FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sightseeing in Kyiv

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 26, 2008

On my last full day in Kyiv I started with a morning walk out to St Volodmyr’s Cathedral and then carried on to Kyiv Fortress (unfortunately closed) and the national museum of Chernobyl with its tragic tale of the consequences of the disaster in 1986.

In late morning I caught up with a local guide who took me to a branch of the Ukrainian fast food restaurant Puzata Khata off Kreschatik. The name seems to translate as “Pot-bellied Peasant House” which might not sound inspiring but this proved to be an unexpected highlight of the day. The restaurant serves a range of Ukrainian dishes and it was great to try some of these. As we left an old lady berated us for having eaten in the restaurant, saying that we ought to go to our families for properly cooked Ukrainian dishes not a place like that!

Orthodox Church of Our Lady Pirogoshcha, Podil

In the afternoon we took a walk that took in Andreyevsky Spusk, Podil (with the delightful Orthodox Church of Our Lady Pirogoshcha which was restored in 1998) and the monument to the friendship of nations (constructed in 1982 to commemorate the unification of Russia and the Ukraine).

A Russian and Ukrainian worker hold aloft the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples

The arch seemed like an appropriate landmark to have visited on my last day and I began to think about a return to the Ukraine, partly to see Lvov properly but also to explore the Crimean coast. That’s for the future though, now I only need to get my case packed and prepare for the flight home.

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Architectural adventures in Kyiv

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 25, 2008

The morning started out with a self-guided tour of the city to find some of the more interesting architecture in the city, starting with the remarkable House of Chimeras which is decorated with all manner of sculptures from frogs to lizards which struck me as a little disconcerting – not least the snake sliding down the wall! I’ve never seen anything quite like it, though a little later I saw equally bizarre and creepy decorations at Richard’s Castle on Andreyevsky Spusk.

The house of chimeras

A snake descends from the house of chimeras

Detail from Richard's Castle

After leaving behind the unusual sights of these buildings I headed out of the city centre towards the other major attraction in the city – the Kievo Pecherskaya Lavra. Along the way I passed the distinctive Hotel Salyut which is a great example of Soviet architecture, even if it has seen better days! The intriguing design extends to the interior as the rooms of this circular building are accessed off a spiral ramp.

Hotel Salyut

The lavra is an amazing complex awash with churches and shrines, as well as a series of underground chapels in caves that are accessed by tunnels running underneath the complex. I bought a candle to light the way and followed some locals into the cave system, though many areas are now restricted to true pilgrims as an understandable reaction to the increasing numbers of tourists (like me!).

Lane inside the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra

Kievo Pecherskaya Lavra

Troitskaya Church

After leaving the lavra I headed on to the Golden Gate, the heavily restored fortification that was built in 1017-1024 and which was once served as the main gateway into Kyiv. Although the museum was shut I grabbed a couple of shots in full tourist mode!

Golden Gate, Kyiv

Finally, I headed to the last attraction of the day – St Sophia’s Cathedral – and spent some time inside the church admiring its decorated walls and mosaics. I was exhausted by the time the sun set but felt I’d got as much as I could out of the day.

St Sophia's Catherdral, Kyiv

Sightseeing in Kyiv: Soviet construction and destruction

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 24, 2008

A walk along Khreschatyk gave a great view of post-war Stalinist architecture, with a series of apartment blocks adorned with epic archways and topped with decorative red stars. In contrast, street level on and off the main drag delivered all manner of commerce with everything from fast food outlets to luxury car showrooms. I took a detour off Khreschatyk in order to check out the last remaining statue of Lenin.

Statue of Lenin in Kyiv

I also visited St Michael’s Monastery, a striking blue building with golden domes. You could be forgiven for thinking it was a historic building, but in fact it was only reconstructed in 2001 after the original building was demolished by the Soviet regime in the 1930s. A fascinating display inside the monastery illustrated the destruction and reconstruction.

St. Michael's Monastery

The golden domes of St. Michael's Monastery

In the evening I headed to the opera house to see my first opera – Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin, which would be performed by the National Opera of Ukraine. It was a remarkable production though I was slightly bemused by the coach party who turned up, saw the first act and then never re-appeared!

Gallery: Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Kyiv

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 24, 2008

Sights and sounds of the motherland

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 24, 2008

It’s hard to imagine any visit to Kyiv that doesn’t lead to the titanium colossos that is the Rodyna Mat (the nation’s mother) and the Great Patriotic War Museum. It was certainly the first place that I wanted to see once the new day dawned. Fully re-charged after a good night’s sleep I headed out to Arsenalna on the metro and walked the rest of the way to the park, guided by the towering statue.

Rodyna Mat

The 62 metre high statue is as amazing up close as it is from a distance, glinting in the sunlight with her sword and shield. Unfortunately, the lifts up to the viewing point in the statue’s right hand were closed (possibly permanently?) but most people were here to see the statue from the outside, which is where it is at its most impressive. In any case, the whole park is quite extensive so there was still plenty to see without this.

It is difficult to convey the scale of the place or the atmosphere in pictures, not least because stirring and sombre martial music plays across the complex as you wander round, somehow altering the way you look at the sculptures poised at the height of their courageous struggle for freedom.

Sculptures in the concrete memorial complex

I wandered around the fascinating war museum (at the base of the statue) and around an outdoor exhibition of vehicles and equipment. The memorial hall was particularly poignant with its towering lists of names, remembering those soldiers and workers from the home front accorded hero status.

The visitors on the day I visited were a real mix – from a company of soldiers through to families with their children, many of whom were clambering over two brightly painted tanks outside the museum.

Detail from a brightly painted tank outside the museum of the Great Patriotic War

After an interesting morning exploring the park I headed back into the centre of town to check out some of the more historic sights – ahead of a night at the opera (a first for me!).

Kyiv in slow motion

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 23, 2008

After a week of almost constant travel it was good to arrive at the Hotel Ukraina for a post-tour city break. It felt like a real old fashioned Soviet hotel with a dezhurnaya behind a desk on each floor to keep an eye on whoever was coming and going. This was a practice I had heard about before I went to Russia a couple of years ago, but hadn’t actually seen until now.

I was pleased to find that I had a spacious room to relax in, though it did take a while to get used to a bed that was static and didn’t provide the occasional jolt. The view was quite stunning as well – it certainly made a change from pulling back the curtains in my compartment to see a petrochemical freight train rumbling past!

Hotel Ukraina

The view from my room in the Hotel Ukraina

I had a bit of time left in the day so spent some time wandering around Maidan Nezalezhnosti and checked out my emails at Optika internet cafe (after I figured out how to use the cyrillic keyboard!).

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Kyiv Pass and Darnitsa

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 23, 2008

Our train had reached Kyiv by the early morning and our numbers began to thin when the Japanese party left the train around 6am. The rest of us had a slightly more civilised start with breakfast served at 7.30 am ahead of our slow crawl into Kyiv Pass which we reached at 8.50am.

Mosaic at Kyiv Pass depot

On arrival we transferred to a couple of coaches which would take us out to a couple of the depots in Kyiv before taking us onward. Our first stop was Kyiv Pass depot where we spent about half an hour (9.30am to 10am) exploring the yard with a rich variety of diesels on display. However, the most distinctive features of the depot (at least to my eye) were a mural near the entrance featuring the familiar emblems of the Soviet Union and a plinthed Fdp20 steam locomotive just outside.

After our time ran out we moved on to Kyiv Darnitsa Depot for just over half hour (from 11am to 11.33am) which was a little more lively. Indeed, electric loco VL80-2737 arrived at Kiev Darnitsa Depot during our visit and helpfully set up a wonderful 3 loco shot in front of one shed.

Three VL80s at Kyiv Darnitsa Depot

Finally, the tour reached its conclusion and the coaches headed on to the airport and the city centre. I had opted to stay in Kyiv for a few more days to get the most out of my trip so my journey ended at the Hotel Ukraine with a prime location just off Maiden Square in the centre of Kyiv.

Hotel on wheels

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 16, 2008

At 6.45pm the signal was given for everyone to make their way out of the impressive waiting rooms to join train N981/982. It was a long, long train with 13 carriages (including three restaurant cars) but then it needed to be with something like 120 passengers and 45 staff. Tonight it would be hauled out of Kyiv by an electric loco, but for a large part of the tour it would be hauled by steam locos (with a diesel or two on the back).

Inauspiciously most of the train was in complete darkness, but in spite of this I managed to find my way down to coach number 12 and drop my stuff off. My home for the next seven nights would be compartment 6 which I was lucky enough to have to myself – a pleasant surprise. I’ve never done anything like this before so was more than a little nervous, but mixed in with that was excitement and anticipation.

One of the realities on board our ‘hotel on wheels’ was that the train simply wasn’t able to generate enough power to light the compartments at the slow speeds we would be travelling at. At least, that was the reality as far back as carriage 12! Never mind, it was a good excuse to stay a little longer in the restaurant or bar cars and to linger in the corridor for a chat as the Ukraine whizzed past.

Compartment 6 (with a rare burst of light at the end of the trip)

Our train left at 19:57 as we were sitting down to a welcome dinner in the restaurant cars. The first meal of the trip featured a fish hors d’oeuvre, salad, locker of pork with complex garnish and a pastry – served up with champagne. I was in no doubt that we would be well fed on this trip, with three meals a day inbetween all the photographic adventures…

Roll on Lvov!

London to Kyiv

Posted in Kyiv, Ukraine by folkestonejack on February 16, 2008

Around October last year I noticed an advert in one of the railway magazines advertising the last steam tour in the Ukraine. It sounded like my worst nightmare and the most incredible experience rolled into one. The thought of spending 8 days on board a train with over a hundred passengers sounded fairly horrific but on the other hand how could I miss this last chance to see five different classes of loco in steam!? The lure proved too great…

So, this is how I ended up on my way to Kyiv in the Ukraine today. I wasn’t alone in my madness – it was pretty clear that there were two distinct types of passenger on board this morning’s British Airways flight from Heathrow (BA0882). Firstly, there were well dressed Ukrainians heading home laden with expensive shopping and then there were the rail enthusiasts. Needless to say, it wasn’t too difficult to tell the two groups apart!

In the early afternoon we landed at Kyiv (Borispol) and I emerged into the utter chaos of the arrivals hall. All the waiting locals, taxi drivers and other hangers on had crowded around the exit doors so you really had to fight your way into clean air. After a little confusion I found my way out to the coach that had been arranged to take us to the distinctively shaped Kyiv-Pasazhyrs’kyi (Kyiv Passenger Station). The group of early arrivals settled in to a waiting room on the upper floor but it was destined to be a long wait as the process of gathering the 120 or so participants would continue throughout the day. Our train was not scheduled to leave until around 8pm so boredom settled in very quickly!