Michelle and I made it back to Chernivtsi, feeling very pleased with everything we managed to pack into our short time in Romania. I stayed at her place for the night, and the next morning our friend Tammela came into town for a belated birthday celebration at our favorite cafe. At this point it dawned on me that I was really going back to America, and that the day was finally upon us! I was incredibly excited, but also very aware that it would be hard to come back to Ukraine after a week in the US with my family.
So Michelle got out a piece of paper and a pen, and with input from Tammela and I, wrote a list of reasons why I had to come back after my trip. Some of the reasons were funny and lighthearted, such as “you already have a return ticket back!” and “to bring American goodies back for your favorite PCVs!” Other reasons were more practical; “you’re almost halfway done with your service, you can’t quit now!” and “come back for the upcoming trips we’ve planned, to Moldova and Poland!” It was a wonderful lunch and it really made me think about how blessed I’ve been with the friends I’ve made here. They’re pretty incredible.
After lunch I went to the train station and caught the overnight train to Kiev. My train arrived at 8 in the morning, and my flight didn’t leave until 1pm, so I stopped at a cafe and checked my email. I updated my Facebook to say I was finally coming home to America, and then took a bus out to the airport. The airport is about an hour away; if you take the bus it costs 25 greven (Ukrainian currency) to get there, but if you opt for a taxi its always 200 greven (and up). When my Mom came to Ukraine to visit, we took a taxi to the airport when she left because her flight was at 5am and I didn’t think the buses would be running. Taking taxis is easier to do when you’re on an American budget, because 200 greven is only $25. But for a Peace Corps Volunteer, 200 greven is what you’ll spend on food for an entire week—I wouldn’t blow it on a taxi ride!
I made it to the airport in plenty of time, and spoke my last few sentences of Ukrainian as we boarded the plane. My first flight was bound for London, and it was there during my layover where I felt the first pangs of culture shock. The prices in Heathrow were in pounds, so it was even more expensive than dollars! I bought a mug as a souvenir for one of my friends in Ukraine, and a Time magazine to read on my next flight, and it cost 10 pounds, which was almost $20, which was more than 150 greven!
My next flight was uneventful, and I tried to stay awake the whole time so I’d be ready to sleep when I got to Chicago. When the plane finally touched down I was too excited to sit still, just knowing that once I made it through customs my sister Tori would be waiting on the other side. And sure enough, she was there! I definitely teared up seeing her; it’d been almost a year, and Skype dates just hadn’t cut it : ) The crazy part was how nothing had changed; it felt just like always, hugging and talking to her. We took the metro to downtown Chicago, where our hotel was, and we called Mom and Dad in Ohio to tell them that I’d arrived and we were together.
Tori was a great navigator and got us to our hotel in no time. More culture shock was felt as we walked through downtown Chicago—it was so clean! And all the signs were in English! And once we got to the hotel room, I couldn’t get over the bed. It was huge, and SOFT! It had a mattress and everything… and I’m probably boring you by having raptures at normal, every-day things, but let me just assure you that after living abroad for a year these things feel like miracles. Tori got out all the goodies that she and my Mom had packed, such as ginger ale and oatmeal bar cookies (my favorite!). I thought that I would be too exhausted to do anything, but we ended up talking and unpacking most of my stuff so I could show her the souvenirs I’d brought from Romania. It was a great reunion, and so wonderful to be with Tori again. At 10pm, Chicago time (which would be 6am Ukraine time, but you’re not supposed to think about it that way or you’ll never adapt to the right time zone) we got into bed and I took some Tylenol PM to assure that I would stay asleep the whole night. And just like that, I was out.
The next day, the real fun began. Tori started out the day right by making a coffee run while I was in the shower—I got out and a huge cup of Dunkin’ Donuts was waiting for me! I can’t even tell you how happy that coffee made me : ) Lollapalooza was scheduled to start that afternoon, so we had a few hours to burn with some retail therapy. The best part about staying in downtown Chicago is how close the Miracle Mile is, complete with Express, H&M, and even Coach! I was blissed out on shopping, and Tori was a great companion/style guide. I bought tons of new clothes to take back to Ukraine with me, like jeans that actually fit and a few teacherly looking items. I also found some great rock concert type tank tops, so I would be ready to rock out at Lollapalooza. We closed our shopping spree with lunch at P.F. Chang’s, my favorite Chinese restaurant, and at this point I was pretty sure life couldn’t get any better… but that was before Lollapalooza!
We dropped off all the bags at our hotel, and changed clothes, and walked to Grant Park where the festivities would be taking place. In case you’ve never heard of it, Lollapalooza is a three-day music festival in Chicago, where more than 200 bands perform in one weekend. When you buy a ticket for the weekend, you receive a bracelet that lets you come and go as you please, so you can look at the schedule and decide what groups you want to see and what times you have to be there. The first time I went to Lollapalooza, I was 18 and went with my best friend Sammy. My Mom and Tori came to Chicago with us, and hung out while we went to the concerts. It was so much fun, and ever since then Tori’s been wanting me to go back with her! So now she’s 17, and this is her first time at Lollapalooza. Some of our favorite bands were there, and the lineup looked incredible.
At Lollapalooza, right before seeing Muse!
Friday we saw The Kills, Bright Eyes, OK Go, Muse, and Coldplay! I think Bright Eyes was my surprise favorite of the day; Conor Oberst gave an excellent performance, and Tori and I were close enough to see him and enjoy it. Muse was as amazing as anticipated; I saw them at my first Lollapalooza, and they give a great show. Plus the energy of the audience is incredible; the adoration of the crowd makes its almost like a religious experience instead of a concert. Muse is the only group I know that insists on having a grand piano on stage at every concert, which is probably why they’re one of my favorite groups ; ) Here’s a clip of Matthew Bellamy, the frontman of Muse, singing United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage. The piano solo at the end is incredible, its well worth the minute it takes to watch it : )
We stayed for an hour of Muse, and then made our way to the other end of Grant Park to watch the other head-lining show: Coldplay! The best two British alternative rock bands in one night? Yes please! Coldplay also gave a great show, except that everyone tries to sing along to Coldplay and its annoys me because I’d rather listen to Chris Martin sing than everyone in the audience ; )
I think the highlight of Coldplay’s show was the part where Chris Martin sang a tribute to Amy Winehouse, who had passed away just a week earlier. It was such a sweet moment when he sang part of her song about rehab, and the audience was very touched. I took a video of it, so here’s the clip for you to enjoy as well. I was never a fan of her music, but I almost liked the song listening to Chris Martin sing it!
The next morning, Tori and I had a crazy adventure trying to get my hair cut. Its a long story, but we ended up going to the wrong salon an hour outside of town, and had to race back downtown to the right place. We were 40 minutes late, but they still took me, and I ended up getting 6 inches cut off and coming out with red hair. The stylist who did my hair was incredible, and it was so nice to have healthy hair again! And the red was great, Tori loved the color : ) Here’s a picture of us at Lollapalooza that night; see how happy we are? : )
Saturday we saw the Local Natives, Lykke Li, a few songs by My Morning Jacket, and then Eminem. I don’t think I’d ever pay to see Eminem outside of Lollapalooza, but he does deliver a great show. His attracts a pretty negative audience though, and there was lots of shoving/fights/death threats from people trying to get closer to the stage and other people fighting for their spots. It was intense, and I probably wouldn’t want to see him again, but it was fun for an hour : )
That night after the concert, Tori and I packed up our hotel room and got ready to leave, because the next morning our parents were coming and we were moving to a new hotel with them! Read on for the rest of the Chicago adventure : )