Updates from Project Ukraine! Saturday, Alex and I met Todd in Heathrow, and picked up Jaime in Kiev. Spent a few hours seeing just a little of Kiev before heading to the train station with a ridiculous amount of luggage, which we then had to fit into the four-person sleeping car. We slept–a little, anyway–on the train and arrived in Kharkov at just about 6am on Sunday.
The first day in Kharkov was lovely, then by the evening my brain was cycling through excitement and terror at a pace of about 2 emotions per second, which was dizzying in itself, but particularly so considering we were watching an opera in Ukrainian at the time (not Russian, which means it was even more foreign-sounding to my ears). The second day (Monday) was much better, partly because I had had more sleep, secondly because we took a city tour and this reminded me of how well I already know the city, despite only having spent two separate weeks before, once in December 2008 and then this past July. It’s a little terrifying to know that after this week, Jaime and Todd will be gone, and I’ll be alone during the weekdays when Alex is at the office, but it’s really only for about a month before we’re home for the holidays. When I come back at the end of January we’ll be in the apartment, which will be very different from being in a hotel where I have no drawers to put my stuff and feel like the maids want me out of the way so they can clean. Plus, it will be a much more comfortable environment in which to dissertation-ize.
We’ve discovered a reasonably good Mexican food place, which is comforting. It’s more authentic than we expected, and it tastes good, although of course not very spicy. The guacamole is a particularly sound effort. And I already adore Coffee Life, a coffee chain that’s ubiquitous (I think I’ve walked by 5 locations already), attractive, serves yummy coffee, and has outlets and wifi for my dissertationing.
Today we visited the apartment (click for photos) to see the progress and how it looks with windows and interior walls–it’s really nice! It will have two bedrooms, an office area, a living area, kitchen, and large bathroom (there’s a small one with a shower in the master). There’s also a tiny balcony, which will be great in the warm months. My favorite feature is the huge windows, near which I plan to spend as much time as possible during the winter daylight hours.
I don’t seem to stick out like a sore thumb as much in winter with my Ukrainian coat on, despite my short red hair–of course, when I wear a hat I blend really well. I’m able to read more of the signs in Cyrillic, although there are a few characters that I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around. I sound them out under my breath as we walk around–it feels like being five years old again and puzzling out reading by reading aloud–and that similar frustration that by the time I reach the end of a word, I’ve often forgotten what the beginning of it was!
Kharkov as an established city is only 250 years old, which seems bizarrely young for Europe, but the city guide said that’s because the Tatars and Mongols kept raiding any settlements here for hundreds of years. The oldest building in the city is the Monastery, which dates to the mid-1600s. We also saw two sobering monuments last night, one for those who died in Kharkov during World War II (something over 400,000 soldiers, guerrilla fighters, and citizens), and one for those killed by the KGB, about 7,000 total Polish prisoners of war and Soviet citizens. The guide was saying how the World War II monument is sad, of course, but the second monument is even sadder because it memorializes those killed by their own countrymen–he said most of those arrested and killed by the KGB, no one even knows why they were arrested in the first place, and they were killed so they didn’t have to be fed any more.
Thus far the long underwear is helping, although I’m definitely ordering a “heavyweight” pair (probably either Smartwool or Stoic) to pick up at Christmas, since the midweight pair (Patagonia) seems fall-appropriate and even the medium-weight pair (Stoic) is a little light today (at least with my thin skinny jeans). I’m immensely glad now that I own a pair of leather pants–they seem ridiculous in Texas but I may live in them this winter. They’re great at blocking wind and cold–I’m wondering where I might find another pair, since I bought these at Gap about 10 years ago. The furry boots are doing well, but I’m still wearing one pair of toe-socks and a pair of thick snowboarding socks over them… and considering this winter has a lot colder to get, I’m a little worried. Maybe I just need some thicker toe socks out of wool (these are cotton). But my extremely un-vegetarian-friendly fur/leather Ukrainian coat is fantastic–it’s really just my hands, toes, and ears/neck needing more warmth.