Friday, August 22, 2014

Transportation in Ukraine - An Adoption Journey Post

August 21 Romny, Ukraine. 
Sitting in my rental car waiting for our next appointment. 
(You can't be surprised that I'm waiting - again!) 
We've now been here a full two months. In that time we've taken planes, trains, automobiles, taxis with drivers, buses and the metro/subway.  Here are some tips for anyone traveling in Ukraine.
Small prop planes are fine but not much fun.  They are loud and the most expensive way to travel between Kiev and region.  However, if your translator, like mine, is afraid of flying it does give you an opportunity to give him a hard time about it and take funny pictures.  It is my least recommended mode of transport, unless you need to lighten your translator up a bit. 

My husband can make anyone laugh, even if they are fearful

If you're not flying to region then you have three other options; train, driver or your own rental car.  I'll address these one by one.  OH that is unless you want to take the #1 form of transportation in most regions, the bicycle.  OK, probably not. 
Train. Inexpensive and comfy if you are blessed enough to be in a region where you have one of the very nice, brand new express trains.  These were purchased from Asia for the World Cup in 2012 so they are gorgeous.  You can travel in comfort with real bathrooms, plugs for your devices and even food service.   First class runs about $45 per person one way. Second class will save you about $5 per person.  In second class there will be three seats to a row instead of two and plugs for devices are every other row instead of at each seat.  Each seat will have it's own table, just like in a plane.  The nice thing about a train is you can take your own food and drink right on and get up and walk around as much as you want.  It really is a fantastic way to travel and see the country.
Riding in comfy style on the train

You can relax and play games on your phone

Fun and comfortable

One night we took the express from Zap to Kiev, 7 hours, and bought 5 window seats in second class. Usually no one wants the aisle or middle so we all got our own row to sleep with 3 seats each  Check to see how full your train is before attempting this or you might be surprised to find yourself squeezed in with a large man watching loud Ukraine movies with no ear buds all night.   

You can check online for all the information you need. I was also able to book our seats online and pay via credit card.  The website can be changed to English.  It's a little challenging when getting to the payment section but if you've shopped online at all you should be able to figure it out.  (You know you have so own up!  You can do this!)  If not, your translator should be able to talk you through it over the phone.  Mine did the first time just so I wouldn't mess it up.  He is getting more confident in my abilities as this journey progresses.   
I can't speak to the other trains but friends have taken regular overnight trains and they are still alive although I saw them when they arrived back in Kiev and can say with some authority that it took its toll. Trying to sleep on a "bed" on a bumpy train or getting up in the night to go potty and getting thrown around is not anyone's idea of a good time but it's a cheap and efficient way to travel to those regions too far away for a driver and without the option of an express train. 

Now let's talk about drivers.  Some translators have their standard drivers they use whenever going to or in a particular region.  My advice? Question everything, especially if you have limited funds like we do. If you are wealthy, just ignore what I'm saying and do your best to help the Ukraine economy. 

Ask if you can you get a different driver for a better price.  Ask.  It doesn't cost you anything to ask.  Remember your Bible, ask and you shall receive.  You get nothing if you don't ask.  Get some other options. Many times if your driver comes from the region he will charge less than one who comes from Kiev.  I had my translator call around to get some different estimates.  I also talked to other people who had traveled to those regions. 
We know of one driver who charges $350 for a round trip to a particular city.  He is the standard driver for one translator. Another person questioned it and found a driver for $275. We found one for $200.  So shop around.  $150 savings is pretty huge when you're on a strict adoption budget.  Remember this is your adoption, your money and your budget. You have the right to make the decisions on how it is spent.  You have the right to question how money is spent.
If air conditioning is important, considering most summer days here it is a sweltering 95 degrees, be sure your driver has it and more importantly is willing to turn it on.  Sitting in the back seat bouncing along Ukraine roads getting your neck and back out of whack is bad enough without a hot and humid wind blowing at you from the open windows.  By the way, shocks in cars here must be an optional feature that most opt out of for some reason.  I'm still researching the reason on this.
Excellent driver as long as you don't mind the lack of air conditioning.  While waiting he turned on his favorite (very loud) Ukraine sitcom.  This day was a sweltering 95 degrees and humid.  We were all pretty smelly by the end of the day.

OK, now let's talk about renting a car. Before coming to Ukraine I asked about renting a car on various Ukraine adoption sites online. I was blasted with scary stories. Don't do it, you won't be able to read the signs and you'll get horribly lost.  You'll get stopped by corrupt police and made to pay exorbitant fines. There are checkpoints and remember the country is at war.  You'll get stopped and they will take everything you own.  You won't be able to drive on the roads because they are the worst in the world. Much worse than in America.  It's dangerous (with no particular reason why).  Person after person telling me every reason not to rent a car.  
Some of these are valid concerns. This country is at war but we who are here adopting are not allowed into those regions anyway.  Yes, there are checkpoints and we've been through many without any issues. Yes, the roads are bad but if you've ever played Mario Cart you've got it!  And yes, we got lost a few times.  It just adds to the adventure.  Especially when it's 2 a.m., pitch dark, no road signs, the lights on your car aren't working properly, you're out in the middle of nowhere, you've left your translator behind so he can visit his family and you have no GPS.  But you laugh your way through it and it becomes a favorite memory.
Talking with my translator he said check prices and let him know. We could certainly drive.  I checked and with the cost of gas it was about $100 per day. That means a one day trip to region would cost $100 instead of $200 or more. Sounded good to me. 
Now it's several weeks and trips later.  Tom and I have driven all over on roads good, bad and downright ugly, city and country, daytime and at night.  Tom is back home now and I navigated getting back from the airport by myself at 4 a.m.  I can drive around potholes like a native Ukraine. 

2 a.m., somewhere between Zap and Kiev on some road with potholes bigger than your car and no GPS

The funniest part is seeing the look on crowd of men when they see a woman driving.  It's just not done here.  Women take the metro, ride the bus, a bicycle or even grandmothers ride mopeds around.  But never drive a car.  And yes, I have seen more grandmothers (and I'm talking OLD grandmothers) - in dresses - on bikes and mopeds than I can count.  Darn it, my bike is coming out when I get home because even though I'm a grandmother I'm not that old and if they can do it, so can I.
I'm a fight the fear and do it anyway sort of girl so this driving thing had to be overcome. And I'm a better person, and more confident, because I didn't listen to the naysayers and our bank account is much happier.   My advice, get a car and give it a shot. It's fun once you get a used to it.  I can even drive in rush hour Kiev traffic now, weaving around buses and trolley cars without a problem. And it's fun not to be bouncing around the backseat.  Yesterday driving back from region I took a wrong turn and said, I've got this.  I just drove until I saw a familiar landmark and voila, just drove in that direction.  Like I said, it's an adventure.
By the way here is a little hint. If you are riding in the backseat take a pillow.  Trying to nap on long rides is impossible. You will end up with a concussion if you try to rest your head on the headrest or seat. And sleeping sitting straight up will have you looking like one of those bobble dolls and give you a neck that only your chiropractor will love. 
Lastly, jump right into taking the metro and city buses around the city.   They are simple and so cheap.  Kiev metro is 2 Grivna or 16 cents.  The trolley buses are 1.5 Grivna or 12 cents. Can't beat it.  Most nice hotels have free maps of the city and metro system. From Independence Square metro station you can connect with all of the other trains and even the main train and bus station.   It has saved us hundreds of dollars on taxis and drivers.   More importantly, we have gotten out to see more of the city.  We've found farmers markets, gardens and historical places. And had much more fun than we ever expected.  

Taking the escalator down to the metro stop

Riding the metro with good friends - priceless
Trolley Bus - cost 1.50 Grivna

On the trolley bus.  Riding it to the end, wherever that takes us

We've taken the metro to the last stop on the line just to see what was there.  Bus line, too.  It gave us a great sense of direction when we were in our rental car.  We see different landmarks and know exactly where we are and how to get back to our apartment because we've walked it or ridden the metro or bus.
So jump right in and experience Ukraine.  However you travel make the most of your time here.  Be not afraid.  There will always be those who are negative and want to hold you back because of their own fears. Tom and I have hundreds of great memories from our two months here together, traveling around the city and country.  There is so much waiting to be done in an adoption journey.  Spend that time seeking and finding treasured memories.

And that is ... Simply My Opinion!


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