Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Evening at the Kyiv National Philharmonic Hall

Walking by the Philharmonic hall one day (it's at the end of Khreschatyk Street if you walk towards the Dnipro River), my wife and I looked at the schedule and saw a concert we were interested in. I wrote down the number and called a few days later:

(044) 278-16-97

The tickets were all out, but the lady told me to call towards the evening (same day as the concert). I did so, and sure enough, two tickets had shown up. I reserved them by giving my last name and said I'd pick them up at 6:50 pm, 10 minutes before the concert.

When I arrived at 6:51, the lady had just given my tickets to someone else. My wife and I were in despair. "Let's go," she said, "there's no point in standing around here." But having spent most of my adult life in Eastern Europe, I felt that all was not yet lost. Maybe an usher would let us stand at the back of the balcony and listen?? We'd probably have to wait till after the concert began.

Wondering what to do, we stood near the entrance to the philharmonic hall and just watched people. Some were standing around waiting for dates. I was getting ready to start walking up to people and offer to buy their tickets when I saw that people were congregating around a lady in front of the entrance.

Sure enough, she was holding a bunch of tickets in her hands and selling them, apparently at the normal price. I quickly ran up, found out which tickets were cheapest, and stuffed a bill in her hand. We were in!

It's for things like this that I love Ukraine. There are always "options" ("всегда есть варианты"), and it's almost certain that if you really need something, there is a way to get it.

Not to mention that each ticket cost 35 UAH, or $4.50, for a 2.5 hour concert of classical music that culminated in a large choral and orchestral rendition of a Stravinsky piece. I wonder how much that would have cost in New York?

Monday, September 13, 2010

WizzAir Flights to Scandinavia

Ukraine's becoming closer and closer to Europe. With discount airline WizzAir now flying to a number of destinations around Europe, you can take a low-priced getaway and escape the Ukraine blues for a while. With some caveats, of course:
  1. Buy your tickets well in advance for the best prices.
  2. Take note to follow all the residency rules to the letter (namely, the notorious 90/180 rule for those without permanent residency, a work visa, or a student visa). They are likely to nab you at Boryspil and make you pay a fine or tempt you to give them a [word that starts with "b"] to avoid being delayed from your flight.
  3. Do advance planning to avoid spending more money than you intend (this is western Europe, after all!). See my recommendations for Scandinavia below.
Flying to Norway or Sweden

Flights can be as little as 80-100 Euros if you buy them in advance. The Norway flight stops for the season on Sept. 12. You can take bikes for another 40 Euros.

For budget travel in Norway and Sweden -- two of the most expensive countries of the world --remember these key tips:
  1. Camping is allowed on open land not used for agriculture, provided you do no harm.
  2. Bring as much food from Ukraine as possible.
  3. Buy train tickets in advance with a credit card and look for the "miniprice." You can save as much as 85% off the cost of a ticket.
  4. Hitchhiking is possible and safe, outside of the major cities, particularly in the north.
In other words, if you go there as a shrewd backpacker, you can spend as little as 200 Euros on a 2 week trip, including plane tickets. Otherwise, get ready to shell out unheard-of sums for everything from accommodations to donuts and the right to pee in public facilities.

As a shrewd backpacker, I can recommend hiking the numerous mountain areas of southern and central Norway as well as hiking trails in the north, such as the famous "Kungsleden" in northern Sweden. I hiked the northernmost 180 km of it through the highest mountains of Sweden.

And here's what one might see while in Norway and Sweden (my pictures):

No More Immigration Cards at Ukraine Border Crossings?

I just returned from a trip to Norway and Sweden and was met with a surprise in the Boryspil airport, which is not surprising since it's always full of surprises. No more immigration cards to fill out upon entering the country!

The border official instead asked me where and with whom I would be staying. I could not tell if she was entering it into the computer or not. She confirmed that immigration cards were not being required here anymore, but wasn't sure it was a permanent change. I kind of suspect it is, since any decision to stop issuing immigration cards requires a corresponding decision to stop requesting them upon departure at every border crossing in Ukraine. This requires top-level planning and establishing a new procedure for entering information in the computer as opposed to storing torn-off scraps of paper somewhere.

At least I'd like to think this is the case and that this isn't something Boryspil airport started doing because their xerox stopped working and they ran out of immigration cards the day I flew in.

UPDATE SEPT. 20, 2010:

We just had a couchsurfer from Moscow at our home. He had to fill out an immigration card at the border. Oh well. So much for consistency of implementation!


From the news coming in from many different expats it seems that the scrap-paper immigration cards have finally been scrapped for good. Hooray!