I was Very Brave today and after taking the metro to Arsenalna station (and getting a couple of delicious mini-pastries filled with soft cheese for breakfast) I followed my guidebook's instructions and got a trolleybus to the Kievo-Pecherska Lavra, my destination for the day. Actually, it turned out to be closer than it looked on the map, so I could have probably saved myself some bravery and just walked. Luckily though, I was paying attention and managed to spot the name on the bus-stop and jump off.
The Kievo-Pecherska Lavra is known in English as the 'Caves Monastery', for the obvious reason that there is a network of underground caves, as well as above-ground churches and other buildings. The monastery traces its origins back to St Anthony of Lubech who came from Greece to live in a manmade cave here in 1051, after Prince Vladimir converted Kievan Rus to Christianity. Anthony and his followers eventually dug out a whole series of underground monastic cells and chapels etc. Nowadays they are most notable for all the dead bodies of Orthodox saints in them, which are wrapped up and covered in rich chasubles and headdresses, often with a little mummified paw or two sticking out of the wrappings. Of course, the Church claims the preservation of their bodies as a miracle, and the Soviets tried to debunk this by saying it was a natural process of mummification caused by the lack of moisture in the caves.
I suppose the Church won that round, as this is a huge pilgrimage site. Almost everyone visiting, as far as I could tell, was Orthodox – Russian and/or Ukrainian, presumably. I bought a headscarf (partly because it was really cold, partly because an allegedly 100% silk scarf for less than 3 euros seemed like a good deal, and partly to blend in) but I would have had a hard time faking it as a believer, there was way too much bowing and crossing and kissing of things going on to pull it off.
Frumpy Ernie, now 50% frumpier
It was fine though, even if I did feel a bit awkward not joining in on all that – in a spirit of respectfulness, I even tried not to go down a tunnel marked “reserved for prayer only” but a priest corralled me and sent me down there, so I could but obey ha ha! Some parts were very dark, so the beeswax taper that is apparently 'traditional' to buy came in handy. It was a bit surreal at times though. Obviously I don't want to judge other people's religion, but I was following this couple around for a bit and they seemed pretty much in a race to cross themselves, kiss the saint's coffin and murmur a prayer as quickly as possible before moving on to the next one. Perhaps just the physical contact with the relics is what matters most, so the quicker you get round the quicker you pile up your blessings... To be brutally honest, though, the constant little popping noise of kisses on coffins got on my nerves.
Snatched a photo when I had one of the rooms to myself, had to be quick so not very good but you can kind of see the coffins and icons. Without the flash it's much darker.
Another sneaky photo of an underground chapel, I think dedicated to St Theodosius, Anthony's first follower, who is buried here
When I got out of the caves, the weather had gone from cold and windy to cold and windy and pouring down, which didn't seem fair considering I'd just been underground. I was pretty tired by this stage anyway, so after getting my shoes all wet and filled with grit and being buffeted from the rain in all directions, I headed off to locate a cafe and had some lunch until the rain passed over. Then checked out some of the churches above ground. They are quite pretty, but again the disappointing thing is that everything is so new. Between the Nazis and the Soviets, a lot of stuff got blown up or just neglected to the point of falling into ruins, plus apparently there had already been various fires, Mongol hordes and earthquakes laying waste to the site since the 11th century. The main cathedral, for example, was only rebuilt in 2000, although 'technically' it's from 1077. Its destruction was once again courtesy of our Stalinist friends abandoning Kiev to the Nazis.
The Assumption Cathedral
Some of the buildings now house various small national museums, which have to be paid for separately. I went into one, the Museum of Historical Treasures, which I really enjoyed. It featured essentially precious metal objects from prehistory to the 20th century, and had some really cool stuff from the Scythians and Samartians and Kievan Rus. There were some amazing Scythian stuff that looked basically medieval, but was from the 4th century BC. I had only ever seen quite basic animal forms and quite crude jewellery, but some of this stuff was really impressive. You could really see the Greek influence in some pieces, whilst others reminded me of Anglo-Saxon stuff. There were a couple of graves with the skeletons still adorned with rings and bracelets and headdresses, very cool. By contrast, some of the actual medieval stuff from Kievan Rus looked more primitive! It was interesting as well seeing the influence of different cultures – the Greeks, settlers from what's now Iran, the Mongols, the Huns, etc. I really liked seeing this, as I'm interested in the history of Eastern Europe and you don't often see early stuff from this part of the world in museums in Western Europe or whatever. I can now inform you that the Scythians, as far as I can see, were positively obsessed with depicting scenes of predatory animals eating their prey. Apparently, this symbolised the need for sacrifices to be made to sustain one's life-force, or something like that.
After the museum, I had had enough, having been at the site all day long from like 10 to 5 or something, so I walked back to the metro, with the rain falling off and on as it had all day. On the way I went past the monuments to the Holomodor – the Ukranian famine engineered by the Soviets – and to WWII.
I had to laugh going in to the metro, I heard the word 'control' over the speakers, and somehow leapt to the conclusion that it was a passport control, especially when I saw people showing some sort of photo ID to a policeman-looking guy. I obediently went up and showed him my passport, he shook his head and made a circle with his fingers so I thought “oh, he wants to see my immigration stamp”, showed him that and he took me and pointed to the machines where you put your metro tokens in. Ohhh, they're checking that people are paying to use the metro, d'oh! I felt like quite the dick for showing the ticket inspector my passport, ha ha! Oh well, we all do dumb things in foreign countries eh? The guy must have wondered who this nutter was showing him her passport though... At least we know that if I was living under a totalitarian, random passport-checking regime, I'd be very obliging.
Managed to find my way back to the hotel with no problems this time, feeling a bit more upbeat than yesterday when I was wondering why I couldn't just go lie on a beach like everyone else. (Although with the weather Europe's had this summer, probably not a good idea anyway.) After a bit of a rest, I went out to a Georgian restaurant I had seen while getting lost the other day. Had a really delicious chicken meatball soup with gorgeous bread, sort of like Turkish bread but really soft. And it arrived piping hot, which is my bare minimum requirement for soup. The second course wasn't as good, a sort of pork stew, it was a bit oily and quite difficult to cut the meat in the bottom of the stew pot, also packed with coriander, which was nice in the soup but I'd had enough of it by the time I had the main. It was okay though, I was getting pretty full by then so I didn't mind leaving half of it. Tried a glass of Georgian red wine as well, which was okay, but a little bit sweet. I tipped 20%, which is probably a bit much, but the waitress was nice and I was the only customer and I felt sorry for her. I find tipping confusing, especially when I still don't 100% understand the money. Pretty much on budget so far, although things are a little bit more expensive than I expected. With the tip, the meal tonight was about 17 euros, which is okay for 2 courses and wine of course, but not dirt cheap – you can definitely eat out in France for the same amount of money. But on the other hand, I had 2 courses and a soft drink at lunch today and it was less than 5 euros. I expect Lviv will be a bit cheaper, then maybe Odessa the same as here.
Tomorrow I am going to try an expedition to Chernihiv, which is a couple of hours north-east of Kiev, on about the same latitude as Chernobyl, but about 40 miles away on the other side of the Dnepr. It's a World Heritage site, known as an 'open-air museum' for its many cathedrals and monasteries from the Middle Ages.
Inside one of the churches near the caves, I forget which.
Church and belltower near the caves
Prayers by the icon
All the icons you can eat
The refectory and Chapel of Saints Anthony and Theodosius
Inside the refectory
Frescoes in the refectory
Stolypin's grave - I haven't put up a picture of the opera house where he was assassinated yet, but I will (went by it on Day 2). In case I still haven't, or you haven't read that, he was a reforming Tsarist minister who hung so many people that the noose became known as Stolypin's necktie. I didn't realise he was killed in Kiev, but there you go. Thoughts on his legacy differ wildly as to whether he may have ushered in an age of real reform or just been a repressor for the Tsars. You see these sorts of 'false dawns' all over Russian history, where people look back and think "what if so-and-so hadn't been assassinated" or whatever and wonder if the Revolution could ever have been avoided.
Inside Troitskaya Church
The monument to the Holomodor famine
The Holomodor monument with the monastery belltower in the background
The war memorial
War memorial with the Holomodor monument
Best. Film. Ever?