Travel problems

The last few weeks have been plagued by travel problems and setbacks.  Problems with border guards, landlords, illnesses, money and sinks.

Currently I’m in Mykolayiv, Ukraine but let me take you back to the beginning of August.

So I was in Warsaw visiting my friend Andrew. I’d booked myself on the night train to Kiev and everything seemed to be going smoothly. I was looking forward to getting back to Ukraine and meeting up with my wife Katya.

Border problems

Anyway, the train stopped at the border to have its wheels changed and the immigration guards got on. Our passports were collected and then about 20 minutes later a guard returned and said there was a problem.

They told me I’d overstayed in Ukraine the previous time and I wasn’t allowed back in. It was looking likely that I would be kicked off the train and sent back to Poland.

Warsaw to Kiev train

At Warsaw station en route to Kiev

Using my very limited Russian skills, I tried to explain that I used to live and work in Ukraine and left when the residency permit got cancelled but now I’m back on a new tourist stamp. He made a few grunting noises and then disappeared.

So there I was, frantically packing up my stuff ready for the pending eviction. About an hour later he returned, grunted a few more times, then stamped my passport. Not sure what happened but I was so glad not to have been thrown off.

Russian course

So we arrived in Kiev and I met up with Katya. We rented a place and I did a 2 week Russian course at Echo Eastern Europe. The course was great, as was my teacher Elena. I learnt a lot and improved my Russian.

Learning Russian

Russian course

Unfortunately, whilst I was in Warsaw Katya had become ill and needed an operation. We took a train to Mykolayiv and stayed with her parents while she recovered.

Once she felt a bit stronger, we decided to go somewhere else in Ukraine. After all, we didn’t want to outstay our welcome at her parents’ flat. Not having a car, we opted for somewhere with a train station. So we thought, “How about Vinnitsa? “

So off we went to Odessa with the intention of getting a train to Vinnitsa. We used to live in Odessa so it was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends and relax.

Or so we thought.

We rented a room from an old lady who’d advertised on OLX, kind of like a Ukrainian Craigslist. It was here that I experienced the wonders of Ukrainian plumbing.

Sink problems and the hospital from hell

I’d just had a shower, got out of the bath and stood in front of the mirror to count my grey hairs. Then all of a sudden the sink just dropped to the floor! Water started pouring out in all directions.

“What the hell just happened?!”

The sink literally fell off the wall. I quickly found the tap under the sink to turn the water off. It reduced the flow to a trickle but didn’t stop it. The old lady seemed to sleep through this, unaware that a panicking Brit was stood over her trusty sink in a now flooded bathroom.

Odessa hospital

The doorway to hell

Katya was in our room teaching online; I interrupted her lesson and enlisted her help for the cleanup operation. I balanced the sink back on the 2 nails from where it fell and left the old lady to decide what to do.

I slept with my eyes open that night. I thought she might have been connected to the mafia and that maybe they would come and take me away in the boot of a car. Alas, I’ve seen too many movies.

The next morning, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worst. Katya woke up with stomach pains, vomiting and a fever.

I went out to the chemist and got her a load of medication but after a few hours she wasn’t improving so off we went to the hospital.

We weren’t sure what was wrong so we went to the infectious diseases hospital by Uber; probably quicker than calling an ambulance. This hospital is like a 1960’s NHS hospital; I had to go there once when I had food poisoning.

Several nurses, doctors and IV’s later and they tell her she has pancreatitis. Bugger! Four days later they finally let her go and we rented a place in Odessa until she was stronger.

Vinnitsa and the landlord from hell

“Vinnitsa, here we come.”  We took the 5:40am fast train north to Vinnitsa. Our first impressions were good. A small, quaint place but it looked nice enough. Unfortunately, our first impression was about to be overshadowed by the landlord from hell.

Vinnitsa, Ukraine

Vinnitsa – small but quaint

After keeping us waiting for nearly 2 hours, he finally showed up at the building. No apology was offered, in fact, no words at all. Not even a grunt. He looked like a potato and was void of any personality.

We went up to the flat and he just stood there with his potato-like expression waiting for his money. I handed over 3000uah, which is just over $100.

The landlord

We had a look around and it dawned on us that the place wasn’t even fit for rats to live in. It was an absolute dump.

There was no proper bed, the kitchen was ill equipped, the cupboards were hanging off the walls and the bathroom looked like a building site. The flat was a turd of the highest order.

Katya asked for the WiFi details and he said there wasn’t any. The OLX advert stated WiFi and it’s very important to us as Katya teaches online.

The rude man said WiFi was an extra 200uah ($5) and that he would get a router and all would be fine. I reluctantly handed over more money and we waited for the potato to return.

Another hour or so passed, he came with a router but it didn’t work. Katya had to cancel her lessons and lose money. The man didn’t care.

Soviet apartment

The crappy flat we were given in Vinnitsa

We asked for our money back but his response wasn’t positive. “I’ll bring another router”, he barked. We didn’t want another router, we just wanted a refund and to get the hell out of there.

We waited and waited but the idiot didn’t come back. In the end we put the key under the mat and left.

Saved from the streets

Now homeless, I promised Katya that we wouldn’t be sleeping on the streets and that I would find us a place to stay. I booked an Airbnb but it turned out to be double booked.

Then we were in luck. Sergiy, the Airbnb guy invited us to stay at his home. We are so grateful that he and his family took us in for the night and treated us so well. Check out his Airbnb place here.


Sergiy and his mum – they saved us from the rain

The next night I found another flat on Before we left Vinnitsa, we went to see the Roshen light show and then took an overnight train back to Katya’s parents’ flat in Mykolaiv. We feel safe, we can relax and my wife can work.

Lessons learnt

Katya was great on the phone to the potato, although I wish I could have spoken Russian and given him a piece of my mind. We managed to get most of the money back off the idiot, thanks to Katya’s dad. I doubt we’ll get the rest but it’s not the end of the world.

So in the future:

  • We’ll know not to trust OLX landlords.
  • Never hand over money until we check everything is working how it should be.
  • And to try and plan for the unexpected.

These problems have tested our relationship but ultimately made us stronger. Soon we’ll continue our travels; first to Poland then onwards to England and Spain. We’re looking forward to spending the winter somewhere warmer.

The Roshen multimedia fountain

The Roshen multimedia fountain

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