After bidding farewell to Russia, we began the journey towards Europe. The overnight train went by quickly. A nice middle-aged lady communicated with us through body language, and shared her snacks. We followed French’s advance to the World Cup final via Google updates on 3G, and drifted to sleep with the gentle rocking motion.
The train pulled into Kyiv station at 7:30am. The station was chaotic, likely due to the morning commute. We navigated through the crowd and found an exit leading to the bus. The rain was pouring down, and we made the decision to splurge on taxi.
We fell into the classic trap of unprepared tourists. After hastily pulling out some cash at the ATM, and not having any clear idea on the exchange rate, we agreed to the “approximate quote” given by the taxi, with the caveat that final price will depend on the meter. The “meter”, was actually just some random app on his phone, and our final price was 3 times the quoted price. We later realised we had paid $20 for a 5 minute ride. Rite of passage, and a reminder to not get complacent on our travels…
Taste of Luxury
The rough start to the morning was quickly compensated by the plush room at 11 Mirrors Design Hotel, where I cashed in Starwood points for a free night of stay. After a complimentary espresso, a nice gentleman in a top hat named Constantine brought us to our room. The view of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery from our room wiped away any remaining travel frustration!
We waited out the rain and headed to Musafir, a delightful Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The waitress was so friendly that I ordered whatever dishes she suggested each time she came around! After our delightful meal, Frenchie was craving something sweet, so we stopped in at Madame Josy Patisserie. The rain subsided when our bellies were full, and the wandering begins!
A Complicated History
Travel ignites curiosity. For these 24-ish stopovers, I admittedly don’t usually read up on the history, nor know much about the destination. But when the city’s history is literally written on the streets, my interests are piqued to learn more about it. Kyiv is one such place.
A stroll through the Independence Square reminded us the 1994 Ukrainian Revolution. A walk down toward the Parliament, we saw police standing in full gear whist the pro-European protesters marches on. The city is working to figure out its identity, and this is reflected in the battle of its name spelling. Kiev, is the popular English spelling, where as Kyiv is the official English spelling requested by the Ukrainian government. I’ve had readers on social media request the use of “Kyiv” because “Kiev” derives from Russian, and the spelling has been politicised to be pro-Russia.
I can’t begin to grasp the complex politics, but the city has an budding energy to have a firm grasp of its identity. It’s a city on the rise, and despite the politics, a place worth visiting.
Cathedrals & Wall Murals
Streets of Old Kyiv is filled with a dichotomy of new and old – incredible churches from year 1000ish, and modern murals depicting today’s world. The steps up to St. Sophia’s Cathedral is well worth the effort for a panoramic view of the city. You can imagine townspeople buying and selling good at the large square in front of the church. Sitting at a bench inside of the church compound, I can imagine the calm steps of priests that would’ve contrasted the bustling square.
At Kyiv Perchersk Lavra, not only are the monastery’s architecture impressive, you get a great view of the city from across the river. The bright yellow St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral was filled with devote parishioners. If you are missing some gothic architecture, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral to the south of Old Kyiv stands tall amongst newly developed shopping.
You can check these cathedrals off your list one by one, but wall murals require patience and take the road less traveled to discover. Harder to find, but well worth the effort!
Validate Your Bus Ticket!
After walking far outside of the town centre, we decided to take the bus back to conserve energy. When taking public transport in a place where we can’t speak the language, we rely on Google Maps to tell us how much the fare would be, and then simply hope for the best.
We boarded this somewhat crowded bus with exact change in hand. After handed it to a nice lady, we received two small tickets made from recycled paper. Then we sat. A few minutes later, another lady in a police-looking outfit came over to us and began yelling. Despite us gesturing that we did not understand, she continued to repeat herself. It’s clear from fellow passengers’ body language that they told her to let it go, whatever it was.
Yet, she persisted. This went on for our entire ride, roughly 10 minutes. Just before we were to jump off, a kind lady finally translated for us, and informed that we were supposed to validate our tickets in a machine on board after we purchased them. Oh.
Good reminder: when someone doesn’t speak your language, repeat the same thing loudly and slowly doesn’t work. Language barrier does not equate being deaf.
And with that, we ended our short stay in Kyiv. A perk about staying at a nice hotel is the ability to hang out in its posh lobby until we were ready to head to the train station in the early evening!