I have to admit that I did not know about Kyiv. Not Kiev; I knew about Kiev. But that's all I knew. Let me splain. As we planned our trip from Russia through Eastern Europe and back home to London, my husband said "we should go to Kyiv"- pronounced Keev. And I said "where is this 'Keev' I never heard of it" and he was like "Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine??" and I was like "no that's Kiev and it is pronounced 'Kee-ev'"and he was like "wat" and I was like "what is happening" and I learned that Kiev ('Kee-ev') is the Russian word for the city, and since gaining their independence, Ukrainians have been very serious about reclaiming their own word for their capital city, 'Kyiv' (Keev), the one syllable version that was unknown to me. Can we blame the Russian bots for my ignorance? Now I'm all smarted up and ready to talk about this great city, Kyiv. Or Kiev, if you wanted to I guess. I like the sound of the two-syllable evil version better, but my preferences as a non-Ukrainian don't matter. Do as the people want us to. It's Kyiv.
Now that that's sorted, let's talk about this charming city. We were solidly back in Eastern Europe now, having left Mother Russia. Oh let's talk about that leaving bit, shall we. After our less-than-a-day return to Moscow, we caught an overnight train - our second-to-last one of the trip!! - from Moscow to Kyiv. This train was the worst experience yet, isn't that so fun??? I know some of you who kept up through all the China and Uzbek trains are like, what how on earth could it be worse? What about those 8 hour border stops where you had to sneak into the bathrooms to pee? What about the old Chinese lady in your bed? Well those were all terrible, yes, but hear me out. When we boarded, I thought we were soo lucky because the toilets were automated! Like Amtrak, with the lit-up flush buttons and stuff! They weren't just holes opening up onto the track! Unfortunately, that luster was short-lived. Apparently the super-fancy (not fancy, basic technology) toilets very quickly broke, and since the conductor isn't an engineer, he just duct-taped the toilet shut, rendering it unusable for the rest of the journey. I trekked down to the other end of the carriage with a sigh, which turned into a bigger, more horrified scream when I saw that that toilet was ALSO taped shut. The next cabin on was the restaurant car! No toilets in there! And the next one in the other direction was the overcrowded platzkart, packed full of people in bunk beds in the open plan, with lines for the toilet at all hours and so resentful of people from other carriages on their turf. Those toilets were basic open-the-bottom-onto-the-tracks; apparently only those passengers with doors were given the fancy easily breakable toilets. So every hour throughout the night, I had to clamber through the terrifying open section that connects carriages, stepping on the giant metal chain links that wrenched forward and back with the train's movement and trying not to fall while jerking the heavy carriage doors open with all my might. Over and over again!
Thank all the lucky stars, I was okay. Pissed off and full of impotent rage that I couldn't actually direct at anyone (I never saw the conductor people, and also what else could they have done), but okay. I was so excited to see Kyiv, which I know I am spelling in the progressive way but honestly I can't stop saying Ki-ev in my head. Anyway, I didn't know much about Ukraine going in, except that I had just recently started saying it without the 'the' that so many Americans seem to think is required - seriously why do we always call it The Ukraine?? it's so weird! - and that Oksana Baiul was my favorite skater in 1994 and the only winner to come out of the whole Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan debacle. Well her and Margot Robbie. I was eager to learn more about the country through its well regarded capital city.
Our Russian language skillz would come in handy to understand all the signs in Cyrillic and all the similar sounding vocab, but despite much of the population speaking and/or understanding Russian, it would not be very wise to lead with speaking Russian. Since their independence from the Mother Country, Ukrainians have some tension, to say the least, with Russia, as we all do. We assumed, now that we were back in Europe, that it would be easy to get by with English. Surely most of the people know English! Spoiler, they don't! It was very rare that we encountered English speakers. So follow Scar's advice (not the Boy Scouts)(the Boy Scouts suck) and Be Prepared.
Our train arrived at about 7am, so we were exhausted and very much wanting to shower. Our last shower was in that random hostel in Moscow (was that the day before? Time had no meaning any longer). So we took a cab to our lodging. We were staying for the next few nights at the Theatre Boutique Apart-hotel, in a studio apartment situation that operated like a hotel, sort of, in that there was to be someone at a desk in the building of apartments to check us in. I initially liked how it sounded because theatre. The building was hard to find because it was set back in a kind of alley complex that was SUPER shady and graffitied and even at 7am just completely sketchy. I was skeptical. And unforch, because it was so early, no staffers were in yet. The maid was there, luckily, and was used to dealing with guests arriving at inopportune times, and she told us we could leave our stuff and come back in....six hours. I KNOW! I was soooo mad. Surely the main employee would be in at 9, right? And would call us and tell us that our room was ready before the godforsaken common check in time of 2pm? I could not wait six hours! But I had to! Ahhh! Anyway the 'place' we could leave our stuff was right there in the main hallway, reeeeeally not secure, so I was not feeling this place at all. Strike after strike. Z was like 'who is going to steal our disgusting stuff tho' and I was like 'disgusting people tho'. I asked the maid if there was a bathroom we could use - we still needed to brush our teeth and stuff if we couldn't shower yet! Well, this is an apartment hotel type jawn, not a hotel hotel with bathrooms on the main floor or anything, so no, the only bathrooms are in the rooms. Ahhhh! Luckily, the maid was super nice and showed us to one down the hall that was HER CLOSET. Like it had all her cleaning supplies in it and also all her snacks and changes of clothes and pictures and knick knacks and stuff and also a toilet and a tiny baby sink and it was sooooo awkward. I was so grumpy about this whole situation. But there's no time to sulk when you are filthy and also in a new exciting city! We decided to go out and get food, and that story plus all related stories will come in a separate post about Kyiv food next. After that and some activities which I'll talk about next, our room was ready, and it was GREAT. I was so happy because after how low my expectations had dropped since arriving, it was so much nicer than I hoped. It was clean and modern, all black and white and cool, with a nice bathroom and a big comfy bed with really good white sheets. I love white sheets. Anyway, so don't judge a book by its cover or its lack of employees or main floor toilets and all that. I would highly recommend staying here.
The most important activity for us to do in the city center was see the St. Sophia Cathedral, the oldest surviving church in Kyiv. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and you know how we feel about them (loves it!) so off we went to see how the old broad looked after about 1000 years of hard living. The complex is lovely. Note, the Bell Tower costs extra to climb up, but I think it's worth it. It's right at the entrance to the whole complex and is nice to end your visit with after seeing the rest of St. Sophia. Also, the Bell Tower is the only spot in the whole place where you are allowed to take pictures so it was worth it just so I can break up all my nonsense with pictures.
We had a nice time seeing all the interior churchiness and singing about how Jesus is an ocean, as one does. It's said that in all the churches in Ukraine that ladies have to cover their heads because god hates seeing us evil-doers or whatever nonsense your religion teaches you to keep you down, but I don't remember anyone telling me to do so here. I think they are more lenient with tourists. Anyway, we ended with the Bell Tower climb, because we like climbing this. I counted about 200 steps up before I stopped and lost track, which isn't as bad as it could be buutttt the stairs were pretty, um, not reassuring as you could look through all the thin metal and exposed piping of the layout and see down forever and it was a little anxy. As you would expect of me because this is what I do when traveling in foreign lands and living my life, I banged my head super hard on a metal pipe despite there being a colored swatch on that section because it was low and apparently everyone hit their head on it before they decided to paint the cautionary alert on it but of course I am special and hit my head after they flagged it. It was really painful and we had to stop for a few minutes for the pain to subside and for me to run through the customary thoughts I have every time I hit my head which invariably have to do with Natasha Richardson. Luckily I was okay though, and it seems like Liam is now too. And the views from the top were nice.
Our next sight to see was the Golden Gate in the middle of the city, standing like a fortress to remind us of all the fortifications they once needed (prob still need) against enemies. It was named after the Golden Gate of Constantinople, and although it was completely destroyed during the Middle Ages, it was rebuilt by the Soviets in the '80s. It's a tad controversial, because no images of the original gate actually exist, so the rebuilding process was under scrutiny from historians et al. who were like 'no THIS is what it should look like' ' no THIS is' 'no YOU'RE mother was a hamster' and finally Vlad over at the Soviet Historical Society was like 'no guys this is what we're doing, you disagree I kill you' or something probably close to that.
The gate/fortress jawn is right at Zolotovoritsky Square, a lovely little square near a park and a nice row of restaurants and stuff. It's a nice little city.
Okay so I THINK there was a lil church at the top of the Golden Gate?? And this is me in it?
This city is so nice, full of statues and greenery and beautiful buildings. I keep saying that, don't I, that it was so 'nice' and I really hate that word. But there's not much more I can think of to describe it, because I never really clicked with it. It was great to be back in Europe, and to see such lovely architecture and important monuments and relics of history and all, but I never really jived (jove?) with Kyiv. My husband liked it a lot more than I did, but I didn't necessarily dislike it, not at all. I just didn't connect with it. It was nice to look at, nice to be in, but I didn't feel much for it. My heart wasn't in it, despite its checking off all the proper points on my list like it was my Walter or my Frank in a Nora Ephron rom com before I met Tom Hanks. (Tom Hanks, btw, would be my Warsaw. Stay tuned for that, our next destination.)
As always, I loved finding funny signs or product names in stores, and despite being back in Europe, we still found some, like this brand of milk that can probably only be enjoyed by blond boys named Chad who swim for just-sub-Ivies.
Or this shop, which we made a LOT of very bad jokes about because Tories are the ones who would cut all arts funding in the UK you get?
We had a great time exploring Kyiv. I know you're probably thinking...you didn't do that much, right? Well, that's because our main activity warrants its own post (coming next, along with a food post). The main reason for our visit to Kyiv, besides logistics, was to visit Chernobyl. We took an all day (like seriously from dawn till nighttime) tour of the zone of the infamous, horrible nuclear disaster, and it was astounding. Devastating, heartbreaking, and we learned so much that is only now coming to light about the disaster. It's a truly worthwhile trip to take if you are in Ukraine or in Kyiv, which, despite my not clicking with it whole-heartedly, I still do recommend visiting!