Month: March 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Man’s best friend

Ukrainian Dog Fetches Vodka

Speed is no substitute for style

Train travel in eastern Europe might not be fast, but for those who have time it remains one of the most rewarding travel experiences on the continent.

Unlike train systems in western Europe which were built with efficiency and profit in mind, the whole system in the former socialist states was built with two far simpler goals: employ people and transport people.

Unrestricted by space or time, Ukraine’s train system, like many others in eastern Europe is expansive, inexpensive and generally wholly enjoyable.

Wagons wait at the starting station about one hour before departing, cabins have heating, hot water, an ‘attendant’ and beds, and the journey itself is a leisurely slow meander through the vast expanses of greenery interspersed with villages and shady looking old factories.  However, anyone who’s ever been on one of these journeys  knows that it is inside that counts. The cabin culture makes Ukrainian train travel so special.

Depending on your ticket type, you will be stuck with one or three fellow passengers in one small compartment. Or, if you choose for a cheaper ticket (platskart), you’ll share your living and sleeping place with around 60 other people. (see foto, courtesy of Google)

Dutch writer Geert Mak describes one such journey in his 2004 best seller ‘In Europe’…

“Inside the compartment it is the very picture of conviviality. The professional busybody assigned to our carriage shooed me and Pete and settled down in the last compartment. Why would she want to be anywhere else? Her whole life is laid out in her home on wheels, with coloured cushions, flowers, her own curtains, an icon on the wall and a singing kettle on the stove. Always on the road.

Our first-class compartment is also like a salon, with two velveteen pull-out beds, red draperies, white lace curtains and plastic flowers on the table.

The train pulls away, outside there is nothing but Russian countryside, here and there a chimney, from the speakers the soft sound of Russian songs, and quite soon the day begins to fade…”

…and that’s exactly how I like my train travel.

Furthermore, as you wind away the hours drinking beer, eating boiled eggs or smoking with your train friends – you start to learn the culture of the country. People will tell you their life story, share food (and occasionally vodka) with you and ask endless personal questions about your life and your family. You see how and what they eat, how they drink. You can befriend a village grandmother, a young soilder or a student travelling home to see her mama. You have time, you have company and you have little else to do but talk.

However, all this is set to change with the recent arrival of two Hyundai Rotem fast trains, recently delivered to Odessa. The two are part of a pack of six South Korean trains that will transport football fans during the European football championships, and with a speed 160 km per hour they will diminish the travel time between the hosting cities by almost 50 percent. (foto below: courtesy  of the Port of Odessa, Alexey Stecuchenko)

The Korean trains are seen a blessing by many in Ukraine (a step into modernity), but for many (call us old-school romantics) they are a nail in the coffin of train travel. The old trains run as a thread though Soviet history, and they are a lovable window into a time gone by.

The new Hyundai’s will be equipped with wifi, connecting people with the outside of the carriage, and with a reduction in travel time comes less time to talk. Less time in a good old style soviet train.

If you have time, and you’d like to explore train travel in Ukraine, I recommend you read the following two stories. Both do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit (both good and bad) of train travel in the year 2012.

Every train ride, a roll of the dice, by Christopher Miller

“The drunk deaf boy squirmed and moaned in his aisle-side bunk above the devoutly religious woman with the white head wrap, who was sleeping below. His three friends had literally thrown him up there just five minutes earlier, then they went to have a cigarette in the back of the wagon…more” 

and

Crimea I – Marriage agency, by Patrick Evans

“I’m heading to Crimea for a couple of days. Into the coupé compartment bustles a sturdy 40-something shrouded in a garlicky aroma and dressed in skintight leggings, her hair pulled back pragmatically into a pony-tail. Her eyes immediately light onto mine…more

Ukraine A-Z

K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world)

A. Allo (алло). ‘ring…ring…алло! …MAma, privet!’
B. Beetroot and Borsch (Ukraine’s famous, tasty and much-loved contribution to global cuisine)
C. Corruption (the thorn in Ukraine’s side) and Crimea (the diamond in Ukraine’s crown)
D. Dnipro (the mighty river that brings life to Ukraine) and Devushki (the girls. There are lots of them and they are all wonderful, even the old babushkas who keep the country alive)
E. Euro (EURO 2012, euro-repair, euro-quality, euro-style… you can’t avoid euro-fanaticism in Ukraine)
F. Flowers & Fish (from the modern sushi to the old dried-fish-with-beer, Ukrainians love to eat aquatic animals. They also love flowers more than life itself)
G = H (Gary Potter, Gollywood, Gamburger etc)  …and gopniks (chavs)
H. High Heels.
I. Inquisitiveness. The curiosity and intrigue of Ukrainian’s means you’re likely to answer a lot of questions about a lot of things.
J . Jews and Jingoism (the two are not related)
K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world) and Kitschy (the default national style)
L. Leopard skin patterns (on everything AND its still cool)
M. Marshrutkas and the Metro (small yellow minibuses and the metro/subway/underground)
N. Na kortochkah (squatting)
O. Oleg, Olga and the Oligarchy
P. Pedestrians vs Parking vs Pavements
Q. Queuing …the complete absence of. (Ukraine’s communists queued, Ukraine’s capitalists wouldn’t dream of it)
R. Remont (repair)
S. Smoking, Salo, Semki and Steppes
T. Taras Shevchenko (The poet and the 1 million things named after him)
U. Ukrop (Dill. They eat this like they breath air)
V. Vanity, vodka and Vkontake (Russian Facebook)
W. Wine. Much of it is impressively tasty and wonderfully inexpensive.
X. хорошо (horosho, its Russian for ‘ok’ and given the number of times you’ll hear this word – almost everything in Ukraine is ‘OK’)
Y.Yanukovych (the president), Yushchenko (the ex-president) and Yulia Tymoshenko (the wannabe president who the elected president doesn’t like).
Z. Zjtoni (little tokens for the metro)

Mini Look Kiev

MiniLook Kiev from threeshot on Vimeo.

Created by Efim Graboy & Daria Turetski

Music: Adam Burns / Jez Burns – May Flowers

“Because of our sentiments to the city and the incoming spring, we bring you a miniature day in a life of Kiev.”

The Making:
“We shot MiniLook Kiev with Canon 550D, during 5 days and 2 nights, shoted over 25,000 frames,
from all of them we used about 4,500. The post-production was the hardest part of the creation, it took us a few good months, but finally it’s done!”

How to: use the metro in Kiev

Kiev’s metro (subway) system can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re new to Ukraine, don’t speak the local language and can’t read cyrillic.

However, fear not because it is actually a very cheap, convenient, fast, safe and reliable way to travel around the city.

First, you will need to find a station, then you will need to access it, then you will need to locate and get to your stop. This guide will help you get there and will take the pain out of underground travel – Ukrainian style.

The full guide is available below, but first here’s some basic information and a short history of the metro system.

1. It was first proposed in 1916, put on hold during WWII (known at the Great Patriotic War here in Ukraine) and then restarted in 1949. Eleven years later, in 1960, the first line opened running from the central train station to the river.

2.  At the end of 2010 the Kiev Metro was using 774 individual carriages.

3. There are three lines. Red, Blue and Green. The lines cross each other in a triangle in the city centre. See the map.

4. The cost of a token/ticket is just 2 hrivna! (approximately 20 Euro cents). You pay once and you can travel as far as you like. You only repay if you leave the metro system and want to re-enter.

You can switch lines where they cross in the city centre. Also, ignore the dotted lines, they don't exist yet.

How To: Use the Metro in Kiev

The guide has the following sections

1. Finding the metro
2. Accessing the Metro
3. On the platform
4. Boarding and train etiquette
5. Leaving the train and the platform

————-

1. Finding the metro. 

To find the entrance to the metro, look for the big green M.

The ‘M’ marks the stairs that lead underground, but be aware that there is often a busy collection of kiosks, tunnels, cash machines (ATMs) and grandma’s selling stuff like bread or knickers before you get to the metro itself.

2. Accessing the metro 

Enter > buy a ticket > get through the gates

Your first big challenge will be the swinging doors that guard the metro. These glass and metal doors swing (fast) in both directions, they are  heavy enough to kill a bear and unless you’re old, it is unlikely that the person in front of you will hold the door open for you.  So, just be ready and be careful to catch the thing as it swings back in your face.

TIP: If you’re clever, you can pass the door as the wind coming from the station blows it open, or as it swings open after the last person entered. However, both of these are advanced metro skills and shouldn’t be tried in your first week.

There are two sets of doors for each station. One set to enter (вхід) and one to exit (вихід). Can you see the difference? No?  Well, don’t worry, I still have trouble remembering the difference.

Enter (вхід)
Exit (вихід)

four letters = enter
five letters = exit

To make life more difficult, вхід (enter) is often written in red, while вихід (exit) can be written in green – but not always.  Hopefully they’ll fix all this before the EURO 2012 championships, but if they don’t the best thing to do is follow everyone else and try not to enter a door that people are walking out from.

 Buying a ‘ticket’ 

Actually you need a token or ‘zjeton’. These are small plastic coins and you need one token to enter.

A token costs 2 UAH and there are three ways to buy them.

1. Go to the window, give the woman your money and indicate the number of tokens you need with your fingers

2. Go to the small orange dispenser machines. It the dispenser has a 2 on it, enter 2 UAH and you’ll get one coin. If the dispenser has a 10 on it, enter a 10 UAH and you’ll get 5 coins.  NB, the machines only accept the exact notes. If you try to enter anything but a 2 or 10 you will get nowhere and people will get annoyed with you.

3. Use the new touch screen terminals that they have just installed. If you can understand the English – good luck to you.

TIP: For the benefit of everyone, please have your money ready BEFORE you get to the window or the machine. If you don’t you’ll get a lot of frustrated sighs.
TIP: The small blue tokens make for very cheap souvenirs

Go through the gates

Ukrainian access gates are the exact opposite of English gates.  The token goes in the right side, and you walk through the LEFT side. I repeat, token right, body left.

Its also wise to leave a 1 second pause before you enter to give the token time to register. Listen for the beep.

If you don’t do this, or you forget the token altogether the turnstile wont open (if it has a turnstile) or an angry barrier will shoot-out from both sides and squash you.

Assuming, you get through OK – Congratulations! you’re in the system.

Now get down to the platform.

Usually, this means a trip on a long and fast escalator, but don’t worry – you’ll survive it. I’ve seen 90-year-old bag-carrying women get onto those escalators and blind people. They move fast, but the steps are quite big so don’t be scared.

3. On the platform

Once you’re on the platform, you’ve made it. All you need to do is wait by the correct side (one side for each direction) and then wait for the Metro train.

Unlike the London Underground, each station serves one line. So, one side of the platform goes in one direction, the other side goes in the opposite direction. Its simple.

By the time you arrive here in Kiev, you should find that each station has a name and a number. If you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, I would use the numbers because the names can be hard to say.  However, if you are asking for a station, you will need to know the name. The station numbers are new and have been introduced in March 2012. They don’t mean anything to the locals who live here.

4. Boarding and train etiquette

Boarding

Getting on or off the train can be fun and/or annoying because Ukrainians do not like to wait. They will try to get on the train before you have time to get off and they will push straight past you in order to get on first.

You’ll encounter this ‘me first’ attitude a lot in Ukraine where in other countries you might expect a queue. However, try not to get angry. Ukrainians are often pushy, but they are very rarely (if ever) violent. Just accept that they don’t queue, and join in the fun.

Also, don’t expect to get on the train before any middle-aged or old women. They will push there way on before you. Get over it.

On the train

If you’re lucky you’ll have space to breath or even a seat, but its unlikely. Normally you’ll need to stand, squeezed firmly in the middle of a crowd of train ‘friends’ .

To keep these train friends happy, try to remember these three rules:

1. give up your seat for old people, for people with kids (even if the kid is old enough to stand) and for couples. Yes, the last one is strange, but you’ll love it when someone moves so you can sit by your lover.

2. Don’t move or talk too much. Ukrainians are very well behaved in public, and they like it when other people are too. Joking loudly with your friends or waving your arms during conversation is frowned upon. Talking or moving is not illegal, but its not encouraged either.

3. Don’t stand on peoples shoes. Shoes are a big deal in Ukraine, a very big deal. You have been warned

Finally, please note how clean and tidy the metro stations are. They are meticulously cared for and regularly cleaned by hand. Ukrainians almost never drop litter inside the metro system and you shouldn’t either. If you have any rubbish, hold onto it until you exit the station, there are bins next to each entrance and exit.

5. Leaving the train and the platform

When you get to your platform, gently push your way off the train, try not to hit the people who are trying to get on the train (as you’re still getting off)  and look for your exit/вихід.

6. Useful info

Here’s the best map of the Metro network

The head office is located on, Prospekt Pobedy 35, next to the “Polytechnic Institute” metro station on the red line.

You can call them on:
+38 (044) 238-58-55
+38 (044) 238-58-98
+38 (044) 238-58-73

Read More

How to: use the metro in Kiev

Kiev’s metro (subway) system can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re new to Ukraine, don’t speak the local language and can’t read cyrillic.

However, fear not because it is actually a very cheap, convenient, fast, safe and reliable way to travel around the city.

First, you will need to find a station, then you will need to access it, then you will need to locate and get to your stop. This guide will help you get there and will take the pain out of underground travel – Ukrainian style.

The full guide is available below, but first here’s some basic information and a short history of the metro system.

1. It was first proposed in 1916, put on hold during WWII (known at the Great Patriotic War here in Ukraine) and then restarted in 1949. Eleven years later, in 1960, the first line opened running from the central train station to the river.

2.  At the end of 2010 the Kiev Metro was using 774 individual carriages.

3. There are three lines. Red, Blue and Green. The lines cross each other in a triangle in the city centre. See the map.

4. The cost of a token/ticket is just 2 hrivna! (approximately 20 Euro cents). You pay once and you can travel as far as you like. You only repay if you leave the metro system and want to re-enter.

You can switch lines where they cross in the city centre. Also, ignore the dotted lines, they don't exist yet.

How To: Use the Metro in Kiev

The guide has the following sections

1. Finding the metro
2. Accessing the Metro
3. On the platform
4. Boarding and train etiquette
5. Leaving the train and the platform

————-

1. Finding the metro. 

To find the entrance to the metro, look for the big green M.

The ‘M’ marks the stairs that lead underground, but be aware that there is often a busy collection of kiosks, tunnels, cash machines (ATMs) and grandma’s selling stuff like bread or knickers before you get to the metro itself.

2. Accessing the metro 

Enter > buy a ticket > get through the gates

Your first big challenge will be the swinging doors that guard the metro. These glass and metal doors swing (fast) in both directions, they are  heavy enough to kill a bear and unless you’re old, it is unlikely that the person in front of you will hold the door open for you.  So, just be ready and be careful to catch the thing as it swings back in your face.

TIP: If you’re clever, you can pass the door as the wind coming from the station blows it open, or as it swings open after the last person entered. However, both of these are advanced metro skills and shouldn’t be tried in your first week.

There are two sets of doors for each station. One set to enter (вхід) and one to exit (вихід). Can you see the difference? No?  Well, don’t worry, I still have trouble remembering the difference.

Enter (вхід)
Exit (вихід)

four letters = enter
five letters = exit

To make life more difficult, вхід (enter) is often written in red, while вихід (exit) can be written in green – but not always.  Hopefully they’ll fix all this before the EURO 2012 championships, but if they don’t the best thing to do is follow everyone else and try not to enter a door that people are walking out from.

 Buying a ‘ticket’ 

Actually you need a token or ‘zjeton’. These are small plastic coins and you need one token to enter.

A token costs 2 UAH and there are three ways to buy them.

1. Go to the window, give the woman your money and indicate the number of tokens you need with your fingers

2. Go to the small orange dispenser machines. It the dispenser has a 2 on it, enter 2 UAH and you’ll get one coin. If the dispenser has a 10 on it, enter a 10 UAH and you’ll get 5 coins.  NB, the machines only accept the exact notes. If you try to enter anything but a 2 or 10 you will get nowhere and people will get annoyed with you.

3. Use the new touch screen terminals that they have just installed. If you can understand the English – good luck to you.

TIP: For the benefit of everyone, please have your money ready BEFORE you get to the window or the machine. If you don’t you’ll get a lot of frustrated sighs.
TIP: The small blue tokens make for very cheap souvenirs

Go through the gates

Ukrainian access gates are the exact opposite of English gates.  The token goes in the right side, and you walk through the LEFT side. I repeat, token right, body left.

Its also wise to leave a 1 second pause before you enter to give the token time to register. Listen for the beep.

If you don’t do this, or you forget the token altogether the turnstile wont open (if it has a turnstile) or an angry barrier will shoot-out from both sides and squash you.

Assuming, you get through OK – Congratulations! you’re in the system.

Now get down to the platform.

Usually, this means a trip on a long and fast escalator, but don’t worry – you’ll survive it. I’ve seen 90-year-old bag-carrying women get onto those escalators and blind people. They move fast, but the steps are quite big so don’t be scared.

3. On the platform

Once you’re on the platform, you’ve made it. All you need to do is wait by the correct side (one side for each direction) and then wait for the Metro train.

Unlike the London Underground, each station serves one line. So, one side of the platform goes in one direction, the other side goes in the opposite direction. Its simple.

By the time you arrive here in Kiev, you should find that each station has a name and a number. If you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, I would use the numbers because the names can be hard to say.  However, if you are asking for a station, you will need to know the name. The station numbers are new and have been introduced in March 2012. They don’t mean anything to the locals who live here.

4. Boarding and train etiquette

Boarding

Getting on or off the train can be fun and/or annoying because Ukrainians do not like to wait. They will try to get on the train before you have time to get off and they will push straight past you in order to get on first.

You’ll encounter this ‘me first’ attitude a lot in Ukraine where in other countries you might expect a queue. However, try not to get angry. Ukrainians are often pushy, but they are very rarely (if ever) violent. Just accept that they don’t queue, and join in the fun.

Also, don’t expect to get on the train before any middle-aged or old women. They will push there way on before you. Get over it.

On the train

If you’re lucky you’ll have space to breath or even a seat, but its unlikely. Normally you’ll need to stand, squeezed firmly in the middle of a crowd of train ‘friends’ .

To keep these train friends happy, try to remember these three rules:

1. give up your seat for old people, for people with kids (even if the kid is old enough to stand) and for couples. Yes, the last one is strange, but you’ll love it when someone moves so you can sit by your lover.

2. Don’t move or talk too much. Ukrainians are very well behaved in public, and they like it when other people are too. Joking loudly with your friends or waving your arms during conversation is frowned upon. Talking or moving is not illegal, but its not encouraged either.

3. Don’t stand on peoples shoes. Shoes are a big deal in Ukraine, a very big deal. You have been warned

Finally, please note how clean and tidy the metro stations are. They are meticulously cared for and regularly cleaned by hand. Ukrainians almost never drop litter inside the metro system and you shouldn’t either. If you have any rubbish, hold onto it until you exit the station, there are bins next to each entrance and exit.

5. Leaving the train and the platform

When you get to your platform, gently push your way off the train, try not to hit the people who are trying to get on the train (as you’re still getting off)  and look for your exit/вихід.

6. Useful info

Here’s the best map of the Metro network

The head office is located on, Prospekt Pobedy 35, next to the “Polytechnic Institute” metro station on the red line.

You can call them on:
+38 (044) 238-58-55
+38 (044) 238-58-98
+38 (044) 238-58-73

Read More

Follow the floor

image

There’s an interesting trend in Kiev of ‘floor advertising’.

It is not uncommon to see yellow or white painted messages advertising business, taxis and even yoga classes!

If you follow the cute little aeroplanes on Artema street, you’ll find your way to Aeropub – a charming little pub which sells good Guiness.

Follow the floor

image

There’s an interesting trend in Kiev of ‘floor advertising’.

It is not uncommon to see yellow or white painted messages advertising business, taxis and even yoga classes!

If you follow the cute little aeroplanes on Artema street, you’ll find your way to Aeropub – a charming little pub which sells good Guiness.

Moving Pictures from the USSR. Part 2

Here it is, part 2 of my brief and uneducated exploration of animation from the USSR.

First up, we have Slow Bistro. The name is (I assume intentionally) ironic because the word ‘Bistro’ comes from the Russian word ‘bistra’ which means ‘quick’ …the video is amusingly abstract and it reminds me of so many Bearder family dinners. This one could quite easily be about Bicester School.

Next we have the funny and beautifully well defined Masyanya. What can I say? – I know many-many Masyanyas.

Here we have some more modern (web-type) animations called ‘Vs’ …they short, simple, stupid and have cool sound effects. You can watch loads more on youtube.

Back to the oldskool stuff, we have “Prostokvashino or Buttermilk Village which is set in a a fictional rural village in Moscow Oblast of Russia (Russian: Простоквашино, from простоквашa, prostokvasha, buttermilk). Due to immense popularity of the cartoon the geographic name came into real life, and some Russian villages and city neighborhoods got this unofficial name, sometimes reflected in the names of bus stops, stores etc.”

The cartoon also captures the Russian/Ukrainian personalities perfectly. Proof (if ever you need it) that woman rule this part of the world and will always get what they want …after a tantrum
I see the cat grinning at me every morning from the label on my milk bottle.

Magic flower” (1948). The stuff that Soviet dreams are made of…

There are singing cats (and noisy people) in ‘Cat Concert’

and finally, here’s a powerfully simple look at war from a country that’s been subject to an awful lot of it.

Moving Pictures from the USSR. Part 2

Here it is, part 2 of my brief and uneducated exploration of animation from the USSR.

First up, we have Slow Bistro. The name is (I assume intentionally) ironic because the word ‘Bistro’ comes from the Russian word ‘bistra’ which means ‘quick’ …the video is amusingly abstract and it reminds me of so many Bearder family dinners. This one could quite easily be about Bicester School.

Next we have the funny and beautifully well defined Masyanya. What can I say? – I know many-many Masyanyas.

Here we have some more modern (web-type) animations called ‘Vs’ …they short, simple, stupid and have cool sound effects. You can watch loads more on youtube.

Back to the oldskool stuff, we have “Prostokvashino or Buttermilk Village which is set in a a fictional rural village in Moscow Oblast of Russia (Russian: Простоквашино, from простоквашa, prostokvasha, buttermilk). Due to immense popularity of the cartoon the geographic name came into real life, and some Russian villages and city neighborhoods got this unofficial name, sometimes reflected in the names of bus stops, stores etc.”

The cartoon also captures the Russian/Ukrainian personalities perfectly. Proof (if ever you need it) that woman rule this part of the world and will always get what they want …after a tantrum
I see the cat grinning at me every morning from the label on my milk bottle.

Magic flower” (1948). The stuff that Soviet dreams are made of…

There are singing cats (and noisy people) in ‘Cat Concert’

and finally, here’s a powerfully simple look at war from a country that’s been subject to an awful lot of it.

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