I’ve been on my travels for just over a week now, and I’m in my second country with a bit of a recent dodgy reputation (assuming you consider Transnistria a country – I did send a #LetterACountry from there but called it country 2½). However, the most dangerous things to have happened to me so far are traffic (I come from a country where red means stop. However a lot of countries seem to have a ‘turn right on red’ rule – Ukraine included), sunburn (it’s been very hot this week, apart from the earlier thunderstorms), and being impaled on the ticket barriers on the Kiev Metro.
The metro works as follows: buy a token for travel from a booth or the attendant, for 2 hrvynia. Insert token into ticket barrier. Walk on. However the ticket barriers lull you into a false sense of security, as they look always open (no barrier in place). Try to walk through them, though, without inserting the token, and you suddenly find metal bars coming out of them poking you in the sides. 1980s Japanese Game Shows may have taken some of their inspiration from this.
Today was another walking day. I couldn’t face those bloody shoes again (as soon as I get out of Chernobyl, I’m going to dump them), so have tried as best I can to patch up my right sandal with some wire that the hostel seems to have lying around in their ‘sewing’ box. It’s not perfect, in fact it’s nowhere near suitable, but it works (after a fashion). The sandal is very loose, keeps veering to the right as I walk, and I now have a sore undertoe where I’m stepping slightly on the plastic toe thing cos the sandal isn’t straight, but it’ll do for now. I will apparently have string in Belarus …
Kiev has a lot of churches. They’re also quite ornate in their own way. And quite a few of them are rather large. Unfortunately, this means for the traveller like me that once you’ve seen the inside and outside of a couple of them, brilliantly-white golden-domed overly-decorated buildings become slightly blasé.
As mentioned before, Kiev also has a lot of green space. And on hot sunny days like today, people are out in them in full force. They seem to start early, but it’s in the evenings when the parks really come to life, with street musicians, tables and tables of people playing chess and backgammon, photographers doing model shoots, and people just sitting under parasols in the open areas by the cafes, drinking kvas.
Ah, kvas. I was introduced to this in Tiraspol by my host’s son’s classmates. It’s kind of the missing link between beer and bread (not that anyone ever suspected there was such a missing link); it’s based on beer but with a low alcohol content (not sure how strong as it doesn’t say, but I’d guess it’s about 0.2% or something. Children are allowed to drink it), but has a strange taste and texture that’s quite like drinking a malted loaf. It’s a little rich, a bit thick, refreshing but quite filling. It’s served from stalls and comes in plastic glasses.
I also had a wander to the railway station, to exchange my train confirmation for Saturday night’s trip to Belarus for a real ticket, and to try to find where I need to meet up with the tour group tomorrow. It’s a huge station, with 14 platforms (and a walkway right over the top with full access to all the platforms. Birmingham New Street, I’m glaring at you), but also a small outdoor locomotive museum with old engines in it.
After Euro2012, quite a lot of stuff in Kiev has been made more accessible to foreigners; this includes the railway station with all its ticket windows fully labelled. Railway stations (and post offices, in fact) have different windows for different things. We do this a bit in the UK, with a window for eg changing foreign money, but in Eastern Europe in general things seem a lot more demarcated – so for me today, there were only a couple of windows (of the 35+) that I could do this exchange at, but the window was clearly labelled with ‘internet bookings’ in English. Sometimes it is embarrassing to be English and have to rely on these things. I’m awful with languages, but that’s a post for another day.
I still like Kiev, it feels like a good city.