Vinnitsa: Crossing the border into western Ukraine
Reaching the Ukrainian border we crossed by bridge from Moldova to Ukraine dodging the hawkers selling potatoes in the no-man’s land of the bridge. On the Ukrainian side, we were greeted by ushanka (шапка-ушанка) wearing Ukrainian border guards.
Enamored of the female border guard, my friend whispers in my ear: “Tell me that all the girls in Ukraine look like her, dude!” “For sure, my friend!” I chuckle, “You will not be disappointed by the beauty of Ukraine.”
After giving me directions to the bus station, one of her male colleagues looks at my smitten American friend, smiles and says ‘Твой дгуг … ему нравится наша девушка, правда?’ I laugh in reply. ‘Это его первый раз в Украине. Еще любит девушку здесь.’
After some playful banter with the border guards, we snap some photos and board the bus to Vinnitsa in western Ukraine.
Ukrainian border control
Vinnitsa, population 375,000, feels like a metropolis after the quaint towns of northern Moldova and although heavily fatigued after the 6-hour trip, we replenish ourselves with some succulent Georgian cuisine at Tiflis restaurant and prepare for the Sunday evening ahead of us. We can a stroll around the city centre, which features the Roshen fountain – Europe’s largest floating fountain. The city is built on the Southern Bug river which flows southwards before entering the Black Sea near to Kherson in southern Ukraine.
Map of our route from the northern Moldovan border to Vinnitsa, Ukraine
We look for the local hot club, Feride, but can’t find it at the address. After walking up and down the street a couple of times, we stop to ask three locals hanging out on the corner where this club is. Speaking in broken English, one of the guys tell us that the club is closed on Sunday but they are planning on meeting some friends at a sauna and they invite us along. I glance at my buddy. Do we really want to go to a sauna with three dudes? What the hell, sure let’s see what happens!
Roshen Fountain during the day
The moment after we agree to the sauna idea, a 185 cms tall pretty Ukrainian girl gets out of a taxi in front of us. ‘Привет! Меня завут Катя.’ she beams. “Starting to look like the sauna invitation was a good move after all”, laughs my American friend. After loading up on bottles of vodka, we hop in a taxi and go to the sauna somewhere on what seems the outskirts of the city to enjoy a real regional experience – the sauna.
Our Ukrainian sauna or Баня features an entrance room for disrobing, an entertainment room with wide-screen TV for the entertainment (hence the copious amounts of vodka), a the washing room (for pre-sauna), the timber sauna itself and finally a swimming pool (post-sauna). Saunas in Ukraine are typically rented by groups of friends by the hour.
When we arrive at our sauna, our new friends are joined by a group of colleagues from the restaurant where they work. An elated group of 10 people looking kick back and enjoy a night off from work … and us 🙂 … I was delighted that my American buddy got to sample this part of Ukrainian culture on the first day already.
During the revelry that ensued my American friend struggled without any Russian or Ukrainian. Smitten with one of the girls at the party, I watch him frustratingly attempt to converse with her. Taking over, I chat to her and she compliments me on my Russian excusing herself that she only speak Russian, Ukrainian and Arabic.
La revedere Moldova! Здравствуйте Україна!
Hold on … “Arabic”?!? My friend does speak fluent Arabic. “Habibi, she speaks Arabic”, I laugh. My friends eyes light up and in disbelief the two of them start to flirt in Arabic. Who could have guessed that in a small Ukrainian town that Arabic could be the key to a romantic conversation?