Day 3: The actual starting point of my journey

Kiev Travel Blog

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approaching Kyiv

"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.

My hotel in Kiev
Because Ukrainian trains run on the same wide gauge tracks as Russia, the bogeys had to be changed on our train. I remembered this exercise from the Trans-Siberia trip, when we had to change bogeys when entering China.
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).
The Lavra, seen from my hotel
This language thing proved to be one of the biggest challenges in Ukraine, as both languages seem to be used at random for signs or menus. Both Ukrainian and Russian use the Cyrillic script, and it is hard enough to decipher a word in one language, let alone deciphering a word when you don't know which of the two languages is actually being used!!

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.
Maydan Nezalezhnosti


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.
Mykola Prytysko church

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.
Yup, I was there too!
Most of Kyiv's churches were destroyed either during the Stalinist purges in the thirties, or during WWII, but this is one of the few that survives. The church was built in 1754 and is a stunning piece of work. Topped with 5 golden domes this follows the traditional building style of the Ukrainian and Russian orthodox church.

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. 

antqndeakn says:
In Kiev & Odessa, most people will speak Russian and there are many English speakers. Especially in Odessa. But, if you go to the Western Capitol of L'viv (Lyvov), beware, this is the heart of the Ukrainian Culture & mostly Ukrainian will be spoken here & my Russian seemed to fail me but was still helpful. The border crossing from Poland to Ukraine by trail was marked by a large group of smugglers/import/export/mafia guys. It was really bad news & there was some blood-shed. Beware, because the wagons are often full & the mafia likes to have a complete wagon to themselves (probably so others don't catch on to what they are doing) & although I was advised to get onto a new wagon which was added because I had a 2nd class ticket, the mafia chose that wagon & I was thrown off the train by the mafia & had to go to a different wagon. Others who were thrown off were a Spanish Couple with the man being a 1 arm amputee. They sat on the floor of the next wagon I got on & were scared. The conductor simply said, "You come to my country, you speak my language !" "If I come to your country, I speak your Language".. Yeah, right, as though this penniless & corrupt conductor could ever afford to come to USA. My hand was bleeding from it having gone through a window but I felt worse for the older & nice Spanish couple. This was the worst part of the trip. L'viv itself is rather nice but I would never go again. Had a much better time in Krakow. Mark
Posted on: Jun 07, 2012
Alexius84 says:
I can say that the situation with the cops in Ukraine is much better than in Russia . I was at the police station only once in my life - when my mobile phone was stolen.
Speaking of traffic cops, almost everyone of them take bribes (for the foreigners - several times higher). However, in Kiev, the situation with this is better than for example in the east or south of Ukraine (especially in the Crimea).
For foreigners (who don't speak Russian or Ukrainian), taxi drivers can count the price 2-5 times higher than the real.
Posted on: Aug 22, 2011
Jeroenadmiraal says:
I would like to visit this city one day. I heard bad stories about corrupt cops though.. did you meet any?
Posted on: Apr 15, 2010
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approaching Kyiv
approaching Kyiv
My hotel in Kiev
My hotel in Kiev
The Lavra, seen from my hotel
The Lavra, seen from my hotel
Maydan Nezalezhnosti
Maydan Nezalezhnosti
Mykola Prytysko church
Mykola Prytysko church
Yup, I was there too!
Yup, I was there too!
The streets of Podil
The streets of Podil
Bohemian Andriyivsky uzviz
Bohemian Andriyivsky uzviz
St Andrews church
St Andrew's church
Ministry of Foreign Affairs buildi…
Ministry of Foreign Affairs build…
St Michaels gold-domed monastery
St Michael's gold-domed monastery
Dnipro river as seen from my hotel
Dnipro river as seen from my hotel
Kyiv central station
Kyiv central station
Hotel Slavutich
Hotel Slavutich
Kiev
photo by: Biedjee