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10:30 pm (3:30 pm home time)

Sorry, I fell asleep before while I was writing! Oh, I forgot a few things. 1st, when Mitch plugged in the computer for the 1st time yest., he tried to plug in a surge protector into the adapter. When he plugged it into the wall it went “zap, pop!” & sparks came out! Then all the power went out! So now you know what happens when you put a 110 voltage into a 220 outlet! The hotel people came & fixed it within a few minutes but I was so embarrassed!

The other thing was when we went to change money before lunch, Igor said we’d get a better exchange rate on the street. We didn’t know he meant literally! We stood on the sidewalk & he took our U.S. money & walked up to a car that had all its doors open. There were people standing around it facing away from the car which had 4 people in it holding calculators. He handed the money into the car & Ukrainian money came out! Very strange. The exchange here is about 5 ½ grivnya / $1.

Another thing I thought was really different was when we parked the car to go to St. Vladamir’s. A guy runs up to the car & puts a tiny piece of paper with the time on it under the wiper. If you park more than 5 min., the guy charges you & you pay him right there. I guess that job is called “meter guy”.

Mitch wrote the following:
Igor and I left Laurie in the hotel room at around 6:00 to go to the train station and buy the tickets to Harkov. Igor said it wasn’t far, and that we would walk. It took about 15 minutes and we took many short cuts through different markets. Some of them were quite amazing with all the people and merchants. I thought it was interesting that you can buy non-USA cigarettes for around 80 cents and individual cigarettes for around 5 cents.

Anyway, we got to the train station and I was very surprised as it was the size of Grand Central Station. Inside, they sold everything from the usual magazines and food to phone cards, souvineers, liquor, etc.

We got in line for the tickets and Igor talked to the lady for about 10 minutes at the window. He came back and told me that they had no tickets for the 9:10 train. This train takes 10 hours and gets in at 7:00 a.m..

We went back out to the main area and looked at the depart board. Then we went back to the window and Igor bought tickets for the 10:40 train. They cost 140 grits. After discussing them, I found out that train arrived at 10:55 a.m. and took over 12 hours!!

The extra time did not bother me, but getting in later in the morning did as it gave others time to get to the orphanage before us. I expressed this to Igor and he said if we wait till 7:15 p.m., that any reservations not purchased yet would be available on the 9:15 train.

It was now already 6:45. We decided to get a cup of coffee at McDonalds and then go back to try again and return the other tickets.

I asked him if we could call Laurie as she might be getting worried. So…….we found the black market phone card man and he put his phone card in the phone for us. We tried to call the hotel, but there was no answer.

After we had our coffee, we went back to the station around 7:30 by this time. Igor found a ticket scalper to help us. She was probably between 30 and 40 and about 4’ tall. She ran all over talking to other scalpers and came back several times talking to Igor.

I’d ask and he would tell me she kept saying, “wait”. Just after 7:15, we went to the window and some reserved seats had been released which we purchased for 170 grits. So, as of now we are into the tickets for 310 grits or $57.00. This isn’t bad as we were told $100 each, for each way.

We then went on the mission of returning the old tickets. Kind of a waste of time when you hear the results. The little scalper lady sent us into a back room with an older man. He examined the tickets with a broken pair of glasses he used like a magnifying glass. Him and Igor talked and he gave him 71 grits for the tickets. Sounds like a lot, but that is only about $10.00.

We then walked out of the room, where we paid the little scalper lady her commission for finding us a buyer. Her commission was 60 grits! That left me 11 grits which in some way turned out to be 6 grits or a refund of about $1.00. So all in all, the tickets cost $56.00 which is still $144.00 less than we expected.

Again, Igor and I left Laurie and went to the market for some food as we did not have time for dinner. I bought a 1.25 litre of coke, some snackums, cheese, loaf of bread and a candy bar. All of this cost around $3.00!

In the market, you have to check any bags before you enter. You must use a shopping cart which is about ½ the size of a USA cart. When you check out, they hand scan each item in a DOS based program, having to press the enter key after each item.

Then you wait until an Okidata dot matrix printer prints out what you bought and the total. You then take that receipt to one of 3 or 4 holes in the wall, litterally, and pay your bill. Then when you leave, the guards look at your receipt and in your bags to compare them for theft I guess. Kind of like Sam’s in NC.

All in all, a very interesting experience, but I am glad Laurie was not there when we found out no tickets the first time. By the way, I am writing this on the train which left at exactly 9:15 p.m. as it was supposed to. It was kind of funny watching Igor jump off the moving train when he forgot to get off!

Me again:
We got to the train station & hired a guy to put our luggage on his cart & take us to our train. It cost 30g which is $5 American. Best 5 bucks we ever spent! I didn’t realize how far we had to go & this guy flew! We could barely keep up without having to carry the bags! Even Mitch, with those long legs of his, had to run every now & then to catch up! You can imagine how out of breath I was!!! Then he put all of our stuff on the train in our compartment. I was already in there & I must say, he was quite stinky! I guess it’s true about people not bathing here everyday. We’ve walked by quite a few peolpe that were rather ripe if ya know what I mean!

About the train, we are in a compartment with 4 “beds” in it. Two on the bottom & two on top with just enough room to walk in between. We bought all 4 so we’d be alone. Mitch had gotten some food earlier & I had packed cans of tuna so we had a picnic. It’s kind of cute in here. (Old but clean) I feel like I’m having a slumber party! Mitch just came back from the bathroon & said “that was interesting” so I’m gonna go check it out…
Ok. It’s small & everything is metal. The floor is wet (I don’t know with what) & there is no sign of toilet paper anywhere! And when I turned the water knob, it came off in my hand! I put it back on & finally found the thing under the faucet Mitch told me about to get the water to come out. I don’t even want to know what the bucket is for!

Thur. 5/25/00 4:50 am (9:50 am home time)

It was really hot when we 1st got on the train. We changed into shorts & have been comfortable since then.

Why am I awake right now? I don’t feel nervous but I’ve been awake for about an hour! I kept dreaming that we were asleep when the train got to Kharkiv & that we didn’t get off in time & then when we got to the orphanage, all the kids were already adopted! That was pretty much my whole 4 hrs. of sleep! Just think, in 2 hours we will be there & soon after that, we will meet our children! I wonder what it will be like. I wonder what they will be like! Ok… now I’m getting nervous! Let’s talk about something else!

We had asked Igor a lot of questions about the country. Here is some of what we found out. Gas here is about $1.30 for the 2nd best level. They have 4 levels & Mitch said the top 2 are better than what we get in the US. Igor said the other 2 are bad & he won’t put that in his car. We were surprised how cheap it was because we heard it was very expensive. Then he put it into perspective for us. He said the average annual income for a family with 2 working adults is $5-6,000. Can you imagine!?! To look at people on the streets, I’d never have guessed! Everyone was very well dressed. You’d think it was Friday night at a NY night club not the streets on a Wen. afternoon! But he said that was because we were in a big city. Kiev is the largest city in Ukraine & Kharkiv is the 2nd largest (used to be the capital) so we won’t be seeing village life. It is interesting seeing old women in peassant dresses & babushkas interspersed with the stylish short dresses! And the shoes! I don’t know how these women walk in those platform, strappy high heals! (Not the old women!)

Igor also told us about the banks. They do not have loans & morgages here. You buy or you rent. There are no savings accounts because no one trusts the banks. When a bank goes out of business (which they apparently do) your savings account is gone! No FDAC regulations here! Speaking of which, no one has car insurance! He said it’s too expensive & not worth it. We asked if there were a lot of cars hitting each other & he said yes! apparently it’s easy to get speeding tickets too. I’m not surprised. Several times I thought we were going to hit someone but I figured, his car looked good so he must know what he’s doing. The intersections are the worst. The lights are on the corners & it makes no sense when you turn as to who has the right of way (certainly not pedestrians!). There are a lot of old cars & small cars like Ladas. But we’ve seen several Honda CRV’s (my car) & Pajaro’s (Montero in the US, Mitch’s car) & even daddy’s Lexus RX100 a few times! The cars are a little different here & some even have different names. We also saw a lot of Land Cruisers & all the nice buses were Mersades! (But the paint jobs were terrible!) The city has trolly cars (that were always packed with people). They actually are powered by the cables they run on above the car that are throughout the city.

We tried to get an idea on rent but he said it varied a lot. Kiev is expensive but it looks like a 3 room apartment is about $300 a month. That’s not 3 bedrooms, it’s like a living room, a room for the adults & a room for the kids. The kitchen & bathroom don’t count. It sounds cheap when you think at home a 2 bedroom apartment is around $1,000 but that would only leave many families $1-2,000 a year for food & clothes! Makes me feel guilty for bargaining the prices down on our gifts!