Moldovan wine and Ukrainian ice

Since October 10th 2013: 138 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
 
 
What does it take?
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There is no way that anyone in the history of mankind will ever see and understand every country in the world. At least I won't.
 
I'm trying to reach every country in the world without flying or going back home. To complicate it further I need to spend a minimum of 24 hours in each country. These rules make it tremendously complicated and nearly impossible. Sometimes politics interferes and I cannot cross a border or receive a visa. Sometimes geography interferes and I cannot cross an ocean or reach an island. Mostly the struggle of the Saga is just mental though: don't go home! Keep on keeping on!! I've referenced this math before but there's no harm in reminding you:
 
203 countries to visit
- A week in each would amount to 4 years away from home.
- A month in each would amount to 16 years away from home.
 
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I'm currently at an average of 10.4 days/country (1,444 days away from home and 139 countries visited). That would mean I could complete the remaining 64 countries in 665 days. I really do want to go home though and I also want to reach the remaining 64 countries. Besides there's no giving up within the Saga! So a tactic is to spend less time in each country in order to return home faster. As such I was spending 3 days/country going through the first 8 European countries after leaving Africa. That was to rough on me with everything I wanted to do so I increased the country average to 4 days. It's something I can do in Europe as transport availability is plentiful, most countries are relatively small, there are no visa requirements for a Danish citizen and hardly and time consuming checkpoints. In other words the logistics for transportation have been very easy lately. This is bound to stop soon however it will continue for a few more countries: Bulgaria and Turkey. Cyprus is the last European country after that in order to complete the continent. Cyprus is however an island nation with poor diplomatic relations to Turkey so it's not advisable to commute directly between the two countries.
 
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These nice eyes belong to some of the nicest people! :)
 
Politics?! "If you arrive to our country from their country then we won't like you very much". Keep in mind that we are dealing with adults here who are making official politics on behalf of millions. No humans = no countries. Nature has it all worked out. Why can't we follow suit? Or at least get along? Do you remember that I went to Greece and afterwards to Macedonia? Well, the Greeks (not all I suspect) find it offensive that Macedonia calls itself by that name. You see, there's a region in Greece called Macedonia and therefor some Greeks see it as an infringement on their territory. I only bring this up because I recently traveled across beautiful Romania. I was on my way to Moldova which was to become country no 138.
 
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And these eyes likewise belong to nice people. Because people are just people ;)
 
Guess what? In order to reach Moldova from Bucharest I had to cross the Romanian region of Moldavia. Moldavia is actually called Moldova in Romanian. So naturally the Romanians are wildly upset with their neighbor using the same name as their region - right? No of course they aren't. Because here you'll find some sense among countries and world leaders. There's Moldova and there's Moldova. One is a country and the other is a region. Pretty easy. Grow up Greece ;)
 
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2 minutes late and the train decides to leave on time!!
 
I was looking forward to taking the train from Romania to Moldova. Apparently the train stops at the border because of different gauges (the width of the track) between Romania and Moldova. I enjoy traveling by train but this time I missed it by 2 minutes. I could see the back of the train leaving once I arrived. It was a combination between traffic, wanting to finish the blog and poor timing on my part which lead to the delay. Fortunately I had some good friends I Romania who helped me find a bus leaving that night. Ironically the bus was both faster and cheaper and early next morning I reached Chisinau - the capital of Moldova.
 
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Definitely worth the shave!! ;)
 
I was in a hurry to reach Moldova as I had a planned rendezvous with my talented and beautiful fiancée who was all set to visit me for the 14th time since I left home. It was just a brief visit but nonetheless a visit and sorely needed. Visiting every country without flying feels like a big risk at times. There is much which I wish to accomplish and I often wonder if it is being noticed or valued on a scale which truly matters. The global unification of the Red Cross Red Crescent, the positive promotion of each country, the relentless 'keep on keeping on' attitude, the social media, the blogs, the interviews... There are cats that have a larger online presence than the Saga. For those reasons and many more it was very good to look my fiancée deep into her brown eyes and feel her arms around me, once she arrived to this less known country. Moldova really is unknown isn't it? If you had to name the capital city in a game of trivial pursuit then you probably couldn't? And I've already mentioned it once. If you want to attached 2 words to Moldova then let them be "wine" and "nature". Moldovan wine is famous and sold by the millions! Until recently it was largely only sold to Russia but there was a political fallout between the countries and sales dropped. The quality of the wine competes with french wine and won a second place (in France to the French).
 
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Moldova has the lowest GDP per capita for any European country which is nothing to be proud about but some country needs to have it. For its visitors that makes Moldova highly cost effective as your budget will get you really far. Chisinau (the capital) has a blend of outdated infrastructure and modern structures sitting in the midst of nature. Some say that Chisinau is the greenest capital in Europe and I certainly understand why. Park life is important and prioritized. The people appeared distant to me. I found it really difficult to strike up a conversation or provoke a smile. I cannot remember anyone engaging with me anywhere?  No one would ask "where are you from" or "what's your name". I didn't observe a frequent use of worlds like "thank you" or "please". Neither to me nor between people in society. However after a few days I discovered that beneath a layer of "ice" the Moldovans were nice, friendly and hospitable. It was the beginning of a new culture for the Saga. The language barrier didn't help much either. Cyrillic script has been dominant for a while now but usually combined with Latin script. At times I can decode the Cyrillic scrip but often I cannot. And then it's kind of funny that we still watch the same movies, fidget spinners are still fashion, Game of Thrones is the talk of the people along with President Donald Trump and tattoos and tight pants are the thing with the youth. Some things change and others do not. 
 
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The Chinese team had people flying!
 
Imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon the World Championship for the Bodyguard 2017 competition!! Some 15-20 countries were competing in disciplines such as: extreme driving, combat skills, VIP escort under attack etc. It was quite a large setup and it looked very impressive. It was right in front of the Government House and the roads had been blocked off. However it was very hot under the blue sky and it only drew crowds of around 2-300 people. It could easily have supported 10 times as many. Fun and unexpected twist to visiting Chisinau - I never knew there was such a thing.
 
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Orheiul Vechi - a beautiful piece of land in Moldova.

One day we went a little sightseeing to a place called Orheiul Vechi which is an Eastern Orthodox monastery complex carved into a massive limestone cliff. It overlooks the Raut River and is one of the most visited places in Moldova. Nearly all of the visitors are Orthodox pilgrims who come from all over, not just Moldova, to pay their respects and visit the complex’s cave church. It's quite the location and the nature itself is worth the relatively short bus ride from Chisinau.

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Personally I will always remember Moldova for being a wine country! On our last day together my fiancée and I ventured out to see something very special! Cricova' is a Moldovan winery, located in the town with the same name, 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) north of Chisinau (Moldovas capital). The famous wine cellars make it a popular attraction for tourists and it was ideal for us to join a guided tour which comes at low cost but offers a very high quality.

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We were in the footsteps of Angela Merkel, John Kerry, Vladimir Putin and my personal favorite: cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin!!! (the first human to journey into outer space). The winery boasts more than 120 kilometers (75 mi) of labyrinthine roadways deep underground where the cool temperature and moist stays constant all year round.

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Angela Merkels wine is perfectly aligned and untouched ;)

Some of the tunnels have existed under Cricova since the 15th century, when limestone was dug out to help build Chisinau. It wasn't until the 1950s that it was converted into this very successful wine emporium. I highly recommend this experience if you ever head this way.

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I don't know what I think about Moldova? It's definitely a nice little country and I would be happy to have the chance to return some day. The summers are warm and long, with temperatures averaging about 20 °C (68 °F) and the winters are relatively mild and dry, with January temperatures averaging −4 °C (25 °F). So that all sounds pretty good. The region known as Transnistria causes some political problems as it declared independence from Moldova in 1990, precipitating the War of Transnistria which secured a de facto independence for the territory. However, the region, which has its own currency and border controls, is not officially recognised by any member of the United Nations. I'm sure people who live there think they are an independent country - but I have a hard time seeing it as that. What Moldova really deserves is a motorcycle journey. Perhaps a month or two in the region riding around the mountains, rivers and villages of the Balkan and Eastern Europe. Stopping whenever and wherever you please. Having local meals and brewing a cup of tea on open fire. How splendid would that be?! No motorcycle for me right now though.

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Another bus took me from Chisinau in Moldova and the relatively short journey to Odessa in Ukraine: country number 139 without a single flight.

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Time to let the beard grow back again ;)

Odessa is a historical port city on the coast of the Black Sea. Reaching Odessa brought the Saga up to 183,878 km (114,276 mi) over land and sea since October 10th 2013. We will soon reach the halfway marker to the moon! Kiev is Ukraines capital city and I dearly want to go!! But it's a 7 hour train ride from Odessa and in the wrong direction. Odessa is spectacular though! 

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In the beginning of this entry I wrote that there is no way that anyone in the history of mankind will ever see and understand every country in the world. This statement refers specifically to Ukraine right now. Ukraine is extraordinary!!! It's also fairly large and the largest country contained entirely within Europe. I could spend several months just exploring Ukraine's wide open ranges, the coast of the Black Sea, the mountains, the ancient cities, the variety of cuisine which changes as you cover more distance... Ukraine was once known as the breadbasket of Europe and the countries rich soil can feed hundreds of millions of people. Ukraine itself "only" has around 43 million mouths to feed. Neanderthal settlements document that modern Ukraine was inhabited already 45,000 years ago. It's quite possible that these lands were where horses were first domesticated. Since then a number of kingdoms, empires and civilizations have influenced the region. Today Ukraine boasts 7 World Heritage Sites as well as a claim of being the center of Europe! That claim however depends on how you make your measurements of the European borders. By one method the small town Rakhiv in western Ukraine lays claim to this hypothetical center.

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So what can be said about the people? Well what do I know? I've only been to Odessa. However based on my encounters I'd say that there is still a layer of "ice" between people and me which I must first break in order to have a real experience. That layer is however no where as thick as in Moldova. Another observation has been that I'm hopelessly out of fashion!! I was even turned away at a cafe in downtown Odessa for not living up to the dress code. That's a first (but I see what they mean). The women here are internationally known to be beautiful and that is no exaggeration. They definitely are. In my opinion a woman becomes more beautiful when she doesn't know that she is. A lot of the women in Odessa definitely know that they look like underwear models. It's a sailors town and you feel that. There are decorations, pieces of art, statues and more depicting anchors and mermaids all over the place. There are plenty of "gentlemen clubs" and lots of advertisement for them. There are a great deal of restaurants, cafes, clubs, clothing stores, museums, parks and what have you. Generally Odessa is alive!

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This isn't a Christmas celebration. This is just Odessa on a Thursday ;)

Ukaine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is trying to distance itself from the Russian influence. In Odessa Russian is however the common language but there are those who wish for Ukraine to be referred to as Ukraine and not "the Ukraine" as were it a region of another entity. Some argue that Kiev should be spelled Kyev as in Ukrainian as well as Odessa should be spelled Odesa. So from now on o will. It may be seen as small steps but I think it is important to those who pride themselves in their independence. I come from Denmark and pretty much take my countries independence for granted. Denmark is one of the worlds oldest countries and was consolidated some 1,300 years ago and unified as a kingdom in the 10th century. So no, I don't know how much it means to have an independence day although I have an idea about it having seen a lot of countries and met a lot of people already. What I do know is that I support sovereignty. I feel the frustration of the Ukrainians who saw their sovereign territory in the east be annexed by Russia just a few years ago. Especially after holding a signed document, which reads that Russia will protect over the sovereignty of Ukraine. Ukraine held the 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world after its independence in 1991. In 1994 Ukraine agreed to destroy the weapons, and to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Ukraine did this because on December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States signed a memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. No wonder the Ukrainians, who are largely seen as peaceful people, were caught by surprise...

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Ukraine has seen both battle, war and armed conflict in its history. However Ukraine has largely only picked up weapons in order to defend its own borders. In fact I'd argue that Ukrainians are in general very passive, friendly and helpful. I can't argue that out of my own experience but this is what I have been told several times. People from Ukraine will go very far in accommodating you and making sure that you get what you need or what you want. In my experience that sound right when we talk about people in general. Across the 4 continents the Saga has already brought us too people have just been people. In fact in my experience someone in the position to help a stranger often will help a stranger just because they can. I'll give you a small example: the other day I needed help to take a photo and I tried asking the first person walking by. It was a young skinny fellow looking into his smartphone and listening to music. He didn't stop and walked right past me. However a man saw this and walked a great distance just to come and ask me: "can I help you?" That's people for you. All around the world.

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Borsch is a beetroot soup which originates from Ukraine.

Odesa is truly a pearl! Especially the old town which is utterly charming. Summers are hot while I understand that winters will rarely fall below −3 °C (27 °F). However it's possible to go skiing in Ukraine and I hear it's pretty good. So perhaps my next visit should be during the winter?

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20 out of 49 talks at businesses, schools and universities have been at Maersk: www.maersk.com

If my only goal was to reach every country without flying then I'd be home by now. The Red Cross Red Crescent remains a strange entity for the Saga where I recently chose to restructure my involvement and stopped writing stories for each National Society. I simply couldn't see a connection between my efforts and the output and largely didn't feel that it was making a difference. Instead I now invite the National Society of each individual country to take advantage of my visit in any way they please. It can range from a handshake and a cup of tea to a full day program of meetings, activities, interactions and interviews. Each country has its own capacities and I find it to be a much better promotion of the worlds largest humanitarian organization. I'm a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, which has initiated my involvement to begin with. It takes up on average 2 days for each country which means more than a year of this project.

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I wish I would be with a train or ship to Bulgaria. But I'll be with another bus...

The positive promotion of every country in the world is likewise time consuming. How do I quickly convey valuable and fair information about a country I've never been to before? Well I do a bunch of research and I speak to a lot of people. Furthermore one could argue that I can assess a lot faster now that I can compare with so many other countries. Much in the same way as someone who is buying a secondhand car for the 5th time will have a greater understanding of what to look for that a person doing it for the first or second time.

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As you can clearly see these are the 7 fundamental principles listed in Cyrillic ;)

The Red Cross does not pay anything towards this project which I think is a good thing. Knowing the media to some degree I can lively imagine some journalist spinning a story about how your donations to the Red Cross are going to a pleasure cruise all around the world. For the public this project is like the top 10% of an iceberg: the sun is shining, I meet a lot of people, I travel for a living, I eat exotic food, I don't need to take care of children or a desk job... The 90% that the public does not see involves: loneliness, being misunderstood, keeping socialmedia alive and updated, bookings, meetings, getting into the 267th time (tomorrow), missing home, loosing sight of the importance of continuing, taking most decisions alone, coordinating meetings with the Red Cross, language barriers, repetition, dealing with a small budget, raising funds, leaving when you don't want to, being scared, stress, visiting unsafe regions, saying goodbye every week, uncertainty and a lot of other things. However do not despair! There is a lot of good stuff in those 90% too: knowledge, experience, character, rewards and so on.

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My final word will be on the crowdfunding campaign. Can you believe that it is not up and running already? As sad as the truth is this project lost its financial sponsorship at a time when I could barely handle any more headwind. I was in Central Africa and had bitten off a lot more than I could chew. Those months in that region brought me to my knees and I came as close to going home as any of you can possibly imagine. That was back in 2015. Since then I have depleted my own funds. I'm a working man and have been all my life. I had money set aside but that's all gone. I even had a small old sailboat which I sold and that money is gone too. I took a loan and that money is also gone. A second loan is keeping this project afloat and I would really like to see the crowdfunding campaign be launched soon. And it looks like it will! People are helping!! I've secured help from Rwanda, Canada and Denmark! I really hope that you are onboard with your support so we can make it to the last country in the world together!  We've been working hard at reaching the goal of this crowdfunding campaign. The video is nearly ready and is top professional! Curtesy of some strangers that became friends in Rwanda. The text has been looked at by a stranger from Canada who became a friend in Iceland. When I created this massive project I did it with some good friends back in Denmark. Everyone has their own lives, families, careers and yet they have offered the Saga time as well. The aim is USD 50,000 which is roughly $2.00 from each of you. Nobody needs to pay anything but if you want to help then it's sorely needed. 

 

No matter how the crowdfunding campaign turns out I won't quit!! There's no giving up within the Saga. It's always forward and you know it: we keep on keeping on! :)


Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - forward!! ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
 
Once Upon a Saga
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