If you didn’t catch this vibe long ago… we’re pretty cheap. And we generally have two routines for getting into a city. Either A) we have no plans and just wander until we find a place. Or more likely in expensive places like Europe, B) we have a hotel booked and write down the address. From there I grab a map, or have a basic idea of public transport from Dr. Google ahead of time.
We got into Kiev and realized, oops, forgot to write down the address of the IC or know anything about it. All I knew was that the InterContinental is right next to St. Michaels’ church, which is pretty famous… I guess. Caroline at least had a picture of it from visiting as a kid.
Why Are Taxi Drivers Always Scammy?
If any of the readers are taxi drivers, I apologize for stereotyping but… I don’t trust a taxi driver as far as I can throw his taxi.
So we went outside and it was raining. Not a fun day to be lost. Luckily on the inflight mag, I read about which bus goes into town and that a taxi should cost about $13. So considering “shelling out” I went up to a taxi driver to ask how much for a trip to the IC. (Know I was at the IEV airport which is decently close and I knew what the price should be). And the first guy said $25.
So I moved on- asked the next guy. $25. So I rolled my eyes and started to walk away, getting the usual “how much?” So I said $10. To which he said $20. Somehow I attracted the taxi herd. You know the feeling.
One time I took advantage of the herd in Cusco, Peru by auctioning off our long haul trip for four. Not only was it hilarious, they went from working together to convince me that my price was something absurd, to grabbing me to whisper offers of prices half of the first “best offer”. Then half of that person’s half. We eventually got drug away for a steal on that occasion.
This Kiev taxi group wasn’t taking my price-lowering bait. It ended with me asking about the bus, since I hadn’t yet seen one. They informed me that the closest that any bus came was 2 miles away.
I went inside and asked info for a map, but they had none. I asked about the bus and they informed me that I could find it right outside the tiny airport. A 30 second walk really.
You can always trust the bus lady
My expectations for Kiev were way off. I was expecting a typical Eastern European country with a beautiful grand center of town. One that would rival Vienna. Way off. I was also expecting a big bus to pull up, and I’d get inside and watch until the LED sign on the inside said the name of my stop. Way off.
We hopped on a tiny rusted bus with a wooden sign labeling the bus number. Inside was a woman who ran around collecting money for a ticket. It reminded me of China, not Europe.
Furthermore, I handed her a 100 UAH bill and she handed me back 97. It was 3 UAH for the two of us… which is $0.37 for a 30 minute bus ride. Also reminded me of China. But the parallels didn’t stop.
As I say you can always trust the bus lady. In Thailand it seemed that they always took care of us. We would attempt to say where we were going and 10 minutes later they would kick us off the bus and motion for us to wait there, and gesture the number of the next bus we needed. So many times people have gone out of their way to help us strangers.
The problem was the language, even the characters that make up their words, or heck, that we didn’t know where we were going. We just knew that this particular bus went towards town. But we like adventure.
Our art directions trick
So how do we communicate? Well we’ve done this a number of times and always find a way. So many times we get to where were going and say, “that was a miracle.” Despite a complete language barrier and having never been on the bus before, we seem to make it.
One time in Bangkok we were going from the hotel to the airport. We had no idea how to get there and our Thai phrases were limited to ordering food. So Caroline got out a piece of paper and drew an airplane. Our goal was clear. We were given the buses we’d need. When we got on the next bus, they knew when to kick us off and we knew what to wait for. Worked like a charm.
So this time she drew a picture of St. Michaels church. She even intentionally used her blue pen. I showed the lady at the front of the bus and she continued to speak Russian or whatever. Nothing was being gained. So I wrote down our bus number, and drew an arrow to a question mark. She wrote a “27″.
So she kicked us off and we waited for 27. Same with the next lady. She knew exactly where we were going and even counted down the last 5 stops for us.
This is where the dead guy comes in
This would have been a more brilliant plan if Kiev were limited to one onion domed church… but it’s not so.
So she kicked us off and pointed up the hill in the woods a little ways. It was still slightly raining and it didn’t look right, but I kind of saw onion domes through the trees. So we walked up a flight of stairs, down a street and…
It was the wrong dang onion domed church. And by the way, it was still striking me how “China” this whole experience felt. I don’t mean Hong Kong either. I mean inland; a poor city. There is a more evident class divide I’d say, and more beggars. I guess there are more beggars because the poor are down and out, because of the big class divide and, (this is pure speculation but), perhaps because everyone in China is poor but it’s a working poor thing. So the poor here are again, really down and out.
So there we were, paused under this tree to shelter ourselves from the rain, staring at the wrong dang church and with no freaking idea where we were. So we started to walk back when all of a sudden two guys walked by rolling a dead body. Very casual of course. Two living guys, rolling one dead guy. Makes sense to me, it wouldn’t work the other way around.
Lost in some wooded and poor part of Kiev in the rain walking next to a dead body.
Naturally I eased up my pace and let them pull ahead. I don’t do well with gross things in general, like a 6 foot green dead men.
So we walked out of the street and there was nothing. As lost as I was, one thing was clear, we were not near the InterContinental. And at this point I was pretty willing to pay for a taxi. Avoiding taxis has worked out the other 100 times and I’ve saved my money and have had my local adventures… but I was done.
We crossed to the other side (assuming that a taxi would need to go back the way we came since catching the second bus). There were two taxis just sitting there, apparently two guys meeting to talk taxi driver stuff. Who knows. But at first I could tell one was empty, but I couldn’t tell that there was anyone in the passenger seat of the first as it was all fogged up.
So I put my face up to the window when it suddenly was rolled down for me only to be face to face with a Ukranian taxi driver, with teeth as fine as his beard.
“InterContinental Hotel?” I asked
They looked at each other confused and I tried repeating the question even slower without gain.
Not having learned my lesson I pulled out the drawing and made gestures while repeating my “question” a few times. And this time both of them nodded. We switched to the passenger’s car and off we went. It was super apparent that bus 27, took us quite far away.
In the end, he took us to where we needed to go for less than the airport taxis. So it wasn’t all bad. And during the ride I kept waiting for us to get into the nice part of town. You know the ritzy part with the luxury hotels. After awhile I realized… there’s no ritzy part in Kiev.
Don’t get me wrong the hotel is super luxurious. It’s as nice as a Ritz Carlton or Park Hyatt. And the area is nicer. But still “China.”
But in China, while you may be a rockstar for being foreign and get a lot of attention, pictures taken of you, followers (I don’t mean on twitter) and even crazier shenanigans… at least they aren’t touters.
Upon my first visit to St. Michaels a guy with pigeons walked up to me and wanted to shake my hand. I could tell he was up to no good but I can’t deny a handshake! He grabbed my hand and transported the pigeons to my arm, backed away then started signaling to Caroline to get a photo. If you’re unfamiliar with this obnoxious form of touter and what he might be doing, he was trying to charge us for a photo.
Getting lost. A dead guy walk. Now I fell for this guy’s touting and had two pigeons on my arm. Also in 40 degree cold rain.
I heart Kiev.
I grabbed that guy quick and moved those pigeons back to his arm with no apologies.
Truly, I don’t know where I’m going with any of this. I’m just sharing about my Friday I guess.
Is there anything to learn from this? I mean, you can’t avoid dead guys when they’re just walking along side of you. I just have no tips for that, especially given the percent of people who die. Um, the bus thing was an epic fail, but it seems to work 99% of the time and part of the fun is figuring out how to get where you’re going.
Actually, here we go- a few points:
- Public transport in big cities is extensive. And even if you get on the wrong freaking bus, you can just get a taxi. Also, do get on a random bus and get off at some local spot. It’s a great way to learn the city and see local things.
- Always write down the address of where you’re going in the local language, or rather print it out. I learned that in China the hard way. Also, write down the phone number. If they can’t read your mess, they’ll just call.
- The taxi driver is lying. There is a bus. There is a metro. Any other possible mode of transport that he’s claiming is too far away means that it exists and it’s close.
- Don’t be an accuser over change. If you are sure a taxi driver is ripping you off, don’t get in the taxi. Plus, I’ve been 75% sure that I’m being over charged tons of times and I don’t say anything. Often it’s over 30 cents. I’m not going to go all justice league over 30 cents.
- Always avoid guys with pigeons.
- If you go to Kiev in Sept/October, you should bring a decent coat.
This list of 6 things is absolute proof that there is no connection between the events in my story. Anyways, we’re in Kiev for the next 2 weeks. If any of you got in on the PointBreaks for the IC Kiev, let me know!