July 1, 2012 by farbolino
A few weeks ago I was staying in Kiev with my Couch surfing host Svetlana and during the days that I stayed with her, she needed to take a trip to Russia and back since the car was registered with Moscow plates. It sounded like it could be a fun adventure, so I asked if I could tag along. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cross into Russia with her, since as an American I’d need a visa, but I figured I could just wait at the border while she went through with the border formalities.
So we ended up leaving around noon, which seemed like no big deal since it was only about 230 km to the try border with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Svetlana’s friend Vova joined us at the last minute, and we planned to visit his grandmother on the way back from the border.
It seemed to take forever to actually get out of Kiev; the city seemed to sprawl endlessly with high rise communist buildings. About have way there, we passed over a little river with some kids playing in it. Vova asked if we could stop to take a dip, and Svetlana was more then willing to take a break from the bumpy, potholed roads.
Afterwards we continued on our way to the border, but close to the crossing there were lines of babushkas (grandmothers) lining the sides of the road selling strawberries. Svetlana pulled over, and the old women’s face in front of us lit up with a smile. I guess it was a hard day in the sun without many customers. Svetlana came back to the car with over 2 kilos worth of strawberries, and we only paid 30 UAH, or 3 euro. We actually managed to finish the whole bag between the three of us.
At the border, Vova and I got out and went to a little bar/cafe to wait for Svetlana to cross over and come back for us. We knew it would take some time, so we sat down outside and ordered a few .5 liter beers. I think this little border stop wins for the cheapest beer I’ve ever paid for in Europe at .50 cents. We ordered more beer, since Svetlana still hadn’t come back, and before I knew it I was feeling pretty drunk. Perhaps I wasn’t as drunk as the group of men who finished bottled of vodka at the table across from us; since one of them needed to be carried to the car since he couldn’t keep his balance. Svetlana finally came back, and we started our journey to Vova’s babushka’s house through small towns and villages that didn’t even show up on our road map. It felt good to have the sun shine and the wind swirl through the car while I was still a little tipsy from the beer.
Everything seemed to be taking longer then expected, and the mere 70 km that we were supposed to go to get to there was taking hours. Narrow potholed roads, cows crossing, the pee breaks from drinking too much beer, and the next thing we knew the sun was setting and we hadn’t even reached her place yet. As the sun began to set, we reached a field that had an erie yet beautiful fog set over it. I asked if we could pull over and I took some photos. Svetlana even jumped on top of her car for an impromptu shot, and as you can see; she isn’t shy.
We passed through some more small towns where it looked like people had never seen a car other then a Russian made Lada in the past 20 years. People stared at us and the car in amazement, and some people even waved with excitement. We stopped to get some ice cream and coffee at the side of the road and a few people came up to ask where we were from; clearly visitors didn’t come through often. A few people had a genuine look of excitement on their face when I said “Ya iz Se-Sh-Ah” (I’m from the USA).
Vova’s babushka (notice the 4 types of floral)
Soon after it became dark, and we found our way to Vova’s babushka’s house while his whole family was there to visit. I’ll have to save that for my next post though. Part 2 is coming soon.