Sunday, June 28, 2015

Masha's pictures

Tanya downloaded 350 pictures from Masha's camera onto my computer.  Half are from our holiday in Bulgaria,  Most Masha took with a couple of obvious exceptions (she is in them).

Today was a perfect day and we spent most of it on the beach.  Swimming and sunning.  Lots of locals out today, dozens of little kids having a great time in the warm shallows.

There is a lot of nonsense on my FB feed about "Bikini Bodies".  99.9% of the females here, young and old, short and tall, big and small, have bikini bodies.  They each have a body and they put a bikini on it.  End of story.  Europeans are far less hung up about the human body than North Americans.  I credit that to their luck in avoiding teachings of Knox and Calvin who have ruined more lives than alcohol.

More older people today but this is definitely a young people's beach.  I am in the oldest 1%.  80% are between 20 and 40 years and 60% between 25 and 35.  This has benefits for amateur astronomers.

Looking north from the dock

The sea at its roughest 

Masha ready to swim

This looked like fun - for someone else

There were a few jellyfish once in a while but very few

Colourful rooster in Nesebar window

I love this picture.

Do you have a piece of shashlik for me?

And a french fry for me?

Jellyfish (medusa in Russian)

Busy beach

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Ancient Town of Nesebar, Bulgaria

Yesterday, being Sunday, we decided to go sight-seeing to Nesebar, a 30 minute boat ride or 15 minute bus ride south of Sunny Beach.  Good thing we went yesterday as it was warm and sunny.  Rained last night and is cold and cloudy today.  Sleeping day.

Nesebar, a small almost-island, connected to the mainland by a very narrow neck of land,  is a very old settlement, built by the Thracians over 3000 years ago.  The museum has pottery examples going back to 5000 BC.  Then as the Greeks settled the Black Sea, it became a Greek colony in about the 7th or 6th century BC.  The Romans took it over about 70 BC and then it became part of the Byzantine Empire until the Turks finished that in 1453.

Nesebar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria.  Most of the fortification ruins are from Greek times but some remain of the original Thracian walls and towers.  There area  great many churches dating back to Byszantine times when the community became famous for its Icon Painting Schools.  This continued even during Ottoman occupation up until the 19th century.  Some of the locally painted icons are on display in the museum.

Needless to say, every square inch of the town that has been developed for tourists with hotels, shops and restaurants.  Tanya has already investigated renting a flat there for "next time" as it would be much quieter and nicer than where we are in Sunny Beach.

Google Nesebar Bulgaria Images for hundreds of great pictures.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Swimming at Sunny Beach - TANSTAAFL

It is a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the beach.  The beach is soft sand and you have to wade out quite a ways to get to water deep enough to swim.  The Black Sea is much less salty and much less buoyant than the Mediterranean so I cannot swim here like I can in Turkey.  So Masha and I stay in the shallows while Tanya swims far out.  Yesterday the waves were quite strong.  The water was to Masha's waist and the waves were over her head. The water was cold until you got used to it; my Sibirochka loved it.

Two-thirds of the beach is roped off with lounge chairs and umbrella tables for rent.  The other third is for people to lay on their own towels.  Renting a lounge is 4 BUL and if you want the umbrella table it is another 4 BUL.  So if Tanya and I wanted lounge chairs and an umbrella table it would be 12 BUL per day or 120 for 10 days.  That is $85 CAD.  At our hotel we get breakfast and supper only.  Tea, coffee, juice, or water is available only at breakfast.  At supper you pay.  This is how they keep the package prices as low as possible.

Last time Tanya and I were in Turkey, we had an all inclusive package that included all three meals, private beach with lounges and umbrellas or screens, free bar all day long.  It will be interesting to see what has changed when we next return.

I have not taken any pictures on the beach.  Viewers, depending on their bent, would accuse me of being either voyeuristic or not voyeuristic enough.  I have noticed that the ubiquitous under-wire push-ups are discarded in favour of cloth triangles and string.  In many cases it is quite a let down.

One old lady, much to Masha's amusement, was topless.  She and her husband reminded me of this cartoon

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bus to Bulgaria

Tanya Masha and I are at the MPM Royal Central Hotel in Sunny Beach Bulgaria, a mere 30 hour bus ride from Zhovti Vody. But we saved $400 by not flying.  And the folks who started from Kharkiv spent 10 more hours on that bus than we did. The bus run was Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Krivii Rih (where we got on), Mykolaiev, Odessa and then onwards.

We crossed Moldova at the bottom corner.  One hour at border control in Ukraine, one hour at border control in Moldova, one hour to drive, slowing to a crawl every 5 minutes to cross a hole in the road, then one hour at border control to leave Moldova and one hour at border control to enter Romania at Galati, then three hours to cross Romania, two hours at the joint border control between Romania and Bulgaria and 4 hours more to reach our hotel. We were almost to Turkey.

Border crossing goes thusly.  Officer gets on the bus, collects passports, matching each to a face as he/she goes.  Then he/she takes the passports to the office, goes over them carefully and scans them all into the computer.  Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen zone so we had the extra two border controls.  Bulgaria is not part of the Euro zone either for which I imagine they are thankful.  Their currency is the Lev, which is about 2 to the Euro or 1.9 to the USD.

Sunny Beach is a nice little family tourist town.  Strip joints and sex shops abound.  I told Masha she would be smarter when she left than when she came.

Hotel is nice.  Our room is actually a small sitting room and a bedroom so Masha has her own sleeping space.  Supper was good.  We walked to the beach after supper.  Return trip only took an hour and a half. Took two days to walk to the beach when we were in Spain.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Remembering the Farm - the Boxcar

Number crunching was making me dizzy.  Forty vegetables, one country, one province, two counties, fifteen years, area and yields.  Adds up to a great many numbers - then twist and turn them to try to make them tell any secrets.  And do the same for 25 fruits and nuts.  Music is a good break and You Tube is handy. Found Pete Seeger singing one of my favourite sad songs, a song Woody Guthrie made famous, "Hobo's Lullaby".  Got to thinking about the boxcar which was every bit as symbolic an icon on the prairies as the grain elevator.

The boxcar, a box on wheels with a sliding door on each side, was the universal carry-all for over 150 years.  Far more than hobos rode the rods courtesy of boxcars. I remember as a small boy, watching the mixed local pull into Landis or Cavell.  (They were 7 miles apart on the main CN line, Saskatoon to Edmonton).  This was pre-diesel-electric, with a big black steam engine doing the honours.  The train would be one or more passenger cars, mail/baggage car and one or several box cars filled with freight for the local towns along the way.   It served as bus line, mail delivery, grocery and parcel delivery. Whatever was needed in small town Saskatchewan came by train.

The train would be met by a flatbed truck, or horse drawn freight wagon, or in winter a flatbed sleigh.  Goods would be hand-bombed from the boxcar onto the dray and then delivered where ever in town. Groceries came that way and needless to say there were not many perishables and no frozen goods to speak of.  If there were enough perishables and frozen goods to warrant a shipment, a reefer car would be added to the train. 

Boxcars also moved our bulk commodities out of the west to the Lakehead and farther east to Montreal, or eventually west to Vancouver.  Try to imagine loading that boxcar with grain through the side door.  No easy task for the elevator agent. To ensure everyone had a chance to deliver grain, quotas were allotted based on acreage.  There was always excitement when someone spotted some cars on the elevator siding because that meant there would be room in the elevator to deliver some grain and that meant cash money in the pocket. The boxcars loaded with grain were emptied by turning them on their side.

By the late 50's and 60's,  the boxcar was relegated primarilytmoving grain as highways improved; buses moved passengers and packages while trucks moved mail and freight.  I remember sitting in church, looking out the window and counting boxcars on the freight train that went by every Sunday morning.  Empties going eat were usually about 75 to 100 cars long.

Gradually, the boxcar fleet was replaced by big round grain tanks with top loading and bottom unloading hatches.  Sidings were lengthened to handle 50 to 100 cars which cut the delivery and pickup costs dramatically but spelled the end of the old wooden elevators.  Now on abandoned sidings you will see hundreds of abandoned boxcars, waiting, I supposed to be melted down for scrap.  They have gone the way of the hobo.

NOTE: Those who remember better than I, please add details or correct errors.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ukraine - The Russian War of Aggression is on again

There never was a real cease fire with either Minsk I or Minsk II, just a bit of a slow down.  The Russian side pretended to pull back the heavy artillery but turned it around and brought it back.  Ukraine tried somewhat harder but it cost them a number of soldiers and several villages.  Anyhow, June 3, it opened up again full blast.

This article is good comes with maps

This article has a one page pdf with a map and brief explanation.

For day to day stuff go to Kyiv Post and Euromaidan websites.  Bertter yet, Like them on FAcebook and they will feed you their news stories.

Putin is in Italy and scheduled a meeting with the Pope for which he was an hour late.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Verdun 1916 - a book review

Verdun 1916Verdun 1916 by Malcolm Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad! — Lieutenant Alfred Joubaire (Died for France at Verdun).

Two horrendous battle were fought in 1916: Verdun and the Somme. The latter which lasted from July 1 to November 18, is better known to English speakers as it was fought mainly by troops from Britain and the Empire. The Somme resulted in over 1.1 million casualties on both side with the British losing 58,000 the first day, of which 19,000 were killed. Details complete with excellent full screen maps can be found at

The Battle of Verdun was an attempt by the Germans to bleed France white and force her into an armistice by attacking an area so sacred to France that the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. The strategically located city had a history going back to Attila the Hun, Charlemagne and the Peace of Westphalia. 

Verdun was a series of 28 forts great and small built on high ground (>150 meters) overlooking the valley of the Meuse River. They had been modernized before the war and equipped with heavy artillery. However, under Joffre, fortresses were no longer considered in vogue and they had pretty much been abandoned and disarmed. Further, Verdun was a salient with only one light railroad and one narrow winding highway along which to move troops and supplies. The German CiC, Falkenhayn, expected it to be an easy victory and an on-going bloodbath for the French.

Brown gives only the bare essential military details. For those, go to either The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 or which has full page maps etc. Brown tries to bring to the reader the horror of those engaged in the fighting on both sides. The "mill on the Meuse" ground up 700,000 men (330,000 Germans, 370,000 French) over the course of 300 days, with many of the dead and wounded never having seen an enemy soldier. It was a battle of artillery, with several thousand heavy guns on both sides shelling the trenches.

Brown quotes extensively from letters, memoirs, official documents, written by soldiers, officers, nurses, ambulance drivers, presidents and paupers on both sides. It is not an easy read if one has any imagination. The stench of death was everywhere. A shell would bury the living and the dead while the next one would disinter them again. There were no white flag truces to gather the wounded. Dirt in the wounds made gas gangrene a constant companion. Food and water were all at a premium.

The Germans took a few kilometers but they did not take Verdun. Furthermore they were bled as white as the French. Falkenhayn was replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorf. Joffre was fired. Petain emerged as the hero of Verdun which came back to haunt France some 20 years later when he would surrender to Hitler instead of turning back the Nazi invasion.

However the effect of the hell of Verdun on the morale of French troops resulted in mutinies the following year, which were never recovered from until into 1918. 

Bravery and belief in duty were never in short supply. The savagery that humans can inflict and endure staggers the mind. 

Maps and photos from Wikipedia.

The battle field 

The Battle of Verdun

The Western Front 1916

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