Saturday, April 14, 2012

Three Rules

The following are three rules that everyone should just know and subsequently follow;

1. Never fill one's glass while they're holding it. Have them put it on a table (or any suitable surface) for  filling purposes.

2. Never put keys on a table.

3. Never give someone money at night.
  • If money absolutely has to be exchanged then one must put it on the floor to go ahead with the exchange.
As told to both V and I by a friend of a friend during a late night studio session in Kharkov, Ukraine.


Ukraine Part 1....Kiev

We landed at Kiev's Boryspil International Airport at roughly 2:30 am local time, welcomed by swells of pouring rain. After having been met at the airport, we quickly walked to the car, and proceeded to change certain pieces of our wardrobe which were more club appropriate. It was V's cousin's birthday weekend and we were therefore expected/very willing to party all weekend long. Sitting in the car on the way to the club, I felt like a six year old for the first time in a while. I knew what sounds Cyrillic letters made, but trying to read words by piecing sounds together proved to be very difficult while speeding by in a car.

Kokos was the name of the fine establishment we were quickly escorted to, for a fine night of celebration (at least that's what we imagined was in store for us). What we got instead was a tacky looking, rather empty club, that left a lot to be desired (shots that just so happened to be lit on fire seemed to be the theme of the night). Nonetheless we had a good time partying it up until 6 am, going to a friends' place after having left the club (the majority of clubs tend to close around 6 am, in fact there is no official closing time. Clubs will stay open as long as there are paying customers present). One of the most surprising occurrences of that night though was the fact that after a number of drinks, most of the people we were with could spew out comprehensible english phrases (in between bouts of yelling this is Ukraine, a la "this is Sparta", quickly followed by the downing of a whiskey or vodka shot). I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep up if the endless drinking of shots was the name of the game being played that night so instead I took the mixed drink route (mixing whiskey with coke), which based on the Ukrainian-styled peer pressure, led me to believe that "real" men didn't mix their drinks. In the end, my fellow drinkers were okay with the fact that I had mixed my shot (some of them did as well) and the "peer pressure" was simply a facade to try and get me, for the lack of a better term wasted. Most conversation that night revolved around the discussion of world football events, including (but not limited to); the upcoming Euro taking place in Poland and Ukraine, Portuguese football, the Europa League match between Metalist Kharkov and Sporting Lisbon,  Chelsea Football Club, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Waking up around 10 am the next morning, we had little time to get ourselves ready as we were to set up for another party taking place that day. We arrived at V's Uncle's new house, sitting on the banks of a fast moving tributary of the Dnieper River, ready to help anywhere we could. There was meat to be marinated, drinks to be poured, and floors to be cleaned. Everything that needed tending to, got done well before any of the guests arrived. We were to have a Georgian themed party, and no expense was spared. A Georgian band was brought in, filling the house with the sweet sounds trumpets, small guitar-like instruments similar to Greek bouzoukis, and an accordion. Delicacies were served, which as you might have guessed were native to Georgia, including an incredibly tasty Georgian red wine, Georgian salads, dips, and really anything else Georgian, except for the sushi which was served. I'm pretty sure sushi isn't a staple of Georgian cuisine, despite it being amazingly tasty and my eating 8 pieces of it. By the end of the night, some had had a couple too many drinks to be able to drive legally (although legality is a very gray area in Ukraine), and I was called upon to drive the monster that was the family car, the Toyota Sequoia. To say I was a little nervous would have been a very fair statement. I had only been in the country for roughly 19 hours at that point, and from what I had seen on the streets, it seemed that some regarded traffic laws as mere suggestions. As interim captain of the SS Sequoia, I couldn't show any fear though, as I comfortably took my position in the driver's seat. My fears were laid to rest when a) there wasn't too much traffic (it was 10 pm on a Sunday night) and b) those who did share the road with the monster were seemingly respectful of traffic laws. It took roughly 25 minutes to drive to central Kiev, and not once did I feel uncomfortable while driving through the Ukrainian capitol's streets. Just in case you're wondering, we all arrived home safely, and no one was harmed in the process of getting home, despite irrational fears of my "Canadian Driving" in Kiev. V's uncle even went so far as to thank me, and state that I was in his opinion "a good driver". Mission accomplished, and I can now tick off "driving in eastern Europe" and "driving in an ex-Soviet country" off of my list of things to do.

The next day V, myself, and her grandfather, were to leave for Kharkov at 5 pm. We decided to take advantage of the late departure time, as well as having a great guide with us (grandpa), and get some sightseeing done. The first sight actually occurred prior to our leaving the home for the day. V and I climbed to the roof of the flat, and had a spectacular view of an Orthodox Church (who's name I cannot recall). We snapped a couple of pics of the beautiful golden domes, and quickly went on our way to view more sights. Throughout the rest of the day we saw Saint Sophia's Cathedral, Saint Micheal's Monastery, a couple of monuments, the arc of friendship, and an old stereotypical soviet Lada. That was really all we could fit in the day as we had to make our evening train to Kharkov. I was filled with expectations of a locomotive styled train that hadn't been changed one bit since Lenin was doing his thing. We were greeted instead with a brand spanking new train, and we were hopping on for its maiden voyage to boot. The six and a half hour train ride passed by in a breeze, filled with mini-domino playing/dominating by grandpa, and his seemingly ingenious business proposals. We finally arrived in Kharkov at 11:30 pm, greeted by V's father (whose meeting I was definitely looking forward to, although slightly nervous about). The meeting went well, and we were soon on our way to his Kharkov home, ready to settle in for the upcoming week (the topic of our next post).....

Wielding a "banya broom", posing with the unknown Orthodox church.

St. Michael's Monastery

The Arc of Friendship, erected well after Grandpa's time because according to him, he "didn't know what it was, and it clearly wasn't that important" dream car

Riding the rails

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Impromptu vacations to familiar places...

When you somewhat suddenly have two weeks off and you have not planned anything then an impromptu vacation is just the thing to do.
On Skype with Papa...he misses us so cousin is going home for the weekend for his b-day. I really wanted to celebrate with him since we are now in the same city once again...brain starts working...and instead of thinking about it even for a minute, my idea flows out of my mouth, into the microphone, through the magical world of Skype and into my fathers ears...there is no turning back now. The idea sounds as follows...

"Well if we find decent flights then we will go to Kiev for the weekend for birthday celebrations and then spend the week in Kharkov since its so perfectly close"....

obvious response went something along the lines of...amazing! great! see you in a few days!

So being the rational person that he is, T finds us great tickets, as my father is not taking no for an answer...His reasoning is that since I have already thought it and said it out loud that I should just stick to it and not turn back...

We buy tickets lets say Tuesday...we party in London town Friday, wake up feeling not so hot on Saturday...lounge in absolutely NO rush even though our bags are not packed, our flat is not cleaned and we have no idea how we are getting to the airport. About two hours before our flight the scramble kicks in and we are both running around the house, cleaning, packing, worrying, googling directions....
We leave late, arrive late and therefore miss our flight...I panic, I have never missed a flight. Don't know what to do. First instinct is to get really mad...then cry...then smoke...then panic some more...Call Papa (he is taking his afternoon nap)...Call sister (she is in Canada and taking her morning nap)...Call Mama...not sure what I am looking, a pick me up, a way for our flight to re open and let us on...none of this happens with the phone call...

Next step...must pull myself together. The lady behind the Lufthansa desk gave us one of those "Sorry there is nothing I can do but have you pay double what you paid for the flights there and back" kind of answers (legit)...This is probably why my first instinct was to get really mad...
So once again pulled together we decide to talk to the people behind the desk again...Patrick, or Peter or perhaps Phillip turns out to be a much better behind the desk helper. He finds us a flight in roughly two hours time that does not end up costing us an arm and a leg...just an arm...

We check in. Get rid of our bags. Get coffee, sandwiches, water. We sit. Relax. Laugh at the situation. Realize that missing our flight was simply just more convenient since our layover in Frankfurt is now going to only be 1.5 hours instead of 5! 

In my family, we believe that all good vacations should start with a little adventure. Usually our trusty travel agent is responsible for the pre-flight frenzy...this time however we did it all by ourselves!

Flight takes off...LufGAnZA...London--->Frankfurt--->Kiev....on the plane near the light bulbs, in German it says :

Mash this is for inside joke...made my day...I think most people will find this funny. Unless you are German in which case this is totally normal and you might get offended. I am sorry.

That is it for now. More about the vaca soon. I think ill leave it to T to talk about Ukraine...


Not having nothing better to do...

The phrase having nothing better to do is a wonderfully bitter paradox (a paradox in and of itself). It communicates to one that time is of no issue to you, and in fact it is somewhat of a nuisance. The paradox lies in the fact that when one has nothing but a schedule as clear as the calm ocean waters, complaints surface about having too much time on one's hands with nothing to occupy it with. On the other hand, when one is busy to point of perennial exhaustion come 10 pm almost every night, time becomes golden in terms of value. Enough time to do the things one wants to do, cannot seemingly be squeezed out of everyday.

After both myself and V have worked almost every weekday prior to the Easter break, it feels simply phenomenal to have enough time to spare to do the little things that are thrown by the wayside when time-cutting (akin to cost-cutting in financial circles) becomes essential. I'm not necessarily saying that this is what I want always (although right now it feels fantastic), but to know that during weeks of hectic scheduling and cramming things in, there lies small gems once in a while that allow us to indulge in the beautifully twisted paradox.


Thursday, April 5, 2012


Note: Some words will be attempted (key word here) to be spelled in Russian with English alphabet letters.

I am currently in Kharkiv, Ukraine, sitting in a coffee shop sipping on a small Americano. This is really the least interesting part of the story (albeit still pretty cool), the real story lies in the process of obtaining this coffee on my own.

V was getting a haircut and therefore I was told to return to the Salon in a half hour's time. I was also told that there was a coffee shop down the street aptly called Doma Kofe (Coffee House). Doma Kofe it was, I walked down the street and popped into a very small, modern looking coffee house, with a full wall display of the most high tech espresso machines available. I approached the counter and politely stated, "Zdrastvoitye" (a polite version of hi, akin to hello but not really).

"Adeen kofye amerikanski pajahlusta" was next on my concise plan of action in trying to obtain my coffee.

I was met with a very quick answer back, to which I had no immeadeate reply because I simply understood nothing.

"Ya ni gavaru paruski" stumbled out of my mouth, a simple explaination that meant that I do not speak Russian.

"No understand" one of the baristas said.

"Nyet ya ni panimayu" (No I don't understand)

She picked up a tin of coffee beans, opened it for me to smell and put an expression on her face that I understood for something along the lines what do you think?

I told her "Da" (yes) and she then picked up a small cup asking if the size was alright.

"Da?" she said.

"Da pajahlusta" I replied.

She then turned around and started the coffee making process with the grinding of the beans.

"Sadisse" she said, motioning for me to sit down.

"Spasibo" (thank you) I said, as I chose a seat near the window.

A couple of minutes later I receieved a wonderful looking coffee, although it was missing one thing. Milk. No problem, I had this I thought.

I approached the counter and tried saying as clearly as I could,

"Maloko pajahlusta."

The barista then asked me if I wanted hot milk. The moment between my asking for milk and my confirmation that I indeed wanted hot milk lasted a good 15 seconds because I was again in a situation where I didn't quite understand what it was that she was asking me. When she noticed this she simply stated,

"Maloko hot?"

"Da pajahlusta" was again my reply.

Within seconds I had a cup of hot milk that I used to fill my cup of coffee up all the way. I sat writing and people watching beside the window for roughly 25 minutes before I decided to head back to the Salon. I packed up my things (book, pen, camera, scarf), and put my jacket on. Before heading out the door I turned to the barista at the cash,

"Spasibo bolshoi, da svydania" I stated (Thank you very much, polite goodbye), as I walked out with a big confident smile covering my face.

An overall successful coffee going experience in a foreign country with a completely different language, in my books.