I’ve made it to Kiev, and am loving the temperature so far. It’s been a long and exhausting couple of days even though I haven’t really done anything but I’m relaxing in my room at the Rus Hotel right now and think I’m going to sleep well tonight.
The journey started yesterday as I needed to be at Gatwick Airport in the morning for my flight so decided to get a hotel room in Croydon last night. Not much to report yesterday as I mainly just chilled in my room and explored the shops but it meant a lot less rushing today which I always recommend before travelling (most of my travelling is rushed enough as it is).
I was awake early this morning so decided to make my way to the airport ahead of check in. No sign of the check in desks when I arrived so I grabbed a seat overlooking the check in area and after maybe half an hour they opened up some desks for my airline, Ukraine International Airlines. During my time waiting I saw two people with luggage tags for Regent Holidays a bit further ahead of me in the queue – too far ahead to say hi but it was useful to be able to eyeball some people I’d need to look for upon arriving in Kiev.
Until today I hadn’t been to Gatwick in several years and they’ve made some real improvements. I’m not a fan of e-border gates but the boarding card gates they have made to replace person contact were VERY quick and, except for groups of old people, should help reduce queues. They’ve also spent a lot of money improving the security area and it was very fast and efficient. The only bad change to Gatwick is that the viewing platform has been turned into a Frankie and Benny’s Restaurant so now the only way to see out of the terminal is to pay for food. However I was hungry so I had a quick breakfast before making my way to the plane.
Boarding was late, and chaotic, with nobody listening to the announcements about boarding by rows so I decided to just wait back until the queue had gone before boarding as I had been given an aisle seat anyway. The chaos, plus a few other things, resulted in being an hour late leaving but we managed to catch some of this up in the air. Ukraine International seems an ok airline – nothing special but acceptable compared to some I have used. The leg room was acceptable although it was cramped when people put their seat back. The food was ok – it at least tasted like food!
The chaos of the day continued when we arrived in Kiev. All desks in passport control were open but 90% of them were for Ukraine Passport Holders only with just 2 or 3 for foreign passport holders. I chose the nearest one, which was next to the crew passport desk, but when the officer at that desk went on a break he closed his desk and they changed the foreign passport holder desk in front of me to crew without clearing the queue. By this time the queue at the other desks were huge and there was only one more person in front of me so we decided to wait and jump in at the gaps – this took 20 minutes but was still quicker than joining the other queues. My advice – don’t pick a queue anywhere near the crew passport queue.
I thought by this time I would have been the last person to meet with our guide but the bags hadn’t even started arriving yet. When they did, approximately 10 minutes later, my bag was the 4th to arrive which never happens. It also meant that after all of the chaos at passport control I was the first person to meet my guide. Ironically the people who I eyeballed in the queue at Gatwick were the last to arrive… by a long time!
The journey to Kiev took about 30 minutes and was mainly through forested areas until we reached the city itself. During the ride our guide told us about the history of Kiev and informed us about the itinerary for the trip. She will be our guide for tomorrow when we have a city tour but turns out we will have another guide for the 2 days to Chernobyl and Pripyat.
The Rus Hotel seems really nice, and my room is overlooking the Olympic Stadium which is a great view. According to a member of our group it has gone upmarket a lot since he was last here – there’s a shop, the restaurant serves actual food, there’s a 24/7 bureau de change and at night there are no longer ladies of the night patrolling the hallways. After checking in we freshened up in our room for a bit before meeting in the bad downstairs. It was too late for most meals but they allowed us to have pizza which was actually really nice, when it arrived.
A long day ahead tomorrow so I’ll be off to bed now.