Halfway through my stay, we finally visited the book market. It used to be this fantastic, half-underground place to get a large variety of books as well as (of course pirated) software. In recent years, it’s gotten a bit of a facelift with real bookstores popping up, in addition to the specialized stalls, but it’s still a little bit overwhelming. Alas, there are not nearly as many books that I’m interested in as there used to be.
Later that day, I finally managed to meet up with a friend that was my own, not my parents’. We had a lovely time walking around and then catching up some more over sushi. Great times! But overall, I’ve been surprised at how few people I was able to get in touch with from back in my schoolgirl days. Maybe I’m just weird in loving reunions and wanting to know about how life is going for people, even if they’re not someone I keep in regular touch with.
On Friday, my last day, I took a taxi to the airport at 4 a.m. and arrived just over two hours early – normal time for an international flight, right? I was surprised to find that registration for the flight hadn’t opened yet. Sat around for a while, and then went and lined up for half an hour waiting for registration to open. See, normally I wouldn’t care too much when I register or get on a plane. The problem this time was that I couldn’t register online, and due to the short connection time in Munich, wanted to get a seat as close to the front of the plane so I could sprint out and try to make the connection. The other problem is that, when congregated in crowds, orderliness and politeness are markedly absent in the psyche of this nation, so in order to get all that done I had to get as close as I could to the front of the line and avoid getting pushed back whenever people started jockeying for position. Ah well.
Registration opened, I got a seat in the first row after first class, and then we even boarded the plane.
And then we spent an hour just waiting on the tarmac. Apparently airports in Europe are not capable of dealing with this little winter event called snow. I chatted with the stewardess, and she said that all the airports they went to the day before, including Munich and London both of which I was going to, were a mess. Surprisingly, I missed my connection in Munich due to the inbound flight arriving 30 minutes after it was supposed to. The surprising part is not this, but rather that the outbound flight appears to have left on time.
Unfortunately I don’t get an opportunity to explore Munich, which I kept hoping would be the outcome of this delay. Booo. I was rerouted through Toronto instead. Arriving much later in the evening, but this also meant that Dan picked me up. Took them a long time to find a flight that didn’t go through the States (I really, REALLY don’t like american airports nowadays), and they were not 100% sure my luggage would accompany me on this route, but hey, Toronto was about the best place for me to end up, short of getting to Ottawa itself.
Also, I really like the Munich airport way better than the Frankfurt one. It’s much calmer, much less cramped, and just has a much nicer vibe, in general. It will definitely be on my list of top places to transfer through when I have a choice.
All the Lufthansa staff also acted like they actually cared about me, and they even took my quirks into account (like not wanting to deal with US airports and Air Canada in wake of their post-christmas-bomb-plot insanity), even if it created more work for them to find a flight that I was happy with. Two thumbs up for Lufthansa and all the staff I had to deal with today.
Since I had an hour and a bit to waste before boarding, I decided to stop at a little restaurant and grab a bite to eat. Since a cappuccino was about the same price as beer, and I was in Germany, I opted for the beer, but stuck with my original choice of kuchen for the snack. After the guy behind me in line jokingly made fun of me for this combination (and took me for an american, gah – it this combination really so uncouth?!), I got to thinking – and there are quite a few similarities between the two. They’re practically the same food! Ok, obviously I exaggerate, but still. They both have wheat, sugar and yeast… and the kuchen even had apricots, which my favourite beer (McAuslan Apricot Wheat) also has. See?! My seemingly choices actually have logic behind them! Also, once again I was tricked by the exchange rate – my little snack ended up costing me $15USD. Damn you, Europe!
The last few days in Kiev went pretty well. I finally got to see a bunch of my own friends. Visited with 4 old classmates, as well as two of the girls I used to play tennis with. We spent lovely afternoons drinking coffee and talking about… well, just about everything. It’s immensely heartening to meet with people so many years later, and still have such a great time. And to have them change so little from the people you remember. It’s also a great feeling to know that most of these people are doing well in their lives. Now that I have their email addresses I hope I can stay in touch a little bit better, since it turns out none of us are that great at Facebook et al.
One thing I’ve noticed is that of the old friends I’ve seen men have changed a lot more than women have – to the point that I would have had a hard time recognizing some of them if I passed by them on the street. I guess there’s some payoff after all to women putting so much time into looking after themselves?
I also got to spend a lot more time with my grandfather. When caught one-on-one, he actually likes to talk a fair bit, and his stories offer a fascinating glance at someone I’ve never known that well. We also went to visit my grandmother’s grave at the cemetery, on a beautifully snowy and peaceful day. Hearing him talk about my grandmother, though, evokes sadness of the kind that brings almost physical pain. It’s a good example of special relationships that exist in the world, but also a jarring reminder that the loss of such a long-time and close partner is a hard one to get over.
I’m glad I visited when I did, but I also wish I’d come at a different time, since the weather was horrible for pictures, and many people were away or busy with family stuff since the period between New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas (7th) is vacation and family time. I’ve already had a few offers from people willing to show us around to see other cities/areas of the country, and Dan may be able to convince me to take them up on that in a few years’ time. It’s the random little things like the murals on these buildings that I’m sure he’s dying to see.
The trip has been a bit of a soul-searching opportunity, and also a reminder of the differences between the environment I left and the one I live in now. I now know that I retain enough of the habits and skills to be able to live there. But I also know that I have enough expectations and knowledge about how some things could and should be to not really want to live there.
Prices are one thing that continues to surprise. They’re atrociously high for the level of prosperity (or lack thereof) enjoyed by the people living there. In fact, they’re very similar to prices in Canada, and for some things even higher. For example, prices on electronics are close – but here, sales on such “prestige” items are unheard of. If I wait 3-4 months back home, I’m pretty much guaranteed to get an item on sale for cheaper than I could find it here (black or grey market excluded, I assume). The sushi I enjoyed the other day is on par with prices at home. Hotels are probably more. Groceries are similar, with some products costing more than at home (you’d think Perrier, for example, would be cheaper since France is so much closer). Even a friend I spoke with says that in London or Paris you could find better deals on certain items of clothing than in Kiev. Anyone else find this shocking? But trips to Egypt or Turkey are surprisingly cheap – $400-500 for 7 or 10 days. Some differences and dichotomies that I find particularly striking:
- public transit costs about $0.25, which is a lot more in line with the average salary, while decent leather boots still cost $200 and gas $1/litre
- parking (and driving) on the sidewalk, to the point of blocking and playing chicken with pedestrians, is the accepted norm (and, in fact, is pretty much the only way to find parking downtown)
- clearing snow off sidewalks is considered highly optional
- bribery rules – from $3 or so slipped to the parking attendant of a posh store’s “parking lot” to let you park on “their” sidewalk, to Ikea giving up on building a store in Kiev because of their corporate policy prohibiting the payment of bribes
- fur is not optional for someone who wants to be considered even moderately genteel – a strange step for a country that tries to follow the “western world” so much (where wearing fur nets you a free gallon of red paint splattered all over yourself)
Oh, and I have to apologize for the occasional incongruences in verb tenses I’m sure I missed. The problem is that a lot of this stuff was written while I was there with the hope of posting right away, but I never found my way to a reliable internet connection with enough time to spare and the netbook with me. So then I had to spend a lot of time converting everything to the past tense – I’m sure I missed a few. Ah well.
Overall, a very good trip for something planned at the last minute. I’m happy over all the meetings I had, and the wonderful opportunity to reminisce which had presented itself so suddenly. I expect it’s not my last visit, but hopefully I’ll pick a better time to visit next time. I leave you with some adorable matrioshka dolls (the kind that fit inside each other). The 5 on the left are all part of one set, that I took apart for demonstration purposes. The tiniest one (the chicklet) is about as big as the last joint on my pinkie.