For this part of my travels, I was so lucky to have the chance to really see how Ukrainian people live. The bus that took me to Sasha stopped in Lviv, and I always thought that he lived in the city, but he actually grew up in a little city about an hour outside of Lviv. We got to use the mini buses a lot!
On the outside, the apartment buildings still look very Communist and grey, but the individual apartments are beautiful. The adjustment from living under the USSR to creating a burgeoning democracy cannot have been easy. Can you imagine have empty supermarkets one day and stores bursting with produce the next? What would you buy? Would you buy everything in case the next day it was all gone? The idea of ownership has also been difficult to master. In certain areas, people let their neighborhoods go because they assume the state will still take care of them. In others, especially where stores have arrived, people take a lot of pride in making sure that their storefront is beautiful, but it can be kind of funny to walk down the sidewalk: certain stores have beautiful bricks and patterns in front of them, but in between stores there can still be old, bumpy sidewalk.
Just in case you couldn’t picture Sasha’s living room and the bed-to-couch set-up, here are some pictures. The first picture has one couch to the right and the other is way off to the left (outside the picture) in a little alcove. The stuff in the floor is mine; I was packing up my backpack.
We went to visit Sasha’s mom at her office to print out some documents. I didn’t take any pictures; I just kind of sat there stupidly, but I met a lot of her colleagues. One is learning English with her son but didn’t want to speak it in front of Sasha, but Sasha told me later that they all really liked me. Lesson learned: people will like you more if you don’t open your mouth, Heather … or, if you’re the only foreigner they’ve ever met.
We then walked to a local store where I was fascinated by cyrillic writing (shock!), milk in a bag, and scoop your own frozen stuff (like in the candy aisle).
We headed over to the train station to reserve our tickets to Kiev. Buying these tickets set off the security warning on my credit card even though they knew I was going to be in Ukraine! That’s caution!
The big city in the middle is Lviv (Sasha’s college town), and we are currently in the city in red.
After running errands, I decided to go for a run. It was about midday. The schools were letting out and people were out and about for lunch and other things. Now, you must understand that running for exercise is very foreign to this area. We did see runners in Kiev, but that city is much more diverse. I, once again, in addition to my inane smiling, was a freak! I think you’d have to gauge your reaction by imagining someone riding their horse down the middle of a suburban neighborhood—it just wouldn’t happen. When I visit my friend Jen in Pennsylvania, there are some nearby Amish families, and I get excited when I see them driving their wagons down the street.
So, here I was, the equivalent of an Amish person driving a wagon down Philadelphia Pike in Claymont… (Philadelphia Pike is the main street through a slightly depressed suburb of Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA.) People stared. A group of middle-school-age kids shouted stuff at me. I’m guessing the stuff was rude, but no local grown-ups yelled at them, so it just might have been random. One of them started chasing after me, and when he caught up, I offered to take a picture with him because all the kids had their cellphones and cameras out. One of them was brave enough to say hello and offer their names, but those kids definitely got a kick out of my running—especially since I ran past them about three times (I didn’t want to get lost).
At one point, as I was turning around, a man sweeping the streets asked me for the time. It took me a minute to realize what he was asking me as I don’t speak the language, but he indicated an imaginary watch on his wrist. When I showed him my watch, he smiled, and as I ran away he shouted, “Thank you very much!” People on the main streets did a double-take when they saw me coming, and the old ladies on the mini-buses that drove past definitely pressed their noses up against the windows. I decided to pretend I was a celebrity. Why not, really?
After I cooled down, showered, and got over myself, Sasha and I decided to take a walk through his city. Parts of it were absolutely beautiful. I love the way European cities are arranged! We walked through parks, across town, stepping in and out of stores, and everywhere had sidewalks and places for pedestrians. Three years ago, when I moved back to the USA from Germany, I wanted to maintain the lifestyle I had developed abroad. I wanted to walk everywhere and ride my bike, but it can be really difficult in the US. I lived in areas where there were sidewalks, but it wasn’t necessarily safe. I have a bike, but I ride for fitness rather than transportation. Public transportation where I was working was okay, but I had a car, so I used it. Taking a bus where I grew up in New Jersey is impossible. There is no public transport.
We walked past the ministry for culture where all the high schoolers graduate together in the summer. Instead of each high school having its own ceremony, the city holds a huge graduation, and everyone attends. I made Sasha stand where he would have stood for his graduation, by the area for public school #8.
We walked all the way across the city to see a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church. We saw a lot of these beautiful churches in Ukraine, but it’s so interesting to remember that for fifty years, there was no permitted state religion. Under Soviet rule, people could not have religion. The soviets made all these gorgeous, ancient churches into warehouses, and citizens have only been able to reoccupy their places of worship since 1991. They have made amazing amounts of progress in twenty years restoring many of these buildings to their former glory.
With one last family dinner, we said goodbye to Sasha’s mom. She was such an amazing, friendly host. Both she and I regretted not really being able to speak to each other because we both had so many questions for one another. It was so cool to form a nice friendship with someone without having the ability to really communicate.
Then, Sasha and I set off again for Lviv! We were taking the overnight train to Kiev! YES!! I love traveling and sleeping at the same time. I have only taken a sleeper train once before although I have slept on trains more times than I can count. In 2004, my cousin Kate and I made a grand tour of Europe. We each had Eurrail passes, so we used the public transport system as much as possible. I had this big book of all the train times for big cities that I would flip through when we wanted to find our next destination. (That’s only six years ago, but I wonder if backpackers still use the big book or if they all check train times on their iPhones!) It takes awhile to get used to traveling; you have to develop a rhythm. Kate and I certainly developed a rhythm toward the end, when we crisscrossed the continent in order to sleep on the trains and save on hostel spending! However, for our first big trip from Paris to Zurich, we followed the rules. We went to the train station in Paris and paid a supplement for the sleeper car. We ended up sleeping on the top-top bunks in a six-bunk compartment with an American family who was moving from France to Switzerland. It was certainly interesting. Later, we realized that we could dash into one of the sitting compartments on the train, shut the doors, and sleep across the seats for free (well, for no additional supplement), so we did that… slightly less safe (I almost got robbed once) but certainly an adventure.
The train station in Lviv was much more impressive than I remembered from my rainy, cold early morning arrival!
We found our train!
Learn your letters!! Lviv is on the left and Kiev is on the right…
We found our cabin.
The cabins were stocked with bedding! You can see the mattress pad in the top left. In little bags, we got sheets, mattress covers, and pillowcases. It was very swanky! I chose the top bunk. (That’s my little ladder)
Sasha made the beds. (Is this why I’m single? ;-))
I settled in to my top bunk for the night.
The view of the cabin from above:
I’ll see you all in Kiev when we wake up!