A part of our roadrip through the Balkans, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe with an old army LR Defender was actually a seaway from Poti, Georgia, to Chernomorsk, Ukraine.
Arriving on Saturday wasn't the most fortunate time to organize a ferry from Poti to Chernomorsk. Still, research had to be done and it turned out there were two ferries going to Chernomorsk within the next two days.
Part 1: Getting on the Ferry
The first ferry was operated by a Ukrainian company called UkrFerry and the one the day after was operated by a Bulgarian Navibulgar. The addresses of their offices were not to be found on their webpages so we went to the port to make enquiries. In the port, we were sent to the UkrFerry office which happened to be quite close (see below for addresses). We found the house - it looked totally abandoned and rundown - you would never guess that there is any kind of office hiding in this building.
We called the office in Ukraine to double check the address and we managed to find out that place was the right one but it was closed on the weekend and their ferry was leaving on Monday. Since it is always better to have several options we tried to find the Office of Navibulgar. We called them and learned that their ferry was leaving on Sunday and the office was nearby as well, and they would be in their office in a few hours to meet us. These guys had an office that was actually in some kind of office building. Of course, they didn't speak any English so Guini had to communicate with them in Russian. It turned out the ferry was delayed and would leave half a day late and their price was higher than the one stated by UkrFerry - which was partly because they kept insisting that our 4x4 was bigger than it actually is - but what can you do.
On Sunday Guini left on the train to Tiblisi. I spent another wonderful yet unusually lonely day at the Black Sea.
The next day, I had to go to the UkrFerry office in order to buy my ticket for the ferry from Poti to Chernomorsk. They did actually open on time (sort of to my surprise) and there were about 8 people waiting to buy tickets. I was delighted - this should be quick then. While waiting, I spoke with a couple from France who had bought their tickets once and had then missed their ferry as it had left earlier than stated [yes, apparently that happens as well].
So the process is as follows: You wait for a really long time to make it into the first room - here somebody writes down some details for your ticket and gives you some printout. With that, you head over to the next room - where you wait once more in order to get the bill. This bill you take across town to a bank in order to pay for the ticket - you then return to the office with the receipt and swap that for your ticket.
Alright, so I spent about 2 hours waiting in the line (there are no chairs) to get into the first room. There were 3 guys working here - rather: one of them is working and the others entertain themselves by watching the walls or browsing the internet. Naturally, the person working isn't in a rush to get things done either.
After 10 minutes or so I am the proud owner of some form that I promptly took to the queue in the next room - 30 minutes later I was rather close to the counter - unfortunately, it turned out that it was time for a 1hour break - the whole office closed down.
After the break was over the office was still closed but the window was open - so I climbed into the window and got ready to wait some more. Thankfully, this didn't take too long - I got a bill which I could now take to the bank. At the bank I drew a number and was told after waiting my turn that they did not accept any cards - why would they right? So I had to find the next ATM which amazingly turned into another 15 minutes of waiting before I could return to finally pay for my ticket! Back at the office I waited another 20 minutes and was finally handed a ticket!
However, there was another delay - the ferry was delayed - they didn't really know when it would leave... maybe in a few hours maybe tomorrow - who can say? I only found out about that because I had met, whilst waiting, another German (via Moldova), Maria, who did speak Russian - the guys in this office didn't speak any English either and hence didn't manage to tell me that news. The two of us went to the port to ask the authorities there when the ferry from Poti to Chernomorsk might be leaving - they were rather certain it would leave at night.
The day had progressed considerably since I had first walked into the office - but that were still several hours of waiting. So I decided to drive back to that lovely beach Guini and I spent the previous day at as Poti doesn't offer that much to look at. I returned to the port later to find out that the ferry from Poti to Chernomorsk would be leaving very early in the morning. So once more to the beach to spend another night under pine trees. Early in the morning, I was finally allowed onto the ferry which would actually leave in the early afternoon.
Address of the UkrFerry office in Poti: 20/1, Gegidze str., Poti, Georgia, 4400 Please note that google does not currently tag this correctly (See GPS below) It is in fact right across the road from the Italian Restaurant "Verona" GPS: 42.152011, 41.661628 UkrFerry Website
Part 2: Life on the Ferry and Border Control in Ukrain
Before the ferry from Poti to Chernomorsk could leave and take us across the Black Sea some Georgian border guards came aboard in order to check things out and stamp our passports as required. This was pretty quick and painless.
Life on the ferry is, as you may expect, rather boring. The only "thing" that happens is food and passengers are split into 2 groups - one dines half an hour after the other. The food is apparently quite good from what I've heard - the parts of it that I could eat were decent enough - there is no choice for vegetarians and there wasn't a single meal without meat. If you are vegan or vegetarian, I would advise bringing some extra food for the 3 days at sea.
Apart from the food, there isn't much to do - if you brought a car along with you, you can visit it twice a day for half an hour. There is a very basic outdoor area for smoking - but you probably don't want to spend much time here for other purposes - it often smells of diesel fumes or the wind gets really nasty. So the reality of it is that you spend the most time in your cabin. As I understand it there are different types of cabins - some have windows others do not. Some have beds for two and some for a lot more.
Maria and I had boarded very early so we both got a two person bunk room with window to ourselves (as it would later turn out). A while after breakfast some other passenger came and moved into Maria's room - much to her surprise as she had asked the lady at the reception to only share the room with other women (as far as I remember there were about 5 women out of something like 60 passengers). By the evening the man had annoyed her so much that she went to chat with the receptionist and found out the following: In the morning the guy had gone to the reception and told them he wanted to switch to a room with a friend of his (at breakfast, he had asked her what her room number is - she didn't think much of it and told him) The receptionist obliged and there he was in her room. However, things got sorted out and he had to move back to his own room.
Maria had travelled Georgia without company for quite a while so I asked a bit about that. She said she didn't have many problems but some Georgian men can get too attached too quickly. A friendly but very clear "no" may not be enough as she had to threaten at least one man with calling the police before he would get the message and leave her alone. Guini has also had a negative experience as well - after visiting Borjomi we had stopped at the river for a swim. An older local guy who had obviously had a few beers more than what's good for him grabbed her against her will despite me being there as well.
Back to the ferry: I spent my time working on my laptop (no there isn't any internet) and the days went by pretty quickly. The only time we had internet on the ferry was after it had arrived in Chernomorsk. I skyped Guini that the ferry had thrown its anchor and I would be on my way soon - but leaving the port was not as easy as I had assumed.
Arriving in Chernomorsk, we were once again boarded by the border guards which did some of their stamping and whatnot. Next thing to do is to drive the car off the ferry and to park it nearby for an inspection. They did search most of it pretty well - the first ones to even look under the bonnet. After that you can proceed to import your car - there are a lot of steps involved and I will try to explain how it works here:
After the border guards had searched the car they pointed me to a building further down the road. I drove over there and a guy there gestured that I should go up the stairs - around the corner there was an office that I went into - here they had some papers from the ferry which they gave me after filling out some form. I asked what do do with that and she pointed in various directions. The young man from the boat explained I had to go to a hut nearby on the right side. So I went outside again and about 100m to the right there was, in fact, a little hut - it looked empty but a lady was working there. She stamped something - I asked where do I need to go next - with her hand she gestured that I should go away and disappeared somewhere. So I went back to the previous office and that was somehow the right thing to do - they stamped some more and the young man from the ferry, who was still there, told me I need to go back toward the ferry into some kind of tower. So I drove over there and took my documents into the office on the ground floor - a very friendly lady who did speak a few words in English did some more work on the documents and told me to go upstairs. There were some people here in military uniforms and they took my passport and told me to wait 10 minutes. 3 hours later they gave it back to me - apparently, that was an Interpol check to determine whether my car was stolen or not. With this I went downstairs to the lady who promptly took me back upstairs to yell at her colleges - it looked like they had forgotten something. Back at her office she filled in some more details and noticed something else was missing. The young man from the ferry was here as well - apparently, there is a lady walking around somewhere in the port that you have to search for to get some kind of paper with a number on it. The lady from the office helped me track her down - she sat behind some building in a foldable chair with her legs stretched out looking at the sea. With this last piece of paper the documents were finished up and they told me to leave. I drove up toward the exit but the guys at the control point figured I was missing something - there was another office right next to the exit where you had to pay for something. They were currently taking a break so I had to wait 20minutes until I could finally drive out of the port. All in all, it had taken about 6 hours to leave the port.
Now I was on my way to Kiev where I would meet with Guini and her mother. The road from Chernomorsk to Kiev differs wildly in quality - sometimes it is perfect and at other times you can barely go 20km/h without rattling your teeth out. I arrived by the end of the day.
The next post: Kiev, Ukraine: What impressed us the most
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