It is fair to ask where December has gone, and what this blog has to say about it. As an account of my travels, some entries are due since I spent the entire month anywhere but here in Kyiv. But before I get into that, though, I want to point out something you might have already noticed on your own; namely, that this spelling of Kyiv is slightly differently than what most Americans are used to. The best explanation I have managed to unearth so far is that Russians (and throughout really old English history the Brits, thus eventually we as well) both pronounced and wrote “Kiev”. Kiev feels so right; there is even a poultry-dish named after it. Ukrainians, on the other hand, write and say “Kyiv”. It’s a pronunciation-thing, and I’m going with the local preference on this one.
So, to the travel stuff; last month took me to places as exotic as Stuttgart, Germany and New York. As far as I am concerned, anywhere in Germany is a great place for meetings. It is not so much that German meeting rooms are superior in any regard or that a power-point presentation is so much sharper, clearer or more-riveting in Deutschland; the reward is instead that at the end of the business day, one is in Germany, surrounded by some of the most pleasant people, sights, foods and beers I have encountered so far. Of course, Stuttgart is a city like many others, and it is instead my weekend drive through parts of Bavaria in a rental BMW that will be the most memorable part of the trip for me. There are few experiences available which quite compare to the satisfaction of a strong German car on beautiful, winding Bavarian country roads. If the word “regret” can at all be associated with my fond memories of this brief excursion, it has only to do with two things: the first is not having been able to stop at more of the picturesque villages I passed through. Any one of the hamlets or smaller towns promised a place to exit the car, a long walk along forested paths, stone bridges over ice-cold brooks and streams. Post-wandering, I could have eaten my fill of Wiener Schnitzel at any one of the pleasant, cozy-looking “gaststube” (as the restaurants of quaint inns are called), next to a warm fire. From time to time, I promise myself a month-long, village-to-village tour of southern Germany during some future Christmas period. The second regret is my bitterness with the ill-timed betrayal of my heretofore reliable camera. It appears that Olympus is undergoing some wider difficulties which exceed my documenting frustrations, so it is with no small pleasure that I have finally abandoned that traitorous piece of electronics.
The second half of December was for family, festivities, and togetherness. We were fortunate to spend such a long period of time with family and friends, both in the city and out in the Catskills. Also, the American in me thinks that the timing of Christmas this year could not have been better. We had been in Kyiv long enough to have formed a set of cravings that only a little time in the United States could cure. What these cravings are, exactly, are so many-varied and insignificant-seeming in their individuality, that I’ll leave them off. Separately, they don’t seem a big deal. The power of each lies in the compounded total, and a trip back home was the perfect answer.
We are back in Kyiv now, wading into this new year with each new sunrise. 2012 promises to be a year full of travel and excitement, and just typing my way through this thought is enough to elevate the heart-rate. You see, my next trip, in the middle of this month, will be taking me to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. These countries occupy a strip of land which separates the Black and Caspian Seas. All the elements are conspiring to make this a good trip: sharp religious boundary-lines which do not correspond to borders on the map; warlike neighboring clans throughout the region; economic opportunities overlaying extreme desperation; sharp, steep mountain ranges which promise drastically different micro-climates, cultures, foods and colors. (With a lead-up like that, how can you resist checking back here?!) I’ll be leaving for Baku mid-January, and look forward to telling you all about this particular set of travels to places that not many of us get a chance to visit. Until then, take care of yourselves, and Happy New Year to all of you!
P.S. – Now, and always, I welcome your comments, so please add them as you think of them. Also, this is a great place for requests. like for that one certain Azeri spice for the kitchen, available only in the Zagatal State Reserve. Send those requests as well. I’m not promising I’ll satisfy each one of them, but I am promising to have fun trying!