I am not sure why, but as soon as my fingers started to tickle these keys…the classic Aaliyah/Timbaland song popped into my head…more specifically, the Timbaland hook than anything else (you can stop after 21 seconds).
Wow, one sentence in and I already digress (and you’re welcome for putting that song into your head).
I apologize for the brief hiatus and would like to present a short narrative, as well as pictures, of
what I have been up to since my previous post my Thanksgiving celebration in Ukraine (you know, way back in 2011). There will also be pictures to provide evidence that yes, I participated in preparation of Thanksgiving Dinner, played American football for the first time in a few years, I am unable to take a picture with a straight face unless threatened, and I look terrifying with a “mustache” (thank Jack and the other men of Movember for that motivation).
Thanksgiving was spent in the region of Ukraine known for being the coldest: east. More specifically, the Luhans’ka Oblast (oblast = state). Myself and 21 other volunteers (along with one Ukrainian, Andrew) gathered in the apartment of Caroline Mackenzie for an amazing feast. No joke. Nothing against THE Steve Campbell and our base of the Chisos Mountains boiled sliced turkey and packaged mashed potatoes meal last year, but this one was just a little more…well, traditional.
However, there is a bit of a travel story prior to visual evidence:
My plan was to travel to stay with a good friend, Amy, in the oblast center…oddly enough named Luhansk/Lugansk (Ukrainian/Russian transliteration). According to Google Maps, this is a 6 hour bus ride. According to the Ukrainian bus schedule, this is an 10-11 hour journey. The reason being, there are very few major roads in Ukraine (in yellow) so the majority are the equivalent of back country roads in the states…though not necessarily conducive for speed (read: not freshly paved).
No problem! I can typically fall asleep on buses, car rides, or anything that moves, with little effort. In typical fashion I decided to go to the bus station the night before leaving (Wed) in order to purchase a ticket. As had been my experience, the buses come and go all day and night so I figured showing up at 9pm would be no problem. This would not have been a problem had the cashier’s office not closed at 7pm, nor did the office open until 7am the following morning.
So here I am, standing in the bus station thinking to myself, Awesome…well, what do I do now? Thankfully, I remembered Amy telling me a commuter train left from Donetsk (about halfway between our cities) at 5pm. Naturally, I decide that all I need to do is get to that train station before 5 and I’ll be good to go. I decide on one leaving at 8:30am…which, by the way, was a way better option in my book that the 7:10am (though it was a straight shot rather than half way).
The next morning, after I had just bought my ticket, I sent a text message to my friend Richard, who lives just outside of Donetsk, to tell him I am coming into town and to see if he wants to meet up for lunch somewhere. As I’m about to hop on my bus as he throws out this gem, “So do you know what station your coming in to?” Wait, you mean there is more than one?? Hell I don’t know, it’s not printed on the ticket! It turns out there are three in Donetsk and mine was the farthest (south) from the train station that I don’t know how to get to.
Thankfully, Richard and I pulled a few “Tell me please, how do I get to the train station?” questions in our flawless Russian accents and managed to get to station after wandering in a circle, literally (keep in mind, this “circle” was a damn intersection and we wandered for about 30 minutes crossing back and forth), until we find our way to the train station. All I needed at this point was a 13 UAH (less than $2) ticket to Lugansk on an elektrichka and I’m set. Off to Lugansk and the bounty of food that awaits my arrival.
After waiting in line for about 30 minutes (which was really not bad at all), I ask the cashier at the counter for “One to Lugansk on the the elektrichka, please.” The normal response is to say “Today?” to which I politely say “Yes, please.” She looks at me with a look that possesses legitimate concern – and also that she is psyching herself up to stumble through an exchange with a non-native Russian speaker – and says, “Today, no.” Awesome…Rather than stand there and try to determine why not or when the elektrichka would be running again, I decided on the smart thing (I had already made it this far, I was going to get to Lugansk in the same 24 hour period): Smiled, rapped my fingers on the counter, and said “Ok, thanks. Have a nice day!” and walked off.
Well, at least it is 3pm. Crap, where is Richard…
It occurs to me that I still probably have these options to get to Lugansk: 1) Catch a bus at the train station, 2) Go back to exactly where I came from (south bus station) and catch a bus there, or 3) Call a friend who lives nearby and hopefully grab a place to stay for the night (Richard was leaving for the capitol, Kyiv). Nope…let’s go with unforeseen option four: Get told to go to the third bus station (west) and hopefully catch a bus from there. At this point in the day, Richard and I were already experiencing cold that I don’t really believe either of us were prepared for…or the excursion. However, being a good guy, Richard helped make sure I made it to the west station, bought a ticket, let the driver know I had to use the bathroom and saw me on my way. This was not before we celebrated our minor victory with the coldest beer I’ve enjoyed in Ukraine (think it was -7 Celsius at 3pm…we were standing outside). I thought that was cold until I arrived in Lugansk – much colder than I had expected, even after a warning from my Ukrainian friend, Denis.
Thanks to Al Gore and the Internet, I can share these lovely pictures to help illustrate the remainder of the weekend. We played some football, helped Caroline with some English lessons for disabled adults (which was AWESOME, their excitement was contagious), made food, ate food, got merry – the works! Thank you Amy and Caroline for hosting me, Cary for organizing the football game with the local Ukrainian team, Andrew (Ukrainian) for sharing our holiday with us, and all of the Americans who came together to help each other celebrate my favorite holiday. It is safe to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the company of others!
(Hover over the pictures for captions)
Now firmly back in Zaporozhye with a few trips north coming soon (Chernigov and Kyiv). Photo Contest, and Christmas/NYE in Ireland post soon to follow.