We pick up where we left our aiki-travelers in Moscow, preparing for the second leg of their journey. If you missed the first installment, please click here to read part one in our archive section.
Contributed by Tracy Alpert* and Kraig Rice*
On our fifth and last day in Moscow, Kevin Choate sensei led a two and one-half hour class in the morning and afterward we made one last attempt to visit the Kremlin. It was closed for the third day in a row due to President Clinton's visit to the Russian capital. The only way we would ever see the inside would be to come back another time. So, we sat in an outdoor cafÈ nearby and enjoyed the beautiful summer day and viewed its magnificent red walls from a distance. After a short rest and a little lunch, our group of weary travelers returned to our respective hosts to prepare for our departure to the Ukraine.
However, our train for Kiev didn't depart until late that evening, and our new friends weren't about to let us leave the country without showing us one last night of Russian hospitality. Tatyana, one of the students at Moscow Kannagara dojo, hosted a party in her apartment. Like the night we arrived, the Moscow students brought more food and drink than we could have consumed in three days, but as we learned, Russians don't take goodbye lightly. Tatyana piled our belongings in one room, put all the furniture in another and spread a tablecloth on the floor of the living room to accommodate all the guests. The ensuing toasts and goodbye speeches were matched with promises to meet again sometime, and before we knew what had happened it was time to leave for the train station. The cab driver arrived and waited patiently as it took at least two more rounds of good-byes for everyone to separate. Oleg and some of our Russian friends even came to the train station with us to send us off and say goodbye one last time.
Looking back, it really would have been difficult to fit more into our time in Moscow. After an average of five hours of sleep per night for the last five nights, we were actually looking forward to the 14-hour train ride to Kiev. We had purchased tickets for a sleeping compartment for 600 rubles ($22) each, and it was the best opportunity to sleep since we had arrived in Russia. Even the border crossing into Ukraine in the middle of the night barely roused us. Our entry visas were correctly dated and otherwise in order, so we didn't experience any trouble with immigration officials this time. Kraig translated to the authorities that we had no contraband and that we would be in Ukraine for about four days. He also bought a required health insurance certificate for each of us for $10 per person.
The next afternoon, we arrived in Kiev just after 1pm (it's an hour earlier than Moscow). There was no doubt we had traveled south as the temperature must have been at least ten degrees warmer here. Fortunately, there are many tall trees in Kiev, which would offer us shade as we later explored the city. My first impression of Kiev was on the ride to our lodging, when our driver stopped for a pedestrian. Very different than the frenzied driving in Moscow, where it's necessary to cross in underground crosswalks to save your life. As we would learn over the next few days, the pace in Kiev is definitely slower and more relaxed than Moscow.
When we arrived, we learned that there was no Aikido training planned for the first day. Our Ukrainian colleagues had arranged for a day of rest and relaxation. That afternoon we met with Andrei Rozhnov, an old friend of the Chicago Aikikai. Andrei lives in Kiev, but has traveled to Chicago several times and trained at the dojo there. He took us to dinner at a casual restaurant in the middle of a beautiful Kiev park, and afterward we walked through central Kiev.
Kiev, which dates back to the fifth century, is considered the original center of the Eastern Slavic peoples. It is south and west of Moscow on the Dniepr River, downstream from Chernobyl. The Ukrainian capital is small compared to its Russian counterpart with less than 3 million residents. It is a beautiful city, somehow having managed to withstand Stalinist urban planning, WWII, devastating fires, and Mongol invasions. For example, we saw St. Sophia's Cathedral, which was built almost 1,000 years ago in 1050!
Over the next three days, Andrei acted as our guide, showing us the quintessential sights of Kiev. He speaks English perfectly and provided a thorough tour of the city. We visited the caves Monastery, examined part of the original city wall, and walked along the shores of the Dniepr River. And since our purpose there was to train Aikido, we also attended classes at a local dojo.
Choate Sensei taught classes in Kiev in the evenings from 7-8:30pm. These classes were made possible by the cooperative efforts of two Aikido schools. The seminar was coordinated by Andrei Rozhnov and his instructor, Oleg Khoroshailov, and graciously hosted by Alexei Kudryavtsev, the President of the Ukrainian Aikido Federation. Alexei has a large dojo with plenty of mat space, and students from both schools as well as other area dojo attended the seminar. We received a very warm reception from all our Ukrainian colleagues, and Choate Sensei was once again an instant success. And, once again, we spent several evenings talking late into the night about Aikido with our new friends.
What a wonderful adventure! We saw many beautiful and historical places, trained with dedicated Aikidoka, and most importantly, established new friendships. This is certainly a trip none of us will soon forget. We would like to thank all the people who helped make it a reality, especially Oleg Glushko, Alex Schay, Alexei Kudryavtsev, Oleg Khoroshailov, and Andrei Rozhnov. Of course, none of this would have happened without Choate Sensei, so we extend our gratitude for his teaching and patience during this amazing journey.
* Tracy trains at Boulder Aikikai and has been a student of Aikido since 1988. Although all her grandparents were born in the Ukraine and Lithuania, this was her first trip to the region.
* Kraig trains at Chicago Aikikai and has been a student of Aikido since 1989. He studied Russian History and Slavic languages at the University of Chicago and speaks Russian. This was his 5th visit to the region since 1988.