Headed out about 11 am to tackle the job of getting my train tickets. Managed to find my way to the metro without too much difficulty. My Russian experiences are definitely coming in handy, not only for the language but also in understanding things like how interchange stations tend to have a totally different name for the station on each different line, which can be really confusing. I had read in my guide books that there were a couple of special windows where they were used to dealing with foreigners, but I couldn't find them and just went to a normal window, where the woman just told me to go to a different station to buy my tickets ha ha. Turned out there were two stations on the same site, so I eventually found the right one and was helped by a lady who was much nicer and more accommodating than one expects in ex-Soviet countries, which was great. Everything went much more smoothly than expected. I'm doing two trips in first class and two in second class, because only first class was available for the first leg and splashed out for the 14 hour trip down south. First class is about 5 times the price. We shall see whether skimping on two legs was a good decision or not! Anyway, it came to a grand total of about 130 euros, which I think is very decent for 4 overnight trips, especially considering I'm saving the cost of a hotel each night as well as being transported all over Ukraine. Since the buying of tickets went so well, here's hoping the actual train travel will too! The train ticket reads like a small novel, I understand most of it, notably the basics like the train number, time, carriage number etc. but can't find where it says my bed number, but probably if I stand around looking confused in the carriage the attendant or someone will sort me out. Unfortunately I couldn't get the prized lower bunks in second class which is a shame because they have a hollow storage bit underneath so that all your valuables are protected by virtue of your sleeping on them. Don't want a repeat of the infamous Prague-Krakow Great Train Robbery! :) The overnight train I took in Russia was pretty nice, but I'm expecting worse out of these trains, dreading the heat a bit especially. But we'll see!
Getting on oooookay with the language(s). Unfortunately, while Russian and Ukrainian seem to have quite a lot of crossover, most of the very basic vocabulary (hello, please, thankyou etc.) seems to be different. This has resulted in several occasions in my brain just freezing when faced with the decision of whether to say hello etc. in Russian or try to dredge up the word in Ukrainian, and I end up just gawping at the person in terror. I think I should try to stick with Russian here and obviously in the south, and just try to make an effort with Ukrainian as much as I can when I'm in the West. Luckily, although there are some small differences in the alphabet, it's pretty easy for me to read, although I understand there are some differences to how the vowel sounds are pronounced in Ukrainian, but it's not really top of my list of things to worry about.
After the train station I decided to walk up Khreschatyk street, which is one of the main thoroughfares. Apparently it's one of the oldest streets in Kiev, originally built along the route of a stream. When the Soviets retreated in WWII, they left it all booby trapped for the Nazis, so it's all post-war but there are some interesting buildings nonetheless. Further to my remarks on this being a run-down area around the hostel, I think that's just the general look of Kiev. A lot of buildings look like they've seen better days, and there's quite a bit of construction and stuff going on. So far I don't think it's the most attractive city I've ever seen, but there is a special energy to (some) Eastern European cities where they feel a bit more chaotic and lively than their Western counterparts. When you're surrounded by people offering to weigh you for a few kopecks or mysteriously thrusting live doves at you, you can't mistake the place for the sort of sterile tourist Disney land that you might find elsewhere (for example, I did like Venice, but it's obviously less “authentic”).
The dove guy. Seriously, are you meant to pat them? Feed them? Have a photo with them? I don't see the attraction.
I walked along to Maiden Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, which is where the Orange Revolution kicked off back in 2004. It was pretty cool to see some of the graffiti from the time preserved on the pillars of the main post office, and there are plenty of monuments to independence and the founders of Kiev etc.
Archway in Independence Square
The main post office on Independence Square
A sign on the post office pillars saying the Orange Revolution happened here
Original graffiti from the revolution
Statues of the legendary founders of Kiev, Kyi, Lybid, Schek and Khoriv
After that, I was pretty tired and stopped for a couple of hours for lunch. It was okay, but I had been really looking forward to borsch and it wasn't bad but not hot enough, which I don't like in a soup. The main was pork and chips, which was hilarious because the chips came in a neat layer sort of baked on top of the pork. Quite nice, but unusual!
I then continued up Khreschatyk to the park to check out a huge monument to Russian-Ukrainian friendship (built BEFORE the end of the Soviet Union, naturally!) and some nice views over the Dniepr river.
The Friendship Monument
Views over the Dnieper from the park where the friendship monument is
Then continued uphill to the Myhailovsky monastery, for a quick look in the church. My guidebook didn't really have any information on how old it was or anything, but it looked pretty brand-spanking new, or at least the painted frescoes covering the walls and ceiling were. Tomorrow I'll be going to the cave monasteries, which hopefully will be a bit more historic.
It started raining just as I came out, so I decided I might as well go to the loo while I was there. Well, that's the last time in Ukraine I will a) leave a restaurant or similar without making use of the facilities b) decide I “may as well” use a public toilet. Found out squat toilets are alive and far from well in Ukraine! Really really gross stuff, and you have to pay for the privilege – cost the same as a trip on the metro, although since it's about 20 centimes, I think that's more like the metro is really cheap than the loos really dear!
Anyway, after recovering from those horrors I started heading back towards my hostel but got a bit lost and decided to take the metro back. Kiev is not a great city for walking, there are WAY too few street signs so it's really hard to orientate yourself, and then there are the dreaded perekhods (or, in Ukranian, perekhids) – underground road crossings or tunnels between metro stations. I know it sounds really thick, but if you're trying to cross over a 4-way intersection underground it's pretty easy, at least for me, to go in and get a bit disorientated about where I am when I pop up again. Especially since the perekhods are jam-packed with stalls and kiosks with people selling everything from jewellery to souvenirs to food and drink, very easy to get distracted. But the worst was when I got to my metro station, took a different exit out from the way I came in in the morning and got totally lost about which way to go. We're talking a miniscule area, but I just kept going round in circles and getting to intersections and not being able to cross the road so going back underground and getting confused again. I stopped for a little while to have a drink and a sit-down because I was so tired, but counting that it took me about 1 1/2-2 hours to find my hostel, which is laughable if you look at it on a map! I got so frustrated! There were some young'uns busking at the metro entrance, and I took the opportunity to ask the friendly-looking guy who came up to ask me for money where to go (I gave him some small change, obviously!) He talked very quickly in Ukrainian to me, but at least he pointed and set me off in roughly the right direction. I was so pleased to get back to the hostel, around 7.30, and so tired, that I took a nap and have ended up just staying here all evening. Still feeling pretty tired as well! Looking forward to my day at the monastery tomorrow though!
Okay, so this map does make it look a million billion times easier to find your way than it actually is when you're on the ground, but still, not reeeeally scope for a normal person to get lost for 1 1/2 hours!
What 18 euro a night gets you in Kiev, or it did until today (Friday) when they made me switch to a smaller room
Shiny Ukranian money - hrivna. Currently 1 euro will get you about 11 of these
One of my essay-length train tickets
Counting down to Euro 2012 - pleased to get my visit in beforehand!
The opera house where Tsarist prime minister Pyotr Stolypin was assassinated in 1911
St Vladimir's Cathedral