Monday, May 7, 2012


I feel really fortunate to be writing this to you from first class. But wait, let's back up. We're on the way home, traveling on the "express" day train from Kiev to Kharkov. Cost: 170 gr ($20) per ticket. The overnight train is slightly cheaper but the trip is a couple of hours longer. The "express" train takes almost 7 hours. Anyways, the 170 gr got us into second class, which looked like this before everyone boarded: (pretty nice for Ukraine, right? I suspect this is an new train, btw. I took the express last fall and it didn't look like this.)

I guess D was still a little shocked by the muggy heat and crowds of Kiev...
And the metro, oh, the metro! when the attendant came by offering first class seats and air-conditioning for an extra 100 griven ($12 each), D forked out the cash and moved us here. It's almost the same as 2nd class, just with fewer people. I figure it's worth it since I can make that much in less than three hours and this trip will last seven hours.
The funny thing is that first class tickets actually cost more at the train station, so I suspect that this upgrade ends up as cash in the attendant's wallet. By the way, there's also an even fancier area on the train. If this is first class, that has got to be .5 class. It's a small room with a huge picture of a city on the back wall. The room looks like it has seating for 8 people. But the most amazing thing on this train- LOOK at the BATHROOM! (or WC, as it's always labeled in Ukraine.) This is a far cry from the tiny and primitive bathrooms that are usually found on trains in Russia and Ukraine, this is a WC from the future.

even an electrical outlet!

We spent 3 days and 2 nights in Kiev, just long enough for a weekend getaway. The first day we walked for hours. And then when we were done walking we started again. This is mainly because instead of getting off at "Polytechnical Institute" we went to "University". The "University" stop turned out to be next to the botanical gardens, so we had a leisurely stroll through the greenery. It's nice to find a place like this in the middle of a city of almost 3 million. Where to after this? The zoo, of course! I haven't been to a zoo since the lion incident, which is ironic because the first thing Google found when we searched for the zoo was "Kiev zoo lion attack". The GPS map on D's pad made it seem like the zoo wasn't that far from the botanical gardens....but, oh lying machine, it is! We kept walking and walking, thinking it couldn't be much further, but it always was. And this trek was directly on the heels of two long marches through Odessa. So take my word, just use the metro. The zoo is quite large so it's best to conserve your energy until you actually get in the gates.

Later I read about how the Kiev Zoo has been accused of mistreatment of animals. Google it.
I LOVE these colorful signs! But it's still easy to get lost- the zoo covers 99 acres.
 That night we met up at Вареничная Победа with Mike, a former student of mine who has since relocated to Kiev. On Saturday Lena, a penpal from, took a bus into the city to visit with us. She's an English teacher living near Kiev in a town of 10,000 people and it's always interesting to hear her take on things. It was a clear sunny day so we hung out in the botanical gardens for several hours and then went for sushi at СушиЯ. 

In the meantime D and I had been staying in a rented apartment. We spent all of Friday trying to decide on a hotel or apartment, even calling up friends to solicit advice. And by apartment, I'm talking about the apartment hawkers outside of the train and bus stations, not a fancy internet rental. As you exit a station you'll always encounter a crowd of middle-aged women harshly barking out "APARTMENT, APARTMENT!" They remind me of a flock of seagulls. I wasn't sure it'd be a good idea to find lodging this way, agreeing without really seeing it first. It's true that we did rent a room in a communal house one Crimean summer from one of these ladies (and there was the Sevastopol incident with Valentina Victorovna) but what changed between the Crimean summer of 2007 and now is that I watched Hostel. You remember that movie? The one with the clueless backpackers (aren't they always?) who go to Eastern Europe, stay in the wrong hostel, and get sold into a torture chamber... so, we ended up doing the apartment thing since it's cheaper, but we slept with chairs under the door every night. The lady seemed nice enough- she said she bought the apartment for her daughter four years ago, and then her daughter married a Swede and moved to Sweden, leaving the mom with a $1600/month mortgage. That's a huge sum for Ukraine. Even for the US, I think that's a lot of money (except all my housing experiences concern crappy apartments, not mortgages). 

Luckily the apartment turned out to be cute and cozy.


It's both terrifying and exhilarating that in Ukraine one leaves no paper trail. We didn't need ID to buy train tickets, just anonymous cash. And this apartment- the lady didn't even know our names, just looked us over at the train station, took our money and gave us a key for two days. It must make it more difficult for the police to solve crimes since it's harder to track people down. You could just slip through the cracks here and vanish, no one would remember you and there would be no record to follow.

One of the biggest highlights of this trip was to finally visit my cousin Pedro. When I moved to Ukraine last year I was shocked to get an email from my parents with the info that one of my father's brother's sons was a longtime Kiev resident. What are the odds that we'd end up both living in Ukraine, only couple hours apart? Anyways, I gotta say that it's not often you meet a cool relative, but wow, this guy is cool! I spent my youth in one state while he spent his in several exotic places like South America. He and his wife Larisa now do charity work with orphans. If you're interested in learning more or supporting them, check out or FireFly (Facebook). Anyways, they invited us over to their comfy and modern apartment and introduced us to their friends, Maria and David, and we had a really nice lunch together. 

Also, what is it with Kiev? In the last 72 hours I've heard almost non-stop disco: Bahama Mama, Genghis Khan, Moscow, Daddy Cool. Reminds me of the discos in Yakutsk, where the current year is still 1977.

There were so many cool things to photograph in Kiev that I've put the excess pictures on Facebook. Enjoy : )
More pictures of the Kiev Zoo
Pictures of the Kiev Botanical Gardens
Other miscellaneous Kiev pictures


  1. You probably know I've been following your blog for a while - just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your posts. Especially this last one about your Kiev trip (I have never been elsewhere in Ukraine).... I smiled when you said how crowded you thought this city was. After Moscow where we lived for a couple of years I think Kiev is the opposite of crowded. I must take a train trip somewhere, thanks for the tip.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! It's a real treat to meet another blogger in Ukraine :) Wow, no wonder, coming from Moscow to Kiev- Kiev must seem slow-paced and laid back. When I came from the US to Kiev last year it didn't strike me as crowded...but now after living in Kharkov it seems like a mob scene, especially on the metro. Do you ride the metro very often?

  2. !!! ...You just blew my mind with the pictures of the train. I can hardly believe this is a train in Ukraine! Maybe it's because I have such miserable memories of Ukrainian train travel (chiefly due to oppressive heat), but this is really blowing my mind! That looks so comfortable! And that washroom... ahhhh.... so clean! So modern! I might actually return to Ukraine for a third trip if I can travel in THAT train. Wow. That's so awesome.

    ...Okay, now that I've re-booted my brain:

    I get what you're saying about how in Ukraine you could really go off the grid. I mean, if you wanted to disappear, who could find you? It's one of the things that first struck me about Ukraine, and it's a captivating idea. You're exactly right in saying it's both terrifying and exhilarating.

    Great post, K.


    PS: I saw Hostel when it first came out. Still regret that decision. *shudder*

    1. Hi Tara, I thought of you when we were on this train :) Insane, isn't it?! Maybe it's because of the big soccer championship this summer. Actually, all three of the trains we took on this trip were pretty decent. Kharkov to Odessa was an old train but surprisingly not an overheated oven of doom. The Odessa to Kiev overnighter looked new and had electrical outlets and vents that occasionally provided cool air. It's definitely a reason for you guys to consider coming back for a visit!