Trip Start Apr 24, 2007
Trip End Jul 09, 2007

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Where I stayed
International Youth Hostel Yaroslav

Flag of Ukraine  ,
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Saturday 12 May
This Morning I set my alarm with plenty of time to get ready, but once it went off I figured the better option was to open the curtains and door to the balcony and stay in bed a little longer. After enjoying my view of Yalta and wonderful bed a bit longer, I finally got up and ready, ate one last hotel breaky and headed off.
A trolley car, marshrutka and a city bus later I was back at the Simferopol airport with half an hour to spare. Quite proud of myself, I figured I'd have got lost, run out of time and had to shell out for a cab. I love the idea of "hailing" a bus here. I wish I could have done that in Edinburgh!
At the airport, the girl who had worked reception when I checked into the Bristol was there and on the same flight. Turns out it was her first flight, first time to Kiev and the day I arrived had been her last shift at the hotel. Chatted with her until it was time to board the plane. Kristina told me some stories about Yalta and her life.  She was extremely friendly and I was very happy to have some company on the flight. She got nervous during take off and was asking questions about the plane, she told me she had only seen them on TV before. In trying to comfort her that the plane was fine, I ended up scaring myself a bit. When she asked about the luggage in the overhead bins, I noticed there were no doors to close, only a rope stretched across them. When she asked about what happens when something goes wrong, I noticed there were no oxygen masks... and the crack in the window. Needless to say when she asked to hold my hand during take off, I was not objecting! I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't be made out to be a liar and told her everything would be fine. (By the way, Kristina if you are reading this, I am sorry that I didn't tell you I was scared as well!)
We arrived at Kiev with no drama, I said good bye to my new buddy and headed into town. Now that I knew where the Metro was, no need for a cab! (Side note for the metro, once you put your token in, pass through quickly! If you hesitate the little gate that slams shut behind you, will leaves a nasty bruise on your bottom). Took the shuttle bus into the city and then the metro to the hostel, where there were two awesome English girls staying as well, one of which had been living in Russia. Ended up going out with them, it made life so much easier being with someone who spoke Russian! First we went to the train station to book tickets for Tuesday. They were heading to the Crimea then and I was going to be heading to Lviv. I never understood how hostels and travel agencies could charge $30 US to book a ticket that costs less than $10... until I saw that what a hassle it was. I was so glad to be with someone who spoke Russian or we would of never have gotten the tickets. We would wait in one line, get to the front, be told a reason why it was the wrong line and then pointed in the direction of another line. This happened about 6 times. It turns out there are different ticket windows depending on the date you are departing, the destination, and if you are foreign, and all the windows alternate breaks so every so often the attendant would close the window for half an hour and the line would just wait (For anyone else, the break times are listed on each window, check them before hoping in line!).
After we had all our tickets in hand, we went out in search of some vareneky (perogy) place that the girls had heard of. A few wrong turns later and we found it. We opted for the sharing plan and got a veggie salad, a radish salad and 3 kinds of vareneky; mutton, liver and potato with mushroom. And for desert, cherry vareneky. What a feast! Next we headed for a much needed walk through the parks by the river. It was so beautiful and full of people. Not what I expected to be in the middle of Kiev! There was a bunch of winding trails that at points gave great views of the river. At the ended we ended up in an area that had a giant concrete rainbow, apparently it was a soviet monument for the unification of Russia and Ukraine. Now it has a bunch of rides under it with metal kids and biker types. It was actually a pretty cool place. Stayed there for a bit before heading back in towards town. After a few miscalculations we found the least creepy looking streets and walking back in the direction of the hostel. All along Andrivisky Uzviz there were small bands and people playing their guitars with spectators sitting on the rock walls with a beer enjoying the music. In Kontraktova square, an outdoor concert had just finished and the streets were packed with people making there way out of the square. There was broken glass everywhere, but I was quite impressed that before the crowd had even cleared there were street cleaners out! Another two blocks and we were back at the hostel. Grabbed some beers along the so we could have a drink at the hostel before calling it a night.

Sunday 13 May
A bit of another relaxing morning before we got up and started to get ready. Mary (one of the English girls) went and got some fruit yogurt, bread and cheese for breakfast. Around noonish we set out from the hostel. Passing through Kontraktova square, I couldn't believe that there was no trace of last nights concert left!
The first stop was Andrivisky Uzviz street for a museum or two. Ended up just going to one as the guide at the other said it wouldn't be good if we don't know Russian. The street looked much different this morning compared to last night! All the student types who had been sitting out listening to the musicians last night had been replaced with dozens of stalls selling typical Ukrainian souvenirs like Pysankas and Matryoshka stacking dolls.
The other two were really big into music so next we took the metro to the Opera House to buy tickets for the Sunday night performance (a fantastic value!). After a more-expensive-then-Starbucks cappuccino and shared piece of Tiramisu at a lovely sidewalk café, we caught a cab to the caves monastery. Rough life as backpackers!
The monastery was huge and had two sets of underground caves along with a heap of Churches. Had to buy a scarf for my head, candles to light the way and rent a piece of cloth to tie around as a skirt and then we went down the narrow steps to the caves. Inside were about 2 dozen saints that had been almost mummified due to the lack of moisture. It was a bit of a surreal experience and you could tell it was a place of pilgrimage. Almost everyone was stopping in front of each case, saying a silent prayer and then kissing the glass. The second cave was more packed and seemed to, while having lots of people there for religious reasons, have almost as many tourists. Once out of the caves, we walked around the monastery for a bit and got a few pictures before heading back to the street. We had a glass of Kvass, which is a fermented drink that is sold from big yellow tanks on the street. We headed back to the hostel and me and Julia stopped on the way for some pointing fun at the market to acquire some salami and cheese for a very late lunch. I think the lady behind the counter got a kick out of our attempt to order, she couldn't stop laughing!
Once we were a little bit cleaned up we headed off to the Opera. I had never been before. Good thing I bought the program so I could kind of follow along. It was pretty good though, all in Russian/Ukrainian (not to sure), but definitely interesting. I am glad that I had the opportunity to go. With a bit of difficulty, we found a restaurant after for supper. I had holubtsi (cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat). We had a few beers and chatted for a bit before heading home.

Monday 14 May
Started of early this morning with a picnic style breakfast (roll, cream cheese and fruit) in the botanical gardens. Don't think they were really worth the trip out as some things were still being planted and not much was in bloom but still a nice place for the most part to start the day. We made a quick stop at St. Sophia's Cathedral Complex before heading back so the girls could grab their stuff and make it to the train station. I'm going to miss them, I've had a lot of fun touring around Kiev with them the past two days.
After they left I found an internet café full of preteen boys playing bloody video games to check my emails. With that taken care of I searched out some lunch. I had a "Russian cheese salad", wasn't too sure what that could mean but it was pretty good!  Next stop was at the Chernobyl museum, which was a huge eye opener. I never noticed before how much it was played down and made out to be less than it was. It was extremely sad going through it. At the end was an exhibit of posters made by school kids for the 20th anniversary of the tragedy in 2006 which seemed focused on it not being forgotten and ignored, and more importantly not be repeated. The part that really brought it all into prospective were the road signs from each town that was evacuated hanging above the stairs.  
From there I wondered up Andrivisky Uzviz again so I could browse the stalls and then went to check out St. Michaels Monastery. It was a gorgeous blue and gold church. After that I wandered around a bit. I think sometimes just walking around a city is much better than all the "must" museums and sights. I was overly happy when someone stopped me to ask directions. Although he didn't speak English (he actually jumped back when I said didn't speak Ukrainian), I still managed to give him directions to the metro station he was trying to find! A few days ago I couldn't even find the metro!
After another hour or so of getting to know Kiev's street, I was drawn into a Japanese place for dinner with the hopes of some maki. Walked back through the park to the hostel, stopping on the way to get a bit of food for tomorrows train. Back at the hostel a new round of people had checked in; an American guy, a Chilean guy from NZ and a guy from Odessa (Ukraine). The Ukrainian guy was very eager to make friends and his English was pretty good. Within 10 mins of talking to him, he had run to the store for coolers, came back and handed them out to everyone. I don't think he was going to take a "no thanks"! We all stayed up and chatted for quite a while, too bad we ran out of drinks. I guess that is probably a good thing though, so I don't miss my morning train!
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