Sunday, June 8, 2008

Visit to St Petersburg (Part 2)

Friday: Slept in until about 2pm and relaxed all afternoon. At 4:30 we left to go to the Anna Akhmatova museum for Olga's presentation. It was a huge success! Olga introduced a lot of people to the author Lydia Chukovskaya and her work. There was a lot of audience participation and a well-deserved reception afterwards.

Inna, Johnny, Paul, and Kostya decided to go to the free Roger Waters - Dark Side of the Moon concert in the Palace Square. Having never turned down an opportunity to see Roger before, I wasn't able to let this be the first time. The show was awesome, it was the last night of the Dark Side of the Moon Tour (unless they decide to extend it). Everybody was in rare form (although I think PP Arnold had a cold). They released the pig into the St Petersburg sky. Paul drove us back - Olgie and I went out for Shwarma and got in at 1:30am. Then I packed and wrapped things up for a couple hours, and at 3:45am we left for the airport!

When flying into Frankfurt, we were in a clear area between the clouds and the fog - and I could see the tops of a church, a skyscraper, and two factories popping up from the fog. It was really majestic, but I couldn't reach my camera in time. Movies watched: The Bucket List, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and Charlie Wilson's War (on-demand - thanks British Air 747). Got home Saturday afternoon and slept the rest of the day :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Visit to Ukraine (part 3)

Wednesday: Woke up with severe allergies to the Poplar tree blossoms. Walked around Kiev and took the scenic route past the Mariyinsky Palace and through the park to the Lavra church and caves Monks lived in the caves in self-imposed solitary confinement many centuries ago and their mummified bodies are still there today - neat cave tour!!

Met with some friends from LiveJournal and checked out the local Kiev cafe scene. Rode the 103-year-old funicular from historic Uppertown down to the Podil near our hotel (it cost only 10 cents USD - the cheapest thing in Kiev).

Thursday: Bought a couple of final Ukranian souvenirs and headed towards the airport. Had public transit mishaps every step along the way and ended up taking a cab. We got to the airport just in time - although you can never arrive late enough to miss a Rossiya airlines flight ;) Spent the afternoon relaxing at Olga's parents flat.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Visit to Ukraine (Part 2)

Tuesday: Today was a great day. We went to the main train station in Kiev, waited for the Nezhin train at what we thought was the right track (Track 2), only to get concerned when the train hadn't arrived 5 minutes before it was supposed to leave. After some running around and asking the wrong people, we found out we were at the completely wrong terminal (P2). We ran and ran and got on the train just before it took off! The ride to Nezhin was peaceful, only an hour and a half, and there is so much lush vegetation and greenery in the country.

As soon as we exited the train, we asked around for a map (Karta), but couldn't find any. Some people gave us directions to the center of town and we decided to walk it. We passed through various open-air markets with produce, tools, clothes, toys, anything Nezhinets could want. At one time, Nezhin was famous in these parts for its pickles!

When we got to the center of town, we made a bit of a loop around the center and stopped for a pieroshki sold by a street vendor. Then we went to city hall to find the town records. They directed us the archives building behind an old church. There we met with a nice woman who explained my last name sounded familiar, but all of the town archives had been transferred to Chernigov (capital of the county) two years ago, but she was kind to walk us to the jewish community center.

There we met Mark Lipkovich, who runs the center as a volunteer and just happened to stop by as a coincidence. His family has lived in Nezhin since at least the 19th century and his grandfather was about the same age as my great grandfather who was from there. Mark requested a building from the city for a community center and restored it to modern conditions. In the cemetery, he built a crypt to maintain the famous Lubavitch tomb and a sanctuary for high holiday services, and he got the city to run electric lines out there. Hedrove us to the cemetery (about 8 KM, just outside the city limits) to tour the facilities. He led all of the process in the past 8 years - he is proud but hopes to make much more progress in the coming years. He drove us back to the city where we looked at the outside of a former synagogue (now a public works building) that is around the corner from the current JCC.

We walked around the Nezhin city center a bit more and took a quick look around the country museum, which has items of town history from the 17th century up through WWII. Then we took a bus back to the train station, and quickly purchased a ticket for the next train (it is a much longer trip - 2.5 hours) but is the only train leaving before 2:00am!! We read and dozed throughout the trip. We read in a tourbook that there is a "Jewish" restaurant in Kiev, so we decided to track it down in order to complete the day's theme. It turned out to be right across the street from our hotel and we had walked by it (and even looked in) a few times. It's nothing like an American Jewish deli - it was a bit fancy. The main courses consist of fish, veal, and duck. We had lots of tasty side dishes and soups too.

Tomorrow we are planning to take a boat to the Hydropark!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Visit to Ukraine (Part 1)

Saturday evening: Went to a concert of Kostya's band "Make Up". They were rocking, as always. Lots of friends showed up and a good time was had by all.

Sunday: Had breakfast with Maria, Leonid, and Olga. Leonid made his traditional Sunday egg-cellent creations. For our flight to Kiev, we left for the airport almost 2 hours before our flight, but we almost didn't make it in time. (1) We went to the wrong terminal. (2) Rossiya airlines was so understaffed that they didn't even finish ticketing everybody before the time the flight was supposed to leave. (3) The passport control line was just as long as the ticketing line. After getting through security, it was 4:35 -- 5 minutes after the plane was supposed to leave. We ran around the airport (there are only a few gates) trying to find anybody we recognized from the line (because the flight was not listed on the screen).

After some panicking, we found out that the flight hadn't even started boarding yet. We landed almost 2 hours late, and also I had moved my watched 1 hour in the wrong direction due to a time zone confusion, so we arrived at 7pm (but I thought it was 9pm -- the exact time the management office closes for the apartment we rented). We called the management company and they agreed to send somebody to pick us up. We got all unpacked and were wondering why it is so light out at 11pm.

We walked around some fun parts of the city, explore the underground Metro system (which is EXACTLY like the St Petersburg Metro, down to the trains and the stations and the excalators and everything - when the Soviets make something they like, they don't fool around), and even ran into a wild celebration for International Children's Day. It had singers and dancers on stage, David Blane-type illusions complete with aerial acrobatics from a huge crane, fireworks, and lots of drinking. We were amazed that the celebration for childen goes past 1:00 in the morning!

Monday: Realized our watches were set two hours off (which was nice because I thought I woke up at 2:30pm!) Walked around Kiev a lot more. To me, it seems much more individualized and clean than St. Petersburg. The people

seem freer, most relaxed, and they dress more like Western Europeans / Americans. There are parks and beautiful hillside views. Had lots of fun authentic Ukrainian food to eat at a cafeteria-style restaurant. We are staying right on the river, but we haven't explored that area yet. Went to the Mikhail Bulgakov museum, which is in the house he lived, partially decorated like when he lived there, partially decorated like in his novel White Guard. Visited the Golden Gate (it looks like a city border gate built out of huge Lincoln Logs). Bought train tickets to visit Nezhin tomorrow.