July 11th, 12th 2010
Kiev was a total 180 compared to Oslo. Upon arriving, I was immersed in a different world. Everything was in Cyrillic and very few people spoke English. I had to depend on Hostelworld directions to get me to my hostel and even then, I got lost because I didn’t know what “solarium” in the instructions were and I missed my turn, causing me to be lost for about an hour. I finally found a hotel that had wifi and the lady at the front desk was kind enough to allow me to use it to find my way. I finally did and thank goodness for the 2 hour time different from South Africa, or I could’ve missed the start of the World Cup final as well.
Once in the hostel, which is more like an old Soviet-esque apartment (plenty of Eastern European hostels are apartments), I met a Korean girl named Su Min. She was an exchange student and studying Russian literature in Russia. Upon graduating, she was travelling around Eastern Europe before making her way back to South Korea. She could speak Russian and read Cyrillic so she was definitely a handy companion when we went out to watch the World Cup. She spoke to some people and we finally managed to find a restaurant/bar that had one open table left (every other place seemed to either not show the World Cup or was full). Nice Iniesta goal but we were disappointed that the Dutch didn’t win.
Next day, I took it upon myself to learn Cyrillic in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I learned what Cyrillic alphabets corresponded to which Roman letter and how to pronounce it. Before long, I was getting the hang of it. I even started speaking a little Russian to get around. BTW, Russian is commonly spoken in Eastern Ukraine. I’ve read that Russian isn’t welcome in Western Ukraine though (aka Lviv, which I will be visiting). But my book didn’t have Ukrainian phrases so I had to use Russian instead.
I walked around, looking at my guidebook chart and trying to read signs. I had started my day around 7 am and was looking for a coffee shop. I walked into what I thought was a coffee shop but it wasn’t. Instead, right next to it, was a self-serve cafeteria which was open and several locals were having breakfast. This joint would be where I would eat all my meals while in Kiev. I got a lot of food to fill myself up for breakfast/lunch/dinner and each time, my meal ran between USD$3-7. I am talking a LOT of food for USD$7. It was insanely cheap. I was beginning to love Ukraine already. Not to mention, most of the women in Kiev were just smoking hot. No joke. Cheap food, cheap beer ($0.50 for a good bottle of beer!), hot women everywhere, nice city…what’s not to like?
I did a couple of things in Kiev. Visited the St Sophia’s Cathedral, and later walked the cobble stone Andriyivsky uzviz (Andrew’s descent) street which is one of the oldest streets in town, stopping for some dumpling soup on the way down. I also got to witness an Orthodox church ceremony held outside St Andrew’s Church’s gate (see picture above).
I had originally wanted to take a day tour of Chernobyl (about 100 km outside of Kiev) but due to lack of time, I made do with visiting the Chernobyl Museum, once I could find it. I actually walked into a police station and thought it was the museum. It was that secluded and hidden. BTW, that museum blew. But I did see a mummified preserved mutated puppy, which was very creepy.
I took a long long long walk to the Caves Monastery as well (did I mention it was very hot?). I heard there were mummified monks in underground catacombs so that sounded really interesting. But the Caves Monastery is more than a tomb. It had a couple of churches where plenty of Orthodox Ukrainians went for religious reasons. All the women wore head scarfs. Everyone lit candles. And upon entering the pitch dark catacombs where candle-holding people were the only source of light, I saw many people kissing the coffins with the monks and praying on their knees.
I got the hang of the metro system once I learned some Cyrillic. I took a picture of the metro map, then proceeded to look at the signs around the station. Whichever sign contained the words I was looking for (roughly), I knew that was the right train to get on.
To cross the roads, sometimes I had to take the stairs underground. Once underground, I found a ton of shops. Underground malls are common in Kiev. Food, clothes, books, shoes etc could be found in these shops. Sometimes, it’s like a maze so having a good sense of direction will help lead you out to the right exits.
One evening, I decided to get a beer and sit in the open square outside the store, drinking beer with all the other local kids who were just hanging out. A few drops of rain started coming down and within a minute, a huge torrential downpour descended upon Kiev. The wind started blowing so hard that even with an umbrella, the rain flew right into everyone horizontally, soaking anyone in its path.
Being back in Eastern Europe feels good. It’s another world. One has to challenge themselves to truly adapt to their surroundings.