19.08.2012 - 21.08.2012 25 °C
My train to Kiev was smooth and effortless, although I didn't have a great night sleep. When I arrived in Kiev at 6:40 in the morning I was buggered. I made my way to my lovely clean modern hostel and thankfully was able to go straight to my bed. Sleep time.
At 12pm I actually started my sightseeing day, walking up Andriyivesky usziz (Andrew's descent), one of Kiev's oldest streets, steep, cobblestoned and full of market stalls selling souviners, art and other random bits and pieces. At the top is St Andrews cathedral, a cute little gilded and elaborately decorated church overlooking the street and the surrounding area. Afterwards I walked towards Independance Square, the scene of the 2004 Orange Revolution. It's huge but not as monumental as I expected it to be as as its not one big open square but a square with a major road running through it and multiple height changes and smaller monuments all through it. Plus at the present time it is filled with massive stage infrastructure as its Ukrainian independance day on the 24th of august (and i will miss this). After walking through the square I had lunch at an overpriced cafe on the main street. I was starving and drawn into it by the fact it said sandwiches in english on a giant sign. I then continued my walking around Kiev. I stayed on the main roads and they weren't that interesting, just big boring buildings and lots of cars. I did come across a church, St Volodymers, that was elaborately decorated in gold and black and was absolutely filled with people praying. The church didn't have any seats instead people pray with their heads on a frame of jesus or someone and then they kiss the frame, as icon's of religious figures are considered holy. I saw some people doing this on the images on the walls too. I looked very out of place as all the women wear headscarves when inside the church. I continued my walking, passing by the train station to buy my ticket to Poland, and back around to Independance Square to join a free walking tour. Cities all around europe offer these which is great, at the end you tip if you liked it! I went on the modern Kiev tour. We walked around for 2.5 hours seeing monuments and statues to Independance and also ones still left from the communists. We went through the huge park that lines the edge of the city centre and has great views out across the river, and past the Kiev stadium, the scene of the Death matches when the communists killed the Ukrainian team as they beat them 3 times during the 30's. Also past the mariinsky palace, a palace built in the time of the tsars which now stands bordered up supposedly in renovation but according to our guide it has been like that for years and nothing has happened due to the corruption. We passed impressive government buildings including the Chimera building. An elaborate concrete building covered in animals like rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, lizards, fish, mermaids and it goes on. After the end of the tour I made my way back to the hostel, planning on making myself some dinner but around the corner from my hostel is a Ukrainian buffet restaurant, kind of like Sizzlers or something. It is an incredibly popular chain restaurant with a huge variety of pretty decent food, so I stocked up on goulash, vareniky, Ukrainian chicken fillets and dried fruit drink. Back at the hostel I was chilling out in the common room and was chatting to different people and being given gifts by a very strange older russian man. We were really not sure what was going on, just seemed to be a lonely old guy. But I was chatting with Louison, a french guy and Mehmet, a turkish American guy and we decided to head out to a bar just off Independance square. It was like an american country and western bar, complete with a band of older Ukrainian rockers singing country rock songs incredibly loudly and the bar going nuts for them. We had a few pints of beer here over a few hours before moving on to Vodka bar. A terribly trashy venue under the main square. It was filled with gorgeous women incredibly dressed up, and I in my uniform of jeans and t-shirt felt very out of place! There was smoking everywhere and no room to move. I knew it was a very classy establishment when I went to the bathroom and had to walk through the underground shopping mall to the male toilets where the urnials had been covered in plastic bags! We stayed for a while, watching the locals getting into it all before deciding to go for a late night sightseeing walk home through Independance Square and past three of the major churches and down Andrews descent again. It is so peaceful and lovely seeing these sights without the swarm of other tourists around it.
The next day I had a very late start, only getting up around 12. After getting my standard breakfast of bakery items from the supermarket I headed to the Chernobyl museum around the corner from my hostel. I had thought about actually going to Chernobyl on a tour but it is kind of a morbid thing and as I found out you have to organize it in advance. The museum was pretty thorough at explaining what happened, about the people who were involved that night and in the clean up and what they are doing now. Basically the whole area will be contaminated for thousands of years and it is unsafe for people to live there although lots of people work there to monitor, study and maintain the area.
After the Chernobyl museum I dropped back into the hostel quickly and ran into Mehmet. We decided to go to the Larvra. A huge monestary site near the city centre. We didn't really know much about it except it had some sort of cave crypts. When we got there we paid the $6 entry fee and found out it was a huge complex of churches, musuems, religious functions, lookout points etc. We headed straight for the caves and in doing so realised we exited the "paid" part of the complex and entered the free area. damn. We could absolutely not work out where the so-called caves were, and anyone we asked had no idea what we were saying. damn again. Eventually we found someone and she pointed at a closed building. We had come all this way and couldn't see them. damn damn damn. So we left and headed around the corner towards this giant silver statue of a woman with a sword and shield. No idea what it was but it looked impressive and something to go see closer. When we got there we found the Kiev war musem. It was closed but the fields of communists tanks, helicopters, trucks, planes and mobile rocket launchers weren't and so we got to walk around all of it and sit in a fighter jet. So ridiculously cool. Not what I had expected to see and so it was fantastic. After being like children playing with tonka trucks, we then walked around the huge statue and past some other massive fierce war sculptures and then sat out on the grass hill overlooking the other side of the Dnipro River and the newer side of Kiev where huge fields of ugly nameless towers are being built, and where we assume most people actually live.
We made our way slowly back towards the hostel to get dinner, becoming increasingly more hungry with every step. Mehmet was adamant he was not going to eat at the buffet again and so we headed to an Italian restaurant in the area, which turned out to be pretty good. After a nice dinner we went back to the hostel and hung out in the common room with a huge bunch of travellers. French, Belgium, Germans, an american, some aussies and a heap of Turkish. It was a fascinating bunch and as the night proceeded we were told to keep quiet a lot! All these people (except the american and the aussies) can speak multitudes of languages, something I am very envious of, but here in the Ukraine we are all brought back to equal ground. They can't speak Ukrainian and that made me feel childishly good! We eventually decided to head out to get more beers from the 24hr supermarket and go sit in the park around the corner from the hostel so we could make as much noise as possible! I don't think I went to bed till something close to 4am.
On my last day in Kiev I forced myself to wake up early as I had to check out and see as much as I could of Kiev. I firstly (after my bakery breakfast) headed to St Sophia's church a museum complex of a huge church and it's surrounding functional buildings. The churches in Ukraine are unlike other european churches as every square inch of wall space is painted in colour and decorated with icons and images. They are all colourful and St Sophia's is no exception, gold and teal and shades of red. I actually find it quiet sad as the churches in Ukraine have been repaired to such a state that you don't get any sense of it's age, but then again we can't freeze everything and expect time to continue. I looked in on the other church buildings and then went down the boulevard to the bright blue St Michaels at the other end. This is newly built church as the soviet's destroyed the original that had been standing since the 11th century as they believed it had no value!!! A few of the original mosiacs had been saved and are displayed in St Sophia's otherwise it was all gone. This is a practicing church and was once again filled with women and men praying and kissing frames with images of Jesus. I had decided to head back to the Larvra to see these caves but on the way stopped in the park and did a huge flying fox. The zipline went front a lookout point and across the Dnipro river to finish on the beach on the other side. About 600m in overall length. It's not the most thrilling thing I have ever done but it was very fun and I screamed in excitement as I ran off the starting platform! I then had a massive walk back over the river and up the hill to continue walking towards the caves.
Eventually with slightly sore feet and painful knees I made it and was thoroughly disappointed. It was staircase deep underground and then a short passage, filled with people, to look (and most of them kiss and pray) on the glass coffins of lots of preserved religious people lining the passage. It was totally not worth the effort. I found another one of these and in this one there was a church room and a priest who was clearly not impressed I didn't have a head scarf and was a tourist.
And with that I made my way slowly back towards the hostel on the metro. It seems slightly crazy to me that an ex-communist country has a better functioning public transport system than Sydney, and Kiev is around 5 million people too! Back near my hostel and I decided to walk up and then back down Andrew's descent looking at all the stalls and spending the last of my Ukrainian hrvynia on some souviners. Then dinner at the buffet again, sampling Ukrainian dishes of red borsch, chicken sausages rolled up in a spiral and more meat vareniky. After dinner, and getting some food supplies from the supermarket I grabbed my bags from the hostel and made my way to the train station to get my 20hr train to Krakow. I wanted to do this on the train although it would only be farmlands and fields we would pass through the area that the Wowchuk's had originally come from.