Friday, August 05, 2011

Day 4: Mission aborted and St. Sophia

I'm putting up 4 posts at once because I've been writing them daily and waiting to get online to post them. Turns out that the hostel has free wifi, no issues, but I've just been too tired to go and ask for the code every time I've gotten back to my rooms, so I'm only just getting around to it. So if you have a lot of time on your hands, congratulations, I've filled it!

Today I went and asked the receptionist for advice on how to get out to Chernihiv, the medieval town I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry. She clearly didn't really know and suggested about 5 different places all over the city where I might be able to get the bus. When I asked the obvious question of which was best, she looked on the internet and then said there was one bus from the central bus station at 8.40 am (it was already like 8.20) and there might be others, she didn't know. So yeah, that was helpful... It took me about an hour and a half to get out to the central bus station and find where I was supposed to go in a spaghetti-junction style intersection. There were no signs right around where it was supposed to be, and I had the frustrating feeling of finally being sure I was in the right spot but utterly unable to find the station. At long last, I saw a van with a sign in the window saying 'Odessa' and figured out that all the plain white, unmarked campervan-looking things actually constituted the central bus station of Kiev.

Welcome to Kiev Central!

I asked a driver if there was a bus to Chernihiv and he told me to go to some other station, way out on the end of one of the metro lines. By this stage, it was only about 10 o'clock and I was already tired and frustrated and I couldn't stand the idea of trawling around trying to find another bus station on the off-chance that there would even be a bus leaving any time soon, and then go through a 6-hour round trip plus sightseeing.

So I took the metro back to the centre and just sat on a bench in the sunshine in Independence Square until my back stopped aching and I was feeling a bit more in sorts. I then headed up to St Sophia Cathedral, which turned out to be really fantastic, so it's a good thing that my trip didn't happen or maybe I wouldn't have seen it. It's all the more special for being an authentic 11th-century building, not a reconstruction, and there are lots of amazing 11th C frescoes and mosaics surviving inside. They've done a really good job with the restoration, with some parts overpainted and others left original, so that you can see how the frescoes would look new, but also see the original, faded works. The church was established by Prince Vladimir, who converted Kievan Rus to Christianity, and finished by his son Yaroslav, whose tomb is in the cathedral. The Byzantine influence is very clear - Vladimir married a Byzantine princess, Anna (prompting his conversion) and one of his daughters ended up Queen of France. I was eavesdropping on an English-speaking tour guide and she said that the Soviets were all ready to blow the place up, but a party of French delegates persuaded them not to, on the pain of losing diplomatic relations with France, since they regarded the cathedral as part of French heritage as well. That kind of sounds like a made-up story, but a nice one anyway.

Statue of a hetman (Cossack leader) in St Sophia Square. NB If any of you are moved to start calling me Hetman Gwan, I'll allow it. I'll even graciously respond with my best HWAH! As in "war, what is it good for, HWAH, absolutely nothing"

St Sophia's Cathedral

The belltower of St Sophia's

Yours truly with the belltower in the background. It's wonky because I did a self-timed shot on a slanty wall

View from the belltower over Sophia Square, with St Mikhayil Monastery in the background

Secret squirrel (i.e. verboten) picture of the interior of St Sophia's

After that, I walked down Andriyivsky Uzviz, which supposedly follows the route St Andrew, one of the apostles, took from the banks of the Dneipr up the hill where he stuck a cross in the ground and prophesised that a great city would rise up. These days, it is a windy, very unevenly cobbled street lined with people selling paintings, wood-carvings, embroideries etc. to tourists. I actually wanted to buy some nice coasters for my flat, but for once in the history of tourist tat, there weren't any on any of the dozens of stalls I looked at! I didn't buy anything, although at some stage I'll probably get a couple of magnets as well, since my new behemoth of a fridge is magnet-free.

View of Andriyivsky Uziv

St Andrei's Church at the top of A. Uziv, built by the famous (in Russian architectural history terms) architect Rastrelli

I finished off the afternoon by getting a haircut - only about 10 euros, and any opportunity to have a haircut without having to chat to the hairdresser is fine by me - and then by trying and failing to find the Chernobyl museum. This was another occasion of going round and round in circles where it should have been according to the map. I am getting very over being lost and not being able to find anything even when I'm sure I'm in the right place, I won't be entirely sorry to go to some smaller cities.

Tomorrow is my last day here, not too sure what I'll do during the day yet, but I'll want to leave plenty of time to get my train! It's not till 10.15 pm though, so I'll definitely be able to do a bit more sightseeing first.

Sign in my hostel. You may ask what the eff you're meant to do with it then, but I know the Approved Eastern Block Toilet Paper Disposal Method is to put your gross, used toilet paper in a bin next to the loo. In any case, the hostel has been cunningly skirting the issue by not providing any toilet paper anyway. Oh well, at least it's not a squat toilet swimming in human waste like the loos next to Mikhailovsky Monastery...


  1. Gwen,
    I hope you don't mind any further corrections? I see you're interested in history and I hope you would find them useful :)

    >>>>with some parts overpainted and others left original<<<
    Actually, the process was a kind of "back to front"
    In 19th century, some crazy restorers thought that the old frescos looked bad and decided to cover them with oil paints - to look nicer (!) In 20th century during restoration works restorers found out that 11th century frescoes are still there and they decided to uncover them. Unfortunately, some ancient frescoes were damaged by the oil paints badly and they left them to look like they looked after 19-century restoration.

    2. >>>and one of his daughters ended up Queen of France<<<.
    Not Volodymyr's, but Yaroslav's daughter.
    Actually, all of his daughters made a good match: Elisabeth married Harald Hardrada, King of Norway; Anastasia - King Andrew I of Hungary, Agatha - Edward the Exile.
    5 of Yaroslav's sons were married to daughters of kings.


    1. Thanks Marynuk! Sometimes I forget the details in the time it takes to blog.

  2. >>>but I know the Approved Eastern Block Toilet Paper Disposal Method is to put your gross, used toilet paper in a bin next to the loo<<<

    This happened to us on a long distance train in Russia. At first, we weren't sure if we'd understood our provodnitsa properly... But no, you can't put used toilet paper in the toilet. Heaven forbid! The bin is the right place for such niceties.

    We obeyed - sure, used toilet paper on a train track is unhygienic - but are still scratching our heads over the solution to the problem. Glad to see that someone else has had a similar experience - albeit in a proper, plumbed in toilet!

    1. Hello anonymous, indeed, I first came across this as a rule at my workplace when I lived (briefly) in Moscow in 2006!


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