Kiev: A Collision of Cold, Caffeine and Colourful Churches

Posted by in Culture, Travel

Arrival in Kiev.

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THIS MUST BE KIEV

‘Kiev’ my train cabin mate declares, seconds later we pass Zhuliani airport and I know from my research that we are within four miles of our destination. A typical melee to get my bags through the train doors and onto the low platform below ensues.

My cabin friend and I shake hands and head in separate directions. He has another hours bus ride ahead of him while I have an art hostel to find (not knowing if they have a room available).

Obligatory Chicken Kiev shot.

The metro.

ALARM BELLS – THEY SHOULD BE RINGING

Stairs on the platform descend into what I think is the Metro but I soon find myself on an ascending walkway to street level. The Metro is not actually attached to the station but beside it. My notes tell me to buy a ticket or token from the grumpy woman. *In this part of the world you may be charged for your bags on the subway. This was also the case in Bulgaria

It turns out it isn’t the woman selling the tokens that is grumpy but the one around the corner who sees me and demands I buy a second token for my bags! I do but drop only one into the machine. It’s a ballsy move considering there are police around.

Start saving your ideas

On the Metro I can feel someone brushing my day pack behind me but this felt like more than a brush. In any case it’s padlocked so no worries. Nonetheless I’m uneasy and move up carriage to where a woman says something in the local language. When she realizes I am an English speaker she utters the words no one wants to hear on a crowded Metro. Your bag is open!

I assume she means one of the lesser compartments but it’s the main one with my Mac in it. I’ve just got off the train so I know it was padlocked shut. This means someone has purposely been picking at it! Super worrying for me.

I alight next station, fix up the zip as best I can and re-padlock it shut, nothing seems to be missing. For the first time ever I place the pack on my front for the connecting journey up to Kontraktova.

Daylight in Kiev.

YES BUT NO

Helping me up the stairs is a lovely young woman with an American accent who helps direct me to the street with the hostel on it. Eventually after walking too far I find the hostel and it is everything I envisage it to be. Very Bohemian and full of paintings. Unfortunately it’s also resident to a thieving little shit who is also full of it! This pretty much kills Kiev before I’ve begun.

After a freshen up I embark on my first walkabout. I soon find that I am in the heart of the hip and trendy area. Lots of coffee shops including the Stories cafe near the hostel and Zefir which has pink lighting and cosmic sci-if art on its walls. The dark comes early so I retire to the hostel. 

The funicular to St Michael’s – as cute as Kiev gets.

CHANGE IN MOOD – I CAN SENSE IT

Morning comes with a hefty change in Celsius. The hostel may be toasty warm but outside it’s -4! And wasn’t going to get much warmer. After a quick jaunt to the BILLA supermarket for cheap latte and, well, a Twix (Kiev is a lot like Chisinau for breakfast) I start with the funicular which climbs the hill to the fairy tale golden domed St Michael’s church. With the snow brushing against its base it’s all the more picture postcard material.

After circumnavigating the church I  make an ascent of my own behind it spotting coffee shops and galleries while egg shell hopping the patches of black ice. Entering St. Michael’s I hear the ‘omms’ of practicing patrons which makes a nice change from piped Muzak of the religious kind.

Pistina Cafe and the piano at the Intercontinental – if only I could have afforded to stay there!

PHOTOS, PRISTINE COFFEE AND PROTEST

On exiting and directly ahead of me is the pale green beauty of St Sophia’s and her own golden domes though it’s a pay for entry effort. Not only that but it’s pay for this, pay for that, pay for photography so I shoot a few pics from outside and u-turn to the Intercontinental hotel a stones throw from St. Michael’s merely to escape the cold for a few moments.

Descending the hill I climbed earlier I call in at the Pistrina cafe. They cannot speak English anymore than I can Ukrainian but we manage with helpless smiles. After my pit stop I continue downhill to Maiden and independence square. The scene of much anti-corruption protest as recently as 2013/2014!

I am enRoute to the railway station to buy a ticket back to Warsaw which by now has also dropped in temperature but at least the hostel is cheap and I can get a decent croissant for breakfast instead of the brioche shit on offer in Kiev. 

Note that Kiev station has booking halls at either end and having queued for some minutes discover I’ve got the wrong end of the carrot first and head across to the other side to queue again only to find mr drunkard I need some money and mr can I go before you because I have business. Fortunately both disappear when they don’t get what they want.

Your Arsenal – I’m going deeper underground.

ARSENAL IN RUSSIAN

Next stop for me is Arsenal(na), the deepest subway station in the world! A pity that there is absolutely nothing telling us this and that it’s completely unappealing other than its escalators. Some great advertising for Ukrainian Airways which already looks nostalgic and classic. Good job by whichever agency came up with them.

Alighting I decide to walk back through the snowy wilds of the park (not certain of its name) which stretches some considerable distance following the river  almost all the way back to the Zefir cafe from the previous evening. It seems the Arsenal stop is much further away than I had thought.

The lights of Dynamo Kiev’s stadium pass above me and only the path being blocked by construction halts my advance leaving me no choice but to rejoin the road down into Kontraktova. All in all I walk 18km on the Saturday.

The churches of Kiev are a marvel.

CHVRCHES

Sunday is a good to be in Kiev for all its churches. It is again bright but very cold and I set about finding the names to those I’ve photographed. The constant tap tap tap of melting snow and ice coming down the drain pipes as I walk. 

A resplendent St Andrew’s awaits atop of Starokyivska (old Kyiv) hill. Its gold trimmed domes blinding in the late autumn sun. The bells of St Michael’s drown out the tapping of melting ice. The British embassy stands on a shady road atop the hill without even a union flag showing. It could be any one of a thousand non descript pale green buildings. The bells intensify as I get closer to the golden domes.

With the onset of winter my original plan to go south to Odessa and across the Black Sea to Georgia and Azerbaijan is a plan for another season, possibly another lifetime. As the years roll on the certainty decreases. For now I’ve gotten myself to 51 countries on dwindling funds. The bells stop as I reach the church.

There is a heavy police presence around St Michael’s and it soon becomes clear some sort of demonstration is going down. I retreat back past the embassy and take a left through the park careful of my footing through the snow and patches of black ice stubbornly glued to the ground.

GUIDE TO THE MAIN CHURCHES
St Michael’s – blue church gold dome
St Sophia’s – pale green church gold dome
Temple of Christmas Christ – yellow church, deep grey dome, golden crosses
??? – If anyone knows what the white church with the black dome is let me know
St Andrew’s – turquoise church, deep green dome with gold trim
Mykola Prytysk – white church green dome

It all goes quirky at the park.

AUTUMNAL PARK

The park is adjoined by Peyzazhna Aleya. This area is to Kiev what Parc Guell is to Barcelona full of quirky figurines both stand alone and built into the wall. I descend Starokyivski hill via some wooden stairs. At the bottom I find many high class design and fashion outlets in many colourful buildings and a jazz club noting a tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto. Not to mention more cafes and believe me you need regular fixes of caffeine in Kiev.

A Ukrainian tribute to a Japanese icon.

HAUNT YOU

An old woman with walking stick stands at a nearby church. She can barely speak and approaches, at a guess, for money. It kills me to be so callous but the truth is I am struggling myself nonetheless her image haunts me as much as the homeless in general. I see middle aged men with wheely bags and wonder if they too were TESOL teachers.

Had they too been screwed over one too many times? Had they also travelled to teach in far flung lands only to be thrown out at a certain age with not enough savings? Or were they simply alcoholics? Whatever the cause no one really deserves to be outside in the cold.

I make a point of visiting a metro station to buy tokens for the journey back to Vokzalna noting the stairs and stiff doors to be negotiated on the way back with my bags. Odessa denied again but that’s life on a budget. Some hard decisions have to be made and even then they may not be good enough.

Do not go gentle…

UPDATE 2022

Wow! A lot changes in four years, I remember standing in Independence Square thinking the troubles were behind Ukraine. Unfortunately I was wrong and across the border in Moscow and Minsk are a couple of megalomaniacs intent on playing the bad boys ‘no one can touch us’ route. 

Hopefully history will send these two clowns the way of Hitler and other historical ogres, tyrants call them what you will. Meanwhile here’s hoping the people of Russia find a leader with a sound mind and an ability to uphold law, a free media and right to protest resumed and the people of Ukraine can live in their own country in peace.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Blog originally posted November 2018. Playlist and credits follow…

PLAYLIST
Here – Christine and the Queens
Come Undone – Duran Duran
Prelude – Ryuichi Sakamoto
Russians – Sting
Murder Machines – Marillion
Trauma – David Sylvian

Photos: KH