Published: October 30th 2006October 30th 2006
We are now in Kiev and have spent a few days here. It is by far the most modern place we've visited in Ukraine (that's not saying much), and is a lively place. It is full of high-rise buildings and crazy drivers. Crossing the road is almost impossible in central areas and you have to use subways, which function more like shoppping centres. This made getting our bikes across town an extremely tricky business and we had to bump them down and up staircases - not easy as they were fully loaded and extremely heavy.
The big news is that after 4,000 kilometres we are going to hang up our cycling helmets, and finish the ride. This is for a number of reasons. The weather has got very cold - today is bitterly windy and there was something that approached snow falling earlier. The roads have not been easy to ride on here (see earlier entries involving cobbles, lorries and potholes). And we need to find work soon so we're heading back to central Europe fo the winter. The bikes have been expertly collapsed by Simon and now look like large cardboard packages. I suggested that we post them home to avoid having to drag them around with us but he wasn't having any of it.
We are now going to be traveling by train. It's a lot quicker but less fun. We're going to head to Odesa, on the Black Sea, for a few days. Apparently it has a 'Mediterranean' climate but I have my doubts that we will be going swimming. Then we will undertake a marathon train ride from Odessa to Berlin. It will last a night, a day, and another night. We are already stocking up on good reading material.
We have enjoyed the sights in Kiev. It is an ancient city with lots of interesting history. Particularly fascinating was the Cathedral of St Sophia. From the outside it looked like just another Orthodox church with golden onion domes and coloured walls. However the inside was magical. There were few people there and we wandered around happily. There were different sections leading to the small central area. The walls were covered in faded frescoes dating from the tenth century, and lovely patterns. There were occasional areas where the ancient features were left uncovered. Of all the churches and cathedrals we've seen right across Europe, this was the most atmospheric. Ironically it is also the only one which no longer functions aas a place of worship as it is a museum complex now.
Yesterday, we found our way (and it was a long walk) to the famous caves monastery. It is a huge complex with many churches and little museums inside. We found our way through crowds of Ukrainian people to the caves which you enter though a church. Maybe we should have taken our time to investigate before heading down the catacombs as it emerged that you needed to buy a candle first. We had to feel our way down the stairs in darkness, a long line of people in front and behind. It was pretty claustrophobic. Once down there we shuffled along with the crowds through the candlelit caves. They were dug out by monks about a thousand years ago. Each monk was entombed in the niche that he had dug and lived in. The bodies didn't decompose due to the humidity and temperature there - so they lie there in glass coffins still, under patterned cloths, surrounded by candles, incense, crucifixes and paintings of them. In addition to the crowded darkness the people around us were quite un-nerving. Never have I felt more foreign in Ukraine - women, their heads covered with scarves, would sing over the monks, bend over the coffins, kiss their picture and generally worship them devoutly. We seemed (and felt) very out of place and as soon as possible escaped up to the fresh air and daylight. Coming home we decided to try the metro - maybe we should have left it at one underground experience for the day as it was equally foreign to us. It was very cheap and you had to pay with a plastic token which seemed to belong with a toy shop such as I had when I was five. Then the fast-moving elevators swept us deep underground and the train was crammed. We also couldn't connect to a different line so we gave up and walked home.
One of the more successful elements has been that we've really taken to the food here and discovered a few cafeteria type places where we can point easily to what we want. The food is best summed up as 'hearty' and involves tasty stews, salads, lots of meats with sauces, and dumplings.
Well, I had best leave this smelly, dark internet cafe and brave the freezing outside world once more. We should be in Odessa tomorrow, all being well, and will communicate further before long. Take care, everyone.