Friday, August 05, 2011

Day 1: Paris to Kiev

Here I am in Ukraine! Not sure when I can get on the internet, I'm typing this up in Open Office to begin with. Due to forgetting to close my shutters again, the rubbish men going past, and general holiday jitters, I was up at about 6.30 am yesterday, giving me plenty of time to get ready and out the door into rain yet again. I hear July was awful just about everywhere in Europe though.

Train to Paris went smoothly, I left my bags at Montparnasse and was at the Petit Palais art museum at about 11.30. I'm not sure now why I put this on my itinerary, I think I read somewhere that it was a 'hidden gem' or 'one of Paris's lesser known museum treasures' or something. Anyway, it's a mix of decorative arts and some paintings in an attractive palace built for the Universal Exhibition. Some pretty stuff, but I wasn't all that blown away. There was a small exhibition of Durer and Cranach engravings which was pretty cool. And for once (for Paris) it's free, so that was nice.

I left around 2 and headed back to Montparnasse for a quick meal before going out to the airport. The meal was pretty gross, but that's what you expect I suppose when it's 3 courses for 8 euros (with a free sangria thrown in even!) I don't know if I've ever had a great meal in Paris, I'm sure they exist, but probably you either need to pay a lot and/or have local knowledge, otherwise it's just tourist fodder.

The RER train to the airport was horribly crowded, hot, sweaty and stinky. I hate the RER, and turns out it's even worse in August! Unusually for me, I had forgotten to write down which terminal I was going to, but luckily I guessed right and had no problems with anything, except that both flights were full and I got stuck in the middle of a row on the second leg, which sucks. I think people travelling alone should never get stuck there, at least if you're with someone you can get them to stop hogging the armrest or stick your head on their shoulder or something. Anyway, at least it was only 2 hours and on a proper airline (Lufthansa). There was a stop in Frankfurt – I was on the window for the first leg, and we flew over some nice looking bits of Germany, with big rivers carving their way through what looked like quite steep gorges, was that the Rhine??

Got to Ukraine about 12.30 Europe time, 1.30 Ukraine time, ended up last in the passport control queue and took a while getting through. I was nervous at the front because (I assume because my old Russian work visa set off warning bells) the guy asked me if I was planning to live in Ukraine, sighed loudly when I said no and then took a really long time looking at my documents. Luckily as well as my plane itinerary I had printouts of all my hotel reservations here and one in Paris on the way back, so presumably that convinced him cos he let me through in the end.

It was after 2 by that time, so I was really glad to have the driver waiting for me. My first experiences trying to speak an unholy mix of Russian and Ukranian have been a bit mixed. Some vocab is coming back to me, and I managed to read quite a few of the many motorway-side signs on the way to the hostel. On the other hand, when I the guy asked the purpose of my visit I went completely blank and couldn't even manage to say I didn't understand or ask him to say it in English or whatever. But I was pretty tired by that stage, in my defense.

It's now (later) Wednesday morning, slept okay. My room is fine, nothing amazing but quite big. Everything around here looked kind of run down and a bit dodgy from the taxi windows at 3 am, but we shall see how things look in the light of day. It is, if I remember correctly, reasonably central. Going to head out today to do my usual Day 1 routine of just trying to wander around and get my bearings a bit. Will try to tackle the issue of buying train tickets as well, oh dear!

One of the bazillion photos I have of the Eiffel Tower

A jaunty general outside the Grand Palais. I just liked the look of it, I'm not actually sure who this is - Clemenceau? I'm sure someone more knowledgeable about Paris than I can tell me.

The Grand Palais

Petit Palais

Petit Palais doorway

Ceiling frescoes from the Petit Palais courtyard

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