While reflecting back on our travels to the capital city, we realized that we skipped some culturally-relevant details about our journey. Most importantly, we did not describe the last stage of our trip - the train ride home. Or, more importantly, the wait for the train ride in the station.
We extended our apartment reservation so that we could use the flat until 6 p.m. But, the train was not scheduled to depart until 10:20 p.m. We could not really take all of our luggage to a restaurant, and we did not want to drag it all over town. Absent another option, we grabbed our bags and headed toward the station.
Erik has visited Kyiv regularly for the last seven or eight years. During that time - especially during the last five years - he has noticed a steady growth in the crowds of people in mass transit, cars on the narrow streets, and construction cranes building new apartments. Kyiv is an expanding city, and has pushed itself to, or beyond, its current capacity. The metro was packed full of people; perhaps not to the level of a L'viv marshrutka, but jammed nevertheless. Kyiv is not a city for claustrophobics. We had to transfer lines at one of the busiest stations of all and waited for a second train to find a place for us and our bags. We pushed and shoved our way out of the metro at the train station.
The train station has been expanded and remodeled, and it is quite lovely. We settled into a second floor waiting room until our train was ready to board. The room was massive, shaped like a zeppelin hangar, with a sea-blue arched ceiling adorned with painted medallions representing many of Ukraine's major cities. We immediately picked out the lion crest and church-filled skyline of L'viv. The marble floors were spotless, and so shiny that you could see your reflection. Erik noted that he felt like he was spoiling the floor when changing Carter's diaper on it! [A side note: there are no changing tables to be found in Ukraine. You change your child's diaper wherever necessary. Also, as we have noted before, toddlers just drop their pants and relieve themselves in city parks].
As we waited, we soaked up the sights and sounds of travelers. Ukrainian tradition provides for food - large quantities of various sorts - to be packed for train trips. You not only feed yourself, but offer food to your neighbors. Across from us, a tired, middle-aged couple had dipped into their stock, chewing whole greasy sausages, and consuming handfuls of parsley. As we walked around the waiting room, we smelled the sharp odor of fish; a man had a pile of smoked, whole mackerel (or some other similar catch) on his lap, picking the flesh and sucking it down. Other common train menus include large numbers of hard boiled eggs, whole tomatoes, bread, beer, and a lot of vodka. Our neighbors on the train were hunting for vodka to go with their feast (whole plates of cheese, meat, bread and tomatoes) and were disappointed when no one around had brought a bottle.
As we waited for the train, we chatted with Vladimir. Our conversation was interrupted by a loud, gruff fellow from the U.K. He was drunk - and getting drunker by the minute - just sitting in the station. He explained that he and his pals, clearly aged hooligans, were in Kyiv for the Manchester United match against Kyiv Dinamo. His friends had disappeared, he did not know where he was going, could not speak the language, so he decided to tip back a few in the station. At first, we thought this was some kind of scam. Either he was distracting us, or he was planning to ask for money after his tale of woe. But, in fact, he was just a drunk fan. He explained that he had followed the team since 1967, and that he and his buddies were something like Man United deadheads, following the team abroad for its matches. He was a fan's fan, spending thousands of dollars to buy some kind of stock in the team (to be an official member), on merchandise, and also on travel and tickets. The conversation was amusing at first, but eventually we wanted to ditch him. We tried to help him find his hotel, but he had no idea where he was going. So, we just wanted to be free of him. Lea kept repeating that he could have much more fun on the main drag, where there were pretty girls to watch and lots of beer to drink. Finally, he took our directions and headed off.
A couple hours later, we did the same. We all made our beds, and settled in for the smooth overnight ride. In Ukraine, a smooth overnight ride is actually bumpy, but punctual.