Our friend Julie was renewing her Russian visa in Odessa and asked me to come see her there. My trip started off a little too exciting. The closest train station is about an hour away, and I couldn't find a bus to get me there as early as I would have wanted. The one I did get on would have arrived with barely enough time. . . but, of course, it got stuck in traffic. We pulled into the bus station 10 minutes before the train was supposed to leave, and it's a good little walk from there to the train station. After a few minutes of haggling with taxi drivers who insisted that it would be impossible to make it to the train on time, I ended up paying a ridiculous amount and convincing one of them to just give it a try. He got me to the train station, I sprinted for the train, and actually made it, just as it was pulling out. It was definitely a miracle!
I won't say anything about the rest of the trip, except that 16 hours on a HOT train with a miserable baby is not fun.
We finally made it to Odessa at 5:00 the next morning. The apartment Julie had reserved was double booked, so she had been bumped to a place out on the edge of the city. I found her, and we rested a little. Then we moved to the nice apartment in the center of town that she had originally planned on. Soon after that, Laura, a friend of Will's sister's, came to see us. We had a great time with Laura! She showed us around the main sights there in the center of the city. Then, she took us to a Bible study group that meets right there. We all enjoyed the fellowship with new friends, the incredible apartment overlooking the Opera House, and the snacks. (Asya said I had to mention that last item. )
The next day we set out to find the Russian consulate and turn in Julie's visa application. The consulate is right down by the Black Sea, so Asya and I had a great time walking around while we waited for Julie. Julie came out a little shaken, because they had told her to come back in the afternoon so that they could decide if they would give her a visa. We prayed hard, and enjoyed a lunch of pizza by the sea. Then we decided to kill time at the botanical garden we had passed on our way down. It was kind of strange; there was no one there at all. The gate was open, though, so we went in. We felt like we were breaking in. It was quite overgrown and run-down, but very beautiful. We wandered around, let Asya nap in the stroller, took pictures, watched birds, and talked. Then it was time to head back to the consulate. When we left the garden, there was a guard sitting by the gate, and he just kind of waved at us, so I guess it was open. There was a lot more waiting at the consulate, but it turned out that they had only told Julie to come back later because of language. There really wasn't any question about granting her a visa.
Tuesday we wandered around on our own. Odessa is a beautiful city! Asya would tell you about the bumpy streets. She loved the cobblestones and bricks, and sang in her stroller as she bumped along. Other than that, her favorite part was the food. That evening we ate at a Ukrainian cafeteria on the top floor of a mall and really enjoyed it.
The next day it was already time for Asya and I to head home. I was determined not to run for any more trains, and we needed to get a return ticket for Julie, so we left way early. After a slow walk to the train station, we got Julie a ticket, but it was for much later than she would have wanted. From there, we went to McDonald's for ice cream and then through an outdoor used book market. Julie put us on our train, and again, I'll close the curtain there. The way home was even longer and more miserable. (It was a little cooler outside, so everyone was afraid to open the windows. . . .)
How could such a wonderful trip have flown by so quickly? How could I cover it in such a few paragraphs?
And now, what you've all been waiting for: