Getting a move on

Adam was up and out in record time this morning. I have walked Zachary to school, left him in the company of three friends, and been shooed off the playground. Now I am sitting in a café, Gloria Jean’s, located on the ground floor of The George Hotel. The George is the hotel where Bill and Adam and I first stayed when we came to find Zachary in 1999, now refurbished. I recognized it on one of our walks downtown on Svobody Prospect. This is a good day so far!

Zac, Ad & dad in Gloria Jean’s Café

Yesterday I wrote a bit about very high shoes. Of all the things we’ve bought in Ukraine so far, shoes here are the most likely to cost the same as shoes at home. On the other hand, public transportation is a huge deal.  Two hryvnia a ride — that’s basically one quarter to North Americans.

We made our first independent trip on the bus pretty soon after we got here.  We decided to go to the big new mall, “King Cross” or “Leopolis,” to see what the fuss is about.

First, I had to find out what bus to take. Olena and Oksana at UKU agreed that we could take a Number 11 city bus or a Number 71 mashutka (a little bus that can move through neighborhood streets) from a stop near Stryski market, where we had bought groceries.  We chose the Number 11 city bus because city buses seem less crowded than mashutkas. Then again, it was rush hour;  nothing was less crowded. We squeezed ourselves up the stairs, delivered our fare to the driver and got about two steps into the bus before we couldn’t go any further. So we stood near the front of the bus the whole way. Boy, did it get hot! The windows fogged over!

There I am, minding my own business, blithely looking out at Stryski Park, when all of a sudden someone taps me on the back and hands me paper money over my shoulder. I returned their gift with a blank look, and they motioned me to pass it on to the front of the bus.  I passed it on.  Here’s the deal: some people get on these buses through the back door.  This helps them avoid the crowd at the front door, of course.  (The passengers never seem to move back and the driver never seems to ask them to.)  When you get on the bus at the back door, you send your money up to the driver person-by-person-by-person. You take it on faith.  And your faith is rewarded.  I was very impressed!  Equally impressive is the way that young people give their seats to the elderly.  Just ask Bill.  A young woman gave up her seat for little-ol’ white-haired him! (Snicker!)

Along the way to the shopping centre, the bus heads up a cobblestone hill with Stryski park on one side and 18th-century stone apartment buildings on the other.  At the top of the hill, the bus turns at a monumental Soviet-style statue of a military man and a woman that is placed in front of a war memorial.  Here is a military museum on a large campus full of tanks and missiles.   We hope to go the museum at some point. We pass a parade ground, as well as football, basketball and other outdoor sports fields

Just before Stryski Park ends, the bus passes a beautiful traditional-style wooden church, which is actually on the northern fringe of the new UKU campus.  You can see the new dormitory under construction in the distance.  As I look at the dormitory in the distance, I notice people on the bus are crossing themselves as they pass the church.  In fact, now that I am aware of it, they cross themselves as they pass every church.

The trip to King Cross takes about 20 minutes from Stryski market. The bus passes businesses, warehouses, shops and smaller green spaces as we leave the city centre behind. In front of one block of Soviet-era apartment blocks (that remind me so much of where we stayed when we brought Zachary home), we see two goats tied to a stake.  Every time we have passed them since, they are staked in a different area of the lawn.  They are, in fact, mowing the lawn.

As we reach the southern outskirts of the city, just before the bus turns into the shopping centre parking lot, we see the football stadium under construction for the Euro 2012 tournament. It’s huge.  Beautiful. It’s still not finished. One cab driver told us that the stadium will be under construction even as L’viv hosts its top-sixteen game next June.  The access road has been under construction for four months, he says, “And look at it!  Still dirt!”  (To see the plans for the stadium, cut and paste UKU’s newspage links For the cyrillic webpage, see For an update on construction, see Sometimes things don’t move fast enough for people here.  People of a certain age are used to things running-on-the-sport and never getting finished.  Younger people want things to happen in the twinkling of an eye, like an electronic post to their blog.  These expectations and the differences among them will have tremendous significance for the political future here, I think.

(Did I mention it’s been 15 days since the fish guy said it would be 10 days when he’d pick up the Oscar fish in the kitchen? I’m not exactly sure how long 10 days is in Ukrainian, but I am feeling an interesting Friday night fish fry coming on, as well as an eBay session under the heading “aquarium”….)


Remember that price equivalency comment I made?  Well, coffee at Gloria Jean’s Café comes pretty close to equaling the North American price. But the use of the Wifi in the hall is worth it. And so is the disco soundtrack — covers of Hot Stuff, I Will Survive, I Need a Hero, a Long Train Coming remix and so much more! (I am almost regally transported to Priscilla in the desert! And can you believe it? I’ve come full circle back to platform shoes!) Adam and Zachary may be suffering from culture shock, but I have found my niche!  If only I could say that in the local dialect.

Now, let me take you back to two weeks ago…

Monday, Sept. 5, 2011
Moving day

Things seems to work quite well all morning, except that Adam does not want to abide by the dress code. He was insisting on wearing blue jeans. He says that’s what everyone else wears. I know I told him that he could wait to find out what everyone wears before he makes fashion decision, but I would like him to dress as instructed at least for his second day! I ask him to change to dress pants. He does. Crisis avoided. The boys are ready to go to school in plenty of time. Zachary is all dressed and eating grits when he decides to visit the bathroom. After about 10 minutes, Adam chooses not to wait and takes off. Bill tells Zachary he does not have to go to school if he does not feel well. That makes him better almost immediately. He comes out of the bathroom much happier! But by this time, he’s late for school. So we put his adolescent strength to good use, and he helps us pack up.

By 9 a.m. we have all the luggage outside of the apartment in the driveway waiting for the university van that was supposed to be all arranged and confirmed. At 10 a.m. I call Oksana asking for the ETA. By 11 a.m. she calls me back to say that the university van is unavailable, and we will be taking a taxi. By 11:15 she calls to say that finding a van-sized taxi is not easy. (We knew that.)

Bill leaves at 11:45 a.m. to make his 12:30 p.m. meeting downtown with the locksmith and the landlady, Pani Lubomyra. Oksana comes across the street from UKU about 12:45 to say goodbye and make sure the taxi comes. It does.  It’s just big enough if we pack one of the sit.  Thank goodness Bill went on ahead. It’s important to negotiate charges ahead of time with regard to taxis; the driver charges extra for helping us with the luggage, but the fare is still under $20. We hug and kiss Oksana goodbye, and we go.

Just like that, we’re residents of the City Centre.

We enjoy an interesting drive northwest, around Citadel hill and past the polytechnic university, bumping down the cobbled streets, past the skateboard shop (“Right in the neighborhood,” gasps a thrilled Zachary!), around one corner, right at the post office, and up Doroshenka Street to Number 50. We’re here.  The cab ride was much more leisurely than the one last night. Now, how will we get all this luggage up two flights of stairs to Apartment (Cabinet) #5?

The American cavalry, of course! Bill comes out of the shadow of the entranceway arch. He has just arrived from a successful trip to the locksmith’s with our new super-whoopee door locks in hand. He helps us unload the bags and pays the man.

We stack the bags on the well worn, black cobblestones in the shade of the entranceway arch. Most of the buildings I have seen downtown seem to be designed this way: a hollow block of buildings fronting on the street with an arched entranceway that leads to an open courtyard. One hundred and fifty years ago, horses and buggies might have entered the courtyard through this passageway to a stable beyond. Today, instead of a table, you’re more likely to find parking. Our balcony overlooks a paved courtyard where one car is parked, and someone is painting window frames white. We can see the balconies of all our neighbors. This is where we’ll leave our clothes on racks or clotheslines to dry. The little white bichon frisé on the second floor barks at me. The waitress and cook of the library café smoke on the steps that lead from the kitchen of the restaurant on the first floor.

You can see the courtyards from the street as you walk by. Sometimes the courtyard is a lawn where children play. But usually it’s paved in some way.

From our courtyard entranceway, three steps lead up to a landing about 12 feet square.  Straight ahead is the internet cafe, the owners of which used our apartment as their office until recently, and where Adam tries to keep up with his online courses. Stairs lead left from the landing up to the five apartments in the building. A metal gate at the foot of the stairs serves more of a decorative than a security purpose.  The light switch on the wall beside it sometimes lights the stairway at night.   (Otherwise it’s pretty dark getting upstairs, unless I remember the flashlight.) Now it’s just past noon, and even the shadowy archway at street level is pretty darn cheery. Especially since we have Zachary’s help! I wait with the bags as Zachary and Bill take turns hefting them up the two flights to apartment 5. I’m glad Zachary stayed home today so I can stay down here for this exercise. Much sooner than I expected, we’re in the apartment. Two beds in two rooms, a table in the kitchen, a desk in the kids’ room, a new washer, a new fridge, dishes and a tea set. Now we have to figure out what we will need according to what priorities.

My room has two huge windows overlooking the street. Here’s the view away from the street (note the old ceramic fireplace in the corner — there’s one in the three main rooms) looking back toward front entrance hall/living room, then on into the rest of the apartment.

Our first outing is to the market behind the Opera House where Zachary bought his suit yesterday. Here, we find sheets and towels. I’m not talking color-coordination or matching materials here in any way — we take what we can get, only one of any given style or color.

Adam had hoped to make a celebratory dinner on this, our first night in the new digs, but we’ve nothing to use to cook with and no ingredients to cook, in any case. Just as well. Our landlady, Pani Lubomyra, arrives with a carpenter who rekeys the locks with the ones Bill bought at noon. Then she gives us a tour of the apartment, telling Bill and me (in translation) how things work. (The oven door is broken so the oven is screwed shut.  Interesting little detail, especially for someone who’s not supposed to eat fried food!)

The kitchen is a great size and flooded with light in the afternoon. Note the fresh dinner selection in the aquarium. There are enough fish for each member of the family, plus one for a guest. There’s a little catfish-like sucker creature for dessert, too!

By the time Pani is gone, it’s too late to start dinner. We go to King Cross mall to eat at Vareneky Tyt (“Perogies Here”) and buy ourselves a pan, a Dutch oven, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and assorted first-night essentials. We will continue to idenntify and collect essentials over the next weeks.

It’s of course very late when we get home, and I haven’t gone over Adam’s Art or English course with him, and Bill hasn’t gone over Algebra. And it’s raining. But we have a little place to call our own, and that’s a step in the right direction.



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2 responses to “Getting a move on

  1. John Beam

    I would have paid to have been there to watch the girl on the bus give up her seat for Bill!

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