October 1-2: The Journey to
Whoever said, “Getting there is half the fun” probably never
traveled long distances, and certainly did not travel a lot in or through
The trip began for the five of us (myself, Nina, Sergiy, Valentina, and Katya) at on October 1 at the Khmelnytsky train station, where we had to catch a train to Lviv. I didn’t realize until we got on the train that none of us had reserved spaces. We managed to find places relatively quickly, but I was shocked that they would sell us tickets like that.
When we arrived around at the train station in Lviv, we
asked about taxi prices to the Lviv bus station on
the other side of town. The quotes were either 15 or 20 gryvnias. Nina, who is used to paying 5-6 gryvnias for taxis anywhere in Khmelnytsky,
was appalled at the prices and wanted to take a marshrutka
(route taxi). But after waiting 10 minutes for a marshrukta
that clearly was not going to come, Sergiy found a
taxi that was willing to take all five of us for 15 gryvnias. The car was an old, grey
It was when we arrived; our bus was not scheduled to come until . Because it was early October, it was cold and there was no heat in the bus station. (The heat in Ukrainian facilities is generally not turned on until October 15, regardless of the actual weather conditions.) Nina and Valentina laid coats and sweaters down on the benches in the station because it was too cold to sit down directly. Sergiy and I killed an hour wandering around the bus station looking for a café, which we eventually found. The menu was limited (read: they were out of most things on the menu), but the borscht was good and reasonably priced (1.50 gryvnias, less than 30 cents). The next two hours I spent listening to CDs and walking around the building in an attempt to stay warm.
At about ,
Nina led us all outside to wait for the bus.
came and went, and the
bus didn’t come. We had no contact information for the bus company other than a
cell phone number that only worked in
The bus was a tourist-class bus with comfortable seats. I was placed, however, next to one of the few
overweight men in
I thought Lviv was as close to
Sometime in the
hour the bus stopped, still in
The driver took the money that was collected and stood outside with someone for a while. Then he got back on and the bus continued on. Nina later called it “wild capitalism”, but I told her that this activity could not be called capitalism.
At we arrived at the Ukrainian border check. We all got off the bus and waited inside for the border officials to finish their technical break or whatever was keeping them from serving us at the moment. After I went through, I went outside but noticed the bus was locked. I came back in and tried to buy Polish zloti, but the currency exchange booth said they were out of zloti.
When I saw what looked like the last person going through the passport control and customs check, I looked and saw the bus was open and I got on. Everybody followed me.
At , we
were still sitting on the bus. The
driver explained that there was a problem with one passenger’s declaration
form. A declaration form is needed if
you are taking more than $1000 or 1000 Euros out of
I don’t know what they did to him (or her), but I know we sat there waiting for the situation to be resolved until . Then we drove maybe 200 meters across the border, where we had to hand over our passports and wait our turn to go through the Polish passport control and customs check.
At , we got off the bus and went into the passport control area. A mere half an hour later, we were back on the bus. At this point, the driver informed us that customs inspectors found a bag on the bus with 500 cigarettes, well over the Polish legal import limit. The DRIVER was fined 100 DOLLARS, and the bag was confiscated. The driver was not going to continue on until the person responsible confessed and paid the money. (This explanation was not given to me in English until half a day later). Nobody confessed, and the passengers did not try to pressure anyone into confessing. At about , the driver gave up and continued on.
The drive through
Sometime in the early evening (maybe ), the driver stopped at a gas station (this was not
unusual; we had been making such stops all day). I heard the words “no service”, but didn’t
quite understand. That is when Nina explained
to me in English the problem with the cigarettes, and that the driver refused
to continue on until the money was paid.
She said he said he didn’t even have enough money for gas now. I
wondered why the bag wasn’t held up so we could see it and say whose it was.
Nina said the bag had been confiscated. I was starting to think that if
everyone on the bus paid $5, we could go on.
The driver left the bus, then came back saying
he had called his company. The company said the driver was half responsible,
and the passengers were half responsible.
If each passenger paid $2, we could go on our way. I didn’t catch all the words, but I could see
some people were complaining that they did not want to pay this money, and Sergiy was arguing with them (for which point of view I’m
not sure). The driver said he didn’t
want to have to do this, and he sounded sincere so I was inclined to believe
him. I was feeling more pragmatic than I
have ever felt in
The German border was relatively smooth, and at we were border-free. We arrived in
One woman came running across the street and started hugging my colleagues like they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Three other people followed. They kindly took me to my hostel. One of them drove a Mercedes that had some kind of GPS system. They programmed the hostel address, and the car told them (yes, in a computer voice) which way to turn and when. I was impressed. I was in the height of civilization.
I checked in at the Sleepy Lion Leipzig hostel, which was clean, quiet and friendly. I took a long hot shower to wash the day off, and went to sleep.
October 3, 2002
“Tag der Deutschen Einheit”
This was the first day of the conference, and also a German
public holiday to commemorate the date of reunification of East and
I had a basic breakfast at the hostel for 3 Euros—a buffet
of coffee, granola with milk, broetchen (bread rolls),
and cheese. Then I walked to the main
train station and explored the mall and food shops inside. Most of the stores were closed because of the
holiday, but it was still a pretty sight. They even had an Eddie Bauer
store. The food looked great. The only sign that I was in a former
Communist area were the food stands that sold shashlik
(barbecue) and solyanka (a type of soup) that were
called by the same names used in the former
I left the train station and walked towards the opera house. There was a small concert stage with an alternative, all-girl rock band playing and singing in German. They were pretty good. Next to the concert stage was a kiosk selling anti-Nazi stickers, pins, patches, flags, and t-shirts. Since there were a lot of punks hanging out there, I thought it was good to see this kind of kiosk and to see so many people buying these items. Not all kids with safety pins in their leather jackets are neo-Nazis, eh? I bought a button that said “Gegen Nazis” (against Nazis).
I made it to the opera house at Augustplatz
(August square), where I discovered an open-air market. The goods were pretty basic—purses, baby
clothes, sewing notions, household goods. It reminded me a little of
After lunch I wandered to the Rathaus
(town hall) where I saw a third market and concert. This market reminded me of the Christmas
markets I had seen in
On the way back to the train station I passed by Nikolaikirche, the church where the movement for German unification began. It was rather plain on the outside and covered in repair scaffolding on the inside, so to me it was significant more from a historical standpoint than an aesthetic one.
I caught the train I needed, which only went as far as Bitterfeld. My connecting train was going to be 30 minutes late. After 30 minutes, the sign changed to say the train would be 60 minutes late. I could not wait another 30 minutes or I would miss the opening of the conference, so I took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver knew about the train problem and charged me 15 Euros even though the meter said 16.90. I thought that was nice and I gave her a 1-Euro tip.
The opening ceremony was one of drama (most of it in German), standing up and sitting down and saying hello to people, and “Window displays” by the presenters. Many presenters had colorful signs about their presentation. Others used mimes or drama skits that made no sense to me. This was going to be some conference.
To be at the conference by 9, I had to take a train that
I left the hostel at but at the door ended up talking to Sasha, a hostel employee who was studying to be a history teacher. I told him about the conference and said I would give him any teaching materials I picked up there.
I walked briskly to the train station, bought my ticket at
the automated ticket booth (where I had a little trouble getting the right
ticket), ran upstairs to the train platform, and got my hand on the door to
push it open just as the train was pulling away. No, I did not make that train. There was another, more expensive train at .
But that train was delayed while they changed the compartments. At
it was just about ready, but by the time it could get me to
The Conference Lessons
The conference seminars were super. The first seminar was on using metaphor to teach language and to promote positive thinking in students. It began with an exercise where we matched words with pictures that served as metaphors. (I matched “exuberance” with a chandelier, which helped a German participant understand the word exuberance much more clearly). Then we talked about the story of the Ugly Duckling and the current and desired state of the ugly duckling at the beginning of the story. Then we were asked to think of something we wanted to do, and in groups we all drew pictures of the “desired state” of our actions. The ugly duckling was a metaphor for us for achieving our goals. Interesting.
The next seminar was about guided imagery. We listened to music and danced and then
closed our eyes and the presenter talked us through an image of nature that
made us happy, someplace we would like to be at that moment. I went to a cold waterfall in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, then
The next seminar was about many things about teaching in secondary school, but the main lessons for me were on exercising the brain and stimulating the brain for learning. We did special exercises (breathing, stretching) and brain teasers, and humor to get people ready for learning. It was cool.
Finally, my colleague Sergiy gave a great presentation on poetry writing that opened up our “psyche” through music and kinesthetic activities. We wrote poems about ourselves on hearts and pinned the hearts to our sleeves. We threw a ball of string and read our poems, while holding part of the string to make a web. Then we put our “hearts” on the web. Then one person let the string go, and everything fell apart. This too was a metaphor—we all have to support each other in the class or the class falls apart. We listened to music and read haiku and wrote poems inspired by it all.
Sergiy’s presentation was the last
one of the day, so I left the hotel shortly after his presentation in a hotel
shuttle to the Brehna train station, where I caught a
train back to
After the opera I walked along the main street and ended up at a jazz bar (with no jazz that I could hear) where I had a great glass of white wine (a dry Riesling).
When I got back to the hostel, there were some people
hanging out in the lounge. Two of them
were Americans—Mike and Sierra from the
I didn’t even bother trying to make the train. I made the , though. And took a taxi once more to the hotel. I still thought it was worth it to be downtown, though. I would never have gone into the city for opera nor met the people at the hostel if I had stayed out in Brehna. I felt like a young traveler again.
The first presentation was actually a poetry workshop. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good poem about a matroshka (Russian nested doll). That evening I stayed for the poetry reading at the hotel. Bertha, the American who ran the workshop, facilitated the reading by inviting workshop participants to read their poems. Then Bertha read her own poems, which were really good.
When the reading was over, we walked outside to the main hall to some kind of drum concert. It was awfully loud. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I asked for the shuttle to the train station. It took a while to get out of the hotel, and once again I found myself 5 seconds away from a moving train. I had asked the driver to wait to make sure I got on the train, but then I figured the next train would come in 25 minutes, and it would take most of that time to go back and forth from the hotel. Plus I did not want to be in hotel with all those drums. I waved to the driver to go home.
I thought wrong. The
train I thought would come at
didn’t. I ended up waiting a whole hour
in the dark and the cold for the next train.
But I made it back to
This morning I couldn’t get motivated to get up and go to
the conference sessions at all. I had
been burning the candle at both ends—I needed some rest. I finally arrived at the hotel at , just in time for lunch and goodbyes. I
sat briefly with Yoshimi Brett, a woman from
I went to the “abschluss” (goodbye), where we said in English and German what we liked about the conference. We also did chants in German. The one I remember clearly in German was “I do not want to go home”. At that point I really did not want to go home.
After the abschluss was one last
lunch at the hotel. The buffet was an
amazing array of fish (two kinds of lox, shrimp, seafood
pate), vegetables, salads, and main dishes (hearty German dishes like sauerbrauten and ethnic foods like paella). Then it was time for many people to check out
and catch trains back home. A large
carload of us went from the hotel to the train station. The Brehna train
station is just two tracks, one going towards
Sabine and I saw the train to
We eventually got on the train and learned from the
conductor that it was supposed to rain the next morning. This, Sabine said, would not be good weather
for going to
When we arrived in
In the train station, I saw that the shops were open, a
As I was walking back to the hostel, I saw a sign for a classical music concert at the church on the way between the train station and the hostel. It was part of “Festtage” which can only be translated as “Festival Days”. I was thinking maybe I could see the concert, and then go to the cabaret. But the concert was 13 Euros, would start at , and would last 90 minutes. It would be expensive to do both and I would not have time to do both. At that point, though, I was afraid that if I went back to the hostel to rest until the cabaret I would get too comfortable and not go anywhere. I was also thinking that from what little I knew about German cabarets, it would be very difficult to understand it or enjoy it without a native speaker to help me translate certain things. I vacillated for another 10 minutes, until it started to rain. I took that as a sign that I should go to the concert.
The concert was great. It was a Baroque ensemble with two violins, a cello (or viola?) and a harpsichord. I love the sound of a harpsichord. I heard the first two of four pieces, then there was an intermission. At this break, I started thinking again about the cabaret. Would I regret not going to see what it was like? Wouldn’t it be great to pack in another cultural experience? I decided I had paid my money, enjoyed the music, and could leave the church with a clean conscience.
I found the cabaret ticket office with relatively no problem. I got the ticket in Sabine’s name, and after stumbling around I found the correct entrance to the cabaret hall (about 200m down from the ticket office). On my left I saw a bar. I wasn’t sure if this was where the cabaret was actually held or if it was just a bar (I still had some visions of the movie “Cabaret” in my head). I had twenty minutes before the show started so I decided to check it out.
You can’t imagine my surprise when I walked towards the bar and saw Sabine waving at me and talking on the phone.
When she finished her call, she explained to me that when she got on the train, it was very crowded and she could only get a reserved seat part of the way home. She had been hoping to use the train to get some work done, so she decided it would be a better use of her time to stay the night and take an early morning train the next day when there would surely be more room. Moreover, she decided to keep the evening cheap by staying in the same hostel I was, and had taken the bed below mine in the hostel so I wouldn’t think she had just said she was going home to get away from me. She had reserved a second ticket for herself for the cabaret to make sure there would still be one for me.
I only had about 10 minutes to have a drink and ponder the metaphysics of our unlikely reunion before we had to go inside to the theater, where we learned we were given seats next to each other.
The cabaret was interesting.
It was a combination of ironic (sarcastic) skits and songs performed by
a trio of actors (two men and one woman) interspersed with musical interludes
played by two-man synthesizer/drum band.
Sabine had to explain a lot to me. For example, at one point one of the
actors held up a picture of a sign that was posted in the city of
There were only two skits I could really follow on my
own. One was about two men who came to
rob a bank. The bank teller gave them a million Euros, then
gently asked for the money back to pay for various taxes and health
insurance. The other was “Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire for a Better World”. A
man was playing for 1,000,000 Euros for charity; when he lost in the final
round he gave a consolation prize of canned goods. Other skits and songs had lots of inside
jokes that even Sabine could not follow because they related to
After the cabaret, Sabine said she hadn’t eaten any dinner,
so she and I walked through the Maedler Passage (a
covered walkway of expensive shops) to the café where Goethe used to drink and
think when he was a student in
When I sputtered out the word for “check” in German (rechnung) to the waiter, the waiter restated it for me and
that was the first time I truly caught what they call the “Saechsishe”
(Saxon) accent. My friend Peter had
warned me not to pick up the accent while I was in
We walked back to the hostel and I was surprised once again
to find that everyone in our room was till awake. We stayed up talking with a
Sabine left around 8. I said goodbye but I stayed in bed until about 9. After getting ready, I went downstairs and checked my email one last time (did I mention the hostel had email access for 2 Euros an hour?). I had planned to take my bags to the train station, get a haircut, and then walk around the city to do some last minute sightseeing and shopping. But in the dining room I saw two of my roommates. I decided to go in and have a quick breakfast with them. I ended up talking with them there until . Then I ended up talking to them some more in the lounge where I had talked with Mike and Sierra Friday and Saturday night. I felt like I didn’t want to leave; I felt like I was at home and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my new friends.
In the end, though, I knew I had to move on. Rather than take my bags to the train
station, I left them in the hostel office.
A girl from
The Thomaskirche was beautiful
inside and out. As I was leaving, it
started to rain so I ducked into a nearby bookstore. When it let up I continued
walking toward Galleria Kaufhof, a large German
department store. I had been the one in
I browsed the other parts of the store, and in the CD
section I bought the new Eva Cassidy album, “Imagine”. Eva Cassidy was a D.C. singer
who died of cancer in 1996, but she had a posthumous hit in
After Galleria Kaufhof, I went to
a nearby wine store to get some more of that fine German reisling.
From there I went to the opera house to take pictures, and then to the
I walked back to the hostel and put all my belongings together. I had to break out the “babushka bag” (a nylon bag with blue, red, and white plaid stripes) to pack my new purchases, and I knew this was a sign I was on my way back east. I caught the tram from the hostel to the train station. I found no way to buy a ticket so I didn’t pay. Shame on me.
I was supposed to meet my colleagues at at the bus stop. But I figured that was overly cautious, and that the bus was scheduled to be there at so it wouldn’t be there until anyway.
When I arrived, Nina and Katya were waiting without their bags. They explained that there was no bus. There was a minibus for just the five of us. It had arrived early and was driving around with Sergey and Valentina because it couldn’t stop at the bus stop to wait for me. There was only one driver instead of two. Moreover, it seems the driver had been in town since Saturday night or Sunday morning, but the company had not informed Nina of this. The bus would be taking us back to Kyiv. Nina was really upset about all of this. She didn’t like the minibus, she didn’t want to go to Kyiv, and I am sure she would have preferred to have left earlier. (I should mention here that Nina is not a person who gets upset easily or without justification. She is usually a calm, smiling, happy person.)
I however, saw only positives. I was glad to have had the extra time in
It was freezing out, but everyone had so many bags that we were to wait outside while Sergey went to get the tickets. I could not stand in the cold so I went inside with my bags. We got the tickets and had to wait over an hour for the next train. Again, much of this waiting was outside on the platform.
When we returned to Khmelnytsky, it was early evening and still freezing. Katya’s husband was supposed to pick us up, but I wasn’t even sure if I could wait for the car. Somehow I did. But then I noticed that inside the van there were no seats. Nina and Valentina were going to be sitting on boxes or buckets or something. I must have seemed rude, but at that point I said that I preferred to take a taxi. 15 minutes and 6 UAH ($1.20) later, I was home at last.