Day 3: The actual starting point of my journey
Kiev Travel Blog› entry 4 of 260 › view all entries
"Let me ask you a question" the border guard said. "Why you take this trip? Why you go to Kiev this way?"
I explained to him my plans. A few days in Kiev, then on to Odessa and then the boat to Istanbul. The guard shook his head and mumbled "some trip" while stamping my passport.
We'd spent several hours at the border. Although Ukraine is trying to fit in more with Western Europe than with neighbouring Russia these days, and visa requirements have been all but abolished, the country still has some work to do to shake off all the bureaucratic habits they inherited.
With Poland now part of the EU, the division between East and West Europe basically shifted and border control is as rigid as it ever was.
Once again I marvelled at the sheer inefficiency of changing the wheels under an entire train, rather than simply moving the passengers to a different train. I am sure I am missing a deeper meaning here.
I managed to nab some proper sleep after that though and by the time I woke we were about to roll into Kiev. Or Kyiv, as is the correct spelling these days, now that Ukrainian is the official language and Russian isn't (despite Russian being by far the most spoken language in the country).
I'd booked a hotel via the Internet. When I read in my guidebook that most Kyiv hotels aren't much to write home about, and rather expensive on top of that, I used www.tripadvisor.com to find a place with decent reviews and affordable rates. Hotel Slavutich, as it turned out, was one of those lovely Soviet style places, on the 'wrong' side of the Dnipro river. But it was clean, had a bed and a hot shower, and that was all I needed at the moment.
After shower and having changed into a clean set of clothes it was time to set out and explore the city. It was a short bus ride to the nearest subway station, after which it was only four stops to the heart of the city. Four stops may not seem much, but Kyiv is one biiiig city, and subway stops are miles apart. Added to that, the Kyiv metro is the deepest in the world, and at some stations the escalator ride from street level to the platform can take the best part of 10 minutes. Altogether this 'short' ride took me nearly an hour.
I resurfaced into daylight at Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the main square where everything happens in Kyiv. Although, this being Eastern Europe, with cold, harsh and long winters, most of the happening takes place underground in a huge shopping mall. Today was a nice and sunny spring day through, so I did most my wandering above ground.
The square lies on the main street, the vul Kreshchatyk, which during WWII was completely booby-trapped by the retreating Russian army and as a result the entire centre was destroyed. The boulevard was rebuilt after the war in true Soviet style. I do like Soviet building style though. There is something to say for the ridiculous grandeur of concrete and marble of Stalin's legacy.
After a quick lunch I proceeded to the old waterfront quarter of Podil, which was one of the few areas of Kyiv which emerged from the war unharmed, and the buildings here are mainly built in early 20th century Russian grandeur. This area is quite bohemian, with lots of artists selling their paintings along the steep uphill walk of Andriyivsky Uzviz. Atop this hill stands one of Kyiv's many churches, the Andriyivsky, or St Andrew's.
Behind this church there were more gold domes to be seen, at the aptly named St Michaels Golden Domes Monastery. Unlike St Andrew's this one did not survive Stalin's purges, so the building which stands here today is a 2001 replica. Not that you can really tell, as the building looks as new (or old) as the very well-preserved St Andrew's down the road.
Kyiv is a great place to stroll around. While the main attractions are all churches, which pretty much all look the same to the untrained eye, and museums aren't much to write home about over here, the many parks and boulevards make up for that. Only the distances. Like Rome, Kyiv was founded by a couple of siblings. And like Rome, Kyiv is built over several hills. However, unlike Rome Kyiv's centre and sights sprawl out over all these hills, making sturdy walking shoes (and public transportation!) a necessity.
After two nights on the train I was in need for a proper night's sleep, so I retired to my hotel early.