Last week I gave a presentation at an energy efficiency seminar in Kiev.
I left the office in Brussels a bit after five and caught the new train from the European quarter to the airport. Three women on the platform discussed national electoral systems. On the platform there was an advert to join the police force, showing a man with a gun.
It was the first time I’d been to the airport since the terror attacks in March. A ten minute walk, with plenty of stairs, to get to the airport proper, and the baggage check was serious; but I still had time to get something to eat before my plane left at eight.
Austrian airlines’ colour is tomato-soup red. Fine, light evening in the sky. Pünkltiche landing in Vienna, Fünfzehn Grad. Umlauts seem less easy to make out, to hear, in Austrian German.
When we arrived just before ten, Vienna airport was closing up. I raced through to level G, where passport-controlled flights go from. People were sleeping on the seating; the queue for my flight was unusually polite. As I went down the walkway to the plane a jolly Ukrainian man in a blue striped shirt handed me my passport, which I’d dropped. His daughter is studying in Amsterdam (and getting distracted by the city, maybe she should go to Canada). It is too expensive to study in the UK.
We took off at 10.30. The plane trembled and flashed, made a constant highish and a constant lowish noise. Climbed, bounced in cloud. We arrived at one, Ukrainian time (midnight in Brussels). Passport check, stamp in passport, eleven minutes after the doors of the plane opened I was in the car and moving. (Not relying on there being taxis so late, we had booked a car with a driver.)
We drove steadily at 100. By the roadside I saw a taxi; medium-sized wild dogs; and many signs: Global Top Company Daewoo, Порще [Porsche], Готель [hotel], Баня, Vodka Grill. Tower blocks; bridge over the Dnepr. Chillout café. Church, illuminated. My hotel at last; a beer from the minibar. In the morning the city appeared in the window.
I walked to the hotel where the seminar was being held. It was a pleasure to walk in the fresh city. A grey dog passed me and went down a side street. I went back to photograph it, it was gone.
I saw an advert for Schengen visas,
an advert for Europe days,
a marshrutka and a conventionally operated bus that seemed to be using the same stopping place,
a fine church,
and a block of flats.
How many Ukrainians read the latin alphabet, I wondered. Most? Easily, or haltingly?
At the seminar speakers from Ukraine, Croatia, Austria, Italy and the UK described their work to promote energy efficiency. In my presentation I argued that energy efficiency is not easy or glamorous but it makes a difference.
Leaving, I caught a taxi in the rain.
From the taxi I saw the “Cinderella” drycleaners,
a Jamala poster (her name was in latin script, the rest of the poster in cyrillic),
and several groups of big buildings just like this.
We hit a traffic jam when we got on the motorway. What’s that building over there?, I asked the taxi driver. It makes hot water for district heating, he replied, adding many interesting remarks on energy in Ukraine (see https://paulhhodson.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/on-energyawareness-in-ukraine-based-on-a-small-sample/). As I got out at the airport, he said the time to come to Kiev is late May – after the rain. It’s the 19th today, I said. Yes, he said. This is mid May.
There were as many soldiers in uniform in public places as we now see in Brussels. But they were younger, and not obviously armed. I flew back with LOT. Please fasten your seatbelt, very dynamic tops of clouds today, said the pilot.
As we came down towards Warsaw flat-bottomed clouds sat like islands in the air. At Warsaw airport I found a sunlit sushi restaurant with Japanese beers on display. I asked which is the best? This one, said the waitress, patting the Zywiec on tap. I can get that in Brussels, I told her, and asked for a Kirin.