Friday, 26 December 2014

Macedonia

I over stayed my visa in Ukraine by 3 months, and had to go through more beurocracy and fines to be able to get out. They made a mistake on the fine that stated that I only over stayed one month, and I was very worried while going to the airport that the border control people won't let me out. I only had 40 minutes till the flight departs, and the documents might've taken up to 3 hours. But thank god, they just took me to the office, photocopies the forms, and wished me to have a good flight :)
An hour till the Sofia-Bolgaria bus station and 6 more hours to Skopje - Macedonia. The views are beautiful, mainly mountains. I'm tired but can't fall alseep, and they show weird movies on TV with no sound and no English subtitles.
We have a tight schedule cause Alex only has 2 weeks and he chose to see 2 countries, Macedonia and Albania.
We wake up and it rains!! How can it rain when the weather forcast shows sun and 0% percipitation?? 1:30pm blue sky, not a cloud in sight. First I wanted to skip Skopje, but Alex wanted to see the capital. I'm so lucky we stayed, Skopje is beautiful! I think it's a statue and a fountain city. The center is amazing. Old castle, new modern buildings and renovated old buildings surrounded by 10s of statues on every corner with playing fountains. The buses are modern double decker and I don't feel like I'm in one of the poorest countries in Europe at all! Oh, and did you know that mother Theresa is from Macedonia? In 1973 an earthquake hit the city and destroyed 75% of all the buildings, so this city is pretty new. Even though it's a Christian country, the Muslim heritage is very visible. Mosques are everywhere, and churches are almost invisible. After a huge modern square we passed a 500 year old bridge into the biggest old bazzars in Europe, where on every street they sell differnet items, like shoes, cloths, gold, pots ... The food is good and very cheap. A huge salad is around $2, meat is about $3. With an appetizer, main, garnish, and 2 drinks we usually pay around $10 and leave the table with unbuttoned pants :)
There are only 2 buses a day that leave to the next village Krusevo. One is at 7:45, the other one is at 3pm. We put the alarm for 6, I happily slept through it, while Alex turned it off and went back to sleep. At 6:45 I asked him what time is it, and I jumped off the bed. We were at local bus station only at 7:15, and I was red with fury. How can you be so irresponsible!!! There are things that you want to do, and there are things that you have to do. I know that no one wants to wake up at 6, but seriously!
We arrived at the bus station 1 minute bofore the departure, and somehow we actually made it. It was a miracle! The way was very nice, hills, small mountains, vineyards, but it still rains :(
Arrived at Krusevo, the weather is nice, and it's small enough to visit before the bus to Bitola. We left our luggage at the bus station and went to explore. The village is left in 100 year old state almost untouched due to difficult access, as it's the highest town in Macedonia, at 1500 meters. The village is cute and nice, and 3 hours gave us enough time to wonder around, eat and collect a bunch of fruits that are grown everywhere, enjoy the views and even visit a gallery. I was happy that I had a travel insurance for this town, though I'm not sure if it had any coverange for falling fruits on your head :) Oh man, if you could only know how tasty are the fruits in here, nothing compared to what is sold in the stores in Toronto. Only the color and shape is the same. Plums, fruits that I never loved, I couldn't get enough in here, and in bazaars, they only cost 75 cents/kilo. After the vendor will weigh them and tell you the price, he'll always add some more to the bag.
When we arrived in Bitola, we did almost all the sight seeing while looking for a place to stay. It's pretty much a one road town. It has a European charm to it, since there were a lot of consuls in here who brought with them the European culture. It's always strange to see mosques in the middle of Europe, but at least no one was yelling from the speakers. We stayed another day in the city to see some ancient Greek ruins, but if I knew that they would be like that, we would've taken the first bus out. Oh well, you never know what you gonna get, where you gonna get it and how you're gonna get it.
That was a strange day, everything hurt, my stomach hurt, I put my hiking shoes on for the first time and I was limping for hours, then my hips started hurting. I couldn't and didn't want to walk anywhere, and sent Alex to the hotel to pick up all our stuff.
We arrived in Ohrid, the "jewel of the crown" of Macedonia. We took an appartment on an upper floor overlooking the lake and the old town, so beautiful! A few facts about Ohrid: One of the oldest human settlements were found in Ohrid; the lake it sits on is 3 million years old; it's a UNESCO city.
The whole day we climbed around the old town, with it's narrow cobblestone streets, flowers, many churches, mosques and cats. Next day we spent the time just absorbing the peaceful setting on a beach restaurant and then lied for an hour on a beach chair. Again, if we knew earlier, we would've spent 2 days in Skopje and 3 days in Ohrid. There were so many places we didn't get to see. The guide says that the most picturesque part of the lake is 10 kms from the town, where it enters a national park. In the evening we went to Struge from where the bus leaves to Albania. The guide says that Struge is a poor's man Ohrid. But I wouldn't call it that. I hated it, and my mood plumeted. We were there only for a few hours in the evening, but there are no views on the lake, there are no hills, it's broken down and dirty. Our hotel was expensive and they didn't even give us towels, not soap, and the sheets were dirty, and no one was sitting in the reception to complain to.
In the morning we woke up in the rain and took a bus to Tirana, the capital of Albania.

https://plus.google.com/photos/100036016632387453128/albums/6094626880598069265

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Western Ukraine

On the train to Lviv, somebody was saying about the living conditions in the Emirates, particularly that the pension in there is $90,000. A local guy who was in the same cabin as me asked why do you need so much money? Whatcha going to do with it, change your furniture every month? First we gave him a strange look, then we all laughed at him, and I told him, as they say, there isn't too much money, there's only little imagination.
While I was in Lviv, I decided to use the opportunity to renew my Ukrainian visa by crossing the Poland border. I've heard terrible stories about people fighting for every inch of space, and that I would have to wait hours upon hours. Doesn't sound like too much fun. This border is very famous for smuggling cigarettes. You can bring two packs which cost 10 times more in Poland, and you don't need a visa if you go for a day. So a bunch of grandmothers make this trip back and forth 5 times per day. Apparently 20 plus percent or so of Poland cigarettes are smuggled in!
Luckily for me it was a holiday and the border was empty! Not a single person, I was even worried that it's closed. I crossed it, turned around and entered back. I was a bit nervous, but they didn't ask me a single question. Now I have 3 more months ... jeez, I hope I wouldn't need it!
Lviv is a pleasant city with a nice historical center filled with way too many themed restaurants. There is a lion restaurant where you can eat in a cage and have paws of lions sticking through every wall. Then there is a sewage restaurant with pipes running through the sitting areas, and videos of Lviv's sewage system. There is a Jewish restaurant where there are no prices on the menu, and you have to bargain for your food. There is a sado masochism restaurant where you can pay the waitress to whip you :) A kerosin lamp restaurant, a pharmaceutical restaurant with smoke coming out of colorful bottles, a restaurant that has a car on the roof and statues sitting on the chimneys, and in general the city is filled with a bunch of churches, statues, and painted buildings, but after a while, it all looks the same :)
Went to a restaurant in a place where people used to hide during the war. A properly clothed soldier with Kalashnikov and all, opens the door, asks you for the password. He says "Glory to Ukraine!" and you answer "Glory to heroes!", then gives you a shot of vodka, lets you in through a secret book shelf door and leads you through some passage to the basement, quickly quickly to your table, you can't wait because "they" are searching for you :) Over all you sit in a bunker like space with blinking lights, soldiers' uniforms and weapons hanging everywhere ... it's fun! At the end some girls wanted to take a picture of the guard, he lifted his hand almost kicked her and yelled out "No Chinese shit in here!"
Having problems getting money out. All 100s banks won't accept my card ... welcome to Ukraine! Even in Bolivia it works! Thank god the prices are cheap, and $40 lasted me good few days. Finally I managed to take the money out with Visa.
I'm done with cities, want to go to the mountains ... NOW!!!
I met this super weird guy in the hostel, or should I rather say "crazy!". I don't know what he's been doing or snorting, he even saw god!!! It was funny to listen to him for a while. He was late for quite a few planes, and then run out of money and in the airport tried to get on every plane that went home without a ticket. Then he opened a hostel in Odessa out of the blue. I don't even know how many of his stories were true, if any, and how he still managed to stay alive. But nevertheless there he was, and he decided to go with me to the mountains ... hmm ....
Arrived in a nice, small very cute town in the middle of the Carpathian mountains - Yaremche. We found some extremely nice B&B, looked like a cabin in the woods. I can finally relax, breath in the fresh air and smile :) Everybody speaks only Ukrainian, but they're friendly enough to slow down and explain what they mean. People warned me about Western Ukraine, and how much they don't like the Russians and the Russian language, and advised me to speak to them in English rather than in Russian to get a better service, but I found everybody to be super nice ... I don't know, maybe they saw that I was a foreigner anyway. Which Russian in their right mind would walk with sports pants in the middle of the city when the local women put on make up and high heels just to throw the garbage out? :)
Off we go to climb the highest mountain in Ukraine - Hoverla, which is not that high at all, just 2061 meters. We, well - I, decided to walk to the mountain from a nearby village which is 24 kms away. I thought the walk would be on a trail, but nope, it was all on the road ... sucks! 7 hours later I'm too tired to move and after dinner could barely reach the room. The "hotel" is funny. They don't have a menu. You just order from a receptionist an hour before, pay, and go to the "restaurant" for a surprise meal. What I can say is that there are too many potatoes!
In the morning, I woke up 2 hours earlier to make an extra hike cause hiking for 6 hours is just not enough! Luckily we met a Polish guy in the room next door who told us that we should take the long route up the mountain which is still closed due to too much snow! And thank god we did. It was more beautiful and easy. Of course there was a part where we had to go up a 45 degree slope knee deep in snow, but hey, what is life without adventure? :) Up on the mountain, it was beautiful but windy and freezing. We still needed to stay up there long enough for the soaks and shoes to dry. On the way down we took a shorter route, which pretty much went vertically down, or vertically up for the people who climbed to the top. The same views could be enjoyed half way up and I was feeling bad for the people who could barely breath and hoping that the next peak they see is the top ... no it wasn't!
Barely arrived alive back in the lodge, but that's not the end of it, now we have to walk for 7 more kms till the bus station, but luckily the staff changed in the hotel and they offered us a ride back to town. We arrived exhausted, didn't even go to dinner and went to sleep hungry.
In the morning while I was in the shower, he was on his computer doing nothing important as it seemed. When he took a shower, I was packing. It was half an hour till the train and 20 minutes to get there. He comes out of the shower and tells me that "we won't make it". I tell him "I don't know about 'we', but I'll make it. I'll wait for you at the train station". He didn't make it. People can be so irresponsible!
After the train, I took a bus to Verhovina, another small mountain village. I walked around for a bit, didn't find anything interesting, and anyway, it's not a town to be in all by yourself. So I took the next bus to Kosiv. The bus broke down, I'm not sure how not all the buses break down on these roads, which I must admit the worst I've seen in ANY country, and trust me I've been on some bad roads! There was a mini van that passed by and picked me up, cause they said that I look like a traveler, and I obviously need help :) The driver started asking me about Canada: if you can't build any house you want, if you can't fish, can't make fire in the forest, can't put a tent anywhere in the forest, what kind of freedom is that? Yes ... makes you think.
Didn't like Kosiv either and took a bus to Kolomya which is one hour from where I left in the morning, and I arrived there after making a huge loop, at 5:30pm.
At Kolomya I went to a very cute B&B. Everything's spotless, new, decorated with taste. I immediately loved it, and happily fell asleep at 9 :) Woke up at 9 as well, went to town center which was another boring European looking town. Didn't find anything interesting, went back to the B&B at 3pm and fell asleep again. Then had dinner with some boring American peace corps. Why do people need to be so fake, to act so perfect, it doesn't look perfect at all! Sitting there with perfectly straight back, controlling their every move and every word. Reminded me of a Russian saying "In a quite swamp the devils live"!
Took a good, new, AC, big bus to Chernivtsi. Well that took forever. No more good buses, only marshrutkas (small private mini buses) who speed on the pot holes when the big buses crawls over them. So instead of 1.5 hours, it took 3.5 hours.
Arrived in Chernivtsi which is much better than Kolomya, even though I can't really explain why. It's still European looking :) It has some nice university, and you have to take an excursion to see it. So many tourists, but I don't know, it's just a building.
Next day drove with tourists from Belarussia (and 1 baby) to Khotin. I wish I would continue travelling with a baby if I'll have one one day. Khotin was awesome for half an hour, it's a beautiful castle built with nice views, but the main reason I went there was to see the medieval festival, but it turned out to be pretty boring. I guess not enough people to cheer and participate in activities. But I got to throw an axe, a knife and a spear. I got an axe in, and I also shot an arbalest, and I got it in! Yei!! The guy said not many people do :) I don't know why, it was quite easy.
Crashed in the hotel, didn't even take a shower.
Took a minivan to Kamenets-Podilskii, another castle. There was only 1 person in the minivan and a driver, both of whom where male, and I barely got in, kinda scary, why aren't there more passengers when usually people are sticking out of the windows in every marshrutka? I've heard enough horror stories, but instead they kept feeding me apples, pears and nuts :)
KP is nice. Unlike Khotin it actually has a historic town attached to it with Polish and Armenian quarters. Too bad (or too good) that it was already Monday evening, and there were no people. I was in the castle on my own, and good thing that it was open till 7 when the guidebook said 5. For some reason they charged me a student ticket price, maybe because they actually didn't give me a ticket? I walked around and enjoyed the emptiness of the castle. Then went outside to explore and was happy with peace, views and my pix :)
It's 9pm, I'm already falling asleep, and I have a sitting night train that leaves at 1:30. I wonder how that's gonna go!!?
It went fine, except that 2 weeks later, my neck still hurts :S

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/WesternUkraine

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Kiev 3

Dad came to Ukraine. We decided that we need to buy the apartment to protect it from Misha. We found out that he took all the money from grandmother's pension without telling us, even though he wrote down every single penny that he spent so we'll return it to him. Thank god grandmother's friend saw him use the card in the ATM, went to the bank and asked them to block it. He then sold all the jewelry, and she wore a lot of expensive jewelry. All he had he said was the jewelry that was returned to him at the hospital. The other, he has no idea where it is.
We offered him a deal of looking after grandma. We'll give him 15% from the sale of the appt and additional 5% for every month, up to half a year, plus everything in the appt he could sell afterwards. That wasn't good enough for him. We overheard him speaking on the phone complaining that we only offered 15%!!!
His daughter came to talk with us, and told us that they will look after grandma if they'll get the whole apartment. Everything's in Ukraine about apartments, people will kill each other over it. Anything can also be made with money and the right people. It would cost maybe $100 to make a fake will, backdate it, and write that the appt will be transferred to them. And I know ... because I made enough fake documents to buy that apartment. Dad kicked Misha out, who at the last day decided to make a yummy soup, so that maybe we'll forgive him, since there is no space to live at his daughters place, they're already 4 people in her 2 bedroom appt with no space left even for his stuff. Needless to say they were arguing a lot, and a few months later I've heard that he's looking for a new place to live.
They discharged grandma from the hospital saying that she's in stable condition, and that they can't do anything more for her. They took the feeding tube out saying that she should learn how to eat by herself again. Good idea, but the problem is, she wasn't eating. Her swallowing instinct got damaged, and she would hold the food in the mouth and would spit it out. She became very thin and weak. We had no idea what to do, so I googled how to insert the tube back in. You need to do an x-ray afterwards to make sure it's in the right place, because the tube can go in the lungs, not in the stomach, and if you'll push water then the person will die. Well I didn't have a luxury of an x-ray, or invite a surgeon for home so I did it by myself. There is a list of signs to check if it's in the lungs or in the stomach. It looked like it was in the stomach. Do I qualify as a nurse now or better yet a surgeon?
Rules differ so much in different banks. I needed to change the pin code for every card. One bank just took a photocopy of my document which said that I'm now in charge of all the activities. Another bank asked for a notarised photocopy. The other bank asked for so many things, it took me a week to get them. One was a proof of address. It took me 2 days. I run through all the city, through different offices. Everybody sent me to a new office, until I finally got to the director of municipal control. While I was waiting outside the door, he was screaming at someone ... well, that's not a good time to ask for favours I thought. But when I got in, smiled and told him that I'm from Canada, that vicious face started smiling, and called every possible person who would help me to get that letter. Then he told me to drop by if I'll have free time ... hm ... I don't think so ...
Now I'm in the process of buying the appt. There is a new rule now since January, which requires the appt to be registered before you can sell it. The process should take 2 weeks, but since it's a new rule and everybody rushes to get it, it might take 3 months without you ever knowing when it will get registered. Government buildings in this country suck! Government offices are usually located on the 1st floor of a residential building, or you walk through back yards, some unknown buildings, no names, no numbers, no signs. You walk into a huge space with offices. No information desk, no where to sit, you ask people - no one knows anything. And like that in every office. What kind of system is that?? At the registration office, there was a woman who was helping, and to ask for her help, you have to yell through a fence while she mostly ignores you. Then I waited in an unknown lineup for half an hour without it moving an inch. I gave up and went to do some photocopies. In there I asked the guys if they know a way to register the appt quicker, they secretly gave me a business card with no name, only a number and said that it could be done in a week. I called, and the person said to bring him $200, and all the original documents. Well that sounds scary. In my head, all I could think of is giving him the documents and never seeing them again.
My Canadian friend who was born in Kiev gave me a phone number of his father's bodyguard, and so I was with this big man with tattoos on his fingers driving around Kiev for a week bribing people.
All this bribing business is a little bit fun. It seems that I do everything I'm not supposed to do. I give money without envelopes, which I still don't understand why. It's not like I'm putting a birthday card in there. I yell out names, when I should answer the phone quietly, state someone else's name and follow that person after a certain time period. I agree too quickly for a price which could make that person scared. Too much to learn in such a short period of time. Now though looking at official documents, raises doubt in me. Apparently it's not that difficult to make anything up. You just have to know the right person and give the right price.
Documents are made, some are restored and finally I'm able to buy the appt. The only problem is, my grandma can't understand anything or even hold a pen, so I have a paper that gives me permission to sell the appt. I can't legally give the permission to sell it to myself, so I had to give the permission to someone else (my bodyguard), who would then sell it to me. Sounds good, but oh how many problems I had about it later.
We agreed with the neighbour that she'll buy the appt. I was already ready to leave Ukraine in just a few days. I called my neighbour a day we were supposed to go to a lawyer to get all the paperwork done, when she said that they thought about it and decided against it, because evidently there was some confusion about the price. Dad said one thing, I said another thing, although dad said things hypothetically without checking the prices on real estate site, and they got scared. They told me that there are too many crooks in Ukraine, and they have to be careful.
I was in shock, I had no idea what to do. Finally when everything was supposed to get sorted out, it crashed at the last moment. We decided to put grandma in an elderly care. But I called all the elderly homes, and nobody would accept a person in such a condition. Finally I found one home, but I went to their office, and they gave me a huge form that I need to fill out with at least 10 doctors signatures about her mental health, and dental work and chest x-ray, an eye doctor. I couldn't believe it! She doesn't even have any teeth!! And how am I supposed to pick her up and make her stand to do an x-ray? I tried to go to the mental health hospital. They just needed to give me a paper that her name is not mentioned in their records. But they said no, that they'll need to send a doctor to the house to check her health, and anyway, now holidays start and they couldn't send anyone for the next 2 weeks! I called other doctors, and they told me the same thing. "Girl, what do you think of calling in the evening on this day? Don't you know there are holidays that are starting tomorrow? Call again in 2 weeks! ... beep".
Nothing is ever getting done. I have a list of things that I have to do that day, and I'm lucky if 1 is done. Everybody has random lunch breaks, then it's the wrong office, then some document is missing, then it's someone's day off. It's very annoying!
I needed time to run around the city to get the documents prepared, and so I hired a live-in sitter. The sitter almost quit at the first day, indeed it's a scary sight to look at someone who's almost dying. She then didn't blend the food properly and because the food couldn't easy get sucked into the food injector, the can of food always ended up falling on the floor, making a mess of the entire room. But she made it through the first few days, and started kicking me out of the apartment. Indeed I could barely move, talk or breath. Every time I got off the chair I thought I would fall down. She told me to go for walks to get refreshed. After some moanings from my side, I started walking to a nearby market or a park and sight-see around the city again.
One day I went for a free tour. Kiev is a very green city, with 60% of the city still covered in trees, it's so romantic that apparently even the street signs fall in love (according to a statue).
We then saw a fountain, and if you stick the coin to some metal part and the coin sticks, it means your wish will come true. I didn't want to wish for something serious, because what will happen if the coin will not stick, so I just wished for no traffic for the next day :) Kiev traffic is crazy, it's there all the time, any time of day ... don't people work there? The wish did come true in deed! No traffic the next day! It's magic :)
This might be interesting for Russian people. In Russian there is a phrase "Chto upalo, to propalo" or in English "what's fallen is lost". Apparently it came from Kiev. Some time ago there was one road leading to Kiev. There was a tax for the horse and carriage, and the carriage owners started loading it to the maximum ... so much have they loaded it that often times stuff fallen from there, or the carriage broke completely. The city got smart and imposed a law that said that everything that falls off the carriage will be taken by the city.
There is a neighbourhood in Kiev where somebody wanted to build a tall condo, removing part of the park and blocking the view (I think). So the neighbourhood people got creative and started building statues there, and children's park and other cool stuff, and the condo project got cancelled :) Now it's a favourite hang out place in Kiev for artists and couples.
Next day I went to Lavra. When I got in, I saw that there are tours around and waited for it to start. Waited and waited, no people, no tour. I went into a small alley nearby not to lose sight of the tour meeting place, and what do you know, I see a guy from the free tour of the day before walking with some Ukrainian guy. Of course I joined them for an exploration of Lavra, and Alex invited me to go out that night with his friends. Then next night and next night, he was always calling me, showing me the city, inviting me to parties. Who knew that at that day, all the stars in the universe aligned for me to meet my angle, who saved me from all the horrors of Kiev, who made me smile again.
We went to a very cool bar "Palata #6", it's like a hospital bar. All the stuff are dressed as doctors. They serve shots from test-tubes. Then they have extreme cocktails (which have nothing to do with hospital), but they put a helmet on you, bang you with barrel, glue a napkin on the helmet, set it on fire, then extinguish it ... cool stuff! :)
Then we went to a couch surfing spring camp party. Party party party! I missed most of it cause I couldn't walk, talk, breath, and all I dreamt of was a bed. Went to one party, I got drunk just the right amount. Started dancing on a swing which was tons of fun, made friends with everyone there. I would just came to a person and ask them "Why are you sitting alone? Are you bored? Do you need company?" Next day we went to a football match, the first one in my life! Gosh I was so bored, I think it will be my last one as well. I looked at the pictures in my camera and read a newspaper for most of the match. There was a fan section right beside us, they were screaming, having their songs and mottos. At first it looked like fun, and I even wanted to join them, but then it worried me a bit, seemed like that's the way the Nazis were born. Following some stupid leader, believing in stupid causes.
There are May holidays in Ukraine when nothing works. I need to have a break ASAP, otherwise I'll end up in a mental hospital. I decided to travel around Ukraine for a bit. My first destination is Lviv, and all the hostels are fully booked, now I have to wait 3 more days to go. It seems that I can't wait any longer.
One day I tried going to a botanical garden, but it was windy, too far, and I ended up in a flower show. More people than flowers, and it wasn't worth it at all. Then I went to a war museum, but it would've been better to take a tour, cause it looked very impressive. Everybody is shocked from human skin gloves that that Nazis have. It is a shocking sight, but then I'm thinking, the gloves that we wear are from pig skin, or cow skin ... how is that not disturbing?
Next day went to Chirnigiv. It's a UNESCO declared world heritage center because of how many churches there are on such a small space. At the end, I just saw churches again, and spent 6 hours on buses to see them. No more churches!


pix added to : https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Kiev

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Kiev 2

Random assortment of thoughts ...

- While I was cleaning the table in the hospital - "you'll make such a great housewife" some grandma told me with a smile. Like it's my dream to be a housewife I told her. I need to work and after work, I want to go to movies, theatres, rock climbing, dancing, yoga, see my friends. I don't have time to be a housewife. I was born to conquer mountains, not to wipe off dust.

- Ira is comparing Canada to Ukraine. "Probably in Canada it's clean, not like shit hole in here", then she throws a candy wrapper on the ground. All I can think about is the Michael Jackson song "I'm starting with a man in the mirror"

- All the street crossings in the center of Kiev are underground. Keeps the city in shape! as well as all the mothers with kids and old people ... oh wait, I haven't seen them walking in city centers. Kiev is full of 5 story identical buildings called "Hrushevki" from the president "Hrushev" who was in power in the 70s and built a bunch of them all over the country, cheap buildings that helped solve the housing crisis. They were meant to last for 20 years until a better solution would be proposed, but as we all know, nothing has happened 20 years later, and now they all stand crumbling, making the city ugly with unknown future of hundreds of thousands of residents and without elevators. First I was huffing and puffing going up the 4th floor, now it's a piece of cake :)

- Hard to find atm that accepts foreign cards, even if it's on the plus network. I searched an entire city, tried 20 or more banks (Ukraine has 100s of banks!!! I've never seen it in my life!) and I only found 1 bank that would take my card which is some German bank.

- Along with street signs showing street names, there are expensive hotels/restaurants/shops ... probably sponsoring the street signs :)

- Seems like Ukraine lives on coffee. Does it need it to keep yourself going? To give you energy to last through the day, to last through the long office hours? It seems like you can't walk for a minute in any random location without finding either a coffee shop, or a kiosk that sells coffee or a car with an open trunk and an espresso machine stuck in it. Sometimes 3 on one intersection. I met a girl from couch surfing, we only met up for an hour in a coffee place. She said that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday she works from 8:30am to 9:30pm. Tuesday and Thursday she has more time. When she met me at 6 it was her break from work. On the weekend it's a holiday, and she's gonna check if she can take time off of work.

- Went into a church, so weird to look at people crossing themselves 5 times and bowing, do they really think god wants them to do it? At least I warmed up in there. Churches can be useful after all :)

Bus - people get into any open door on the bus and pass the money to the driver through all the people on that bus, and then get a ticket with change, and like that on every stop with every passenger.

Hospital - no order, every day new rules. Have to bring your own food, pills for the patients, bandages, etc. Nobody wants to help. I called a surgeon to help put the feeding tube back in which my grandma took out while she was sitting on a chair, I asked him if he can help me put her on the bed. "It's not my job! For what am I a surgeon?" he said - "for what are you a human?" I asked him. Elevator doesn't work, only for critically ill you have to knock hard on the door and yell the floor number.
Overall I'm in a hospital for 8 hours a day. Feeding, cleaning, massaging, giving pills, entertaining, calling different doctors for help. If I go to the hospital in the evening, I try to go out somewhere to the city center to relax, to forget to somehow reduce my stress. Since I came to Ukraine I don't have any appetite, and in 2 weeks I already lost 5 kgs.
It got much better with Andrew, a son of a woman in the same room as my grandma. We can talk for hours, or rather he can talk. Today he told me about the bible, Lucifer, London rats, Brazil's jungles, different poets, writers, how Hitler sold his soul to the devil, it was like going to university for general knowledge course :)
Andrew told me, as I am sitting in a hospital anyway, might as well do some checkups. I went to the doctor and asked to be checked. She asked me what bothers me most, I guess that I can't breath properly when I hike up the mountains or when I run up the stairs. I did an x-ray, they told me in the lab that I have pneumonia (vospolenie legkih), zdraste! The doctor looked at the film and said that I have chronic bronchitis. I don't really believe in it, cause I'm feeling fine. She told me to do 3D computer scanning. Andrew asked me if I'm nervous, of course I'm not! There aren't any conclusions yet, why be nervous. I did the scanning, everything's fine, the doctor told me to check my heart. There you go. That's the reason I don't go to doctors. Especially when there isn't anything typically wrong. One says one thing, another says another thing. what if I'd listen, I'd go through a bunch of antibiotics trying to heal what exactly? How many patients are getting wrongly treated? I think that a healthy life style, eating good, healthy, organic food, using organic cosmetics and body care, doing sports and living a stress free happy life, that what's good for my health, not x-rays and chemicals that make my organs act the way they shouldn't by nature. How many people are climbing mountains especially above 4000 meters? I guess not that many, most are not even doing regular climbs or hikes. Or even to walk up the 4th floor, everybody's using elevators or are just walking to the store or to the nearest bus station. I'm sure that if all the people went climbing mountains, the hospitals would explode with all kinds of "sick" people.

- Every nurse/doctor I talked to about bed sores said different method of healing them. Sometimes, "it's the best method", other times "it's the worst method". X-ray shows chronic bronchitis; when I wanted to remove a moll in Canada, my doctor said that it can't be removed, a year later he said that of course it can be removed. It's a scary thought to think that doctors have no idea what they're talking about. Especially that pharmaceutical companies pay them to sell certain drugs. In a placebo effect movie that I saw, it says that patients can feel better just by seeing a doctor and "knowing" that they will help, and so they heal based on their faith, and not from drugs.

- Saw the movie "earthlings" about hidden cameras in the animal farms. For sure some people will become vegetarians after watching it (freely available on youtube!). Now I have a lot to think about. I could never order a live fish; I am always disgusted by animal cruelty... but what's happening to the animals that end up in my fridge? If people are unaware of what's going on, it doesn't change the fact that it's happening every day, it doesn't change the fact that you're supporting it!

- In March it was already spring in Ukraine. All the snow melted, and I was waiting for the leaves to come out to hide hideous Soviet buildings. Out of nowhere a huge snow storm hit Kiev, the storm didn't stop for 2 days. All the transport/schools/businesses shut down, and it's in a country that's well used to snow! People were skiing on the streets, cars were buried in the snow till the roof, and overall it was awesome! No people outside, it white, it's quite. They're probably sitting in their apartments, biting their nails and complaining about the weather, while I'm happily jumping from one snow pile to the next :)

- Just as suddenly as the snow storm hit Kiev, Misha's screams hit me. I am sleeping when at 7 in the morning the door is flying open and he's screaming why am I not up yet as I need to be in the hospital. "What? Who? Where?" I'm explaining to him that I'll get there by 10. Grandma is sleeping everyday till 10 anyway, there is no point going there early sitting 2 hours and doing nothing. "Why go at 10, you can get there at 3!!!!" and the door flew closed. It came so suddenly that I had no time to properly react. Who is he to yell at me? Who gave him that right? Then on his computer, I logged into my skype account, I didn't expect what came next. He didn't know that anyone who has skype can login, he doesn't know anything about computers and thought that skype was all his own. He looked at the contact list. "Why is it all in some gibberish? Where are my Italian people, where is Igor where is Lyosha?? he's yelling. I tried to explain to him that it's my account in the most plane language that I could. "Who are all these Asian people??? Bring me back my Italians!!!" I told him that all he needs to do is enter his password. Of course he doesn't know what a password it, let alone what it is. Oh man. No amount of my computer skills could calm him down and tell him that all his info is safe and could be resolved in minutes. I called Ira to reset his password, when she did and was about to tell it to me on the phone, he grabbed the receiver with force and hung up the phone with a loud bang... what a lunatic, I was about to boil over and explode. At least one of us has their nerves in check.
His mouth is bigger than any woman I know. I've only been to Ukraine for a few days, already the whole neighbourhood knows that I sit like an Indian on the chair; that I put my legs up on the couch; that I left a dirty mop in the shower and didn't clean it; that I left unfinished apple on the table; that I arrived in the middle of the winter only in sports pants and a rain jacket, on and on and on! And to think that my grandma told dad how Misha is much better than her late husband.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Kiev

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Donetsk

I arranged with Misha on the weekend to go to Donetsk, the city where I was born. I couldn't find any of the people I knew or hung out with online, but nevertheless decided to go just to see the streets where I played, the school that I went to, the scary highway that I crossed on the way to school all on my own since 2nd grade.
I asked my mom to ask her friends if I could stay over at their house, and luckily someone agreed.
I decided to give a final try and a few days before my train, I found my best friend Yana on a Russian "facebook" site.
She called other classmates and 5 more people showed up, of whom I remembered only 1. Yana brought our 3rd grade class picture and everyone who showed up, I asked to point on their face on the picture :) At first Yana and I felt awkward. After all, we've spent every single day together, she was like a sister that I never had, and then how do you bridge 23 years of separation. How thoughtless children could be to lose their best friends so easily. We were sitting next to each other, at first not talking, but I had a feeling as though we're still as connected now as we were before. As drinks started coming, so did the memories, the words of truth, so did the tears. I told her that I only remembered her, and constantly thought of her. She told me why did I only have to come for the day, to make her soul ache. We hugged and we cried.
Other than that, everybody complained about their relationships and about Ukraine ... the usual deal. And, as it also turned out, I stayed at the house of one girl's parents :)
Ukrainians/Russians don't have a lot of money, so they don't usually go out. But once they do, it's considered to be a very special occasion, and they throw their money around like they're millioners. The same applies for vacations. With 1 vacation per year, it turns into the party of the year. It's never good to be on a vacation where Russians are, unless you want to join them of course. There is a joke already that there are very popular tours among Russians to resorts where Russians are not allowed :)
Next day the kids of the family whom I stayed with showed me around Donetsk. For some reason, Donetsk is small, the center is tiny, there are barely any restaurants or any other form of entertainment, but I like it much more than Kiev. In the afternoon we went to my neighbourhood. The school where I went to is broken down. After USSR collapsed people didn't have enough money to have children and the school shut down. The complex where I went to for my circus is grey. The huge highway is a 4 lane high speed road (so I was right about at least something) with no crossing lights or even a zebra for the pedestrians. The walk from school to home seemed like a hike, and now a 2 minute walk. Back in the day the government took a bunch of private houses, demolished them, moved the people somewhere else to build a condo for the workers or a nearby factory. It built a 17 story ugly grey building only for the foundation to sink and the building is not considered safe to live in. Glory to great USSR minds! I met my neighbours, even though I didn't remember any of them, and even managed to get into the house where I was born. We rang the door, but nobody answered, so I took a few pictures above the tall fence, which I don't understand what exactly it's protecting, when someone got out and yelled at us to get the hell out. I tried to explain to him that I was born there and that I really want to see my home. He said it's none of his business. I took a few more pictures from my neighbour's house, and then his wife came home. She's much nicer than him and allowed us in. Wow what a feeling. The house is tiny and breaking down and looks like something from pictures that they show on TV with calls for donations. But my hands were shaking, I had a smile from ear to ear and I did feel like at home. I wish I had more time to spend there, I would just sit in the garden, absorb the atmosphere and count all the trees that I've ever climbed on.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Donetsk02