Saturday, 30 May 2009

Kiev: Dinner with the Ambassador - Darrrrhling!

Tuesday 2 June

Lesbian gets to be a tourist in Kiev!

Kiev PRIDE more than a twinkling in a Ukrainian eye!

LGBT Gather 30km from Kiev

Skopje > Kiev: what a nightmare!

Meeting more LGBT in Skopje

Afternoon tea at the British Embassy

Lesbian Macedonia!

Am I really gonna make it to KIEV?

Arrival of British dyke prompts rainstorm!

Sofia...Do Skopje!


Sofia: more Embassy support

Bucharest to Sofia

9 hour train to Sofia, no buffet car! but a good chance for a much needed sleep!

Post PRIDE Party!

Bucharest PRIDE - FIVE ambassadors!

(you dont think I actually have any time to write this up!)

PRIDE Prep in Bucharest

Diversity BBQ at the British Embassy

well the British Ambassador's residence if you wanna be picky!

4 Moldovans & a Brit go to Bucharest PRIDE

Impressions of Moldova

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Back to Moldova!

Aftenoon Tea at the Embassy - Darrrrrling

Post Baltic PRIDE Party!

SPLAT! - a homophobic egg!

Baltic PRIDE - a great success

Pre PRIDE Tensions

Joint Embassy Reception


Back in Riga!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Back in the E-E-E-U!

12 May

Hurrah! "You dont know how lucky you are- are!"

Moldova to Riga


More of Moldova

8-10 May Moldova PRIDE

So with 3 hours sleep off I head for the hotel and a quick shower then to arrive at the conference... fascinating with a round table of people from not only Moldova but many of the former Soviet republics so that the lingua franca is...Russian. Places I have never met people from before....and there they are Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Armenia, the Ukraine and St Petersburg...

In the afternoon we have the PRIDE House, you know what, I kind of join in I can hear the Russian words and the LGBT words a la russe so I can kind of piece together what might be going on but in my head I am back in the classroom "31 years ago"declining my verbs and case is totally surreal and anyway after @ 3hours sleep on the train my eyelids are dropping and in the end I head upstairs for SLEEP.

Bit of a disco that night and I am remarkably fresh, all things considered...theyƗe auctioning one off T shirts and I get one with a fabulous design of a woman dancing, one of 6 fabulous unique designs for Moldova PRIDE.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Friendship Train to Moldova

Having nabbed a Romanian SIM card we then head for the Railway station for a bite to eat and to buy a ticket. "What ticket do you want?" "No idea mate, rather depends what ticket they have." At this point I am SO grateful for someone who can speak the language and sort it out, the deal is this... it's an overnight train so you can share with 4 people in 2nd class whose gender will be assorted or 1st class where you an specify gender.

Now call me an old fashioned lesbian but I do not fancy sharing sleeping space with strange chaps so I opt for 1st class. Now first class in the poorest country in Europe turns out to put the British variety to shame! Wow! Better before I even reach it a woman starts talking to me in ENGLISH so this is even more promising as my Russian is rusty and my Romanian amounts to about 3 words.

As I said this train is known as the "Prietenia" the Friendship Express and I cannot think of a bettr way of describing this amazing journey. Of course this woman was curious about why any Brit would recognise the country Moldova let alone visit it. I reply vaguely thinking I dont want to be dobbed in on the border, which is now pre-occupying me rather.

Anyhow, we have a lovely chat and in the end she has repeated her question so many times that I dont feel I can avoid it any longer and tell her I am heading to Moldova PRIDE... and she is delighted! A little later I get bored and start writing my "contribution" to the Moldova PRIDE conference and I ask her if she would help me play a joke on the other delegates and translate my "speech" into Russian and a little Romanian. She is even more delighted so there we are hurtling for an external EU border her translating into and me practising my Russian! The idea is to start in English and then lapse into Russian albeit very rusty and badly pronounced Russian! She reckons my pronunciation is good enough to be understood and that the effort will be appreciated and I get to learn a single sentence of Romanian, which is OK if you imagine you are Italian and start gesticulating wildly. In fact the uniforms of the Police in Bucharest reminded me very much of italian uniforms.

Muggins thought the border came at midnight, well it didn't but I am so nervous about it I didn't sleep but I am looking forward to the wheel changing but disappointed it must happen in the complete dark so you can't appreciate it WRONG!
In fact we dont cross the border til about 2am and of course you have to leave Romanian first, one set of checks, a nice friendly Romanian woman and just as I feel relieved I realise it was only the Romanian exit checks and I am now feeling so nervous that any self respecting border guard will imagine me to be an extremely doubtful character. The chap who comes is very stern looking and in a rather Soviet looking uniform but he examines my papers perfectly correctly and satisfies himself and that ordeal is over which is then rewarded by a wonderful treat, the sun has come up and we are heading over the actual border a wide river, over the actual land border of the former Soviet Union, which feels moderately significant and then into the train sidings to have aour wheels changed. I kid you not, I have even got the vid to prove it only I cant get it off the camera. We are shunted into special sidings where we are pneumatically lifted off the Romanian wheels which are slid out so that Moldovan ones can be slid in. It is *so* clever and takes about an hour to do all the carriages. One chap was a bit gruff about phots but apparently another said the Romanian or Russian equivalent of "Dont be such a miserable sod, why shouldn't she take a few photos, she's only a tourist." (overheard by my helpful as ever travelling companion).
And on this 13 hour journey there is no restuarant car! You have to bring your own but the guard will make you tea from his urn built into the carriage.
It's light so not much sleep possible now as we head through the Moldovan countryside and I fin mysefl just imagining what life is like and was like under the Soviet era and the Nazis sweeping by and the Red Army sweeping back and we approach Chisinau, the capital of Moldova and my destination.
Once again the "kindness of strangers" this woman must be very tired herself but won't leave until she is sure I am safely on my way and of course after the PRIDE Opening Ceremony, my Gender Doc contact is a little worse for wear and a fraction late so we are in fact wandering round the station missing each other. Once again my phone doesn't work, once again I am lent a phone to join the dots and suddenly my contact appears and all is well and I say farewell to this amazing travelling companion.

Meeting at Bucharest Embassy

Thurs 7 May: Have you ever tried getting into one of Her Maj's Embassies? Of course my metal betal had to be removed causing chaos as first my camera then all of my secret documents tumbled to the floor... it was all rather surreal, make mental note not to use this belt as it is tough threading and unthreading at the best of times but with a captive audience a complete nightmare! Anyhow then we are met by a Brit wearing a particularly charming and *very* pink lanyard... I make no comment ... then we were ushered in and tried to pretend we went to meetings in embassies everyday which B does but I certainly don't. Anyhow very constructive meeting and safe to say Bucharest PRIDE has got some very interesting new additions this year. ;-) It may include my becoming a TV star in Romania, which certainly wasn't ever one of my plans, hohum, better brush up on my non-existent Romanian!

We have an interesting convo about getting over the border into Moldova, somewhat adding to my apprehensions but I did take the precaution of leaving one rainbow flag and the letters that didn't need to go to Moldova and Riga with them and asked them to get the Moscow letter to...well Moscow.

They also introduced me to the FCO tracking system which let's you tell the FCO where you are going, very clever, if there is an earth quake they know roughly who they are looking for and can notify the rellies really fast. Very impressive, it seemed a pity it wasn't on the country pages on the FCO advice for travelling, anyhow they lent me a PC to sort it out. Crumbs now feeling quite rattled about my trip to Moldova, a country in which there were disputed elections only a month before, a country not in the EU. Oh well never mind eh? ;-)

Whistlestop Visit to Bucharest

Thurs 7 May

Stayed in London overnight before taking an early train to Luton for the 8am flight. Lovely Polish woman called Marzena, the word for dream/vision changed the 10Euros and 10CHF into strange looking Romanian Lei and another lovely Polish woman checked me in and promised to vote in the next elections (despairing as she went of Kaczynski).

Met and sat with a lovely young Romanian couple returning home to visit parents, we had a lovely chat and sure enough they asked why I was going to I told them for Bucharest PRIDE and they were very supportive, just as well reall because when I got their I didn't half need their help. Quite reasonably my contact from ACCEPT had gone to the International Airport except cheap airlines dont do international airports in fact this one was barely an airport at we had a comical time unscrambling the fact that he was at the International Airport and I in fact wasn't! "Im at the memorial in front of the airport"..."that's funny so am I" It was only unscrambled because the lovely couple lent me their phone but i the end it was fine and B..... and off we clambered along main roads in the absence of pavements, which seemed mildly dangerous to me!

Could you drop by at the House of Commons?

All packed but rushing to get all the loose ends of work well and truly finished and heading up to London to stay overnight to get to Luton in good order for the flight to Bucharest. Also got to stop off and collect *the* letters from the 3 openly lesbian and gay ministers in the British Govt, namely first ever openly lesbian minister Angela Eagle MP and Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant who are all taking the opportunity to tell LGBT people around C&E Europe how much they are admired in their determination to hold PRIDE events and wishing them well.

Manage not to miss my train and make it to Parliament for close of business to meet no less than Angela Eagle, Minister in HM Treasury. There were a couple of rather funny moments but they might have to wait for another time! ;-)

The customised letter for each country, top and tailed in the relevant languages are duly and ceremoniously handed over and photos taken, which will hopefully all add weight to the effort as we encounter the problems we always encounter in C&E Europe.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Last minute preps!

Last day of work, the usual flat panic to make sure everything is done. Yesterday received a phone call from ...Parliament... like you do... could I come and get the letters of support from the openly lesbian and gay ministers in the British Govt myself. Well what is a girl to do...? So Parliament, here I come!

Monday, 4 May 2009

3 days before the "off"

Bags are packed, think I have everything... passport, money, insurance, a pair of warm socks...

Arrive in Bucharest at lunchtime on Thursday to be met by someone from the ACCEPT, the Bucharest PRIDE organisation, then we're off to the British Embassy before heading off to the railway station so that I can catch the overnight train to Moldova. At midnight we reach the border and the whole carriage is lifted off the Romanian wheels and onto the Moldovan ones. (Moldova was a republic of the Soviet Union so the rail gauge (width) is different.)