St. Sophia Cathedral
I didn't get to sleep until after 3 last night, but somehow I'm awake at 7.... Must be those 40+++ ! (Actually it's getting closer to 50 ---)!!Anyway, I decided the best thing to do was to take a shower and make the most of a nice morning. Once I was out of the shower, Ana and Michal were up and we agreed that M and I would go to a market to buy something for breakfast. We found a supermarket about two blocks from our apartment.
It was a nice market and we found plenty of good things for breakfast - juice, fresh rolls, butter, fruit, yogurt... I was surprised to see that people here will pay three times as much for butter imported from France instead of butter produced in Ukraine.
I opted for the Ukrainian version! The fresh fruit, dairy products, vegetables and meats that I tried were really great. We also bought a 6 liter jug of water (the tap water is an interesting yellowish / brown tone! and we were advised to only use bottled water for drinking.)
St. Sophia Cathedral
We headed back to the apartment with breakfast. Ana was ready, so we ate and then headed for St. Sophia's Cathedral. We tried to see it yesterday but it was too late. So, it will be our first stop today.
St. Sophia's was built in the first half of the 11th century. It was intended to be the main metropolitan church of Kyivan Rus (what this area was called before).
It has had some modifications made to it over the centuries and it's present baroque aspect comes from reconstruction in the 17th and 18th centuries. The interior is really spectacular. It hasn't been changed since the 11th century and the beautiful frescoes on the walls - nearly a thousand years old - are beautiful. Most all of the frescoes are religious, but there are some, in the north tower that are secular and depict scenes from life in the Byzantine Empire.
St. Sophia Cathedral
You're not supposed to be taking pictures in here and one of my more daring travel companions is taking an illicit photo! I hope we don't get kicked out of here! No flash or anything, but they're really on the lookout for disobedient photo takers! I understand the temptation - it's really magnificent in here, something you'd want to share with people back home. At any rate, I think it's better to respect the rules.
At the same time, this place isn't as spectacular (to me) as St.
Michael's - maybe because this is more like a museum and St. Michael's has a more religious atmosphere inside.
In the grounds around the St. Sophia Cathedral
I really enjoy looking at all of the icons here. I wish I knew what all of the symbolism present in them means. Surely the colors used have meanings - as must the way the figures are dressed and positioned. There is a beautiful icon of the ascension of Jesus, one of Archdeacon Stephen and one of Archangel Michael that are really awesome. If you ever go to this place you should check out the fantastic model of Kiev as it must have been many centuries ago.
After the Cathedral we headed up the bell tower. I have no problem with heights at all, but I have to admit that the climb up this tower is pretty intense.
The enormity of the empty space surrounding me - above, below, to the sides made me hold on tight to the (rather low) railings. It would be pretty easy to fall here. The tower is pretty on the outside, but the inside isn't anything special at all - it just affords some fantastic views of the city.
The Caves Monastery
After the cathedral and bell tower we went into a museum with icons and other religious treasures and then went to check the gift and souvenir shops. Ana bought some nice Christmas ornaments. I saw a few nice things but nothing I was too excited about buying. Then we continued on, back down to Khreschatyk Street to meet some friends. We had a coffee at a terrace and then went to the metro to go to the Monastery of the Caves or Kiev Pechersk Lavra
I was only in three metro stations in Kiev, but what I saw is amazing.
I've never seen a subway like it (ok, admittedly I'm not a "subway specialist" but these amazingly deep tunnels, speedy escalators and the enormity of it were very impressive to me). I've heard that Moscow's subway is really amazing too.
It took us about 45 minutes to get to the Caves Monastery. Once we left the metro, the walk there was pleasant, through a park overlooking the river. The monastery itself is beautiful - a group of impressive buildings founded in 1050 AD but rebuilt in 1720 after being sacked and burned. It includes the Great Lavra Belltower that it nearly 100 meters tall and was the tallest freestanding belltower in the world when it was built.
There are a series of museums with icons and archaeological treasures which were interesting as well.
It was curious to see people worshiping the icons in the museum. I need to read more about the Orthodox faith. I would like to better understand what I am seeing! After looking at different parts of the monastery, we headed for the caves to see what that would be like. We had to stand in line for about 20 minutes and then were able to enter the series of whitewashed caves. They're kind of dim on the inside and some people were holding beeswax candles which smelled nice. The caves are lined with icons. There are about 200 yards of underground passages which hold many glass coffins which hold the mummified remains of monks. At first I had some doubts about what all of this was, but then I noticed that on some of them a hand, foot or leg is exposed. People were praying at these coffins and the people behind us were singing softly. It was an eerie surreal sort of place and if there had been fewer people it would even have seemed spooky.
View from the belltower at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev.
We stayed in the monastery until it closed, then went back to our apartment before heading for dinner.
I was pretty tired after a lot of running around all day and didn't stay out too late. My daring, illicit-picture taking travel buddy had a much more interesting night, but that's another story!!! ;-)
Interior of the belltower. It seemed even more immense to me on the inside than it does on the outside.