Well, when you are reunited with one of your best friends, it’s difficult to tear yourself away and write in a blog!
Sasha and I met in Heidelberg when we were both earning our Masters degrees in American Studies. Yes, it’s random to earn a degree in American Studies in Germany, but our mutual love for Germany brought us there. We lived in the same building (don’t worry; I’ll visit and take a picture). Sasha lived in the penthouse level in a four-person apartment. They each had their own bedrooms and shared the kitchen and bathrooms. Being a friendly, open, caretaker-type, this arrangement was perfect for Sasha.
I lived on the second floor in my own apartment. I had a little stove and my own bathroom and balcony. Being a slightly prickly person who values her space and privacy, this arrangement was perfect for me. I could retreat into my little apartment and relax and emerge when I wanted to run, spend time with friends, or visit the German bakery located conveniently across the street.
Our first real meeting was on a Saturday. Though our apartments were furnished with the basics, none of us had any blankets or pillows. I had the shell for a bedspread and a pillowcase, but laying on a flat piece of fabric isn’t quite the same as having a plush pillow. Sasha came down to my apartment to invite me on a group trip to Ikea. He showed up at the door perfectly coiffed, I stumbled to open it dressed in ratty pajamas with my hair still tangled from its a night of tossing and turning on an empty pillow case. (OK, who am I kidding? My hair always looks like that…) We went to Ikea on the bus—because none of us had cars, and then we came home by bus, train, and bus. I had bought a chair at Ikea, and I had to struggle to get it on the bus—I was this awkward foreign girl knocking into everyone, but Sasha took it in stride. He was so confident.
Sasha still has that same level of confidence. It’s intoxicating to be around him. Part of my feels like the awkward-best-friend. I’m sure everyone has seen that “hot girl” who travels around with a posse of less-hot girls so she stands out. But another, stronger, part of me soaks it up. Sasha’s confidence is contagious and his intelligence is astounding. He’s currently researching the UN’s failed policies in emerging democracies, but while he travels all over the world and tries to change the world, he can still mesmerize a man with a single glance and find the cheapest plane tickets for his friends, and then go online and get them the best seats, and then use a coupon to make sure that the hotel they stay in before the flight is awesome. (I will always be slightly in love with Sasha—can you tell?)
But, before I met the fabulous man who is the Sasha I know, he had to grow up. He spent his university years in a city near his hometown called Lviv. According to Sasha, though Kiev is Ukraine’s capital, Lviv is the cultural capital. The city is beautiful.
I am an early riser. Sasha is not. I got out of bed while his mom was getting ready for work, so she, being a good hostess, wanted to make sure that I was set for the day. She made coffee for me and tried to drag Sasha out of bed. It’s amazing what you can understand without even being able to speak the language! (“Get out of bed” “Don’t be lazy”)
I enjoyed my coffee. Eventually Sasha emerged, and we ate breakfast before heading off to Ukraine on a mini-bus. I personally think the mini-buses look like campers. They crack me up!
Lviv has one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe. Yes,Ukraine, though not a part of the EU is a part of Europe. Sasha’s mom used to take him for kiddie operas and then take him out for a milkshake afterward. We shared a milkshake at Sasha’s old haunt, and I think the milkshake can take its rightful place as the official drink of these super-slender Ukrainians because that thing was small. It was delicious, but I think if an American kid got a milkshake that size, he would cry until mommy got him another one—and then roll himself back home and plop in front of the tv for a few hours of computer games. Sadly, I have no picture of the milkshake, which I realize is the important part of this story, but here’s the opera house:
Sasha spent the rest of the morning showing me around his university. We traipsed through the halls where he used to have classes, and he showed me the English and History departments as well. Sasha majored in International Affairs though he originally wanted to major in translation because of his talent at English. Competition for places in the translation department was fierce, so he decided to go for international affairs because he would still devote a lot of his time to studying foreign languages. English was his first foreign language, and they had four (?) hours per day. He added French in his second year and Serbian in his third year. (Uh, wow. I took a semester of Spanish in college.) Sasha lived in the dorms for his first two years, but after spending a year studying abroad in America, he didn’t want to return to the less-than-stellar conditions of the dorms, so he found his own apartment.
After a morning of exploration, we were hungry, so we stopped at a typical Ukrainian cafeteria for lunch. I think we ate at Cafeteria’s every day. It’s just like eating in a college cafeteria—the prices are reasonable, there’s a large variety of choices, and the food is fresh and traditional.
We both had a hot and sour soup, and I added some stuffed zucchini and onion pie. That’s the onion pie you see in front of me. It was some kind of thick dough layered with onion and mayonnaise. Honestly, they should have called it a mayonnaise pie. Ukrainians love their mayonnaise.
We looked at a lot of the beautiful Lviv architecture, but honestly I’ve waited to long to write this post, I’m afraid to spread misinformation about the things we saw, so I’ll keep it light.
LOOK!! A license plate with Cyrillic letters!
This car can only be driven in Ukraine. In order to leave the country, a car must have a license plate with the Ukrainian flag. Also, the plate can only have those cyrillic letters that are also roman letters! (lame)
In sordid Lviv history, the guy who invented S&M (yes, that S&M) died here. He was an Austrian count who came to Lviv and… died… Now there’s a cafe with his name.
Masoch becomes masochism! Brilliant!
If you look carefully at the picture below, you’ll see that my hand is going into old Leo’s pocket. Yup, there’s stuff in there and yup, I took a picture. SCROLL PAST IT IF YOU’RE SENSITIVE!!
I know! I’m shocked, too. From schoolteacher to statue-groper, my how the mighty have fallen….
Then, we went to another section of the city and saw a statue.
“Hello my Ukrainian friends, I bring you the printing press.” The man memorialized in the statue below was the Guttenberg of this area; he was the first person to print a book with Cyrillic letters! Yeah!
So now, in his honor, they hold a book sale at his feet every day.
Sasha found an awesome book in English that carefully explains the differences between complex words like enormous-vast-gigantic. It goes into detail about the intricacies of using these very similar vocabulary words, which are translated into the same word in Russian. The book was clearly written in 1960. It uses such lovely phrases as Negro and Colored. Hmmm, those are no longer a part of the accepted vernacular, huh? The book also has a clear pro-Soviet perspective, such as an explanation of the word “Commie” that states, “a disparaging term used for those who believe in the equality of all people, normally used by dirty capitalists”… or something like that.
We decided to end our day on a high note—literally. We climbed up the “high hill” to look at Lviv below.
What a wonderful day.