Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Greetings from Central America!

Greetings from Central America! We're still on the road for a couple more weeks, but I thought I'd share a few impressions from the first week of our travels.

Central America, you're a whole new ballgame for these Eastern European fanatics. You're hot and humid and leave us dripping in sweat and exhausted from the heat.

You're full of life and adventure. Your rainforests and oceans are breathtaking and your colorful houses fill the streets with life.

Your people are some of the friendliest and helpful I have ever met. From the moment we left the airport some cheerful locals helped us to the bus and showed us the way. To the taxi driver who waited for us all afternoon in Panama City. From the hostel staff who made us feel like family to the bus drivers who always make sure we get off at the correct spot. And the sweet moment when a tiny sleepy little schoolboy falls asleep on your lap on the bus.

Here's to just as many amazing moments in the next leg of our trip!

Panama City, Panama

Bocas del Toro, Panama-Bambuta Lodge

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Thursday, September 3, 2015

From Chisinau to Odessa

In the course of our drive from the airport to the hotel, our taxi driver came to learn that we were planning to head to Odessa the next day. In true taxi driver fashion, he offered to drive us and save us the trouble and discomfort of going by bus. Of course, it would be a bit more expensive, but with the promise to make a stop at a winery along the way and the luxury of air conditioning and a much quicker border crossing, we told him we'd think about it and give him a call in the evening. 

In the end we agreed on a pick-up time and a price and were able to sleep in and enjoy breakfast at the hotel before heading out of town with our new taxi driver friend. 

Just outside of the city he made a quick roadside stop and came back with grapes for us all to enjoy on during the journey.

About halfway through the trip we also made our promised stop at the winery, which was absolutely beautiful. A wedding happened to be taking place there as well and he talked the bride into letting us peek our heads in for a little bit.

Vineyards as far as the eye can see

Beautiful hall where we enjoyed a glass of wine

Purcari Winery

One of a few small ponds on the property

By the time we got to the Ukrainian border we were relieved to see absolutely no line and got our passports stamped and were on our way in no time at all. 

Our hotel in Odessa was as in the center of the city as you could possibly get and the only thing I could even think to complain about is the unpredictable elevator doors, but everything else was absolutely ideal!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the city until we found ourselves at the beach, where the moonlight guided us along the shore with sand between our toes and waves splashing our legs and feet.  After a quick beer back in the city we were ready to call it a night, knowing that we had an extra early morning and a big adventure ahead of us the next day. 

Ukraine-Moldova Border

First signs of Odessa

Odessa Opera House

Inside of the old shopping passage 

In front of the Opera

Fountains, fountains everywhere!

Happy Independence Day Moldova

Вы на праздник приехали? Our taxi driver asks as we approach our hotel. From the confused looks on our faces he quickly realized that we didn't have a clue which holiday he meant. What, of course, was a bit embarrassing for us since it happened to be День Независимости (Independence Day). Excited about the festivities in the city, we had just a short stop at our very lovely hotel before heading out to check it all out.

Landing in Chisinau 
Stage on the main square
Giant flag
Chisinau Radler!
This was one of several giant chess sets I saw in the city
August 27th - Independence Day
Entrance to a park not far from the central square
This little kitty thought that she was also invited to dinner

Our first stop of the day was on the city's central square where the festivities had begun with folk music and dancing.  We discovered that such a thing as a Chisinau Radler exists and each of us drank one. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening exploring Chisinau by foot, as the city center is not terribly big. 

We also discovered a nearby lake and walked through the central market. 

After a shower and a couple of hours of recuperating at the hotel, we headed out for a huge and delicious dinner of traditional Moldavian food at a restaurant from where we could catch a glimpse of the 10 PM fireworks over the trees.  

We then spent a few more hours taking in the festive atmosphere on the main square before getting a beer at a small outdoor bar and heading back to the hotel for a rather late bedtime. 

I'm sure that there are many hidden treasures in Chisinau which could make it worthy of more than a day's stay, but given the relatively small city center and the fact that our visit happened to coincide with the national independence day, I think one day in Chisinau was just enough.