After a great buffet breakfast this morning we all met downstairs in the hotel lobby ready to head out for our tour of Kiev. Our first stop was St Michael’s Monastery, which is one of the sights you see in all the photos of Kiev, and within a few minutes of entering I was sorry that I had forgotten to pack sun cream in my bag for the day. It’s very hot out today! The grounds of the monastery are lovely and we spent some time looking around the grounds within the walls being told all about the history of the location. After looking around the grounds we entered the Cathedral that’s within the complex and were presented with some beautiful sights – many, many lovely statues, murals, paintings and photo opportunities including monks praying. However we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the building which was a shame – some of our group did but I didn’t want to break the rules.
Outside the monastery there is a memorial board to the Ukrainian Genocide outside in both English and Ukrainian so after visiting the complex we were given some information about the events that were committed. I must admit the Ukrainian Genocide isn’t an event that I had heard about but it was very shocking to hear about and brought back sad memories of visiting the Rwanda Genocide Memorial a few years ago. We also saw the statue of Princess Olga in the square before heading down the road, past the British Embassy, to St Andrew’s Church.
We didn’t have the opportunity to see inside St Andrew’s Church unfortunately as it wasn’t on the itinerary but one thing you notice when visiting old Soviet countries is how beautifully decorated and ornate the religious buildings are. The care and skill that must have gone into the domes and the ornate work on the outside almost puts some of the buildings in the west to shame!
In the UK for the past week it has been quite cold so it’s been a nice relief to have full summer weather while in Kiev – I believe the temperature today was above 30. However by the time we reached the area of St Andrew’s Church the heat was starting to get to us and we had all mostly run out of water. Luckily this area is tourist central so in addition to tens of souvenir stalls there are also stalls where you can by snacks and refrigerated drinks. We stocked up on a couple of litres of water each and then made our way towards the National Museum of Ukraine.
The museum was another sight which unfortunately wasn’t on our list of places we were due to visit but our guide wanted to take us here to show us some old hieroglyphs that had been engraved into some stone slabs in the museum grounds, and also to allow us to see a good view over the city. I’m glad she brought us here as it was a good view.
We spent a little time in the museum grounds enjoying the sunshine before it was time to head back to our minibus to head down to the Chernobyl Museum. On the way we stopped at a very old Linden Tree which is described by legend as the oldest tree in Kiev. The age of the tree seems to vary depending on which account you read but you could tell it was indeed very ancient.
The Chernobyl Museum was a very moving experience. It meant even more as we are due to visit Chernobyl tomorrow but I highly recommend a visit here to anybody that travels to Kiev. The museum itself is fairly cheap to enter, although it was included in our tour, and we had to pay an extra token payment to be allowed to take photos. All of the exhibits are in Ukrainian, as was the tour we were given, but our guide translated everything for us. We spent some time looking at the museum and saw so many exhibits detailing the history of the plant, the build-up to the accident, information about the accident itself, the aftermath and the cleanup process. We also saw a lot of personal items belonging to the people that were first on the scene including radiation suits, uniforms, posthumously-given medals, letters home to families and much more. I can’t recommend this place high enough if you are in any way curious about learning more about the disaster.
The museum seems a little hidden away as it’s down a side road in the old town so make sure you know where you’re going before trying to find it – or just ask a local! We relaxed outside the museum for a bit before being taken to lunch in a very surreal restaurant (translation of the name is moonshine) which sounded as though it was full of budgies! The food was nice but very weird, as were the drinks, but I enjoyed the atmosphere.
Kiev is famous for the Cave Monastery and this was our next stop of the day. After arriving, and drinking most of the water that we had bought by this point, we were informed that regulations meant we had to have a guide from the monastery show us around so we waited for a little while and took photos. The guide that arrived was a very friendly person who spoke perfect English but you could tell everything she said was scripted compared to most tour guides who give you a personal experience. For example the phrase “please take note of the magnificent stone work on the opposing side of the church”.
We were shown around quite a few buildings in the monastery including an old church, an old church bell, a cathedral and several other sites, the names of which I can’t remember, before our tour ended at an amazing viewpoint overlooking Kiev. By this time our brains were in overload – partly because of the heat of the day and partly due to the monotonous script that we had been told for over an hour. Don’t get me wrong the guide was very knowledgeable and the guided tour was well worth it but we were glad to be able to move on to the caves on our own.
The caves that form part of the monastic complex are famous for housing the mummified remains of monks, saints and other people of note from the history of the monastery in or very close to the caved rooms where they lived their lives. To be able to enter you have to hold a candle between your first and second fingers, with the palm facing up, and women must either wear dresses or the robes provided. It’s also advisable that you aren’t claustrophobic due to the cramped conditions although when you’re inside you really get a sense of how isolated the monks must have felt living in the caves for their whole lives away from the sun. As a result of their devotion the caves are a sight of pilgrimage for many so the crowds can sometimes build up. We were fairly lucky when we toured as the crowds were fairly low.
We were all fairly exhausted by the time the tour of the monastic complex was over but there was still one more sight to see – the Great Patriotic War Museum. The Great Patriotic War is better known as World War 2 in the west but it is known by this term in Ukraine due to the struggle against the oppression of the Ukrainian way of life that formed the major battle in this part of Europe.
The museum is away from the roads and next to the big statue that you can see from all over the city so it was a bit of a walk to get to. On the way we walked past the Afghan War Museum and their outdoor exhibits that included tanks, rocket launchers and helicopters before passing sculptures depicting the struggle to defend the Ukrainian way of life which reminded me of some of the sights I saw in Pyongyang a few years ago.
According to our guide tomorrow is the passing out day for the local military cadets so in the parade ground directly outside the museum we were treated to a sight of hundreds of smartly dressed and uniformed soldiers getting ready for a dress rehearsal for the ceremony.
The war museum housed a wealth of artefacts from all aspects of World War 2 and our guide was incredibly informative in telling us everything that we needed to know. Until today I had never visited a World War 2 museum, unless you count Anne Frank’s House, and so some of the things I saw were a bit of a shock. In addition to the usual military hardware we also saw gallows from a concentration camp, gloves made out of human skin, a bone crushing machine and clothing of people that were executed by the Nazi regime. It was a very moving experience and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about every aspect of the war but unfortunately we only had time to see about 2/3 of the rooms in detail before the museum closed and we had to leave. It’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to spend more time there as it was huge and incredibly well presented – make sure you visit when in the city or you’ll miss out on something special, in a sombre way.
A careful squeeze around the outside of the military parade and it was back to the minibus for the ride back to our hotel for a rest and shower. Earlier on in the day a few of us decided that we were going to head into town to have a meal together but unfortunately it took us a long time to find anywhere that was suitable to eat – everything was either overpriced or generic TGI Fridays etc. After probably 45 minutes of looking around we ended up wandering up a side road off Khreshcatyck Street where we found a lovely Bavarian restaurant which served everything from German beer to Schnitzel and even Apple Strudel. I ordered Chicken with Almond Sauce followed by the strudel and it was absolutely beautiful so hopefully we’ll be back here again later on in the trip after getting back from Chernobyl.
I finished the meal off with a Tequila Sunrise before saying goodbye to the group and wandering around the city for my own taking in the atmosphere for a bit. I like the support of being in a group while travelling but I also need the freedom of being able to explore and do my own thing so spent maybe an hour walking around taking photos, sitting in the square with a drink and generally people watching before making my way back to the hotel.
A few people were still in the bar so I had a quick drink with them before returning to my room. It’s pretty late now and we’re due to head off to Chernobyl at 8.30 tomorrow so hopefully I’ll sleep well.