Well, I’m going to write a little about my trip. I’ll start from the beginning. It’s going to be a little like a diary for me if you don’t mind. And of course, I’d never know if you didn’t read it.
Well, it started off fine on Sunday, September 23, 2007. The flight from Philadelphia to Frankford was uneventful. The flight from Frankford to Warsaw, however, was delayed because of mechanical problems, and so we missed our connection, only one flight a day, to Odessa where we had hotel reservations for 2 nights. Lufthansa put us up at a Marriott Courtyard including vouchers for three meals. So we made the best of it. We hired a guy to take us around Warsaw where we had never been. And it was great. He was very knowledgeable, and we saw a lot in a few hours. It was a combined tour of the normal Warsaw sights and the Jewish ones. Of course, we saw the ghetto where all that horror took place.
The hotel room was nice, and as I said to Tony this will be the best room we’ll have until we get home. And so it was.
The next day we arrived in Odessa, the so called pearl of the Black Sea. Our hotel was an old Soviet one renovated sort of recently. We had a two room suite with a sea view. The view was sensational. The accommodations were strange but adequate. The toilet didn’t quite flush enough, but so what.
We got situated and then took off for the beach supposedly a 5 minute walk. We walked along the sidewalk or path which was all broken up. You had to look down a lot or …. We saw the sea but not really a beach. We were supposed to be near one of the best beaches. So we walked and walked until magically we did find the nice beach.
It was very interesting with open restaurants and closed down amusement rides and piers and playgrounds. We walked out onto one of the piers and saw an amazing man of war or huge jelly fish. Who knows. Lots of people were looking at it. People were fishing off the pier.
Eventually, we decided to head back and try to get a taxi near a hotel that I thought was up the hill. I had read about it. So after peeing in a bathroom where I had to pay for toilet paper and pee in a hole, we climbed a million steps past stray dogs, not dangerous, over lots of trash, icky, and ended up seeing that it was not a hotel but an unfinished apartment building. There are all sorts of building going on but nothing much finished. The place which was a one time beautiful vacation resort is in a serious state between repair and disrepair. It’s sad for such a great spot. Anyway, we got nowhere. And it was getting dark, and we were far from our hotel. I opted to go back down the steps, but Tony saw a spot to go through where he had seen someone else go. So off we went. We were walking faster and faster and faster not really knowing where we were going. Tony fortunately has a good sense of direction but still…. We were getting scared. I had all the money and passports and tickets in my purse clutched to my body. I didn’t think we’d get killed but maybe mugged. Any person we saw which was rare seemed very unfriendly. I did see an old lady at one point walking behind us, and I felt a little better. But we lost her because we were going so fast. We finally somehow started walking through a park where we saw a couple making out. And then we saw a couple walking who looked middle-aged. We started to follow them. We caught up with them, and I asked them where we could get a taxi. Oh, by the way almost nobody spoke any English. But I said taxi. And miraculously, the woman spoke English. We told her the name of our hotel, and we were very close to it. They have a daughter who spent the summer in North Carolina on a work program. So we walked and talked together and we got to our hotel safely. Her husband spoke no English but said in Ukrainian, which she translated for us, that he was happy that his wife was able to speak to such wonderful people, us. How nice. They left us, and we went across the street to a grocery store and got a bottle of vodka. We went back to our room and sat out on our terrace facing the sea with a full moon and drank our vodka finally relaxing and feeling safe. We then went to dinner at a nearby restaurant. So that was our first night in Odessa.
The next morning we had the complimentary breakfast, yuk, and then took a long walk. We went to a park and sat for a while. It was a beautiful day. In fact, I will mention that we had beautiful weather throughout the whole trip. We also went to a very up scale shopping center nearby which was interesting. I got money from an ATM machine and had the choice of grivnas, euros, or dollars.
We checked out, got a cab and went to our boat. We saw the boat but couldn’t figure out how to get to it. Tony went searching, and I screamed over to some of the crew. Two young men immediately came over and took our suitcases and led us to the boat. Yeah. Suffice it to say, nothing was easy on this whole trip.
So we were able to get to our cabin early. It was very small but well designed. Two very narrow beds but room for all of our stuff. The bathroom was small with a shower that you hang up above the sink and let it go all over you and the bathroom. I unpacked. Then we checked out the boat. On the sun deck, we saw a bunch of people sunning. A lot of the women were in their bras, believe it or not, and the men in their underwear. As it turns out, they were leftovers from the last cruise who had not yet disembarked. The people in our group were also uninhibited while sunning but not that much.
We had lunch and were planning to go ashore and walk around but we didn’t. We were going to tour Odessa with the group the next day. So we gave in to just relaxing on the deck and reading. People started coming aboard, and we talked to some. We had an orientation meeting before dinner. There were 246 people on the boat. One third was from North America, Canada and the US. The rest were from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. There were 2 restaurants, neither of which could hold everyone. So we were divided into two groups. All the people from North America ate in one restaurant, and the rest in the other. And further divided, the Canadians who outnumbered us sat together and those from the US sat together. Once we sat down for the first meal, they were our seats for the whole trip. No changes! Also, we were segregated for the bus trips unless there weren’t enough people to make up a trip. In each city, there was either an included walking tour or bus tour of the city. It was apparent in many situations that the strict and regimented mentality under the Soviet rule has left an almost indelible mark on their culture. It’s going to take a long time to change. It really reminded us of being in Russia in 1974. But of course, not as bad.
We made friends with our table mates. We had Bill, a single 60+ year old man who was an angry Vietnam vet recently married to a Vietnamese, much younger woman who is, can you guess, a manicurist. We have no idea why he was on this trip. We kept imagining he was some kind of spy. And there were Armando, a 70+ retired judge from Suffolk County, NY and his wife Christine, a 50-60 ? year old divorce lawyer. They also have a wild story which I won’t go into. So we were an interesting group. Since we ate 3 meals a day together and went on excursions together, we got somewhat intimate. For example, Bill gave me his cheese at breakfast, and he took my butter. He got tired of his salads, and so I ate them. After a while we all started eating whatever someone else didn’t want.
There were 3 bars on the boat with live music in each one. The first night we went to the Luna Bar and listened to the Odessa Band. I loved them, especially the lead guy who sang like Frank Sinatra and others even though he knew no English. The first night Tony and I were the only ones there. We danced, and they just played for us. I eventually bought their CD. I ended up buying 5 CD’s from various groups. To be continued. I’m not sure when. Who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go up and down steps after my knee surgery.
So good night for now.
The Ukraine, Part 2
To continue, the next day after breakfast, we went on a city tour of Odessa. It was a combined bus/walking tour with a local guide. All the tours were led by locals which was great. We walked around all the interesting sights near the port. We saw from up and down the Potemkin Steps which rise 460 feet from the sea to the upper levels of the Black Sea. That was where the revolt of the Battleship Potemkin took place in 1905. Did either of you ever see Eisenstein’s movie The Battleship Potemkin where you see the revolt on the steps and the baby carriage with a baby in it falls down the steps? The steps weren’t called the Potemkin Steps until after the movie was made. Odessa was started by Catherine the Great in the late 1700’s and became an important seaport. It was a very beautiful resort city and still looks good in spots. All sorts of people had fallen in love with the city in its heyday. There were many pastel-colored mansions and hotels and spas. So much of the Ukraine was leveled during WWII and then neglected under the Soviets, that it’s taking a long time for the rebuilding to be completed. The economy of the Ukraine is not so great either. The beautiful opera house had just reopened a few days before we got there. We walked around and looked at all the old buildings and monuments. They are very keen on monuments. Also, Odessa had been an open city, and people from all over Europe settled there. Some of the streets still have the names of the nationality of the people who lived there, like Greek Street, Italian Street, French Street and Jewish Street. Odessa had one of the largest Jewish populations of Europe. In the late 1800’s under the Czar Nicholas II, Jews were allowed to settle outside the Pale. And many Jews settled and prospered in Odessa. They became a very large percentage of the population.
We rode around the city and found out more about some of the places we had seen the day before on our own. In the afternoon after lunch, we took an optional tour of Jewish Odessa which was also interesting. We went into one of the remaining active synagogues. It was still Succoth, and a lot of the congregation was there eating in the Succoth house. They were very welcoming to us. It’s still hard for me to fathom why any Jew would ever want to live in any of these cities.
We looked at different houses where famous Jews lived. It was funny when one of the guys on the tour had his wife take a picture of him in front of one of the houses. He said he’s going tell everyone that’s where his mother lived. It seems like most Jews whose parents emigrated from the Ukraine to the US have so little information on where they actually lived in the Ukraine. I guess they were so happy to leave they never wanted to talk about it again. Who knows.
During this tour we got friendly with some of the other Jews. I guess a bond was formed, tenuous as it was.
By the way, whenever we were off the boat, I usually wore a skirt because I never knew what kind of bathroom would be available. Most of the bathrooms even if clean were just holes that you had to squat over.
Back on the boat and off we sailed to our next port of call, Sevastopol. Bye, bye Odessa, or so we thought. The sailing at first was pretty rocky. We were on the Black Sea. We had our dinner and then met with the captain and some of the crew outside on the top deck. During the meeting we heard screaming. A woman had fallen down the steps. I should tell you that the steps on the boat were such that you always felt, at least I did, that you had to hold on to the rails. No elevators. And the outside steps were really steep and scary. There was a doctor on board, and she gave her some immediate treatment. But apparently the woman was seriously hurt and unconscious for a while. The boat was turned around, and we were headed back to Odessa for her to get to a hospital.
Every night at dinner we would get our schedule for the next day. So of course, the whole schedule had to change. We went to the Luna Bar again for music and dancing and vodka. The boat was rocking and rolling the whole night. We found out the next day that we were going faster than usual to try and make up the time
We kept getting updates on the woman who had fallen. She was hospitalized in Odessa. Her son and daughter-in-law who were both doctors came from Norway and saw to her care. She had fallen backwards and fractured her head in several places. We did hear eventually that she was able to go back to Norway and would probably be okay. I hope so.
Christine, one of our dining table mates was obsessed by this accident because she had seen it. One night I walk out of the dining room and see her reenacting the fall. Weird or what? I screamed at her telling her she was crazy. We were close enough at that point for me to do that.
To be continued.
The Ukraine, Part 3
So we arrived in Sevastopol a few hours later than originally scheduled. Before we go ashore, I have a few comments to make. Each cabin on the boat had a speaker for announcements, etc. Unlike other speakers in cabins we’ve had like on our Alaska trip, South America trip, the Ark in Kenya which announced unusual sights, this speaker could not be turned off. All announcements would be made in different languages. But best of all, each morning at 7:30, we would be awakened by chirping birds followed by an announcement when breakfast would be served and then very nice music for a half hour.
This morning, I started what would be my daily walk around the third deck, the only one you could go all around, for about 30+ minutes. It felt really good especially when the boat was moving and the air was blowing in my face. There were always others walking too. And there were also people smoking and looking out at the scenery.
We had 2 local English speaking guides throughout our trip. They were very nice and sweet and helpful. Natasha is 23 and Olesya is 27. An aside about Olesya. She was 14 when the Chernobyl incident occurred, and she was there. Her father was in the military. She had a blood disease as a result. So she and many other children were sent to Cuba for rest and a cure. She was there for 50 days. She gets tested periodically and is okay now. Both guides are very interested in politics and their budding democracy. They conducted several sessions on Ukrainian history and current events. At each stop, we also had local guides to lead the way and tell us about their cities.
We went on our city tour of Sevastapol. It’s on a very picturesque setting overlooking the sea. For a long time, this city was off limits to foreigners and Ukrainians as well because of its secret military status under the USSR. It has just opened up for visitors. It is still a base for the Russian and Ukrainian Navy. In a few years, the contract between Russia and the Ukraine will be up, and it will be interesting to see what happens. With the independence of the Ukraine in 1991, Russia has lost all of its naval bases on the Crimean peninsula.
When we got to the main square, we saw many brides and grooms and their guests placing flowers on different monuments. This is a custom for Ukrainian newlyweds. In the morning, the groom goes to the bride’s house and asks her parents for their approval to marry. Then they go to the city hall and get married. Then they go to the monuments with their flowers. And finally, they go to a restaurant where they celebrate with food, drink and dancing. And pictures are taken throughout the day. Sounds like fun. Linda and Elaine, it reminded me of when we were in Central Park and saw all those Asian brides and grooms walking through the park.
We also noted along the square all kinds of signs and speakers and music regarding the upcoming election to be held on Sunday, Sept. 30. After being under the domination of Russia and the USSR, they are very active in their politics.
Sevastopol has been destroyed during different wars. The last time, during its defense at the time of the WWII Nazi invasion, it was almost completely destroyed. It has always come back and is now, but slowly because of a poor economy. We looked at monuments attesting to the heroic defense by their navy. We saw lots of pretty scenery. We saw beaches and people actually swimming in the sea.
We also went to the Panorama Museum to see a very unique piece of art, the Panorama of the Sevastopol Battle. It’s a 3 dimensional circular work representing a 24 hour period in the defense of the city during the Crimean War. It’s the world’s largest artwork of its kind and has a whole museum of its own to show it off. It is truly amazing. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lloyd Tennyson tells the story too.
We stayed overnight in the port.
We went to another bar that night. As I mentioned there were three. The Odessa Band was in one every night, a young man who played various instruments was in another, and a young woman who played the piano in the other. Sometimes, she was accompanied by a woman playing a bandura, their national instrument. They played beautifully. It was like a chamber music concert. There was also a folk group who performed concerts from time to time playing Ukrainian music. I bought their CD too.
I also want to mention that Tony and I had decided that we were going to have borscht in every place we could. Borscht in the Ukraine is a soup that could have anything in it. Of course, we had it on the boat several times. And when we were in Odessa we had it our first night in a restaurant and later when we had some free time during our city tour. That was one of the best ones. We had it in an outdoor restaurant late morning before our lunch on the boat if you can believe that. I guess you can, knowing us. It was served with bread and some delicious garlic spread. It was yummy but the garlic taste stayed for a while. More borscht experiences to follow.
The Ukraine, Part 4
It is now the morning of Saturday, September 29, and we are set to sail to Yalta. We chose an optional overland tour by bus so that we could see more of the inland scenery as well as the sea views. It’s a mountainous area. We also passed Balaklava, a small town near Sevastopol. There is an underwater cave there which makes an underground harbor. The Soviets built a secret nuclear submarine repair station inside the cave which was completely hidden from the American satellites. This area has just been opened to the public. There had been an optional tour offered but was cancelled because of our change in schedule due to the woman’s accident.
On the way to Yalta, we saw a faraway view of the Swallow’s Nest, a Gothic style castle built on an overhanging cliff overlooking the Black Sea. We visited Livadia, the summer residence of the Russian czars. The Yalta Conference was held there in 1945 where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the famous treaty. It was an especially poignant experience walking through the palace. We saw some of the private rooms of the last czar and family with many photographs of them. And then downstairs we saw the room where the treaty was signed, and the rooms where Roosevelt stayed. There were many photographs there also.
We eventually arrived in Yalta, after passing by some interesting places such as Chekhov’s house, just about the same time as our boat. And just in time for lunch.
Yalta is a beautiful city and often called the Pearl of the Crimea on the “Crimean Riviera.” It is surrounded by high mountains which help make it always warm, relatively speaking. The winters are mild, and the summers are temperate. The water is warm enough to swim in even when we were there. As an aside, I forgot to mention before that in Odessa, the beaches were nice sandy ones. And in season, there is standing room only.
Yalta was once the retreat of the czars and the Russian nobility and later became the resort of Soviet leaders. Gorbachev still has a dacha there which we saw from our boat.
After lunch we decided to stay on the boat and relax and read on the sunny deck. We would explore the city further the next day. That night after dinner, we had a wine tasting party in one of the bars. We bought a bottle of champagne made in Odessa. All the wines were from there. More music in the bars.
The next morning after breakfast, we went on a walking tour of Yalta. We were supposed to end up near the cable car and go on one if we chose. I wasn’t going to do that, but since it happened to be windy they were not running. Instead we walked and went to a market. Then we went our own ways. Along the sea front, there is a beautiful promenade filled with restaurants, cafes, stores, etc. We took a walk along it. There was a beach near the dock, where there were many people sitting, and swimming too. I put my feet in the water, and it wasn’t bad. We sat for a while just watching people and enjoying the nice day.
The beach was pebbly and rocky not sandy like in Odessa. We also saw women walking around selling dried fish which people actually bought. We saw that in Odessa too.
We continued to walk along the promenade. We found a decent bathroom which of course we had to pay to use. It was actually a sit down one.
Even though it was still morning, we decided to find some borscht. We went to this one place, and when Tony asked if they had any, one of the women got so hysterical laughing she had to remove herself from the scene. We weren’t sure if she laughed because it was really breakfast time or our pronunciation or what. We moved on. We did finally find a nice outdoor place and sat down and had borscht again with the bread and garlic. A few kittens joined us. They never touched the table but just sat along side of us. This was our rip off borscht. I thought it tasted good, but we never looked at the menu for the price and it turned out to be kind of high. But we thought, oh well, we’re helping the economy. And it was our fault for not looking.
Today was election day, but I didn’t see any evidence of it. It was a Sunday, and there were a lot of people walking along the promenade. We didn’t see much church activity either. People can partake in religious activity now, but we didn’t see much of it until we got to Kiev.
It was time to go back to the boat. We were supposed to sail at 1pm, but we were delayed for a while because of the windy conditions.
We went to a Ukrainian history lesson in one of the bars. And later in the afternoon, we went to a pirozhki party. We thought we were going to be eating something like pierogies, but they were actually pastries filled with jellies or cheese. They were kind of skimpy with the fillings. However, they served them with different jellies that you put on top of the pastries. And they were served with tea. It was a nice party anyway.
Later after dinner we heard a concert by the folk band.
The next day in the afternoon, we were scheduled to arrive in Kherson.
To be continued.
The Ukraine, Part 5
This morning, October 1, we were finally sailing in the Dnieper River. Bye bye Black Sea. We went through our first of several locks.
After breakfast, we went to a lecture on present day Ukraine. We went because we wanted to get the first results of Sunday’s election. I told you that our guides were very interested in politics. The Ukraine is divided by the Dnieper River. The people west of the river are pro-western and those east of the river are more pro-Russian. If you remember in 2004, there was the so-called orange revolution, and the pro-western Viktor Yuschenko, the one who supposedly was poisoned and whose once handsome face was left damaged and distorted, won the presidency against Yanukovich, the Putin chosen candidate. And remember, Yulia Tymoshenko, the beautiful blond-braided hair woman became prime minister. Without going into detail, she and Victor had their falling out. And then Yanukovich, whom they call the criminal because he was one before he became prime minister. This recent election was to choose a new parliament and new prime minister. Natasha was for Yulia and Ellie was more for the criminal because she thought he could help bring the two parts of Ukraine together. Anyway, they were going back and forth while getting the results from their cell phones. It still hasn’t been decided, but it looks like Yulia, even though she didn’t get as many as the criminal, did get enough to form a coalition with Victor’s party to beat out the criminal. Clear as mud, right. Well, for the days following, we kept checking on the outcome. It was fun.
We arrived in the port city of Kherson. We went on a small boat to Fishermen’s Island where we had lunch at a local villager’s house. We ate outdoors and had a feast. The food was so good and varied. Better than lunch on our boat. And there was plenty of it. We also had moonshine, vodka made by the owners of the house. We had many toasts, and we also bought a bottle to bring back to the boat.
Our cabin in the boat had a small refrigerator. In fact, the hotels where we stayed in Odessa and Kiev also had small refrigerators. That was convenient. I should also mention that we were told never to drink the water in the Ukraine. So we always had bottled water. The only exception was in the dining rooms of the boat where there was always purified water at the tables. I drank it and never got sick.
The picnic on the island was very enjoyable. We were also allowed to go through the couple’s house which was interesting.
There were some stands with people selling stuff along the way back to the small boat. I helped Christine bargain to buy a fur hat. The ride back to our boat was a little longer and picturesque because the big boat moved up to a different spot.
We were sailing again at abut 5pm. And a few minutes later, believe it or not, we had a blini party in one of the bars. They weren’t as good as the ones we used to have in the Russian Tea Room, but they were passable. I was hardly hungry or thirsty for anymore vodka, but I did my best. Butter pats were to be spread on the blini and then filled with red caviar and served with vodka. No melted butter. No sour cream. Eh!
Dinner later. And more music in the bars. We had been going to the one with the Odessa Band where we danced. There were never very many people there. But one night, maybe this one, all of a sudden we were overrun by the Scandinavians. They were really good ballroom dancers. They knew all the steps, but they lacked a certain rhythm or spirit. They never smiled. Very serious. They reminded me of an episode I saw one time on 60 Minutes or something like that where it showed all these older Finnish couples mad about ballroom dancing. It was an alternative to suicide in the winter. Only kidding. Anyway, it was nice to see all the dancing. We joined in too.
The next morning we were to arrive in Zaporizhya. How do you like that name. Try and say that one.
To be continued.
The Ukraine, Part 6
I hope this has not become a burden.
So we arrived in that unpronouncable city of Zaporizhya sometime after breakfast.
By the way, the breakfasts are almost all the same everyday but kind of noteworthy. Our brochure and everyone else’s said we’d be having a breakfast buffet. I’m not sure if they know what that is since I never saw one since we left Warsaw. Each morning we would find a plate of cheese slices and some kind of meat slices already in front of us plus a flavored yogurt, juice, and rolls and/or fruit on the table. Then after a few days, we found out we could have hot porridge or cold cereals. And sometimes, we were offered eggs and some kind of a I don’t know what you’d call it but it tasted a little like a sweet kugel with sour cream.
After breakfast, we had a city tour. This city’s population is over 900,000. Did you ever hear of it? The city is famous for its Dnieper power plant and has one of the largest dams in Europe. Historically, it’s most noted for it being the home of the fierce Cossack warriors. We went to the Cossack Museum which was interesting. Outside the museum, there were two women singing Ukrainian songs, and of course I bought their CD. After the museum, we went into the city and saw some notable sights and walked around a pretty square on Lenin Boulevard. I haven’t yet mentioned that in every city we’d been in so far, there are monuments still existing for Lenin. None for Stalin of course. But for Lenin yes. It seems that most people want them there because it was a part of their history, and that’s it.
We went back to the boat after the tour, and had lunch. We chose not to take the optional trip for the Cossack horse show. Somehow I just couldn’t do it. I kept thinking about how fearful my grandmother was of the Cossacks. When she was really old and almost blind, she broke her hip and had to be hospitalized. Anytime a doctor came near her, she screamed out in fear that they were the dreaded Cossacks.
So we decided to venture out into the city by ourselves. And I needed some grivnas, or so I thought anyway. We walked for a while down a very nice boulevard heading to where we had been earlier on Lenin Boulevard. We thought we’d take a taxi but couldn’t find one on our way. And even though this was a pretty boulevard again the sidewalks were all broken up. Eventually, we did find a cab and got to our destination. I got my money, and we walked along Lenin Boulevard which was wide and really very nice. Hard to believe we were in an unknown city in the Ukraine. But we were.
Even though we knew that Christine and Armando, who is chubby and not in very good shape, walked back to the boat from there, Tony started to get a little nervous about missing our deadline. We walked for a while, and then I suggested we find a cab again. We finally did which was an experience in itself. He spoke no English and acted like what we were asking was absurd. We understood why in a little while. Meanwhile I got in the front because he kind of led me there. I closed the door and he acted like I did something horrible. Then I tried to put my seat belt on, and he made it known that he did not want me to do that. Somehow we communicated that we were from Pennsylvania, and he told us that he had a friend in Philadelphia. We arrived at the dock pretty quickly, and it turned out he was weird because he was embarrassed that he had to charge us for such a short ride.
We waited for the people to return from the Cossack show for dinner. At that time I met Harriet and Sid. They were an older couple from Allentown, PA. I soon found out that Harriet was from Philadelphia and grew up in the same neighborhood as I did, Strawberry Mansion. We went to the same elementary school, the same junior high school, the same high school and college. I thought that was astounding. She told me she got her job as a university professor at Lehigh University because the person who hired her knew about Girls’ High, the school we both attended. We immediately formed a bond.
After dinner, we went through one of the deepest locks, 36 meters deep. That was pretty neat in the dark with a really pretty orange moon up there. One of the passengers pointed out some of the constellations in the sky.
Then music in the bars, and drinks too.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 3, we passed through another lock. I was walking around the third deck for exercise at that time. That was pretty neat.
There were various activities going on while we were sailing. There were rehearsals for a variety show that was to be put on during the captain’s gala dinner.
We finally arrived in Kremenchug in the afternoon. We went on a city tour with one of the most interesting of our city guides. She was a university professor. And she was so forthcoming about anything anybody asked. She was a real treat. We walked for a while and then went to a museum. I stayed outside for most of that part just looking. Then she walked with some of us who chose to visit the only synagogue of the city. It was very plain as the other one was that we saw in Odessa. Groups from the US have donated money for its rebuilding. Two men who were there let us inside to look around. It was before the services that were to be held that night for Simchas Torah. We all gave something.
On the way back to the boat, we also stopped at a market where we bought another bottle of vodka.
On our way back to the boat, we saw Harriet and Sydney starting to venture out. Tony told them about our synagogue visit. They wanted to take a taxi to go there. Tony talked to our guide and asked if she would talk to them about whether that would be a good idea or not. As it turned out, she went with them, and the guide made sure they arrived back at the boat safe and sound and on time. They were so happy about their experience.
We didn’t set sail until about 9pm that night. We went through another lock later in the night.
We were off for Kaniv.
The Ukraine, Part 7
We arrived in Kaniv or Kanev, in the morning after breakfast. This was the first day that the weather wasn’t beautiful. When I was doing my usual early morning constitutional, it was drizzling.
We still met for a walking tour to a nearby park where there is a monument to Taras Shevchenko who was a great Ukrainian poet, artist, thinker and revolutionary. He is “it” in the Ukraine. All sorts of things are named after him.
He was born a serf, but after much struggle earned his freedom from the czar. Later in his travels, he fell in love with the beautiful scenery of the town of Kaniv. He dreamed of settling there and even chose a site for a house. His dream did not come true. He died in St. Petersburg in 1861. His friends transferred his remains to Kaniv to be buried on the high right bank of the Dnieper on a hill which came to be known as Taras Hill. We climbed 391 steps, believe it or not, to reach the monument where his grave is. At the top, a wide and beautiful panorama opens onto the Dnieper. At the bottom, there were old women selling flowers that you’re supposed to put at his gravesite. Tony bought some and placed them at the monument. At the top, we were met by a local guide who speaking in Ukrainian gave us a lecture about Shevchenko which was translated to us by one of our cruise guides. There was also a recording of Ukrainian music playing in the background. It was actually a very moody experience because of the site, the scenery, the music and the weather which was still cloudy and periodically drizzling. We walked down all the steps and went back to the boat.
The sun did finally come out mid-day just in time for our shashlik (shish-ka-bob), barbecue which was outside in a garden near our boat. We had to be led to our tables by the same waitress who waited on us in our dining room. So we still had to sit with our regular dining companions for this lunch too. The food was really good. Bill did not show. We waited for a while and then we ate his food, and I drank his vodka. Ha, Ha.
There was music from our folk group. Also, some of the old ladies who sold flowers were there to sing for us. And there was some amazing woman doing all kinds of acrobatics. A good time was had by all.
We went back to the boat, and at about 6pm, we set sail for Kiev. We went through another lock, the Kaniv Lock. Tonight was the captain’s gala dinner. There was to be a variety show performed by some of the passengers who had been rehearsing for the last few days and all sorts of other surprises. And the dinner was supposed to be special too. Can’t wait.
A couple of asides before I get to the gala.
As on most cruises, soft and alcoholic drinks including bottled water that are not part of the meals are at extra cost. On this boat, the cost of the drinks and extra snacks too was very inexpensive. You could get a good bottle of champagne for about $6. We were given a plastic card at the beginning of the trip which we could use to charge drinks. All told after a 12 night trip, we only spent a little over a $100 for all the extras.
Also, even though we did not have midnight buffets and other excesses that a lot of other boats have, the food was more than adequate in quantity as well as quality. For most lunches and dinners, we had choices, (usually only 2), for the main dishes and sometimes appetizers too. If there was fresh fruit on the table, we knew that was the dessert for that meal. At every lunch and dinner, we had some kind of salad already set in front of us. Bill got to dislike them, and so guess who ate his.
Back to politics. We found out that there was a rumor going around about President Yuschenko’s facial disfigurement. Some people say that it was actually a reaction to some hormone medicine he was taking to hold on to his youth and good looks rather than poison. Who knows?
So now for the big gala dinner.
The food was great, and there was free vodka and wine too. It was pretty nice. The captain speaks no English. Everything he said or was said to him had to be translated by one of our guides. He stayed a while, and then went to the gala in the other restaurant. Is that weird or what?
So after the dinner, there was music and entertainment. The Canadian group did their part and the US group did theirs. It was all fun. Then our guides did a very nice dance, sort of like a belly dance, together. Then some other weird puppet show that Tony and I and others were part of. Then Tony and I and two other couples were chosen to play a kind of Newlywed game but more of a long-time married one. We were couple #1. The men went outside while the women were asked 3 questions, where and when we met, where was our first kiss, and what was the weather when we got married. Then the men went in and were asked the same questions. We could hear all the laughter from inside. Then we went inside one at a time blindfolded and had to feel the men’s hands and pick whose were our husband’s. Then we sat down, and the men came in blindfolded and felt our knees to decide whose were their wives. So guess which couple won? Right! Couple #1. We won a bottle of wine. The other couples got some kind of prize too. Tony and I were popular for at least the next day because of our performance. One guy told us that he knew before we started that we would win. That was nice. The next night we shared our bottle of wine with our table.
We arrived in Kiev the next morning. While I was walking around the deck, I could see some pretty amazing sights, beautiful colored gold domes of the many churches and other striking monuments. Kiev is the capital of the Ukraine. It recently celebrated its 1000 year anniversary making it one of the oldest cities in the region. It has a population of over 2.5 million and is the national center of business, education and the arts.
We were planning to spend 2 extra days in Kiev. We had hotel reservations at the Hotel Ukrainia for the first night but held off for the second. Our flight home was at 6:45am, and so we thought maybe it would be better to spend the last night at the airport hotel. We could check our luggage in the Hotel Ukrainia and tour around until we got tired and then take a cab to the airport. Our guides tried to convince us to stay the 2 nights in Kiev proper. They tried and tried to call them to do that with no success. So when we arrrived in Kiev, we tried ourselves to call. We got through but could not get an answer about extending our reservation. We decided that at some point after we arrived in Kiev, we would go personally there and talk to them. Easier said than done.
To be continued.
The Ukraine, Part 8
I am getting to the end, believe it or not.
So I was very excited to finally be in Kiev, the area where all my maternal grandparents and extended family had lived. My father was born in a town outside Kirovograd, a city south of Kiev. Throughout the whole trip, I was always trying to put myself in all their places. Sometimes it was very eerie. And I especially thought about my paternal grandmother Hessie who traveled to the US with my father and his brother. How she went from a shtetel to the bigger town, and then somehow got to Bremen, Germany where they boarded a ship and landed in Baltimore in 1905. Then probably by train, they got to Chicago to meet her husband, my grandfather, and other relatives there who sponsored their immigration.
I have to say that I feel very lucky that they all were brave enough to make the trip.
After breakfast, we went on a city tour. The traffic is so incredible that it took almost 15 minutes for us to leave the lot. Oh, by the way, they even drive on the sidewalks. So we had to be very careful walking. There are so many cars and so few parking spaces that they jump the curbs even with fancy cars to park on the sidewalks.
We saw domes galore. We passed by Independence Square where our hotel was. It looked very impressive. It’s a tall Soviet looking monster looming over the square. We saw all the magnificent churches, especially St. Sofia Church which is more of a museum now. It’s amazing how much of the churches survived all the devastation although there is a lot of restoration going on. We got a pretty good look at the layout of the city.
We went back to the boat for lunch. In the afternoon, we went on a tour of Babi Yar. On the way to Babi Yar, we passed through the Podil, the old Jewish district. With wood houses, there were frequent fires there. The last big one was in the 1880’s. There’s a lot of rebuilding, and they’re trying to make it look like it did. There is one active synagogue there now which just recently opened. We visited it on our way back from Babi Yar.
Babi Yar means “women’s spring.” It’s on the outskirts of Kiev, and it was where the women washed their clothes. Over the two days of September 29-30, 1941, the Nazis aided by their collaborators brought 33,771 Jewish civilians, men, women, and children of Kiev to the ravine in Babi Yar. They were told that they were to take their belongings and were going to be sent to a work camp. Instead they were undressed and murdered and dumped into the ravine which was 3 kilometers long and 33 meters deep. This massacre is considered to be the largest single one in the history of the holocaust. Over time, this ravine was used repeatedly to kill gypsies, political prisoners, psychiatric patients, and anyone the Nazis wanted to get rid of. The total amounted to about 200,000 killed there. In order to cover up the crime, for 6 weeks from August to September 1943, chained prisoners were forced to dig up and burn the bodies and scatter the ashes in the vicinity. A documentary novel about Babi Yar was written by Kuznetsov in 1966, and a poem by Yevtushenko was written in 1961.
We visited the three monuments at the site. There is one built by the Soviets in 1976. There’s a simulated depression next to it that is supposed to represent the ravine. At the time, the Soviets did not want to acknowledge the Jewish aspect of the massacre. Finally, a plaque was put there recognizing how many Jews were killed. There is a monument in the shape of a menorah at the actual ravine. We could look down and see how deep it is. And there’s a monument for all the children. Needless to say, this was a moving and sad experience. It also is weird because such horrors happened in this spot, and now there are many people who live nearby walking, riding bikes, playing soccer and everything else.
On the way back, we stopped at the synagogue I mentioned before. It was Friday and almost dark, and so the congregants were gathering. Everybody was friendly and welcoming. We stayed only a little while because we had to get back. Again, I don’t know why they would want to live there. Maybe they have no choice.
Back at the boat, we did the usual, but we were starting to feel that our trip was coming to a close, at least the cruise part.
The Ukraine, Part 9
On Saturday, we had the day free to roam around Kiev on our own. So after breakfast, we took off for the city center. Across from the dock, there were a metro station and a funicular to get to the top of the city. Kiev is a city of hills. Because of the traffic, it took some doing just to cross the street over bridges and down and through underpasses. We took the funicular and found ourselves near one of the squares we had seen the day before.
We wanted to get to our hotel at Independence Square to settle our problem of where we were to spend our last night in Kiev. Even in the big city of Kiev, so few people speak English. We were surprised by that. We asked a zillion men in uniform who we thought were policemen how to get to where we wanted to go even showing them our map. Finally, we got there. It was Saturday, and there were all kinds of activities going on. Tony first went to MacDonald’s, yes, to go to the bathroom, and I just looked around in wonderment. This was where the demonstration and celebration of their independence was held in 1991. And this was where the millions gathered in 2004 during the so-called Orange Revolution. There was a large bandstand with loud music. Lots and lots of people. There is a very impressive recently built monument to their Independence in the middle of the square. Many interesting looking fountains. And there was an Avon Breast Cancer Awareness Walk and extravaganza going on. The whole scene was overwhelming. We looked around and then ventured over to our hotel. No easy task. We finally got there and inside. The lobby was dark and cavernous but with extremely high ceilings. With great difficulty, we finally were able to get our predicament across to the clerks. But after all that trouble, we decided that we’d be better off at the airport hotel. We were not going to be able to stay in the same room the second night. And on and on and on. So we sat down and called the airport hotel on our cell phone. Thank heavens for cell phones. And yes, even we are part of the 21st century. With only a little difficulty, we reserved a room for our last night. Whew!
So I got more grivnas from the hotel ATM and we were off for a walk and probably some borscht. The main drag, a very wide, and I mean wide boulevard is a walking street on Saturdays and Sundays. Walking there, I pictured Nazis marching down it. The Ukrainians held them off for 45 days in the battle for Kiev. It’s just hard not to think of these things when in a place like the Ukraine.
Anyway, it was again a beautiful sunny day, and there were all kinds of people outside walking and eating. There was an outdoor market down one of the side streets where any and everything you can imagine was being sold. Produce, fish, meat, clothing, and more.
We walked up and down and finally settled on one of the restaurants sitting partially outside. And we had our borscht. Tony also had a caviar sandwich and I had a salad. The borscht was good but not the best one. Still ranking as the best was the one in Odessa. While in the restaurant, I happen to notice a clothing store nearby that had a big sign in front, – 75%. My favorite. I put that in my memory bank for further exploration if possible.
Well, we finally walked part way back and took the funicular down to the dock and our boat. We were having an early dinner because we were going to the ballet!
We rode to the beautiful opera house where the ballet was being held. It was dark and we saw Kiev lit up. It was pretty nice. We passed our hotel and that was really lit up as well as everything else on the square.
We saw Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It was beautiful. And the music was great. What an experience. It was a Saturday night, and everyone was dressed up. And remarkably, there were a lot of children, even very young ones, in attendance. And they were very well-behaved. Tony nearly freaked when he saw 5 children and 3 adults sitting in front of us. They were French too. But they were fine. We found out later that children get into these performances for free in an effort to encourage appreciation of the arts from a very young age. Nice.
Oh, even in the glorious and beautiful opera house, the toilets in the ladies’ room were the same old holes in the floor with places along side to put your feet while squatting. But they were free, the toilet paper too.
This was our last night on the boat. So after the ballet, we went to one of the bars. More music and socializing. By this time, we knew a lot of people. We said our good-byes since almost everyone was getting up very, very early to go to the airport. One of the couples we got to know was Armin and Marilyn from Canada. We met them our first afternoon on the deck. I was kind of turned off by him because he seemed like a braggart and was loud, but through the days, we got to know and like them. As it turned out, they were our next door neighbors. And Armin and I shared a wall. My bed had shelves along the wall above it. One night, as I was getting out of bed, I banged my head on the shelf above me and made a racket. The next day, I asked him if he had heard the noise and he did. We also learned that Marilyn and I were only 2 days apart in age. Her birthday is March 4, 1941.
There were a few of us still staying on and could get up and have breakfast at the regular time. We were going to be able to keep our cabin until 12 noon. So we finally went back to our room. I heard noises outside. When I went outside on the deck, I saw fireworks in the sky. I was out there alone just watching the beautiful sight. I was happy to see them because I had missed all the displays this year in Harrisburg.
The Ukraine, Part 10
The next and last morning on the boat, we had breakfast with Bill and our 2 guides. Our guides were going to have cabs ready for us at 12. We weren’t going to be able to get into our hotel room until then anyway. So we decided to hang around. After breakfast, I packed, and then we went outside for a walk. We walked through the Podil district I mentioned previously as the Jewish district in the past. Because it’s so close to the river and port, Jewish merchants had settled there.
It was Sunday morning, and people were starting to go out and about in the streets. We saw a square where bandstands were set up. More music. There was going to be a pet walk sponsored by some brand of dog food. So we saw a lot of dogs getting ready.
Maybe this is a good time to mention how people looked. Most of the young people were good looking and well, and interestingly, dressed. The young women dressed very stylishly sometimes with low pants like here showing belly with piercings and tattoos. Many in very, very short skirts. Lots of cleavage. The shoes were different. The heels were very high and the toes were very pointy. Lots of straps and ties. We saw a lot of boots with very high heels also. And remember, walking on the sidewalks and streets was like going through an obstacle course. And there were cobblestones on some streets too. Oh to be young. The men’s shoes were also very pointy. Most people we saw looked slim or of average weight. We didn’t see many, if any, really fat people. I guess all the walking people seem to do helps.
We went back to the boat, said our good-byes to the guides and left in a cab. We got to our hotel and were able to check in right away. I do have to mention that it still seems like uniforms are a big deal for the men. Something we noticed a lot in Russia in 1974. So there are these men in uniform that you would think are supposed to be door men or bell hops or something. I guess some are security guards? Actually, they just walk or sit around and do nothing. We schlepped our bags up a lot of steps into the hotel. Nobody offered to help or even open one of those heavy doors. It was actually kind of humorous.
Getting into our room was also like Russia in 1974. There is a woman who sits in the hall, at least she’s supposed to be sitting there, who is keeper of the keys. You get your key from her when you want to enter your room, and return it to her when you leave.
Surprise of all surprises, the room was really, really nice. I had read in my book that half the hotel had been renovated. I guess we were in that half. Everything in the room looked brand new. And the view was spectacular. I was even having second thoughts about staying there the last night. We never actually unpacked. I just opened up the suitcases and pulled out what we needed. We looked out a little, got ourselves together and went out for the afternoon.
We figured out how to get to the main drag this time without going down a major hill. We were able to go down an escalator in a shopping center across the street. This became our way of coming and going. I said everything was a major deal.
While we were in the mall, we had a couple of light sandwiches and water. And I got more money.
So we were back on the main drag. It was really crowded. It was Sunday, and it seemed like everyone in Kiev was out there. There were street musicians galore. Some of them were very good, and we listened for a while here and there.
Even though we had just had those sandwiches, we couldn’t resist a funny looking hot dog sandwich. So we shared one and sat down on a bench to eat and people watch.
We decided we wanted to find the Central Synagogue which wasn’t far off the main drag according to our map but further down than we had gone the day before. By this time, I had almost learned the cyrillic letters of the Ukrainian alphabet which was good to know if you wanted to read any signs. I had a cheat sheet with me too. The map we were using was in English letters. Between the two of us, we headed in the right direction and eventually found it. I had read that attached to the synagogue was a famous kosher restaurant. So even though we had eaten almost 2 lunches, we planned to eat there too. There was actually a space of time between the meals.
The Central Synagogue which had been the largest one in Kiev was used as a puppet theatre during the Soviet times. They weren’t really being prejudiced against Jews by doing this because all religion was banned, and the churches were also used for purposes other than religious services. It had just recently been restored and used as a synagogue again in the last couple of years. So we found it and went inside. It was actually the first time we had to go through an electronic security monitor since we were in an airport. The guard went through my purse. And Tony had to check his backpack.
An aside about security in the Ukraine. With all of its regimentation, it was probably one of the least security conscious places we’d seen lately. The airports were the easiest to get through. And on and off the boat was really easy. Anybody could have gotten on or off. Our ID’s were never checked. Maybe they actually remembered all of us? It didn’t look like anyone was ever watching us. And sometimes, we had to go through other boats to get on shore. Compared to any other ship we’ve been on, this one seemed very care free about security. They did have our passports though throughout the cruise.
Back to the synagogue. After we entered the synagogue proper, all of a sudden a young man came to greet us. He was sent to us because he supposedly knew some English. He didn’t know much, but we were able to communicate a little. He was 20 something, and all his family were either in the US or Israel. He was the only one left in Kiev, but he liked being there he said.
This synagogue was the largest we had been in on our trip. It was beautiful inside. Like the others, it was a Sephardic one. So after a while, we asked where the restaurant was. I could smell the food. We went outside and walked around to the back of the synagogue. It was late afternoon, and there were only a few people there. There was a fancy part and another part that was a cafe. We chose to sit in the cafe. The waiter spoke English and was very nice. He answered any questions we had.
So here we go again eating. We ordered potato latkes which were very big and yummy. But they didn’t serve it with sour cream or apple sauce. We also ordered a Jewish salad which turned out to be, guess what? Egg salad. The old standby of all the times my family got together for lunch. It was very delicious, for me anyway because I like it. Tony and I shared the latkes and salad. Then we each had borscht. It was very good. Not as big a portion as some of the others but very tasty. We were able somehow to consume everything. I took my last picture of the front of the synagogue, and then we headed back.
As we were walking, I spotted that store that I had seen the day before. Tony very kindly and patiently waited outside while I had a look. The clothing was very stylish and mostly for younger women. Everything was by the same designer or at least the name on the clothing was the same. With the help of a very sweet young lady who spoke no English, I found 2 tops. I wanted to have something different that nobody on Crums Mill Rd would have. They were not too outlandish and best of all very inexpensive. I saw advertisements for the brand on a billboard there. I’ve worn both already and like them.
So we bought a small bottle of vodka and orange juice and by way of China got back to our room. It was dark by then and had started to drizzle. We opened the doors to the terrace and looked out with drinks in hand. The view was amazing. Everything was lit up. We had seen it from the bus the night before, but now we saw it from our room. We could even see some of the wonderful domes. It continued to drizzle/rain for a while. Eventually, it stopped and we got dressed and went out for dinner. We walked to the same boulevard and found a restaurant. Yes, we ate again. Not too much. And then back to our hotel. I actually had a yen for pistachio nuts. I had seen them the night before at the bar on the boat. So we stopped in the hotel bar, and we found some. Back to the room. Eating pistachio nuts and drinking vodka, we watched our view of Kiev. It was our last night there in the city.
The Ukraine, Part 11
The next morning, we had our included breakfast in the hotel. It was a huge dining room, and the seats were very far from the table and unmovable making sitting there uncomfortable. A nice Dutch couple sat down next to us, and we shared stories about how weird it was being in the Ukraine in general and this hotel in particular. They were here with a group just for the weekend.
We didn’t have to check out until noon, so we decided to pack up but go out for a walk before we actually checked out of our room. I wanted to go to a shopping street filled with stands selling souvenirs that we had been to before on the bus tour. We had been on only a little part of it, and it was supposed to be according to my guidebook, very interesting, hilly, and the longest street in Kiev filled with not only the stands but shops and galleries and who knows what else.
So off we went trying to find it following our map. We walked and walked and walked and even asked a few people who spoke no English how to get to this street, but couldn’t find it. It was starting to get late, and Tony was getting impatient. We gave up. He wanted to take a cab back to the hotel. But I stubbornly insisted upon walking back. Since we couldn’t find the street, I at least wanted to have a good walk anyway.
So we walked back. I want to make note that on one of our walks during this time in Kiev, we passed a building that had been the Soviet KGB headquarters. Now it’s used for internal security for the Ukraine. And as noted by one of our guides, a lot of the same people from the Soviet times still work there. Weird or what?
We got back to the hotel and checked out. We left our luggage in a storage room used for that purpose. So we were free of them and ready to venture out again.
Tony insisted that we find that street. But he wanted to take a cab. I relented. We found a cab outside of our hotel. We somehow communicated to the driver where we wanted to go. He was going to charge us what I thought was too high a price, but what could I do. I was being more cooperative at this point, or trying to be.
So there we were on that street. We were at the top, and this street was the longest and steepest street in the city. Once at the bottom, you ended up in the Podil district.
I had bought very little in the way of souvenirs. So we looked and looked. Everything looked the same and junky after a while, but we bought a few things for the grandchildren.
The weather started to deteriorate. But we kept walking.
The one thing we still had to accomplish in Kiev was to go on the metro which was supposed to be quite a challenge according to our guide book. It was one of the steepest and most crowded in the world. It supposedly took 5 minutes to go either up or down. And it was supposed to make the Tokyo subway, which we had been on, a piece of cake. We knew that there was a stop in the Podil district near where our boat had been docked. And there was a stop at Independence Square where our hotel was. So before we went all the way down, we were trying to decide which way we wanted to go. I opted for having lunch in the Podil district and taking the subway from there to our hotel.
So we finally decided to do that after we saw a neat looking restaurant on the way down. So we went inside, and it was indeed a very nice place. And it felt warm and cozy inside. The weather had changed, and it was cloudy and cool outside. We had been very lucky with the weather so far. So we could not complain at this point almost at the end of our trip.
We had a very enjoyable lunch, and of course we had borscht again. It was a really good one. We also had wine and bread and I can’t remember what else. Anyway, we were very well fortified to finish our descent.
We reached the bottom and were in familiar territory.
It was time to be daring and take the metro. I bought the tokens. The cost of a ride is 50 kopeks, very cheap. In fact, all the public transportation in the Ukraine including the funicular is cheap. We dropped the tokens in the turnstile and went in. We figured out which train to take. We knew the name of the stop to reach our destination and could read the cyrillic letters. There were tons of people. As warned in the guide book, “keep bags and wallets close at hand and be alert!” And don’t be polite! I was trying to follow that advice. Tony was in front of me as the packed train stopped. Not very many people got out. Everyone pushed and pushed. I was right behind Tony. He finally got in, and the doors started to close. I pushed myself in, but the doors actually closed on me. We pushed them open, and I was finally inside. My left side definitely hurt for a while, but there we were on the train. It was packed, and I was guarding my purse and my body standing almost near a pole. It reminded me a little of my subway days going to and from high school and college. In those days, I was more concerned about protecting my body parts.
So we reached our stop and after pushing our way out of the train, we had to find the exit. No easy matter. We finally found the first of a series of escalators going up and up and up. We had been very deep into the bowels of Kiev. Everybody looks at everybody else passing up and down. We finally found the exit and saw the light of day sort of near our stop. Tony kept saying we missed the stop. And I insisted we were at the right stop, but there were many ways to exit, some being closer to the square than others. Anyway, we survived the subway. It was getting to be late in the afternoon, and we were trying to decide what to do. There was a nice park we had seen on the bus that I thought we could explore, but it was kind of cold by now. The sun was in and out, but mostly in. So after walking on the main drag a while, we headed back to our hotel and luggage.
On the way in, Tony saw the same cab driver we had earlier. He asked the guy how much he would charge to take us to the airport hotel. The charge was in line with what we had learned was a fair price. The airport is very far from the city, 40 kilometers. The Soviets thought they should be very far from the city, and so it is.
So we used the facilities, got our luggage and said good-bye to the Ukrainia Hotel and Kiev.
The cab ride out of the parking lot of the hotel was one for the books. He performed just as the book said. He waited a little bit to get out properly, but quickly lost patience and went onto the sidewalk barely passing the parked cars, especially one, which made my eyes close. I thought we were going slowly enough so as not to get killed, but still. The ride in the city was crazy pro forma, but eventually we got outside of the city and actually were on a very modern, many lane highway. On the way, we saw an amazing amount of very high apartment buildings being built. It was quite a sight. Kiev is definitely on the move to be a big modern city.
We got to the airport hotel which wasn’t bad. We said our good-byes to our very nice cab driver and went inside. By the way, he was very polite and helped us with our suitcases unlike some others.
I want to write something here about one of my original goals of this trip. I had romantically thought that maybe I would be able to find the place where my mother’s family lived near Kiev. I had a name given to me by my Aunt Jeane, the oldest living relative of my mother’s family. She had heard it as a child, but never really knew the spelling of it. I tried to spell it as she said it, and I came up with Kievna Ge Berna. I tried looking for a town that was spelled close to the Berna part, but never have been able to locate anything resembling it. That’s all she knows, and nobody ever talked about it when I was a child or adult. And I unfortunately did not ask the right questions. In 1974, when Tony and I were planning to go on our trip to the USSR, I told my grandmother, and she asked me why I would want to do that. So I guess all ties were broken, and the memories of those places weren’t good ones.
I did find Berdychiv, a town near Kiev in my guide book. Even though it didn’t really come close, one night while on my pallet-like bed in our cabin, I read about it and thought I might adopt it as my own. Like Norman who I mentioned before had his picture taken in front of a house in Odessa and was going to tell people it was his mother’s house.
In the 16th century, that part of the Ukraine had been under Polish rule. This town became filled with Polish landowners. Eventually Jews came getting into trade and banking. By 1861, Berdychiv had the 2nd largest Jewish population in the entire Russian Empire. It was also the first city in the Ukraine to conduct its city court proceedings in Yiddish. Balzac visiting this town, remarked that “the place is thoroughly Jewish. Jews are everywhere!” Joseph Conrad was born there. The political upheaval in Russia in the early 1900’s had a negative impact on the Jews of this town as well as others. Many pogroms and massacres were focused on Berdychiv, a very Jewish target so close to Kiev. Stalin continued the oppression. Then the Nazis arrived in 1941. The whole town was fenced into a ghetto with its own extermination unit. Within 3 months, the Nazis had killed all of the town’s Jews and closed the camp. Close to 39,000 people were shot. A horrible story, but unfortunately not a unique one. So was this it? We thought that when we arrived in Kiev, we would visit it and see what we could find. However, once we visited Babi Yar, I somehow lost any enthusiasm for such an exploration of another terrible place.
Enough for now. Just a little bit left.
The Ukraine, Part 12
Well, it’s coming down to the finish line.
So, we’re at the airport motel. It wasn’t a Marriott Courtyard, but it wasn’t bad. Our flight was at 6:45 am the next day. So we had to be at the airport 4:45 am. We arranged for an early, early wake up call and a shuttle ride to the airport. We rested a little in the okay room, and then we were ready for dinner.
We went to the restaurant that was adjacent to the motel. There were a few other people there. We ordered our last meal in the Ukraine. And of course we had borscht. It was as good as most of the others. The whole time we were in the Ukraine, we never had their national dish, varenniki which are stuffed dumplings, usually stuffed with potatoes. So it was on the menu, and I ordered it They were very good. We ordered a lot of food and wine too. It was all very enjoyable. We got our check and attempted to pay with our credit card. They said their machine wasn’t working. Great! We didn’t have the grivnas at that point. I was working it so that I wouldn’t have too many extras. Of course, we were also having the language barrier. One of the patrons who knew both languages tried to help. He was very nice. They were trying to get us to go to an ATM machine. Tony told them to try the credit card machine anyway. And of course, it worked. I don’t know what that was all about. I think they probably just wanted the cash. The man who had tried to help told us he was so happy that it all worked out. That was nice.
So off to bed. All packed up and ready to head home.
The next morning, everything went as planned. We had to wait in the airport because we got there so early, but that was fine. I did have a few grivnas still and found one store that was open as early as it was, and so I bought a few more little things for the kids.
We flew from Kiev to Munich where we had an 8 hour layover, as planned. When we arrived in the Munich airport, you could already feel the difference. It was like we had just entered the modern world, and of course it was so much easier to follow the signs, even in German. Letters I could actually recognize. We had packed everything heavy in our suitcases so that all we had to carry was my purse, Tony’s camera case and an almost empty carry on.
We were ready to explore Munich. We found someone who gave us info on how to take the train into the city. We planned to go to Marienplatz, the main square in the city center and walk around for a few hours.
When we got underground to where we would catch the train, there was nobody selling tickets. You had to purchase them by machine. I had euros that I had just gotten from an ATM machine, but I was having great difficulty getting the tickets. Every machine that I tried didn’t have the change for the bills I had. It was getting very frustrating. And of course, we had in our minds the time of the next train that we should take to get to where we wanted to go. And it was getting closer and closer to that time. I finally did manage to purchase one ticket that was for both of us, but it was only for the inner zone, the city proper. We needed a ticket for the outer zone encompassing the airport to the city boundary. We did ask a few people for change, but nobody had it. One young man tried to sell us his tickets, but we didn’t have enough change for him either. Then a young Englishman and his girlfriend came to our aid. He tried different machines, and they didn’t work for him either. Then he offered to let us be on his ticket for the outer zone. These joint tickets were good for 2-5 people and could be used all day. So if a ticket checker came on the train and asked to see our tickets, he would show the checker his ticket and include us. So we sat near them. It is rare they check, but if they do, they charge you 40 euros per person if you don’t have a ticket. And the joint ticket only cost 9 euros for both of us. When we reached the inner zone, we felt good because we had our own ticket. When we got to our station, we immediately bought the ticket we needed for the return ride to the airport. Why is this traveling so complicated?
But it was worth it when we exited the station and saw Marienplatz. It was still morning, and the day was beautiful. The square had nice buildings and fountains. There were many restaurants with outdoor seating. Street musicians were playing nice music. We walked and looked around at everything. We thought we’d take a walking tour, but it didn’t work out for us. So we did it on our own. A very nice man in the subway station had come over to us because I guess we looked disoriented. He gave us a tourist map showing some of the main sights. There is a lot of restoration going on there too. We went into one church that showed photographs of how it looked before and after the bombing.
Hungry or not, we had to try a sausage sandwich. It is Germany after all. So we had one and shared it while standing in the sun and looking around.
We walked more and more and eventually decided to sit down at a restaurant outdoors. Even though it was still early, we thought it was time for a beer in Munich. Actually, we just missed the Oktoberfest celebration. It went from September 17 to October 3.
Another funny Tony story regarding ordering food. We sat at a long table which had already gotten pretty crowded. We looked at menus that had pictures. Tony pointed to one of the selections, and the waiter looked at him and said no! Like why would anyone want that. Who knows why. We laughed and so did the nice people near us, especially 2 women. So we had the beers. Then a couple next to us were served very nice platters, and Tony ordered one of them for us to share. And we got it! When the 2 ladies left, they smiled and wished us a happy stay. And so did the couple next to us. People seemed to be friendly.
Then we walked more. We explored the different side streets veering off the square. We found some of the places highlighted on our map. We stopped to listen to 2 men playing klezmer music. And then they played jazz too. It sounded really nice. So I decided to buy their CD’s. I bought 2 of them. Tony videotaped them while they played. We actually drew a crowd, and so they got some more money.
We saw a lot of middle-aged to old-aged couples walking around. People seemed to be pretty well dressed and nice looking. We also saw a lot of people riding bicycles. Even older women dressed nicely going out to lunch or shopping. It reminded us of Copenhagen. We saw many bikes parked on the square. Although it was a Tuesday, it seemed like a Saturday or Sunday with all the people congregating around the square.
Finally, we decided to head back to the airport. There wasn’t really much more that we could do in that short span of time.
We were veterans by then, and had no difficulty getting on the right train and in the right direction to get us to the airport.
The security in the Munich airport as well as the one in Frankford is very strict. So that took a while. Once we went through it, we still had a lot of time. The Munich airport shopping is quite extensive. You can also get your hair styled, a manicure, and even a massage.
At this point, we were happy to finally get on the airplane, destination Boston.
Unfortunately, when we got to Boston that night, we found out that our flight to Philadelphia was canceled due to bad weather in Philadelphia. Since it was a weather problem, all US Airways did for us was find us a hotel which turned out not to be that easy. They found us and some other unhappy souls a Day’s Inn about 25 minutes from the airport. Our rescheduled flight was supposed to take off at 6:30 am the next morning. I refused to go for the 5:30 am one which turned out to be canceled anyway.
On the way to the hotel, we saw a Go Red Sox sign. Right it was almost World Series time. We were back in the USA!
When we got to the hotel it was as dreary as I guess Day’s Inns are. While Tony was checking in, I saw that I had a text message from Gail telling me that our flight was canceled. She knew because US Airways had called her. I guess I had given her name in case of emergency. I called her and told her our plans. She also told me how much Ada has been missing us and can’t wait to see us.
So we got up very early again, and again in the dark took a shuttle to the airport. We got to Philadelphia in the morning without any trouble. Our car started, yeah, and off we went to Harrisburg. Along the way, we called Martha, Thelma’s friend and sitter. Thelma was still alive and doing well. What a spunky animal.
Home sweet home. Everything looked so pretty. So many flowers still in bloom.
Early afternoon, Jimmy brought Ada over, and I will always remember the smile she had when she saw me. She was a little reserved at first, but then gave me a very wonderful hug. After school, Gail brought Isaac over. We were all happy to see each other.
A day late, but we were back home safe and sound filled with memories of an amazing adventure.
So, that’s all folks!
Hessie – Odessa Beach