It was going to be perfect. D had scheduled a work trip to Ukraine that coincided with another ultimate frisbee tournament. And this time S would get to come also. The idea was to fly to Kiev on a Friday afternoon, spend the weekend in Lviv in Western Ukraine, and return to the capital city for a couple of days of work for D and sightseeing for S. Then the government shut down. As the saying goes, man makes plans and God laughs.
There are only five weekly flights from Chisinau to Kiev on a tiny Air Moldova plane that does not make the journey on weekends. The Embassy booked D’s tickets well in advance, but by the time we got around to purchasing S’s tickets the Friday flight was sold out. The connecting flights to Lviv were also tricky, so the only way we could make the trip work was for S to travel alone on Thursday and spend an extra day in Kiev.
S was a little nervous traveling to Ukraine alone, as she does not speak the local language, but she fell in love with the capital city the moment she set foot in it. On the one hand, it was full of interesting old buildings, golden-domed churches, and scenic cobblestone streets. On the other hand, Kiev is a major metropolis full of great restaurants and quirky museums, which makes Chisinau feel like a provincial village by comparison.
One of the historic buildings S visited housed a private collection that spanned from Renaissance art to painted icons dating from the 6th century. It rained a good part of the day, so after grabbing a couple of blintzes from an outdoor kiosk S again sought refuge indoors. She visited the reconstructed synagogue and then checked out a modern art gallery, which had dedicated several floors to an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art. S had seen some wild modern art before, but this museum takes the cake. Not only were there several installations with actors, but also there was an exhibit featuring a live pig. If the museum plaques are to be believed, this was the same pig that famously survived 36 days under the rubble of a collapsed pig farm after a 2008 earthquake in China.
D had checked with management several times to make sure his trip was still approved in light of the shutdown. The tickets had already been purchased and funds had been appropriated from the previous year’s budget, but at 9am on Friday morning, just as D was about to hail a cab to go to the airport for his 10:40am flight, he received the doomsday phone call. New guidance had come out from Washington late in the night and all non-essential travel had been suspended. D’s trip was cancelled, and so was his plane ticket to Kiev.
This left D in an unenviable position. His boss had given him permission to take leave so he could still travel, but he no longer had a plane ticket. The flight was sold out and there was a chance D would not be able to get his ticket back, in which case not only would his Lviv tickets go to waste, but S would also end up stranded for a week in Ukraine by herself. D tried calling the Embassy’s travel staff but no one answered either their office or mobile phones, and meanwhile the clock kept ticking. D called a cab, deciding that his best bet was to sort out the problem at the airport. En route, he looked over his now useless ticket confirmation and noticed that it had a phone number for the travel agency that had booked the ticket for the Embassy.
Air Moldova was doing final call when D stepped up to the check-in counter. He had just finished explaining that his ticket had been cancelled and that he would like to try to buy it back when his phone rang. The travel agent had returned his call with the good news that she managed to reconfirm the booking. Stressful and unpleasant as it was to have his work trip cancelled at the last possible moment, everything worked out well in the end. Having to buy his own ticket back was a small price to pay to have a few days of unplanned vacation so that we could explore Kiev together.