ust thought I would give you all some of my experiences from my recent trip to Kiev. The trip was a private visit and was arranged on the Kiev side by the Katrin Agency. I will give you a break down on the details below:
1. Air transportation. Roundtrip from LAX to Kiev with connections in Moscow on Aeroflot (Russian International) airlines.
Everyone I know told me to avoid this company if there was any way possible. My experiences were quite the contrary though. I am always in for a deal so made my ticket bookings online through Expedia.com and found that they offered the lowest fair. I was a little worried about this but was amazingly surprised. Russian airline standards must have really changed because even in coach class their service far exceeded anything I have even experienced in some business class flights within the USA domestically. The flight from LAX was on a Boeing 767-300 so was built to USA/International standards.
They feed you a full meal roughtly every 4hrs, snacks in between, all the drinks you can stand at no extra charge, give you a travel pillow, blanket, slippers to change into, sleeping mask, headphones, etc for the flight. Attendants were always helpful. It seemed about once every hour they made the rounds down the aisles pushing carts loaded with free drinks (wines, juices, water, sodas, etc) and gave you anything you wanted. All of this was included in the ticket price. Amazing to me since even domestic USA flights always charge you extra for drinks like wine, etc.
The flight was a little cramped on the smaller plane from Moscow to Kiev but service was still very good. I think the plane was a SU-167 or something like that. I am 6'1" so enjoy some leg room and found this a bit cramped. I think the seats were probably designed for someone under 5'10" and ideally about 5'8" in size.
Now the airports were quite a trip. I was amazed to see that almost every flight is shuttled to/from the plane on buses. So get ready to do some running and also a lot of waiting. I had about a 4hr layover in Moscow both going and coming from LAX before the transfer to Kiev. During this time you basically have to sit in a special transfer waiting room that they won't let you leave. This is basically a waiting room for the shuttle. They only make 1 or 2 bus shuttles from the Moscow International Terminal 2 to the (much older) Terminal 1 that will depart to Kiev. So everyone needing to be taken to Terminal 1 must wait until the buses for the flight are ready. Then you all pack in as tightly as possible on the shuttles and are taken to the other side of the airport facility to the 1960's era Terminal 1 for the flight out of Moscow.
2. Passport Control
Be sure to bring a ballpoint pen with you!! In every connecting flight in every airport you will be required to fill out a passport control/emigration card. This basically restates your basic passport information, time you will spend in the country, flight you arrived on and flight number you plan to leave on. The passport agent will stamp this on entry into the Ukraine and also when you leave. This will be in addition to your Visa that must be in your passport. So be sure to keep this card with you in your Passport at all times.
You will also need to fill out Customs Claim forms for entry back into the USA after your trip. So again, BRING A PEN!! They will not provide one for you and running around trying to find a friendly face who will let you borrow theirs among people who don't know english may be challenging.
3. Kiev Barispiel Internation Airport
This airport actually surprised me. Much more organized that the chaos that is basically Moscow International but also very small compared to USA standards. Our reginal domestic airports are usually larger. There is ONLY one terminal. So when the Agency tries to explain it into your thick skull that they will be able to find you it is because they will... there is ONLY one International gate for arrivals and one for departures. So the buses will all be waiting at one of these two gates. If you walk through the doors into the airport they will see you. Its the same set of double doors.
Arrival past passport control means an immediate barrage of taxi drivers chasing you around trying to arrange for fairs. Be careful though and I wouldn't recommend using any of them. They have been known to charge people outrageous fairs for transportation. A $50 - $100 fair may not sound like much to us in the USA but for most Ukrainians that is a month's salary. The agency arranged for pick-up from the airport and all major ground transportation for me. I think I paid about $20 or there abouts. The driver and/or agent will usually be there with a sign or something waiting. If not, don't panic. Planes can be both early and late but rarely on time and traffic can also be congested in Kiev. So have a seat in the cafeteria lounge area in the arrival room. Its just one large room and you can see both entry/exit security points into the room and also the double doors where most private drivers will be waiting.
I highly suggest changing some of your currency over to Ukrainian Grievna while waiting. You won't need much at first and can get a little better rates at a bank later on. But I suggest changing $100 or $200 just to start at the counter in the arrival area. Also get it in SMALL bills if at all possible. Though a 50 Grievna note is convenient to carry (about $9-$10 USA), most taxi fares will be in the 2-20 Grievna range for a trip through Kiev and some drivers simply can't break a 50gr note. Keep this in mind.
4. Taxi's and personal drivers.
I wanted to throw something in here. In Kiev there are two types of drivers. Registered Taxis and also personal drivers. A personal driver is just someone with a car looking
I wanted to throw something in here. In Kiev there are two types of drivers. Registered Taxis and also personal drivers. A personal driver is just someone with a car looking to make a quick grievna or two picking someone up along the way. If you stand on a corner and waive for a taxi you could get either. The official taxis that I saw were often run down and barely running. I took several personal cars however and these were often much better maintained and if your girl can arrange for one it can be much less expensive. A taxi with a meter charged me 26 grievna for a trip through Kiev (about $4 US). The same with a personal driver arranged by my girl was only 3 grievna (50 cents or so??). So your costs may vary depending on how good a negotiator you are before you step into the car. BE SURE to agree to a fair with a personal driver before you enter the car and for an official taxi be sure the meter is running and is legit. If you don't like the looks of the car or taxi wave them on. Its normal and they usually won't be offended. Another driver will be along usually within 1 minute or less.
5. Kiev apartments.
Hmm.. this was a major surprise to me. Basically Kiev apartments are mostly the same and many not in a "good" sort of way. Basically all are a studio style apartment in a 1950-1960's era apartment building that probably hasn't seen a renovation or paint since original construction. The living area will serve as both the sleeping area, etc. That is the basic one bedroom setup. So the couch will also be a hide-a-bed or futon. The rest of the apartment will be fairly small and I was amazed by some of the space efficiency. Every nook and cranny of the apartment was utilized by some form of shelving or storage to try and put things. You really begin to see that space is at a major premium. When the agency tried to explain to me that all the apartments were of the same style they basically meant what they said. Everyone in Kiev basically lives in a one bedroom studio apartment. The only thing that really changes is the wall paper and some basic furniture. You don't exactly have your pick of floorplans when choosing apartments. When you hear stories of entire families living in one apartment (mother, father, child, grandmother) keep this in mind. The link posted by Oleg about the Ekaterinburg Apartments are very similar to Kiev apartments and what their buildings look like. (http://www.fiance.com/russian_dom/index1.htm for reference.) My girl was a little ashamed in some ways to have me see the apartments and told me that I probably never experienced life in such a place. In some ways she was right. Some of these buildings would give USA slum lords good names as generous benefactors.
6. The Agency
The Katrin Agency itself is rather small. They do manage exclusively 500-800 of the most beautiful women in Kiev. Several of their female clients are professional photo models or do some modeling on the side. Most however are normal working girls with normal lives and simply struggle and dream for a better life outside of Kiev. The agency itself is not really different from the women they represent. In many ways they struggle to do what they do every day and simply keep afloat. Keep some things in mind however. The agency is representing two clients. One is of course the man who is paying for the services and things that they make arrangements for. The other client is of course the women whom they represent. They maintain a fairly high degree of confidentiality with both. So if the agency requests you to do something it may very well be for a reason or at the woman's request.
During my visit I happened to see one of the other women from this site in their office. She was making arrangements to see a man for the first time and was requesting that they meet in the agency office because the truth was she was feeling very insecure and was not sure she wanted to be alone with him for their first meeting. She would rather have had an interpreter or friend along if possible and had requested that this be asked to the man on her behalf (unknown to him or why it was being requested).
The man however arrived later and immediately began to accuse the agency of trying to pull off some scam with the arranged meetings under agency control, charging for $20 for meetings (which I learned btw was at the girls request to see if he was truly sincere and willing to pay to visit her or not and which most likely would have been refunded at the conclusion of his visit), etc. In fact he made such a fuss over this that he probably blew his one and only chance he had with this girl in her eyes as she now saw him as a hot headed guy with a bad temper and never felt safe with him during his entire stay in Kiev. So my advice to you is to be nice to your agency and respect their requests. It may very well be on behalf of the girl unknown to you. So don't be a dick and treat people with respect and it can go a long way. Maybe much further than you realize.
I can't really think of anything else for now. If I do I will add more to this thread.
I also wanted to make a note here. The women you visit have real jobs that they have to keep and have schedules that must be dealt with. Some may be struggling and may only be making $40/mo in the only job they are able to find for themselves. So keep this in mind when you try and make arrangements for meetings. The girls may have to be at work until 5pm in their offices (or possibly later) and may only have one hour available for lunch. It may be impossible in some cases for the girls to make other arrangements to get off work early or even be able to ask for a vacation so that they can spend time totally devoted to you. So keep all of this in mind when working with the agency to arrange meetings. The women you are visiting have lives and schedules to that must be dealt with. So what may be most convenient for you may not be most convenient with your girl. Keep this in mind as the agency suggests times for meetings and other arrangements. It is usually for a reason. Some of which they may be keeping confidential on their female client's behalf.
thank you Brian. you made great description of what to expect during the trip, and in Kiev. I can add that you could probabaly rent a great, specially remodeled apartment with Jacuzzi, electronics, and everything. it would of course cost more.
I used Aeroflot for the first time myself to go to Omck Brian, the plane from the UK was a 380 Airbus, so again western standard aircraft, the ones to Omck and back to Moscow at the end of my trip were Tupelovs and were fine, lots of leg room and good food. The only rather disconcerting part of flying internal in the FSU is that when landing the passengers applaud the pilot after the lading is over !!! I have often wondered if this is genuine expression of being impressed with his flying, or an expression of relief at landing at all !! Maybe I really don't want to know the answer to that one ;o))
The one thing I noticed when flying domestic in the USA with Delta, is that you not only get to fly on antique aircraft, you get antique "trolley dollies" too :o))
The aeroflott stewardesses are very similar !!!
Also when flying I have always maintained that if the ride gets bumpy then look at the stewardess`s, if they look calm and are just going about their work as if nothing was happening then you have zilch to worry about. This doesn't work with Russian air staff !! They look inscrutable at all times, so you would never know if there was anything to worry about !!!
On the other hand, I have flown with Ukraine airlines too, and for local and domestic from Kiev to Lugansk and Donetsk they use Antanov 24`s. These things are not fully pressurised so don't fly too high, and they are noisy and draughty too, but they seem to get where they are going. One which I took from Lugansk to Kiev had at least one Totally bald tyre, and I mean through to the canvas !!! But it was good to see some new tyres being loaded into the plane I flew back to Lugansk on a few days later, i suspect they were for the one I had flown up on !!!!
I guess its comforting to know that no matter how old the plane, how bald the tyres, or whatever else you may think isn't ideal, that the pilot and his mate + the stewardess`s all want to live a long life, and they want to get home again after their shift too, if they really didn't feel safe, they wouldn't get on the plane either !!!
I was told that the pilots of the 24`s could fly them upside down and backwards if needs be, they have so many years experience, and I have to say they never had me in the least worried when I was flying with them :o)) I have had bumpier rides on British Midland aircraft !!
On the flight to and from Moscow the "in flight entertainment" on the airbus was faulty !! rather odd this actually because it was on 2 different aircraft !!! Rather a coincidence I thought !! maybe Aeroflot haven't paid the performing rights license fee !! :o)) Strange how it worked fine for the aircraft safety video
If your destination is in Russia itsself, then you can leave the airport any time you wish once you have cleared customs. Its only connecting flights to other countries, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia etc for which you have to wait in the transit lounge. When I went to Omck and on other trips, I have had to leave terminal 2 to go to terminal 1 to catch my connection, and there is no restriction provided inside Russia is your destination.
"In every connecting flight in every airport you will be required to fill out a passport control/emigration card."
Again this is only the case if your final destination is outside Russia, for connecting Russia internal flights this is not the case. The only thing anyone will want to see is your passport and ticket.
"There is ONLY one terminal."
There isn't Brian !! There are 2 !!
The second one is like terminal 1 at Moscow, old and dishevelled but it is definitely there mate cus Ive used it 4 times ;o))) Its to the left of the big terminal 1 building and is for domestic flights only.
I rented a 2 bedroom flat almost in the centre just off Krystal for $100
per night for 3 nights, the building was old but the flat was 100% new and very much to western standards. It was light and airy with a beautiful view of the city, and wonderful furniture and bathroom, they can easily be found and at $100 a night they are not by western standards expensive for a weeks holiday if thats what you are there for. You couldn't get a basic 1 bedroom, bathroom hotel room of the same standard in London for $100 a night !!!
"Most however are normal working girls"
Thats possibly not the best way to describe these ladies mate LOL
In the UK a "working girl" is a hooker !!
My Natash works until 6 some nights, its just something that has to be accepted and worked around, no biggy :o))
LOL - I noticed the clapping when the plane landed too!! I tried to not think too much about it but definitely did notice it. That and also the little brown tea cups. Just seemed odd to me that after every meal they always came around right after serving tea and coffee and it was always in those little brown tea cups with those little perfectly packed food trays. Just not something I am used to having lived in the USA most of my life.
Also the house slippers on the plane and in all of the apartments. It must be a cultural thing or something but I came to believe that if you go and visit someone in another apartment they expect you to bring your own house slippers with you? When I visited my girl at her apartment she seemed a little shocked I didn't have my slippers with me and immediately had to scramble around a little embarassed tring to find me something to wear. Also I had to provide slippers for her at the door when she visited my apartment. Oh well, a little cultural thing to learn about. ;-)
LOL - Yeah, I didn't mean to describe the girls as "normal working girls" in that way but I guess that phrase does have different meanings in different countries. To me that meant they have normal jobs with lives they lead and bills they must pay. Working 8:00am to 5:00pm or later in some cases. But definitely the women there are not normal. Its pretty amazing to just watch them go throughout their days. Almost all of them DO walk and act like professional fashion models in their high heels walking to work and it is a thing to behold. ;-)
It certainly is Brian :o))
The nearest thing to Heaven on Earth
The taking off of your outside shoes when visiting anyones home in the FSU is an absolute Must do !!
I have never walked in anyone home with my shoes on, even when they try to insist I dont need to take them off, they come off anyway !! Its a great disrespect not to !!
Its a real eye opener for folks who have never been outside the US to see how most of the world lives. Ive (through the Navy) been all over the world and we here in the US really take for granted how good we have it as far as standard of living
After watching Castaway with Tom hanks, I always make sure I've got my boots on when on a plane although occasionally I take them off for a bit of a breather but when that seat-belt light goes on...so do my boots. SHARPISH!
I find digging my nails into my seat or squeezing the person's hand next to me until it's blue with the occasional expletive and sudden loyalty to Religion a good cure for take-offs, landing and turbulance. lol
Well TimH, I see that you got an idea about 1 very important thing, and I really think it is important tradition of life here, taking the shoes off when coming into the flat or a house. But why is it so??? If you all will let me I'mm explain:)
The thing is that there are people of certain professions that may come into the flat and don't take the shoes off, like plumber, doctor, plumber, and so on. To say in general, people whose services we need, but about whom we don't care about. And these people are staying in the flat for a short period of time.
But when a guest who is a dear one, and the mistress of the house wants him to feel comfortable and to stay longer then 5 minutes, she offers or she waits that that person will take the shoes off. It's not nessesary to have your own slippers with you, if your girl asks you to do so, you should bring (usually that is for parties:), but in general there is alway 1-3 pairs of spare slippers for the guests.
It can be either slippers, either any other type of shoes you don't wear elsewhere but at home.
You can also walk in socks or barefooted, but if the girl feels comfortable with it:)
At hotel room you can walk as you like.
But in the flat when visiting your girl, I guess it's better to do as it's comfortable for her.
The same with friends and family. When I come to my parents, I don't take my home shoes with me, I know there is one pair for me at their flat. The same when I visit my friends.
Yes Ptichka, I did know about why one should remove shoes when arriving at a friends as a guest ;o)) But I also take mine off as a mark of respect. I have come from outside, in the rain, the snow, the Mud !! I wouldnt want to trample that dirt onto the carpets of my friends !! I take my shoes off most times I visit friends in the UK, if the weather has been bad, or if I am in my owrk boots. If weather is good then so long as they are clean I dont always remove them.
In the FSU I understood that it was a huge mark of respect for your host, in that to remove your shoes shows a feeling of comfort and security at being with that person in their home, "part of the family" and I can say i would never enter an FSU home without removing mine.
The rest of you guys do as you wish :o)) Its your head on the block ;o))
And some people say the omens tell that this summer will be a hot and dry one:)
TimH it depends in which part of Ukraine you're and during which month. In Kiev for example, in August is rather cool, in Lugansk it may be both hot and cool. (My cousin lives in Kiev for 4 years now, and it took her some time to get used to their cool weather, if to compare with ours):)))))