Everyone likes a good adventure every now and then, right? At least that's what we thought when we left Los Angeles for Ukraine back in February. Though I had a different definition of "adventure" in my head initially, our time in Ukraine was nothing short of a wild, roller coaster endeavor. Join me as I explore some of Ukraine's "special" quirks...
1. The roads. Recently named among the worst roads in the world, Ukraine definitely lives up to its title. Gigantic potholes litter the roads and, as a result, it takes ages to get anywhere, particularly when you get outside of Kiev. If Google Maps tells you your trip will take two hours, plan on four bumpy hours. Our facilitator told us about a truck she recently saw completely emerged in a gigantic pot hole. She couldn't even see the top of the truck until she passed it. Blowing tires and breaking axles is a common occurrence. With no AAA roadside service, pray you don't get swallowed up!
2. The plumbing. You aren't supposed to flush the toilet paper in Ukraine. Yes, you read that right. Wipe and toss is the motto. You can imagine the stench of walking into a public bathroom with a trash can full of used toilet paper. Yuk. Apparently you also aren't supposed to flush fireworks. Darn.
3. The water. Though I previously touched on the green-yellow hued water, I left out the fact that it also has flakes in it, which remain even after boiling. I can't help but wonder if they are pieces of my toilet paper I've rebelliously flushed. Bottom line: buy and use bottled water.
4. The beds. No mattresses here, only box springs. Or incredibly uncomfortable futons that will leave you needing physical therapy (seriously). Sleep tight!
5. The ice cream. It really is great. Of the kinds we tried, they each had multiple favors in one container. While the taste earns high ratings, the packaging falls short. Ice cream in a bag? How are you supposed to polish off a carton when its in a bag??
6. Another Ukrainian specialty--Top Ramen. They know how to do it here. In addition to the seasoning packet, they include a little packet of oil. That oil makes all the difference and brings it up at least four notches. I can't even count how many times we ate it during our two month stay. Cheap, familiar, and good = gold.
7. Fashion. The women in Ukraine are beautiful and dress very fashionable. A typical winter outfit consists of a fur coat, sheer stockings (below freezing and snowing? No problem!), and boots.
8. Smoking. The must-have accessory in Ukraine is the cigarette. Boo to smoking! Everyone smokes, it's just a way of life. In fact, while visiting a Sunday school class a little boy had a piece of paper rolled up and was pretending to smoke. And if you're on a car trip, expect multiple stops so the driver can take smoking breaks. I will say, however, that when you get outside of Kiev the number of smokers decreases.
9. Parking. No parking spots? No problem! Park on the sidewalk. Personally I think this quirk rocks. Especially since we own two Jeeps.
10. Handicapped Accessibility. There's no real way around this--if you're disabled you're pretty much outta luck here. Buildings elevators often start on the second floor, leaving you to walk up a flight of stairs before reaching the elevator. Some stairs have wheelchair "rail ways," but they look much more like death rails to me:
11. Safety. Door hinges on the outside? Great idea! Lock those doors but they just may be gone in the morning.
12. Construction. Do the buildings look like they're about to crumble? If so, you're probably in Ukraine. During our two month stay we didn't actually see any buildings crumble before our eyes, so hopefully looks are deceiving. But I have a feeling it's just a matter of time.
13. Groceries. Pretty much anywhere you go there are small markets to get the basic necessities. This is convenient and helps a great deal when you can't drive. The downside is you aren't left with much selection, and you may end up like us--eating eggs, cereal, bread, and Top Ramen for two months straight. Needless to say, we got pretty sick of them and may never eat these items again! We did end up coming across a larger grocery store, which would have been awesome if we liked non-refrigerated fish or frozen fish parts. The vegetables also come with a pile of dirt free of charge.
14. Language. Should you speak Russian or Ukrainian? The answer depends on the area you're in and the person you're speaking with. In our case this makes for a fun game of gestures and blank stares. Good times!
15. Stairs. Warning: don't get into a comfortable gallop the next time you go down a flight of Ukrainian stairs. One step could be 3" tall, the next 8" tall. The only thing that's predictable about the stairs is their unpredictability. Dun-Dun-Dun.
16. Power. Ukraine runs on the standard European 220V power. Being a "savvy" packer, I opted to bring a straightener, but leave my hair dryer at home. I thought plugging it into the converter would work. And it did, for a few days. Then POOF it blew up. RIP my beloved straightener. In addition to being cautious when converting power, be prepared to have no outlets in the bathroom. I got ready in the kitchen using the reflective surface on the microwave. Hope I looked ok!
17. Cell Phone Rings. Forget about the standard "ring-ring." If you're Ukrainian, your ring tone is going to be a loud pop song or an American hit from at least ten years ago. Rock on.
18. Restaurant behavior. Never walk into a restaurant and say "dva" (two) and wait to be seated. Not that we did that, of course. We would never do that. But assuming we had, they would've looked at us like we were crazy. In a land with no order, seat yourself. If there's a crowd, don't expect a line, expect a race to see who gets their first. Game on. Also, don't expect to get your check--you need to ask for it.
20. Stray animals. Ukraine is filled with wild dogs and cats. Poor babies, they must be so cold in the winter!
21. Personal Space. There is none. While out at a restaurant, changing your money, or in an elevator, expect the stranger next to you as close as you'd want the man or woman of your dreams. Yes, they're that close. Also, if you're eating at McDonalds and sitting at a booth, someone will probably come sit with you. Just a little uncomfortable.
22. The money. The Ukrainian currency is the hryvnia. Right now it's about an 8 to 1 dollar to hryvnia conversion rate. It looks like big monopoly money with facial hair.
23. Social classes. Our driver told us that there isn't really a middle class--there's an upper class and a lower class. In Kiev there are tons of Range Rovers, Mercedes SUV's, and other luxury cars. But once you get out of the city you definitely see poverty.
24. The kids. The kids here are seriously the best and being able to give one of them a forever home is worth all of the hardships and inconveniences. Plus, you get to come back with some great stories and lasting memories! If international adoption is on your heart, DO IT. Now that you've been forewarned on some of Ukraine's quirks, you'll be ready to go!