The summer of 2018 seems endless and has followed us since we left Canada in June. The fine weather, with temperatures in the high twenties or low thirties, followed us all the way to Kiev in Ukraine.
There are easier ways to get to Kiev but due to the last minute scheduling our options were limited and the overnight train from Warsaw seemed to be our best bet. On the initial stretch from Kraków to Warsaw, first class tickets were all that was available and I must say we thoroughly enjoyed our three hours onboard with ample space in comfortable seats and food and drinks included. The night train was another story. After boarding in Warsaw, it was unbearably hot. We simply sat down and waited until the train left the station and the air-conditioning kicked in. We had a private double sleeper cabin and settled in for the evening and night. At first I struggled with the confinement and thinking about the next 16 hours onboard. Did I mention it was hot? Then I remind myself; we chose to rough it and I finally relax. Our friendly attendant brought us tea and we both read our books. Not certain about the timing of the border passport control, we turned out the lights and tried to get some sleep. As soon as I dozed off, a knock on the door. First the Polish check point. Then the Ukrainian check point. Then a long wait and shuffling of train cars. The border agents took our passports and Di was starting to wonder if we would ever get them back. The whole ordeal took 3-4 hours and ended just before 2 am. We continued on a bumpy ride with less than ideal railroad tracks. Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by, although we did manage to get some rest despite a thorough jostling. The following morning we were reading up on Kiev as the train, much to our surprise, rolled into Kiev station. We had totally forgotten traveling east meant a new time zone. We scrambled and managed to collect our things and disembark.
We had to wait a couple of hours before we could check into our Airbnb so ended up killing time at a nearby coffee shop/shrimp restaurant. This we find to be one of the unpleasantries of Airbnb; waiting and lurking in a back alley in a somewhat rough looking neighbourhood trying to identify the contact who will provide a key. By no means luxurious, the apartment had the basics and was located close to Victory Square. The bed was somewhat creaky, the layout had very little in the way of feng shui and we struggled with hot water. We did however have a kettle, laundry facilities, excellent wifi and we enjoyed preparing a meal or two.
Emma and Simon have been to Kiev and raved about it and we can now see why. We spent three days sightseeing, walking and using the metro to get around. We stopped at the Arsenalna metro station, the deepest underground station in the world at 105.5 meters. Main attractions for us were: Saint Sofia's Cathedral, Kiev Pechersk Lavra, St. Andrew's Church and St. Michael's Golden-Doomed Monastery. Each were stunning in their own way. We enjoyed the walks and scenery between the attractions just as much. Kiev has a wonderful entrepreneurial vibe.
On our first evening, just after 6 pm, we were surprised by 10 loud explosions. Slightly worried we checked our phones for news and finding nothing headed out to quickly discover a rehearsal for Ukraine’s Independence day on August 24th. The military parade was a spectacle like none we had seen before. The sound of the boots hitting the pavement, the marching band music, the loud patriotic cheers and blue and yellow flags everywhere. Ukraine is a nation at war and it was evident they take pride in their military. During our stay many soldiers milled about and military equipment was on display in the city squares.
This was our first visit to a former Soviet country. Signs from the era are evident in the architecture and infrastructure. Busses and trams were decades old, yet still running. Even though Ukraine has come a long way since 1991 with modern malls, mobile phone stores and fancier cars, at times it felt like a step back in time, 20 or 30 years. The service level we received was a hit and miss. Some people were kind and offered help or advice with a smile. Others were very stern with a seemingly authoritarian demeanour. While we enjoyed the challenge and the experience, a few things put us off. For example, the argumentative replies from our Airbnb host when we offered what we thought was constructive feedback. At some restaurants, but not all we had to pay our bill in two portions, one for food and one for alcohol. Photography is not always allowed or there is a surcharge. The overall experience of Kiev was very good, so don’t let our few quibbles turn you away from paying a visit. The food, coffee and drinks are affordable. The same goes for admission to the attractions. We come away with a sack full of impressions. We also enjoyed two superb dinners. One at a French restaurant and the last night at a traditional Ukrainian restaurant where we ordered borscht, pirogies, cabbage rolls and chicken Kiev.