House-sitter and independent traveler Edward accepts a Long term house-sitting near Kiev. The owner is selling her home and emigrating to Montenegro, she needed someone to live in the house until it is sold. This blog describes Edward’s journey from Spain to Ukraine, and on arriving his surprise at the peace and quiet of his rural neighbourhood, a far cry from the war torn reports in Western European media. His story is a full ‘sharing economy experience’, a journey that begins by his securing a long term house-sitting post near Kiev via an online network, and arranging a rideshare via the internet to get to his destination. This is how he begins his tale.
Getting to the Long term house-sitting near Kiev
I step out the front porch door, and pick a handful of fresh red grapes growing within a short arm’s reach. If I walked 40 more steps, I could grab a handful of tart and sweet plums from the trees right here in the garden. The garden is ripe and bursting with the seasonal harvest with all manner of fruits and vegetables. I breathe-in moist, green earth, go to the kitchen, mix the grapes in a little sour cream (сметана) from the neighbour, and head back to the office/idea room, where I’ve got WIFI.
The house, my long term house-sitting assignment near Kiev is furnished with the minimum requirements for a house-sitter, but I can see it was once full of furniture and mod cons to accommodate a family.
In the back of the house, I can hear the sounds of chainsaws biting into logs, and occasional barking dogs, braying cows, screeching pigs, and crowing roosters. I am living in rural Ukraine, a country at war with Russia and yet, it couldn’t feel more forgotten and more at peace. I am house-sitting in just 90 minutes west of Kiev.
A month ago, I would never have imagined living here, and yet, I like living this life. How did I get here, and what’s life to be like in the Ukraine, for an American of Irish descent who has lived in Southern Europe for the best part of 10 years..? It’s been said ‘never start your travel story from an airport’, but my first 24-hours in this country were remarkable enough to break this rule.
A House-sitting Traveler’s Tale for the Sharing Economy
Getting to Ukraine direct from a city like Barcelona can be a bit more expensive if you fly (www.skyscanner.net) than if from a nearby jumping-off point. So I opted to fly to Poland, and figure out the ground transportation from there. From Warsaw there are several ground options to cross into Ukraine, the first being by train, but I chose one that I had tried before, Blablacar the ride share site.
There are a number of emerging companies offering collaborative solutions through the sharing economy – because of the internet making access to these networks easy they can offer many advantages to the independent traveler. Networks like Blablacar, AirBnB, Couchsurfing, and HouseSitMatch have enabled affordable travel and accommodation liberating many a passport. They have certainly helped me secure affordable transport and long term house-sitting assignments that I would otherwise not have considered.
My memories of Blablacar from Barcelona to Madrid, are vivid. I went online, and despite being a novice I managed to reserve seats in a private car departing from the Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona at 11AM. All we knew, was that the driver was named Archy, and that he was going for a nose operation. A cosmetic nose job, we wondered? Nothing could have prepared us to have been greeted by a man with a hole where his nose was meant to be. But on the 6-hour journey to Madrid, we talked about cancer, shifting priorities from workaholism to bravely living life for yourself, and inevitably about the state of things in Europe and the world—in short, we blabla’ed our whole way there, making a new friend that day.
To complete the next leg of our journey I went back onto the computer, the blablacar experience was a first for me, the screen text kept changing automatically into the Cyrillic alphabet when I put in the destination city as Kiev, and I had three windows open with Google Translate running in both directions, and a broken pen snapped in frustration, before finally confirming the reservation.
Hitting the Road to Kiev in the Ukraine
I met Oleg our driver and the eight passengers the next morning, stuffing ourselves and an unworldly amount of bags and things into his Mercedes. We became a caravan and a passenger van crammed into one—but even my folded bike found a secure spot. Onboard were an extraordinarily cute baby, two women, two young men, a cozy couple, the driver, and me, the only English speaker.
Rideshare to the Ukraine
Our test of patience came at the border. Sometimes inching forward, sometimes at a dead stop, we managed to wait 12-hours to reach the Polish exit border. A European license plate might only take 3-minutes to exit their country. But to be a Ukranian meant a special line that went slower, requiring an infinite amount of patience. It was an affront, but there are no consumer rights at the border, and less so for a non-EU person, from a poor neighbouring country.
At one point, I walked to the front of the line, and stood there defiantly, with my arms crossed, in the cold dark, watching what the border officers were actually doing. Taking an average of 15 minutes to process each vehicle, they spent about 13 minutes of those engrossed in their computers, then they emerged suddenly, shining a flashlight into the windows, glancing at passports, and waving them on.I grew up on the US-Mexico border, and during my travels I have crossed tough borders in politically touchy places like: Iraq-Turkey; Syria-Jordan; Jordan-Israel. Exiting Poland in a Ukranian vehicle line, however, made all of those experiences seem positively pleasant, a walk in the park even. This was a rather nerve-wracking experience, more so than the rest put together.
Waiting for the border guards
Oleg was showing his exhaustion as we got past, hitting dawn-lit Ukraine at top speeds, swerving around some very big potholes in the roads, and stopping at every convenience mart we encountered for more coffee and cigarettes. We were hell-bound for Kiev, and if the other passengers were sweating at Oleg’s sudden change of driving behaviour, they weren’t showing it.
Reflections at the start of my ‘Long term house-sitting near Kiev’
After surviving a Bolivian bus driver, who, while arguing at and shaking his cell phone in the air, nearly careened us off cliff; and Kurdish drivers who narrowly missed head-on collisions with semi-trucks while passing on the wrong side of the road, I thought I had all the ghosts already scared out of me.
However, the journey was not yet over. We’d had a long night of driving and I knew just how tired Oleg must be, so I clutched at my seat belt with one hand, and buried my nose in a Henry James novel with the other, looking out the window only occasionally.
The architecture got shabbier with abrupt islands of brand new gas-marts; the roads got rougher; the cars were many older models of Mercedes, hand-me-downs from decades ago. As we progressed East, there were more and more tractors dotting the roadside and now the sun was finally coming up revealing the full scene.
And so to the Long term house-sitting near Kiev
We had crossed a time zone +1 yet it felt like we had gone backwards perhaps 50 years in time. And it had just occurred to me that I was heading to this long term house-sitting assignment near Kiev, sight unseen!
And so a new adventure begins…
Watch out soon for Part 2 of Edward’s traveller’s tales – about his long term house-sitting near Kiev.
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