Please excuse me for a moment. I am going to shamelessly self-indulge and change the subject of this blog for a couple of posts in order to cover my recent week-long holiday in Ukraine.
It was honestly that incredible that I was finding it hard to concentrate my emotions to get words on a screen. You know those moments when you're bursting with happiness? Living in Paris, this happens fairly often but I don't remember feeling quite as buzzing as I was on the bus leaving Yalta.
I don't want to talk about the political situation or the AIDS crisis they've got on their hands at the moment because I didn't see any of that during my trip. Nor did I witness any racism from football fans. The country that I saw couldn't have been more welcoming, interesting or fascinating.
|St Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev. View from the bell tower.|
Of my eight nights in the country, three of them were spent on sleeper-trains. I worked out that, in total, I must have spent 50 hours on a train. (Special blog post to come soon on that subject...!) This provided me with the opportunity to see a cross-section of the Ukrainian people at very close quarters - a fascinating insight that most tourists don't get.
It is a country which has so many derilict buildings, yet also has so much warmth. For example, as I was walking round the back streets of Yalta, two men called out to me: "Hey girlie, dont take a photo of that old building. Take one of us. We'll even smile for you!" ... and here it is!
Life there is slow, it's all very rural and agricultural, children take the jobs their parents occupied... but everything ticks over.
On my first day in Kiev, I noticed all the similarities with Russia. Kiosks, kvas, ice cream, the don't-hold-your-breath-ishly deep metro stations. Then the second day revealed the differences: the helpfulness of the locals, statues of Taras Shevchenko, and all the influences of other nationalities on what would now be called Ukrainian culture etc.
Down in Yalta, the atmosphere was completely different. Despite being set with the Crimean mountains as a dramatic backdrop, I found the seafront itself tacky. On the first day, the weather was being typically English but yet people were braving it.
The diamond of my week was my visit to the Massandra Winery (which deserves a blog post all of its own too.) I was left completely lost for words on several occasions that day.
My third and final city, Lviv, was way out to the west of the country, and it was quite different again. Architecturally stunning, I was actually most disappointed. It was so incredibly quiet. So quiet that you could walk down the busiest street and just hear the drudge of the people walking past. There was no traffic noise, there was no music, there wasn't even anyone talking or chatting. It was really quite strange.
That brings me onto my "Ukrainian Firsts":
I had never before:
=> been made to wear a lab coat to visit a winery
=> been taught how to pose for photos by a russophone teenage girl... (but those photos will never see the light of day!)
=> had somebody (a complete stranger at that!) adjust my underwear
=> oh but I'd be lying if I attempted to claim that nobody before has scoulded me for not wearing enough clothes. That's happened several times to me - but it did yet again here in Ukraine. This babushka gave me some of her own clothes to wear!
And finally, the first three questions upon meeting somebody for the first time were:
1. "What's your name?"
2. "How old are you?"
3. "Are you, or have you ever been, married?"