I’m finally back from Kiev. Actually, I’ve been back for two days, but I’ve been occupied with the Cricova champaign that I brought back (and the brain damaging aftereffects).
Aside from being targeted for a lamely executed tourist scam and spending part of my time in a hostel with no hot water and, briefly, no electricity, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. My body however, would disagree.
My approach to breaking the back of a new city is to walk all over the damn thing, ridiculous distances and unfavorable weather be damned. After three solid months of sitting on my fanny in front of a laptop, the transition to walking for 10 hours a day – in melt-your-hair heat in this instance – didn’t go over well with my legs, feet and physiologically optimum hydration levels. There was much bodily complaining. You’d think my body would be used to these extreme lifestyle changes by now, as they occur several times a year, but sadly it hasn’t gotten any easier. Granted, I didn’t exactly ease into foot research mode in Kiev. More like sprinted into it, literally.
In addition to walking about 15 miles and mildly sun burning all exposed skin on my first day in Kiev, I started things off with a semi-deranged race across the city center to get to an appointment with a local tourism official. As a result of my poor time management, I ended up with only 15 minutes to walk (run) about five kilometers in 93°F (34°C) heat, carrying an over-packed day bag. At the time, I hadn’t yet had the chance to uncover the complexities of the city’s metro system and 15 minutes before an important appointment didn’t seem like the time to tackle that trial-and-error process in a foreign language with a funny alphabet to boot. Furthermore, I had been advised to not take a taxi without a wise local at my side, lest I get stuck with a $50 fare.
So instead I did a mirthful speed-walk, half-run the entire way, arriving at the door of the pre-determined restaurant almost 15 minutes late, red-faced, panting and cascading sweat from every part of my body. It’s possible my date had given up on me and gone back to the office (in neighboring Romania, 15 minutes late is considered on time, or even early by some standards), but I suspect that in fact my date was still there and quietly ducked into an alley when she got a load of me, staggering from woman to horrified women, freely sprinkling perspiration, accosting them with “Polina? Polina? Are you Polina? Hello?”
In any case, I missed the appointment. Moreover I was stinky, disheveled and exhausted, and it was only noon. After a further six hours of walking around Kiev, largely without the benefit of shade, I was physically wreaked by the end of the day and my delicate, but kickin’, body was never the same again. For the next three days, my feet and legs ached from the moment I opened my eyes until I fell back into slumber that night with the help of 440 milligrams of Ibuprofen. No amount of bench rests and taking the metro improved my condition. Even after a 24 hour, couchette train ride back to Romania, where I rarely left my bunk, my calves were still a little sore.
The upshot is that even at a limp, Kiev is a lovely city to explore. Colorful and classy buildings dot the center and navigation is easy, even without a working knowledge of Cyrillic script to decipher the street signs. I was rarely lost, which is something of a miracle for me.
Even the metro wasn’t so bad, once I’d conquered my fears and descended the miles of escalators into it’s muggy depths. With Kiev’s metro stations heaving with bodies, many of whom go without the unnecessary extravagance of deodorant, and being pitiably marked, even in Ukrainian, I feared that I’d never sort it out and may even require an armed, tactical search and rescue mission from my government. But brandishing an excellent city map and my Cyrillic-Latin alphabet crib sheet I ended up doing surprisingly little standing around staring at gibberish-at-first-glance signs, desperately trying to get my bearings.
In fact, I had virtually memorized the Cyrillic alphabet during the train ride to Kiev, by playing a game where I’d convert all of the train’s emergency exit signs from Cyrillic to Latin letters. As such, it didn’t take long to get a grip on most of the Cyrillic alphabet, though it must be said that even being able to read words in Cyrillic script usually didn’t get me any closer to actually translating those long, consonant-filled hellacious words into something that did me any good.
My work and two of my four nights of slumber were greatly enriched by Inna, a disarmingly charming Belarusian and the ‘patron saint of guidebook writers’ according to the LP colleague who put us in contact, who splits work between her home in Minsk and Kiev. Aside from her couch and good company, she positively rained voluntary assistance on me, giving me the aforementioned city map, metro tokens, restaurant and nightlife advice, Internet access at her office and finally a cab ride to the hostel when, after two nights, she was called back to Minsk and we vacated the temporary apartment her company had arranged for her. It’s really amazing how something as flimsy sounding as a friend-of-a-colleague can turn a daunting assignment into a cakewalk. Thank you Inna!
Finally, as I am always helplessly compelled to observe, the women in Kiev were astounding. Not only for their ravishing looks, but also for their startling choice in attire. People with too much free time on their hands have doubtlessly repeatedly read in this blog about how the Romanian women hold the title for ‘Closest Thing to Naked Everyday Street Attire’. Well, I humbly retract all those statements. The women in Kiev are the hands-down champions. Their creativity for outfits that expose unlikely and unexpected portions of skin, while not quite committing to full nudity, is nothing short of ground-breaking. While this was endlessly titillating for a hormone-charged, aging pervert like myself, it was equally disheartening to see that most of them were merely trying to achieve the closest approximation to Paris Hilton they could manage, except with less fabric.
I know that I routinely prattle on about how unequally beautiful the women are in each new country I that I visit and at this stage perhaps some of you may be thinking that I may not have the requisite objectivity to judge a matter like this. Well, allow me to present the following evidence supporting my new claim; the picture below is of Julia Tymoshenko.
Maybe she wouldn’t make the cover of Vogue, but she’s nevertheless beautiful, no? Well guys, guess what? This is the Ukraine’s effing prime minister!!! Well, former prime minister to be precise, but nevertheless, she’s at the top of the political heap. Now if someone this captivating is what passes for a crusty, old politician, imagine what the young hotties on the street look like! I rest my case.
Finally – ladies if you’ll allow me one last self-indulgent, semi-objectifying observation – an image forever burned onto my retinas is that of the three young ladies that were ahead of me on the sidewalk as I walked to the cave monasteries, wearing implausibly short, loose, flowing skirts who were running after a bus. With each stride, their little skirts flared up, revealing thong-clad, tanned, perfectly formed behinds. It took every iota of my journalistic integrity not to abandon my assignment on the spot and give chase just for a few more moments of that voyeuristic bliss.