As I walk into the train station, I recognize instantly this is a monument to Stalinism. A relic of the Cold War. The grand lobby is huge and in the middle is the largest and most beautiful chandelier I have ever seen. The station is alive with activity and this
seems to be the place to be. Shops, families, travelers. I am excited. We walk through the entire station and then proceed down three sets of stairs and all of a sudden, there is a different feeling. It is not quit as electric, it is more subdued and the Kiosks are small and old. Then there in front of us is our train. I look at the train and in my mind
I think of the children’s story, “The little Engine that Could.” But this is the little engine much later in life. All aboard!
The train is also a Soviet relic. I can see the attempts to keep it up, but the attempts are mainly layer upn layer of paint. Irena, my Ukrainian liaison, helps me as we trundle up the narrow stairs into the train car. We find cabin #11 and my seat and I see instantly that I have too much luggage. I am that crazy American with the huge suitcase and the carry-on. Then my Ukrainian travel partner enters and he speaks a little English and I find out his name is” Ivan.” Perfect.
The seat/bed is exactly six feet long. I know because my head touches the wall at
one end and my feet touch at the other. As I lay on the bed my right arm touches the wall and my left arm the edge of the bed. Ivan is about 18 inches away from me. It will be a cozy 16 hours. I like Ivan, he is very polite and we seem to be able to communicate whatever is needed. The residual effects of jet lag hit me and by
6 p.m., I am fast asleep.
I wake up at 2:30 a.m. and I am wide awake and looking for the bathroom. I would like to freshen up and walk around a bit. We just happen to be at a stop and so the bathroom is closed during all train stops. Seems a little odd, but I can wait. I finally get in to the toilet area and take the opportunity to brush my teeth and splash some water on my face. It took me a good five minutes to figure out the water process. There are two knobs that have to be turned just right and then there is a rudimentary plunger on
the faucet itself that you have to manipulate and then the water appears. Woo
hoo as my students would say, I have water. Then it is time to use the “facilities.”
Not the greatest, but this proceess I figure out pretty quickly. When I am done and flush, I see the train tracks flowing by under the flushing toilet. Then I remember the restrooms were closed at the train stops and now I know why.
The train stops at about 6:30 a.m. and the nice Ukrainian lady that is in charge of the train car shows me all ten fingers indicating that I can walk around at the train station for about ten minutes. I welcome the fresh air and the opportunity to stretch my legs. I reenter the train and as I look out the window at the sights of Ukraine as they pass by, I am excited to meet my host teacher and continue this great adventure in a country
that is captivating me with unexpected vigor and excitement.