woman in her 30s.

"I want to buy a couple of bottles of wine" I gasped.

"I am not staff" she replied

"Open at 11"

Professor Google 1 Attractive Russian Receptionist 0

Perhaps it was my look of disappointment, but she then proceeded to try to serve me anyway.

"Do you know what you want?"

My face lit up.


I showed her the photos I took of the wine bottles last night. (See, it's always good to do that) and she proceeded to get them.

Professor Google 1 Attractive Russian Receptionist 1

"How you pay? Cash?"

"Credit Card"

The look of anguish on her face was not a good sign. But she made a phone call to someone and then tapped in a set of numbers on her credit card scanning thingy and it was all good.

Professor Google 1 Attractive Russian Receptionist 2

Trol - AY - bus, not just a bus
I marched back in perfect time to complete the packing and check out. A taxi was ordered and it arrived within 5 minutes. I didn't fancy marching across Chişinau like I'd done yesterday with all my stuff on my back, so it was a no brainer.

The driver didn't seem very happy. I tried to have a chat with him.

"Ve, Rooskaya ili Moldovskaya?"

"Moldovskaya, no ya gavoryoo Roosky"

That was it, really apart from getting an idea of how much I would have to pay.

He pointed to his meter.

The fair was just 50 Moldovan Leu, less than $4 AUD, so I gave him a big tip.

I tried to impress him when he dropped me off.


"Mul TS u me SH c" He corrected, like a teacher.

Next, to find the bus to Odessa.

I always find these sort of situations slightly stress-inducing so it was like a fantasy when I looked across at a little mini bus with the word "Odessa" clearly displayed in the front screen and simultaneously a fine looking, tall man with a white cap noticed me and asked...


I showed him my ticket and he gestured for me to get on the bus, pointing to where I should sit.

Too blady easy mate!

I put my back pack in the seat next to me as there were only about 5 or 6 on the bus at the time and relaxed. I should, at this point, have gotten off and bought a bottle of water for the 3 hour journey but the idea entered my head only when the bus was about to leave, too late.

My view for the next 3 and a half hours

On ze bus

The Driver gets ready to go

At 11 am on the dot, we were off to Odessa!

An der veiks
The traffic around the North Bus station was terrible and the driver took a right turn, drove a while and then did a U-y (how do you write that? You - ee?) to go back past the bus station. We were still within 1 km of it at ten past 11.

After clawing our way through the jam, though, it was plain sailing and we all settled back to a pleasant drive through the Moldovan countryside. It felt like a day trip.

We avoided Bender
On the bus to my right was a doddering old man who was not shy, who looked a bit like Stan Bosikis, an old Lithuanian who used to frequent the bar at Sodyba. He kept asking the driver things and the driver kept barking back in the negative. It was in Russian but it was too fast for me to understand even the gist of it. I think it was something to do with the selection of the radio channel.

I guess he didn't like Rap music (me neither, apart from Afro Chameleon of course - their song "Apes" is one of my current favourites and no, it has nothing to do with the fact their their ace guitarist is my daughter's boyfriend). The music selection was actually pretty varied and many of the songs they played were ones from the UK in the 80s and 90s. Eventually, the radio station did play a song "Stan" liked and he asked the driver to turn the volume up and proceeded to sing along with it.

At one point, Stan, realising I didn't have any water, offered me a drink of his.

I was touched.


At random points of the journey people would wave the bus down and the driver would stop and ask (presumably) "where are you going?" They'd mutter something and then get on, paying the driver a few Leu, before getting off again a few minutes later.

Sometimes I had to put my bag on my lap to make way, but most of the journey the seat was free.

We stopped for a toilet break at the small town of Causeni and I used it as on opportunity to buy a big bottle of "Apa Carbogazoasa".

Water break
I was nerdishly excited about the border crossing. As we were avoiding Tiraspol, the simpler route with the bigger roads, but the one requiring two "border" crossings, into and out of Transnistria, I wasn't quite sure where we would actually cross the border as there were no obvious towns there.

The geography of the area is quite bizarre. Moldova stretches down almost, but not quite, to the Black Sea coast and the bus proceeded to go down a fairly main road down an ever-narrowing strip of Moldova that was surrounded on both side by Ukraine - until it was Moldova no more and, almost out of nowhere the border crossing appeared.

Again, modern technology is amazing. I was able to track our progress towards the border with the GPS turned on on my phone even though I had no WiFi connection.

I took a photo of my mobile to show where we were - the closest we got Tiraspol

Then I remembered I could do screen shots - Doh!

Getting closer to the Moldovan corner

Closer Still

This was actually at the border

The bus pulled up and a few minutes later a border security official got on board and collected all of our passports and then got off again. Several passengers followed her of the bus to stretch their legs. Everyone seemed calm and in good spirits. I saw a few Ukrainian border officials milling around too so it seemed that this was it.

I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to take our baggage off the bus for it to be scanned or checked or anything and, after about 25 minutes, the passports were returned to us. I was given a Russian passport by mistake at first, but that minor glitch apart, it all went remarkably smoothly.

The border crossing

25 minutes later, we were in Ukraine

On our way again
The immediate change you notice when going from Moldova to Ukraine is, of course, the change in the road signs to the Cyrillic alphabet.

The other thing I couldn't help noticing from time to time was the way flat, rich soil in Ukraine allows golden fields of crops to grow. Under a blue sky it would look like the Ukrainian flag, which of course, is the image that is based upon.

The sky's not quite as blue, the fields not quite so golden, but you do get the idea

The signs to Одесса got more prominent and the number of kilometers remaining got smaller until we arrived at the bus station in the center of the city.

Отличная работа! Спасибо!

The route to Odessa

So far, upon arriving in a country, my routine has always been: WiFi, cash, map, bus to the city. But this was different. There was no Wifi at the bus station so I found a cafe and ordered a large Latte while I connected to their Wifi to find out where my hotel was.

It was about a 35 minute walk away but I decided not to get a taxi. At least I'd get to see some of Odessa and I might pass a bank to change some Moldovan Leu.

It was a hot and sweaty walk but a good bit of exercise after sitting in a rather small seat for the previous 3 and a half hours.

Odessa, at last

Hot and sticky

Sweating cobbs, youth

Space Odessa 2018
I finally arrived here at my hotel, with its exotic sounding name "The Frederic Koklen Boutique Hotel". (No I have no idea who Frederic Koklen is.) It's really plush for me but great value for money, as always, in this part of the world.

First thing to do was to Skype Leb, dripping in sweat, as I'd not done so for a couple of days.

But I got the wrong Lesley. Leb's mum is also called Lesley so somehow, without my glasses on, I ended up Skyping my mum-in-law. It's a good job I hadn't stripped off first - as I have done a couple of times!

Anyway, all is good in Australia. Lesley had become a local hero (again) after her prompt referral of a pregnant woman who came to her clinic ended in the woman needing a cesarean, which saved the baby's (and the mother's) life. She's a blady staaaaar, that girl!

Anyway, after a nice shower and a change of clothes, it was time to find Boro and have a few beers.

Andrew Smales is a Middlesbrough fan. It hardly needs stating, as he's known as "Boro" to us. I first met him when I went to Nottingham University to do Mathematics in 1977. Like me, he was in Sherwood Hall, at the time an all-male hall of residence. Despite this being the most amazing football season, when Forest won the league, I was really quite depressed. I really struggled with my studies and was going through a very hard time emotionally as I was desperate to find a girl friend but was incredible shy and self-conscious, having the appearance of a 15 year old in an 18 year old body. I packed in University at Christmas not really sure if I would ever return but, thankfully, my dad persuaded me to at least apply to change to a different course (I chose Pharmacology/Zoology) for the next academic year.

I didn't really have much to do with Boro in that first year but when I returned the next September, the scene was set for a group of us in Sherwood (and some in other halls) to really get to know each other and follow our passion in football to new levels.

Jake Holloway and I formed the "Official Nottingham University Football Supporters Club", an informal society to facilitate fans to get to know each other and to car share to go to matches. We even organised a few coach trips such as one at Wembley for England v Switzerland.

Anyway, Boro was pretty much the guru of our group with his encyclopedic knowledge always being impressive. He sometimes could tell me the players in team of a match I'd seen a couple of years ago (and he hadn't) when I'd forgotten. And it was Boro who first alerted me to the astonishing (to me) fact that John Robertson took penalties with his right foot, despite being a left winger. I'd only watched him take about twenty or so by that time.

Sorry, at this point, I must put in a plug to a blog post I wrote about Robo and his amazing run of 239 consecutive appearances for Forest when they were at their peak. If you like football you really should read it. Click the image below to be amazed!

Anyway, Boro and I shared a bit more than just a passion for football. We also had frustrations with girls, although Boro's weren't due to looking like a 16 year old, like mine were. On countless occasions, after getting thrown out of Sherwood Hall bar, we'd sit in the lobby area and chat about stuff. "The Philosophy Table" we called it, as often one of us would end up lying on one of the big tables in that hallway.

Them wo t'days, lad. Endless carefree, alcohol induced, fun to be had, with the subject of football never being far away.

One of our university wheezes was the "From Now On".

"From now on, for ever and ever, I am going to ... <insert daft idea here>"

Getting up at 5 am to go jogging in Wollaton Park was one such idea. I lasted about 5 days before packing in. I think the rest of them only managed a few days more.

These blogs are kind of a "from Now On" for me.

Anyway, to get to the point of the Odessa meeting, and to finally curtail this much longer story than I had anticipated, Boro is a computer and financial whiz who has worked in many places around the world, including, a few years ago, Kyiv, Ukraine. It was there that he met his wife Kristina. She was born here in Odessa and her mum, who sadly died a few years ago, owned a flat right in the center of the city. Upon her death, they decided not to sell it but to renovate it. After living in London for a few years, Boro and Kristina have decided to give life in Odessa a bit of a go.

So when Boro heard about my plans to go to the World Cup it became obvious that this would be the ideal place to meet and see the start of it here together.

Boro told me to meet him by the Ekaterina Statue, five minutes walk away. When I got there he was nowhere to be seen and my first thought was that this was one of his "booby traps" he'd promised in a Facebook post. But he arrived a few minutes later, appropriately, with camera in hand taking photos.

Ay Up, Boro!
It was great seeing him again. I think the last time we met was at Heathrow Airport four years ago, just before the Brazil World Cup, when I was in London waiting for a flight to Rio. Apart from a few extra facial creases he looks exactly the same. Not even a gray hair to be seen.

After a brief tour of the Odessa sites we headed for a bar and sank a few pints whilst chatting about topics ranging from the origin of human culture, Putin's Russia, bizarre borders and, of course, football. Later in the evening Boro was trying to explain to me the concept of "betting" on Betfair where you "back" or "lay" bets in response to events. The craft beers must have been having an effect on my pre-frontal cortex by then because it's all still a mystery to me this morning.

Anyway, I was starving so we found a traditional Ukrainian restaurant where we both ordered a plate of varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings). I scoffed mine in the time it took Boro to go to the loo!

Boro's varenyky - mine had already been scoffed!
Bizarrely, horses are plentiful in Odessa and I was offered a ride back to the hotel on one but we decided that 400 Hryvna ($20) was a bit too much. It was only five minutes walk away. Boro kindly walked with me back here to make sure I didn't get lost.


I thought I'd time the writing of  this post. I started writing it at 7:46 am on the 14th June 2018 - the day the World Cup starts in Moscow. Let's see how long it takes before I click the "Publish" button - Ok, about to do so at 10:56 am, having just had the most fantastic breakfast ever. (More on that tomorrow.) So this blog post took 3 hours and ten minutes in elapsed time but, considering I was eating some of the time, I'd say almost three hours!)

Russia v Saudi Arabia, the first match, will be on later this afternoon. Not the most exciting match in prospect but I'll be glued to the screens with a pint in my hand, nevertheless. Already looking forward to seeing Boro again for that.


  1. This blog is one of the best "from now ons" ever. Better even than "from now on we will go to paris FOREVER" although maybe not as good as the classic "from now on I will stand on one leg forever" (one of Boro's I believe.)