(Continued from A Ukrainian Orgy (of Face Control) and a Creep Cold War Train)
We had finally made it into an actual Ukrainian club called Western Club, after a tragic night of finding club after famous Odessan club closed or pretty much totally empty. With no idea about what we would find inside this club, which NONE of our contacts had mentioned and which was not mentioned in any guide book, we noticed a couple of funny things. Although the club sort of appeared like a normal, open air club with a stage, albeit with a wacky slightly American Wild West theme, certain things were definitely different. First of all, there was a pair of screaming Ukrainian MC’s on the stage, yelling at the crowd something in Russian which, as far as we could tell, translated something like “You guys are all a bunch of pussies, can’t you drink or dance any better than that? C’MON, let me see some energy from all you Ukrainians!” As we started to go to more and more clubs in the Ukraine, we noticed that almost EVERY club that was popular had at least one, if not two, MC’s who’s only job seemed to be to rile the crowd up, question their manhood or womanhood, and buy more drinks or dance/party harder.
Secondly, the club entertainment in Western Club, like most of the other clubs we went to in Ukraine, seemed to always have something that verged on stripping or people who WERE actually strippers. No joke…literally every club seemed to have some sort of stripping entertainment. It didn’t seem to necessarily be a dirty thing, it just seems that almost every club had Go-Go dancers that would basically almost take off all their clothes. Instead of just shaking their booty in ugly Ugg fur boots while chewing their gum and looking bored, like go-go dancers in America do, Ukrainian go-go dancers really rocked out. Like “stripper-dancing-Britney-Spears-in-her-prime” rocked out. Western Club had two girls who were totally stunning, and although this lovely ladies, didn’t take off their clothes, the lanky and statuesque blondes looked on while the MC somehow suckered 10 random guys up on stage, and then proceeded to do some bizarre party game where 2 girls had to race and try to take off 5 guys’ pants (down to their boxers/tidy whiteys only, thank God) as quickly as possible. When we went to a few other clubs later in L’viv and Kiev, they didn’t have just stripping games, they had actual strip clubs right next to or in another room of the clubs! I guess their thinking of Ukrainian clubs is that if people get tired of being Face Controlled or spending their money at their bars and not meeting anyone, everybody could make the last-minute spontaneous decision to hit their associated strip club. Makes bizarre sense, in a bizarre way.
As Logan and Matt hit the bathroom, I tossed back a Jack and Diet and observed the crowd. Besides the totally hot go-go dancers, people were definitely dancing and rocking out, and having a good time to the surprisingly recognizable hip-hop and Euro-hop music. Usher mixed into Mackelmore mixed into David Guetta mixed into Avicii, and as the three of us danced the night away, with a very friendly Ukrainian crowd, we began to realize that once you took the screaming MC’s and stripping environment away, Ukrainian clubs were actually really similar to American clubs. Western Club wasn’t particularly filled with Victoria’s Secret models, but everyone was nice and respectful, and everybody was having a great time. Drinks came fast at the bar, and people danced with us and around us, even though they couldn’t talk to us. Ironically, the one other random Asian girl in the bar, who we heard speaking Russian, spent the entire night cock-tease dancing with all of us and trying to get our attention, and then waving a “Nuh-uh-uh!” finger in our face anytime we tried to make conversation. Once again, “Cock-tease” means “Cock-tease” in every language!
After a few hours of dancing and watching some jaw-dropping go-go dancers going nuts on the stage, we tumbled into another overpriced cab to go home. We hadn’t met anybody per se, but we were just happy to have had the opportunity to go to ANY club in the Ukraine. While the club hadn’t been filled with the ridiculous plethora of dolled-up mannequin-like Ukrainian women we had seen in the streets of Odessa, it had still be a great night of fun. We drifted off to sleep in our rented apartment, happy that we had experienced some genuine Ukrainian nightlife, but still confused about where all the ridiculous hordes of beautiful Ukrainian women were going. On our last day in Odessa, Logan, Matt, and myself spent our last day meandering the remaining churches, ruins, and tree-lined promenades of Odessa that we hadn’t seen yet, and had a filling Spanish meal at a restaurant called Sevilla, a well-deserved afternoon nap, and then another neck-cramping stroll along hottie-filled Deribasivskaya Street, before a masculine meal of wine and steak and a classy restaurant called Barbacoa, and contemplated where to go out our last night together as the Eurotrip A-Team, since Matt would be taking off to Amsterdam in the morning.
Since we didn’t want to run around to more empty clubs, we decided to stay closer to home, and on the advice of our Ukrainian friend Lana and a few other people, we went to a grungy wacky 80’s themed bar called Shkaf. Shkaf was a super chill place, with no Face Control for once, very cheap drinks, and a young crowd who was rocking out to a DJ playing some bizarre ska cover versions of 80’s songs like Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” Once again, it was a super fun and friendly non-speaking English crowd, and once again the hordes of Ukrainian street hotties were noticeable absent. But we managed to have a fun time and check out Captain Morgan one more time on the way home, which was even more crowded than the first night and had managed to stuff in more very scantily go-go dancers (surprise surprise!). We passed out back at our apartment, and in the morning Matt quickly packed while we checked out of our apartment. As the cab pulled up to the curb, we all suddenly realized that the Eurotrip A-Team was breaking up and would be short a member. Matt (a.k.a. Faceman) was leaving, and it wouldn’t be quite the same ogling Eastern European girls without our right-hand man, who had of course been completely ignoring how attractive all the girls in this country were because, you know, he had a girlfriend at home. We gave Matt a quick hug goodbye, promised to continue the craziness on yet another A-Team adventure in another European location or somewhere really exotic, like California, and with a last wistful glance at the lady-filled streets of Odessa, Matt hopped into the cab and was gone. Just like that.
Now it was just down to the original Dynamic Duo…Batman and Robin…Tomax and Xamot from the Cobra Siamese Twins…Turner and Hooch…The Lone Ranger and Tonto…The Traveling Bachelor and his little bro. Although we were slightly disappointed that we had not had some ridiculous orgy in the middle of the Crimean Sea, with Matt holding the camera, we now knew it was up to us to see the explore the rest of the still-mysterious Ukraine. Next up, in a little bit of backtracking towards Poland in the west, was L’viv. Traveling to L’viv involved a 10 hour overnight sleeper train ride, but in order to do that we had to actually buy tickets. From a ridiculously crammed Ukrainian train station. Where nobody spoke or read English, and none of the signs were in English. Hmmmmmm…
Luckily, by that time in the Ukraine, Logan and I had actually both individually done our own version of a crash-course in the Cyrillic Alphabet, and between being able to sound out words, and the free-WiFi in certain parts of the train station, combined with a tactful use of iPhone screenshots of the tickets and seats we wanted to buy, we were able to roughly pantomime to the highly amused Ukranian ticket-salesperson that we wanted to buy overnight tickets to L’viv. She printed out the tickets, I handed over the 330 Hr for the two tickets, and my brother and I left the train station for one last meal in Odessa before leaving. But as we sat down on the patio at the Uzbek-themed restaurant called Aiva, which seemed to have very similar food to most Mediterranean restaurants we had been to, I noticed something strange. “Hey, these sleeper tickets seem way too cheap. They were only…C’MON!!!!!!…165 Hr each, which is only like $20 US dollars. That seems way too cheap for a…C’MON!!!!…12 hour sleeper train ride.”
All the random “C’MON!!!!”s were when random gorgeous Ukrainian women kept walking by us down the street as we were talking. “Hmmm,” Logan responded, “Maybe things are just…C’MON!!!!…cheaper for public transportation in this country in…C’MON!!!…general. Anyway, we’ll figure it out!” Logan’s head whipped around as he threw out his neck checking out another girl. After wrapping up our meal, we made our way through the teeming train station, and after reading the train schedule in Russian, something we never though we would have been able to do just three days earlier, we finally showed up to the suspiciously dingy looking sleeper train and prepared to board. After the mean looking Ukrainian train attendant asked for our passport and ticket (PASSPORT CONTROL!), we went into the train and found our sleeper cabin and poked our heads into the compartment.
Now I don’t know if anyone out there has been on an actual sleeper train before. Not the ones where you stretch out your legs, but actual sleeper trains where each compartment has between two beds (for 1st class) or four beds laid out in bunk bed style (for 2nd class). It’s not a 4 star hotel/business class travel experience, but if you’re tired, you’ll start your train ride in one city, conk out and sleep through the night, and wake up in a new city hundreds of miles away pretty easily. I’ve been on a bunch, from a fancy 12 hour overnight one from Shanghai to Beijing, China with a nice TV at the foot of each bed, to very comfortable trains from Berlin, Germany to Basel, Switzerland (with my dad) and another one from Munich, Germany to Rome, Italy. All of them are usually the same: Not a ton of space but fairly comfortable, room to put your bags and jackets, one or two reasonably clean bathrooms, maybe a small dining room in one of the trains to order beer or food, fairly quiet and well-behaved cabin travel partners.
This Ukrainian sleeper train had absolutely NONE of that. As we entered the dingy, poorly lit, and stuffy compartment and threw all our luggage up onto the top bunks, which Logan and I had picked because we figured we’d have more privacy and our shit would be less likely to be stolen, we quickly realized why these overnight sleeper trains only cost $20/ticket, as opposed to the $100-$140/ticket that most other sleeper trains I had been on cost. There was almost no space to move around and barely enough space to stand up in, with the whole cabin measuring about 6’ x 10’ x 8’, which sounds like a decent amount of space unless you have 4 drunk Europeans (or in our case, 2) trying to cram into all that space. The entire cabin was so stifling hot that you couldn’t breathe well, especially on the top bunk, and there was no way to open the window. The dimly lit walls of the cabin were made of a Cold War-era drab wood that was peeling in a ton of places. The one cool thing in the cabin was an old-school 1960’s-era radio dial to control music and stations, which of course didn’t work. And the bathrooms, dear God, the bathrooms looked and smelled like a Yeti took a crap while getting killed, got reanimated from the dead as a Yeti zombie, and then crawled up the butt of another Yeti, which also then died.
And so it was, that Logan and I threw all our stuff up on the top bunks, got our array of travel snacks and toiletries out, started making our bed, lay down, and got ready to hopefully take a long 10+ hour bumpy nap to the other side of Ukraine in relative peace and quiet. However, our cabin mates and travel companions had other plans for our night. Remember, every 2nd class sleeper train compartment had a total of 4 beds, and our brother and I hadn’t ponied up for the 1st class sleeper train compartment with 2 beds since we wanted to save a little cash. As our compartment door was thrown wide open with a bang, a lanky guy in his 20’s wearing thick Coke-bottle glasses and a large traveler knapsack that was bigger than he was, yelled “Privet! (“Hello!” in Russian), and threw his bag on the lower bunk. His name was Martin, a gregarious Dutch backpacker who spoke 5 languages (English, Dutch, Polish, Russian, and another one I’m not sure of), and he was one of those vagabond spirits who had traveled the world, or at least most of Europe, for months on probably less than $25/day. He proceeded to introduce himself to us, and then launched himself into an extended discussion of Ukrainian-Russian-Polish-Eastern European geopolitics and linguisics that would have confused most college professors. And once he started talking, he didn’t stop talking. All night…no joke.
As Logan and I were rubbing the cobwebs out of our eyes, and Martin was explaining the fine subtleties of the Ukrainian black market and Vladimir Putin’s shady personal and business habits, the door of our compartment was thrown open and a loud, boisterous middle-aged Ukrainian guy named Igor yelled another “Privet!” and threw his stuff on the bed. The train slowly started moving on its long journey towards L’viv, and Igor and Martin started getting chatty right away. In fluent Polish (which Igor somehow knew) they jabbered away, while Igor glanced curiously at Logan and I and pointed at us excitedly. After about 10-15 minutes of this, Martin noticed that we were looking confused at this ridiculous extended discussion, and he turned to us and said, “I’m sorry, Igor wants to know if you guys are really Americans, because he’s never seen Asian appearing people speak fluent American English. I told him that, in fact, you were genuine Americans, but he won’t believe it!” I assured Martin that the last time I checked, Logan and I were both definitely American, and Martin and Igor launched into another excited conversation. Igor kept glancing back and forth at Logan and I, smiled and waved, and with a glance towards each other, Logan and I thought the same thing: Igor was definitely gay.
The fact that Igor was probably gay was not a big deal at all for us, except that culturally in the Ukraine homosexuality is still not readily accepted, but Igor did a good job of hiding it. He repeatedly showed Martin and us naked pictures of women he for some reason had in in his phone who he said were his “friends,” and then kept up with us shot for shot as Martin started to drink vodka secretly (open hard liquor was not allowed on Ukrainian trains, technically), which he started to do right away. As Martin and Igor continued to talk about how ridiculous it was that their two sleeper compartment travel companions were two random English-speaking Asian Americans, our compartment door was thrown wide open again, and with another yell of “Privet!” yet another middle aged, vodka-bellied Ukrainian with, I shit you not, a huge-ass grill in his teeth stormed into the room.
At this point, I looked around the cabin and silently counted on my fingers. “One…two…three…four…FIVE?! Who the hell is this guy?” I wondered silently. We never ended up getting the name of the aging Ukrainian drunk rap-star who stormed into our compartment, but he hugged Igor and Martin, yelled something in Russian, pulled up a seat on one of the lower bunks and started pouring huge quantities of vodka into teacups right away. Logan and I thought maybe he was one of Igor’s friends from another cabin, but we later found out he was just a random drunk Ukrainian guy who took it upon himself to drink and do a vodka shot (or triple shot, the way he poured) with every single compartment on our train. And he would NOT take “No” for an answer. So with a hearty “NA ZDROWIE!!!” (which was actually “Cheers!” in Polish, not Russian), Logan and I slammed down a triple-shot of vodka in a teacup with our new Eastern European best friends. And then another. Bad move.
About 20-30 minutes after my second triple-shot toast with the Ukrainian Brady Bunch, my eyelids started drooping and slowly lay my head down. The three crazy days of craziness in Krakow followed by three more days of craziness in Odessa had finally caught up with my sleep cycle. For the rest of the night, I drifted in and out of sleep as I heard a number of crazy things: My brother, who had wisely skipped the 2nd vodka toast, continue to discuss the intricacies of Ukrainian farm subsidies and the genetics behind the attractiveness of Ukrainian women with Martin…(At one point, Martin whispered to my brother, “Not to alarm you, but I’m pretty sure Igor is gay!”)…Igor, Martin, and the aging Ukrainian rap star singing/hugging/making fun of Vladimir Putin, while continuing to throw back vodka. At some point, the rap star stumbled out of our cabin holding a vodka bottle and waving a drunken goodbye, on his way to his next victims. Igor and Martin continued on their cross-country vodka-induced friendship, continuing to jabber on in Polish/Ukrainian until around 4 am, when they finally finished all the vodka, and with nothing better to do they completely passed out below us.
At around 6 am, with three of us snoring away (Igor had somehow managed to slip away in the night to another small Ukrainian town at some earlier stop), the door of our compartment was thrown open for the last time, and the surly Ukrainian female train attendant demanded all of our bedding and pillows, because she wanted to go home right away after the train got into the station. As we sat there yawning and hungover, with the creaky Ukrainian train pulling into the end of the track, Martin, Logan, and myself grabbed all our stuff and tumbled out of the cramped train into the pre-dawn fog of the L’viv train station. With a quick exchange of Facebook addresses, and a last cryptic message in Polish yelled over his shoulder, Martin waved goodbye and disappeared into the early morning mist. Just like that, all our new-found friends had left us, leaving us nothing but fuzzy, hungover memories. Even now, weeks later, I still laugh with Logan thinking that we had a totally memorable experience with an eccentric backpacking Dutch academic, a flamboyantly gay/still-in-the-closet Ukrainian businessman, and an aging Ukrainian 50 Cent. It almost doesn’t seem real. At least it was a markedly better experience than having a creepy Italian guy yell “Mi scusi!” while taking advantage of us, like in “Eurotrip.”
Logan and I looked at each other, with the swarms of Ukrainians carrying everything from suitcases to large boxes of produce scurrying around us, and took a deep breath. As we started for the exit to the L’viv train station with our luggage, to search for and check into our apartment in Old Town L’viv, we still had no idea what else lay ahead in store for us. Would L’viv be more like the crazy party-filled nights of cobblestoned Krakow, Poland? Or more like the face control and hottie-filled vibrant green streets of Odessa, Ukraine? Or some beast all its own? The only thing I knew for sure was that we both hoped everywhere in Ukraine was as full of beautiful woman as Odessa. And that I was never ever drinking vodka again. Until we found L’viv’s HOTTEST club, which of course would never happen. Or would it?
(TO BE CONTINUED IN “EPIC EASTERN EUROPE DANCE-OFFS AND THE UKRAINIAN MODEL”