Ukraine: first days

Achievements to date: learning how to use a cell phone with Russian menus and making a whole THREE phone calls to strangers (1 in Russian, 2 in Ukrainian).

My sister and I left Canada last Friday. Two days and several long layovers later, we have finally arrived in Kiev. I was disappointed to discover that the Chopin Airport in Warsaw did NOT have pianos OR Chopin impersonators playing mazurkas at every gate, as I hoped, but there was quite a bit of Chopin-related merchandize in the duty-free shops.

I was born in Ukraine, but I’ve been living in Canada long enough that my visits to the Motherland are always a bit of a culture shock. There is an insane contrast between the restored, shiny and super expensive centre with its luxury cars and fashionable, stilettoed women, and the slummy suburbs made up of endless blocks of Soviet-era concrete apartments*. The transit system also gets increasingly questionable the further you travel from the central areas. The neighbourhood I’m saying in boasts rickety 50-year-old trams featuring razor-sharp ticket validators (two of my fingers were bloody before I felt any pain) and old ladies in babushkas squeezing themselves through the dense crowd to collect transit payment.

To my great joy, I’ve discovered that one can see an opera for $1.20 at the National Opera House. That’s cheaper than a bag of chips in Canada. The most expensive ticket is about $25. The season also features several works by Ukrainian composers, which I read about but could not find back in Canada. I’m pretty thrilled. Next weekend should be a triple hit consisting of one ballet and two operas.

While searching for the opera house, we stumbled upon two street performers who could have made a perfect postcard of Ukrainian stereotypes. They were twin sisters – blonde, modelesque and dressed to the nines – playing banduras and singing Ukrainian folksongs in harmony. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but there was a creepy older man filming them quite closely on his iPhone so maybe you can find that video on the internet (here’s one with no sound, who needs sound with women like that?).

See my sister’s take on the situation here.

* Granted, there are lots of stilettoed women in the slummy suburbs too, hopping over puddles and weaving stealthy through streets dug up for plumbing repairs some years ago.

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