There is a new service operated by established Swedish train company, Snälltåget. A night train from Berlin to Stockholm.
The basic ticket has reasonable price (from 49 Euros). However, with the current environment, you have to book a whole compartment to sleep in – this would normally be suited to up to 6 people. It can make it a little too expensive.
The train leaves Berlin at 19:02, getting to Stockholm, early the afternoon on the day after. On board there is a restaurant we can get brunch before we arrive. Snälltåget uses green energy from water, wind and sun.
We would have a (long) weekend in Stockholm, then return to Berlin.
Perhaps 196destinations can make it cheaper though, and connect a few people with flexible travel ideas.
Would you be willing to share with someone else to cut costs? Perhaps they have had a PCR test. Perhaps they have even had the vaccination?
Contact us if you are interested, or leave a comment below with roughly when you are wanting to travel.
196destinations founder Ian, is travelling the route in August or September, after getting his second vaccination in July. I welcome others with a negative corona test or vaccine on my trip. I would probably depart on a Thursday or Friday.
I would like to connect other people so that they can enjoy the night train experience.
Please comment below on when you would like to travel 🙂
I was pretty happy to discover a direct train service from Amsterdam to Berlin, and at a reasonable price. Obviously it also operates in the other direction from Berlin to Amsterdam, four times a day.
It is fairly easy to arrive at Amsterdam Centraal station by tram, but if you’re coming from the Noord side then there’s a free ferry – it even takes bikes.
The 15th June saw the borders between Holland and Germany open. So, it was about time I completed my return to Berlin. Finally, I was on my way – this journey was originally to be completed pre-Corona, and from Málaga!
Leaving Amsterdam’s Central Station, you are quickly into countryside, with the expected number of canals, i.e. LOTS! There were a few towns we stopped at that looked like they’d be great places to live if you were commuting into Amsterdam. The train stopped at quite a few of them – confusingly, as there was a platform announcement saying it would not be stopping in Holland.
Onboard, the train attendant was very friendly and you could move from your reserved seat to an unreserved table. Upgrade! Though I wasn’t to realise there was free (working!) wifi until the last hour.
I recommend the NL International app. I used the Android version, and it helped me identify the platforms I needed at Amsterdam Centraal. If you are being met at Berlin Hbf (the central station), it shows the arrival platform for that as well. If you remember to set notifications for the train to ‘on’, it will also update you 10 minutes before the train’s departure time to show any delays. Ours was just slightly delayed leaving, but arrived on time.
I’d long been used to Berlin and Brandenburg being pretty much completely flat, but I was quite surprised to find nearly the whole of the route through Holland and northern Germany to also be as flat a (Dutch) pancake!!
Just one hill, in the distance, somewhere near Hanover. I suspect it was man-made, and built from the digging out of the canals in the area. There was also a small castle-like structure on the hill approaching Hanover.
I wasn’t sure exactly where the border crossing was, but the familiar hunting perch on the edge of a forest indicated we were now in Deutschland. Here the train’s Dutch engine was replaced with a Deutsch one.
Time for a coffee. I ended up chatting with the attendant – she seemed happy that I was spending my shrapnel and had the correct change. They had an actual restaurant carriage, but no more food until after Hanover.
Passed what turned out to be VW’s headquarters and museum.
As we arrived into Spandau, I realised that I could do some programming, as had free wifi. An in joke, it was obviously Ruby On Rails. On Rails!! Don’t worry, I’m laughing to myself – haha.
And so I arrived at Berlin Hbf. Finally. I was three months late, but here I am 🙂 WOOHOOOO! A smooth journey, direct from Amsterdam, and I could be happy that I used seven times less carbon than I would have flying that distance.
After a lovely weekend with my friend Dan at an adorable Airbnb in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, I wasn’t ready to go home. We’d spent the first day exploring on Donkey rental bikes picked up from outside the grand Central Station building. Cycling over to the Torvehallerne food market, we stocked up on fresh fruit, bread and cheese for the day. After returning to our bikes and loading them up with our purchases, we set off for a day’s exploring. Dan’s a lot more confident on a bike than I am, so he led the way and I wobbled along behind, hoping to avoid running anyone over and feeling hopelessly out of my depth among casually stylish Scandinavians who rode as if they’d been born on two wheels.
Our first stop was the appropriately named Round Tower, a seventeenth-century tower and observatory built by Christian IV. Climbing the sloping stone path inside brought us out on to the viewing deck at the top, where there’s a panoramic view across the city. There is also a small observatory, but that was closed the day we visited. You can also stop to peer down through a glass floor into the tower’s inner structure, which was fascinating but probably not recommended if you don’t like heights!
After the tower, we headed into the lanes and alleys of Freetown Christiania, exploring in a cloud of summer drizzle before stopping for a late but delicious lunch at Morganstedet vegetarian restaurant. After lunch, we spent a good while marvelling at the stunningly colourful work of Marios Orozco in the Christiania Art Gallery while the rain pattered down outside. Having made it safely home, we toured a few bars in the evening, sampling some of the local microbreweries’ finest.
On the Sunday, after a tasty Scandi breakfast at Bowl Market and a failed attempt to visit the temporarily-closed Carlsberg brewery attraction, it was time to check out. After getting hopelessly mired behind various legs of the Copenhagen Ironman in the pouring rain, we finally made it to Nyhavn. Dan hopped on the metro to the station, to get back to Amsterdam and his job. I checked into the quaint and welcoming Bedwood Hostel, a half-timbered building in a courtyard off the Nyhavn waterfront, and wondered what to do next. There were still a couple of weeks left of the summer holiday, and I didn’t want to spend them sitting at home, where there was a 90% likelihood I’d end up going into work whether I needed to or not.
The next day, sitting in a pavement cafe watching the boats on the canal, I opened Maps. Where to go next? Maybe I should move out into the countryside for a day or two, or start to make my way west towards Flensburg and the German border, the beginning of the way home. That was when I saw the bridge. Yes, that bridge. The Bridge, the bridge. Mind made up, I picked up my bag from the hostel’s front desk and headed for the station.
Properly named the Øresund Bridge, or Øresundsbron, the 16km bridge serves as a road and rail link between Copenhagen and Malmö. The journey between Copenhagen Central Station and Malmö Central Station takes very little time, about 40 minutes from end to end, and costs around 122 Swedish Krona, or 87 Danish Krone. Tickets were easily purchased from the machines in the station, or can be bought online at the Öresundståg website. It’s handy to know that Copenhagen Central is generally referred to as Kobenhavn H on ticket screens and the booking website, while Malmö Central will usually be shown as Malmö C.
Boarding the 029 Øresundståg train, I briefly wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into first class, but it turned out that Scandinavian trains are just incredibly posh. Gliding out past the airport and on to the bridge itself, the view was obscured by the heavy iron girders. However, it was still possible to get a glimpse of the artificial island of Peberholm. Left undisturbed, it’s turned into a bit of an ersatz nature reserve, although we were going too fast to see much of the wildlife.
Of course, a spur of the moment decision to go to Malmö was going to involve sleeping somewhere. The first listing that came up on Airbnb was titled The Magic Bus. That was far too intriguing to pass up, so I booked it, thinking that if it turned out to be a joke when I got there, at least it would make a funny story later.
It turned out to be an actual bus, a.k.a. camper van, sitting comfortably on a plinth in the garden of a local art gallery. Passing the plain wooden gate on an unassuming residential street in Norra Sofielund, it would be hard to guess what lies behind if it wasn’t for the sign. Galleri Tikotin, the brainchild of artist Christopher Nelson, is a wild and wonderful combination of cosy home and eccentric artist’s lair. Chris has spent a lot of time decking it out as a traditional artist’s salon, and coming back out afterwards, it was a genuine surprise to find myself in 2019 Sweden instead of 1920s Paris.
Chris was a warm and welcoming host who regaled me over coffee with stories of the artists’ salons he held in the gallery. He was kind enough to show me the main room, where there are some stunning works to be seen. The beautiful weather meant plenty of time in the garden, picking tomatoes from a huge overloaded vine under the close supervision of the resident cat, and getting a shock from suddenly catching sight of my own reflection in a half-hidden mirror among the bushes.
The next day, I walked up the coast along the Ribersborg Beach to meet a local connection from a hospitality network at the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus sauna. The men’s and women’s sides of the sauna are segregated, so we made sure to have a good chat over coffee on the outdoor patio before we went in, staring out the the glistening sea with the Øresund Bridge in the distance and occasionally warding off marauding seagulls. The contrast between lounging in the heat in the classically Scandinavian wooden steam rooms and scrambling down a ladder directly into the Oresund Strait made for a refreshing and invigorating experience.
After another couple of days of lazy beach walks, rambling round the Kungsparken and through the backstreets and squares, seeing a live band at a courtyard bar at the Folkets Park, finding an adorable baby wild rabbit in the most unlikely of spots (see photo) and eating far too much lakrits ice cream and smørrebrød, it was finally time to say goodbye and make my way back to the UK. Until next time, Scandinavia!
“You’ll love Odessa,” my Ukrainian friend Krystyna said, when I described the plan. “You’ll wish you had more time there.” She wasn’t wrong – it’s now yet another on my list of places I have to go back to someday. She also told me that Odessa is famous for two things – the sea, and cats.
Having arrived via the first, it didn’t take us long to find the second – they were everywhere. After checking into cosy Hostel 51, we went to explore the city, walking down to the Potemkin Stairs to admire the view of the harbour before looping around through City Park and past Vorontsov Palace with its impressive colonnade.
By then it was getting towards dinnertime, so we stopped off at the Amsterdam Hotel and Restaurant (cue silly jokes about how we spent the afternoon in Odessa and ate dinner in Amsterdam). After a delicious dinner and a lovely couple of hours people-watching on the pavement patio, we headed back to the hostel, where I got chatting to a Canadian international relations student who had been studying in Russia. We ended up going out for drinks and sampling the Ukrainian vodka at the Bourbon Rock Bar just up the road.
In the morning I headed out for a quick walk round the nearby City Gardens and Cathedral Square before catching my train. Luckily I’d brought a scarf to cover my head, so I was able to go inside the imposing Spaso-Preobrazhensy Cathedral and look around the stunning gilded interior. Apart from a few locals praying silently in one of the side chapels, I had the place almost to myself. I spent a peaceful twenty minutes admiring the art and architecture in the cool of the church. Stepping back out into the already-hot sun, I headed back to the hostel to collect my bag. It was time to say goodbye to Odessa, and to Kaping, and make my way to the station.
Since I’d booked last-minute, I had ended up with a more expensive Lux-class sleeper ticket despite taking a daytime train. Handily, you can see which berths have been booked on the Ukrainian Railways website when reserving tickets, and I had chosen a cabin with both beds free. No-one had booked the other bed, so I had the two-berth cabin to myself for the day. Stretching out on fresh linen, sipping tea from a traditional glass and steel mug and flipping through the complimentary magazine, I decided perhaps getting Lux ticket hadn’t been such a bad thing. A girl can treat herself, right? I lay propped up on one elbow, staring out of the window at railway markers and level crossings flicking past, until we reached Zhmerinka, where the train stopped for a break.
On the platform, women walked up and down selling freshly baked pastries and plastic cups of berries from baskets and sports bags. Hopping down to buy something for later, I spotted a couple of familiar faces further down the platform – the German couple Kaping and I had walked to the bus station with when we got off the ferry. We stood for a while catching up in the hazy sun, sharing raspberries and plans as passengers ebbed and flowed around us, until the whistle blew and we wished each other safe travels, racing back to our carriages before the train departed.
I stared out of the window again, daydreaming as the train swished past quaint villages and isolated farms along the Moldovan border. Dirt roads crossed the track, and geese pecked among lush grass on the railway verge. Occasional guards in hi-vis jackets waved at us from trackside cabins at level crossings. Gradually, the sky darkened, and I switched on the cabin light and read as the sunset faded and it got too dark to see the outside world. We slid gently into Lviv Station at 10:30pm. Oksanka greeted me with a smile and a hug on the station platform.
Lviv is a beautiful city. The centre is all winding cobbled streets, dotted with pavement cafes and hanging baskets full of flowers. Over the next few days, we fell into a comfortable routine. During the day, while Oksanka worked, I went out to see the sights, including the fascinating House of Legends with its rooftop car, the Shevchenkivskyi Park Museum, where traditional Ukrainian dwellings have been gathered to create an outdoor folklore museum, and the Park High Castle, with its glorious views across the city.
Oksanka is a wonderful host, and knew all the best places to go in the city. In the evening, we’d go for dinner, or to a jazz performance at Libraria, or one of the local bars. One of the most interesting restaurants was the incredible Most Expensive Galician Restaurant, only accessible through a fake apartment. At the weekend, we went for an amazing buffet brunch at Baczewski – highly recommended! Kaping, who was planning to go hiking in the mountains south of Lviv, came to visit us on her way. We met up over cups of hot melted chocolate at the Lviv Chocolate Factory, chatting until the place closed and the wait staff politely kicked us out.
The next day, I took a day trip to a nearby town to visit Krystyna. We’d met at an off-grid farm in France I’d been helping out at, and she was now running the Cactus youth exchange project in Ivano-Frankivsk. It somehow ended up with me giving an impromptu talk on the Erasmus Plus programme to an audience of 40 unsuspecting Ukrainian teenagers with 10 minutes’ preparation, but that’s travelling for you.
All too soon, it was time to get my next and last train of the trip – the sleeper to Kyiv, where my journey would end.
On the 12th May, 2020, 196Destinations attended the Shift2Rail webinar to understand more about what others thought of the future of rail. This event was to be focused more on the traveller experience. We’ll be attending another on the 14th, this time with an emphasis on service providers.
What is Shift2Rail?
Shift2Rail is an EU initiative to increase train travel under the EU Green initiative. More information at: https://shift2rail.org
Webinar: 12th May.
Juan Castro introduced the IP4 initiative, which had a series of demonstrators.
Marco Ferreira (Thales) introduced the technical architecture, and discussed the Barcelona-Madrid Corridor by way of an example of how the app could work.
A scenario by Achim von der Embse (HaCon) in Hannover was introduced.
Then we went quite futuristic with an exciting look into an LBE experience on the Hololens presented by Souheir Mili.
The Shift2MaaS demonstrator was introduced by Daria Kuzmina (UITP). It was great to see Málaga mentioned, with the corridor to Madrid. Marco Comerio (Cefriel) also presented.
My-TRAC Introduced by Ismini Stroumpou, who displayed two multi-modal illustrations of the app’s potential usage in Lisbon and Barcelona. The app covered activities available in travel destinations, tailored to the user’s habits. My-TRAC (or at least a 2nd stage pilot) will be available at the end of June on the Play store .
Questions from the audience
During the presentation, there were several chances for a live Q&A with the presenters.
196 Destinations’ Question: Thank you for introducing the demonstrators. Which of them would cover long distance international train booking i.e. Spain to Germany? i.e. Renfe + Oui + DB.
Answer: As yet, they were not able to say as the data is not available from France yet.
Andy B’s Question: If there is an open framework, will all of the interfaces between system components be documented & published? (to allow for choices at system/component level)
Answer: The system will be proprietary software but with an open framework.
It’s really exciting to be part of the webinar series, and hear about this great work that is going on within the European Union.
It’s important for the health of the planet that we reduce our dependency on flying. And initiatives like Shift2Rail have huge potential as we reboot post-virus, to really make a difference, and make taking the train a much easier experience when dealing with multiple different types of transport from bus, to train, to bike.
It made me feel that I need to do some further research on the high level goals of the project. I also wanted to understand where these new apps are positioned in what is a pretty vast landscape of localised transport apps, and national initiatives, as we try to go international with them. There’s great potential to amalgamate all these apps into one super EU app. I’m not sure yet if these apps will have as many resources as Google Maps has, but perhaps in time the UX can be refined, and there’s real potential for one of these apps to become one of the 5-7 that people regularly use on their phones.
This has been a quickly put-together blog, and we welcome corrections, and additions, in the comments below. We’ll do an update, and also write up the 2nd webinar.
We see 196Destinations as part of the community of international train (and other overland) travellers, and we want to help people travel more this way. This requires a good booking and travel experience with the aid of technology. We would love to get involved and partner with others in this area.
It feels funny to escape from Málaga. After all, it’s what most people consider a tourist resort, and with good reason. I am lucky enough to think of it as Winter Home (for now)… and sometimes, you need to escape your home!
I decided to return to Ronda: a place I visited on my 2016 exploration trip to Málaga. Back then I was only there for a few hours, and felt I didn’t have enough time. The bridge is famous, and is quite amazing. I resolved to return and do a proper walk around ‘the ridge’. Four years later, then, it was time to return.
I booked a night in a fairly cheap hotel that was classically Spanish styled – especially their restaurant. The room was away from traffic noise, and had a modern bathroom. I found a coach company I had not heard of before, that took me on the 2 hour journey up. We passed through some pretty stunning countryside, allowing me to take a few more notes of places I’d like to come back to ‘one day’ – hopefully in less than four years!
I had arrived in time for a sunset view, and a wander around the old town. Then it was time for some food 🙂 But first, a craft ale and some rock tunes. A good discovery. After, we found a great tapas bar. I had a Ribera red wine, and numerous tapas that were all around the €1.50 level. Great service too. Perfect.
Then, the walk. Well, walk of my own making, as it seems there was no official path around ‘the ridge’. Going off via San Francisco Barrio I soon lost any path, and was in the middle of a field looking at the famous bridge from miles away, with just the birds for company, perched in the shade on a rocky outcrop. I ventured towards a tower back on the ‘ridge’, up through an olive grove that felt pretty ancient, then picked up the trail towards the distinctive oak trees that perched on top of the hill. This style of tree can be found atop a lot of ridges in the region, and always call to me to go and sit in their shade. On the top was a cluster of #vanlife folk, with one of the best views in the area. I proceeded onwards to a small chapel that had been built at one end of this ridge, before again having to make my own path…this time down the side of a pretty steep hillside. Not really recommended!
Picking up the road at the bottom, I was amused to find it going through a stream. With the sun out strong that day, it was actually pretty refreshing to walk through it without shoes and socks, and I dried off quickly. Sadly, the nearby winery didn’t seem to be open, and anyway it says to book in advance on their website. Probably for the best, as I had a train to catch out of town.
Arriving back in the centre of Ronda, the main square was alive with people celebrating Andalusia Day. I was just in time for a cana and a couple of small sandwiches sitting at my hotel bar, before heading out of town on the train.
Wandering through a goods yard was not exactly the way I had expected my voyage on the UkrFerry sailing to Odessa to begin, but that was precisely what I found myself doing. Picking my way across the rutted mud between truck cabs, I searched for signs for the passenger terminal.
A man with a backpack passed me, striding purposefully towards the little yard I had seen from the flyover. Abandoning my search, I followed him, hoping he knew where he was going better than I did. A few minutes’ walking and a quick hop across the railway line which served the port brought us to the small yard, where an assortment of backpackers and locals sat about, reorganising their luggage or sipping coffee in paper cups from the tiny convenience store tucked into the wall. I joined a pair of Georgian truckers at the window and asked for a coffee then settled down on a wooden bench next to a grandmother surrounded by woven plastic bags, watching a couple with backpacks and dreadlocks play with a joyously panting dog.
After about an hour, the gate in the iron grille slid open, and we poured through it towards the ship. Passport control was a kiosk in the open air, where we queued through a turnstile as if we were waiting to go on to an amusement park ride. One by one, we held out our documents to be stamped and were nodded out on to the loading ramp with a variation on “We hope you liked us, come back soon.”
Standing at the base of the loading ramp, I unsuccessfully scoured the area for the foot passenger entry. The same man I had followed through the truck yard passed me and walked straight up the main on-ramp, which I had assumed was the vehicle entry. A security guard nodded amiably at him, so I followed him once more, and soon found myself in the bowels of the ship, heading up an oil-scented staircase to the reception.
Once at the top, I exchanged my passport for the key to my cabin. I had booked a bed in an ensuite 2-berth with a window, which I would be sharing with a fellow female traveller. The cabin bore the marks of many renovations, here a built-in control for a radio of which there was no trace, there a switch that flipped but controlled nothing. Overall, the cabin was fairly basic but comfortable. After hanging my clothes in the rack and putting my toiletries in the bathroom cabinet, I headed up on to the deck.
After about half an hour, my watch showed 1pm, the time we had been told lunch would be served in the dining room. I went down to the reception, and found the dining room doors shut and a variety of passengers milling hungrily around. After waiting fifteen minutes, I approached the reception, where the man on the desk told me the ship ran on Ukrainian time. That was an hour behind Georgian, so I resigned my rumbling stomach to waiting and went back on deck.
A fresh sea breeze was blowing, and the weather, although not as sunny as the day before, looked settled. The online horror story about the girl who got stuck in the port for five days because of a storm started to recede from my mind. I leaned on the rail with the wind flipping through my hair and looked up at the distant hills holding the church I had walked to without a plan one day. A thud from below made me look down. Lorries had started to be loaded, and one had broken loose from its moorings and started to roll backwards. Shouting, the driver scrambled into the cab and slammed on the brakes while another hurried to re-secure the wheels.
Walking into the dining room an hour later, I looked around for the buffet every traveller’s report online had told me would be there. However, bowls of soup and plates loaded with roast chicken and mashed potatoes sat ready-made at each place. Thankfully, when I explained the situation, the kind but extremely straightforward lady in charge of the dining room was happy to swap my plate for a buckwheat and mixed vegetable pilaf. Feeling guilty for not having known the food was table service and for causing difficulty for the ship’s staff, I sat down with my allocated table mates. Only one person on the table spoke more than rudimentary English, so we resorted to a camaraderie made almost entirely of smiles, and awkward pantomimes to communicate things like needing the pepper or asking for another bread roll. The older couple sitting next to me, also vegetarian, took great care of me, insisting that I take the spare orange left over from dessert and generally treating me like an unexpected daughter.
Back in the cabin, I got to meet the woman I’d be sharing it with. A former government worker from Hong Kong, the riots had been the last straw that pushed her to leave on a round-the-world backpacking trip she had been dreaming of for years. She had already completed a marathon in North Korea and travelled through most of the countries in South-East Asia and India. I sat with my mouth wide open stuck halfway between envy and admiration, listening hungrily to her stories until she decided to take another look outside.
Despite having been told to board at 10am, we were still in port at Batumi. It was now about four in the afternoon. Hanging off the back deck, we watched an elderly goods train rumble up track in the middle of the loading ramp and into the ship, followed by more lorries. At around five, there was a heave, and the ferry began to chug gently away from the dock. I watched as the shoreline receded, docks and beaches and pleasure boats fading gently into a watercolour in the twilight.
The following day dawned cloudlessly blue. After breakfast, I ordered a coffee from the bar and sat sipping espresso in the sun on the back deck, enjoying the morning breeze and chatting to a group of four German girls who were backpacking through the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. The Greifswald was a small ship, without any of the amenities found on larger vessels. The only public areas were the dining room, a seating area around the reception, and the outside decks, and there was no wifi, shop or place to take out cash. It was an excellent chance to switch off, get to know the people around me, meditate, read and journal. The day passed in a lazy blur, lying on the top deck in the hot sun like a seal on a rock, or sitting with my arms crossed leaning on the rail, staring into the cloud-pictures thrown up by the churning foam beneath.
Towards sunset, there was a shout of “Dolphins!” from someone on the starboard side. Everyone rushed over to look. Amid the sparkling waters of the Black Sea, sleek dark bodies leapt from the waves, one after another. The man next to me exclaimed something excited but incomprehensible, clearly aimed at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Ah, English,” he replied cheerfully. “Beautiful, yes?” he added, pointing to the dolphins. He turned out to be a truck driver from the Ukraine, and this was a regular route for him. As the sun set into the sea, he described the cars he’d bought in Georgia, and the home he hoped to one day build for a family, and I described my life in England, my job, my friends in Manchester as the coast of Sevastopol drifted by in the hazy distance. In the end, the dinner tannoy ended the conversation, and we both headed downstairs to our respective tables. The meals on board consisted of a bowl of soup to start, followed by something of the meat, potatoes and two veg variety, and fruit for dessert. The vegetarian option was usually vegetable soup, the starch and veg without the meat, and fruit as well. I barely needed to touch the extra supplies I had brought along in case of getting stranded at sea, although I did tuck into the hazelnuts out of concern for my protein intake.
That night, standing on deck in the starlight as the ship plunged through the waves, I ran into the driver and his friend again. After chatting happily for a while, we made our way down to the cabin decks. On the back deck, another group of Ukrainians were drinking spirits. They cheerily handed us a shot each as we passed, and raised a toast. The nearest one’s eyebrows raised as I lowered my glass at the same time as they did, and he reached out to check it was actually empty. The ship tossed, the glass fell over, and the man jostled my arm and said something in jocular Ukrainian that I couldn’t understand but grinned at anyway.
Back in the cabin, my new friend Kaping was reading on her bunk. She had tried to wash a few essentials earlier in the day, but we had been told off for opening the window, so that they were now drying on the curtain rail. After chatting for a while about travel, and life, and what waited for us back home, she revealed that after Odessa, she was planning to go to a forest park not far from Lviv.
“I’ll probably come to Lviv first,” she said. “I think it’s easiest for transport.” Since the reason I was going to Ukraine was to visit a friend in Lviv, I invited her to meet up with us there. It was difficult to plan much, since we had no wifi on the ship and were far out of signal range, but we would have a couple of days to discuss it when we reached Odessa. I had failed to find a couchsurfing host in the city so would be staying in a hostel, but had been reluctant to book one as I had heard so much about the possibility of the ferry getting stuck at sea in case of bad weather.
We docked in Chornomorsk on time, at around 9:30 am. We had to check out of the cabin straight after breakfast, and spent the next couple of hours sitting next to our bags on deck, watching tugs and fishing boats hum around the harbour. I logged on to the Port of Chernomorsk wi-fi as soon as I came in range, and booked into the same hostel Kaping was staying at.
Once the ship docked, everyone congregated in front of the reception for immigration. The border officials came aboard and set up shop in the dining room, calling us in one-by-one to check and stamp our passports.
Once we had been processed, we were free to disembark, although actually getting out of the ship turned out to be more of a challenge. The queue for the lift was so enormous that we tried the stairs instead, only to find that the door at the bottom was locked. The lift had started to malfunction under the strain, failing to stop at our floor several times until I found myself choking down a panic attack. If you are claustrophobic like me and find crowds frightening, you will want to prepare yourself well for this part. You may potentially want to ask someone to be there to support you, although to be fair to UkrFerry it was the only part of the voyage that was anything less than enjoyable. Fortunately, Kaping was very kind and kept me talking so that I made it out of the boat in one piece, if rather shaky and drenched in a cold sweat.
Once outside the boat, we were guided over to a small bus stop where we sat in the sun for what felt like an eternity, waiting for a minibus. Our bags were taken separately on an odd little vehicle that looked like an inverted snowplough. After waiting in the minibus for over an hour, it trundled us about 200m across the tarmac to a long low building, where we had to go through customs. The whole process was immensely inefficient; budget plenty of time for getting out of the port if you have a connection to make.
From customs, we stumbled up a bank on to the main road in search of the bus. We had got chatting to a German couple on the minibus, and the group of us strolled through the highway dust until we saw a bus stop.
A packed bus rolled to a halt – the German couple just managed to squeeze on, but Kaping and I couldn’t fit. A minute after the bus had rattled off up the road to Odessa, we realised this had been a blessing in disguise. The port in Batumi had had no currency exchange facilities and neither had the ferry, so neither of us had anything on us but Georgian lari and a small reserve of dollars and euros.
Fortunately, there was a petrol station across the road with an ATM and a currency exchange window, where we gratefully swapped our leftover lari for hryvnia, dashing back across the tarmac just in time to squeeze ourselves into the next minibus as it rattled to a halt. Suitcases safely placed in the boot, we squashed in through the door and found ourselves face-to-face with the kind restaurant manager from the ferry, on her way to a well-deserved break in Odessa. Swaying from the hanging straps amid the press of bodies, we jostled and bounced into Odessa bus station. Grabbing our packs from the boot, we set off in search of our hostel and lunch, eager to explore the city.
Read the next post in the series here, or the last one here.