Many of Kiev’s cleanest, most popular beaches lie along the coasts of Trukhaniv Island – right next to Hydropark, home of the strange Terminator 2 gym we visited just a couple days earlier. With only one afternoon left in the Ukrainian capital, it seemed like the perfect spot for a quick swim before catching a train onward to Lviv, Krakow, and ultimately, Oslo.
Upon arriving on the island (via metro), Peder and I spent the first few minutes strolling the tiled pedestrian promenade a few hundred meters from the sand – it was lined with carnival games, food stalls, and of course dozens and dozens of kebab shops. And while it did seem like a potentially fun hangout, with so little time remaining we decided we’d best spend as much of it as possible down by the water.
So we broke off from the crowds, and after just a few minutes’ walk (beneath a nearly perfect green leafy canopy), arrived at the water’s edge. Our next task would be finding a suitable spot to set up camp (aka: near a fun-looking group).
Yet we found ourselves walking surprisingly far before ultimately stopping to debate whether we should just turn back; the beach seemed to continue almost indefinitely, and most of the crowds were either older couples or groups of young children. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a social beach day after all. But we decided to continue just a few meters more, for one quick peek at what lie around the next bend.
Damn good thing we did.
No more than 20 paces downriver, sitting on a collection of blankets and towels, was a group we instantly knew we’d like. Initially four guys and three girls, looking to be about our age, laughing and singing as they poured each other wine and champagne and snacked on all kinds of BBQ goodies.
Plus, they were absolutely covered in wacky accessories.
It was as if they’d just come from the very same bling shop as ourselves; their bright red boas and party hats perfectly matched our own. And lo and behold, the moment we came into view they called us over to join. Nearly all of them spoke fluent English.
If a chance meeting like this isn’t fate then I don’t know what is 🙂
It turned out they were there to celebrate one of their birthdays, so we decided to introduce ourselves with a little magic show:
Peder: “Well since it’s your birthday, how about a magic trick? Do you think I can pull a rabbit out of my friend’s hat?”
Ukrainians: “Noo waayyy!”
Peder: (Pulls off my top hat, revealing the yellow bunny ears below).
Ukrainians: (Cheering, applauding, laughing, pouring glasses of wine, dragging us over to their towel).
I guess we wouldn’t be catching that 5pm train to Lviv after all! But who cares? We’d met an awesome new group of friends, undoubtedly the coolest since our very first night in the country. It was the absolute perfect ending for our favorite city in Ukraine.
Here are some of the more noteworthy memories from our unexpected little get-together:
• They had all sorts of interesting party games. My favorite was a game where we had to dress each other blindfolded; out of a mystery bag came everything from oversized bras to hairy Halloween masks; the challenge was to figure out what they were and how to get them onto your partner…in complete and total darkness. The results, upon removal of the blindfold, were nothing short of hilarious. See the first photo above.
• The performances. As it turned out, the group had met in an acting club – and as more and more of their friends arrived, we found ourselves being treated to some pretty entertaining near-Shakespearian performances. All in Russian, of course 😉
Oh, and there was one hilarious event that occurred independently of our new group of friends. When the wine and champagne started running low, Peder and I volunteered to jog back to the promenade and pick up some drinks for the group. On the way there we passed a picnic blanket where two fishermen and their wives were having a little BBQ. Upon seeing our top hats they immediately burst out in laughter, calling us over to join. “Come – shot of Nemiroff!” one of them offered. Apparently drinking on the beach is quite a common activity for a warm summer day in Kiev.
So what’s so funny about this particular encounter? The moment we joined them, the fishermen’s wives began stuffing every type of food imaginable into our mouths; “Here, must try, is Ukraine specialty!” One thing after another, without even a moment to chew: BBQ chicken, sausage, cucumbers, tomatoes, they were so excited to share their food with us that our mouths were quite literally overflowing…yet they just kept forcing it in. It was such a ridiculous situation that (after blocking her fork with my hand and chewing what I’d thus far been given) I sprinted back to our towel just to fetch the camera. Maybe if I ever catch up on writing, I’ll come back and post a video 🙂
Anyway, we enjoyed hanging out with our new Ukrainian friends so much that even after skipping the 5pm train, we found ourselves pushing the schedule later and later. Just giving everyone hugs goodbye and exchanging contact info consumed probably an extra fifteen minutes, so by the time we started back towards the metro we realized we were dangerously short on time. A walk turned to a jog, which turned to an all-out sprint.
By the time we made it back to the train station we had barely 5 minutes to spare. We split up, Peder heading for the ticket window and myself to the luggage lockers. But it still wasn’t enough. Sweat pouring off our faces, still in our tophats and boardshorts, we stood there and watched the schedule monitors change. We’d missed the last train of the day.
Thankfully, when we were told that 11pm was the last train of the day, that’s exactly what it was – the next departure was scheduled for just over an hour later, a little past midnight. So we shacked up in a Mc Donald’s across the street and waited.
And then, we were off to Lviv.