For most of the trip, I was in Krivoy Rog, the longest city in Europe (120 km long) and a wonderful place where I made new friends, including Jenya, Anya, Tonya, Alosha, Leera, Daniel and several Julias (more about my new friends on another day). But a couple of days before flying home, we took the train (ah, the train! ... more about that on another day) back to Kiev and stayed a block away from the main square in the centre of the city.
This was my third trip to Ukraine, so I've seen a tiny bit of the before and after of Kiev (pronounced KEE'iv, not ki-EV). And the "after" is a stunningly beautiful city, full of energy and life. On weekends, they close the main street to cars, and people stroll all around the core of the city, enjoying street performers, decorative lights and lattes. Beautiful old buildings with incredible architecture mix with glass-domed underground malls, and an incredibly tall statue topped by a golden angel. No matter how long you look around, your eyes continue to find new things to look at.
Our team had taken the train (ah, the train, as I said) overnight, and had arrived in Kiev at 5:30 AM. We were a little bleary-eyed. We waited several hours in a McDonalds for our apartments to become available, then settled in. Vova - another new friend, who took genuine pleasure in showing us around his city - took us souvenir shopping, through a cathedral, out for some some dinner, and by 7 PM, everyone was back at their apartments, ready to settle in for the night, exhausted.
Except ... I couldn't shake the thought that I was in a wonderful city on the other side of the world, with no responsibilities at all for the moment, and there was a party going on out there that I wanted to be a part of. One of my roommates agreed with me. We grabbed our jackets, practiced the few Russian words we knew and headed back out.
When we ordered lattes from a coffee truck, I managed to say "hi" instead of "please". As in, "Two lattes, large. Hi." That was pretty funny, and I guess the guy making them appreciated the effort, because he gave us a couple of chocolates along with the lattes. We toured through an art gallery, wandered down the street, listened to a street preacher (we were very proud that we knew enough Russian to recognize that it WAS a street preacher) and thoroughly enjoyed the urban atmosphere of it all.
It was a lovely fall evening, and we stayed out until the crowds began to thin, and our feet screamed at us that we had done a lot of walking that day, and the next day would bring even more. Meandered back through the square, up the hill towards home and happily fell into our respective beds.
The perfect ending to a most wonderful trip.
Tomorrow I'll go back to the beginning.
Or maybe the middle.
... stay tuned ...