Friday, April 28, 2017

A day in Kiev

I came to Ukraine for a dance festival called Swinglandia. As it worked out, I saved money by coming a day early, so I got to explore Kiev yesterday.

When I came from the airport, my driver spoke animatedly about Kiev Pechersk Lavra, a religious complex with a monastery, several churches, religious museums and other stuff relating to the origins of Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic world. I learned how to get there on public transit and spent the morning wandering to and through the enormous compound. Given the country’s Soviet history, a surprising amount of beautiful artifacts survive today, though some required significant restorations after lying for decades in trash heaps.

I paid an extra fee for the privilege of climbing a bell tower at the apex of the complex. I enjoyed spectacular views from the parapet, and more spectacular views from the loft where the bells hang. (I guess that’s called a belfry, isn’t it?) A web of ropes reached the clappers of the larger bells far from where the bell-ringer worked. One person rings all the bells, working with hands and feet. I have to imagine it’s quite loud up there.

After I spent a couple of hours in the museum area at the top of the hill, I descended to the working monastery below and took a tour of underground caverns filed with coffins. I started into the cavern without a candle and discovered that I couldn’t see where I was going. Using the flashlight on my phone sounded too high-tech for this place, so I went back and bought a candle. It seemed crowded down there and I didn’t really like being in the midst of a lot of strangers holding open flames, but nobody lit anybody else’s clothing on fire during my visit. Most visitors kissed each of the caskets. I did not.

When I left, I found the monastery’s cafeteria, where I bought lunch for about $3.50. It was pretty good, considering how little I paid for it. My favorite part was the ugly brown salad, made from pickled eggplant, mushrooms, carrots and onions.

I stopped at my hotel for a little break on my way back from the monastery. It gave me a chance to recharge my phone before beginning the more commercial part of my tour.

Downtown Kiev looks reminiscent of a lot of European downtowns. I stopped, however, when I saw TSUM. The doors looked a whole lot like the doors on the downtown department store in Minsk, so I went inside to see how similar it might be. Kiev’s central department store looks like a modern mall on the inside with glass escalators, glowing purple tubes of light, a huge atrium, and a variety of attractive storefronts.

Maidan Square is filled with memorials of the political struggles that took place there. On the periphery, coves of bricks are stacked around photographs of people who lost their lives in the struggle. Many of the bricks had been thrown down from sidewalks high on the hill above, and the sidewalks are now repaved haphazardly with mismatched replacement bricks. I asked some kids why the sidewalks looked so bad, and they’re the ones who pointed out to me the memorials. One of them suggested that this commercial center doesn’t really represent the spirit of Kiev, and that I should take the Metro out to see a place called Hydropark. His friends agreed, so I want.

Hydropark features a wide sandy beach on the shores of the Dnieper River. Or maybe it was an island. The kids had sent me to the bank with the widest beach, where people have constructed a huge weightlifting facility made mostly of junk and scrap metal. Lots of people exercised there, and while I saw signs mentioning a website and a phone number, it appears mostly to be a cooperative venture with no particular oversight.

On the near side of the bridge, I strolled through a construction area, where workers hoped to refurbish an amusement park before Eurovision comes to town next week. It won’t be completely finished, but there’s plenty in place and I can imagine that it’ll be quite a party. They have at least three discos.

Returning, I rode the Metro one stop beyond my hotel so I could see the main train station. I’m glad I did, because I found a railway museum on one side of the tracks, and they have a collection of extremely fancy railroad cars, generally used by Soviet bigshots for occasional meetings and for comfortable travel to Crimea. I got to stroll through the salons at leisure, touch the upholstery and marvel at the shiny woodwork. It was a great way to balance my day, ending with something I liked as much as I liked the lavra in the beginning.

I’m heading off to dance camp now. Ideally, I’ll have something to write about.

You can see more pictures of today's adventures here.