And so our journey began. On our last and final days in America, we did what any true-blooded Americans would do: We went out into the wilderness and shot cans of soda with a shotgun. A friend from school and Paige and I went out and we finally tested out the shotgun after it went back to the manufacturer for repairs. Everything was awesome, we bruised up our arms from the recoil, 24 cans of soda lost their lives, and I learned that I should be more than adequate at firing at random down a hallway at an intruder. Or Santa Clause. You know, whatever.
The rest of our final days were spent washing our clothes free of the gunsmoke residue so we were not arrested at airport security, placing the last of our belongings in storage, watching Cindy wrestle her daughter to the ground and hog-tie her, and naturally, having some nice portraits taken by Alyssa, a photography major I know from work. After all that, we packed the last of what we needed for the next 3 months into 2 carry-on-sized suitcases, a backpack, and a shoulder-bag, and boarded the red-eye to New York City.
On the subject of sleeping on planes, this is apparently an in-born talent and I am never going to be able to practice enough to get it. The plane ride over was uneventful and tiring, and New York was an immense and disturbing place that we just couldn't wait to go get lost in, so we stored our bags, hopped on some random trains and subways, and ended up in Rockefeller Plaza. We proceeded to wander around Manhattan aimlessly. Manhattan is really, really big. You see the little tourist maps that have all the cartoon buildings popping out of them and you're like "Oh sweet, we'll nip up to the Empire State Building, then walk a few blocks over to the World Trade Center and then take the sky-buckets to Time Square to meet Mickey Mouse," but then you get there and people all around you are all pissy because you've never seen buildings that could fit your entire neighborhood inside them before and they're trying to get from one Starbucks to the next as fast as they can.
In any case, I was in a daze from non-sleep and neither of us knew anything about Manhattan, so we walked a whole heck of a lot. Eventually, we formed a plan that involved Junior's cheesecake, looking at the Empire State Building (because we didn't have the $40 and two hours that it would've taken to go to the top), and then being totally dumbfounded by the World Trade Center site. After that, it was a cool hour-long subway ride back to JFK and a crowded, sutly-Russian/Ukrainian-filled flight across the Atlantic over to Kiev.
Again, the flight was not much to speak of. I slept as much as one could when one cannot even recline their seat because a very frustrated mother who didn't understand the "baby-in-arms" option on her ticket and found that her baby didn't actually have his own seat is sitting right behind them. I was grateful when we landed.
Passport control, and customs (Which consisted of a Ukrainian lady yelling "Just go, move along!" Another plus for carrying on, I guess), and we were spit out into Ukraine. I was actually surprised at how well we maneuvered around after 3 years of not having to maneuver. We dodged taxi drivers, found one who wanted way too much money, made a deal to have him take us somewhere to exchange money, and then told him where we needed to go. I even still knew a few words in Russian.
That first ride into Kiev from the airport was probably one of the most surreal of my life. Imagine you had lived an entire past life in some other land, and that it was home to you, and then you were living your life now, but then you walked around a corner and everything from your old, past, forgotten life was suddenly right there. Everything was so foreign and I could recognize all of my old feelings of culture shock and homesickness and such, but at the same time, everything was so familiar and normal and welcoming. It was all actually quite exhausting. It wasn't like the first time I arrived here, obviously, and it wasn't like when I arrived home after 2 years here. It was (and still is, to a certain degree) a very strange cornicopia of feelings.
We pulled up to Olga Danilyuk's place in Kiev. Olga was Paige's trainer and a friend of mine on our missions, and while Olga was on vacation, her family let us stay in her room while she was gone. Kiev is cool place and we were able to see a little bit of it, but not much between us resting after the flight, resting that night, resting the next day, and racing to get on our train to Donetsk, but we were able to see one thing that I was incredibly glad to see: the temple.
The Kiev temple was announced in 1998 and has been the fixation of the Eastern bloc's and Russia's saints' faith ever since. Only recently, land had been acquired and construction begun, and now the shell of a very cubic, very small temple and "hotel" are taking shape. Some elders we met along the way report that they should be placing Moroni sometime next month. Going out there and seeing the temple, the same temple that I and many missionaries promised members would come if they stayed strong in their faith, was worth the rush we had to make to get to our train on time.
Olga's family was incredibly nice, but we had only a few hours in Kiev before moving on. We raced on a taxi back to Olga's place, packed as fast as we could, and then raced on another taxi over to the train station. Allow me to now reiterate some thoughts on Soviet trains that I developed and refined during my mission: I hate them. This train was no exception. It was hot, uncomfortable, and extremely hot, and we had the incredible privilege of remaining on it for a full 12 hours. I slept maybe 4 of those, which is actually more than I was expecting.
In the end, however, we pulled slowly into a magical place that has so far been the most enjoyable time of our trip so far. We know it, it knows us, and we feel almost at home here. We're back in Donetsk. At least for a couple days.
As always, check flickr for some pictures relating to this post.