Monday, 23 October 2017

Nezhin and Lviv

This is my first opportunity to update my blog since Thursday and now it is 7.30am on Monday morning in Kyiv. I am staying for one night at the Ibis Hotel, then this evening I take the Skybus back to Boryspil. And then tomorrow morning at 9.50am I take the UIA flight to Barcelona.
During the day today, I will write about my short visit to Marta's town of Nezhin and then the weekend we spent together in Lviv. So much to tell you!
Needless to say, I am reading each day about the worstening situation in Catalunya and it fills me with alarm.
But, for the moment to more mundane matters of breakfast and buying a charger for my phone because I left mine in the train, together with my personal wifi hotspot. So the only connection online will be from the Ibis or Ligena Hotel this evening in Boryspil.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Travelling

I will be adding to this post during the day because I will be travelling from Boryspil to Nezhin and at the same time, events are developing fast back home in Catalunya. And I will write about that too. I think maybe my friends in the UK are worried about what is happening to me because it is filling the pages of the international press. I am getting that sick feeling in my stomach again.
Yesterday I checked out of my hotel in Kharkiv and Marina accompanied me to the airport, we spent a short time together before she had to go to teach and then I went through security. The flight was less than an hour and I was soon in Ligena Hotel in Boryspil. The hotel lays on a shuttle bus from the airport.
So I have started writing this in Reception as I wait for the bus back to the airport (about 15 minutes)...... The shuttle bus arrives at the top floor of the terminal building which is International Departures. I passed through the security at the entrance - it is strange to be here but not catching my regular flight to Barcelona, that will be on Tuesday. I took the escalator down to the ground floor and took the Sky Train into town. That is where I am now, waiting to depart.
About Catalunya, I am truly scared at what will happen. The value of my house has already dropped which might lock me into staying there whether I like it or not. Companies are leaving in droves. A man in business who voted for independence has just lost a big client in Germany. Now the reality of the reckless drive for independence is coming home. For a very long time, the independistas have been in denial about Catalunya automatically leaving the European Union. Now it is beyond doubt and there will be some very ashen faces among businesses which expected to continue trading freely in the EU.
Maybe today, Mariano Rajoy will trigger Article 155 but what if the Parliament in Barcelona physically prevents it? Or if a large crowd blocks the Parliament Building. In any case, I predict violent demonstrations in the streets because the chances are that Carles Puigdemont will be arrested for sedition. I will write later. I am taking a train at 1.30pm to visit my other friend in Ukraine, Marta. I am already missing Marina!
...to be continued

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Posing.... again!

Marina likes to pose as regular readers will know, so that's what we did on Monday. She knew an interesting building a little out of town to do a photo-shoot. I took about 300 photos in all (Nikon D7100 DSLR). I'm not sure where the photos end up, I am trying to persuade her to update her website with more photos.
After shooting the pictures, she went off home by taxi because she had an English lesson to give and I took a tram back to Heroiv Pratsi where there are two large shopping malls. I had a burger and Coke, I can't remember the price but the burger was about 50 euro cents. Admittedly is wasn't very big but by then it was about 4pm so I didn't want to eat too much. Later I took the Metro back to Sumska Street and my hotel.


Today (Tuesday) was less successful! Marina had booked two restaurants in 5-star Kharkiv Palace Hotel but I thought at first she was talking about a restaurant for this evening. But her intention was to shoot photos in each of the two locations but the hotel does not allow photos apart from those taken on a mobile, such as selfies of photos of plates of food I guess. To do a serious photo-shoot is 2000 uah for 2 hours (€64). I asked Reception if they had a lower rate for non-commercial photos but there was just one rate.
If it had been half that, I would have paid it (if Marina had allowed me) but 2000uah was quite a lot of money if we weren't claiming it on expenses! Marina wanted me to take photos on my phone but I felt that wasn't really honest seeing that only I would be eating anything and I wasn't really in the mood for eating anyway. Unfortunately we ended up arguing about it and went back to Hotel19 in not a very good mood! I think Marina was tired because, by then, all she wanted to do was go home, so we called a taxi for her. But it was a great shame because she had gone to a lot of trouble to get ready with dresses and makeup. It is no surprise that there is a big gap in outlook between a young girl of 27 in the east of Ukraine and an English guy of 74. Normally it doesn't matter but she just wanted to go for it and I felt that it would be unwise to attempt it because we could have ended up humiliated. That didn't bother her but it did me!!
When we arrived back at the hotel I asked at Reception what their rate was for taking photos in public areas and the answer was 500uah. We have taken lots of photos here in the past but we never have to pay because I am resident.





Monday, 16 October 2017

Bowling


I will add more words later! This was Sunday and the photo is of the fruit and veg market. 


The other photos are of Marina and her friend, Vika. We went bowling as you can see. We had so much fun - we were like teenagers and my age in years was quite irrelevant. We laughed so much in the restaurant afterwards that Marina was almost falling off her chair.





Vika ordered (Ukrainian) champagne but of course I paid for it together with the bowling, and the meal in the restaurant afterwards. If you have any lurking feelings about "buying friendship", then dismiss them instantly. I can promise you, this was a wonderfully moving friendship. The only stage at which relative age would be relevant would be in a sexual relationship but I am sure that you can see that this is quite different than all that stuff! Maybe they will find the husbands that they wish for but meantime, they had a great time with a guy who unfortunately is outside the age range (in years but not mentally). We will meet up again tomorrow for a farewell supper (I am writing this on Monday evening). And then I leave them to go and see Marta in Nizhiyn on Thursday. I will be a little sad because I like Vika a lot. To see her and Marina together gave me enormous joy.






Sunday, 15 October 2017

A view of Catalunya from Ukraine

I'm writing this on Sunday. Later I am going bowling with Marina and a friend of hers, Vika. I try not to think too much about the bad things going on back home. I don't read Spanish papers and there is no Spanish TV here. But I read The Times which, during the last week or two has been intensely anti-Madrid which upsets me a lot, because it is rather like supporting the illegal forces instead of the side which is attempting to uphold the law.
Most people reading this will know that Carles Puigdemont has been given a deadline of 10am on Monday (tomorrow) to make it clear whether he is actually declaring independence or not. It is not as though Madrid is asking him to decide, it is really to ask, who is calling the shots.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to move out of Catalunya regardless of the outcome because I cannot stand the poisonous atmosphere which will continue in any case. It is splitting families and friends. In my case, although I try not to think this way, I feel upset with my friends who support independence whereas before, I was very happy to co-exist with people who felt differently from me. Maybe they will feel differently about me because I don't hide my wish for Catalunya to remain part of Spain. Now people associate remaining part of Spain with the police violence on 1st October although I share their opinion. The big difference is that I don't see that it makes any difference to the legitimacy of the referendum and independence, it is quite separate. Two wrongs don't make a right.
When I go back on 25th October, I have 3 weeks before I go to Thailand and The Philippines which will be another welcome relief from the upheaval in Catalunya. But some of that time will be spent in Valencia because there is a very good chance that I will make it my new home. The big problem is my flat which I own. In the short term, I would have to rent it out and use the income to pay the rent in my new home and hope that they more or less match but I have to pay tax on the rent that I receive. In the longer term I would want to sell and buy but what chance of selling my flat when there is so much uncertainty. I could have done without this but I am a great believer that out of something bad, there comes something positive. And I will be moving to Spain, real Spain, where people speak Spanish, where I won't get nagged for not speaking Catalan. And Catalunya can sink for all I care. Even if Puigdemont declares independence, Madrid will immediately apply Article 155 which takes direct rule and forces new elections. This will cause enormous bad feeling which may spill onto the streets.
I think independistas ought to spend a week in the east of Ukraine and then talk about freedom and more money going to Madrid than comes back. When Catalunya wakes up to all the money and commerce escaping to Spain, they may see things differently. 



Arrived!

I ended my last post boarding the plane to Kyiv. The flight takes 3 1/2 hours, it is a 737-800 of Ukrainian International Airways and the return fare is never less than €300. Ryanair attempted to break the monopoly about a year ago and Kyiv Boryspil Airport agreed but the powerful owner of the airline overruled it.They even started taking reservations.

These flags, Catalunya, Spain and the European Union are flying outside the terminal, will they still be there when I return?
The flight arrived 30 minutes late, so by the time I got through Immigration which is very quick, and went up one floor to Domestic Departures, and got through security, I walked straight through the boarding desk to the bus waiting below. I guess I could have made it if I had been 15 minutes later but is is a little too tight for comfort. And I could have asked to jump the queue for Security.
I met my dear friend Marina at Meeters and Greeters and we spent a pleasant hour in the bar close by before I started to think that I should be heading for the hotel. We took a taxi together and dropped Marina off at her home which is not far from the airport.
I had a meal in the hotel and they gave me a free ticket for their disco next door. By now it was well past midnight but I was an hour behind so I went back to my room to change into my trendy girly gear and spent about 30 minutes in there. The sound level was enormous so I couldn´tstick it for very long. In any case it is not music, it is DJ generated beat. The girls were beautiful and smartly dressed and the guys rather shy and wearing the kind of clothes that they would wear in the street. I hesitate to generalise but in Ukraine I often see this contrast between the sexes.
 I didn´t sleep well. At about 5am I was woken by a loud crash. For a moment I had no idea where I was. I think it was the disco emptying its bottles into a refuse bin in the courtyard outside. It took me a long time to get back to sleep ad I was woken again by stuff being emptied into the bin. I complained in Reception but they can´t change their room. I asked that they are quiet but I can´t depend on it. It´s terrible, going to bed half expecting to be woken at 5am with breaking glass.
I complained bitterly at Reception next morning and they promised to talk to the disco. I had some breakfast and went back to sleep for an hour and felt much better. I never need much to catch up. Marina and I arranged to meet outside Universitat Metro at 2pm, I was expecting to be eating somewhere, she told me that we going to a place with plasticine but first we were going to a fair. On the way we passed hand-prints of various celebrities. I have attached various photos. The fish were from the local river and were still alive, so obviously air-breathing, like lobsters. I decided to give that a miss. They were very strange-looking to me.















After the fair, we walked back towards the hotel and, very close to it in Shumska Street, we dived in through an unmarked door, down some steps and Marina knocked on a door. There was a small sliding window and a man's face appeared and demanded a password which fortunately Marina had prepared. The door opened into the most beautiful restaurant. It was if they didn't want customers. The walls were covered in thousands of sculptures in plasticine. We took a seat and Marina ordered for us because the menu was all in Cyrillic.




 We were given our plasticine kits and I chose to create a Union Jack. I had to look it up in Google Images because I couldn't remember exactly how it went. The food was brilliant, Marina chose salmon soup for me, we shared a piece of roast chicken and chips and finally had cherries in a dough cover. We also had ginger tea. The bill was 400 uah which converts to about 13 euros. This is typically Ukrainian, it was so quirky. And one could almost imagine in advance that they didn't take anything as normal as a credit card! The food was absolutely top-class.
By now it was about 5pm and Marina wanted to go home but before that, we continued down Shumska Street to Ave Plaza shopping mall which has been updated since I was last here. There is now an Intimissimo and Calzedonia. Marina wanted to look at the shops so we visited Intimissimo and one or two less expensive shops on upper floors but left without success. She took a taxi home and I walked back to the hotel, had a beer and then spent some time in the room before eating later in Abajour which is the hotel restaurant below ground. I thought about going to the disco again but it was 11pm, a good time to sleep and too early for the disco anyway!







Friday, 13 October 2017

To Ukraine to escape the stress

I am sure you will have read in the press what is going on here in Catalunya. On Tuesday evening at my Meetup group, we watched Carles Puigdemont declare independence rather half-heartedly and then withdraw it pending talks. Some hope of that. All parties that are offerig to mediate insist on talks being within the law.
Then two days ago Mariano  Rajoy stood up and gave Puigdemont a deadline to say whether he had declared independence or not. We are now inside that watiing period and I am going to Ukraine yet again. For some reason I have made this my second home, I don´t even speak the language. I am writing this at Gate E at Barcelona, a place that I know well. And I am fascinated to see Emirates to Dubai leaving at 3.30 and Avianca to Bogotá an hour after that. Another month and I will be on the Dubai flight going to Bangkok and Manila. And last November I was on the Avianca flight to Bogotá. Today I am going to Kiev and then taking a connecting flight to Kharkiv where my friend Marina will meet and greet me.
I am glad to be escaping the turmoil in Catalunya. I will read about it online of course but I will be able to feel remote from it.
My feeling is that the independistas are on the back foot despite their making huge capital about the police violence. Puigdemont is now under enormous pressure, not only from Madrid where the National Day of Spain was celebrated yesterday but also from the more fanatical parts of his coalition, namely the CUP who want him to declare independence unilaterally.... and now!
I don´t really know why he is taking the 5 day deadline right up to the line. To confirm one way or the other now would be to show that he is sure about what he is doing.  
 Madrid has made it clear that they will activate Article 155 if Puigdemont insists on declaring independence. Article 155 is direct rule of Catalunya from Madrid.
To add to the pressure on Puidgemont to back down, but risk the wrath of the CU, almost every country leader speaking out is telling him to comply with the law.
A few days ago, an article appeared in The Times written by John Carlin, described as an essay. Then at the bottom, it said, "John Carlin writes for El País". The article, like many in The Times was critical of all the things that El País holds in esteem, the unity of Spain, the King. I imagined that maybe he just wrote for them from time to time because the article would never appear there. I wrote highly critical comments. Yesterday it was clear that he was on the staff of El País but no longer. They took great exception to what he wrote and fired him. I read that news on the train coming from Girona this morning.
The flight will be called soon, it is listed as running 15 minutes late but that will still leave me time to make my connection in Kiev but I have to go through immigration and security again at Domestic Departures. Security here was excellent. They have scanners for reading the boarding passes and there is a huge area to prepare for the baggage scanners. Sometimes that can be rather a pressured experience because, apart from having to remember all the metial biits like watch and belt, all computers have to be extracted and placed in the trays separately.At Barcelona, this was a breeze, there was so much space and time in which to do it. I tried to check my case all the way through to Kharkiv but I always buy two separate tickets because on the return, I have to. Well, I can but it meanns getting up very early and I prefer to take it easy in Hotel Ligena in Boryspil.
The check-in counter would not let me do it, so I have the case with me here. I have to board now!