Saved: December 29th 2012July 11th 2010
The plane that flew Michael and me from Chisinau to Kiev was with Dniprodvia Airways but it got us there in just under an hour. As we headed into the city we passed large areas of forest broken occasionally by billboards splashed with Cyrillic, and then when we reached the outskirts of the city, the horrid concrete tower blocks appeared, always a feature of ex-Soviet cities.
Kiev was big. It stretched in all directions, both outwards and upwards. The centre of town was much nicer than the outskirts and I was surprised to find a fair few hills. Our hotel was located in a prime spot for sightseeing, even if it did have an adjoining bar called the Star Bar, which judging by the neon outside, would feature dancing girls as well as TV screens .
“I can’t believe the mullet lives on in Kiev!” I remarked as a man walked past sporting a particularly fine specimen. Lots of children had them too, often twisted into a tiny pony tail, proving that the 1980s throwback was alive and well.
For our first afternoon in sunny Kiev, we decided to head into the heart of the city but first
we needed something to eat. With not many eateries on offer on the street we were on, we bit the bullet and entered the next one we came to. We weren’t surprised to find that the menu was all in Cyrillic and the waitress spoke no English. “Well there’s only one thing to do,” said Michael, turning to a page at random. “It’s got to be pot luck.” When the waitress reappeared Michael pointed at something on the undecipherable menu and I did the same. The waitress nodded and disappeared leaving us to wonder what the hell we had ordered.
A boiled fish, complete with head, tail and skin arrived in front of Michael and a grilled piece of white fish and some fried cucumber arrived in front of me. “Not bad, I said, prodding my fish,” for a wild stab in the Cyrillic dark.”
“I thought you could read Cyrillic anyway?” said Michael, tucking into his fish. It was true; I had learned to read the alphabet a few years previously and could decipher most things. The problem was not the actual reading of the words but the understanding of them. Some words such as restaurant and
pivo (beer) were fairly easy to understand, but most of the rest were largely meaningless.
There were some fantastic churches in Kiev and as we walked towards the mighty St Michael’s things got even better. It was all white and green, topped with a set of beautiful golden domes. Behind us was St Sophia’s Cathedral, the oldest in Kiev, where we’d climbed the bell tower to get a grand view of the city. The entrance to St Michael’s Cathedral was guarded by a platoon on babushkas rattling tins whenever anyone passed them. Once through them, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the church before us. As Orthodox priests in black robes wandered past, we heard some singing coming from inside the cathedral and so decided to go in. Other people were heading inside too but I slid to the front to see a line of Orthodox priests singing a haunting tune.
“Do you know what I’m getting sick of?” said Michael. “It’s folding up these free tourists maps we picked up at the airport. It’s embarrassing to be stood near a church trying to fold it up with a load of tits hanging out of the page.
It doesn’t feel right looking at an advertisement for a massage parlour in front of a church.”
Andrew’s Descent was described in the guidebook as a must-see sight and it turned out to be a steep winding cobblestone path lined with stalls selling everything from Russian dolls, fur hats, artwork, and traditional Ukrainian crafts. Its name came from the stunning St Andrew’s Cathedral which stood at the top of the descent. Built in 1754 it was one of the few buildings in Kiev to escape serious damage and it got my vote as the best Cathedral in town. I was especially impressed with its domes, which seemed covered in green velvet and finished with glittering gold. It looked like a crown.
Another gorgeous feature of Kiev was the women. Virtually everywhere we went there were scores of them, most wearing short skirts and high heels. In the UK, there are admirable campaigns that try to teach young women about the futility of trying to look like a model, an unattainable goal for most of them. However, here in Kiev, most of the young women did look like models. It was no wonder modelling agencies scouted cities like Kiev
to find their next supermodel. And another fact about Ukraine was that it had a declining population. Campaigns had been started to redress this problem and if I’d have been a single man, I would have been more than happy to oblige. I’d have even done it for free.
That night we found a bar in an area surrounded by concrete tower blocks. A table away from us an extended Ukrainian family sat talking animatedly with the occasional argument thrown in for good measure. The men were all hard drinkers interspersing shots of vodka with pints of lager. We watched Spain beat Holland in the World Cup final keeping a wary eye on our neighbours.
The next day was a sightseeing extravaganza beset by humid head and foot blisters. Instead of jumping in a taxi, we decided to get a mixture of buses, metro trains and a hellish five mile walk to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. When we arrived I was sweating like a person made entirely from sweat and my mood was not improved when we had to climb a billion steep steps to reach the base of the museum.
The gigantic Titanium
Motherland Statue was worth the hike though, towering above everything around and gleaming in the sunlight with her sword and shield held aloft. Nearby were a few tanks and a collection of war machines, including a missile, a few Migs, and plenty of artillery. The actual museum was closed, which was a shame because according to the guide book, it was possible to climb up the inside the Motherland Statue’s arm for a great view of the city.
To say I was hot and bothered would be an understatement. Standing in the shade waiting for Michael to catch me up, I looked a wreck. Sweat was literally pouring from every pore in my body and I could even feel the drips as they slid down my back. Just then, another supermodel walked past with her boyfriend. He had a mullet and a vague thuggish look about him. A minute later a platoon of supermodels walked past, all lip-gloss, sunglasses and long legs. I shook my head in wonderment, allowing the globules of sweat on my brow to fall into my eyes. With Michael approaching it was time to head to Caves Monastery.
Caves Monastery was the prime tourist
spot in Kiev and was basically a huge complex of magnificent cathedrals. Women were required to wear headscarves inside the grounds, and as we walked around, it was interesting to see the young women who had covered their hair but were displaying copious amounts of flesh below their hotpants.
“Now that’s an interesting monument,” said Michael, pointing at a sphere made entirely of painted wooden eggs. We circled it, also admiring the golden domes everywhere for the eye to see. Priests were all over the place and along one pathway we saw one consoling a crying woman but we couldn’t work out why. From the complex’s vantage point it was also possible to get a good view of the Dnipro River, but we didn’t have time to linger because with time ticking away, we had a few more sights to cross off the list.
Independence Square was dominated by a huge statue of a women stood atop a massive white column topped with gold. The square that surrounded it was clearly a meeting place for the teenagers of Kiev, who sat about chatting or else making a splash in a nearby fountain. A group of young men walked
past us carrying bottles of beer and I remarked how different this was to the UK where drinking in public place was a criminal offence. The men were doing no harm though, and they weren’t the only ones enjoying a bit of streetside boozing. In fact it was commonplace in Kiev, with both the old and new enjoying a cooling beer in the sun.
After passing the only remaining statue of Lenin in the city, we headed up a steep hill to a building described as the most unique in Kiev. The Chimera Building was constructed over a century previously and featured cement gargoyles that included frogs, rhinos, mermaids and even an elephant trunk storm drain. It was quite good to look at and just behind it was the magnificent Presidential Palace.
The next morning was another hot and clammy day in Kiev however unlike the previous day, we now knew the lay of the land and also knew how the autobus system worked. For our final sight of Kiev, Michael had insisted on us visiting the Chernobyl Museum.
Inside were lots of photos and exhibits showing what had happened in Chernobyl, and it was strangely moving,
especially seeing a large group of photos displaying children who had died. The only thing spoiling the visit was a couple of babushkas who hounded us about taking photos, even though we’d already paid the fee to do so.
Our trip to Kiev and indeed out trip to Eastern Europe had come to a close. Kiev had been interesting because of the sheer amount of things to see, but it was expensive. We headed back to the airport after another successful jaunt into Eastern Europe. Strengths:
-Lots to see
-Absolutely gorgeous women everywhere
-The fabulous cathedrals
-Cheap vodka (in supermarkets)
-Good transport system Weaknesses:
-Expensive compared to neighbouring countries
-A very large city and so use of public transport is a must
-Not many people understand English
-Virtually everything is written in Cyrillic
-Easy to get lost
There are more photos below