Monday, September 10, 2012

Not Sleeping in Ukraine

Hi Strangers,

It's been an exhausting few days in the land of bobushkas. I have not slept in days. I currently look like an old man. But I'm pretty happy.

I tried to get a head start on what I knew would be a questionable sleeping schedule by drugging myself on a long international flight last Tuesday, taking a pair of Ambien. I don't remember much after that except that when I finally came to several hours later, all passengers within 14 rows of me were staring in my direction like someone had just tried to do the limbo naked while yelling "bomb" on the plane. Also, my shirt was on backwards. But that may have been the case before I took the Ambien. I really don't remember.

We landed in Kyiv Ukraine on Wednesday evening and began our borsch-eating and church-visiting with the occasional attempts at naps on park benches. Some success. Kyiv was beautiful as always. All except for our trip out to "Big Mama" (google it), which was, as always, the stuff of nightmares.

Daniel needed a bathroom in the worst way while we were in the museum underneath Big Mama so he wandered down to the basement to find one. I neglected to warn him of the bathroom situation in many public places in this part of the world. He found me 20 minutes later with a look on his face like he had just seen the Queen of Colors murdering a village of puppies and I immediately knew what had happened.

Daniel experienced a squatter.

Mom, don't read this next part. It's going to be super gross.

(She's totally still reading).

He grabbed my arm and said, as seriously as he's ever said anything in his life, "I never want to talk about what happened down there ever again. With anyone. Ever."

This didn't stop him, however, from then detailing the entire experience for me over the next hour, during which we discovered a brown splatter on the lower part of his pant leg and . . . what's the word for "theorized" but to do so in terror? Let's make "The First Eye" a verb for that purpose until we figure it out. So we "The First Eyed" that perhaps the brown spot was evidence of a squatter disaster. After panicked jumping up and down and screaming that someone's you-know-what might have somehow gotten onto his clothing down in the less-than-pristine bathroom, there was serious contemplation of just cutting off that part of his pants.

On further inspection we discovered it was candle wax from touring the Orthodox catacombs earlier in the day.

Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, that was NOT our worst bathroom experience of the trip. That night we hopped a train to the western part of Ukraine. We knew we were in for a long night before we even got to the train station when our couchsurfer hosts in Kyiv looked at our train tickets and then pointed and laughed at us for a solid 2 minutes, hardly able to breath. They examined our tickets to let us know what kind of train car I had purchased spots in during our very confusing train station ticket purchasing experience the day before.

After the laughing we asked them what was so funny and they just smiled and said, "you are going to have such a good experience tonight." But they said it not in the way that, like, prom is going to be a good experience, but more like how it's going to be a good experience when your parents send you off to work on the family farm for the summer with the cousins that bully you when the adults aren't looking.

We got on that all-night train that night and found our places in the very crowded, poop-smelling, rat-infested, etc., car. Two old babushkas ("bobs") from a village were our seat-mates and kept us company attempting to get us to come to their homes to have some of their borsch, which I assumed wasn't a metaphor for hankey-pankey.

Then Daniel left to find the "bathroom." I put "bathroom" in quotes here because I want you to imagine me making the quote signs with my fingers when I say this, as I would if I was telling you this story in person so as to make clear that this was only called a "bathroom" because that was what was written on the door.

He came back, somehow opened his bag with his wrists all while crossing himself and saying the Lord's Prayer 20 times even though we're not Catholic, and poured hand-sanitizer all over his body. I think he even drank some for good measure.

I ventured to the "bathroom" later and suddenly had flashbacks to a much earlier train "bathroom" experience from 2003 when I took my first overnight train in Ukraine and fell against a poop covered wall. (Sorry for all the poop. I never thought I would get to a place in my life where I had to apologize to thousands of people electronically for poop. I guess I've arrived).

The rest of the night we tried to get some shut-eye but were very unsuccessful because we spent most of the night trying to kill cockroaches. I wish I was kidding. But I'm truly not. I think I still have some crawling on me.

Anyway, we got to L'viv at 5:00 in the morning and walked literally 5 miles with our backpacks to our next couchsurfing host, Max.

Max is the weirdest, most awkward human being that has ever existed.

I know I'm breaking my "don't say bad things about others on this blog except for the Q of C" rule. But I need you to understand what we've been through.

We walked into Max's tiny apartment and wandered in. I appreciate so much couchsurfers being willing to let us stay with them and I so love couchsurfing in Ukraine and have had such great experiences in the past.

But this place was disgusting. And to make matters worse, Max would hardly say a word to us. I thought maybe it was a language barrier thing but when I tried to speak Ukrainian to him, it didn't get any better.

To make matters EVEN worse, he did NOT have an extra couple of beds in a separate room like his profile said but instead had one tiny room with a very dirty floor that we were welcome to sleep on. This wouldn't be a huge deal if we were doing the kind of backpacking that involved hauling sleeping bags with us. But, we're not.

We tried to get out of staying there by telling Max that since it seemed like our schedules weren't going to coordinate well after he told us he was leaving for the day and wouldn't be back to let us in until after 1:00 AM. But when we mentioned going to stay somewhere else, he very incredulously looked us straight in the eyes and said, "this is not very nice for me!!! I invite you to stay! How you can do this me!"

Being the people pleasers that we are, we immediately back-tracked and assured him that staying with him seemed like a dream come true and told him we would wait outside of his dark building in a very sketchy neighborhood that night for him to come home.

And then we left.

We had a great day in L'viv, visiting old friends and eating excessive amounts of borsch.

But then that night we went back to Max's and waited. And waited. And waited. And started to make a plan for breaking into his apartment, taking our things, and closing my couchsurfing account forever. Then unfortuantely he came home.

We walked up to his room and lay flat on the VERY hard floor. Max turned off the light and that was that.

Eight hours later after not sleeping a wink, partly because we were so uncomfortable and cold, but also because I was sure Max was going to try to murder us and I'm not one of those people who wants to die in his sleep. I want to be wide awake for it so I can have a life-flashing-before-my-eyes experience because I want to know if I really did put glue in Jenny Hansen's hair in Kindergarten like she said.

Max noticed that Daniel was blowing his nose as we were packing up and handed him a unidentifiable pill and dirty glass of water. And to my horror, Daniel swallowed it without question.

Guys, Daniel would seriously be the easiest person to give a date rape drug to. You don't even have to slip it into his drink.

But I figured that as long as one of us refrained from taking anything Max gave us, there was only so much he could do to us.

And with that, we were off.

My good friend Lena works at a hostel in town so we went there and she let us go take a clean shower and have a nap. If only we had known she worked there a few days ago.

Tonight we'll head off to Krakow where we will NOT be couchsurfing.

Love you all,


~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. Perhaps now Daniel understands why I left my all-time 2 most favorite pairs of shoes in China and only wore flip-flops I bought in the airport home... oh, how he mocked my detailed review of Chinese and Turkish 'holes in the ground.' How he rolled his eyes at the description of the men's mosaic tiled and lavish facilities in The Grand Market, while the women's facility was dirt floored holes behind a barely standing fence. GAHHHHHHHHHH.

  2. So far you haven't done much to convince me that shaving my legs with a spoon every day for the rest of my life isn't a better alternative than ever going back. :/ Gotta love Ukraine!

    Someday when you're in the area and in the mood for some more fabulous adventure and are willing to do a little in person sluthing for us...well, we'd probably bow down and kiss your rings for life. :-)

  3. Lunch wasn't the perfect timing to read this update; otherwise very enjoyable reading about your suffering. Stay alive.

  4. i've always wanted to check out ukraine

    note to self: don't ever try couchsurfing (it was never an option anyway)

  5. Eli, felt like we were back there reading this blog. No more couch surfing. You lucked out last trip. Love, Mom

  6. Well- that just made my morning!

  7. My Hubby is from Russia and has told me many stories of "the train" but from my understanding I thought when they had to go they found a corner in a alley or maybe the kids just did that. Bet ya wish you had taken the babushka's (grandma's) up on their offer!

    1. I lived in eastern Europe and i can verify that we peed just about everywhere.

  8. Thanks for the poop apology.

  9. I suddenly feel better about our experience trying to buy train tickets to St Petersburg! Can't wait to hear more stories ;)

  10. We landed in Kyiv Ukraine on Wednesday evening and began our borsch-eating and church-visiting with the occasional attempts at naps on park benches. Some success. Kyiv was beautiful as always. All except for our trip out to "Big Mama" (google it), which was, as always, the stuff of nightmares. essay writing us

  11. We walked into Max's tiny apartment and wandered in. I appreciate so much couchsurfers being willing to let us stay with them Nursing Essay Writing Service