Thursday, August 21, 2008

UA - Kyiv

Back in Kyiv, I scuttled out the door to give Svitlana the freedom to go about her business with moving into her new apartment. I offered to help, but was instead directed to go out and enjoy Kyiv. Therefore, having felt like I’d seen most of Kyiv already, I decided to go out and see some of its less popular destinations.

Babyn Yar is where tens of thousands were slaughtered by the Nazis, so it’s a sure draw for a World War II guru such as myself. It is also a cinch to reach: a Metro station is right there at the park. However, without a map to guide me to the memorials, I really didn’t have any particular idea in my head as to where to go from the Metro station. The station lets you out at a corner of the park, and it is a much bigger park than I thought – well-forested, at that. I spotted the memorial to youth right at the station and eventually found the Jewish memorial; but ultimately missed the Soviet-built memorial.

I went clear through the park and ended up at St. Cyril’s, located along the west side of the park and dedicated to the same saint who brought the Cyrillic alphabet to the Slavs – hence the name Cyrilic (in case you really needed me to point that out for you). The interior is lovely, with four beautiful icons on the iconostasis. There are amazing works up in the choir area (a steep staircase away) and also some neat works dealing with Judgment Day (a spiritual fascination of mine).

While there were still a couple museums I’d missed – specifically the Chernobyl museum and the World War II museum – I also missed exploring the interiors of the St. Sophia area. A ride on the Metro later, I was back at St. Sophia’s and this time made my way up the bell tower to get a great view over the city. It’s not too far from the tower at St. Michael’s, but the view is still different enough.

The interior of the church itself has a neat mix of restored areas and areas still awaiting restoration, though it’s possible that restoration has been delayed indefinitely to provide just such a comparison between old and new. Continuing on my Judgment Day kick, there are some great paintings on the 2nd level; also including one of Noah’s Ark.

Time was running short, but I knew I needed to eat something now or risk going the rest of the night without any chow. My nearest Metro stops were either the one I came from or the one right in the center, and I fortunately knew a place right in the center with a menu I could read, translate, pronounce, and I knew to be tasty enough: Mister Snek (Мистєр Снєк).

I ordered the Hot Dog Picant, which is not only the literal letter-by-letter translation; but is fortunately also how it’s pronounced. As one might guess, it’s a spicy hot dog. Granted, “spicy” in many northern-European countries is basically anything more than “not-at-all spicy”, and sure enough I’d classify this as mild; but it nonetheless had a good flavor. The mustard, in particular, was exactly the kind of mustard I love. Actually, I was just happy to have mustard at all – that’s a rarity in many countries (though what’s more of a rarity: peanut butter).

The main street, vul Kreshchatyk, had been closed – alone with some of the side-streets leading into it. The side-streets were closed by the police, but it appeared that the army had shut down Kreshchatyk. This delayed me slightly, which was problematic in that I was supposed to be back at Svitlana’s apartment at 1800; and by the time I got on the Metro: it was 1805. It’s about a 20 minute Metro ride… and a 10 minute walk. I made it in 25 minutes, my delay ultimately partly my fault and also partly that of the closure. I’d say I did rather well, though, considering the only clock I saw was when I first walked into the Metro at 1805.

Fortunately, the girls had been working during that extra 30 minutes, anyway. I was ready to go within 3 minutes after my arrival – having prepared everything before I left. All I had to do was put everything lined along my bed into my small backpack, slide that backpack into the big one, tie my shoes onto the whole thing, and then head out the door.

We first moved Svitlana’s things down to the taxi, below. Svitlana and her roommate, Victoria, took the taxi to their new place; and Anastasia and I both went back to grab our bags, then to Metro. Neither of us had ever been to the Pozniki Metro station before – the stop just before Svitlana’s initial residence right near Kharivska – so going off Svitlana’s quick directions (told only in Russian): we looped around a little bit before we got ourselves on the right track.

With all the bags dropped off in the new apartment – which I personally thought seemed rather nice, though Svitlana disagrees – we sat momentarily as per the tradition that one should always sit before a journey. In my head, however, I’m thinking about how we’ve been rushing about since we have a train to catch later tonight. Ahh well, I sat right between Victoria and Anastasia, crushing both their thighs with my super-sized American behind. I was expecting some traditional farewell speech, but instead all it was was a sit: a second after I sat, I was directed right back up again. We were on our way.

Back at Pozniki Metro, I inquired about how much time we had to make it to the train station. “30 minutes” was Svitlana’s reply. I responded with “plenty of time.” She went on to clarify how our next 30 minutes would break down, and sure enough the same thoughts were already running through my head; but you all know me: I’m always positive. It could be the end of the world and I’d still talk about how neat it is to get to experience such a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, in my head I was thinking about the 25 minute Metro ride to the station… the 5 to 10 minute walk to the train… and… that’s already a 5 minute overage; and I’d have dearly loved to purchase some water before the trip.

At the Metro station, Svitlana and Anastasia exit like a rocket; but I get bogged down by crowds (no help to the bulk of my pack). I keep them in sight, but drop quite a bit behind – particularly on the escalators out of the Metro, where I didn’t know how to ask people to step aside to let me pass. I was relieved when someone finally get up, said the magic phrase (like “friend” in Elven), and I followed in their wake.

Emerging from the Metro station at the train station, we immediately crossed over to the stairs that lead to the tunnel which usually lead to the trains that we’d want. Now by “crossed over”, I actually mean that Svitlana was running and both Anastasia and I were chasing after. There’s a board above the stairs which shows which trains are at which platforms, but our train wasn’t on it. We had four minutes.

Svitlana runs back outside and into a ticketing office just beside the Metro’s entrance. This office, however, is for regional trains; not longer-distance trains such as what we were taking. Fortunately, the seemed to give Svitlana the right advice. She ran back out and next thing we know, we’re chasing her all the way around to the train station’s main entrance. En route, a friend of Svitlana’s freshly back from abroad just happened to be there; and I see this unknown girl join our running behind Svitlana right up until they do a running hug. We continue on our way into the train station – the clock says we have three minutes.

The escalator up to the platforms was packed and had a lengthy queue, and Svitlana nimbly managed to get around the queue and jump in. Anastasia and I were struggling to navigate around the crowds, and I more-than-rudely pushed aside several people as I tried to cut onto the escalator. The clock changed as we stood on the escalator… 2 minutes.

It wasn’t a long escalator, but it felt excruciatingly slow. I’m sure it wasn’t any slower than any other escalator, but time seemed to be flying whilst the world seemed to be moving in slow-motion. Fearful we lost Svitlana (which would have been very very bad), we were relieved to see her at the top of the escalator. Once again, she led the chase with Anastasia and I close behind – no more crowds in our way, thanks to the escalator metering the mob.

We spotted our train and I watched as the conductor moved onto the steps to board the train. Svitlana yelled something, which I can only assume translated to something like “wait for us!” We got on, with the doors closing right behind us and the train beginning its movement seconds later. Sweet timing. Moving through the cabins, my body was in overdrive from the adrenaline of the chase, and combined with the heat: I was pumping out sweat. When we got to our cabin, I right-away ordered two liters of water; and I downed a ½ liter in about 5 seconds.

Compared to our sprint across Kyiv, the remainder of the night was relatively calm. Our fourth cabinmate was a girl about our age, and I felt bad that the three of us barged in just when she was probably getting comfy with the thought of having her own cabin; and we hadn’t said anything at all to her. I tried, but she didn’t speak English, German, Italian, or Spanish, so I smiled and said “Russky, nyet”.

This was an older car without air conditioning, but we could open up our window to let some air in. With the curtain the way it was, all the incoming air was directed directly onto my head. This felt absolutely fantastic following our frantic running about earlier, but dare I say that I started to become cold later on. At some point in the middle of the night, I tried to finagle with my blanket; but after 30 minutes I just couldn’t seem to get it in a way I like.

When I sleep, I like conformity: my mattress sheet needs to be smooth, and my sheets & blankets need to be balanced. I can’t have a sheet here, a blanket there – the unequal weight distribution and sheer imperfection of it all bothers me. So for 30 minutes I was trying to get my sheet and blanket to match up, except that I’d manage to roll myself up in the sheet, and I had some mental problem with the thought of my blanket’s extra berth daring to touch the dirty floor. Throw in the itchiness of these blankets and you have a whole bunch of constraints that made it pretty difficult to get myself comfy. I pulled it off in the end, but I really haven’t the faintest idea how I ultimately arranged everything.

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