SUNDAY JULY 27
Bill and I awake at 0600 to sound of pelting rain. I doze intermittently until 0830 as the pain in my chest, although no longer severe is still nagging me. After a good breakfast of cabbage rolls and salad with plenty of coffee we are off to the Vydubytsky Monastery. Incidently, it was a good thing I brought tons of coffee with me as most Ukrainians drink tea and if coffee is available, it is unsatisfactory. This morning there is a strong odour of urine in the elevator but my olfactory sense cannot determine if it belongs to a human or a dog.
We are very smug when we successfully arrive at the Vydubychy Metro Station following the directions provided by Olya. There are no towering onion domes in sight, only an immense cloverleaf highway so we set off aimlessly on foot. A change of direction is made when a sign tells us we are on our way to Odessa. The weather has changed from cloudy to quite warm as we walk and walk and walk. Much of our explore is in an industrial area and each person we stop for directions sends us off further and further into no mans land until we were at what I now think is Vydubetsky Lake. We are later to learn that we were fairly close to our destination when we decided to return to the Vydubychy metro station. It is 1300 when we board the metro to return to Kreshchatik station and start over again. This time we get off at the Arsenalna station in the centre of the Pechersk district. In the centre of the square is a cannon mounted on a pedestal that the arsenal workers fired at some counter revolutionaries. There have been so many battles fought on Ukrainian soil that I find it impossible to keep the facts of each straight. Across the street is the bullet riddled arsenal factory wall. A relief sculpture covering part of the factory depicts the workers at the barricades.
Bill says zig and I say zag as to what side of the street to board the bus to our destination. I win the argument and we are back at Kreshchatik. To appease, I offer to buy the beer at the Dnipro Hotel. Gypsy kids are begging potato chips, so I fill their hands with the treats. Shortly, I feel something crawling up my skirt and instinctively wack my right thigh. I am not having a good day as I have again been stung by a wasp.
We board a bus on Vulitsya Mikhaila Grushevskoho that takes us yet again past the Arsenalna station and the Lavra to the end of the line. We again travel past the gigantic 72 metre high statue of Mother Russia. The statue of the woman with a sword and a shield is made of stainless steel. The Ukrainians would like to tear it down not only for the use of the steel, but mostly because they hate it. Today solemn music is piped through loudspeakers. At the far end, we descend steps through a wooded slope to a busy road below. Bill says zig and I say zag. Of course he is right and I am wrong. As we walk towards the elusive monastery, my bladder is bursting. Either side of the road is secluded and forested, so I squat in the bushes. Would you believe a guy comes by with his dog? Ah well, relief overshadowed embarrassment.
We left the apartment at 1015 and now five hours later we have arrived at the Vydubytsky Monastery. It was founded in 1070 by the son of Prince Yaroslov. The name derives from the Russian word to surface. Legend has it that after the adoption of Christianity, a wooden idol was thrown into the Dnieper River and that it's followers ran along the river bank calling out "Vydubai" or "come out". (The idol had a metal head so the weight of the casting kept sinking the god). The first building we see is the large 1730 belfry decorated with gold stars. The five domed St. Georges Cathedral is of course locked. Past the Refrectory is the little brown St. Michaels Church. Much of the church was destroyed in a mud slide in the 15th century but what remains is a nice little spot for prayer. The grounds contain old graves and an interesting old wooden well.
We depart the complex and do more zigging and zagging on our way to the Paton Bridge. I walk a short way on the bridge but abort going further as the traffic crossing is fierce. Retreating down some steps we walk the promenade along the waterfront. We stop for refreshment at the Poseidon restaurant before heading for the Foundation of Kyiv Memorial. It is a large copper vessel that was created in 1982 to celebrate the 1,500 anniversary of the founding of Kyiv. On the boat are sculptures of the three brothers and one sister that legend says were the founders of Kyiv. The city is said to be named after the eldest brother Ki, who was the first prince of a tribe who lived in the area. We are still blessed by blue skies and rays of sunshine as we wait for a tram to take us one stop to the Dnipro metro station. From there we end up at the University metro and thus on Shevchenko Boulevard that we travelled on when we went sightseeing on our arrival in Kyiv. We walk to the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theatre, but can only admire it from the street as it is closed for the summer. A short walk brings us to Kreshchatik and we veer right to the Kristi Rynok. The hour is late so the indoor market is closed. In search of film, we head along Kreshchatik, past stores advertising film that are also closed. Bill is weary, so I leave him on a street corner as I head as far as Maiden Nezalezhnosti. At a kiosk I purchase film. The cost is similar to that bought in Ivano-Frankivsk and L'viv which is high compared to that payed at home. As everything is closed and we have had our fill of looking for sights, we head for our home-stay.
MONDAY JULY 28
Would you believe it, glaring sunshine wakes us at 0600. Beans, sausage and salad is enjoyed for breakfast. Olya accompanies us to the main thoroughfare to ensure we get the correct bus for today's explore. Aboard I ask the conductress to tell me when to alight for the Babyi Yar Monument. After what seems like a long ride, I ask how much further, only to find she had forgotten about us. We are not in a crises as the monument is nearby. It is located in a ravine in the centre of a park. It was here that more than 100,000 Kyiviens were killed by the Nazis in 1941. The large sculpture is a moving testament to the devastation and cruelty imposed upon the Ukrainian Nation. There is a raised path that provides access to the front of the memorial. At the base there are large bronze plaques that unfortunately I am unable to read. In order to see it entirely, we walk another path around this majestic monument. As we encircle the ravine, a woman approaches with a puppy in hot pursuit behind. She stops to complain she cannot get rid of him and asks if we will take him. I say we cannot, but when she departs, he choses to adopt us. Too young to be on his own, the poor little guy is yelping and whining as he endeavours to keep up with us. Shortly a couple of dogs accompanied by a woman attack the baby and we intervene to protect him. The dogs are called off and despite our pleas, the woman refuses to take the puppy. Apparently there is no equivalent of an SPCA in Ukraine. We leave him in the bushes where he sought refuge from the dogs. I feel dreadful at abandoning the pup so my tears do not stop flowing until we reach the bus stop.
Back on a bus we are off to St. Cyril's Church. As usual, I get us lost. Getting off at the wrong stop has us zigging and zagging and taking a good walk down a long hill, eventually bringing us to one end of the Podil district. A walk up steps through a pleasant wooded area brings us to the 12th century St. Cyril's Church. It contains some really remarkable original and restored frescoes. There are a few posters giving explanations in English, none of which I remember today. In order to reach the gallery, we climb incredibly steep steps that are very difficult to navigate safely. It is worth it as it provides a closer look at the medieval art seen from below as well the dramatic biblical scenes above. I must have been impressed as I took two pictures of the same mural.
We board trolley bus 27 for a third ride, this time to the end of the line. A change in atmosphere is detected as two men board the bus prior to us being permitted to get off. Turns out, they are the transit police checking to see if fares have been paid. If we had not stamped the ticket costing 30 kopijok, the fine would have been 30 hryvnia. A tram ride brings us to Poshta Ploshcha where we take the funicular in search of souvenirs on Andrevsky Hill. I kinda thought the stuff for sale was junk when we were here before and closer scrutiny confirms this. Retracing the walk down the narrow cobblestone street, we stop at the Castle of Richard the Lionheart. It has been converted to a restaurant so we admire the view through the trees and inspect the outhouse. As no one here seems eager to serve us we cross the street for a taste of Slovakian beer. By 1300 we have returned to the Dnieper River.
We take a tour boat to view the panorama of the city from the river. From this perspective we can really appreciate the vast acres of land preserved as green space. There is no doubt the Motherland figure dominates the high ridge above the Dieneper as we can see it long before we come abreast of it. The tour also affords a good look at the beaches on the east bank. The boat goes as far as the Paton Bridge and returns. The trip is a little over an hour and reasonable at five hryvnia pp. I share chewing gum with a little girl who it is obvious has a mouth full of cavities. This was not very considerate of me, but on the other hand it would have appeared selfish if I had ignored her coveted gaze. It has been quite warm this afternoon and it is bloody hot on the boat. No, I am not complaining, just making an observation.
We are back at Kreshchatik in search of KLM headquarters. We have been unable to confirm our return flight using the telephone at Olya's. The airline representative is not at all helpful, sending us out to a street phone to contact yet another agency. After numerous attempts, we abandon the exercise only to learn later that telephones now only work with the use of an issued calling card. This explains why I could not contact my host family on arrival. At the time Victor, the cabbie had offered me his card but as I was bewildered, I was only half listening to him. We stop at the Konditerska, a stand up cafe where food and drink are purchased at different counters. Bill enjoys a huge slice of delicious cake, while I choke down a pork cutlet. A leisurely stroll along the tree lined Kreshchatik provides an opportunity for observation. There is no doubt that the Ukrainian economy has suffered since independence, but the standard of living for some has increased dramatically. Bill is surprised at how well women are dressed. Fuel is no longer in short supply as evident by the many vehicles on roads, but more surprising is the number of Mercedes and other high priced vehicles driving by. I wonder where they get the money for luxury items, but most of all I wonder where they got their suntans.
A short bus ride brings us to Marinsky Palace. Prior to the Revolution in 1905 it was a holiday retreat for Tsars. The elaborate wrought-iron fence blocks entry to the grounds, so we encircle the perimeter and peer through the bars. The exterior of the palace is very decorative, but here too renovations are in progress. At the rear of the palace is the Tsars or First of May Park designed in 1747. Within this park is a plaza with fountains that spray me with water as I pass by to have a close look at the 16 foot high monument to the revered poetess Lesya Ukrainka. Nearby is the Presidential Administration Building. I decide to snoop in a garden at this Sovietsky structure but even with limited ability to read Ukrainian I figure out we have no business being there, so we scoot out. On the street I prop my sheets of information on a stone ledge of the building to figure out where to go next. Well -- that does not last long. There are many police milling about the building and one enquires what we are doing here. When I tell him what I am up to, I am told to go read my papers someplace else.
We have come full circle around the palace and after a good look at yet another monument to the factory workers (this time a red granite urn on a black marble pedestal) we walk into Kreshchatik Park. Beyond the children's playground we find a monument to the Heroes of the January Armed Uprising in 1918. The solitary figure is that of a worker holding aloft a flowing banner. This had something to do with yet another revolution. which apparently sealed the establishment of power by the Soviets in Kyiv. (My knowledge of Ukrainian history or for that matter Canadian history is limited so I am probably giving incorrect information.) Another large granite statue acts as a headstone to yet another hero of the Great War. General Valutin was commander of the forces at the front that liberated Kyiv from the Nazis in 1943. We continue walking through the vast adjoining parkland in quest of Askold's grave. That fact that we got a little bit lost is neither here nor there!
We are back at the Park of Eternal Glory for another look at the 26 metre high granite obelisk that is dedicated to Russian soldiers slain during the war. The eternal flame is burning at the tomb of the unknown soldier but there are noticeably less flowers at the base or at the perimeter of the promenade where the names of those killed are engraved on marble slabs. Satiated as to what is here to see, we don't have a clue as to which direction to go to find Askold's grave. Timidly I approach an officious policeman outfitted with a billy club and a walkie-talkie. Well the guy turned out to be a sweetie. He walked us down a series of wooded slopes to the entrance of Askold's Park. On a hillside overlooking the Dnieper, the small 1810 rotunda is situated on the site of Askold's grave. He was a Viking Prince of Kyiv who was killed in 882. Apparently, his remains are no longer here. We walk around the locked rotunda, peeking in the windows, seeing what appear to be small alters. The sky has become increasing dark and within minutes we are deluged with pouring rain. We take shelter under the eaves of the rotunda. When we arrived we noticed a priest sitting on a bench. He appeared to be praying all the while we explored the site and he then entered the rotunda. He leaves the doors open so we peek inside and see a small chapel. Taped religious music is playing, we can hear him praying and the wafting smell of incense is overbearing.
The rain stops in about ten minutes, so we follow the road down the incline until we reach Park Lane. This is the same road Katya and I walked, during the severe rainstorm during the last trip. We are basically meandering about exploring the odd pathway when we come upon an amphitheatre built into an old fortification wall. The site is overgrown, basically abandoned and appears to be the domain of Ukrainian street kids. Olya later told us that we had put ourselves at risk for being robbed or worse. Anyway, we pretty well assessed the situation for ourselves and feeling a tad uncomfortable we did not dally. Zigging and zagging some more has brought us full circle to a fallen tree we had passed a few hours earlier.
I wish to see the House of Monsters that was built by a Ukrainian architect whose idea of beautiful is bizarre. In order to do this we must return towards the Presidential Administrative Building. A couple of blocks surrounding the building have been cordoned off and the streets are teeming with militia and police. We are required to re-route as no civilians are permitted in these areas. Of course this results in us again getting lost. (We must have presented as an interesting spectacle as we pirouette at an intersection pointing with index fingers in the direction of the streets fanning away from our vantage point.) More trekking takes us past a stately old stone church that has a wooden cupola. The stone lion heads high above appear to be laughing at our dilemma. Across the street is an impressive brown stone building. Here too the predominate theme decorating the building is that of lions. Our explore takes us down a number of streets containing grandiose buildings with very ornamental facades. Olya told us this has been the high rent district since the time of the Tsars. These very ornate old buildings now house government employees. As we sit on a bench admitting defeat, I spot the street we are searching for and away we go. At the House of Monsters there are a number of guys in suits with earphones and guns, so we must be near to the Presidential Administration joint. The house is nicely designed, but the facade and rooftop are covered with ornamental toads, assorted animals and aquatic creatures. The strange stone sculptures range in size from quite small fish to huge elephant heads, but many are undistinguishable as anything known to me. I venture indoors to have a look at a really weird ceiling. It can best be described as a combination of snakes and the entrails of some unknown being. I am about to venture up a staircase that is lined with more of this unusual art, when a guard appears and I chicken out.
A walk down hill brings us to the small wooded Franka Square. Here is a statue to the writer Ivan Franko, who like Shevchenko is held in high esteem for his contribution of detailing Ukrainian life through poetry, drama and political writing. Nearby the Ivan Franko Drama Theatre is painted a pretty baby blue colour. Back on Kreshchatik, I exchange excess hryvnias at the post office. It appears that I have gone into the money changing business. I receive exactly the same amount of money as I exchanged yesterday so venture that I could have saved some time and commission dollars had I not been fearful of leaving myself short of cash. The post office is located at the square with the fountains and after a number of trips here, I finally spot the statue of St Michael that I had been keeping an eye out for. After a bit more bugging about we are on our way to the apartment by 1930.
I have enough hryvnia left to purchase a couple of bottles of beer to take to Olya's. Near the bar, there has been a MVA. Maryan had told me there is no equivalent of vehicle insurance in Ukraine. The parties usually try to agree on who is to blame and settle the damage independently. As the police are present at this accident it appears an agreement has not been reached and the drivers will use the court to determine who is at fault. In front of the apartment is a big yamma full of mud. There was sewer work done today and the water was shut off. Water is now available, but Bill cuts his shower short as there is crud coming out of the shower. A fierce wind is blowing and by midnight there is another severe rainstorm. I drop off to sleep to the sound of howling dogs for the last time.
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