Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some winter travel plans

I look back at those last few blogs posts and all those pictures of me and my hiking companions in t-shirts and rolled up pants legs and sigh in longing for that weather filled with warmth and light. As I write this, I am sitting at the library looking out at a gray and gloomy day with a cold rain and darkening sky—and it is only 4 in the afternoon. Once again I check the internet to confirm what I know to be true—that despite the feeling that I am living in a southern climate on the Black Sea, I am in the exact same latitude as my northern city of Minneapolis.  I will have to find other ways to get through these next few months besides those weekend hikes of the autumn.

But I do have a few trips planned, so that helps. This coming Sunday evening I am off to Kyiv on the overnight train for a couple of days. The real reason I am going is to get my teeth cleaned (!) in my on-going effort to retain the few teeth I now have left. I could probably find a dentist here in Simferopol, but the dentist in Kyiv is paid for by the Peace Corps, plus I know they are closer to the western standards I am used to. So I am combining the trip with a few items at the Peace Corps headquarters—closing out the two Peace Corps grants I have open and a few medical things like our annually required flu shot. Probably the only truly interesting thing I will be doing is going to the Netherlands Embassy to pick up a copy of a book they are donating to the library (more information on that on my library blog in upcoming weeks). According to TV reports, Kyiv is inundated with snow (the most in 100 years!), so walking—my favorite way to get around the Kyiv center—should be interesting…

I’ll be back in Simferopol for a day and then off for four days to Istanbul to meet up with my friend Casey who is working with Doctors Without Borders in Syria. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that now Istanbul has become my sort of local international meeting place (it was only four months ago that I met cousin Sara there for a long weekend)--Istanbul…a city that seemed so exotic to me (if I thought about it all) a few years ago. It is still exotic, of course, but now it almost feels like going to Chicago from Minneapolis.
And later in January my PCV friend Cheryl and I are going to take off for 10 days to Poland, Slovakia, and Budapest. The idea came from me wanting to cross country ski somewhere this winter and having met a Scottish guy at the hostel in Krakow last year who had just gotten back from cc skiing in the Slovakian mountains. I thought, “Well, give it a try and see what it is like.” He did say the hostel was mostly young folks, and so since this trip was originally planned with Serdar, I asked Cheryl to come along too, so I would have a companion to have fun with (Serdar I knew would hook up with folks from the hostel as he did last year). Though now it looks like Serdar won’t be able to go because of school and financial restraints.
We will mostly be traveling by train and bus—a 24-hour train ride to Lviv in northwest Ukraine, an afternoon and evening of hanging out there (maybe to a performance at the famous opera house), then a 6-hour overnight train to Krakow. Cheryl was there last summer and loved it as much as I did, so we will spend a day and night further exploring Krakow. Then a 3-hour bus ride to a village across the Slovakian border in the mountains called the High Tatras. We will stay there several days in a hostel with the plan to cc ski (me) and snow shoe (Cheryl) and probably much of it together, though Cheryl tells me she doesn’t really like cc skiing. There is also a big downhill place nearby, but I don’t know if either of us will try that.

Then we will take a bus or train across Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary and spend two days there. A cheap flight on Hungarian airlines will return us to Kyiv, and then an overnight train back to Simferopol, and for Cheryl, two more hours on a local bus to her village. Whew! It’s called traveling on the cheap in East Europe. Luckily, both Cheryl and I are into that traveling style. An adventure it will be!

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