Friday, January 23, 2009

Our Trip to Kiev

Today, Friday, is Day 4 of the 10-day waiting period. Yesterday, I stayed at the apartment. I was intending to go visit Sergey, but my sleep schedule is not quite synced up with Ukraine and I was quite fatigued. Sleeping since Sunday has been a challenge, also, partly because of our trip to Kiev this week.

Last Monday night, the day of our court hearing, Valya was able to stay with us. We had a nice evening together. Even though we can't talk, it's amazing how well we can get by. At bedtime, I read Goodnight Moon to her. That was fun searching for the Mishka on every page. We actually read it twice to help her learn the English words. Our apartment has a king-size bed upstairs, so we put Valya in it, and Nancy joined her later. I had to sleep on the couch. We don't have extra bedding, so we figured it was better that I sleep without a blanket rather than Valya! I was wondering if she had ever slept in such a large bed before. Her bunkbed at the orphanasge is small.

Tuesday morning, we needed to go see the official that will be supplying Sergey's new birth certificate. She wanted to see Nancy in person and compare her with the passport copy we have in our dossier. The three of us, our facilitator, and her husband drove down to a government office. We went down a long hallway, turned a corner and sat down on a bench to wait. As I was sitting there, I noticed this lady with a little girl that looked familiar. It turns out that she was Louise Puderbaugh, who was there to get the birth certificate for their new daughter Mattea. It was funny, I didn't recognize Lou, but I recognized Mattea from their blog! We eventually went in to see the lady, and Nancy was obviously the same person, so she was satisfied and now I will be able to apply for Sergey's new birth certificate without her after this 10-day waiting period ends. By the way, we also brought some US immigration papers along that Nancy signed and notarized back home so that I will be able to complete the immigration process at the US Embassy in Kiev without her.

After this errand, we headed back to our apartment, where we said goodbye to Valentina Grace for now. Our facilitator and her husband were driving home to Kiev to wait out the waiting period, so they took Valya home since Andreyevo is on the road to Kiev. I say home but not for much longer.

There were so many reasons that we wanted to have court last December. Chief among them was that when we returned home for the Ukrainian holidays, Nancy wouldn't have to come back. Well as you know, that did not happen. So, last Sunday, we returned to Odessa for court on Monday. Then, it was back to America for Nancy. Can you imagine flying to Ukraine for a 1 or 2 hour hearing, then flying right back to America? That is what Nancy did. This was a very expensive 2nd trip that we had hoped to avoid.

The plane tickets that we bought last November were for flights out of Kiev. So Nancy needed to get up there for the flight to America. She didn't want to go alone, so I accompanied her there. The problem is that the flight was for 5:25 AM! So we flew up there Tuesday afternoon and stayed overnight in a hotel. I realized when we were going through Security in Odessa that I had forgotten my cell phone back at the apartment. So no phone on this trip. I wasn't too concerned about it because I figured that there really wasn't anything specific that we would need the phone for and it would only be one day and I'd be back again. BUT...

We spent Tues. afternoon and early evening sightseeing around Independence Square. We looked and looked for TGI Fridays but we never did find it. I was also hoping that the big Christmas tree would be lit up. While it is indeed still there, it is no longer lit at night. Independence Square is beautiful at night. The street that runs through there, Khreschatik, is a lively hotspot. There is a seasonal skating rink set up in the Square and the bystanders would hoop and holler whenever someone fell down. They had dance club music booming over loudspeakers at the rink which could be heard all over the Square. You can't tell from the pictures outside, but there is a ton of shopping that you can do underground. It has to be seen to be believed. I think all of the plaza you can see is just a roof over huge underground shopping. Above ground, Khreschatik Street is lined with restaurants and stores.

Our facilitator, Dima, told us that to make a 5:30 AM flight at Borispil airport, we would need to leave by 3:00. We went to bed at 8:00 PM and watched part of Obama's inauguration live. There was an English-speaking BBC channel on the telly (that's British for TV!) so we were able to watch and listen. Other channels had the English audio turned down with Russian overdubbing. We got a 2:15 AM wakeup call (!) and our driver was at the hotel at 3:00 to get us. Since we weren't at the hotel to get the breakfast that is included in our charge, they had a "boxed" lunch ready to take with us. At 3:00 AM in the car we had a breakfast of ham and pickle sandwiches, and vegetables of cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper. They also provided 2 hard boiled eggs. Except they weren't. They were wrapped in tin foil and I took one of them and cracked it against my knee. That is when we learned that they were raw eggs. Why would they do that?!! Do people actually eat raw eggs for breakfast here? Well, I had a mess on my pant leg to clean up. Ick. As it turns out that would be an omen for the way the rest of the day would go.

Nancy's flight was to depart from the international terminal, Terminal B, and mine was to leave out of the domestic one, Terminal A. My flight wasn't until 10:45 a.m. so I hung out with her for a while until it was time for her to check in. While we were waiting, we ran into an American man who was from Mitchell, Nebraska. We thought it was funny because we are from Mitchell, South Dakota. We got to talking about why we were there. We found out that he was there to meet a Ukrainian woman to date and hopefully marry. He searched on the internet for outfits that set up foreigners with Ukrainian wives and had visited with a couple of women. It sounded like one was going to work out for him. As a side note, we were visiting with the owner of the suites where we are staying, and he said he gets a lot of single American men that stay there. He said that the ratio of women to men in Odessa is about 4:1, so Odessa is a popular place to come.

When it was time for Nancy to check in, we said our goodbye and I headed out of there over to Terminal A to wait for my flight. I was killing time, and here comes Nancy rushing in with her suitcase to tell me that her ticket is no good. Lufthansa couldn't find it in their computer. She couldn't call me because I, um, didn't have my phone. So we quick scrambled back to Terminal B again where we had to spend a lot of time at the ticket window to get it straightened out. Luckily, I found a paper in my collection that had our original ticket numbers from November. Odd that they couldn't find them based on our names. Our return flights were originally scheduled for Dec. 24 2008, which we did not do because we weren't ready to go. A couple of weeks ago I paid our travel agent $250 to change the ticket to this new date, but Lufthansa had no record of that at all. I didn't have my phone so I could not call him. So I forked out another $200, not $250, to change it on the spot and Nancy was able to get on, with only a few minutes to spare. I'll have to contact our travel agent and try to get a refund or else dispute it on my credit card. What fun.

After solving that crisis, I returned back to Terminal A to continue waiting and I heard a jet roar outside and I knew that she was on her way. Then it was my turn. As I was waiting I fell asleep because in reality we didn't get much sleep the night before. I woke up when I heard over the loudspeaker that the plane to Odessa was boarding. I had missed the 1/2 they give you before that to get checked in. In Ukraine, you can't just check in whenever, you have to wait for when they are checking in your specific flight. It is on a screen at the counter and they announce it. When they say the plane is boarding, what they mean is that there is a tram at the door waiting to shuttle you out to the tarmac where your plane is sitting. If you miss the tram, then you miss your flight. I quick grabbed my backpack and raced over to the counter to get my boarding pass. Thankfully, I had no luggage so that made it quicker. Then through Security and over to the gate. There was no line in Security as everyone else on my flight had already been through. Also, their Security is nothing like in America. You don't have to take your shoes off, don't have to take your laptop computer out, and you can take bottled water or soda in with you. They also don't pull people aside to do more detailed screening. I made the tram on time and thought things would be smooth from this point on. Was I wrong.

We departed on time for a 1 hr. 10 min. flight. I had been reading and dozing and wasn't paying all that much attention really, but one time I was looking out the window and noted that the sun was behind us. I thought that was strange. Going south out of Kiev to Odessa, the sun should have been in front of us in winter. It was also going on 12:30 PM and we should have been into Odessa at 12:00. Must have been a strong headwind I thought. Then when we landed, it wasn't Odessa at all but Kiev again! Apparently the stewardess had announced that the weather in Odessa was bad so we were returning to Kiev. I guess my Russian wasn't good enough to catch that. That's sarcasm because I don't know any Russian.

They gave us a voucher as we left the plane that would get us another flight. But as I said before, you can't just check in anytime, you have to wait for that flight's turn to come up at the counter. I was thinking, great, there's going to be all of these people, plus the other people already booked on that flight and there's not going to be enough seats. The next flight was 3:30 PM and it turned out that that one was canceled as well. There was only one more flight scheduled for the day at 8:50 PM. If that one wasn't going, then I would be sleeping in the terminal overnight. I was really wishing I had my phone so that I could call Dima to see if I could take the train or go back to the hotel, or something. I had been at the airport since 3:30 AM and was not looking forward to staying overnight. Also, my cell phone provides internet for my computer and I could have gotten more information about the conditions in Odessa. Guess I shouldn't have forgotten my phone.

From talking to another American that was stranded, I found out that the problem was heavy fog in Odessa. The propeller planes that were used on the earlier flights were not able to land in fog. Well it turns out that the last flight of the day is always a 737 jet and it has no trouble at all with the fog, plus it seats 120 people. So there was room for everyone that missed their flights that day. I was so happy to be on that plane. When we arrived in Odessa it was very foggy. I hadn't seen that kind of fog there before during our other 4 weeks there. I got to the apartment about 10:15 PM after a long, stressful day, made worse by not having a phone along.

Here's some pictures from Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nancy and Valya on our 4th floor balcony, on the way to do more paperwork. We had a nice evening together.

On the way to the Odessa airport. Traffic is crazy in downtown Odessa. Our driver was complaining about the car in front of us, "Come on, get going I could drive a truck through there."

We stayed at the Khreschatik Hotel, which is on Khreschatik Street, right next to Independence Square. Behind Nancy is European Square, which is a block north of Independence Square.

This was the view from our room. If you pay extra, you can get a street-side room. We didn't, and got this instead. The gold dome in the distance is St. Sophia Cathedral.

In the southeast side of Independence Square, dominated by the Berehynia Monument. There used to be a monument to the communist Vladimir Lenin there.

There is an ice skating rink set up in Independence Square. You'd better be a good skater, because if you fall down, the bystanders will yell and hoot. We saw this. The club music was booming all over the square from this spot. Policemen were hanging out at the Berehynia Monument keeping an eye on things. At the entrance to the rink, there are some ice sculptures.

A couple of panoramas of Independence Square, looking northwest, and the national Christmas tree. The tree is spectaular at night, too bad we missed it. In the distance, in the building just to the left of center, is the famous McDonald's.

Murals around the base of the Christmas tree. The imagery is a lot different than we see in America.

These hucksters were a bunch of characters. I wanted Nancy to take a picture of me in front of this statue with a lute player. These guys grabbed the camera and offered to take a picture of us. Pretty soon they were all in the picture, and this guy was taking picture after picture. Finally, enough. Now for the pitch. They said they wanted 10 grivna for every picture. As if I would pay that. If I had known how to say "get lost" in Russian I sure would have. Of course, they acted all upset demanding the money. I gave them a 10 just for their chutzpah. 10 grivna is about $1.20. And I kept all of the pictures.

If you want to really see the crowds, you need to head underground. The place is bustling. You may note the, uh, handicapped access here on the stairs. Can you imagine taking your wheelchair down this ramp? Neither can I, nor anyone else, apparently, because you don't see any wheelchairs down there.

This fellow is a regular fixture in Independence Square. In warm weather, you'll find him outside somewhere, but this evening he was below. I've seen his picture on a lot of blogs. I bought a CD from him for 20 grivna, about $2.50. I can't make anything out of the writing on the case as it is written in cyrillic script rather than block letters, and they are different. His name is Osman Kindrachuk, and he plays a bandura.

Independence Square and Khreschatik Street at night.

Saying goodbye to Nancy as she headed back to America. On my own now. I already miss her.

Flying to Odessa. I thought. Something is wrong here. If we're going south, why is the sun behind us? Turns out I got a nice air tour of Ukraine because I ended up where I started 2 hrs. later. On approach to Kiev, the last thing I wanted to see.

The boarding pass I thought I'd never see. Maybe I'll get to Odessa yet. It was very foggy in Odessa but the 737 had no trouble at all.


MamaPoRuski said...

So glad you got to see Lou, and Nancy is off safely! Also, thanks for the advice about the ice skating rink. We'll be bystanders, hooting with the rest of them! LOL!

Matthew Nasekos said...

Looking forward to seeing you at Karina's going away party...saw Sergey yesterday -it was so good to see him again.

David, Donna, Amber & Dasha said...

Man, you guys have been having way too much fun. You're so close so hang in there. Can't wait to hear that it's all over.

David & Donna

Conethia and Jim Bob said...

It's great to hear things are finally in order.

Debbie said...

Whew! What an adventure! I hope everything goes smoother from here on out...and that you have your phone at all times. :-)

Jim and Kari said...

I can relate to how lost you feel in the airport without a phone. Our two kids and I went to the Borispil airport to catch our 5:30 a.m. flight to Frankfurt two weeks ago. My husband, who is still in Ukraine BTW, stayed behind and slept in as we thought there would be no issues. We got on the plane, then were told to get off, the engine fire extinguisher wasn't working. Four hours later they cancelled the flight. I had no grivna and no phone. I exchanged money to use the pay phone, found out you have to buy a phone card in the airport post office for the phone, couldn't get the phone card to work, and that was when I started crying and the post office worker came around and showed me how to dial with the phone card. We ended up staying the night in the airport hotel-best bed I slept in in Ukraine-and caught a flight the next morning. Glad you made it back to Odessa and praying the rest of your adoption goes smoothly.

Anonymous said...

UGH! I was stressed out reading this post! Hope the rest of your stay is UNEVENTFUL! :)


Jon said...

Alan and Nancy- Things look like they are coming along! We just found your site as we were searching for other Ukraine adoption blogs. We just completed our home study and are hoping to be there picking up a little one this year sometime. Much love and prayers to you both!

Jon and Jill Nelson