Kiev/Chernigov, Ukraine 2011

SUNDAY OCTOBER 16, 2011
I have been a little slow on the journaling for the past couple of days. I mean we have both been kind of busy with all of the eating and visiting we have been doing, and trying to recapture the spirit after the fact is a little difficult. Today is Sunday, and our day to depart Раздольное for the week. We wake up at 7:30. After showering we work on the apartment in that I have been informed of some furniture switches by the library that may happen while I am on vacation for the next week. I was instructed to empty all cabinets and clear all furniture except for the bed. I put all of my clothes on the bed, shoes underneath, and all kitchen stuff into two boxes. Then we worked on the fridge. Three piles: one to get tossed, one to picnic on the train, and one to eat for breakfast today. Everything else stayed in the fridge or freezer. At 11:30am we walked to the bus station to catch our 12:20pm bus to the town of Djankoi. The bus runs about 2 hours and we have seven hours to kill in the town before our train leaves tonight at 9:46 Kievbound. I know two of the volunteers in this city and reach out to them to, at the very least, get some restaurant recommendations, but hoping for a tour guide or some ideas for time killing. After a couple of calls, Chris and DuVale came to hang with us at the pizza place across the street from the train station.

Kiev train station at night

It was raining pretty hard, so we did not venture out as planned. We just stayed at the pizza place and got to know each other a little better. Even though the community of volunteers is about 500 in Ukraine, our world is pretty small and we find that we know many of the same people, were trained by the same teachers, or had some common experiences, so it is not difficult to find something to talk about with almost any of them. We sat and talked to the guys for a few hours and then El and I stayed after they left to do a quick email check before heading to the train station to catch our ride. All is good with the train and it appears to be on time. This is my first time on the train by myself (or at least not with a Ukrainian to help me) and so far so good. I suppose I will always be alright until there is a problem- then it is obvious just how little I truly understand. Nonetheless, this train departs at 9:46pm and by the time we board and get settled and get on the way it is almost 11:00pm and time for sleep. All of my train experiences until now have been on "old style" trains that are put into commission only during peak season and this train is one of the newer models. I expect, from experience that the train will be very cold and difficult to sleep on. To my surprise, contrarily, the coupé is very warm with no window to open. When we close the coupé door it actually rises to an uncomfortable sleeping temperature and we do our best to stay asleep as long as we can. As I have written about in the past, one of the concerns when riding a train is drunk passengers. While drinking vodka and other liquor is prohibited, beer on the other hand, is sold on the train and many people bring their own. You always hope for the best, which seems to work in your favor only some of the time. We get lucky and we share the coupé with two middle aged gentleman who are returning to Kiev after running in a footrace on Crimea this weekend. One speaks English and is happy to practice with us. They sleep, alcohol free, through the night and are the kind of coupé mates I hope for always.

MONDAY OCTOBER 17, 2011
We awake on the train around 7:00am, which is earlier than I hoped for, but still later than I expected. We get some tea and coffee on the train and dig into our picnic breakfast. Today's selections range from Tostitos Corn Chips and chocolate chip cookies to apples with extra chunky peanut butter. We eat, realizing that we still have about 3½ hours until our stop. No matter, we update our journals and sip our tea quietly. Today will be our first day in Kiev and we will only be here for one day this time, as we leave tomorrow for Chernigov and will return to Kiev for three days at the end of the week. I am able to grab another hour of sleep after I eat my breakfast. When I awake we prepare for arrival by switching back to our street clothes from our comfort clothes. We aren't scheduled in for another hour, but it's not like we have anything else to do right now. The train arrives close to on time and we head right for the Hotel Lybid. It is not too far from the train station and we find it with little issue. We arrive at 11:30am and are told that we cannot check in until 12:00 noon without paying another night’s fee. So, tired and dirty from our train ride, we sit and wait for the noon hour to get our room. We have no sightseeing agenda today, but we do have a couple of things I need to do. We check into our room, shower, and change. Our first stop is the train station to buy tickets to the city of Chernigov tomorrow. I seem to remember the schedule times being an issue from when I was in training, but need to confirm before switching to plan B. It is times like this that really underscore how difficult Russian is for me. I mean, I can order train tickets without problem, my issue comes when they say "no" and give a reason. I cannot tell if it is because there are no trains, the trains are sold out, or if the trains are not running at the times I need. It becomes a lot of trial and error with the cashier who has neither the time of the patience to work with my lack of command of the language. After a while I do finally understand that every day there is only one train to Chernigov and it runs only at 6:00pm. Well that would not work for us. We needed to be there in the morning. I remember when I was first brought to Kiev during my training, we came right on the Friday of Easter weekend and the trains to get us back to Chernigov were all sold out. We had to take a bus and our teacher, Maria, showed us where to get the bus and all of the details. So, after striking out at the train station, we took the metro to the end of the red line Lisova Station (Лисова) to find if I really remembered correctly how to get that bus. On the way we get a photo of the now-famous-to-us McFoxy, who has set up shop next door to McDonald’s across from the main train station. It is kind of funny.

McFoxy next to McDonalds. I bet some company is not happy about this

As for if I knew how to get to the bus stop? Sure enough, I did. I found the stop no problem and asked one of the drivers about the schedule for tomorrow. He said that they run every 15-20 minutes and cost 40 UAH each. We will try to make the 10:00am bus tomorrow, putting us in Chernigov around noon. Hoping to check in to our hotel around noon and then get up to
Таня's for lunch around 1 or 2. Before we leave the bazaar near the buses, we grab an order of schwarma from a stand. The sandwich here starts with a large flat tortilla with a dollop of mayo spread on it. Add a heap of shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, and julienned cucumbers. Add chunks of grilled chicken, more mayo, ketchup, and hot mustard. Fold like a burrito, and grill like a panini. It is then wrapped in a plastic sheath and surrounded by a napkin. Almost unbeatable street food. Right around this time though, I realize that my cell phone has accidentally turned off in my pocket and now needs a PIN code to reactivate it. A code which sits on my shelf...at home! Luckily, I have the phone number of the three people I plan to see on our vacation in my pocket. Now, I just need to find a person with a phone with the corresponding carriers that will let me make the calls. I remember that I had promised a call to my host mom when I had a plan about tomorrow, but without the phone, I need to get back to the hotel to get her phone number. We head back to the hotel and I grab the information I need. We quickly return to the metro station and take the train to Maidan Square for the 4:00pm free walking tour. There are two different free tours a day from the globe monument in Maidan Square and I have already taken the 12:00 noon tour. At 4:00 it is a little chilly, but nothing we can’t work with. We take the tour that focuses on the government buildings in the city and features a section of the city that I am mostly unfamiliar with. We start at the park at the end of Kreshchatyk St. that overlooks the Dniepr River. There is a "Friendship Arch" in this park as well as a Trompe L'Oeil painted on the ground.
trying to have fun with a Trompe L'Oeil, but the camera person failed

It is painted such that if you jump at the same time the photo is taken it looks like you are jumping off a cliff. Sadly, no one seemed to get the timing just right and the tour moved on. We ascended the steps into another park where we saw sculptures and the bridge of locks where couples can hang a lock to signify their love.

locks of love

Towards the end of the tour we come upon the presidential offices and across the street is a unique building that was designed to be two stories in the front and six stories tall on the back side to accommodate the terrain. There are also some pretty interesting cement figurines adorning the building. Lots of dragons, mermaids, lizards, fish, and snakes.

House with Chimaeras

The tour lasts a little over 2 hours and again, ends at the tourist information center. Afterwards, we head to a bar on Khreschatyk Street that was recommended to me called, Shato (Шато). They brew their own beer and it was good, but this is a spot reminds me that "I am not in Раздольное anymore"! I mean, 147 UAH (US$18.50) for 2 beers and 2 orders of french fries seemed a little steep for this country. I was also able to ask around and managed to find people to lend me a Kievstar and an MTC phone so that I could call my friends who we were planning to meet in Kiev this week. Sadly, my internet connectivity is spotty at best and reliant on us finding a free wi-fi zone. Because my phone is not working at the moment my friends are sending me emails to connect and I can’t return them immediately. I am frustrated by my lack of response time to the people who I have committed to contacting while I am in town. Unable to put together a meeting tonight, El and I finish up at the Shato and head out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant/sushi bar that I have been to before called Murikami. We went to the one on Khreschatyk St. at the Hotel Khreschatyk, but they have several locations around the city. We order a plate of sushi and tea. It hits the spot as a dish that I do not get at home these days. But, tired and cranky, we both agree to call it a night and head back to the hotel for bed and a hopefully get an early start in the morning. We end the day catching up on world current events. Hoping to be reset by the morning.

TUESDAY OCTOBER 18, 2011
Reset we are. We wake after a good night's sleep and go to breakfast at the hotel. The selection is great and we both fill up since we don’t know when we will eat next. After breakfast we finish packing and check out. We walk to the metro station and try to navigate the station with our rolling bags in tow. Sort of difficult, even though we have used this station and actually know where we are going. Nonetheless, we make it to our platform and grab the next train to come along. We head out to the last stop on the red line called Lisova (Лисова) which is where you get the marshtrukas to Chernigov. If we were going to a different city we would use a different metro stop, but since we made our dry run yesterday, we were in good shape. We arrived at 9:30 for a 10:00 bus. The cost is 40 UAH each (US$5) for a 2 hour bus ride. The alternative is the train which costs 13 UAH (US$1.75) but with the complications like only having one inconveniently timed train a day. As for us, we are good with our commitment. By 10:01 we are on the road. Just before we start off I take a moment to ask the driver about catching the return bus to Kiev on Thursday. Well, the conversation could not have gone worse...unless we actually started yelling at each other! Again, it is times like this that I am reminded just how difficult it is for me to communicate in Russian. I can ask for things and if the person I am speaking to understands my need to speak slow and use small words, I can carry on a simple conversation. But, this driver did not see or hear my needs, and after my attempt to find out about the return trip, I am just as unclear about what I have to do to get back to Kiev on Thursday. I am excited to have El meet my host family and show her around the city that I trained in. The weather is chilly, but not cold, so I think we should have a good time walking around my old stomping grounds. We pull into Chernigov around noon and as I pick up my luggage at the back of the bus the driver grabs my arm and points to the spot where I will be able to get our return bus to Kiev on Thursday. So, he did understand my question and I just didn’t understand his answer, but now I have the information I need. I'd consider that a small victory. We check into the hotel and drop our things off. We rearrange our bags and grab things we will need at Таня’s house. We go downstairs and get the marshrutka to Таня’s. I told her we would be there between 1 and 2. We roll in at 1:05. As expected, she is thrilled to see me again and to meet El. She invites us in and has lunch already made. Borsch (beet soup), golubsy (stuffed cabbage leaves), salo (lightly salted raw pork belly), cake (cake) and tea (green).

salo

Everything is as tasty as I remember it. Instead of hosting another volunteer, she has opted to host a language class in her house. We arrive at the end of lessons and I get to meet the five trainees and the language teacher. At the end of lessons the teacher, Natasha, joins us for lunch. Also,
Таня's friend, Таня, comes over for lunch. It was a really nice day for all of us. We stayed until 6:00 reminiscing and updating about my new life in the southern part of the country. After dinner we walk back to the bus and stop into Dva Gusa (Два Гуса) for a beer and to check email and update Facebook. After that we walk to the musical fountain hoping to conquer the challenge of photographing it at night with the dancing water. Sadly, it is closed for the season and sits empty of water waiting for next spring. Dark and cold, we press on and I get the idea to try to take some photos of St. Catherine’s church all lit up with El's camera.
St. Catherine's church at night

That works well and we stop at a dessert cafe called Charlotka (
Шарлотка) on Prospect Mira adjacent to the Alley of Heroes. I order a hot chocolate and a slice of black forest cake. The thick chocolate is very tasty, the cake, not so much. Doesn’t matter though, the company is good and it is a fine end to a fine day. Tomorrow we will walk the city and then head Таня’s for dinner, as they are making my favorite, shashlik for dinner (upon request). We pay our bill and head back towards the hotel, maybe stopping for another beer or other nightcap. I love being on vacation. On the way back to the hotel we walk through Red Square and I see a bar that I never got a chance to visit during training. I remember one night when several of my friends went there, but I had decided to bail on the night before they made it to this place. It was called Falvarek (Фальварек) Pub located on Prospect Mira just off of Red Square. The music emanating from behind the door should have told me to run away, but we entered to loud, thumping, dance music anyway. We look around and find a table in the back. As we walk towards the back, the music fades out while the sound of a soccer match on television fades in. We choose the strength of the game over the techno. Good call. We take advantage of the free wi-fi and get some beer and french fries. We spend about an hour recapping our day and sharing pictures with our friends on Facebook. Around 11:00pm we call it a night and head back to the hotel walking the quiet and very chilly Chernigov streets.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 19, 2011
We get up a little later than we wanted to, but luckily this is a town I am semi-familiar with. We have our agenda planned and will plan to make it back to the hotel before we head to
Таня's around 5:00pm. Our first stop is breakfast at a café near Prospect Mira. Unfortunately, the café does not open until lunch. For fear of spending too much time coming up with a plan B, we agree to just get a quick sandwich and coffee at McDonald’s. The food hits the spot and we are off on our walking tour. The first stop is the Shevchenko Theatre and then on to the dytynets where, true to form, El hits the churches while I opt to journal outside.

one of the cannons at the dytynets

The weather is a crisp, autumn day and when there is no breeze it is quite pleasant. We will continue to walk to the bell tower before heading back to the city center. El has also spotted a clothes shop she wants to visit and I will be sure to allot the time for that. They close at 7:00 this evening. After spending 3 months in this city, I have many fond memories and am thrilled to be standing here showing El about some of the things I have learned while I was here. What great memories. We continue on our tour and I give as much information as I remember, stopping along the way to take pictures. I have pictures of most of these spots, but none with El, until now. We spend some time at St. Catherine’s church and get some more pictures of it.

"Chernigov" spelled into the hill at the entrance to the city

We keep moving down the hill towards the war memorial, St. Anthony’s caves and the bell tower. I want to take El up the bell tower and we keep pressing on while looking back at the sites of the city from afar. We finally get to the Trinity Church and bell tower. El decides to check out the church while I journal. The sun is out in full, and even though it remains a little cold, we really do have perfect walking weather. The bell tower is 172 steps and offers a 360 degree view of the city.

in the Trinity Church bell tower

in the Trinity Church bell tower

We have been waking for less than two hours and are making very good time on our tour. We wrap up at the bell tower and start to walk back to the city center. We are both getting a little hungry and need to eat soon so as not to spoil dinner. We stop into the monastery on the way back and point out some other items of interest. We decide to head to a restaurant called Nirvana (Нирвана) for lunch and El will stop at the clothes shop afterwards. We are having a most productive day. By the way, El has confirmed what I did not know, that the two main tourist churches, Spaso-Preobrazhenskaya Church/Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Savior (Спасо-Преображенський Собор),
inside Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Savior

and the Troitsky Monastery (Дзвіниця Троіцько-Іллінського Монасмиря) are very beautiful inside and worth the look if you find yourself in the area. I always liked Nirvana, but it was always a little steep on our Peace Corps budget. I get a beer and a plate of spaghetti Bolognese which is really tasty. It is not too much and I do not feel like I overdid it. El needs to make a reservation on the internet and the connection is good here. I update the journal and try to plan the rest of our day before heading back to Таня's. We spend longer at Nirvana than I wanted to, but at least we are not tight on time. After lunch and email, El heads over to the clothes store across the street to look for her traditional Ukrainian clothing to bring back home as gifts. I, having no interest in that, stay at the internet spot and wait for her to return. She is back soon and we head out to finish our walk. We both have everything we need to go to Таня's for dinner. We head to St. Parasceve’s Church (Пятницька Церква) behind the theatre and walk down Blvd. Shevchenko. We stop on the Red Bridge (Красни Мост) and take some pictures of the Michael and Fyodor Church (Храм Святого Михайла та Боярина Федора) across the river. Then we get on the marshtrutka that we need to get to Таня's. We told Таня we would arrive between 4:00 and 5:00 and we walk in at 4:55pm. She is still excited to see us and tells us that the others will arrive within the hour. In the meantime, Таня sits and shows us pictures of the family at various times over the years. Before we know it her son, Pavil, has arrived to cook the shashlik dinner that I requested. It takes some time, but is well worth it. Chicken, onions, and tomatoes. My favorite. The meal is the Ukrainian version of barbeque. We eat, talk, and exchange reciprocal invitations before heading out around 9:00pm. We walk to the bus stop and catch our ride back to the center. I need an ATM and we saw a dessert place nearby that looked pretty good. We stop in and order a coffee and I get a Napoleon for dessert. It is pretty good and the coffee is better than almost any I have had in this country. A little pricey, but another place I knew existed, but on my budget during training, was not on my radar. Amoré Mio is the name and it was a really nice after dinner place. We finish up and head out. Also though, I would like to point out that there is a giant flat screen TV in this very fancy dining room playing the National Geographic channel with a show about people with extreme weight issues and medical oddities. Not the most pleasant of subjects to enjoy a fine dessert over, strange for sure. After we pay we move on to a bar that I had never seen before. Not sure if it opened in the last few months, but if it did not, how did I miss this place? Eleven microbrews on tap? A wide variety of beer snacks? Only five tables and four seats at the bar! The only down side is no wi-fi, but for those into soccer, they are playing a soccer match now and this would be a better place than some of the other options in this town. Again, how did I miss this place if it was here when I was? I get a white and El gets a dark beer. We are too full for the likes of beer cheese or peanuts. We won't stay here all night, but an hour is good enough for me (especially with a soccer game on). If they had good music, this would be an ultimate bar for me. I shall return. Well, we wind up staying until closing time, which was around midnight. Over the course of our time there we each drank two- half litres of our original choices, plus ate 200+ grams of peanuts, and also at one point the bartender came by to offer El a cup of warm spiced cider. Not sure if it was beer or wine or even alcoholic for that matter, but it did taste like cloves and was warm. We are not necessarily tired, but we do not feel we need another stop tonight. We could probably find another bar to hit, but we both agree it best to call it a night. Five minutes later we are in our hotel room and getting all of our electronic devices onto chargers to be ready for tomorrow. The plan being to grab a bite in the morning and then wait for a bus back to Kiev to start our three days there before El has to leave on Sunday. Sadly, I feel like I am starting to get sick and hope this is no indication of my next couple of days. Today, I was able to connect with my friends in Kiev and should hopefully be meeting with them on Friday for dinner. Fingers crossed.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 20, 2011
I am definitely getting sick. I had a terrible night's sleep because of it. Mostly a headache and a sore throat, but it can only get better or worse and I fear for the latter. I will gladly exchange a week of being laid up next week for a couple more days of comfortable touring with El. We get up around 9:00am and go to grab some food at the closest café. Just a cup of tea and a pastry to hold us over. We check email and then head to a partner bank (basically I get paid through an ATM account. If I withdraw money at a partner bank all of my ATM fees are reimbursed. Раздольное has no partner bank ATM's, so I take advantage of being in a city with partner ATM's to get money for free). We head back to the room and grab our stuff and make our way down to the bus stop where we can get the bus to Kiev. It is around noon and we expect to be in Kiev around 2:00pm. This will give us enough time to go to the hotel, check in and go out to hit one or two of our tourist highlights. Tomorrow we will try to hit a bulk of the items on our list and finish it up on Saturday. As I look back on the past two days, I am so glad we made this trip to Chernigov. Peace Corps Volunteers are allowed to visit our host families seven days a year (where the days do not count towards our annual leave). I mean, I certainly expected to visit Таня and family at some point, but coming back with El was just great. They were so excited to meet El and vice versa. The family really made me feel like a part of the society here, and I cannot say enough great things about them. El was happy with my introduction to the city, and I was also happy to discover new things about the city that I missed the first three months of living here. Lastly, as we get ready to pull out of the bus stop to Kiev, a word about the Hotel Ukraine. This place always looked really scary to me. There are a few hotels in this city that appear to be in a state of disrepair and in need of a serious updating. I asked around and got one favorable review from a current volunteer about the rooms in this hotel. The online reviews were mixed at best and until I got the first hand review I was looking elsewhere. I had some help calling to get my reservation. We wound up with a "luxe” room on the 4th floor, with a large living room with pull out sofas, a balcony, large flat screen TV, and a full sized bedroom, that at 584 UAH per night (US$73) was a really great deal. The room was definitely bigger than my apartment. So, with a central location, new suites, and really comfortable and quiet rooms, I would fully recommend the Hotel Ukraine in Chernigov to anyone looking for a place to stay with their family or anyone else you can afford US$73 with. We roll into Kiev around 2:00pm and head directly to the hotel with our bags. We are staying this time on Khreschatyk Street right next to Maidan Square. We check-in around 2:45 and plan to get out as fast as we can to get to our list of things to see and do. After looking at the map, we see that most of our points of interest are clumped into two major areas of the city, except one, the Babi Yar Memorial. Honestly, I had never heard of Babi Yar until researching this trip and I am not sure how I missed it. You should look it up if you can as the events that took place there was one of the most significant moments during the holocaust. I had read a bit about the massacre over the past couple weeks, and also asked at the tourist info center about the layout of the grounds and monuments. I am glad I did. Basically, Babi Yar was a ravine where thousands of Jews and non-Jews were massacred in a very short period of time. The actual grounds are not as much the tourist attraction as the monuments inside commemorating those who perished on the site. There is no map that I am aware of to explain in detail (in English) where the significant monuments are and how to navigate the park to them. Basically the park (as it is laid out today) is adjacent to the Dorohozhychi (Дорогожичи) metro station on the green line. We spend an hour wandering the area. There are memorials and monuments on both sides of the road and we start at the memorial to the children who were victims at Babi Yar. Hoping to get a photo of the monument, El and I wait while a grandfather waits patiently for his grandson to be ready to move along, but the child does not leave. At first, I was a little annoyed that after probably 30 seconds of standing there with our camera , that maybe the man would have hurried the child. Failing this, El and I decide to take our photos anyway as the probably 4 or 5 year old continues to ride his little Razor scooter around the monument. The sad irony hits both of us at the same time and I am not disappointed in the juxtaposition of the young boy playing on a memorial to thousands who lost their lives in the site. Hauntingly ironic. 
memorial to the children who were victims at Babi Yar

Afterwards we decide to go to dinner. I have a few recommendations that we can choose from and El picks a French restaurant called Café Champagne (
Кафе Шампань). It takes us longer to walk there than I expected, but it is still light out and the stroll is nice. For dinner I order: Caesar salad with bacon, “Rooster in wine by Alsatian recipe”, and a side of mashed potatoes. We agree we do not need wine with dinner and opt instead for a beer. The Caesar salad is not too good. The ingredients are acceptable, but there is not much dressing on the salad, and what's there is not all that tasty, and the bacon is a bit of an oddly used ingredient as they serve with bacon strips instead of bacon crumbles. I would probably not order that again. But, the coq au vin is really great. The flavors and portion size are fantastic. Though, I do encounter many tiny bones that I could have done without, and the side of mashed potatoes were a little cold, but the coq au vin made the stop worth it. I am still eating when El's plate gets cleared and the waitress offers El tea, coffee, or dessert while I am still dining. They need to work on their timing I suppose. All in all, I say a decent recommendation, with a couple of small issues. We update our journals and skip dessert, looking to press on for a next bar or café for our after-dinner needs. On our way in we passed a place that we HAVE to go back to. A bar called "Post Floyd The Wall" as we just have to see what's going on inside. It is located at 
Velyka Zhytomyrs'ka St, 25/2 Kiev (044) 272 2494. We walk in to see a live Queen video. I already love this place. The prices are a little steep (for what I am used to) for a beer, but we are finding that frequently in this city (when I say this, a ½ litre of Heffeweissen will run about US$7, where the Ukrainian beer is closer to US$3). We decide to stay for a beer if we can get the security key for the wi-fi in here. We are in and spend the night winding down. I mean we don't necessarily need to go bar hopping, especially when you find a place you like. We play on the internet and watch the video “Queen: Rocks Montreal” on the screens in the bar. The beer is workable and nursing one that is the equivalent of US$2.36 is not the end of the world. We will probably just wait for the end of the video and make our way back to the hotel and call it a night. After the Queen video finishes, they start David Gilmour's home video, “Remember That Night”. I am not as interested in that, so we call for our check and head home. On the way home we stop for some photos at St. Sophia's and St. Michael's as the nighttime scenes give a much different look than during the day. After our pictures, we go back to the room and call it a night.

FRIDAY OCTOBER 21, 2011
 
Sometimes things take longer than you expect they will and sometimes less. I had made an appointment to see the Peace Corps doctor which is a more difficult ticket to get than you would think. Being that I live so far from Kiev while others live relatively close, I booked in advance and got a 10:30am appointment. It was a fasting appointment, so I could not enjoy the breakfast offerings at the hotel this morning. I planned to wake at 8:30 to give me enough time to ready and take the metro to the office. Having naturally woken up a little before our alarm, by 8:50 we were ready to leave. Sadly, this did not leave enough sightseeing time before the appointment, and also left us with too much time before the appointment to leave just then. We checked our email on the hotel's free wi-fi and left closer to our planned time. While I was at the doctor, El spent time at a café around the corner. She also went to a bookstore and was able to find a Kiev guidebook in English that was much better than the Ukraine guidebook I have with only a small section on Kiev. After the appointment we need to head back to the hotel for a pit stop, which really is on the way, but stops like these always take longer than you expect they will. After we stop, we head back to the metro to continue in the same direction to the station called Arsenal (Арсенальная). There is a bit of history in the vicinity of this station and we stop to read about what we are seeing. We continue on towards the Lavra Caves which everyone says is a "must see". On the way we stop at an overlook and read about the memorial to the Great Patriotic War, eternal flame, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We take some photos and move on to the monument commemorating the victims of the artificial famine of 1932-33.

shadow produced by the sun shining through the monument commemorating the victims of the artificial famine of 1932-33

This is another dark period in the history of this country and there are several monuments to this time. We press on towards the Lavra Cave complex. It costs 25 UAH to enter and another 50 UAH for photo privileges (FYI, they really do pounce to check your ticket stub if they spot you taking pictures). There are no complex maps available at all with the exception of a map painted onto a wall. El takes a picture of the map, but it is impractically small to navigate from where we stand. Lavra Caves is way more complex than I expected. Not my thing, surprisingly, but I am getting sick, so I may have a different opinion if my health was better. We pay the photo fee, only to learn that you cannot take photos in the caves themselves. I was disappointed, but I think El liked it. Then I asked and she said that she wished she had seen more of the sites on the map in this complex.


At this point, I feel like I am getting sicker by the minute. I am feeling weak, finding it hard to breathe, especially in the caves where candles are the only light, and I am assuming burn up much of the oxygen. I am achy and my head is congested. I have medicine back at the room, but it isn't doing me any good now. At first opportunity I need to get some food and drink to hold me over until dinner in a few hours. We will meet my friends Andrii and Olga for pizza at 5:00. I hope I can hold out. As for the Lavra Caves, the bottom line is that I am cheap. The complex costs 25 UAH (US$3) to wander into all of the caves and churches. The tours given in Russian and Ukrainian cost 20 UAH (US$2.75) whereas the same tour in English costs between 250-375 UAH depending on what you want a tour of. Obviously, my Russian is not anywhere near good enough to take that tour, so we are stuck to pay the fee or to go without and try to do it on our own. We opt for on our own, which, in hindsight, may have been the wrong decision. The problem for us is that, with the exception of "Do Not Enter" there is just no English here at all. My Russian is basic so I can ask for directions to some things, but even this gets me flustered and underscores how uncomfortable I am in this language. Nonetheless, on our way out, El stops into a few of the cathedrals with the camera. I choose to wait outside and journal and get some food and water at a stand. The weather is starting to turn cold and sprinkles start to appear. El grabs the guidebook and checks to see if there is anything else we need to see before we leave. I was hoping to see the Great Patriotic War museum today, but having spent so much time in this complex, that is looking doubtful and will go to the bottom of our list for tomorrow. Checking our clock, we decide to run down to the Rodina Mat which is a giant Statue of Liberty-esque piece that stands over the Great Patriotic War Museum.

Rodina Mat

We do not have enough time to do the museum which we have heard such great things about. We take our pictures at the Rodina Mat and head back to the metro to meet Andrii at Maidan Square. He will be there around 5:00, and it is not far. We make it to the meeting place a little early and are not 100% sure if Olga will meet us at the meeting spot or the restaurant. Andrii shows as expected and I call Olga to verify her plans. It turns out she is at the restaurant already and waiting for us. So, the three of us jump a metro to the restaurant and it takes about 20 minutes to meet up with Olga. Andrii and Olga are two of the people I have met during my time in
Раздольное and told them I would look them up if I ever made it to Kiev. What a great dinner all around. The dinner was at a place called Pizzeria Napulé, and it was seriously, New York style pizza. It is located on the second floor at 
9 Mechnikova St., Kiev 38 044 495 9263 www.napule.com.ua/en/ The dinner lasts about an hour and everyone is really happy with their food. We leave full and with a plan to meet tomorrow.

Olga, El, me, Andrii

We all take the same subway home and get off at different stops. I am so happy to have seen my new friends again. After dinner El and I head back to the same bar from last night called Post Floyd The Wall. We walk in to the same David Gilmour video being played as was playing last night as we left- except now it is on the better, second part of the DVD with the better songs than the first part of the DVD. We start off with a couple of beers and El decides later that she did not eat enough at dinner (opting for the small rather than the large pizza) and orders a chicken fingers with pineapple curry sauce. The sauce is tasty, but the breaded chicken is overcooked and not very good. We both use the free wi-fi and update our journals. At the end of the David Gilmour video they actually start to replay the “Queen: Rocks Montreal” video we walked into last night. I told El that whenever she wanted to leave we could. After another round of beer and an order of french fries, we did. We walked back remarking at the fact that 4 half-litres of beer, 1 third litre of beer, an order of fries, and chicken finger run us 175 UAH (US$21) and you can’t beat that. We were also there for 2 hours, they have treated us well these past couple of nights. As for El and I, we walk home and decide to hit a coffee shop called Coffee Life, on the way. This is a popular chain of coffee shops that can be found all over many Ukrainian cities, including Kiev. El wants a bottle of water and I want a piece of cake and hot chocolate. This night cap hits the spot. We will head back to the hotel around the corner after this. We end the night.


SATURDAY OCTOBER 22, 2011
We wake late and have breakfast in hotel where I run into another volunteer and we have breakfast with him and make plans for dinner. After breakfast, El and I decide to first hit the Bassarabsy Rinok (Бесарабський ринок) which is an indoor bazaar.
Bassarabsy Rinok

Although not as impressive as the Boqueria in Barcelona, this place had a pretty great selection of meats, produce, flowers and an impressive array of caviar vendors. I do not exactly know the deal with caviar here, but I think that the "good" Russian caviar is illegal to sell here (not sure why). I do know that it can be purchased from enterprising merchants. Having zero interest in buying any caviar, "good" or "bad", the ladies manning the stands trying to tell you, in Russian, why their tin of caviar is better than the stand next door selling the exact same tins were more like mosquitoes by the end of our time in the market. We walked through and took some pictures. Then I found what I wanted, a cheese shop. She had the widest selection of imported cheese (parmesan) and cured meats (Serrano ham) that I have seen in this country. I bought a block of parmesan and a tub of Philadelphia Cream Cheese for my site mate. As we exited the market, right in front of us was a restaurant El had read about. It was a cafeteria style Ukrainian restaurant called Puzata Hata (
Пузата Хата). A chain, but we hear this is the best location. Even though we weren't too hungry, we did want to stop in just to see how it was and also to see if I could point El to some dishes that she may not have had in her two weeks here. I got a small bowl of borsch, a plate of pork plove (usually made with lamb where I live) and a plate of cherry varenike with a dollop of smetana (сметана), which is like sour cream. It was alright. I really did like the varenike with cherries, but the homemade borsch and plove that I have had just ran circles around this stuff. After lunch we want to go to St. Andrew's church.

St. Andrew's church

I have heard that it is closed for renovations, but the outside is still photo worthy. We take the metro to
Kontraktova Ploshcha station and walk towards St. Andrews. There is so much construction going on in the vicinity of the cathedral. The roads are closed and torn up, so much so that the vendors who ordinarily sell their wares in the street have now been relegated to the sidewalks. There is not much in the way of uniqueness in the stuff sold. I mean even if someone is selling hand knit caps, they look just the same as the stand next door selling hand knit caps. And if you aren’t in the market for hand knit caps, the repetition of offerings gets a little old. We pass all of the magnet stands and all of the jewelry and craft stands as we are not looking to buy, but just look. About half way up the street we spot a walkway/"stairway" leading up to an overlook. 
The stairs can be considered "dangerous" at best, making the sight at the top seem way less than worth it. With missing stair boards, broken banisters and a section of handrail that was missing bolts, it was even scarier coming down than going up. The overlook had great potential if it wasn’t for the overgrowth and view blocking buildings. Even the section of the city you can see was not very scenic, leaving little wonder that this is more of a party spot than scenic overlook. When we reach the bottom we continue up the street. At the top of the hill is St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It does look very pretty and we take some pictures. We confirm that the cathedral is not open for visitors. After stopping briefly at the statue with a man with a spider on his butt, proposing to a woman with a wedding band on, we continue up the street to St. Michael’s Cathedral.


El goes in while I journal. Afterwards, we walk down the street to St. Sophia's Cathedral where we are set to meet Olga at 4:00. She wants to show us to a sculpture park before taking us, as guests, to her English club. Again, El goes into the cathedral while I wait at the meeting place and catch up on my journaling. When we were researching this trip, I had made a list of places to see and besides the Great Patriotic War Museum, the Bulgakov House, and the Museum of Microminiatures we saw everything on the list. I will probably do at least one of those things tomorrow during my layover between El's flight out in the morning and my train out in the evening. I would say this has been a very productive few days in this city and I hope to be able to build on my knowledge of it over the course of the next two years. We arrive to St. Sophia’s a little early and El wants to go in to check it out. We have only 25 minutes, so she thinks the 45 UAH ticket is a bit steep and passes. We wait at the statue for Olga who is running a couple of minutes late. No biggie. She gets there and we ask if we can stop back at St. Michael’s to get a photo that we missed earlier. She is good with it and we swing by. The photo only takes a minute to get and we are off to the sculpture park. It is a little difficult to find, I do not know the name of the park, but as you walk through the park there are several sculptures. Some are whimsical and random, while others are representations of characters in stories like “The Little Prince” or the “Princess and the Pea”.

sculpture park

sculpture park

Our time gets away from us and we realize we need to hurry to get to the English Club on time. The club is private (meaning it is run out of a guy’s apartment and not the local library or other public place) and costs 25 UAH each. If you are late it is an extra 5 UAH. We are welcomed into the club with Olga and we spend our time listening and interacting with the others in the club. There are 13 people in attendance and the leader, El and I, and 2 other Englishmen are the 5 native speakers. The club ran for 2 hours and was mostly on a much higher level than I am used to in my club. They start by discussing some idioms and also writing down some discussion topics for tonight or a later time. In one hour we discussed two questions. Some of the “advanced” speakers were a little shy about speaking, but the ones I spoke with were doing great following the conversation. For example: one of the questions was about “social issues” and someone stating that indifference is a social issue, while others disagreed and the actual conversation turned into the debate of the words’ status.  During the club I receive a text confirming we will meet Mike and Jill at Restaurant Pervak (Первак) at 8:00pm. At 7:00pm it seems like they are winding down, but El and I excuse ourselves just so we are not late for dinner. We are also told to bring cash only, no credit cards. We hustle down to the metro and take the blue line to Leo Tolstoy Station (Площадь Лва Толстого). The restaurant is around the corner and we find it with minimal issue. I realize that we have 30 minutes before our reservation. El has mentioned that she is looking for a package of “beer cheese”. This is cheese sold in my town that is smoked and very salty (making it good with beer). We go to the closest supermarket we know of and El runs in while I journal outside. Unfortunately, they do not have the cheese (at least El couldn’t find it). I vow to try to find some after dinner but she refused and chalks it up to being something you are more likely to see in small towns than here (not sure if I agree). Empty handed we head back to the Restaurant Pervak where Mike and Jill are waiting in front of the place for us. The door does state that they do accept credit cards. I ask Mike what he knows about this and he tells me the machine is broken and that for the night there must be cash only. We are again told about the credit card situation many more times by various employees. Guess it’s better to over explain it than blindside us at the table after the meal. We work with the menus and each find something to order. The waiter finally takes the order only to tell two of us that our selection of beef stroganoff is NOT available. We opt for a few more minutes on the menu while he brings the drinks. Upon return, we are ready for him. I order a selection of pickled vegetables for an appetizer and a sliced duck breast with a pear and cherry sauce for entrée. The salads arrive in a timely fashion, but the waiter is too busy with a nearby large party to give our table to attention it needs. The food around the table gets high marks for tastiness, although mine is a little on the cold side. We ask for dessert menus, but by the time he returns, we just order coffees and a check. Afterwards, El and I are planning to walk, but Mike is not sure about Jill who says that she will try the walk which is not far for us. But when you don’t know someone, you don’t know what their capabilities are. The walk to the hotel is slow and comfortable. We stumble onto a live taping and performance like America’s Got Talent. The whole of Maidan center is closed to traffic and it is after 11pm, making the light display very impressive.

Mike, Jill, me, El standing in the middle of Kreshchatyk Street

As we say our goodbyes to Mike and Jill, we remark what a nice evening we had with them and might try to do it again sometime. Really good. After getting back to the room around 11:30pm, El still needs to pack for her 6:25am shuttle bus to the airport. We stay up talking and getting her ready. At just about the same moment though, we realize that the saltiness of our dinners will be making us thirsty this evening. Unfortunately, we confirm with the front desk, you cannot drink the water from the tap in the hotel. So, our options at 1:00am are, 24 hour room service for 40 UAH for a bottle of Perrier. Or for me to actually go out any find some store selling water at this hour. I wind up in the metro station. I mean, not the station per se, but the underground maze of shops that includes the access to the metro. I will tell you, there are some really scary characters in the underground at this hour on a chilly Saturday night. Sure enough, one guy I do find, who sells, beer, chips, beer, fish, beer, and water. Oh, and beer. So, amongst the drunks buying their beer, the homeless woman trying to negotiate a free or reduced rate beer, and the friend of the worker who just has nothing better to do at this hour, I step up to the window to ask for my water. As I am ordering, I am thinking back to earlier in the evening and trying to recall what size bills I have in my wallet and thinking that I probably only have 100 or 200 UAH bills, which is going to make the next couple of seconds really awkward as I try to pay with, but not flash the bills in front of these people who I wouldn’t need to show the contents of my wallet on any occasion, really! Luckily, the whole purchase goes without a hitch and I am back in the room in no time. We make it to sleep just after 2:00am, with a 5:30am wake up call. It’ll be a rough day tomorrow!

SUNDAY OCTOBER 23, 2011
 
After only a couple hours of sleep, we awake as El needs to get to the shuttle bus to take her from the hotel to the airport. After a quick goodbye, she was off as scheduled. I decide instead of going back to bed, to just start my day a little early and hopefully that will translate to better sleep on the train tonight (wishful thinking, I'm sure). I shower and head down to the restaurant in the hotel for breakfast. I check the guidebook to see if there's something I can do that might be an interesting way to spend my day and I still have the three items from our list that I can look into doing today. After breakfast I finish packing and check out of the room. I take my heavy luggage bag down to the train station...being a Sunday, the earlier the better regarding metro crowdedness. I drop my bag at the baggage room. Only costing 13 UAH (US$$1.75) to not have to lug my bag around is priceless. After the drop I head back on the metro to the bottom of St. Andrews descent. El and I walked this street yesterday. Right now the road is all torn up and all of the vendors that usually occupy the middle of the road are pushed to the sidewalks. One of the spots that has been recommended to me is the museum now located in the house of the Ukrainian author Mikhail Bulgokov which is located at number 13 on this street. This little street is not very long and although a little steep, is really not that difficult to navigate. Over the years there have been many people important to the history of Kiev who have lived, worked, built, developed or otherwise made a lasting mark on this little street. As I start to ascend the descent, I recognize one of the first buildings as the "Museum of One Street". Having nothing better to do I stop in to inquire about cost which is 20 UAH entrance plus 10 UAH for an English language pamphlet telling you exactly what each display is. There is also an exhibition room and I am told that photos are OK. I pay my 30 UAH and start the self-guided tour with the pamphlet. Basically this is a museum set up in a building where the perimeter of the path are displays detailing the history of the "One Street" (St. Andrew’s descent).

One Street museum

Some displays focused on famous people who lived on the street. Some focused on professions like a barber shop or a tailor that operated here at one time. Most displays had tools from the barber or the tailor, papers from the private collections of the residents, or photographs of the situation being described. I am realizing now, that my description is probably not doing it justice, but this was a pretty cool little museum. I am really glad I went through it. Well put together and fun to go through. After the 40 display windows, I went into the exhibition room where they displayed 60 death masks from famous Ukrainians. Not necessarily from the street, but just famous. I asked the woman on staff who the most famous person was in this room and she pointed out masks of Bulgakov, Gogol, and Shevchenko, in addition to many others that are probably way more famous to a Ukrainian than a guy from New York. She then told me that the museum had a collection of over 200 death masks! I do not know what fascinates me about these masks but they just do.

death mask of Tolstoy?

She took me into the other rooms with masks from so many people I did know, like Stalin, Lenin, Beethoven, Chopin, even Ulysses S. Grant and John Dillinger. They too had a Napoleon mask, an original of which I saw in New Orleans. These were all copies for sure, but I still find them piquing my interest. After this I head back to continue up the descent. I get to number 13, which is the Mikhail Bulgakov House. I walk in and ask how much it costs to enter. She tells me that I cannot enter without taking a tour and that they only offer tours in Russian. Fat lot of good that will do me! It is unclear if they offer English tours on other days, but what is clear is that today, they do not. I leave. I continue up to the top of the street bearing right at the fork. Most of these vendors are selling t-shirts and I am looking for the stairs to the park among the stands. I spot some stairs and make my way to them only to go up the first flight to realize there is no exit, only a down staircase on the other side. I keep walking and figure out the at the exact spot where the mobile t-shirt vendors end and the brick-and-mortar stores start is the entrance that can be used to access the park that reminds us a little of the Gaudi park in Barcelona. It is a fun little public space that has sculptures, both functional and decorative.

sculpture park

sculpture park

Last night we came with Olga and got cut short, but today I had way more time so I walked through most of the park taking pictures and admiring the installations. The weather was nice, so lots of people were out enjoying the time. This made it a little difficult to get some photos without people in them. As I wandered, I know I was going to need a bar or a café at some point to pee. I got to the end for the park and realized I was right next to Post Floyd The Wall. I did not go there today, opting rather for the place up the street called Copper. Spelled "
Купер” (cooper), but he insists there is only one "o". They have free wi-fi, reasonable prices on a good beer tap selection, and a bathroom, so I am set here for a while. El is able to connect with me while at her layover in Zurich, so that is a nice moment for us. I wound up staying a couple of hours before heading to my next stop, McFoxy's. This was a place I just wanted to try to compare to their direct competition located just next door, McDonald’s. I ordered the medium meal. I swear the sign said “burger, fries, drink”. Instead of a burger, I got a chicken sandwich with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and some radioactive colored sauce. It was like nothing I have ever tasted before, and not in a good way. It was like a strange mix of mayo, mustard, and turmeric(?), I think. I don’t know what it was, but their "special sauce" left a bit to be desired. I also got an order of "Foxy Balls". What can I say about these special things? Let's start with, based on texture and flavor, if you told me that they were actually breaded and deep fried fox testicles, I don't think that I could put up much of an argument. Truthfully, I am pretty sure it was a chicken nugget in spherical form, you know in the same way you think there's probably some chicken part component to a McNugget?

mmm...McFoxy "chicken" "nuggets"

In the middle of the meal, I decided A: I will NEVER eat McFoxy again and B: double check that my Pepto and spare toilet paper are handy for the 13 hour train ride I am about to undertake. After "lunch" I walked over to the Peace Corps offices to check my email, get acquainted with the volunteer lounge, and take a shower. I recently learned that there is a shower available for anyone to use in the office and my long train ride and unknown next shower time made me think it could be a good time to do this. I had my toiletry kit with everything I needed...except a towel. So I did an air dry routine. The hot water was nice- heck the whole shower was nice, just need to remember the towel next time. With my train at 8:21pm, and me being a little new with the whole train system, I decided to get there a little early. I went to pick my luggage up at the storage facility and had no issues. I walked to the schedule board, got my track number and time. The train back to Crimea was pretty much uneventful if only an hour delayed. I sleep most of the way and work on finishing the rough draft of my journal.

IN CONCLUSION
I usually finish my travel journals with some conclusion about whether the place was worth visiting and if I would go back of given the chance. Well, this is a little different circumstance, considering I live here for now. First,
Раздольное. I am not able to view this town as a tourist site yet, since I am living there and it is more like receiving visitors to your hometown and showing them around. I listened as El fielded questions about her impressions of Раздольное, and could see myself agreeing with most of her assessments. As for Chernigov and Kiev, I plan to get much more out of these cities while living in Ukraine. I think that Chernigov may have some points of interest that I have not uncovered yet, but as with this visit, I have begun discovering pubs and restaurants that were out of my price range when I lived here. And Kiev, well this is only the fifth time I have been to this city and two of those times were for a matter of 6 hours or less. The other two times were for conferences that left limited time for sightseeing and learning my way around. For some reason, some volunteers dismiss Kiev as a place they like to avoid. Not me! I love what I have found so far and hope to discover more in the coming years. I think that this is one of those cities where compared to other parts of this country are very expensive, but relative to other countries is still very reasonably priced. I mean, US$40 for a dinner for two is pretty cheap for a U.S. traveler coming to a world capital, but would still be out of reach for many of the residents of this country. So, as a Peace Corps Volunteer on a budget, I too will need to avoid visits to Kiev. But when I have the opportunity to visit with a less limited budget I plan to take advantage of learning all I can about this great city. I see potential, that in our lifetimes this country could position itself as a world class "European" capital instead of the "ex-Soviet" capital that it is now. My suggestion, come check out Kiev while you can do it for a small amount of money, because once they become "European", it will become just another city I can't afford to visit…and that could start just after the upcoming Euro2012 Soccer Tournament.

 

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