20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

St Michael's Monastery

St Michael's Monastery

Monument to the Unification of Russia and Ukraine

St Michael's Monastery

St Michaels Monastery

St Sophia's Cathedral

St Andrew's Church

National Opera Ukraine


Stalinist Building with posh bar

Maidan Nezalezhnosti


Caves Monastery

Caves Monastery

Caves Monastery

Caves Monastery

Great Patriotic War Museum

Peace Tanks

Rodina Mat

Rodina Mat

War Museum and Caves Monastery

Kiev by night

The journey into Ukraine was very pleasant, as are most journeys by train in Europe. I shared my 3 bed sleeper with a couple of young Polish backpackers who were friendly enough but kept themselves to themselves. Although we started late from Krakow the inordinate amount of time allocated at the border meant that we arrived in L'viv and all points beyond that on time. Most of the time at the border was spent farting around with the train bogies in an almost identical fashion than I experienced on the Chinese/Mongolian border. After spending some time on every one of the stations many platforms between shunts we finally reached the Ukrainian side to find all of the people from the cheap seats (they only change the bogies on the sleeper cars)waiting for the train there. It did make me wonder why they bother, it would be much quicker and easier to have an identical train on the other side and make everyone change. Anyway, bogey excitement and passport formalities over we chugged off into the Ukrainian night (we'd arrived at tea time). Being the time of year for the Perseids I was hoping to get some good shooting star action passing through the middle of no-where but the rain had taken the opportunity to catch up so the only celestial fireworks came in the form of lightning. I retired to my rather comfortable upper bunk, all bedding included, and let the rickety tracks of the former Soviet Union rock me to sleep.

Arrival in Kiev was fairly straightforward and uneventful, ATM for cash, shove a note at the ticket booth for the metro and raise one finger, get a funny look then one token and lots of change. Now that I'm a master at the Moscow Metro negotiating Kiev's two lines was a piece of cake and a lot easier than negotiating the Hostels directions from my stop. Hostel found and bag dumped, I got straight back onto the metro and returned to the Railway station to try book a ticket back out. On such a tight schedule it makes sense to make the first priority at every stop to book the next leg of the journey. This was when the fun began, I can honestly say that booking a train in a small town in China is easier than in a major City in the FSU. Once you ask if they speak English they don't want to know, even when you give them the train number, date, time and destination (written in Cyrillic) they will still insist that they don't speak English and look away. According to the Lonely Planet counters 41 and 42 are the correct ones for foreigners, according to counters 41 and 42 foreigners can bugger off somewhere else. The information booth which had "Information" above it in English and Informasski in Cyrillic obviously took this to mean "stand in formation to be told to bugger off". Eventually I found someone who must have missed the foreigner training day and offered me 110hry (£11) or 180hry (£18), to reward myself for 2 hours of perseverance I took the first class option and beat a hasty retreat.

Now free to actually see Kiev but with most of my first day gone I took the metro back to the city centre and started to wander aimlessly. What I found really impressed me and was nothing like the drab mini-Moscow I was expecting. Just outside the modern centre I found a beautiful Monastery (St Michael's) and Cathedral (St Sophia's). As the sun descended and the threat of rain grew I headed back into the centre and started to realise that Kiev must be one of the beer drinking capitals of the world, everywhere you looked people were drinking beer, in bars and cafe's yes but sat on street corners, in parks, just walking down the street, everyone had a beer and every few metres there was a kiosk, shop or stall selling cold beer.

I decided to try to navigate my way back to the hostel on foot and see what I could find on route. It didn't take long, just outside the centre I had the choice of walking along a busy road or following a footpath that seemed to go over a hill in the right direction. I took the hill and at the top I discovered the Unification of Russia and Ukraine monument, a small amusement park and a great view over the city. I also discovered a few hundred people drinking beer. It would have been rude not to so I forked out about £0.35 on a bottle and watched the sun set over Kiev, then grabbed another and watched night descend on Kiev, then another to see me down the other side of the hill. At the bottom was another little beer drinking gathering area, a Macky D and the funicular and the main road back to my hostel which looked like the main drinking street of Kiev. I treated myself to one for the road, stumbled back into my hostel and ended day one in Kiev quite a happy bunny.

Day two in Kiew welcomed back my old friend Mr Rain, still, I found out that my hostel was very close to the Chernobyl Museum so I had a couple of pre breakfast hours wandering around there. Everything was in Ukrainian but there were some good 3-d models of the plant and surrounding areas and a gimmicky rendition of the explosion. There was also a film playing in Russian (I presumed) that I have seen dubbed into English on TV at home.

When I left the museum, helping myself to my bag in the deserted high security storage area, the sun had re-appeared. I wanted to visit the Great Patriotic War Museum so I jumped back on the metro and bought a fist full of tokens (5p each) to save future queueing. I got the metro to the nearest station on the map and then started walking in the vague direction I knew I wanted to go, along the river. Have I mentioned how hilly Kiev is? Nowhere in my t'internet research on reading the LP did anyone mention hills - Kiev is full of them. I followed the riverside road for a while but it became obvious that I was going to have to climb one of the roads leading steeply away from it. The one I chose had a few forks in it which I selected at random as they all went up, eventually I hit a wall and followed it south. Not far along the wall I came to the entrance of what looked like a park or church grounds. It looked quite pretty and looked like it might get me nearer to where I wanted to be so I walked in. It also looked like it might want an entrance fee but no-one stopped me so I guessed not. Whatever it was it was an impressive mix of gardens, churches and market stalls, where I wandered around for an hour or so taking quite a few photographs. I've only found out since I got home and checked my guide book that I was at The Caves Monastery the No 1 tourist attracton in the Ukraine, I never found any caves though.

I did eventually find the patriotic war museum and it was worth it for the sheer sovietness of it, huge bold statues and reliefs, grim solid architecture and an extensive array of killing machines. The highlight is the enourmous Rodina Mat statue of a heroic woman 40+ meters high.

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