One of many very large and beautiful churches in Kiev, St Michaels
Before I start, let me just say that I loved my trip to Ukraine, the people are wonderful and the place is steeped in history.
Day 1 - I travelled to Ukraine in March 08 not knowing what to expect, but thats half the fun of travelling isnt it. My first experience was landing at the Borispol airport. Filling out the entry card in the airport, I needed to ask a question, so I found an English speaking Customs Official. After answering my question, he took me into a small room and told me if I wanted to enter Ukraine and not be detained, I would have to give him $100 USD. Now not knowing about the corruption here, I paid the money and was rushed through customs without any checks to be done, not my bags, my passport or entry card, thats right, you can do anything here with a bribe.
The main street in Kiev
Into a cab I go and head off to Kiev
(russian spelling) or Kyiv (Ukraine spelling). I arrive at the Hyatt where I am staying (600 euros per night) and book in. After 28 hours of flights and connecting flights to get here from Australia, Im ready for a good nights sleep. (Travel tip at airports in Ukraine - make sure your entry card is filled out on the plane and do not ask any questions of anybody in a uniform)
Day 2 - Get up, go down and have some breakfast in hotel restaurant, into the Gym for some excercise, shower and then off I go. I am going for a walk around the city, so I head east, find a few shops and start talking to locals (none of which speak English), this is always fun in foreign countries and I have learned over time that you can usually (not always though) use your hands and facial expressions to communicate.
See the dome in this pic, the main shopping mall in the city is all underground, I think the dome is to let some natural light in
Humans are visual creatures, so painting a picture in the locals mind of what you want to say, always helps. Into a coffee shop and I point to a cake and ask for cappacino (they understand the word). Now if you havent had a continental style coffee, be prepared, its the size of a thimble, one sip - GONE and coming from a land where a coffee is served in something that resembles a firemans bucket, it leaves me begging for more. So I take my sip, eat my cake (man they make wonderful cakes) and want to pay. The cash register is broken and the girls in the cafe cant open it. Would I mind waiting 15 minutes (said in Russian) I point to my watch to find out how long for wait. So I sit down and they bring me another thimble of coffee to sip. Half an hour later and 4 sips of coffee along with 2 more cakes, the register is working and through my insatiable desire for coffee sips, I have just paid the wages of 2 of the staff for the day.
To the left is another dome for the underground mall, behind the monument is the main entrance to shopping mall
I forgot to mention that while I was waiting for the register to be fixed, locals were purchasing cakes and coffees at will. I think they pushed the "stupid Aussie tourist button" (automatic shutoff) on the cash register everytime I enquired how come the register works for other people. Anyway, I dont mind as they were so nice to me whilst they were fleecing me. Out of the cafe and away I go into what seemed like a mall Russian style. All of the shops are full of clothes (mainly womens), tons of fur coats and hats. This building is 4 floors, so I investigate each floor, up the stairs as there are no elevators. Each floor looks like the last with womens clothes as far as the eye can see. This is no good I think to myself, so down the stairs and I head back to the hotel to do what I should have done in the first place, ask the concierge.
The river that runs though Kiev, I saw people swimming and having picnics on the banks, it was about 5 degrees celcius this day.
He kindly points me in the direction of west. Down the hill along a narrow street and all of a sudden the place opens up to a big square. Market stalls with locals selling their wares, 2 McDonalds stores ( is there nowhere in this world that Macca's dont exist). Its a wonderland of hustle and bustle. All of the young girls are dressed to the nines in high boots and mini skirts and the guys are either in suits or tracksuits, something seems out of whack there and I know why, the population is made up of 53% women and 47% men, so as the locals told me, the men dont think that they have to try to hard to get a partner (poor buggars - NOT) hence dress like a rag bag, who cares. After exploring the whole area, I find some stairs that lead underground.
This is me at the 150 hectare historical village outside of Kiev, its the original Kiev from 1000 years ago and you can see how the living conditions changed over the centuries here.
there seems to be alot of people heading down there, so I follow. Under the streets is the main train station and small shops galore. Its like a whole other city down here. After wandering aimlesly for a while in the underground alleys, I walk though a door into the main shopping mall which is modern with all of the mod cons you can get in the west, albeit, the prices in here are torturous (even by western standards). Still the place is packed and I spend the rest of the afternoon walking around here, talking to as many locals who are willing to talk to me, some even spoke English and generally having a good time in the process. I must say, if you are English speaking, everybody thinks you are from the USA. Its bizzare, when I tell them I am from Aus, their first words are Sydney Opera House.
I believe this was a house from about 300 years ago at the historical village
After my first day, I decide to have a quiet night, get some dinner at the hotel and have a few quiet drinks in 1 of the 2 hotel bars. The bar is empty, there are 3 barmen, 2 men and 1 women (yes the women are called barmen). They all speak fluent English as does everybody that works in the hotel, so I spend a relaxing evening talking to the bar staff and knocking back a few quiet ones (the vodka here is just plain evil). 2 bottles of this stuff, half a bottle of Drambui and I think around 6 or 8 local beers (not quite sure by this stage), Im done. I turn into a human pinball machine and bounce off the walls back to my room and collapse in a heap on the bed.
Day 3 - Woke up with a self inflicted thumping headache following the night before and decided the only way to get rid of it was to get some fresh air.
Old church at historical village
I jumped in a cab and took a trip to the 1500 hectare outdoor historical village of Pirogovo. This place is an outdoor historical museum located about a 30 minute drive from Kiev. You can spend a full day here as the area is so large. The village traces back the history and living conditions of the people of Kiev from 1000 years ago to early last century. If you want to see the history of how the ancient farming communities used to live, I highly recommend visiting Pirogova. There are English speaking guides scattered throughout the village that are more than happy to answer any questions you may have, or you can just wander around by yourself. If you dont feel up to walking for a full day, you can hire a driver and horse and cart to take you around. I thoroughly enjoyed my day here as I learned alot about the history of not only Kiev, but Ukraine in general.
I dont know how old this house was but it certainly was intersting
You can bring your own food and drink or stop in at one of the restaurants which will serve traditional Ukraine cuisine, be prepared though, everything on the menu is either in Ukraine or Russian language and none of the staff speak English, but I liked the fact that nobody spoke English as it is always fun trying to communicate. I ended up just pointing to something on the menu and had no idea what I was going to get. Whatever the surprise meal was going to be, didnt really matter as I had ordered some vodka to wash it down anyway (not that I wanted anymore vodka, but I thought some hair of the dog might rid me of the thumper I was carrying around, IT DIDNT). While I was eating my lunch, I started talking to a couple that were at the next table, turns out that they were a Russian couple living in Kiev and he was the Russian consulate to Ukraine.
Inside a traditional Kiev home from 19th century
I had an intersting couple of hours talking and walking around with this couple. There is one thing I found whilst in Ukraine, when any locals speak English, they are always keen to talk to you either to find out more about your country or to brush up on there English speaking skills, regardless of the reasons the all of the people I met, were friendly to a point of being generous. I recommend putting Pirogovo on the list of must do things when visiting Kiev.
Day 4 - Decided that today I would go to the outdoor markets in the old part of the city. These markets are on every Saturday and the outdoor stalls just seem to go on forever. A word of warning, the markets follow a road that goes down a very steep hill, now while you are walking down the hill looking at all of the interesting things for sale, you wont notice how steep the hill is.
Check out the windmills on the hill
Once you get to the bottom and realize that you have to go back up, if you are not physically fit, you will find it like being in an army boot camp. There is everything you can imagine in these stalls from old army artifacts to box brownie cameras, traditional Ukraine clothes to Harley Davidson T shirts written in Ukranian. I bought a few items here including a silly hat complete with ear flaps. The stall holders will barter if you want to, but in all fairness, the items here are so cheap in price, why would you bother. When you reach the bottom of the hill and the end of the stalls, turn left and walk a couple of streets, you will see an Irish bar on your right and a cafe on your left. Forget the Irish Bar and go into the cafe. For the first time since being in Kiev, I found a place that made a half decent cappucino and the best cakes (I must say that the cakes in Ukraine are the best of anywhere I have ever travelled to). Somebody should export the cake recipes around the world, they all seem so extavagant and taste sensational. The trouble is that you never know which one to pick out to eat, they all look so good.
Stay tuned - more to come