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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Bucharest Romania: My New Friend & Dracula!

Greetings From Bucharest Romania! (13-21 Aug 2017)

I left on a train from Iasi for Bucharest, looking forward to Meet and train at the Absoluto BJJ HQ that Mihai talked so much about, little did I know how much plans would change in the coming days. The train route I was taking involved a transfer at one point, at a station in the middle of nowhere where no one spoke English and there was no wifi. I'm glad I had my ticket printed to show to people so they could at least just point to the platform. I had over an hour to wait for the next train, even after all the time it took to figure out which platform it was arriving on. The train I was connecting to was quite late so I was worried I had missed it, maybe I was on the wrong platform, maybe the previous train was the one I should have boarded, not until I was assured by a conductor that I was on the right train did I finally relax.

It was evening by the time I arrived in Bucharest, I was tired and starting not to feel too well. At first I decided to take a taxi rather than figure out the transit system. I walked outside to the one of the waiting taxis and asked how much to get to the the hostel I was staying at, which wasn't that far. I was told an outrageous price so I asked if he would put on the meter as I knew it be would no more than half the price he asked. He refused, telling me it would the same and then telling me it doesn't work, so I told him he's crazy to ask that much and went to the next taxi who also asked for an outrageous price. When I asked him to run the meter instead he told me "Meter? No, it's Sunday, and in the evening, and it's doesn't work well.." because apparently all the meters don't work well when it's a Sunday evening. I had seen on Google maps on my phone that there was a train station nearby, so I said loud enough so other people exiting the train station could hear me "That's a stupid price, I can take the train for way less" and walked off toward the subway. I got to the hostel easy enough and settled in, ready to sleep and plan out my visit in Bucharest. 

In the center of Bucharest there is a huge water fountain, a lot of it was down in repair.

Staying In Bucharest And Taking A Break

I woke up still not feeling well and decided, with the BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp around the corner, which would be my first camp attending, I would skip training and relax. Hopefully I would feel better for the camp I was so excited for and just take in the sites in Bucharest. I spent some time looking online at the sights and monuments in Bucharest and decide on which ones to see and film and take pictures of, over my time visiting Bucharest I got to see a lot of the city, which has a lot to see.

The estate of Vlad III in Bucharest, it's a museum now.

The Rebirth Memorial, remembering the war.

Unfortunately my memory card on my phone glitched during this trip and I lost most of the pictures, luckily the videos I took were all intact and I was able to make this video. If the video doesn't load you can head to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel and watch it and all my over videos there. Share some love and like, share, comment or subscribe to the channel!

You can also see what ever pictures I managed to save from this trip on my Flickr Account.

Meeting Leonie

During my stay at the hostel in Bucharest I met Leonie, a German woman on vacation checking out Romania. We went out for food one day and wandered about taking photos of the city, I had a picture (that I lost) of the top of a building that was riddled with stray artillery fire from the war. It was cool wandering with Leonie as she would pick out little details from buildings like that, we would guess what the old buildings are before reading their signs, or talk about what they might have been before. Many good times were had hanging out with her so when she mentioned she was off to Brasov to see Transylvania and Castle Bran, Dracula's castle, and asked if I wanted to come along I couldn't refuse. Throughout the trip Leonie had her camera with her taking all sorts of great photos, you can see her blog on the vacation and all her awesome photos from our adventures HERE. I'm so glad I met her at the hostel as I probably would have just sat there watching Netflix otherwise, thanks for the good times Leonie, until we meet again!

I caught this candid of Leonie as we were wandering through some popular narrow alley in Brasov, for some reason I really like it.

Adventures In Brasov

With the new plans to head to Brasov we headed out to the train station in the morning and picked up tickets for the next train that wouldn't be for some time. After grabbing a coffee and waiting we decided to head to the platform we thought we were informed to wait at. All the boards were in Romanian and neither one of us could read what they said so we were going off of the broken English instructions from the ticket desk. We walked out and sat down and waited, and waited. Other trains came and went and finally after about 30 minutes past when our train was supposed to be in Leonie went to go find out what was up. She came back in hurry to tell me we had missed our train that was on another platform and if we hurry we can exchange for the next one that is coming soon. We walked back to the ticket desk to see there was a big line up, it took forever to get to the front, so much so that when we finally got out tickets exchanged we had to run back to the platforms in order to catch our train. It's funny now picturing us running "Is that our train?!" "Platform 6, right?" "Wait for us!!" We hopped on just in time found a seat and sat down, each taking a big sigh to finally be on our way to Brasov. After about 5 minutes of us being on the train now out of Bucharest Leonie asked "Did you read the sign on the train? Are we on the right one?" Which then led to us anxiously waiting for another 10 minutes for the conductor to come by and check out tickets. We were in fact on the train and all was good.

Part of the wall that surrounded Brasov, probably protecting it from werewolves.

Such a stereotypical Transylvania building, it looks just like the hotel in Hotel Transylvania.

We were staying in different hostels since I booked mine last minute but both were walking distance from the train station. Leonie's was closer so I walked her there and we agreed to meet later, in an hour or so time from then, and get some exploring in while the sun was still up. Neither one of us had data on our phones so we would have to use the wifi at our hostels, once Leonie sent me the message she was leaving to meet me there was no way to for me to tell her if there were last minute set backs, or for her if she got lost on the way. Luckily Brasov isn't very big and the meeting area, in the main street tourist area, was pretty straight forward, and also I tend to stand out, so we were able to meet up easily enough. Navigating around the town on the other hand was a bit of pain at times especially when we were trying to find a path up to the fortress or use the buses, but we managed and had a great time wandering the town and checking out all the old buildings. Leonie had a thick Romania tourist guide book so we had all sorts of information about the area at our fingertips, I shot us walking around and sight seeing and with the added information to what were looking at it gave a new depth to appreciating the old architecture and history of Brasov and Bran. As I said earlier my phone glitched and I lost all the pictures of the area but at least Leonie has a great collection of photos on her blog of our adventures, which you can see HERE. There is also the video I put together below you can watch.   

If the video doesn't load, or if you want to watch my other videos, head over to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel and check the out there. While you're there, please show some love and like, share, comment or even subscribe.
Let's Go See Dracula!

I was looking forward to seeing Dracula's Castle, even though I knew it was nothing like the movies and Vlad didn't actually live there. It's a monument to a source of a piece of classic literature as well as a historic symbol to one of the most interesting and influential people in Eastern European history. Vlad III (The Impaler) seems like such a fictional character and with his life being the source material for Bram Stoker's Dracula, it's hard to distinguish fact from fiction. To be honest I didn't read too much of the information posted in each room explaining and separating the two as I didn't want to ruin the illusion I've had since childhood. In my mind I walked through a castle of a real life vampire that Van Helsing defeated. The castle itself, in actuality not near as huge as described in the novel, was the setting for 'Dracula' so being there and walking through it as I learned more about it's connection to the real Vlad III was a great experience. I wonder what the townsfolk thought of this place back in the day, maybe they had their own stories of what went on in that place they would tell among each other before Bram Stoker's novel swept the world.

Hanging out at Dracula's castle, the only good shot I managed to save.

New patch to the collection, it's not a gym but it gets a pass.

The next day after Leonie and I got to Brasov and did some evening exploring started early. We met up and made our way to the bus station that would take us down to Bran, it was a bit difficult getting there at first as we had to use a city bus to get across the town to the station and the bus routes are a bit confusing. We made it with only having to ask the locals a few times for reassurance that we were going the right way and on the right bus. Besides that we got to castle Bran without too much of an adventure. When the bus pulled up to the castle we could see the clearing in front was busy. There's a big market selling all kinds of shirts and souvenirs and snacks (even a haunted house!) at the base of the property that the line to the castle goes through. We walked around all the stalls and it was hard not to buy anything, especially a shirt, but somehow I held out and settled later on buying a Castle Bran patch to add to my collection. The castle tour itself was interesting, with some great views of the area from the top, but way too packed with other tourists. There were was really interesting rooms, like the room explaining the fact and fiction of Vlad III and the room with his old armour and weapons and most well known outfits, but there were so many people around that there were times where we had to wait forever to get a decent picture or wait a long time just to move to the next room or be able to read a sign. I'm glad I went with Leonie and got to see this place and I would absolutely love to go to their Halloween party, but I do think they need to monitor the amount of people they allow in at a time. I put together a video of the castle tour that you can see below or over on the Pandas' Odyssey YouTube Channel.   

If you're a fan of the music I use in my videos it's from my brother's band Phantom, give them a listen and a follow or grab their music at their Facebook Page if you like.

After such an awesome time exploring with a new friend it was time to head back to Bucharest, I had only come up to stay 2 nights, time enough to explore with Leonie. I had to head back and get my things ready, I was about to head off back to Heidelberg Germany for my very first BJJ Globetrotters Camp, which I wrote about in my 'Seminars & Camps' post. If you haven't read it before be sure to check it out, I did an interview with Christian Graugart about the camps and Globetrotters organization as well as my take on the camps and how awesome they are. My next article takes place after the camp when I returned to traveling around Eastern Europe, starting at Sofia Bulgaria.

Until next time,
see you on the mats!

Sign up to the Panda's Odyssey Patreon Account.
Buy Panda's Odyssey Patches at The Gi Hive.
Buy a shirt at Panda's Jiu-Jitsu Store.
Follow me and other traveling Jiu-Jitsueros at the BJJ Globetrotters blog section.
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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Chisinau, Moldova & Iasi Romania: Adventures in Eastern Europe

Greetings From Chisinau Moldova & Iasi Romania! (1-6, & 6-13 August 2017)

Hello! I decided to merge the next two spots I visited because my visit to Chisinau isn't enough to fill one article on it's own and in these two spots I decided to start making new videos, which I've put out since but will be posting again here.

I had some interesting rides going to both places. First it was heading off to Moldova on a bus. Bogdan brought me to the bus station and found the proper bus for me. The buses were more like vans than a real bus and they weren't properly labeled either, so finding the right one is a bit of a task. Bogdan talked to a guy standing by the bus, smoking and not looking too interested in the whole affair. Afterwards Bogdan then says to me, 'This is the bus, they've changed the schedule but they'll take you, just get in'. And in 5 minutes we were off to Odesa, even though I'm sure the bus wasn't scheduled to leave for another 20 minutes. It was smooth trip to Odesa but from there on it changed and became more interesting. I got off the 'bus' and headed into the restaurant in the station, the bus station was set up as a market with different stalls for souvenirs or magazines and snacks at every parking bay outside and a restaurant and different stores inside. The restaurant had wifi and I had 2 hrs to wait until my next 'bus' so I ordered some food and waited and tried using the slow but free internet.

When it came to leaving on the next bus I walked out looking for it, checking each and every parking bay sign. I walked around twice and nowhere did I find anything saying 'Chisinau' so I asked around and although none of the stall operators seemed to speak English I had a copy of the ticket and would show them it, which usually gained a vague finger point or head shake. Finally I ended back at the first small bus I rode in on so I asked the unenthusiastic drivers who were from what I could tell just leaning against the bus and chain smoking the entire time since we got into the station. The first one read my ticket and asked the second a question, then came back with a nod and a number written on some paper. Apparently they would be driving me all the way to Chisinau, and also apparently I needed to pay them for my backpack for the second leg. I'm sure it was a shakedown but it was a pretty cheap one. So I paid them and got back onto the shady short bus and we were off to the border.

Crossing a border in Eastern Europe in a little short bus with an eclectic bunch riding it was particularly an interesting experience. On the way to the border people were flagging down the bus to get a ride along the way, most of them getting off later on down the road but a few stayed. At one point I had an older man sit down next to me and try talking to me, I think in Ukrainian. I tried over and over to tell him I did not understand but that didn't seem to deter him to continue mumbling on to me until he got off 15 minutes later. The wife of one of the drivers, who was along for the ride, thought the whole thing was funny as I looked helplessly over to her. When we got closer to the border I noticed all kinds of stalls and wagons set up selling melons. The entire trip it was nothing but fields and fields of sunflowers and then suddenly it was all melons. People were loading up on them too, packing their entire car trunk with them, I'm sure to sell to what ever town they're going to. I think maybe that was in part why crossing the border took so long, they had to search the bus and our luggage as well as checking all our passports. It was a bit of a nerve racking experience, being asked to park over beside the border security and customs buildings and waiting for what seemed like an hour before we could leave. When we did leave it was quick, the border officer came and gave them some papers and the bus driver wasted no time getting the bus going. The thing is we still hadn't gotten our passports back, so the bus was flying down the dirt road and I was getting a bit nervous thinking maybe they forgot. Finally the driver's wife started handing the passports back and everything was ok, but the thought of losing it made my heart jump. 

I didn't get a picture of all the melon stands but here's one of the many fields of sunflowers I passed.

The rest of the trip was ok, I ended having a much longer walk to the hostel then I expected but no real adventures. As for my train from Chisinau to Iasi there were a few adventures but none that involved me, it was more a ride where I experienced the adventures happening around me. First was the father and son duo I watched board at one point and hop around seats during the travel. The father seemed to time his bathroom breaks perfectly when the conductors would be walking by. Finally at one point he was stopped and after a few words ended up paying the staff for what I figure are tickets that he and his son didn't have. The son must've said something that clued the staff member, maybe the father was trying to get a cheaper ticket for a shorter ride than we were intending, whatever it was after the conductor walked away the father was quite upset with his son. Luckily the father decided sitting away from his son was the best solution as myself and few others were watching him very closing and ready to act if the situation needed it. It would not have ended well for him, . 

The second adventure I watched unfold happened as we crossed into Romania and were close to the Iasi train station. The train staff were very tight for checking proper documentation, each one that passed by asked to see passport and proper paperwork if needed and once we crossed into Romania a customs guard came on board to check the papers himself and also check luggage. The first conductor to come by me asked for my passport, saw the cover with the Canadian crest and 'Canadian Passport' printed on it, looked at me and said "Canadian? Good" and walked off without ever looking at it. The next two to come by checked everyone else and just looked at me and nodded. When the customs guard came by after opening and checking everyone's bag in great detail he just looked at mine, saw the Canadian patches, "Those are yours, Canadian? OK, very good." and walked off without even checking anything. Meanwhile he caught someone for having 3 cigarette packs too many and was forced to get rid of them. A conductor helped him out by buying them off him, I'm sure at a discounted rate too but the only other option was throwing them away or paying a fine. We got into the Iasi train station without anymore adventures with my host Mihai was waiting for me, he brought me to his place to drop off my gear and get settled in and ready for my time in Iasi.   

And with that my adventures getting from one place to the next were over but made for interesting transit stories to share with you. In both cases I made it to where I was staying safe and sound, settled in and was ready to explore and train in a new city. 

Walking Around Chisinau

Chisinau isn't very big, there are things to go do and see outside the downtown core but not a lot, my time there was limited and I didn't quite learn the bus system so I didn't go out on an adventure to any of them. I did walk around the city area close to me and take some pictures of the park and some interesting buildings.

I don't know what this building is but it looks like a place super heroes would have as a base.

The Capitoline Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, I saw this statue all over Eastern Europe.

I also played around with trying a new video idea. I filmed as I walked around Chisinau and stopped off at a few points to talk about the sights. My idea is to give a more in depth look at where I'm visiting and although I haven't been able to do this at all the places I've been to, or manage to edit all the footage I have taken yet, I do have a collection of videos of sight seeing different parts of the world, which is pretty cool.  So even know I've posted this video when I first made it months ago here it is again. If it doesn't load or if you want to see my other videos you can head over to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel and see it there.

And as always you and can over to see my Flickr Account where I have more photos from this and all my other visits.

Bercut Fight Club 

The only BJJ club that I was able to contact and that anyone in the Globetrotters community talked about in Chisinau was the Bercut Fight Club. Looking back on how I got around, or the lack of, when I stayed in Chisinau it would be interesting figuring out how to visit other clubs, which are more outside of town. The gym is right by the hostel I was staying at so I could just walk there for class and Bercut has a big sign with directions to make it up to the gym in the top floor of the old building, making things really easy. I was getting over some stomach issues from Ukraine so I had to skip some classes and with the schedule I could only make it to one class. Once I got to the top of the old and heavily graffiti-ed staircase I was met with the front desk to the gym where I nice woman showed me where to get changed and where class would be taken place. Bercut has a main room where I gather the other classes like MMA or different exercise classes are held and a room on the side with a matted floor and a weights section where the BJJ classes are held.

I was a bit early so threw on the gi and started to stretch out on the mats while more people started to show up. There was a good amount of people by the class started and the mat space was pretty hot, for me at least, so I had to take a few water breaks and with just getting over my stomach issues I had to sit out a few rolls and just watch the class. Overall the club members and the class was fun and inviting but not a lot of talk, I had a conversation with one guy who told me that not a lot of the people there didn't speak much English so I would have a hard time conversing with anyone. It was still a good time working some guard passing chains and rolling with the few roll I rolled with. I wish I was in better condition to show up to more classes and get to really meet the club, it was a weekend class and from what I was told it was a more casual setup with not as many people as during the week.

I left a bit disappointed in only being able to attend one class and only able to do so much and I felt like I really didn't get to see Moldova. That just gives me a reason to come back to see more and visit Bercut again and maybe make it out to other clubs as well. I left too early, both in the time spent and time of day, it was still dark when I woke up and the staff were still sleeping when I left to catch a taxi to the train station. Until next time Chisinau! 

Walking Around Iasi

After Mihai picked me up at the train station and gave me time to settle in at his place he showed me around the city a we met up with some friends of his for some drinks. During the week though Mihai was busy with work online so after showing me around I was on own for exploring and seeing sights, here's some of the my shots of Iasi.

I also put together a video, this time more in depth, of walking around the city of Iasi. It was my second video so there was still a lot of learning and trying new things. I feel like I've come a long way with my recent filming, once I have time to edit it all and publish it I will of course post it here. In the meantime you can head to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel to see more of my videos.

As always you and can over to see my Flickr Account where I have more photos from this and all my other visits.

Staying With Mihai

I saw Mihai on the BJJ Globetrotters matsurfing map and contacted through e-mail about coming and visiting. We began talking and arranged me coming to visit, with Mihai promising to take of me and show me his home town. I knew nothing of Iasi before talking to him and didn't know what to expect but I'm glad I made the trip to explore another small town away from all the tourist hot spots. Mihai has a nice apartment up high in a building that gives a great view of the town and it's perfectly in the middle of and walking distance to the downtown area and where the club is farther away from the inner town area. I can say without a doubt Mihai lived up his word and looked after me, making sure I had everything I needed. I had to do some shopping, involving picking up new running shoes to replace the old pair I had been wearing since I started this journey back in Canada. Mihai made sure I always knew where I was going and how to get back, going as far as to instruct me how to tell the taxi drivers to get to his place and what the price should be in case they try to over charge me.

Somehow I never got a picture with Miahi, but here's a nice shot of the view from his balcony. 

The few times Mihai and I ventured out together he would tell me all about the town and history of the area, how schooling is in Romania, the long process that the country went though after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the coming of modern malls and brand name stores. The story how and why the Romanian people love Adidas is particularly interesting. I wish we could have had time to talk on camera and do an interview and get half of what he told me about Romania and his club in an interview to share with you, but I guess instead you will have to go and visit him yourself to hear these great stories. Thank you Mihai for such a good time hosting and feeding me, I'm sure we will meet again one day.     

Absoluto BJJ Iasi

There is only one BJJ club in Iasi and Mihai runs it, Absoluto BJJ Iasi, which is an affiliate from the Absoluto BJJ HQ in Bucharest. Mihai has brought together a good group of guys that train regularly with him, they all were welcoming to me and although I didn't get a chance to talk with most of them, they all seemed like good people. Mihai is a purple belt and he studies a lot of online videos to come up with material for class, when I was there they were preparing for a big competition so putting together their game strategy and the importance of take downs was the focus. I had fun drilling and rolling with the guys, Mihai and I would make sure to get in a roll each class and afterwards on the way back to his place I would ask him about some of the students that I rolled with. They all came from different backgrounds, some older with other martial arts experience, some younger in school and really fit and keen to learn. Mihai knew each and every one through and through and it was interesting hearing his take on their techniques and where each was on their training for the next belt.

While I was visiting I picked a GoPro to start shooting my next new idea for videos: training videos. I've only been able to make a few on these and I want to get back to making more as it shows the fun I'm having drilling and rolling with everyone. I set up the camera in the corner shot some classes and then edited the footage and added music to make this video of us training together. Check it out below and if it doesn't load then head over to the Panda's Odyssey YouTube Channel and watch it, and all my other videos, over there.

After a good visit learning about a place I'd never hard of before and making new friends I was off to my next destination: Bucharest! Thanks again Mihai for the good times and looking after me.

Until next time,
see you on the mats!

Sign up to the Panda's Odyssey Patreon Account.
Buy Panda's Odyssey Patches at The Gi Hive.
Buy a shirt at Panda's Jiu-Jitsu Store.
Follow me and other traveling Jiu-Jitsueros at the BJJ Globetrotters blog section.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Check out my full photo albums for each article at my Flickr account.
Add me and follow along on most social media @pandasodyssey

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Kherson, Ukraine: Devotion and Hospitality

Greetings From Kherson Ukraine! (26 July - 1 August 2017)

Kherson Ukraine was not a place I would ever figure of visiting before this trip. I've never heard of the small harbour town and it's quite out of the way. When I was asked where else I was visiting when I was in Kiev I told the guys I was heading to Kherson next and they all asked the same thing, why?  Because the BJJ Globetrotter community was asking to come visit, that's why. I forget where I was, somewhere in Germany I think, and the new Globetrotters article came out featuring some new Matsurfing ads. I always read the articles and look at the new Matsurfing ads to see where there's an offer I could maybe take advantage of and plan out the Odyssey to head that way. As it happens I was just working out the details for eastern Europe at the time and I needed to figure out a stop between Kiev and Chisinau Moldova. Kherson was perfect. I sent off a message to Bogdan and we quickly put it together.

I left Kiev in the afternoon on an overnight train. The majority of people, both on the train and as staff in the train station, didn't speak any English so finding the train and my exact room and seat was a bit awkward. I had my ticket printed out at the hostel so I would have a paper copy to show them and help me out, this was very useful especially when I didn't know how long my phone would hold out on this trip. I got to the station, showed the first staff member I saw my paper and asked "Where's the train to Kherson?" he responded with "Ah, Kherson!" and ushered me to the track and handed me off to two other staff members, one brought me to the proper cart and gave me hand signals on how to find my room. I climbed into the train, which was boiling inside as there were no fans, and with my backpack taking up all of the narrow hallway I slowly and awkwardly made me way to find my seat was already taken.

The sleeping car I was supposed to have a bed in was full with a family of very big women that didn't speak any English. I showed them my ticket and they keep making signs to me to go to another room. I didn't understand what they were saying and tried showing them my ticket and pointing to the seat a few times, only to get a bunch of Ukrainian and shooing me away. I, in true Canadian fashion told them "I sorry" but I don't understand. While standing in hall waiting for a staff member to come by and hopefully sort this situation out I stood listening to the women make fun of me and laugh away repeating and mockingly saying "I'm sorry, oh I'm sorry!" I decided to ignore them. As it happens the room next to where I was supposed to be staying had an elderly couple in it and the husband spoke English. He explained to me that the women had their mother with them and she was supposed to be in the room with him but decided they would take over the room and my spot and that I should take her bed instead. In his opinion I was better off in the car with him and his wife rather than be around the, as he put it "special people". I agreed, not because of how they treated me while trying to figure out seating but because they were sweating away in the sweltering train and all smelling really bad, I couldn't imagine sleeping in that room with them.

The rest of the transit to Kherson was actually quite pleasant. I sat with the elderly couple, whose names I forget and I feel really badly about that, and the husband filled me in on all sorts of history facts and the trains and Ukraine and Russia. One interesting thing he was telling me was that certain old tracks in eastern Ukraine require the train to pull into a station, have the cart taken off the frame and attached to a new frame before continuing on. Apparently the train tracks in Russia are a different dimension than the rest of Europe. I found some more information about the different train track widths but I couldn't find any articles on switching the cars on to different frames. During the entire trip the train would stop at each station for a good half hour as we waited the the train coming in the opposite direction the pass since there was only one track. This meant the only cooling breeze to keep the heat down would stop and it would become a sweltering heat box again. Over night the loud speakers of the train stations would wake me up over and over making these stops really annoying. But it also gave time for the husband to tell me the history of the area, what soviet industry or military buildings used to be around back when he was a kid and what the stop used to be for back then instead of just picking up passengers now. It was quite the educational travel.

In the evening it was tea time and although I brought with me some snacks for the trip it was nothing like the rest of passengers, the elderly couple I was sharing the room with in particular. They pulled out all sorts of biscuits and fruits and other food and set themselves up a meal, of which they offered me a piece of every single thing they pulled out. The biscuits I could not escape, they would not have me declining trying them out, which happened to be half a dozen of each type, tea biscuit, wafer, some sort of wheat cracker, etc. There was a story for each of these as well, eating them as kids, or they were a local favourite or only made in Ukraine, it was a great experience taking this night train, meeting this couple and sitting and taking part in them sharing their food and telling their the histories. In the morning the man gave me a piece of newspaper with his name and number on it and told me if I ever needed any help to call him, I wish I had the thought to write it down in my book as I lost it and now I have this wonderful story of him and his wife without their names. What ever your name is, thank you for your help and stories and sharing your biscuits, it made the long uncomfortable train ride a great unforgettable one!       

Staying With Bogdan

Bogdan was waiting for me when the train got into the station and after meeting each other we were off to catch a bus back to his place. I was his first guest, after all I did send him a message only 2 days after the Matsurfing post was out, and although they have had other guests to the club I would be the first being hosted by him. Bogdan's English was pretty good and although he's a bit quiet, maybe even shy, he was a great host and we talked about all sorts of things the whole time. He would ask about how I promote my trip online and how to better promote the club since it's still relatively new, or how I was able to sort out being able to travel as I do. As Ukraine was in a heat wave when I showed up we hung out inside quite a bit, both being pale skinned people that burn easily, so we had a lot of time to chat about all sorts of topics. On the few times it was safe enough to go outside and not catch fire he showed me around the town, parks and waterfront. It was a great experience being in Kherson, even on the days we did little else but sit on our computers and talk. I was away from the city, away from all the tourists and tourist hot spots. When we did walk around town is was the real Ukraine I was seeing, with old soviet era buildings, not dressed up to sell to tourists. The people were different too. For one very few of them spoke English so I was grateful to have Bogdan around to help me, and the attitude was different too, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was one of the few spots I've been to that I felt I really got to experience living there.

One day Igor made me homemade Borscht to welcome me to Kherson, just another example of the hospitality.

One day Bogdan and friends of his and I took the train out of town to an area that apparently used to be a desert is is now a huge forest. After walking for half an hour or more we came to these lakes that the locals believe have magically properties. the train ride itself was an interesting adventure. It's an hour or so to get out to this field and throughout the train ride women laden with baskets full of fruits and vegetables and random trinkets they were selling would be walking up and down the train cars. At some point we saw one woman walk by arms full with bushels of vegetables then come back 15 minutes later now with jars of honey she had recently acquired. We could only guessed she traded the vegetables for the honey she was now trying to sell. It was an interesting market culture to see and made the long boring train ride a lot more entertaining. It was a grey day when we got to lakes, with the sun poking out from behind rain clouds all day, but it was nice enough to go have a refreshing swim in the salt lakes and cover ourselves in the mud. The lakes are said to have healing powers and truth be known I had a planters wart starting on my foot that miraculously vanished after this swim!

Left over Varenyky from Granny, I'm pretty sure Bogdan brought 2 plates worth home from her place.  

Another day Bogdan brought me over to 'granny's house' for supper. Supper was, as I was told, going to be Varenyky, Ukrainian dumplings (he Ukrainian version of pirogi) homemade by Granny herself. Supper actually ended up being three courses of so much food I had to bring some back to Bogdan's because I couldn't eat it all. A salad to get things started then fried ground chicken patties and sliced potatoes which in itself was meal, then finally the Verenyky which was piled high on a plate for me. After all this Bogdan asked if I wanted pancakes, pancakes?! It ends up there are many typos of pancakes and in Ukraine they make them as a dessert. I had to pass on them I was so full, which meant he brought a bunch home with us. I like to eat as much as the next Panda but trust me, you will never have an appetite big enough to take on a Ukrainian grandmother's cooking, she will tap you out every time. It was great meeting Bogdan, thank you for taking me in and showing me around and having Granny feed me, until we meet again my friend!

I should also note that all the photos I used of the club training and of us at the lakes were taken by Bodgan who's let me use them for this article, thanks for the awesome pics dude!

The Sights

As I said Kherson is a small town so I have limited pictures but here's some of us walking around through the park and seeing the monuments.

The harbourfront.

In the park they had all kinds of inflatable castles and electric toy cars. They were only for kids though...

An old Soviet communications tower, forget what it's for now, probably cell phones.

Bogdan took shots of his friend and I covered in the miracle mud at the lakes. locals would come put the mud on their joints and other areas that were bugging them convinced it would fix them, they would even fill up jar with the water and bring it home to use.

The magic lakes.

Covering myself in magic mud to make myself stronger!

As always you and can over to see my Flickr Account where I have more photos from this and all my other visits.

Skif BJJ 

The club Bogdan trains at, Skif BJJ, is one of the most devoted clubs I have met, not because they train all the time or are huge competitors, quite the opposite in fact. It's because despite being in such a secluded place without anyone to teach them they decided to start a BJJ club and learn mainly as those back in Canada first started, by watching videos and drilling what they see. The power of YouTube is what created this club and the power of the BJJ Community have helped them continue, but it's their devotion as all white belts to come together and start training and learning the slow and hard way and work together to keep the gym going. One night they asked that I teach them some things, as this was one of my first classes I taught I was still a bit at a lost for putting together a full set of techniques to show them so I was more just winging it and showing how I do certain things that they were asking about, like and Q & A session. We had a great time training together, the club isn't big enough to have separate classes from kids and adults so everyone trains together in the same class which means one minute I'll be manhandled by a huge guy and then next I'll be a climbing toy to one of the kids as he tries to get on my back and attack me with an RNC.

The club trains out of an old community center that they have a room in the top floor of, it's an old building and when I was there there were a lot of renovations being done but the club had to fix up the room they use themselves. Although I have been in more dive clubs than Skif BJJ they are far from the mural painted flashy gyms you see in the big cities boasting their affiliations or black belt professors, they are a humble club with a humble beginning. They are a group not about flash but technique and although I'm sure they will one day have their gym complete with all new mats and equipment they don't show up to take selfies and look good, they show up to train Jiu-Jitsu. Added to the fact they accept all visitors and are eager to learn from everyone they are a great place to visit for no nonsense, no ego training. Thank you guys for letting me come train with you, I look forward to watching the club evolve.

Igor and Bogdan

After class one day I managed to make an interview with Bogdan and Igor, talking about how the club got started, how long they've been training together and how they keep it going. Igor does everything he can to make ends meet and keep the club open, and it's the dedication of the rest of the club helping out that makes this club so special and able to run without any senior belts around. Bogdan is new to the sport, only a few months of training and already hooked on Jiu-Jitsu. As he says in the interview, he was a shy person until he got into BJJ and now he's offering strangers like me to come stay at his place to train with the club. It's amazing what Jiu-Jitsu has done to these guys in Kherson and a prime example of the interesting people I meet on this amazing odyssey. Thank you both for having me over into your house, gym and Jiu-Jitsu family.

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After an awesome time seeing 'true' Ukraine in Kherson away from the big city of Kiev it was time to take a bus off to Moldova where I would be visiting the city of Chisinau.

Until next time,
see you on the mats!

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