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Ukrainian Adventure

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My favorite thing about travel is the unexpected way you meet new friends. As we were queing up in the Delta line at O’Hare, I met Svetlana. Her friends asked me if I would look out for her at JFK and make sure she got her connection. After checking through security, Svetlana and I embarked on a twelve-hour odyssey together. She did not speak English and I did not speak Russian.

My friend and tour guide

My Friend and Ukrainian Tour Guide

While we didn’t get to fly together in the Chicago-New York leg, we met up again at JFK–Which, by the way, was the first time in a LONG time that I deboarded a plane right on the tarmac.  Anyway, we found our gate, which was filled with Ukrainians.  Fortunately we met a girl who spoke English and Ukrainian.  Through her, I was able to accomplish several things:

  1. Text my friend (already in the Ukraine) that I had made the flight
  2. Sort out ground transport in Kiev
  3. Explain to Svetlana that I had scored us both exit row seats together

The flight was fantastic.  Svetlana helped to teach me the Cyrillic alphabet and letter pronunciations, which made it loads easier to communicate once I got to the Ukraine.  We made flashcards together, worked the flight attendants for more food and stuttered our way in broken language through a nine-hour flight.  We got along so well that I had to know what sign she was.  It turned out her birthday was two days after mine–Sagittarians.  Two Sagittarians, together, doing what we loved to do best–talk and travel.

It was most fortunate that I met her, because once we were in Kiev, I was clueless how to get to Chernivtsi–a city in the southwestern region of Ukraine.  Not only did Svetlana buy me a SIM card for my phone (which was originally an Irish phone from my friend Kieran), but she bought me a train ticket.  Later, we realized the train wouldn’t arrive in Chernivtsi until 6:00am the next morning, so she offered to drive me to a bus station in Kiev.  As I waited for her to come back with her car, I wondered about travel and how it leads you to put full faith and trust in people you don’t even know.  About ten minutes later, she came zooming up in a new Mercedes, with windows down and Europop blasting.  I was about to get the ride of my life–racing at 100 mph through the streets of Kiev.  At that point you realize that you just have to put aside your fears and trust that you won’t become another statistic.

In Kiev, we were both VERY fatigued.  She still had a five-hour drive, south to Odessa.  We found the bus station and she came back with a ticket for me.  All the while, she refused to take any money for anything.  Svetlana really is an extraordinary person.  We drove a bit through Kiev and I finally convinced her that she had to start heading to Odessa and that I would be fine for three hours.

She dropped me off and I ordered my first meal in Russian–at McDonald’s.  With the cool sophistication of James Bond, I smoothly uttered,  in a perfect Russian accent, “Big and Tasty puzshalista and voda [water].”

It was a bit difficult killing three hours just sitting at a bus station, but finally the bus pulled up and I boarded.  I had hoped this would be a great opportunity to see the Ukrainian countryside, but I was exhausted and kept nodding off.  Each time I woke up, I would catch a scene from the movie “Point Break,” which was a step up from watching paint dry.

Nine hours across the bumpy, pot-holed streets and highways of Ukraine, I FINALLY reached Chernivtsy, where my friend’s sister and her friend picked me up and took me home.  Even though it was midnight, everyone was up and Mariia, their mother, had dinner waiting for me.

Every day, for the last two weeks, someone here has asked me if I plan to marry Svetlana or if I’ve called Svetlana, or if I’ll move to Ukraine for Svetlana.  I certainly plan to keep in touch and hope that one day I can repay the courtesy she showed me in Kiev.  By the way, when I got to Chernivtsi, my friend discovered that she had also bought train tickets back to Kiev for BOTH him and myself.  Thank you for everything Svetlana!

Written by Joe

June 5th, 2010 at 2:57 am