Traveling from Den Bosch to Riga was more of an ordeal than I expected. Because the plan left at 10:20AM, this necessitated arriving by 8am in Amsterdam, which in turn meant that it was imperative that the 6:20am bus not be missed. As a result, I ended up with a 5am wakeup call in order to properly be ready, with sandwiches provided in part by Katja- due to her incredible skill with the bread machine.
Some day I really need to get the recipe for Katjabroodje (Katja Bread).
I was thinking slowly, being cold and having been on the road for about 16 hours at that point, my thinking was hazy like the fog our twin-prop plane landed in.
Customs was easy as our US passports got us barely an blink before we were stamped and on our way. Not so for the college-age couple who were evening denied entry even as we spoke.
The little red haired girl kept complaining that “we have no monies” as her boyfriend talked via a helpful local, trying to explain heir situation to the unsympathetic guard.
Flew into Kiev from Riga in pea-soup thick fog and was greeted by the driver like you always see in movies. The only other time I remember experiencing something like this was when I first arrived to teach in the Netherlands at the first Crash: The Delft Blues Festival.
At that time, Daire Mac An Bhaird was waiting with a 5 foot-long banner printed on the airport’s banner machine (yes, apparently Schiphol Airport has a banner printing machine. I was surprised to learn this too). Of course, part of the wonderful weirdness that made the situation complete was not only the fact that at practically 6’7” tall Daire would tower over any crowd in a manner that is immediately recognizable. No, the best part was that he was standing proudly displaying his sign holding it over a crowd that did not exist. Really, there might have been another few people waiting, but in my mind, it was a desolate nobody-but-daire-and-me situation as if there was some other 7-foot blond, bearded giant he might be mistaken for.
I felt like a celebrity.
This was a bit different. Not only in the quality of the sign- sharpie on notebook, but in the demeanor of the driver as well. He was short man in his 60s who spoke a little english and was helpful and seemed like might be about to curse in impatience at any moment. This, I would later notice, seemed to be an almost congenital feature of Kievian people I would do business with, from the people at the market, to the entire hotel staff at the Yaroslav hostel, to the street merchant selling berries outside the markets.
My attempts to ask his name were rebuffed and he laughed as I gave him mine, saying “yes, I know… internet'” as he waved away my attempt at a question like some bothersome fly.
Not sure what I expected on the way into the City from the airport, but the stretch of car dealerships like those on 494 in Minneapolis certainly wouldn’t be in the top 100 sights I’d envisioned.
Birches lined the highway on either side and served to accent the fog with their gray bark and autumn yellows. Once more, I’m reminded of home. I guess something in me was hoping the vegetation would be somehow alien as we arrived. As if somehow it’s disappointing that the spectating isn’t so obviously different than where I grew up.
It’s not really of course, and if anything, it makes me feel more at home.
Every time we pass a sign in the Ukraine, this feeling is shattered. The Cyrillic alphabet is the preferred one for official things, though the Roman alphabet seems to be in use for advertisements and logos and well… there are enough of those to make any red-blooded american feel at home.
I’m not sure if it’s the fewer billboards on This stretch of highway than in used to, or possibly the fact that they aren’t lit at this time of night seems to make the road a bit more desolate. Or maybe… private is a better word.
After checking in to the Hostel and being given broken instructions on how to do things it seemed the instructions for any given thing were:
- (Old man) Do this thing.
- (Me) Pause to understand
- (Old man) never mind. Do it tomorrow.
This was applied to
1: filling out our passports info per legal requirements.
2: dropping off keys upon leaving (a common custom at most hostels I’ve been to)
3: paying for the hotel
Basically everything was:
Here’s the rule. Never don’t do it. Screw it, do it tomorrow.
I think I like this place.
After settling into our double room (two twins, not a double room…. common in former soviet bloc hostels) we headed down to ask his wife- whose english, he assured us, was far better than his own- for directions to food.
After taking 3 attempts to mime food, which apparently is not as universal as I thought to sign, she gave us a rapid-fire explanation of how to get to either a place with a lot of food options, or an impressive fireworks display. I’m not entirely sure which based on her gestures.
Oh and as we left to find food, I tried to give the keys to the woman at reception, per the instructions painstakingly given to us multiple times by her husband who seemed to alternate between hoarding his words and making it rain… she mimed that we should just keep them until tomorrow.