My trip to Ukraine for the winter break started off with a bang. I bought a new tablet computer to mentally prepare for a two-week trip to Kiev, loaded all my work onto it, then finished up packing and headed to the airport. After a three-hour flight, a five-hour layover and another nine-hour flight, I was waiting in the Frankfurt airport for my third and final flight on my way to a dream vacation. When I landed and saw my friend waiting for me, I could finally relax, although all I wanted to do was take a shower after 24 hours of traveling. But as soon as I walked into the apartment, I realized that I left my brand new tablet sitting on a seat in the airport in Germany. What’s more, I also managed to get white paint from the new years tree ornaments all over one of the two pairs of pants I had taken with me. Luckily, there was some delicious borsch and verenyki waiting for me to ease my sorrows.
After eating a great meal, I was finally able to sleep and woke up feeling happier than ever to finally be at my destination. The excitement already made me forget about my tablet. On my first day in Kiev, we went to see a musical. Still a bit jet-lagged, I slept through the whole production, waking up at the very end when everyone was standing up to leave. After a few days, New Year was on our doorstep. We made some pizzas, shrimp and other appetizers with friends and celebrated at midnight in the subway. We had just missed the previous train by about thirty seconds! This turned out to be good because there was still plenty of music and dancing at Independence Square once we got there at around 12:02.
On January 4th we took a night train to Krivoy Rog, where there was a fantastic Christmas party waiting for us on the 6th. After making our beds, we ordered a tea and sat up until about midnight talking about what we were going to do in this city. In the morning, we had some pelmeni and tea for breakfast and I thoroughly enjoyed my nap after stuffing myself with delicious food. The Christmas party was a test of my Russian abilities. No one there spoke any other language I knew but Russian, so I had to make the best of what I learned in Russian 101. Once the food was all prepared and there was no space left on the table for our plates, we managed to make room by eating and eating and eating. I even had the honor of playing the role of Father Frost and handing out presents at the party. After an eight-hour food fest with some drinks mixed in-between, we finally got a chance to let the food settle overnight.
Waking up in the morning with a full stomach, we got ready and returned to the Christmas party. The homemade banya (sauna) was waiting for us. We ate a little again then went in the backyard to the river, where the banya was hot and ready to enter. My first experience with the wet leaves in the banya was nothing less than outstanding. Still totally stuffed after two long days of eating, we managed to hang out with some friends for the rest of the day and returned to Kiev the next night. There we went ice skating on the top floor of Dreamtown mall and took a walk to the Dnepr river to let a sky lantern rise up and drift away. My flight was the next day, so I had to pack and get my scattered things together. Back in the States now, I continue learning Russian, hoping to return to Ukraine some day soon where another unforgettable experience will surely be waiting.
Zachary Grotovsky is a graduate student in the German department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing an MA in German linguistics and a graduate minor is Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He caught the “Eastern Europe fever” three years ago when he met some Polish friends. He is now extremely interested in the Ukraine as well. He plans to spend summer 2013 in Poland and Ukraine attending some language courses that will hopefully be coupled with an experience in complete cultural immersion.