My trip to a post-revolutionary Ukraine
March 2 (Sunday in Amsterdam)
My layover in Amsterdam was quite long, so I went into town, in spite of the direct train being down for the day. I spent most of my time there — including lunch — at the former synagogues that now comprised the Jewish Cultural Quarter complex of Jewish museums. Of those, I went to the Jewish Historical Museum, comprised of exhibits housed within the former Great Synagogue and New Synagogue, and the Portuguese Synagogue, full of detail regarding both its past and present functions. There's a lot of history there, and it's not unrelated to the continuation of my trip; both Amsterdam and Kyiv — as with many big cities in Europe — have a long history of a large Jewish population, wiped out by the Nazis, who loom large in the cities' histories.
Getting to the museums took me past the red light district, which I didn't realize until one of the women in the windows signaled for my attention. Though somewhat provocatively dressed, neither she nor her competition was showing much more skin than you'd see at an Academy Awards ceremony. I guess that's what some folks do in the morning. I chose that route — as well as those after the Jewish quarter — because it took me past the most museums, churches, and other tourist attractions I had missed my first time in the city five years prior, also a layover.
In addition to the Jewish quarter, I saw the Gassan Diamond museum, the flower market (complete with marijuana starter kits), and Jordaan, with its busy galleries and sports bars. I snacked on the go, excepting an actual lunch of a simple but delicious cheese sandwich at a Jewish museum café. As a vegetarian, I was glad to have a Kosher café, which had more options for me than your typical European restaurant. The meal came with pickles, which I usually don't like, but these were sweet, subtle, and tastier than their American counterparts. Considering the prevalence of pickled food in Eastern Europe, this was a good sign. That was lunch; so as not to be late for my flight to Kyiv, I just grabbed some fries for "dinner." This was good, since there was no vegetarian meal option on the flight, just cake. Marie Antoinette eat your heart out.
Another treat I'd get on the flight itself was a "stroopwafel," a thin, caramel-filled cookie that seemed to have become quite popular in Amsterdam in the years since I was last there; I picked up a package of them for Mila. When I'd give them to her upon my arrival in Kyiv, she'd say that she loved them, but that they were also available there. I later heard of a San Francisco startup dedicated to these treats. Thus it is with globalization.
At the gate to my flight, a man heard me speaking English and struck up a conversation, though it was closer to a monologue, similar to those introductions in the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and with similarly dark subtext. He was going to Kyiv, hoping to single-handedly resolve the situation between Ukraine and Russia in three weeks. He noted that he had picked up an MP3 player in Germany — "possibly left by our friends to the east" — which he offered to me for the Russian lessons he had put on there. Had the device not been so tiny, I would have been a little scared — and he might have gotten a visit from airport security for taking an foreign item on the plane. When I pointed out that it wasn't right to take a mysterious item like that, he replied that he didn't always do the right thing. Great. When I tried engaging him in more conventional conversation, asking him where he was from and where (if?) he worked, he didn't want to specify, not even the country, not even the hemisphere. The folks you meet when you travel.
Fortunately, on the plane itself, the fellow I was seated near was a bit more sedate. He was from Kharkiv — the big city in the east often reported as being pretty much Russian. But his family was totally bilingual, talking equally in both languages (though his grandparents only spoke Ukrainian). I asked him some language-related questions before arriving and ending my long day falling asleep in Kyiv. Earlier in the day, I had been at Amsterdam's central Dam, but soon I'd be in Kyiv's now-world-famous Maidan.start // back / next