Once I left Kiev, my route was firmly set South towards the Black Sea town of Odessa. This made Kiev the northernmost place I would visit on this trip and from here I would head more or less South towards Dubai.
There’s not a lot of attractions between Kiev and Odessa so it’s a fairly long drive with the only stop I was planning on being the Strategic Missile Forces Museum somewhere about half way down. I didn’t really know what to expect from this museum as the information available about it is not very detailed – even finding the place is fairly complicated. But it actually turned out to be one of the coolest visits of this trip.
The museum is located in a former nuclear missile base active during the Cold War and you have access to pretty much everything. As I arrived there, there were two Russian speaking tourists (not sure exactly from where) just starting their visit being led by a museum guide. Nobody spoke much English, but in a few words they’ve asked me if I want to join them, so I did.
We then spent the next hour or so being shown around the complex, looking at the huge ballistic missiles and the trucks they were carried in, being told how a missile could be launched in 8 minutes (opening the silo door which weighs 2 tons in 8 seconds) and finally being taken 45 meters underground in the actual control center which still had electricity (so all the buttons and lights are flashing like it’s the end of the world)! The guide was extremely friendly and he made huge efforts to translate some parts of what he was explaining in Russian just so I feel welcome.
In Odessa I had booked to stay 2 nights as I wasn’t sure how long will I need to sort out my ferry ticked for crossing the Black Sea all the way to Batumi. The first morning I went straight to the ferry office, which was a bit of a struggle to find initially (if you’re looking for it, look for the village of Burlacha Balka) and just before you get there from Odessa, on the main road on the right you will see a tall building – tallest one around – the office is in the ground floor). Buying the ticket was very straight forward as I had already made reservations by email and for 500US$ I got a ticket for the car plus a cabin just for myself (I basically paid 50% of the cabin price extra in order to be alone in the cabin as I wanted to relax while I’m on board and sleep as much as I want)! I was told to come back the next day at 2pm for the formalities and boarding.
The rest of the day I spent it walking around Odessa, which is also a city with lots of pretty buildings, particularly the Opera and Theater one. Although there’s not a lot of must see things in Odessa, the city is really pleasant for walking around, having coffee and watching the world go by. I actually wanted to go see a show at the opera, but it turned out that that evening was the season opening with “Carmen” and the show was sold out.
The next day, I had a lazy morning and then at about 1pm I headed towards the port, which turned out to be no less than 6 hours of waiting around for different formalities to happen. When you’re driving your own car, you basically get put at the back of the queue and you have to wait until all the rail cars, trucks and passengers board before you even get in the port.
Once in the port, you have to go to some sort of biological or radiological test for the car (I didn’t really understand what they were saying), which involves a guy going around your car with a small scanner. After this, the next step is the customs clearing which is super slow as there is only guy doing this. We were 5 cars and 2 motorbikes in total and we had to wait for about 2 hours for this step. Then another guy comes to check what you have in the car. Then it’s off to the passport control and only then you are allowed to board. The whole process is not difficult, but there’s just a lot of waiting involved. If you’re doing this, take a book with you!
Once on the ferry, things became very relaxed. My cabin was really good and extremely quiet (except for the ship announcements when food was being served in the cafeteria).
I spent most of my time reading and talking with a few fellow travelers – a German couple who were making their way around this region on bicycles and a Polish couple who were heading to Iran on motorbikes. The trip takes about 36 hours and we were lucky with very good weather and smooth sailing.
The city of Batumi showed up in the distance early on the second morning and once the boat docked into port everything went really quickly – in about 1 hour I was on the way to the city, completing my loop around the Black Sea.