Monday, July 25, 2011

English tourists in Justin Bieber t-shirts!

Oh Ukraine! Why are you so easy to love? In case it isn't obvious, life has been great since my last update. Tuesday I took it pretty easy because I was pretty tired from  the trip to Odessa, but I did go to speaking club and ended up chatting with some Ukrainians my age who absolutely love Lviv(the city I will be traveling to next weekend) and wrote down some of their favorite places for me. Wednesday we spontaneously decided after lunch that the beach was calling us, so I ran home to get my купальник and we hit up a beach I hadn't yet been to not far from the city center. Although the bridge repair going on not far from us eventually got a bit annoying, we had a nice afternoon/early evening of swimming and laying on the beach. Since the three of us headed to Lviv next weekend were at the beach we decided to go ahead and go to the train station to buy our tickets. It's good that we went then because even at a week out we got some of the last tickets. We leave Friday evening and get to Lviv by midnight. We have chairs instead of beds, but it's not overnight so it's really not a problem. We can rest up at the hostel Friday night and then explore the city all day Saturday. Sunday evening we leave Lviv and get back to Kyiv at 3:00 Monday morning. It was our only option and we got the last three tickets available, so we were lucky to be able to make it work at all. I'm really excited to see a Western Ukrainian city!  Thursday was another day of hanging out a bit after school and then i spent tue evening relaxing/studying for Friday's test in a cafe not far from home. It was crazy hot, so it was nice to escape to some air conditioning for a little bit. Friday was fairly uneventful, but thankfully it was a chance to relax a bit before the adventures of Saturday and Sunday.
After a little sleeping in Saturday morning our little gang of friends met up to go to the Chernobyl museum. Since the Chernobyl region itself is unfortuantely closed to tourists right now, I was glad to at least see Kyiv's tribute to the catastrophe. Admittedly, I expected thr museum to be a bit bigger because of what the Ukrainians have told me about the museum, but it wasn't bad in general. After the museum we decided to head to beach in our street clothes because it wasn't terribly hot anyhow. We went to the Hydropark metro stop, but to a much quieter section of beach than I have been to in the past. We had a nice few of the родная мать and лавра, and generally just enjoyed a relaxed Saturday afternoon. Mario had read that the best шашлик to be found in Kyiv is at hydropark and although Im not so sure that we found that very best шашлик, we were all hungry and glad to have something to eat. After leaving the beach we explored the city a little bit by taking random turns down some streets we hadn't been on in the past and wondering aimlessly(the best way to see the city!) By the end we actually came full circle to the metro stop where we met in the morning. We had lots of funny adventures including stalking British tourists and photographing people without them knowing. I haven't laughed so much in one day in a while. By that point we were all a bit tired and decided to head to our respective homes. Around ten Mario and I met up again to walk around Obolon region a little, especially my favorite street along the river. What a perfect, cool summer night.
Sunday I woke up and went to church for the last time here in Kyiv. Next weekend I'll be in Lviv and then I fly out on a Friday. I was really sad that it was my last Sunday of church here because I really love having a church to go to here and thr people are absolutely wonderful as well. It's just one more connection that makes it harder and harder to think about leaving Kyiv. Perhaps I could make my home here someday ;) After church and bible study I hurried to the metro station where the gang had planned to meet and we headed out to Pirohovo village/museum. It was really nice to be out of the city enjoying some fresh air and sunshine, especially on such a nice summer evening. After a few hours there and LOTS of walking, we were all pretty sleepy. I headed to the mall by my house and bought some really cute sandles. Hopefully they wont die like the last pair I bought, but i definitely think they are better quality. After the mall I decided to have a relaxing evening of studying and reading before an earlyish bedtime. After A weekend of lots of walking, i was just overall in need of some rest. Of course, the only problem with my plan to get a good night of sleep was the sound of explosions outside my window at 4am, but I think it was probably some kind of fireworks. Who knows...there are always strange noises outside of my apartment at night. Anyhow, today it is a bit cloudy, so no beach as we had planned, but Russian speaking club tonight will be fun. Looking forward to seeing all of my friends and family in a few weeks, but of course I will still be very sad to leave Ukraine.
Всего хорошего!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Odessa!!!!

Although I still have about two and a half weeks left in Kyiv, my pre-departure sadness is really starting to set in. I have a routine here that is really comfortable and I really don't feel like I'm just visiting the city, but moreso like I am truly living here. I have gained a lot of the experience necessary to actually live here in Kyiv and take care of myself, so it's very easy to imagine just staying. But enough on that subject for now because it makes me too sad to think about it.
For now I'll get back to the usual update of my most recent adventures, of which there have been many! Last week Nastia, Mario, and I went to the zoo on wednesday and saw of the lovely little critters. It was really a cute little zoo, but unfortunately the monkeys and penguins were nowhere to be found and the elephant and hippo had both recently died. We also had the chance to ride the ferris wheel at the zoo and see a really nice view of the city. It may seem silly, but I will never get pass up the chance to see a nice view of a city or countryside, even if i have seen that same place a dozen times. Perhaps I am easily fascinated :)
On Thursday, my friend from school, Karolina, and I met up with some friends for a little pre-Odessa trip hangout. We went to a bar/pub called Route 66 that was your typical American, rock music playing bar, picked up and dropped in the center of Kyiv. The band's playlist consisted of the most classic hits of classic rock, and I must say I was impressed with their lack of accent when they sang even though they were definitely Ukrainians.  We ended up staying out pretty late, but it was time well spent getting a little better acquainted and making sure we were all on the same page with the trip details.
Friday I could hardly contain my excitement as I dreamt about the sunshine, sea, and beautiful beach awaiting us in Odessa. After lunch with friends and a short bit at home getting the rest of my things together it was off to Olympeskaya metro station to meet up with the gang. A little after five we started our journey. With the windows down and music blasting, we had completed the nearly 500 kilometer drive to the beautiful city on the Black Sea by a little after 11pm(no thanks to the lovely rush hour traffic leaving Kyiv). We had an interesting run in wih some Ukrainian authorities, not even five kilometers from our hotel. There was apparently some incomprehensible street sign forbidding some type of traffic manuever and the police officers were so kind as to be waiting right there to pull over any unsuspecting tourist, unfamiliar with this strange signage. Of course, the national solution to problems in Ukraine is to pay a bribe, so after several minutes of discussion Kostya was able to pay them off for only 50 UAH. Nothing like a little "welcome to Odessa" encounter with the local police. Once we got to our hotel we went through all of the standard procedure documentaion verification and check in during which the woman working at the desk couldnt find my Ukraine entrance stamp and eventually asked (although it doesnt translate perfectly) essentially "how did you end up in ukraine? Do you even know?" I couldn't help but laugh at that a little, especially since the phrase she used literally means to "fall" into Ukraine. The hotel was nothing special, but we were only there to shower and catch a few hours of sleep and for only 70 USD total for three nights in one of the most touristy cities Ukraine has to offer, I was happy to have a comfortable bed, decent shower, no bugs, a fridge to keep some groceries, and a friendly hotel staff. Of course, no air conditioning when it's 33 degrees outside is always fun, but we survived. While most people may have gone to sleep of settled for a night of relaxing after arriving somewhere at 11pm, our lively group opted for a night a techno beats at Odessa's most popular nightclub Itaka. The first night out we of course had to dress to impress, so Karolina and I set out with the guys in our high heels and dresses. I really liked the energetic party scene at the club and even after a long day of school and traveling Karolina and I lasted until about 4:30am. The club was interesting because it was all open air with two seperate parties-one upstairs and one on a lower level near the beach. The party upstairs was definitely my preferance though because the music was more what I want to hear in a club.
Saturday morning called for a bit of sleeping in and then a quick lunch before heading to Itaka beach to soak up some sun. On the way to the beach I needed to by a towel and ended up with a big bright pink Hello Kitty towel that I was probably much more excited about than a 19 year old girl should be haha It's super cute though and good quality and Chelsea Skovran-I was definitely thinking of you when I bought it! :D All day Saturday I felt so incredibly relaxed just laying on the beach, chatting with Karolina and the guys, and swimming in the sea. Once evening started to set in the guys played some volleyball and karolina and I took a little walk around the Arcadia area. When the guys went to eat a little dinner us girls went back to the hotel to shower and ended up falling asleep for about an hour. It was a great power nap and probably the only reason I surivided the night in the club. Saturday was definitely the biggest party night. Some friends of the guys who were originally going to go on a fishing trip ended up coming to Odessa Saturday, so we had a big group at the club that night. Twice Saturday night the power went out in the club, but it was actually nice to have an excuse to rest my legs for a few minutes while they got things back in operation. Somehow I managed to have the energy to stay at the club until almost 6am and Kostya and I walked home with the Sunday morning sun shining. Surprisingly, I only slept about four hours before getting up to shower and prepare for another great day on the beach. Kostya had told me that they hoped to get to the beach around noon, so when it was nearly one and I had already been to their room and called them a couple of timea, Karolina and I were certain that they had already made their way to the beach, thinking that we were having our beauty sleep. In the end we just headed to the beach and they caught up with us after a short bit. Sunday we were at the beach an hour earlier, but time went by a lot quicker. After the beach we got ready for a third and final night in the club, which Karolina and I decided to go a little more casual(aka i skipped out on the massively talll high heels). This ended up being a good decision because after eating a little something with Kostya and Vova we took a walk through the central area of Odessa to the port and enjoyed a nice night in the city. We werw going to try to get to the club before midnight because girls get in free before midnight on Sundays, but when we got there at 11:45 a band was playing that we didnt feel like paying the cover to listen to and decided to just walk along the sea a bit more. When we eventually returned to the club it was obvious that the crowd was a bit smaller, but I was there to dance and have fun, so really I didnt mind. I have to say, I really like the way people dance in clubs here. It's so happy and energetic. Perhaps thanks to the fact that it's techno music being played, but unlike at far too many dance parties in the states, no one here is "grinding" or generally dirty dancing. Of course, many guys are still trying to find a girl to dance with, but the atmosphere felt very different to me in a good way. During the three nights there was only one incident I saw of a fight being broken up, but the security took care of it quickly. Sunday night in the club was again until about 4:30am, when Kostya and I walked back to the hotel together. Monday we had to be out of the hotel by noon, so we dropped anything we didnt need for the beach in the car and went to enjoy our final afternoon of sand, sea, and sun. The water temperature and weather was so perfect
that it was hard to say goodbye to Odessa.  The trip home took slightly less time than the trip there and in about five hours we were back in Kyiv. The roads between Kyiv and Odessa are, by comparison, some of the best in Ukraine, but there were still several parts that werw bad enough to make anyone a bit car sick.  In general though, the trip went by quickly as we blasted Kostya's CD again and enjoyed the relative cool temperature of traveling at night(because there was no air conditioner, traveling during the day just wouldnt have worked). By midnight or so I was back in the apartment. This long weekend in Odessa was such an incredicly happy, relaxing, spontaneous, fun trip that I am so thankful to the guys for inviting us to join them on. Nothing like vacationing with real Ukrainians :D
I'm so thankful for the awesome people that I have been able to meet and become friends with this summer and for the unforgettable memories that are being made. I'll definitely be finding my way back to Ukraine someday!
Всего хорошего!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Новая Подрушка!


In the end exchange programs are really about the people you meet and things about a culture you simply can't learn from a textbook. So that is exactly what I have been up to since the last time I blogged :) This past Friday evening we sadly said goodbye to our favorite classmate from Norway, but what a fun night it was! Koby invited us all to his apartment and Oksana helped us make a delicious pot of borsch. Her friend and Koby's neighbor brought a delicious dessert and we sat around eating, chatting, telling jokes. At least seven nationalities were represented in that small gathering and between all of the unique experiences we have each had, conversation was never dull.  Also, Friday night was when I met Hastia, Oksana's daughter and my new amazing friend! Koby has wanted us to meet for a while and I'm glad we finally got to meet. I feel like our personalities are really similar and she is just an awesome girl! After taking some pictures together in the apartment we decided to go walking. Our group slowly got smaller the further we walked, but the troopers among us eventually arrived at the Kyiv Fortress where average citizens fought to defend he city from the Germana during WWII. Technically, we probably shouldn't have been there that late, but no one was there to stop us. At the highest point of the complex we had a great view of the city and the new stadium that is being built for Euro 2012. I must say, they have a lonnng way to go in the less than a year before that stadium is to be use. When we finally left the fortress, the gate we entered through had been locked and we ended up finding an alternate exit by this nig hospital which was rather creepy at night. Nastia and i kept joking that we were at the beginning of a horror film. In the end we found our way to the metro and Mario and I headed home, again on one of the last trains of the night, although certainly not cutting it as close as last Friday night!
Saturday morning called for some sleeping in, helping my host dye her hair, and then an excursion with school to the Kyiv Lavra.  On the metro on the way to school I suddenly heard some very obviously American English being spoken by some students. I decided to ask them where they were from (because hey, why not?) and it turns out that they were a group from New York doing a two week mission trip in Ukraine. Saturday was one of their last days ans kind of the "sightseeing" part of their trip. The Lavra was really a beautiful, interesting place with very beautiful cathedrals. The caves were also very interesting, as we could see the bodies of the people buried there in glass coffins. It was also interesting to see those in our tour group who consider themselves orthodox christians bowing, crossing themselves, and kissing the icons and coffins. I couldn't help but wonder how many of them truly know God's love and how many were just following the traditions of their family's religion. But really I shouldnt judge the hearts' of people I dont even know. The end of our excursion narrowlu escaped the opening up of the sky, but afterwards when Olga (our guide) and I went to a little cafe together it was raining quite a bit. Olga is a really nice girl, a little older than me I think, who is studying computer engineering. After our late lunch I went home and hid from the rain a bit until it let up and I was able to go walking om Xreshtok Street in the center of the city. It's so nice there on the weekend because the street is blocked off and people can walk all around.
Sunday I visited the other Lutheran church in Kyiv because there was a guest there from Wisconsin video taping the service to increase awareness among American Lutherans of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church. Also, at that church I met Marichka, one of the girls who studied in the States for a year and added me on facebook via Tim Malchow.  She's really nice! She told me that I don't look like an American ;) maybe that means I'm actually blending in in this strange land! Church started a bit later than it was supposed to because the pastor's clothes were MIA. I'm not sure where they were found in the end, but I cant imagine where they could have run off to. After church I went to a cafe to eat a little something and use wifi. I got to talk to Charlie for a fair amount of time foe the first time in a while, which was a great mood improver after my most recent shoe incident. Basically I just give up on shoes here! Oh well...
Nasia and I ended up heading to Dream Town to rollerskate this afternoon. After skating we drank lattes (nastia's favorite) and went walking on the favorite street. We put our feel in the water a bit and it felt sooo nice.
Monday, however, we really got to enjoy the beach! We spent a little over three hours at Hydropark, the most popular beach in Kyiv, laying out and swimming in the mysteriously yellow/green water of the Dniper. We decided it was best to just ignore that little water quality detail ;) I bought some groceries to have a little lunch/picnic on the beach and was amazed at how cheap the food was, even at a big supermarket. For 7 USD I got a loaf of pre-sliced bread(not common here), cheese, sausage, a bottle of juice, three oranges, a big container of cookie/cracker things, a snickers bar, and a bottle of yogurt drink! I didn't know what anyone wanted so I just got a bunch of random stuff and ended up taking most of it back home.  After wearing ourselves out at the beach we headed to the Yoga center where Nastia's mom worka as a barrista at the little cafe there and had lattes (of course!) By the time I finally got home it was almost nine and I drank some tea with Maria, our neighbor, and another friend who was over before doing my lovely homework. Nastia and I have all sorts of plans for future hangouts and I cant wait for all of the adventures we will have in the next month!
Всего хорошего!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hot Water!

The most exciting news to me right now is that this morning I took a hot shower for the first time in two and a half weeks! I can't remember ever going that long in my life without a hot shower, but it has definitely given me a new prospective on how fortunate I am to always have access to hot water! Ironically, the weather is begining to heat up again. Nothing like only having cold water during the "cold" part of the summer.
I am happy to report that I am now the proud owner of some "Ukrainian" shoes.  Ok, so they were most likely made in China, but I bought them at the open air market one stop from where I live for 100 UAH(about 12.5 USD) and I feel very Ukrainian when I wear them))) They are the replacements for the sandles that fell victim to our Friday night adventure.
For the third year in a row, I didn't celebrate the 4th of July.  I'm starting to forget how it feels to actually celebrate the holiday with cookouts and family and fireworks.  It was even more strange here because while people had heard of Independence Day in America, no one really new it was Monday until I mentioned it.  We did have some nice weather for 4th of July though and my friends and I ate "kiosk food" in the park for lunch and enjoyed some nice weather.  I treated myself to coffee and a very yummy piece of cake at the cafe where Russian Speaking Club is held and that was the extent of my fourth of July celebration.
On Tuesday I met up with Svetlana at the metro station and went with her to visit the "Gift of Life" center that is closest to the center of the city.  The other center is closer to the metro stop where the church is and is actually a rented space within a public clinic. After they showed me around the office (which looks a bit like an apartment) and told me about their work, we drank coffee and had some treats and chatted.  I became friends with one of the ladies on facebook and they gave me some advice about places to visit in Kyiv and let me borrow a book called "Living in Kyiv".  Such wonderful, hospitable, awesome women! They also told me that this Sunday there will be some Americans visiting at the larger Ukrainian church, so I am going to visit that church this weekend! After hanging out with them for a while I went back to school to do my homework and then to "English Speaking Club" at Puzata Hata. Mondays I go to Russian Speaking Club and there are some Ukrainians there who help me practice my Russian, so I figured I would return the favor and help them with their English.  It was a bit funny being the only American there, as everyone wanted to "pick the American's brain" and ask all sorts of questions about a  country that for many of them is still very much out of their reach.  It was also a bit of an unusual experience to be surrounded by people who were all speaking English, but to still definitely not feel like my native language was being spoken because of thick accents and slightly unusual sentence constructions.  After English club I went back to the apartment and relaxed and went to sleep, having been out and about for 12 hours.
Today after school we decided to try to Uzbek resturant close to school.  It was a bit "fancy" but very good food and delicious tea.  I signed up for an excursion this Saturday to the Lavra and can't wait to explore that jewel of Ukraine.  Happy to have my homework done, I think I'll head home from school!
Всего хорошего!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So many adventures!

So much has happened since the last time I blogged, so I am certain that I will probably just give the cliff notes version here since I am posting from my ipod :)
-Monday-our guest that was staying with us ordered pizza! Actually, when the doorbell rang and they said "Oh, the pizza!" I really thought that they were just making a joke. It was kind of funny having pizza delivered to the apt in Ukraine. It came with wine, which I also found interesting.
-Tuesday-Happy constitution day! We had a huge delicious dinner with the neighbor and sister in law of my host. I was absolutely stuffed, but it was such a fun night! I didnt go to the festivities in the center because of the weather, but my night was still fabulous!
Friday-Rented a sauna/banya with friends from school. It was a private place with a lounge, banya, and cold pool. We washed ourselves with a scrub made of coffee, sour cream, and honey. We stayed at the banya for three hours and then went over to Denis and Koby's apartment for a little goodbye party for Denis. Coming home we got lost and couldnt find the metro. I tripped and fell on some uneven sidewalk and broke my sandles. I was a bit sad because those were my favorite shoes. So not only was I cold, wet, and lost, but also barefoot. We got on one of the very last trains and I made it home a bit after midnight. It's a wonder that I didnt catch a deathly cold or slash my foot open on something.
-Saturday- slept in because I could and because friday night kept me out late. Found my way to the Bulgakov museum and joined a Russian tour group. Was really impressed at how realistically the apartment was set up based on pictures taken in the apt during Bulgakov's life there. Afterwards got some lunch was was slightly creeped out my a Lebanese man who lives in America and was inviting me to come stay at his beach house in Lebanon. Oh my! After went to the tour agency and was slightly disappointed to find out that I may not be able to go to Chernobyl because it is currently closed. I will find out the government's decision on July 15. Went on a late night walk on a super beautiful street on the bank of the river with Sasha and we chatted in Russian the whole time. There are really beautiful houses there where a lot of diplomats and businessmen live. My future home? I think yes)))
-Sunday- today. The sun was out when I woke up which always makes me happy. Maria made me tea with my breakfast this morning and put fresh raspberries in it. yummmm! Went to church and met some really nice older women who are kind of taking me under their wing. Can never have too many Ukrainian babushkas))) One woman i met works at the lutheran pro-life center here and i am going to go meet her colleuges this week. Not sure what else I will occupy myself with today, bt I have some hw and i may replace my dead sandles. My life here is quite great right now!
Всего хорошего!
Chelsea