I actually got some sleep last night, so I was awake enough to enjoy the day. I feel like I am already adjusted to the time zone…well, I am writing this wide awake at two in the morning; maybe I’m not quite adjusted yet. Regardless, I had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful city of Kiev. There is so much history in each and every location. Saint Sophia’s Cathedral was breathtaking. I had seen pictures online, but a picture does no justice. The massive mosaics were created with such intricacy that they look like paintings; from a distance I could not even tell that it was made with stones and glass. Furthermore, the paintings and golden sculptures were extraordinary. It is difficult to comprehend that people could even create things so awe inspiring.
On a different note, I have already learned a couple things about life in Ukraine. The way people carry themselves in public is an entirely different dynamic than anything I have experienced. To seem somewhat normal I have to keep a straight, blank face and maintain minimum eye contact. There isn’t any smiling at strangers, or even talking with them…unless they are trying to sell something. Wow. If someone wants your money they are extremely talkitive. Near just about every area with high foot traffic there are people trying to get you to do things so that they can ask you to give them money. Some people try to get you to take a picture with pigeons that they carry around, and some try to sell flowers. I saw one man trying to sell pictures with his monkey (I actually considered that one). In order to avoid awkward situations I have to walk in a straight line and completely ignore them. I understand that these people are just trying o make a living, but it just makes me uncomfortable. One bad experience set the tone for how I feel about these types of encounters. A man, probably in his mid-twenties, came up to the group dressed in an old, torn up bear costume. He asked if we wanted a picture and we politely declined. He then proceeded to bear hug me (pun intended) and pretend to cry because I was going to leave him. I don’t know what made me more uncomfortable, the lack of his understanding of personal space, or the smell of his costume.
Lesson 1: Stangers don’t talk to you unless they want something. When this happens, keep your eyes straight and just keep walking.
The metro was a very different experience for me. I grew up, and still live, in a small town. I have visited large cities, but I have never taken underground public transportation. I was surprised from the start by the escalators. They move about twice as fast as a typical escalator and are very long. Once I got to the bottom we had to buy plastic tokens (about 15 cents USD) to ride the metro. It was kind of difficult to figure out exactly where to go and what to do, but thankfully our guide, Lidia, lead us around. It was all happening so quickly that it was hard to keep up. The doors on the metro cars shut without any warning that I could see…and I found this out the hard way. Because of this, Abby and I were shut out of the metro by ourselves. After a brief moment of confusion, followed by a moment of panic, I started to try to open the door. Pulling as hard as I could (a kind stranger was trying to help from the inside as well) I could not get the doors to budge. Thankfully Dr. Finch was able to run like a ninja (I think I saw a backflip or two) and get out of the other door to stay with us and help us navigate to the rest of our group.
Lesson 2: I have to be less polite: shoving is okay…as long as it is on public transportation.