Thursday, September 15, 2011
Trains, Buses, and Taxicabs!
Monday, at 10:00 PM, Lisa and I boarded a bus for Kiev. Since Lisa will possibly be leaving before all documents are finished for the adoption, she needed to sign some papers for the US embassy which are necessary to bring Kathryn, Clayton, and Kevin into the U.S.
The bus ride to Kiev took almost 8 hours (about 400 kilometers), and was extremely rough in many places. Road maintenance is not a big priority here in Ukraine, as evidenced by the many potholes, broken pavement, etc., which caused the bus driver to alternate between swerving and braking, so sleep for me was not easily obtained. Lisa, on the other hand, was able to rest without much trouble, and I need to add that she did fit better between her seat and the seat-back in front of her! We rolled into Kiev about 6:00 AM, where Yuri (our translator/facilitator) met us and took us up to his beautiful apartment on the 23rd floor, which gave us a spectacular view of Kiev sprawling below us. After a real, American-style shower, (and several mugs of espresso), Yuri took us downtown to a really great cafe for breakfast, which consisted of Americanos (Espresso and hot water), omelets, juice, and some very tasty cottage cheese pancakes-plus another Americano! Then we went on to the US embassy where we signed documents, and met some very helpful people. Next was a stop at the notary's office to have the children's new names officially recorded in order to procure their new Ukrainian passports. Upon leaving the notary's office we realized that we were only 25 minutes from our train's departure! Earlier, we had decided to take the express train to Dnepropetrovsk five hour ride), and then a taxi on to Zheltye Vody, especially since Yuri was able to get us first class tickets on the train-and we thought the train might be a fun experience! Upon arrival at the train station, a very large and beautiful place, we ran into the McDonald's located in front of the station, and quickly ordered some food (our first hamburger in almost 2 months--yummm.) Yuri walked us through the beautiful old terminal with its ornate columns and domed ceilings, through the throngs of people, down the flights of stairs to where the trains were, then found our car, walked us right on board and into our little stateroom, then left us to enjoy the experience. That's Yuri, first class all the way!
In Ukraine, nearly everybody travels by bus or train-unlike in America. The rail system here is quite elaborate, and a train can get you to within an hour or so of most destinations in the country. Our train car consisted of cabins (or staterooms), each designed for four adults; two long seats, or berths, one on each side, with a small table under the window at the end. There was an older Ukrainian couple already in the compartment, so we introduced ourselves as best we could as the train began to pull out of the station. It turns out that the couple was just returning from Israel, having done some kind of bus tour there, and were on there way home to Alexandria, Ukraine. Although they spoke very little English (just a few words), we were able to communicate a bit with them using a pocket Russian-English dictionary. They told us they were Christians, were really amazed by the number of children we had, and expressed a lot of enthusiasm about our adoption. They shared phone numbers and addresses with us, and gave us a warm invitation to visit them at their home and have borscht and salo (pig fat!) They also had bread and cheese, which they insisted that we share with them, along with large mugs of hot tea (chai) and cookies, which were provided by a woman who seemed to be the "conductor" in the car. (I think the older Ukrainian gentleman must have secretly payed for them, because she never asked for money, and wouldn't take any when I offered.) This was definitely the most pleasant traveling experience we've had to date, and the extra few Grivna (Ukrainian currency) was definitely worth it!
We arrived in Dnepropetrovsk around 11:40 at night, and after calling Roma, (we have our very own Ukrainian cell phone) we found the cab he told us would be waiting, and started the nearly two-hour trip across the very rural Ukrainian countryside to Zheltye Vody. There are very few road signs on Ukrainian roads, I guess they expect you to know where you're going, so the cab driver made a few wrong turns on the way, but corrected our course quickly when he realized we were headed in the wrong direction. Another note--men are not afraid to ask for directions here, the driver simply leans out his window and yells at the nearest listener, "Where's the........!" and almost always receives a helpful response. Another note about driving here: folks are a lot less irritable with a driver's etiquette (or rather lack of it!) Most people don't seem to mind at all when a car (mashina) cuts them off at a cross walk, they just wait for the car to speed on by, then non-nonchalantly continue on their way! We arrived in Zheltye Vody around 2:00 am, and knew that we were in town when the country road we were traveling on became a street lined with dark buildings. (There are very few lights on at night in smaller Ukrainian cities, also unlike the US, where we feel the need for our towns to be seen from outer space at night!) As we drove through the dark streets, I realized that I had no idea where we were, and neither did our cab driver! Suddenly Lisa, who was riding in the back seat, said, "There's the bank building!" In the darkness ahead loomed the large, unfinished four-story structure, black holes where windows should have been peering down at us like gloomy eyes, an icon for a bygone era. A few turns, several more blocks, and we were safely at our apartment, Ericka greeting us at the door, a quick check to see our smaller children sleeping peacefully, and then, at long last, BED!