Kiev- the Ancient City

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ukraine  , Kiev,
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yesterday was so fun (and I'm in Kiev for less than 48 hours) so I decided to meet Victoria for Part II, the tour of Kiev's old city.
We meet again at Independence Square, but start out in the opposite direction. We pass through the 1,000-year city gate. There are three gates to the city; two for the wealthy and one for the common folk. This one is for the elite! It's actually a replica, since in the 10th century the Mongols invaded and destroyed or pillaged much of the country's treasures. Kiev has three patron saints: Michael, Sophia and Andrew. This gate features a unique image of the archangel Michael. He's depicted as black. Since angels were typically white, he needed protection from all the dirt and blood of war so he's shown with dark skin.
Although this is the tour highlighting the old city, Victoria points out several tongue in cheek pieces of modern art. Several interact with older landmarks, so it's fun to see them together. The first one is called, "Frida Likes Flowers". It's a popular spot for a first date, as it is rumored to bring love to those who meet here.
We walk up to Mykhailivska Ploscha to Saint Michael's Cathedral. It's known for its golden domes and bell tower. It was originally built in 1108 and destroyed five times, once during Soviet times, as it was deemed to have no cultural significance! The current replica was finished in 1999. Its beautiful blue color is symbolic of the sky and the yellow accents (including the vibrant gold domes) represent crops and the sun. They are also the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Outside are three sculptures. The one in the middle is Princess Olga, the ruler of old Kiev. She was rhe first to bring Christianity to the outer territories. There's also a statue of Cyril and Methodius (remember them from Moscow?) and St. Andrew. Kievites like to give their statues nicknames. This one is called "The Hitchhiker" because he's pointing like people do to hail a taxi.
We pass the original communist party headquarters. In Soviet times people looked at their feet as they passed official buildings like this one. Even an errant glance could be cause for arrest. Since it has been renovated, a plaque reading Воля, or freedom has replaced the star.
We pass a statue dedicated to the characters from a famous Russian comedy, Chasing Two Hares. It's about a poor man who marries for money. I don't think it ended well, but it's still considered good luck in love and good fortune to simultaneously touch the beetle with your right hand, his ring with your nose and the lady's ring with your left hand. It was a stretch, but I gave it a shot.
We walk to St. Andrews Cathedral, built in 1753. Its domes are green instead of gold, typical of Russian baroque style. It also has no bell tower. Bells were used to call people to pray. Since this was the Emperor's private cathedral and he was considered the terrestrial god, he didn't have to call people to prayer, he just decided when to have services and the people would come.
The Emperor was quite an opportunist. St. Andrew's was on a cobblestone road that merchants used to bring their wares to the wealthy. He passed an edict declaring anything that fell from the wagons as his property. He must have collected lots of treasures from that bumpy road. We walk over remnants of the Palace's 10th century brick border.
We pass Kiev's "tallest" building- only because it sits atop The city's highest hill. It was originally a fire station, but later housed political dissidents. The joke was they could see Siberia from here. Unfortunately, most of prisoners here eventually ended up in Siberia where most were killed or died of starvation.
We've made a big circle and end up in front of St. Sophia's Cathedral. In front is a controversial monument to the Cossack (Think they were countrymen known as brutal soldiers). He was considered a traitor by some and the reason Russian is spoken in Ukraine. Nonetheless, his face is on the 5 Hryvnia note. His statue was repositioned after the worshippers of St. Sophia's complained. They said they didn't want to leave their prayers and see the back of a horse.
There is a similar statue in Russia (undoubtedly without the controversy). Some Ukrainian pilots played a practical joke on a Russian drunk that used to sleep at this statue. While he was passed out, they picked him up, flew him to Kiev and deposited him at the Ukrainian version of the statue. He was so shocked when he woke up that he stopped drinking for good.
St. Sophia was built 1,001 years ago and modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It housed the first school. At a time when most in the Byzantine Empire were illiterate, Ukrainians were well educated. In the 18th century the church was whitewashed and painted with new icons. During the renovation they used rough instruments and unfortunately destroyed all of the originals below. The bell tower was completed in 1752. The old rectory still stands because the workers needed some place to eat during the restoration.
We pass another modern statue based on a popular comic, The Hedgehog in the Fog. He looks afraid because during a visit to his friend, the bear he was startled by a screaming horse. He sits near a statue of a Cossack policeman on horseback which Kievites do not like. He's in an impossible pose, standing without any stirrups or saddle like he's floating on horseback. And the Cossack is so out if proportion that the horse looks like a pony. The hedgehog appears to be startled by this horse...
We visit the Golden Gate, the second entrance into Kiev for the wealthy, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's said to be named Golden for several reasons: average people (not royalty) had to pay for entrance with gold coins; it had golden domes; and when it was founded in 1037, legend has it that Yaroslav the Wise buried his fortune in a hole under the gate (no one's found it yet.) The current building is another replica, having also been destroyed by the Mongols. It was an active church and also a fortress.
There is a sculpture of Yaroslav the Wise in front, nicknamed the Baker. It looks like a cake, but it's actually his largest accomplishment, St. Sophia's Cathedral. He is portrayed on the 2 Hryvnia note.
We see two more modern sculptures near an original sculpture of a cat. Not sure the significance of the cat, but he's cute. And we see his girlfriend in a nearby tree and their kitten next to a big fountain. The kitten is sometimes called the "hedgecat" and holds the title of cheapest monument in Europe. It was made almost entirely using forks donated by nearby cafes.
We pass Kiev's most lluxurious hotel in 1900. A room was 12 rubles per night (equivalent to the cost of two cows!)
Our last site is a sculpture of Kiev's infamous pickpocket. He dressed like a gentleman and pretended to be blind (someone stole his bronze cane in a little bit of poetic justice) but his give away was that he carried a spoon in his breast pocket because he never knew where his next meal would come from. Like many criminals he paid off the police for protection. He always tucked a handkerchief into his pocket with this policeman's surname easily visible. His statue is in the neighborhood in which he lived, which was thought to be safe since thieves don't rob their own neighbors. Business men used to think it was good luck to rub his statue so if you look under his foot, there's an engraved gesture (apparently more vulgar and insulting than the middle finger) and a message to those business men basically saying he won't help them, even in the afterlife.

A few of us had lunch at a typical Kiev cafeteria and then my new friend, Borahan from Turkey, and I headed to see the caves at Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra. Unfortunately access to the caves (where monks have been naturalky mummified in the cool air) was closed by the time we arrived. Those pesky tourist guides! If only the grounds are open until 8pm, say that! But the monastery, founded in 1051, was beautiful and we were able to listen to some of the prayer chants. It was an interesting twist to hear only male voices.
We ate dinner at an outdoor beer garden and tried Chicken Kiev! Tasty, but not exactly what I expected. It was a deep fried chicken breast stuffed with something creamy and dill.

I feel bad that I only learned one word in Ukrainian, thank you - diakuju. I know there's a bit of a debate about Ukrainian becoming the second official language, so I hope people didn't think I was too rude using only my paltry Russian. But just so I don't forget, here are the most useful words I learned:
Hello- strasvyutye
Hi- priviet
Thanks- spaciba
How much- skolka stoit
Train station- vagzal
Friend- drug
Excuse me- prostitye
Please/you're welcome- pajalsta (Was it Bill Bryson that wrote about never having to say you're welcome as a tourist? I actually got to use it a few times when holding one of those super heavy metro doors for someone!)
Cheers- nazdrovya
Yes- Da
No- niet (even learned to read that one- Het!)
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