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First Trip Expectations
Title: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Son of Clyde on August 23, 2006, 12:35:26 PM
I was thinking this topic may be helpful to recount our experiences both good and bad regarding our very first trip to FSU.

On my first trip I started chatting with a guy with a group from the State Department. This group was headed to Kiev for a few days on business. I first met the guy at Dulles airport and again at the terminal in Frankfurt, Germany. He helped me find our gate. I was so nervous I was confused about everything.

I never saw the State Department group on either flight, maybe they had first class accomodations. I was seated way in the back near the restrooms.

When we arrived at Kiev, Borispol there were 3 flights arriving at the same time. We were herded onto buses and driven to passport control. Each line had at least 20 people waiting and after 15 minutes a special line was opened just for the US State Department people. The last I saw of the guy he was breezing through passport control in record time and I still had a 90 minute wait ahead of me.

I never saw the State Department group again. It is sometimes an advantage to be a US Government employee but I was with the wrong agency for that trip.

Still, all in all it was a good experience and I learned a lot about myself.



Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: catzenmouse on August 23, 2006, 04:47:59 PM
SoC,

Good Topic for the FAQ section! I will add my impressions and feelings etc. when I get a chance. Right now I have this PC up here and my laptop connected to work trying to finish up all the crap they have created lately (read that as more meaningless Fed BS to make them look like they are actually doing something).

Ken


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: jb on August 24, 2006, 08:49:26 AM
I would like to encourage comments in this topic.

It has always been a subject of some apprehension for many men about traveling behind the *Iron Curtain* for the first time. It seems the old cold war Russian Boogie Man dies hard in the minds of many. Perhaps enough good information here will help dispell the veil of mystery surrounding the FSU.

Thanks to Clyde for starting what may become a valuable tool in the FAQ section.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: BC on August 24, 2006, 10:54:55 AM
A lot of interesting thoughts pop to mind with this topic.

I grew up during the cold war era and the sounds of many warplanes, from B52's to F4's roaring over our schools. During these early years I remember Kennedy, landing on the moon but very little about the purpose of all that noise.

In the early 80's I joined the Air Force and remember well such things as 'alerts', 'recalls, 'excercises', the donning of gas masks, taking shelter and many other deeds deemed necessary to defend freedom. I was stationed in Germany in the early 80's and this was pretty much as 'front line' as it gets.

When I was serving in the US military I often wondered how folks on the 'other side' really were. We listened to our propaganda but unfortunately could not see with our own eyes how things really were there.

Unfortunately my duties did not allow travel or interaction with the folk I was trained to defend ourselves against. Had the opportunity existed I would have been the first one on the bus. I think both sides could have profited by allowing folks to mingle more and exchange thoughts on a personal instead of political level.

Throughout this period of my life I accepted what was told but thoughts did 'nag' me a bit about what was behind that Iron Curtain.

I was fortunate enough to experience the opening of the iron curtain first hand. I was living as a civilian in Germany at the time and it was a tear-jerking, happy experience for all.

My first real experience with folks from the (former) FSU was as employer. I found these folks quite hard working and very easy to get along with, so much so that I started learning a few words of Russian here and there.

When I met my wife much later in a third country, there was as much cultural as chemical 'click' involved. This quickly led to a deeper level of conversation and maybe understanding.

I was doing a little business with some FSU businessmen at the time but had not met them yet personally. One thing led to another and a business/pleasure trip was planned with follow-on to her home town.

Quite honestly I was expecting bread lines, rationing and all the other cold war propaganda I had been taught. *Remember that this was before I ever participated in RW related fora.. *

Landing in Kyiv, driving overnight to a little town in southeast Ukraine, stopping on the way to get my first bowl of tasty borscht and ending up in a (western) one star hotel was quite an experience, but nothing compared to my preconcieved ideas as to how life was 'over there'.

I woke up the next morning next to my sleeping (then GF) who had travelled from RU to Ukraine to meet me and looked out the hotel window thinking to myself 'this ain't so bad'... ;D

A few days of good eating, drinking and conversation ensued.

The rest of my stay in Ukraine was quite pleasurable.. yes there were some 'off' things like public toilets that made me wonder a bit but the people I met seemed quite ok. The standard of living was below western standards but nothing I would consider unbearable.

The electronics shop next to the hotel had the exact same model TV as I had at home for 30% less.. Heck even roses were readily available for a decent price.. and believe it or not a can of Mountain Dew at the local kiosk.

We then travelled to RU by train.. not the St Pete to Moscow train but a 60's era train where we spent most of our time in the restaraunt wagon like old time movie stars.. 6 hours for 180 miles..

After my first experience of RW vs RU customs officials we were in 'real' RU.

Russia seemed like a mini step above Ukraine as far as standards of living. Many more BMW's and Mercedes navigated potholes. The people though were the real 'gems' that I found. Like diamonds, hard to find but when you do then the world changes around youi. I was welcomed with open arms and quickly integrated into a new family. Yes the couch was a bit tattered and the rug worn but in essence every luxury I enjoyed at home was present to some degree in RU.

As soon as we went shopping my thoughts of breadlines quickly evaporated.

Probably the greatest highlight of my life was being able to stand in Red Square.

Looking around, I was elated.. an era had past but leaving a bittersweet aftertaste, after all for many years I considered this folk as 'enemy'.. But I stood there with no feelings of victory.. and maybe a bit more understanding about the perverse ways of politics and power.

I was quite amazed at how small Red Square really is.. I couldn't imagine some German kid landing a Cessna there.. (Matthias Rust). It was really much smaller than I had pictured in my mind after watching parade in military briefings year after year..

Is pretty interesting that last October, as my wife and I stood in front of the White House, I remember clearly her comment: 'It's so tiny!'

It's truly a small world after all..

Hope this wasn't too awful boring..


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: catzenmouse on August 24, 2006, 12:26:07 PM
Good post BC, very interesting read!

Before my first trip I dug in and read a ton of stuff about the country, the people, the customs, etc. but I was still surprised at (in many ways) how much the same it was as here. The people can at first seem rather sullen but when you meet them and talk to them they are very warm and friendly.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the different foods that I tried (except for the salt herring but I'm not a fish lover so that was no surprise) and although the hotel room was not high end it was clean and had a small refrigerator in it so I could keep a few things handy. The floor warden ladies were mostly quite nice and tried their best to communicate with me with my very poor Russian.

That one did catch me off guard. The language. I had books, Cd's, computer programs and had been learning for about 6 months before I went and thought I would at least be able to get across the general ideas but the puzzled looks told me right away that I was a complete waste as a Russian speaker and I could not for the life of me understand anything that was said to me. Partly because it was said quickly and partly because all those lessons I had were for the formal language which no one ever uses.

I loved the museums, the parks, the restaurants etc. and hired an interpreter to take me through the museums to explain the interest and history of the items which was very cool. And aside from feeling like a deaf-mute had a wonderful time overall.

The only part which got me worried was going through the customs areas in the airports (and this was my first clue as to how little language I knew) and when I left they hauled me off to a side room because the hotel had not stamped my visa correctly so with some hand gestures and some showing of my receipts I got waived on and headed on home again.

All the nervousness I felt on going to Russia during the flight there was gone after I got through Moscow and onto my next flight to Omsk. Looking back on it now it was the very best thing I have ever done in my life.

Ken


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Son of Clyde on August 24, 2006, 12:28:56 PM
BC, very nice report.

I was in 7th grade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In English class my friend kept saying that we were gonna die. I was only 12, I was not ready to die yet. Then he was saying we may not die just yet, it may be a few days. A week and then a month went by and I was still alive.
I was not very much into world history or current events when I was 12. I was into Micky Mantle, Roger Maris, the Baltimore Orioles and watching the Flintstones and the Twilight Zone on television.
My vision of Kruschev was of an old man beating his shoe on the table at a UN meeting saying he would bury us. I saw pictures of a huge wall in Berlin and didn't know why they wanted to keep the East from the West.

So I had an idea of Russian people as being unemotional people who had no mind of their own. People who lived off the land but lived in a dreary, dark landscape and had no money, or a fixed income. I am afraid I still had these ideas until 1992 when everything changed.

My first trip I was nervous as hell and my first impression of the people was about what I expected it to be. They were cautious, unsmiling and few spoke my language. The men looked angry and stern. Things changed when we went to a popular restaurant. A man was buying everyone drinks to celebrate his anniversary. A perfect stranger carrying around two bottles and giving everyone a choice. Another man, who spoke English, was a vender in Kiev near MacDonalds. He left his stand for about 20 minutes to help me make a phone call because I didn't know how. An elderly woman at a hotel let me stay inside, out of the cold when I was locked out of my apartment. She also let me use the phone.

So many of my images of Russian people were unfounded due to being brainwashed as a kid. Russians are people like you and I. Russians are extremely well groomed and many wear very nice clothes. There is not a large difference in the people except for the economic and political circumstances.

I would recommend everyone make one trip to the FSU.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: jb on August 29, 2006, 10:35:03 AM
Clyde,

You do not need my approval to lend your thoughts here. I thought it's a good FAQ topic, and I said so.

I would write about my 1st trip, however since it was back during the Soviet days and my memory is a bit fuzzy after more than 25 years, I should defer. Beside, my first impressions are nothing like what a newbie will experience today, therefore anything I might write is not applicable to the general collective wisdom we seek here. My situation was also different in that I had just completed an intensive Russian language course at company expense and had spent 3 summers teaching courses in geophysical exploration to dozens of Russian engineers. I had already made many friends in Russia, spoke a little Russian, had already acquired a taste for caviar, salty fish, and vodka, so I was not just cast into the culture without some very serious lifelines.

The impressions of the 1st timers today will be infinitely more valuable to the FAQ section than what I could contribrute.



Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Voyageur on August 29, 2006, 12:07:41 PM
My first trip to Russia was for business, in May of 2001. I stayed there for a bit longer than two weeks on business, as I worked at the time for a company that required me to travel for long periods overseas. I went to Saint Petersburg and stayed at the Pulkovskaya hotel, on the outskirts of town, right by Victory Square. This is a four star hotel that is rather unimpressive except for it’s commanding appearance. The rooms were rather small in comparison to western standards but it was clean and comfortable. And much to my surprise, there was all the toilet paper that you could need! (More about this later).

By this time in my life I had traveled extensively around the world and was a bit tired from this time away from the US. When I arrived in Russia, I was quite anxious to look around, I remember. I grew up in the Cold War era, and I remember all of the “drills” that we used to do in school, in the case of a missile attack. I sort of remember the Cuban crisis and looking out my bedroom window for those mushroom clouds and any USSR missiles that might have slipped by the Air Force and the television newsman.

Meeting Russian people for the first time, I was very impressed by the graciousness and hospitality that they showed to foreigners in their country. Although I could not speak their language, they always knew at least a few words of English and – when the translator was not present – we could always communicate with each other somehow. I remember feeling a bit guilty on receiving their hospitality, as I knew that if they had ever visited the US, that our country’s hospitality was not quite as grand as theirs.

I was at this time somewhat recently divorced from my ex, and I was not really in a mood to find a new wife. However, I did meet a few women there, and I was quite impressed by their femininity, their intelligence and their ways of life. They were very self-sufficient, had great senses of humor and believed in the kind of family life I had been raised in.
I began a relationship there with a woman who was quite special, but I was not able to commit to her and she found another man (who had come there on a “romance tour” and later married him and moved to the US with him) a few months later. I had not really even begun dating yet in the US, but later I would and I remember this woman and the other women I met there and it left a big impression on me.

The title of this thread is “First Impressions”. And my first impressions were of the people. The airport was rather small. The taxis were confusing. And everyone at home in the US reminded me to take rolls of toilet paper with me, because they saw television programs about people waiting in line for this item. I remember telling a woman I met about this and she laughed about it. I remember little of the food that I ate (I am not so adventurous an eater). I remember all the vodka on the tables of the restaurants that I went to. I remember the mafia people on the corner outside the hotel that gave you a better exchange rate than the kiosks on the street or especially at the airport. I remember these mafia types always in the lobby of the hotel, understanding immediately that I was a paying customer and never glancing in my direction.

Fast-forward a few years until 2003. I was on a trip back back to the FSU to begin to search for my other half. I flew to Kharkov on a flight from Vienna. I had not been back to the any FSU countries since 2001. It was November and cold. As we left the Austrian Airline plane – climbing down the stairway onto the tarmac – for transportation to customs at Kharkov airport – it seemed to me as far away from home as I had ever been. I saw the (in)famous hammer and sickle outline against the gray sky atop the airport tower and felt like I was truly on the other side of the world. This time I was not with any company or group of men, I was alone in Ukraine. The Kharkov customs process was also quite a treat – I remember having to unwrap all my presents and unloading my suitcases completely. I was meeting a woman at the airport and was anxious to meet with her. I was trying to re-load my suitcases, and look cool at the same time. The relationship (WOVO) did not work out this time, but even on this trip, I gained a new appreciation for the people and ways of the countries of the FSU.



Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Phil dAmore on August 31, 2006, 08:46:14 AM
My first trip in March of 2001 was a voyage into the unknown. Sure I read a bunch about the 'new' Russia but it in no way prepared me for what I was about to encounter.

It's still difficult to accurately describe the feeling I had upon arrival. The best way I can put it is just to say that the moment my foot hit the ground at Pulkovo it just felt right. Five years later I still feel the same way.





Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Manchester on August 31, 2006, 11:56:58 AM
Perhaps some splitting of FSU would be in order as it covers such a wide geographical area and incorporates many countries.

About Russia itself; I found Moscow comparable to any European city visually, if you removed the Cyrillic signs from the buildings you could almost be anywhere. If your point of destination is elsewhere in Russia, my example would be Samara (where I have been the most within Russia) - First impression of Samara is the small and old fashioned airport, the customs look fierce but in reality are improving, last time I went they even had a woman before customs helping foreigners with their landing cards.

When you alight from the airport and head toward town, the first things that will hit you is how bleak and grey it looks, especially in the rain! You will observe ancient cars and trucks, bad roads and you will begin to taste the pollution from the roads in your throat.

After a day or two when your throat is used to the road pollution and you have your bearings, you will be fine. Russia is improving but everything moves slowly, do not expect to nip out and do a few errands in an hour like you would at home. I find there is one principle that if you get used to it you begin to understand Russia: It is the Russian way, hang over from Soviet times - first you must pay, then you must wait, then somebody will have to do lots of faffing with bits of paper, checking (checking is making coffee) and rubber stamping things, then eventually you get what you went for.

I find that principle applies to most things in Russia. From posting a letter to importing a lady!

The new visitor should not expect to rely too much on bank cards to get money and Americans will probably have to lose the Credit Card for everything mentality that is normal in the US - Take some cash! - Last but not least, as long as you have communication facilities (your lady probably), dont worry about problems. If you do encounter problems, society is such that most things can be solved by throwing money at the situation. ;D



Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Son of Clyde on August 31, 2006, 12:18:34 PM
What hit me the hardest were the unsmiling people. The airport employees were expressionless and wore uniforms that looked left over from the cold war days.

The people on the streets were solemn and always moving. You never would see children playing or people laughing and joking around. It seems that emotions are reserved for private.

The merchants at the markets do not only sell meat and produce, they sell animals too. There were many dog and cat breeders and they were very adamant we do not touch their animals unless we are serious about buying them.

There were the babushkas asking for money and selling fresh fruits and vegetables.

The roads in Yalta are winding and extremely narrow. I could not understand how the bus driver avoided hitting pedestrians because they would stand in the street waiting for the buses.

I always had a slight fear of being accosted and my money stolen so I never carried more than I would be spending in one day.

It was interesting walking the streets alone but there was always the feeling that if anything seriously happened to me I would receive little help. As I said in my previous post, there were a number of people who DID help me.

It was a unique experience and I felt safer every time I went back.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: groovlstk on September 01, 2006, 03:43:15 PM
I think a distinction needs to be made as to what FSU city a guy chooses to make his first visit to. For instance, visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, or (to a slightly lesser extent) Kiev seems -- to me at least -- almost identical to visiting any major European city.

However, outside of these cities the experience is much different. My first trip was to Dnepropetrovsk, and even if it's Ukraine's second-largest city with plenty of Western-level amenities and conveniences, it's a much different experience... in some ways better and in some ways worse. I'll never forget how jazzed I was when I landed at DNK for the first time and passed through customs. There's no feeling like it in the world, knowing that you are about to meet some of the most beautiful women in the world.

The things that struck me in the smaller FSU cities are:

--The rock star factor. People in small cities and provinces are not accustomed to seeing Americans or Western Europeans in town, so you'll be the object of fascination to strangers as well as your girl's family and friends. On my first trip I enjoyed the attention but with each subsequent trip I came to like it less and less. Now I despise it and try to blend in as much as possible.

--Locks, keypads, and keys. Once inside a building, most rental flats have more than one door you must pass through to enter your flat, and at least one is made of steel with no windows. The locks are sometimes complicated and will take some patience in getting used to. Funny enough, I recently sent photos of my home to my fiancee and she immediately told me that we must replace our front door since it has windows, is made of wood, and is evidently vulnerable to anyone with an axe or battering ram :) I've always been curious about the custom of upholstering the outermost door to an FSU apartment, but the reason is pretty obvious: the door is 1/8 thick solid steel and the leather façade gives it a gentler, more inviting look.

--Lack of lighting on streets and building interiors. I got lost on my first night in Dnepr, without a cell phone, without a flashlight.

--The sad fact is that many strangers, from cab drivers to shop owners, saw me as a potential mark.

--I've noticed common courtesy among strangers is pretty rare. On my first trip, I rode a crowded tram through Dnepr and when a babushka laden with many bags boarded, I stood up and offered her my seat. Immediately a greasy teenager dove on the empty seat. So much for manners. Strangers don't hold doors open for others, and if you do you'd better do it without expecting any thanks for your effort.

--I realize this is sounding pretty negative, and it's not my intent. Although my trips to smaller Ukrainian cities were unsuccessful, I wouldn't trade the experience for vacations anywhere else on the planet. I not only learned a lot about the culture, I learned a lot about myself.

--If you're considered even average-looking here, and if you've managed to stay fit, beautiful women will unashamedly ogle you in public.

--Russian/Ukrainian people can be very cold on the outside, but once you've earned their trust or the trust of the girl you're meeting, you'll be embraced with kindness and goodwill that you'll never see here in the West outside of your most trusted friends and family.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: BC on September 01, 2006, 09:03:48 PM
I've always been curious about the custom of upholstering the outermost door to an FSU apartment, but the reason is pretty obvious: the door is 1/8 thick solid steel and the leather façade gives it a gentler, more inviting look.

Took me a while to figure it out but the primary purpose is actually thermal insulation. Think of minus temperatures outside and sauna inside. Without insulation there would be condensation on the inside and ice on the outside. The door would probably rust away in a couple of years.






Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Son of Clyde on September 01, 2006, 09:10:41 PM
On one of those steel doors I think the key weighed a pound and barely fit in my pocket. Don't laugh but I locked myself INSIDE my apartment and had to throw the key outside so someone could open the door from the hall.
I think I was on the 6th floor and sometimes the elevator did not work either.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: KenC on September 02, 2006, 12:54:51 AM
Nice topic Clyde. Glad I found it.

I made my first trip to Russia late in 1998. Flew into Moscow with travel arrangements (car) to Tver. Here are three short (?) stories from that trip.

Cold War Feelings
As some of you have already told, I was a product of the Cold War period of our history with a slight twist though. I am 100% Russian with a very Russian last name. I was always leery of the propaganda put out by our government regarding Russia. I was always looking for the cracks in the arguments about the "Evil Empire." I was just as scared as anyone through the Cuban Missile Crises, but I was just as afraid that we would make the mistake that would start the end of the world as I was of Russia making the mistake. Not that I wasn't patriotic though. I was never more proud of any president as I was of JFK at that time. Regardless of your political leanings, the man had some huge gonads!

My trip kind of put all my prior thoughts of Russia and Russians into a clear perspective. People are just people. Other than economic differences (I felt like I stepped back in time to the US in the early 50's) I saw more similarities than I did differences.

Like BC mentioned, my first visit to Red Square was a bit emotional and I too had flashbacks to the old May Day Parade news reels. BC said: "When I was serving in the US military I often wondered how folks on the 'other side' really were. We listened to our propaganda but unfortunately could not see with our own eyes how things really were there." That is a common ploy used by both governments, if we had been able to mingle more, both of our populaces would have realized that they were just people and that doesn't promote the fear and anxiety necessary to keep the propaganda going. I have long used the line that if we Americans new how hot the Russian women were, the Cold War would have ended 10 years earlier. ;D ;D

OK, on to my dumbass moves on my first trip.

World traveler nyet
I have traveled extensively through out the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Admittedly most of my travel arrangements were made by my secretary or travel agent. I was usually handed an itinerary as I headed to the airport. I had become way too casual about my trip to Russia and had put way too much faith in the agency (LTP) and my ability to adjust on the fly. When I stepped off the plane in Moscow and cleared customs, I was told there would be a driver and an interpreter awaiting me. I never considered the possibility that they would NOT be there. Hmmm, guess what? Nobody was there to greet me except the mob of taxi drivers like hyenas awaiting their next kill. Holy sh!t, maybe I should have brought the address and phone number of the agency? Duh! I quickly regrouped from my idiocy and began to negotiate with the hyenas for the 100 mile trip to Tver. I quickly got them down from $200 to $100 and was making my way toward the $75 to $50 range when my errant driver and terp showed up. Whew!

Technically Challenged
The flat provided to me by the agency was not the greatesteven by Russian standards. It was clean, but everything was old and quite worn. As my trip was made for the New Years celebration, it was the dead of winter. I had no trouble with the weather outside as I was from Michigan. Where I did have great difficulty was with the extremely hot flat. It must have been 90 in there! I looked for a thermostate to turn down the heat, no dice. I searched the radiator system for a valve to turn down, again nada. WTF!? I sweat my arse off for 4 days in this friggen sauna of a flat! I would sleep in the nude and take a shower and dress moments before I left the flat in order to be fresh and presentable. How the hell can people live like this?

One evening my interpreter asked me why I liked it so hot in my flat? I embarrassingly told her that I couldn't find the valve to turn the heat down. She laughed and went to the window and opened it!! There were 4 small windows that opened out that they used to regulate the heat!!! Do ooh!
KenC


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Photo Guy on September 04, 2006, 01:51:17 PM
Hi There! Just some quick impressions from my week in Kyiv - April 05.

Going through customs/passport control at Borispol was a trip. Showing my
landing card and passport to the official, felt stresful, like not being able
to speak Russian to a 'KGB agent'. Ha. Very stern. I finally figured out he
wanted to know where the woman in question lived. I said, 'Mariupol'.
He shoved my papers back at me, and I was almost free and clear.
Next I needed to declare items for customs. Should I declare my
expensive camera? Am I sleep walking after being awake for 24 hours?

I sleep-walked through customs with my luggage in hand, marching by the
long line of travelers. I looked determined so they did not stop me. My bad.

The ride from Borispol (town name/airport name) to Kyiv was interesting.
A rather nice highway, lined with lights. I noticed nice small housing developments
along the way. Didn't fit the housing stereotypes.

Once at the hotel, I was struck by the darkness of the lobby. Somber.
The ladies at the front desk were all business and did not smile as we
checked in.

At the local grocery store, there was a line of 7 or 8 people waiting to
request products and pay for them. It was very quiet. No chat. People
everywhere recognized me as being a foreigner. People in public were
sullen, as Ken stated.

People on TV (cable) were much less sullen. There seemed to be an effort to
emulate Western TV. Game shows, colorful music videos, etc.

I felt like a curiousity for the individuals I met. Natalie ('terp), Larisa, and
her friends, all were straightforward and wanted to know me. They were much
more 'open' than the general public. Sometimes they apologized for conditions,
like the restaurants restroom, or the small size of our hotel rooms. They think we
Americans are all 'rich', like many of the families on American TV's, living in
Santa Barbara, with shiny new cars and expecting luxuries.

I found the people to be genuinely helpful. They are likable. And yes,
strangers will see you as dollar signs, an opportunity to over-charge.
They think that's okay, because you are certainly the 'rich' American
and you can afford to pay a little extra.

I am looking forward to going back and seeing some of the smaller cities.

When there, I was a little worried about my own safety, although I had
no bad experiences. Is it safe to travel alone on a train? Or alone
anywhere? What would you advise about the safety issue? For my
trip, I had been with other people at all times.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Turboguy on September 04, 2006, 02:57:45 PM
I never felt any danger in Kiev at all. Often I would walk to the internet cafe after my date and sit there till 2 am then walk back along deserted streets and through an underpass that was barely lit and never worried about a thing. I felt safer there late at night than I would have in NYC or LA.

The train should be safe enough. The dangers of the train are if you try buying your own ticket you may in up in Odessa when you wanted to go to Kharkov. Figuring out your train, coach and seat is equally difficult. The only time I ever did not feel safe on the train was long, long ago on a 4th class ride from Moscow to Vitibisk Belarus. The crowd in that car looked like the people in Van Gogh's Potato Eaters. That thought might have been reinforced by the fact some very unsavory looking people were sitting there peeling raw potatos with something akin to a bowie knife and eating them. I will give you one tip. Don't wait for the last minute to buy your ticket. You may find the tickets mostly sold out and you will be there with the Potato Eaters. First class is the way to go but actually second is not bad. The most common way of doing it is to travel on the night train which will give you a sleeper berth. You go to sleep in Kiev and wake up where ever you are going and it is far cheaper than a hotel. The other danger is the rest rooms. Wear boots! (joking but they leave a lot to be desired)

Just of of curiosity which hotel did you stay in?


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: Photo Guy on September 04, 2006, 11:12:53 PM
Getting a room in Kyiv was complicated, by internet. A third party website quoted a lower price
than the Kozatskyy Hotel's office. I also checked with the Ukraina hotel (also near Inde Square)
After some haggling and questionable availability, I settled on the best deal ..at the Kozatsky.
I appreciated the 'genuine' Soviet vibe there, with dark corridors, small clean rooms with a small
balcony, huge bathtub, odd small chandelier lighting fixture, big heavy curtains, and your typical
hall monitors who hold your room key for you and log your entry/exits. The Kozatsky was around
35 or $40 per night in April. It had a built-in ATM on its exterior wall. A few feet from the
subterrainian Globus Mall, a McDonalds, a monetary exchange booth, and a small grocery store.
I avoided the Mickey D's... I wonder if the Kozatskyy ever did complete the renovation of the restaurant
section. It wasn't open when I was there and I didn't notice anyone working on it.


Title: Re: What to expect? My first trip to FSU.
Post by: ronin308 on September 05, 2006, 12:07:25 AM
My first trip was quite interesting and informative. It was both to see a girl in Kiev and a vacation for me. By my luck it was winter of 2004 right in the middle of their "orange revolution". I almost canceled the trip but after not seeing any violence and talking with my "fixer" I decided to go.

As I do my own travel it was hard find hotels to book rooms through, I stumbled on several apartment rental sites and ended up going with one of them as the price was similiar for a hotel but I was on my own. For me the easiest way of travel there if you haven't gone before is to involve a "fixer" who is someone you can use to obtain everything from your apartment, a ride to the airport etc. While it costs more in my opinion having someone help you with the basics is really nice.

I arrived at Borispol on a cold grey day. Although at the time you needed a visa, passport control was a breeze, only the fact that I lost my checked baggage meant I needed to fillout forms for customs and even then I was escorted past inspections by the Lufthansa agent. (To this day I've never been stopped going through customs.)

After meeting my fixer we drove off to the city. The first thing I noted was a relic of the cold war, although most people don't mention it. The roads were all tree lined which was done to prevent you from seeing to far out into the countryside.

Other than seeing types of cars I hadn't seen before I could have been anywhere. Once we got into town the traffic was as intense as I've seen in SF or LA. At one point we drove the car on the sidewalk and then finally walked the last few blocks.

The apartment building was older looking and a little dirty, in my case there was the steel padded door that was shared by 2 apartments and a seperate door into the apartment itself. The apartment was modern and clean.

I met my friend and over the next few days she showed me parts of the city. It was very exciting because the trip was set against the backdrop of their Orange Revolution protests. I felt perfectly safe though as it was more like a large festival than a protest. While I was there they threw out the original election results.

As others have said the people are closed off until you get one on one and then they can be quite warm. Safetywise, while I felt quite safe by myself you still should take the same precautions as you would anywhere else. The biggest threat I saw was an overly aggressive beggar. In between hanging out with my friend I'd walk around the city on my own, with no maps and just take in the sites. If I ever got lost I could flag a taxi and have them take me to the closest landmark to my apartment and all was well again.

I didn't eat much that trip, not sure why. My second trip introduced me to a smaller city and some of the fresh Ukrainian food, especially vegetables, I never liked cucumbers until I ate them in Ukraine.


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