Where do I start....Let's look at each " unique experience"
As usual, this trip came together with just over 1 week of notice, so there was a bit more apprehension given the complexities of all the stops and very vague details. To generalize, a colleague and I were flying to Kiev Ukraine, and after a day of meetings there, fly to Simferopol or Crimea, then drive around to Odessa and then 2 days of meetings along the way while we drive back to Kiev for a last day of meetings. A fun filled week of work.
The "Vodka Experience"
Surprisingly, the flights out went smooth- and after our first day of meetings we were treated to the vodka tradition. Now this is where things start to get a bit fuzzy. Over the course of a 3- hour meal a group of 5 consumed 2 liters of high proof vodka. Each person is given a small shot glass and every time somebody tells a good joke or compliments somebody- we toast. We did a lot of toasting and complimenting during the trip. The jokes did get funnier as the evening went on- correlation to alcohol consumption?- there was some joke about a guy who got married because his friends told him he needed somebody to bring him water when he was in his old age- but then realized on his death bed he was always hungry and not thirsty. Still find that funny - though not funny enough to grant it the double toast I gave it that night. During the drinking stretches we were given pork fat on rye bread and told to suck the juices out of a tomato after taking the vodka shot to create a culinary sensory overload. Looking back it had the feeling of a Jim Morrison scene in the Doors. A kaleidoscope of visions and old US music playing in the background with mind or stomach-altering theories being thrown at us. Regardless of alcohol toxicity poison - it was a better option than the water. See picture of water quality- I phone didn't capture the true "murkiness" of it, but it was baaad.
The "People Experience"
It does surprise me a bit as to how the people seemed to match and almost embrace the typical stereotypes. Yes- the women are absolutely gorgeous. They carry such a grace and pride that it only emphasizes their pure beauty even more. Yes- the businessmen are an aggressive and smart group. But very honest. The language has a harsher tone than needed, but never is it rude or condescending. On one cab ride- the cabbie either realizing we were from the US or just that he liked US music switched the radio station to American music. Elton John's Lion King song came up- and they must really like Elton John, because he cranked the music. So here is a cabbie, cracked windshield, weaving in and out of traffic, chain smoking and wearing an old cut up t-shirt pumping up the soft pop music. Another great enthusiasm the people have- was dancing. We went to some very rural areas- and every establishment had a dance floor- most with live DJ's as well. Now I know there are some of my friends out there (one who reads this blog and her sister) who think Latin America might have the corner on dance moves- but check out this discrete video I snapped at a small fish restaurant in rural Crimea. He danced like that most of the time we were eating. Talk about Enthusiasm!!!
The "Road Experience"
We were warned. I just didn't believe it could be that bad. My colleague and I could best explain it this way-invite 3 of your largest friends on an August vacation to say Arizona. Rent a 10-year old Prius- stick shift if you can find it and drive around for 6 hours with stop and go braking through a rocky field. All the while, the two people in the front seat are speaking Klingon and keep turning the vent (no AC) away from you. There were some queasy moments. This video I tried to capture doesn't give true justice to the stop and go. We managed to travel 300 kilometers in 6 hours- so we didn't even avg 35 mph... Granted this included a dozen smoke breaks from the locals.
See uploaded you-tube video for a quick example of the drive. The video doesn’t do justice to the extreme stop and go. For the record this was with the camera sitting on the seat- so it wasn’t just be moving the camera up and down.
The "Hotel Experience"
First of all, most outside of Kiev or Odessa are still of post-communist design. Fairly clean but no mattresses and there isn't an elevator to be found. I hauled luggage up 5 flights of stairs at 3 of the hotels. There was usually a TV, with 1 or2 English stations though it was usually CNN playing old news reports. Here is a snap shot outside one of my hotel rooms.... Does it look familiar?
Maybe this will help ring a bell? "Redrum! Redrum!!"
The "Work Experience"
Great experience working with the groups and made some great friendships. Won't bore you with the specifics, but in some very rural areas of Crimea it was really warming to see these stoic individuals with such a proud past look at you with true admiration. Now- giving a presentation through a translator was a new experience for me. With press and government officials in the audience I kind of felt like Rocky in Rocky IV... Or maybe that was like Rocky II after climbing 7 flights of stairs to get to this wide open and echo infused meeting room.
The "The Travel Experience"
While a great flight there- the return was brutal. We arrived at the Kiev airport around 4:30 AM for a 6:30 flight and it looks like Chechnya has just fallen. Never sure of the specifics, but it appeared they had stopped all in-bounds flights for several hours that AM for some reason. We are told to stand in a line that doesn't move for 1/2 hour. Girl in front of us breaks down in tears and I hear her say "I just want to go home". We finally make some progress and make our own contacts and tack on 12 hours to our journey home, but it was worth it. Only 26 hours later and we arrived home.
That about sums up this lengthy travel blog. I have probably never been on a trip that offered such great consistent food. It wasn't fancy- but the preparation and freshness took me back to homemade dinners. It was absolutely great. I'm hanging up the passport for a while, so if Joanie invites me back for a blog submission- it will likely revert to the fond recollections of a poor child growing up in the really remote areas do South Dakota. Or should I close with.... “do pobachennya”?