Budapest, Hungary / Kiev, Ukraine
Since our plane left in the late afternoon for Kiev today, we didn’t have a ton of time to check out Budapest. But we all wanted to explore a bit so we took the metro downtown and checked out the old heart of the city, including St. Stephen’s Basilica. What an incredible old church! Getting to the airport took awhile and involved riding the subway to our hotel, picking up our luggage, grabbing a coffee (of course!), and then riding a bus for about half an hour to the terminal. Good thing we gave ourselves a lot of time! Finally we boarded our Ukraine Air flight to Kiev! It was pretty exciting for me to be heading to a country that I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time, where I had no idea how to read or speak the language, and had very little idea what to expect! We arrived well after dark, so the only thing I could make out as we flew over the city was how big it was. Passport control lines were excessively long. I found it humourous how there were signs everywhere warning that Ukraine is cracking down on corruption, and yet a large number of people blatantly tried to sneak through the “pilots and air crew only” line. We were approached by a number of guys offering us taxi rides, but we’d done our homework and knew not to go along with them. We spoke to someone at the information booth who arranged a taxi ride for us to our hotel. It took 2 cars to carry us with all of our luggage. My driver didn’t speak much English, but he tried to explain a few sights to the best of his ability as we drove along. At one point he stopped at an intersection, pointed to his watch and said “15 minutes,” and then stepped out and had a smoke. I was baffled – I could see a line of cars behind and beside us stopping as well. Finally I realized that the road we were on was closed until a certain time. Our driver took us slightly out of the way in order to be able to park next to our hotel (so he said), but personally I think he just wanted to show off his city a little more! We drove past magnificent Orthodox cathedrals that took my breath away, and it really hit me that we are really in Ukraine! From the airport, it took nearly 45 minutes to reach our hotel, which is actually a nice apartment downtown near all the historical sites. First impressions: this city looks awesome! Second impressions: I can’t read a freaking word of anything! We checked out a nearby restaurant called Пузата Хата (Puzata Khata), a popular chain that serves hearty food in a pay-by-the-serving buffet style. For 99 UAH ($4.75CAN) I ate a huge supper of very good Ukrainian food. I think I’m going to enjoy this place! Good night, looking forward to exploring this place over the next few days.