Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Killing Time in Kiev

Once more I'm on a train from somewhere to somewhere. In this case from Kiev to Lviv (or Lvov or one of the many other forms I've seen). It's a daytime train because the overnight trains get into Lviv at around 4 in the morning, so instead I'm catching a daytime train which left Kiev at 11 and will arrive in Lviv at 9pm.

Lviv represents the first departure from the general plan. The plan was that after Kiev I'd go to Crimea and catch a ferry across the Black Sea. But the ferries are too flaky this time of year, so instead I'm going to go overland to Istanbul via Romania and Bulgaria.

Kiev was a nice city, although I prefer Moscow and St Petersburg. For the first time the lingua franca in the hostel was English rather than Russian, although I was one of the few who only spoke English. Without more information my hypothesis is that the common language seems to be that of the people who run the place.

Last Wednesday I got to Moscow around 9pm, caught a taxi to Kievskii station, got a bite to eat and sat around until 11:23 when the train left. I got told off by security for taking photos of some of the decorations of the station. I went to sleep soon after the train departed and would have had a good nights sleep if it weren't for being woken up by customs at about 3 or 4 in the morning. They were a bit concerned about my visa since I've got two, one of which is canceled because the embassy made two mistakes on it. In the end though, all was well and they let me into the country.

I slept lightly for another few hours before arriving in Kiev. I walked to the hostel and although I missed the turnoff (the hotel given as a landmark did not show it's name all that well to someone coming from the direction I was) but realized my mistake a block or two further and found my way in the end.

The hostel is run by a British guy named Marcus who is a bit of a wheeler dealer in the Ukraine hostel business and extolled the opportunities out there for someone with a bit of cash to set something up. The hostel was alright, my only complaint being that the base of the bed was made up of planks that just covered the width of the bed and with a sudden movement one or two might fall off.

My first afternoon I walked past the National Theater, the Golden Gate (the rebuilt gate of the old city walls), the grounds of St Sofia cathedral (the buildings were closed Thursdays), St Micheal's Monastery, St Andrew's and then down St Andrew's descent, an old cobblestone road lined with guys selling souvenirs. The ones which really caught my eye, although not for reasons that would make me purchase somethings, were the stands selling tin soldiers. Russia had some exceptional tin soldiers with exquisite detail, but Kiev not so much. The stands in Kiev would have a few large models around 7-10cm tall, and then a lot of small ones around 28mm tall. How am I so sure of that height? Well, the first stall I looked at I started to look at some goblin like creatures on squares bases that kind of looked familiar. Next to them were some elves that looked quite Tolkeinish with a lot more detail on them. The I saw a futuristic soldier in big bulky armour carrying a massive laser gun. These were in fact Warhammer models given a quick once over with some metallic spray paint and being sold for about 100 hrivnias, or about AU$20. Last time I checked you'd have got two for about AU$18, so no the best souvenir.

So far I have bought three souvenirs. Two have been t shirts, as I figure I can wear them as I go and it's a practical investment. The other is an old badge from the KGB (probably a replica, but cool none-the-less).

For dinner on Thursday I went out with a group from the hostel to a place referred to as both the hospital and the doctor bar. It was a bar/restaurant with a medical theme. The waitresses wore nurse outfits (with varying amounts of clothing underneath), the bartenders wore scrubs, they served some drinks in test tubes, they had a padded room, etc. It was reasonably priced and the food was good.

On Friday I visited the caves monastery, an old orthodox church complex that included a set of catacombs with the preserved remains of a bunch of guys and people would go down there to pray. After the monastery I went to the WWII memorial, which features a 62m tall woman holding up a sword and shield, a collection of old tanks, jets, artillery and other military hardware, and two museums (one for WWII, the other post WWII). Reasonably interesting, but not much English.

On Saturday I took a walk along the main street downtown and then up to St Sofia again to check out the inside and the bell tower. The inside of St Sofia was very good, as they left some parts unrestored so you could see the effects of time. Overall, a nice cathedral. I also saw a poster for Watchmen, which is coming out in the Ukraine on the 5th.

On Sunday, I went to the natural history museum, which was pretty good. They had a lot of dioramas that were well produced, a hut built of mammoth tusks and jaws, a collection of live reptiles and insects, some whale skeletons and much more.

On Monday I went with a group from the hostel to the Chornobyl museum, and we were lucky enough to arrive there just as an English tour was beginning. It was actually a private tour three people had paid for, but they didn't mind people following along and joining the tour. Over the course of the tour people accumulated in the group. It was not as sad as the Hiroshima museum since it was an accident rather than a deliberate act and nowhere near as destructive, but it is still a tragedy.

After the Chornobyl museum we went to a folk village where traditional houses, windmills, churches and other structures are preserved. The wooden churches have a strong smell of timber when you're inside them (not surprising) which really gave them a very different feel to the stone cathedrals I've mostly visited.

That evening I tried to but some train tickets. I managed to get my ticket for Lviv, but my onward ticket was more frustrating. I had to go to a different ticket stand at the other end of the station, which was behind a set of doors with very little signage (after days of visiting museums and such, I know the words that go on the places that sell tickets). I found the stand and the lady couldn't read the note I'd had written in Ukranian by a local working at the hostel. The ticket lady thought I wanted a ticket from Kiev to Sofia, instead of Lviv to Sofia, and as there's no train from Kiev to Sofia, wouldn't sell me one. I double checked with information I'd gone to the right ticket stand, and went back. I got in line behind the man who was being served and a few minutes later a man got in line behind me and asked if he could go before me. As I was a bit frustrated at this point I said no and continued waiting. When the man in front of me finished the man asked again, and again I said no and tried to communicate with the ticket I wanted. At this point the man stated talking to the ticket lady in Ukranian (or Russia, I can't really say which), and when she started serving him instead of me I gave up and left. (Regarding the man's actions, I think if you're in a hurry you could ask once, but if the person says no you should leave it at that. Don't keep pestering, and don't barge in front. The ticket lady was even worse, as she should not have served him.)

It is for the best though that those two vexed me. I had gotten the order of Romania and Bulgaria mixed up, and didn't actually want a ticket to Sofia, so fate saved me a big hassle by giving me a small one.


Anonymous said...

Hey man it's Nicolas, the french guy from the hostel in Kiev.
Great reading your stay in the city. And fine description of the hostel, especially the beds :). Fortunatly you missed the morning without hot water ! But it was still nice there.
Hope you'll enjoy Romania and Bulgaria. I've been to Varna twice so if you're going there, say hello to the city for me ;)

Esonlinji said...

Good to see a new reader, Nicolas. Sounds like I left just in time. I don't enjoy cold showers.