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Bulgarian fun

Our cousin Kate is such an awesome person and we loved playing with her. She has a very cool bedroom with a few gym equipment things and she is studying to be a dentist.

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She’s 20 years old and has so many nail polishes. She painted our nails – she can do lots of colours – almost three – on one nail – that’s what I had done on my toes. It looked really cool. She can even do flowers with her dentist tools. There is a light switch attached to her bed so she could read at night. She has a huge telly in her room and lots of soft toys that we liked to play with. We hung out there for ages. Kate’s parents are Rene and Mitko they drove us places like the park and the centre and went to Kate’s favourite ice cream place.

Mitko and Rene were awesome cooks and we loved having dinner there.

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We loved playing at this ‘cool as’ pool – It had water fountains and everything a pool could need. We liked diving under the water fall. I loved the water slide – I pretended to be six so I could play on it because there was a sign saying ‘6 years old and under’. You can basically do anything at this pool. We played at the playground, there’s a building there that we discovered there was not just a window but also a table so you could play shops. I escaped from the playground without the little kids seeing me and went to the big deep pool where the others were and I ducked down and surprised the little kids when they came to tell mum they had lost me (Kalika).

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We practised our diving and even Zoi and Emilio swam in the big pool. We taught Baba to do some diving tips like torpedoes and somersaults.
By Calippo (Kiki)

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Cousins, pools and fun in Bulgaria

(Note – we are just learning how to do tiled mosaic photo displays with captions so the pool photos below will hopefully have some captions)

In Bulgaria we played with our cousin Kate who is 20 years old. We love her.

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She is awesome because she played with us and spent lots of time with us. She can even do the girls’ finger and toe nails with awesome pictures on them.

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She is studying to be a dentist at university. She is Rene and Mitko’s child – Rene is my Baba’s first cousin. Their apartment is amazing – they are really good cooks – every meal we had at their place both had salami and lots of other really healthy and yummy food like bean soup and pasta and ‘terrator’ which is a cold yoghurt soup.

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Their main television was an awesome and amazing one that wasn’t just an ordinary plasma TV but a 3D TV that had special 3D glasses.

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We stayed at our great-grandma – Baba Angelina’s (Baba means grandma in Bulgarian) apartment where she lived before she died. She actually lived there from 1960.

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It was very comfortable – the beds were easy to sleep in and us kids all slept in one room which used to be Baba Angelina’s bedroom.

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Cooking was a bit hard cause there was just a small electric hot plate in the outside balcony (so it was difficult to make our favourite brekky which is eggs) but we managed ok and have been eating lots of cucumbers and ‘banitsa’ which is like a cheese pie with yummy pastry.

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At Baba Angelina’s apartment building there was no lift so we had to climb up six long flights of stairs. When Baba Angelina was alive she had to do that everyday which would’ve been hard when she was old. We did it everyday a few times as well.
There was a playground on one side of the apartment building and a cafe that was a also a petrol station on the other side. We went to the cafe often cause it had good food, plenty of shade and a playground for the kids.

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There was a very awesome pool as well – we went there three times and it was cheaper in the morning than in the afternoon. It was super dooper looper hot so we loved going there to play. There were five or six pools and one of them had a bar in the actual pool. We got Mohitos cause they were refreshing and cold. They have soda water, lots of lime and mint and ice.


Every day for lunch we went to our aunt Mirka’s place (Rene’s mum). She is an excellent cook. My favourite meal was ‘potato gratin’ which was like baked potatoes with lots of cheese. We all had third or fourth helpings. Her apartment was about 500m from Baba Angleina’s place so not too far but long enough when it was really hot.

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We also went to see aunt Ketsa (my dad’s other aunty) and her two boys Gocho and Kotse. They made some amazing ice-cream with topping and fruit. We went there for afternoon tea and there was so much food – the ice cream, and cake and juice and other sweets as well……and we were allowed to have one glass of Fanta or Sprite. They also gave us presents and I got a special mini treasure chest.

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We were really full from all the food but then they took us out for dinner at a restraunt. It was walking distance from their apartment and we had a big plate of onion rings, chips and lots of meat that was grilled. It was absolutely delicious. Baba and mum had mushrooms.

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One day with Kate, Rene and Mitko we went bowling which was really fun cause we got to go with our cousins. Zoi won with a couple of strikes but she got to use the big metal thing that you put in the middle to roll the ball down.

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After bowling we went out to a Restraunt near their house where we had more meat and lots of different types of potatoes or different shapes and cooking really.

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It was very yummy. We really miss them – they were really awesome cousins and can’t wait to see them again.
In Bulgaria some of the apartment buildings looked quite old but not many people live in houses.

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The centre of the city had lots of old beautiful buildings and a very big park that had lots of shade and a playground. The playgrounds have lots of gym equipment cause people don’t have enough room to put it in their apartments. There are things like, bicycles, chin up machines and lots of other fun things.

By Tobes

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My relationship with Bulgaria…….

It’s amazing being in Bulgaria again and especially staying in my grandparents old apartment which isn’t rented out at the moment. I first came to stay in this apartment in 1980 when I was 10 yrs old. It was only the second time my dad saw his parents since he was two years old and his parents left Greece – more on that story soon.
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Back in 1980 we arrived by train from Greece and I distinctly remember my aunt Mirka running up and down the station looking for us but she didn’t recognise my dad till the platform was almost empty – it was the first time they had ever met. Well I have created quite a strong bond with my bulgarian family ever since and this is my 9th visit to Bulgaria to visit them.

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Bulgaria was such a different place in 1980. It took so long to get a visa to visit Communist Bulgaria then, every single bag was opened at the border and my dad had smokes to bribe the guards. We even had to go to the local police station every day to be registered. That got a bit tiring after a couple of weeks. I remember bringing over about a suitcase full of food – Greek olives, feta, cheddar cheese, biscuits, spaghetti, etc. these things were so hard or impossible to get in those days. Bananas and many other fruits were totally unavailable.
There was a shop on the main road of my grandparents apartment and I remember my grandad had some coupons to get salami and cheese which you could get now and then. We waited in line for about 2 hours – though I didn’t mind cause my grandad (George Miliankos) was such a good storyteller. I just loved being with him.

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Sadly I didn’t see him again after this trip when I was 10 years old. He died of a heart condition in 1986. On his death bed he told my grandma that the happiest time of his life was the 6 months he spent in Australia in 1975 – I was five then and I have so many fond memories of my grandad. He would love to walk and even though we had lived in our Northcote house for a year my parents were busy with work and then a new baby to ever really explore, though my grandad and I (I used to call him Dedo Georgi) would walk lots and we discovered so many new parks and Merri creek and lovely buildings. He would often tell me stories of Bulgaria and Uzbekistan (where they lived from 1948 -1960) and when the stories ran out he would make up stories of the people inside the buildings we saw. We would climb trees and bring home nests hoping the birds would follow (oops!). He was easily one of the most influential people in my life. So calm and centred and loved his family.
My grandma on the other hand was quite different – very feisty and passionate and would laugh and cry in the one sentence. I sort of consider this her apartment as I visited here so many times after my grandad had died.

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One of my most distinct memories is standing on this exact balcony – and she said to me – I’m not going to buy any new pants for you unless they have elastic cause you are getting too fat. I can still remember the position I was standing and what I was wearing as she said that. She meant well and did buy me some nice trousers that I loved despite the weight issue.

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This apartment is on the sixth floor and hasn’t had a working lift since way before 1980. It has always been a struggle for many people to get up to the apartment and I remember that in my grandma’s last years of life she hardly went out cause it was too hard to get back up.
I think I owe it to my grandma to write a bit of a story or an obituary if you like.
She was born in 1920 in northern Greece and died in 2006 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She was a staunch communist and one of the happiest photos I remember of her is one where she is wearing her communist medals.
She knew my grandad all her life as they grew up in the same village barely 100 metres from each others’ house. They married quite young and had their first child – my aunt Ketsa – in 1941. They both came from large families and their lives consisted of looking after the animals that they ate and got milk from and also working in the fields around the village to produce crops to sell and to feed the animals. My dad was born in 1946. However this was a time of great change in Greece (I have collected many stories from my grandma (I called her Baba Angelina) that I have on several tapes and I intend to write a book about it one day – though a short version follows).

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Greece was swept by civil war in the north where the communists were fighting the fascists (my grandma would love to use the term ‘fascists’ with a derogatory snarl).

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On a particular day in 1948 my grandad was in jail and my grandma was with other communist forces on a mountain near our village called ‘Vichi’.

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To cut a long story short, the fascists got the upper hand in this fight and 10,000 Communist Greeks retreated to the other side of the mountain into Albania. The war was ending by this stage and they couldn’t come back to Greece – they were stuck in Albania – my grandad was able to join his wife there. All the while my dad, a 2 year old toddler was being looked after by his paternal grandmother and aunt whose husband died in the war leaving her a 22 year old widow with a daughter. They lived in this strong stone house in our village – Kato Ydrousa.

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During this time there was also a policy called ‘Child-Gathering’ where the children of communists would be put into trucks and taken across the border and put into orphanages in Yugoslavia.

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When the soldiers came to the house they took my 7 year old aunt Ketsa but I guess they were in a hurry cause they missed my dad who was hidden by his grandma under a pile of of thick blankets. He was two at the time and remained in the village and didn’t see his parents again till he was thirty – at the airport in Melbourne, Australia.
Well in the mean time, there was nothing that poor Albania could do with 10,000 Greek refugees, so Stalin, being the nice person that he was! sent a disguised Norwegian sheep ship to Albania to pick them up, they sailed through Greek waters and into the Black Sea. When they were in the Bosphorus in Istanbul they were told not to even cough as they waited the two hours for the ship to clear customs and to get to the safety of the Communist friendly Black Sea.

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They had been under the deck of the ship with animals for about a week by this stage so you can imagine the stench!
Anyway they eventually got to the Ukrainian coast where they were apparently given clothes and food and money and transported to Moscow from where Stalin would send them all over Central Asia where there was so much work. My grandparents were sent to Uzbekistan where they lived till 1960.

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My grandma was eventually a foreman in a dress making company (she has always been a leader rather than a follower – I remember my maternal grandma – ‘Mae’ – telling me that she was scared of her as they were growing up), my grandad worked on the roads – getting them sealed all over Tashkent.

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They had had two children but neither was with them so they eventually had another one – my aunt Mirka in 1951. Then a few years later the Red Cross had matched my aunt Ketsa with her parents and sent her to Uzbekistan. She was reunited with her parents and her young sister after about 7 years in an orphanage, she was 14 years old. Such a lost childhood for her.

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My grandparents would write my dad letters though he would often just put them in the fire and say ‘No, they left me’. They craved to be reunited with their son so they made plans to emigrate to Bulgaria which was closer to Greece – coming back to Greece wasn’t an option in this Cold War period. The plan was to move to Bulgaria (they chose Plovdiv – the second largest city as they had friends who could help them) and then make the paperwork for my dad to come. By the time this had got sorted he was about 15 years old and his grandma just wouldn’t let him go. She had raised him, he was meant to look after her into old age and of course she loved him – she didn’t want to lose that – except for the daughter she lived with all her other children were repatriated to other communist countries. My dad and his cousin Menka were her life. Therefore, my dad continued to live in Greece, eventually went to the army, asked my maternal grandad if he could marry my mum (their houses were diagonally opposite all their lives), they married and nine months later I was born.

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My grandma says that she had a headache ever since 1969 when she missed her son’s wedding. Apparently this headache and the ongoing video footage of her life didn’t leave her till she died.
So, my dad moved to Australia -to live with his uncle George, Aunty Nada and cousins Meri, Lorraine and Simon – when I was one year old leaving a pregnant wife and child, in search of work. My mum gave birth to a daughter – Angelina – named after my grandma – though my dad never met her as she died at the age of 5 mths of pneumonia. Two and a half years later my mum and I followed (1973) and then in 1975 after my sister was born my Dedo Georgi and Baba Angelina from Bulgaria came to stay for 6 months. I still remember the tears that flowed at Tullamarine airport when they first saw their son since he was 2 years old.
The last few times I visited by grandma she became increasingly insular – wouldn’t go out much and lived on quite little money. She didn’t enjoy the fall of Communism. The pittance that they were given for a pension post communism only allowed her to eat Yoghurt and bread in the winter otherwise she would turn off her heating and wear six or more layers to stay warm. When I saw her in 1993 she hadn’t been to a dentist since 1990 or couldn’t afford all the medicines she needed. This was all provided for her during the communist years. She would spend long hours in her room and wouldn’t let anyone into it – it was a no go zone! It was strange that all my kids slept in her room this visit. My grandma died in 2006.

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On this visit I asked my aunt Ketsa whether she preferred the communist years and she definitely said yes. She explained that yes it may have been hard because they were told what to think and you couldn’t speak up and it was extremely difficult to travel and get visas, but things were so much cheaper and you had access to doctors and dentists and other services that are just too expensive today. Very interesting. All of my young cousins love Bulgaria now and wouldn’t ever want to go back to ‘those days’! I have enjoyed witnessing Bulgaria change over the years and now enjoying seeing my kids create a relationship with it and their cousins and aunts.
By Baba Miliking

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Exiting Moldova – almost without Sandy

I had got so used to the idea of Sandy being almost like an illegal immigrant in Moldova I wasn’t really worried about the border crossing exiting Moldova like I was two days ago when we entered. I thought that really, what could they do apart from fine her or make her pay a bribe? As I mentioned in my last blog we passed through Transnistria where guards normally come onto the train and make you pay anything from 50c best case scenario or all the hard currency you have cause they search you – worst case scenario. On our particular day we stopped in the capital Tiraspol though no one entered the train so eventually we kept going and of course the Moldovans don’t have Border Control cause they don’t recognise Transnistria as being a separate country – all very confusing. You could sense a deep relief from the Moldovans on the train as we crossed the river Dnesitra into Moldova proper. They were home.
Anyway we couldn’t do much about anything on Sunday so we had a great day frolicking around Chisinau.

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We stumbled upon a magic Moroccan Restaurant that had such incredible food and very cold beer – it is so hot now and we are getting further and further south so it can only get hotter. Today (Monday) we sorted out our train ticket to Bucharest (apparently so much cheaper if you buy it on the day of departure).

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We also went to the required Immigration building to get registered since we had no entry stamp. That all happened very easily without fuss and the lady didn’t notice that Australian passports needed a visa.

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I thought we were home and hosed and not needing to worry at all…….until we got to the border.

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The lady who was ‘our customs guard’ was so smiley and friendly and nice and she didn’t ask for any bribes or anything – though she was extremely professional and made it clear that not following protocol was not an option. She came back on the train and explained that Australians need a visa – we just played dumb and said ‘Oh really!’ In a very innocent tone. However then she said “you’ll have to come off the trip and sort out a visa tomorrow and then try to get on tomorrow’s train. Not sure if it was Zoi’s gorgeous little smile or me welling up in tears and explaining that would be extremely hard for the children and I. She asked for any documents that proved she was married to a Greek. Well I pulled out our marriage certificate though that wouldn’t work cause it had to be a Greek issued document. So I pulled out a copy of our Greek ‘status’ document and that wouldn’t work either cause it was in Greek! Eventually she implied for Sandy to come with her -all the while being very polite and friendly also. She even looked exactly like Aurelia – the Portuguese lady in the movie ‘Love Actually’. I thought how could she look like her and also keep Sandy away! So sandy went off while we sat in the train and fretted and watched the jolts and starts of the train being put back together after the wheel gauge change – another fascinating process to watch.

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Anyway sandy was gone for over 45 minutes but it seemed longer than that. The kids really didn’t want to get off at the border and also leave without mummy! However I had resigned myself to meeting up with Sandy in two days in Bulgaria. How bad could it be?
Then the train started to move and I thought that we were even left without our passports which would’ve been really tragic.  Just as I thought that Sandy’s gorgeous face appeared at the door with all the passports and a smile – what a relief! Apparently the four people attending to her situation were all very nice, no one asked for a bribe ( though one guy asked if she ever wants to come to Moldova again – Sandy thinks he was going to let her pass through though the others were going to stick to professional protocol. They also kept asking ‘Can she not stay till tomorrow?’

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Lucky there were five kids and a husband on board waiting! Eventually they came across a file of someone who had a similar situation and in some safes they found some visa papers etc and eventually issued a visa on the spot – highly unusual but obviously also possible since it had been done once before at this post. I was so glad to see her – back in this extremely hot and sweaty train carriage without opening windows in the rooms and only every second window opens in the hall way though you really need the door closed so that it isn’t too bright to for the kids to fall asleep. It was surprising that as we passed the Romanian side of the border and easily passed through the customs check I felt like we were home and safe being in the EU. A bit strange to feel that way in Romania as I grew up being told it was even more backward than Bulgaria and a strong bastion of Stalinist communism! Now it feels like home! Must got to bed as we’ll be in Bucharest in less than seven hours. Good night!

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This is a picture of the tired kids at 6am waiting to arrive into Bucharest.
By Christos

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Couch-Surfing

4th August

Couch-surfing, which has become a bit if a new phenomenon, is such an amazing thing to be involved in.

The values statement of Couchsurfing:

‘We envisage a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates and global community.’

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Last night we were picked up by Nikolai from the train station in Chisinau, Moldova after our 5 hour journey from Odessa. We didn’t know that they already had 4 other people staying…….and they accepted a family of seven!

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So there’s a girl from Armenia called Tate and a girl from Portugal – they’re both doing volunteer work in Romania. Today they are leaving to hitchhike into Odessa.

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Also there’s a young couple from Germany, Linda and Marselle, who are on a month or so holiday in Eastern Europe – hitch hiking and using buses. I remember very fondly of my hitch-hiking days – in the early 1990s – hitched twice to Perth & back and also from London to Ireland and back to Greece. It’s quite a liberating and awesome experience……..and of course very cheap – but somehow I don’t think it will work with the kids so sadly my hitch hiking days are over.
Nikolai and his wife Vita are Transnistrians living and working in Moldova.

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They are also both highly artistic with some incredible art they are both doing – painting and designing (which is Nikolai’s job) and also Vita makes incredible jewellery. They were married last year in August and judging by the photos they showed us, they had an awesome wedding – and yes I can hear our friend Sasha cringe – he wore a white suit, and it looked fabulous! it was really good of them to accept us because on the first night there were 13 people in their small two bedroom apartment. It was pretty squeezy but worked fine. We were given their bedroom with a double bed, just enough room for sleepmats on either side and one at the end of the bed, four of us on the double bed. We slept surprisingly well!

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They were such a fun and calm couple – a very positive experience for our virgin Couchsurfing place.

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Odessa and Mysterious Transnistria

My impressions of the Ukraine – is that the water in the Black Sea is a bit dirty and slimy because of all the seaweed. We still had fun in it though. We tried to look up why it is called the Black Sea and we think the best reason was because he Greeks named it and black was a colour that meant north and red was a colour that meant south so they called the sea to the north of Greece the Black sea and the sea to the south the Red Sea.

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It was so nice to be at a beach again. We went to the beach four times in four days. We also went to a very good Italian pizza shop which was not far from where we stayed. We had great healthy pizza and had awesome garlic potatoes and excellent desserts. We stayed in an apartment of a woman called Irina and her daughter called Sasha.

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They were really nice because I don’t think they have ever had five kids in their little apartment and they were happy for us to stay there. They had their their home apartment upstairs. This time we couldn’t find a SERVAS person to stay with so baba and I found this one in http://www.airbnb.com but it was pretty cheap.

Mummy loved the colourful money of Ukraine. She normally looks after all the money supply. In Ukraine it was so awesome that she wanted to take a photo of it.

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TRANSDNEISTRIA (or Transistria in English)
On the train to Moldova from Odessa we had to pass threw a country that is not a full country!!!

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It is called Transnistria. It’s only recognised by Russia and they are still discussing between Moldova and Russia to see if they can make it a full country.

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They declared independence in 1992 after the Soviet Union ended, there was a war for 5 months but then they have been trying to talk about it ever since. Moldova doesn’t want to let it go. It is separated by a river called Dneistria and that is why they call it Transdneistria – because trans means across from or over – so over the river Dneistria. It is a long skinny country.

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My first impression was that it looked a bit poor. Baba said I had to do a little bit of research on the Internet before I could add Transnistria to the number of countries I’ve been to. The soil is apparently very very rich and they grow lots of things. The capital is Tiraspol.

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Transnistria is great – I can’t wait for it to be a real country!!!

By Tobes

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Yasi’s Odessa

In Odessa (Ukraine) the first day we arrived, the lady who’s place that we were staying at had a daughter called Sasha, and she took us around the town a bit. She took us around the local area and down to the beach.

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When we were just about to leave Emilio fell into the Black Sea. But the sea is not black. He did water treading very well. But he was screaming because it was deep where he fell in from the jetty. The jetty wasn’t very high so mum put her hand in and pulled him out.

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He got some cuts and scratches from the shells stuck to the jetty wall on his hands and ankles.

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That night we had pizza at an Italian Restraunt around the front of the building from where we were staying.

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The next day after skypeing our class and our friends the VBs, we spent the day at the beach. There were jelly fish in the water. Toby picked one up, they were not poisonous. Zoi and I played chasey in the water and that was really fun. The water was pretty cold.

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We were jumping over the bars of the pier and looking for jelly fish. At the end of the pier there was a logn strip of concrete where people walk along, mum, Emilio, Kalika and Toby walked along it.

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When we were walking home we stopped for dinner at a French Restraunt. It was quality food and worth the money but it was also pretty cheap. The onion soup was delicious – it had onion and baked cheese on top. We also had mushroom soup and pasta with delicious vegies and cream and some mussels.
We went to visit a place called Arcadia which is a very touristy area of Odessa. It had a beach with so many people.

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We hired two beds to sit on had a lovely day in the sun. So many people at the beach. We had a delicious drink called mohitos (my baba said to say it was non-alcoholic) – it had lime and mint and lots of ice.
The last day in Odessa we had to go back to the beach but before that we had a walk in the centre and walked up these famous stairs that let you look over the port. There was a statue of Catherine the great.

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Irina and her daughter Saha took us to the train station.

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The train was a sitting up train. We watched some movies. It was only 5 hours train. It was very hot on the train.

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We had rolls with cucumbers and tomatoes. We normally have noodles for dinner on trains but we didn’t thinks here would be hot water since it was a sit up train.
There’s a country called Transnistria and we went through it. Sometimes the guards come on the trains and ask for money for passing through their country which is not really a country yet cause Moldova won’t let it go.

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However the guards didn’t come on to our train. We were relieved.
By Yasi