My constant bubbling-over-with-excitement descriptions of my upcoming trip to Ukraine may be trying the patience of my friends and work colleagues. What a contrast to my first trip in 2001, when I wasn’t even really interested in traveling to this country.
I loved the history and genealogy of my German ancestors who had been born in Ukraine. But when some genealogy friends invited me on a trip to visit ancestral villages, I decided to go mostly because I thought the group would be fun, not because I was that excited about traveling to this ex-communist country.
I landed in Odessa on my 41st birthday, wondering what my grandparents and great-grandparents, who had left Ukraine for America, would think of their granddaughter’s return.
It’s funny to read my travel journal from that trip. The first day, most of my impressions seemed to be in line with my low expectations—the utilitarian, concrete airport with grim customs people, drab buildings, and streets full of potholes.
But within 24 hours, my journal is raving about Odessa’s amazing architecture, seeing a world-class ballet performance in the Opera House, walking the lovely tree-lined promenade overlooking the sweeping Potemkin steps and the Black Sea, visiting beautiful beaches, and of course, eating too much amazing food. I was especially impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit (which I hadn’t expected in an ex-Soviet Union country) of our van driver, Peter. He and his wife had started their own transportation company, buying vans one-by-one to rent out for tours and creating regular local bus service to a popular out-of-town market area. Day after day of our trip, I met warm and hospitable people, generous and welcoming no matter what their own circumstances were, making me see there was so much more to Ukraine than my Cold-War-spy-novel expectations.
In 2001, I arrived in Ukraine knowing I’d never go back. Today, I’m making plans to return for the sixth time. This time, I’m traveling to a country at war and being invaded by Russia. And yet, I couldn’t be happier.
Ukraine, here I come!