Ukraine: Kind of like Mexico but with Perogies instead of Tacos
July 14 to July 20
So I have been in Ukraine now for about a month, and quite an interesting month it has been! I will do my best to cover everything that had happened in the past month...
I arrived in Lviv by bus on the night of the 13th. Funniest bus ride of my life, not because there was a funny person on it or anything, but because of the state of that bus. It was so hot in it (no air conditioning in the 30 degree heat) and it looked like it was about to fall off. I am also fairly certain that the walls inside were covered with linoleum floor tiles that were falling off. And the seats looked like they might collapse if a person a little too heavy sat on them. And the people looked pretty haggard. We left Poland and arrived at the border not much later, where we had to sit and wait to cross. And wait. And wait. Waiting seems so much longer when you feel like you are in a sauna. Finally we crossed the border. Then we had to sit and wait and wait and wait between borders to cross into Ukraine. Funny moment: as we got through the Polish border, all of a sudden some ladies stood up, grabbed some black plastic bags and started throwing something into them from another bag. They were hurrying! Pretty sure they were smuggling something across because as soon as they saw a Ukrainian border guard coming, they threw the bags up on the racks above their seats, pushed them back, and sat down quickly. I was quite amused, but also praying they didn't get caught because I didn't know what would happen if they did. And those border guards looked intense. But luckily everything was okay and we were able to carry on our way.
A number of hours later we arrived in Lviv. From there, I was to take a train to Kyiv. Luckily for me, the bus station in Lviv is in the same place as the train station or I would have been completely lost as to how to get there. They don't speak much English here and since the use a different alphabet, you can't even begin to guess what things read. I had talked to my friend Adam, who was also in Ukraine and speaks some Ukrainian, and he told me a few words to use to try buy a ticket to Kyiv. I wanted to try get a train immediately to Kyiv as there were lots, and when I got to the ticket counter I uses my couple words, and the woman said something to me, and I was lost. Realizing I spoke English, the lady at the ticket counter went to get someone who did speak English. Turns out there were no more trains that night and I would have to wait til morning for one, which would get me to Kyiv in the afternoon. However I had told Adam I would probably get there in the morning as I was meeting up with him and his girlfriend. (His girlfriend is from Kyiv, so I was going to stay with them for a couple days.) I had my phone, so I tried calling Adam to see if they would be around in the afternoon when I would arrive but my phone would not work. For some reason I couldn't call them, so I gave my friend Jakub in Krakow a call, asking him to go into my email to make sure I had the right number and to email Adam for me telling me I was trying to get a ticket and would let him know when I would arrive. So Jakub went into my email, emailed Adam for me, and realized that the number Adam gave me was to be used if calling from North America to Ukraine (it was his girlfriend's number), and Jakub gave me what it should be when he called back saying he successfully emailed him. By this point, I had managed to somehow successfully purchase a ticket to Kyiv, leaving at 6:30 a.m. Jakub had printed off a list of the train schedule, so using my few words again in Ukrainian and pointing to the schedule, I managed to buy a ticket. (The lady who spoke English had left. I hadn't known what to do since I couldn't get to Kyiv in the morning and couldn't call Adam to see if he would be able to meet me then. So at first I just said I would come back once I figured out what to do. Also, they only had business class for the time the woman told me, which was more expensive. Then, finally, I just decided to buy any second class ticket that I could get on the next available train. But then I had to try communicate in Ukrainian.) So, using the new number I had for Adam, I sent him a message telling him when I would arrive. Also, being only midnight at this point, I had to find somewhere to sleep for the night. A seat in the train station it was! They have a lounge that was open all night and you have to pay (it was only 50 cents) to get in, but at least there were some seats in there. So I curled up on the seat and put my feet up on my backpack, and pulled out my pillow and blanket and tried to get comfortable. At 6:00 am, I headed to the train and managed to find my seat.
That afternoon I arrived in Kyiv, where Adam and his girlfriend met me at the train station. From there, we headed to Leera's flat to drop off all my stuff. Thank goodness for them - I would have had no clue how to get around in that city if they hadn't met me. Anyways, we dropped off my stuff and relaxed for a few minutes, then we headed outside of Kyiv to a nearby town where we met up with some of her friends to party for the night. And let me tell you, these Ukrainians really like their vodka. I have never done so many vodka shots in my life in one night. It seemed they would be pouring one round of shots, and then just a few minutes later there would be another round. Crazy people. But it was a fun night!
The next day, Adam and Leera showed me around Kyiv. It's a really cool city, and once again I am quite happy I was with them or I probably would have been lost beyond belief. We wandered around a few different parts of the city, such as by some of the churches, the main shopping street, and some other places. They also helped me buy train tickets to get to Berdyansk, my next destination. Again, I don't know what I would have done without them to help me. Then that night we took it easy and relaxed at Leera's. (We watched 'Pimp My Ride' with Ukrainian voice dubbing - it's weird watching shows you know but hearing different voices.) The next day, they showed me around some more parts of the city, and we went to a war history museum. It was a good museum, but I didn't understand most of it. In some parts, they had papers in English explaining briefly some of the exhibits but I didn't have time to read them all. Then that night, I said goodbye to the two of them and headed to a hostel. They were going to the mountains in Ukraine for a few days, so I was no longer able to stay with them. I was staying longer in Kyiv though because I was meeting Annie, a girl from Taiwan that I am volunteering with in Ukraine, and we would travel together to Berdyansk.
That night, I wandered around the city centre. They close off to traffic a portion of the main shopping street. And a bunch of people wander there at night, and there are a number of street performers too. There was one group of break dancers, and I was so impressed by one of the guys. He was so good! I watched them for quite a while because of him. Eventually I headed back to the hostel to get some sleep.
The next morning I met a guy from Israel in the hostel who also speaks English, so him and I ended up hanging out for the day. Even though I had seen the city with Adam and his girlfriend, I had decided to do a walking tour to learn some more and possibly meet some more people, so Ilya (the guy from Israel) joined me on that. After the tour we went to the beach (there is a beach along the river there) and didn't do a whole lot else.
On the following morning, Annie arrived in Kyiv. Her, I and Ilya went to a monastery that afternoon that Adam had told me to visit if I had time. It was interesting because they buried the dead monks in some caves, and because of the air in the caves the bodies have been well preserved. However, you can't see the bodies because they are covered with shrouds but the odd one has it's hands sticking out and you can see how well preserved the hands are. It was interesting, but I wish we had taken a tour around the entire monastery because I didn't really understand the significance of anything. There were also some small museums there and we visited one that contained miniature objects. You needed to see the objects with a microscope. For example, they might have a face engraved on a piece of hair. Crazy things like that. Or something built on a pinhead. I don't know how they do it, but it was cool to see.
After visiting the monastery we headed back to the hostel because Ilya was leaving that night and had to catch his flight. Annie and I took it easy that evening and didn't do much ourselves after.
The next day Annie and I caught our train to Mariupol, which is a city not too far from Berdyansk. The hottest train ride of my life. It was like the bus I took to Kyiv, only a train. We got on and it was an instant sauna. I got off the train to buy more water because I was scared we didn't have enough. Ukrainian trains are interesting in respect to the fact that they have beds more than seats on them. We were in a third class wagon that has something like sixty beds in it. It's like bunk beds and ours were on top, so for the entire ride of almost 18 hours we basically laid in our beds in the ridiculous heat. I don't think I have ever sweated so much for so long. I was sweating like a pig in that thing. Ugh. I had to keep reminding myself that I had been looking forward to pushing my comfort zone while on it. (Definitely pushed it. I was missing air conditioning more than ever in my life.) Also, every wagon on the train has a person who works on just that wagon, so the person takes your ticket, brings your bedding (yes, you get bedding too, and a towel to mop up your sweat because it's so freaking hot!) and things such as this. The man who worked in our wagon had his shirt off within ten minutes of the train leaving I think because of the heat. If I haven't painted a good enough picture of how hot it gets on these trains, it's like sitting in 35 degree heat for hours on end with no significant air flow. Not comfortable. You need to experience it for yourself to truly understand. Luckily, part of our travel was through the night so at least it cooled off a bit.
We arrived in Mariupol the next morning, where two of Leera's friends met us at the train station. We were going to take a bus to Berdyansk, and her friends drove us to the bus station and were going to help us buy our tickets. But once we got to the bus station, the ticket line was so long that we actually ended up taking a taxi. There are some taxi drivers that are there who drive between cities, and it cost only 75 UAH (8 UAH per CDN dollar) each to go to Berdyansk by taxi, which is about 100 km if I remember correctly, maybe more, so I was completely fine with that. Not a bad price to travel that distance by taxi! We shared the taxi with two other people, and neither them nor the taxi driver spoke English, so it made for a quiet ride. They two others tried to communicate at first but soon realized it was not going to be a successful conversation. An hour later - Berdyansk at last!