We all make stupid mistakes sometimes. That’s what I kept telling myself after being denied entry into Ukraine because I didn’t have a visa: it was a perfectly normal, perfectly human error. Unfortunately, this didn’t make me feel much better about the time and money we’d wasted backtracking to Moldova to get one.
We finally arrived in Odessa five days behind schedule, weighted down with Moldovan wine accumulated over our three weeks there. We checked into a hotel and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day; the following day was soon enough to explore.
We’ve been enjoying using Instagram recently, and it proved particularly valuable during our time in Odessa, since one of our followers, Snezhana, lives there. We met up for a drink and she ended up giving us a guided tour of Odessa by night; we saw the flat house, the mother-in-law bridge, the Potemkin steps, the port — all the main sights! We had such a good time with her that we arranged to meet again on our last night; she saw us off on our overnight train to Kiev.
Our few days in Odessa were mostly filled with work, but we made sure to go to the ballet at the opera house, eat borscht and vareniki dumplings, and go to the beach with a Ukrainian couple who were also staying at our hotel. It was a freezing day but we warmed ourselves with the cognac and chocolate that Natalia and Gregoire had bought on the way. “We invite you,” they said when we tried to pay. “You are the guests in our country, it’s our tradition to make you welcome.” We certainly felt welcome, if a little chilled by the wind blowing off the Black Sea.
Overnight train to Kiev
Before our overnight train to Kiev, I visited the Pryvoz Market to get some supplies: dried apricots, some grapes, chocolate, a bottle of water. The train journey was comfortable enough, though an odd rattling in one of the panels disturbed my rest for the first couple of hours; eventually the train changed direction and I fell asleep. We’d splashed out on first class tickets, which ensured a private cabin, so that certainly helped too.
Craig was holding a three-day mini-conference with the two Ukranian developers who work for Performance Foundry, and we’d hoped to book an Airbnb apartment for the event. Unfortunately, the apartments we were interested in weren’t interested in us, so we changed plans and booked three rooms on a boat. Well, boat hotel. On the whole, we had a good experience there, but some management policies left us baffled: it cost extra to sit in the library, sheets for Yuriy’s son’s bed were an additional charge… it didn’t make any sense.
The guys spent the mornings working, and after lunch Dmitriy put on his tour guide hat and showed us around Kiev — he used to live there, so he knew where to go. We rode the funicular a couple of times and visited most of the main sights, including St Sophia Cathedral, the Lavra monastery, the Golden Gate, the Mother Motherland Monument, and Maidan square. Craig’s been working with Yuriy for almost a year and with Dmitriy for several months, so it nice to spend time with them in person, as well as with Yuriy’s wife and son.
Too soon, though, we had to say goodbye when they headed home, and a day later it was time for us to leave too. We had one more bowl of dumplings, one more dill-seasoned salad, one more glass of kompot, and made our way to the airport for our flight to London.
I feel like I have unfinished business with Ukraine. We were mostly there to meet Yuriy and Dmitriy and to work, so we didn’t do a lot of tourism. Our visit to Lviv was cancelled due to lack of time, and a half-formed idea of a trip to Chernobyl never took hold because we were just too tired. Plus, it’s a big country, there’s a lot more to it than just Odessa and Kiev. So, we’ll be back… Perhaps when Kiwis no longer need a visa to enter.