Our driver to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albert, arrived bright and early and we said Goodbye to our cheerful little hostel room. Albert was an elderly gent (80 if he was a day) and our carriage for the next couple of days was a battered and drafty old Russian saloon. Albert was from Karabakh and couldn’t speak any English, so we couldn’t really communicate (other than our bits of chut chut Ruski), but he did however understand our needs and wants and stopped at all the roadside shops saying “Piva (beer), toilette (toilet)” and taking photos of us with any particularly stunning vistas.
We had come well prepared with our packed lunch, leftover dinner (from the restaurant the previous night) and a selection of alcoholic beverages for the long drive ahead. As we drove out of the city and up into the mountains the weather got continually worse, starting with a sprinkling of snow and ending up in a total white out blizzard by the time we got to the highest point! It was pretty scary, especially as the roads were so potholed it was impossible to drive on your correct side of the road all the time (and Albert didn’t much seem to care about such formalities as lanes anyway) and there were a few times swerving to avoid oncoming wagons by a hair’s breadth, we really did think we were goners! We stopped off at a little service station right in the mountains, full of truck drivers huddled around a little gas heater. We bought Albert a coffee, replenished our beers and got told off by the truckers for wandering around outside in the snow taking photos because we’d get sick.
Sexy petrol station stop and telling off for being outside
Hup over the mountains with us!
On arriving in Bucharest, we decided to stop for a beer at the bar in the train station to get our bearings and decide where we were going to stay that night. The nice girl at the Rolling Stone in Brasov had given us a handful of fliers for hostels in Bucharest, so we got out Susan’s phone and with the aid of our faithful companion Google Maps we checked their locations and tried to find the one that was nearest. We stayed there for a couple more beers as we were having some good craic, enjoying a nonsensical phone call with Joe and were enjoying taking the weight off our feet after our busy day exploring Transylvanian castles. After a while, the barman came over with a tray of two glasses of clear liquor – “For you! On the house! It is traditional Romanian drink!”. Oh god…
“Is it…is it PALINKA?”
We thanked him, wetting ourselves laughing that we actually managed to get some pinge on this years Pinge and Wang, and Jill downed hers (having developed a masochistic fondness for the stuff while in Budapest for the Palinka and Sausage Festival the previous year…although she does warn that drinking too much of it results in doing stupid things like eating a salad you find in a bag on the street) whilst Susan grimaced and tried to force hers down without being sick immediately afterwards. She managed eventually, after many protests of “No! NO! I can’t do it!” every time the glass got near her mouth and eventually Mandible had to turn up to finish it.
Put the rest of this in your face
So, we left off in an industrial estate in Brasov at 4.30am…
After calling into the posh hotel near the bus stop to see if the bar was open, it sadly wasn’t, so we decided to go to the service station next door for a cuppa and a beer while we made our mind up what we were going to do. We were both a bit reluctant to pay for a night in a hostel for what would only be a few hours, but were absolutely shattered and reasoned that if we just stayed up then we’d be in no fit state to see any of Brasov the next day, so got the bloke in the service station to phone us a taxi to the Rolling Stone Hostel. We rang the doorbell several times, saw no sign of life and we were starting to worry that it was going to be Budvar all over again (and there weren’t even any tables to sleep under or patio doors to open and squat in a house) but finally a nice young lady answered the door in her pyjamas and welcomed us inside. It was a lovely hostel in a nice old building with loads of wood panelling and wooden floors (so we didn’t mind taking our shoes off to go in as there was actually a reason for it this time – not like the one in Vilnius!) and our room was gorgeous. We had a four bed room (proper beds – not bunks!) to ourselves with a settee and a TV and some seriously gorgeous antique wardrobes! We had a nice few hours sleep until people started waking up and stomping around and talking loudly (all the wood was very nice on the eye but had the disadvantage of amplifying every sound!) but persisted with trying to have a nice lie in until we had to admit defeat and get up. We got ready and headed out to town with a to-do list (including going up the mountain in a cable car and listening to the organ performance at the Black Church) of recommended things and a map covered in scribbles from our hostel girl. Put the rest of this in your face
Look at the bucket? Is it empty or full? It is empty! Fortunately Jill has managed to not vom, and you find us at 3pm the next day, poor Sexy Jill already having been up and gone to work for a half day came home and gone back to bed, unbeknownst to us in our stupor enjoying the respite of a good lie in. Susan, upon rousing after about 10 hours of sleep, in her vodka addled fog thinking “I can’t wait for the night train to have a nice sleep”, despite being slap bang in the middle of a nice sleep. If only if wasn’t for those pesky awake moments between all the nice sleeps! Informing Jill of this on waking and gaining her agreement we have renamed the expedition “Soups and Sleeps of Eastern Eastern Europe”.
Surprisingly Susan is first up today and finishing off the Sommersbys to clear the fog whilst cleaning up last nights demolishing of The Hammered & Sickle. She has been dreaming about bread and cheese. Sexy Jill, the hostess with the mostess, has provided a variety of both for breakfast and her cutting of both has awoken sleeping beauty from her sick bucket! After a painful waking up period and deciding Jill being ready for a mender we were dismayed to find we had polished off all the brown boozes, the last of the vodka and all that was left was the hideous honey & chilli vodka and some sweet cloying cherry liqueur, which Jill was trying to force down last nights remnants of mixed with flat cola and vodka, but we were both dying for a nice lager bottom. Put the rest of this in your face
We arrived at Kiev with the bouquet intact where we resisted the harassing offers of taxis into town (with the aid of our cunningly scribed hand dictionaries) and decided instead to make our own way on the little old rickety mini bus that took about an hour to get to the train station. From there, our hostel had given us directions of the various Metros we needed, so we (upon finally locating the underground station and having a quick beer next to it – after Lithuania’s non-street drinking/no kiosks with booze on the street corner, we were very relieved to find the streets packed with little shacks selling cheap booze for the thirsty traveler) we bought tokens for the metro and attempted to put what we thought were the tokens into the turnstile, only for it to spit them out and the security man shouted at us until we sussed out that we were actually putting our loose change into there instead of the plastic tokens. Michael Bayed that right up like! We then descended down into what seemed like the core of the earth on the massive escalators and pushed our way onto the packed Metro, trying to perfect our non-standing out, dour Eastern European demeanour of not smiling at anyone when making eye contact.
Put the rest of this in your face
Let us take you back…back to Gatwick, where it all began.
After an emotional reunion (involving many bottles of wine and a big bucket of ice, and we’ll say no more about it) we made it to the airport on Friday morning in time to brave the hideous queues for beer. The 2 hour flight passed in to time, mainly due to the delicious 40 Euros worth of wine and nibbles.
Arrived in Tallinn to find it bracing but sunny and set about demolishing a couple of cans of local cider from the kiosk before getting the bus to the city centre. Which we stayed on until the last stop which was actually a ferry terminal nowhere near where we had to be. So we walked in the general direction of the church spires, hoping that would be some kind of central square, and with the help of Google Maps managed to locate our hostel (The Red Emperor) which was on the top of a nice pub called The Beer Garden which served a nice range of local beers and the food that the table behind us were eating looked quite nice so we decided to get some dinner. Susan had a smoked cheese, mushroom and sun-dried tomato soup with a pastry lid that was basically an Estonian fondue and fupping delicious. Jill had a platter of lards of the world, with gherkins and a shot of vodka on the side. The soup was definitely the winner, but you cannit be having the option of a lard platter and not try it!
Put the rest of this in your face