Ukraine Part 3: Kiev – Land of thieves beware…(June 2008)

I was in Kiev for 3 days (June 18-20, 2008).

So where so I start with Kiev?  I was so excited to go to the Ukraine as my grandparents were from there, and I grew up with all the fun Russian and Ukrainian foods.  So starting in Kiev sounded like a good idea.

To start, I was robbed twice – details in separate entries: Ukraine Part 1 and Ukraine Part 2.  But for this entry, I`m putting the thefts behind me and moving on and there`s nothing I can do about it.

I really liked the city of Kiev and was much happier to be there after Moscow.  It was a small city, or smaller and easy to get around on foot or on the metro.  I arrived on the overnight train from Moscow and had to first find the metro (and this is the longest subway escalator in the world), which wasn`t as easy as the train station was really huge.

Longest underground subway in world!

Longest underground subway in world!

So I went one way for a long time and didn`t see it, so I turned around and went back and then it was on the other side of the train station.  As I got close, I couldn`t believe the crowds.  Now I have been in commute time traffic in New York and San Francisco, and never saw anything like this.  The best way to describe entering the metro was imagine a swarm of people that were trying to cram into 2 doors from a large entry way.  So it started wide with people pushing through two narrow doors.  Then it was like cattle being pushed through the narrow hall (then there`s me trying to merge right to the ticket window with my big bag, and I was being pushed all over).  Then when I got to the turn styles, the line widened to 10 turn styles so it started to move, but then the 10 turnstyles merged back into one line to get on the one escalator.  Wide, narrow, wide, narrow and shoving by little grandmas all around me as well.  I was so hot and sweaty, if I was in a suit going to work, I wouldn`t want to go to work at all – really that gross and hot.  Even at the bottom of the escalator, they have gates to guide people as it`s such madness!  When I got off at my stop, I saw stairs, which I always dread with my bag and usually wait for the crowd to lessen and then go up, but the next trains  were so quick to unload more people, the line never went down, so I figured, I will shove my way.  My bag is big and heavy and if people get in my way, they will get hit by my bag and this worked well and I got through.  I guess be like the locals as much as you can and you don`t have to always be so nice.  I got to my stop and found the hostel and was thrilled.

It was at this moment that I met the hostel owner Robert.  He seemed nice, and soon after, we realized he was a “bitter Bob” and had a speech for everything and an opinion (and he was always right).  Every person I met at the hostel couldn`t stand him and I finally told him off after he said I was “hopeless” after I got robbed the first time and then I couldn`t find my sunglasses (I think they walked off when one of the girls in my room left that day).  He said, “how can you expect to travel the world if you get robbed and then lose your sunglasses?”  He said it once, then again and then said it a third time and then he got it from me.  Total jerk as I explained to him in my 10 years of traveling I have never been robbed, never lost even a sock and am very careful.  But that`s just Robert, and we all laughed at him when we were about as he brought many hours of humor.

So after I got settled, I met Jonathan.  He`s from New Zealand and is traveling and working for the next year.  He had just arrived the night before me and his bag was lost by the airline and he was hoping it would arrive that day, so we decided to go for lunch and out to see part of the city.  We started at a traditional Ukrainian restaurant which is sort of cafeteria style.  You point to the food you want and then they ring you up.  Too bad we had no idea how much it was nor what we were ordering as no one spoke English (best sign of an authentic place).  I ended up having great soup, salad and chicken with potatoes as I could tell what it all was.

Afterwards we headed off to see St. Sophia`s Cathedral (which is the city`s oldest church that was built in 1017-31).  Jonathan and I decided to climb the bell tower (209 stairs) for a view of the city and then head out to see St. Michael`s Monastery.

View of Kiev streets from St. Sophia's Cathedral Bell Tower

View of Kiev streets from St. Sophia’s Cathedral Bell Tower

St. Sophia's Cathedral

St. Sophia’s Cathedral













We then wandered the streets and found independence square, people watched for a while and then climbed back up the hill to find the funicular down to the river.   Jonathan and I just watched the traffic get snarled up for a while.  One car stalled in the middle of the road when cards where crossing all over.  So he got out and then pour bottled water in the hood of this car and eventually started the car.  We were entertained.

We walked by the  “Golden Gate” many times as it was  near our hostel.  It was massive.  It was nothing like the golden gate in San Francisco, but it was an impressive fortress.  The Golden Gate of Kiev is commonly known as “Zoloti Vorata”, which quite literally means ‘golden gate’. This appropriately describes the beautiful entryway that leads into the old city of  Kiev.

The Golden Gate of Kiev.  It was massive including the front gate

The Golden Gate of Kiev. It was massive including the front gate


We even found a “Beer to Go” truck.  Guess this was a real roady beer.

This was beer sold on the street.  Talk about a "Roady"

This was beer sold on the street. Talk about a “Roady”


Back at the hostel, we met Anna and Christopher – both 25 year old Swedes, and we decided to join them for dinner and a table at a pub to watch the big futbol game of the night.  So what do you get when you take an American, New Zealander, 2 Swedes and they all walk into an Irish pub to watch the Russian/Sweden futbol game?  A really fun night!  Sounds like a bad joke with all those countries, but we watched the Swedish team play as poorly as I`ve ever seen any team play and Christopher took it really badly (very sore loser).  This pub was filled with so many Russians and there was a super thick layer of smoke.  We all smelled so bad when we finally left (and I really miss the smoke free bars back home.)

Next day, Jonathan and Morgan and I decided to go out to the Caves Monastery.  On the way there, that`s when I was robbed on the metro (i-Touch) so I left them and went to find an Internet to deal with it.  I later saw them at the Caves as they were just finishing and I was starting.

The Monastery was like a compound….so huge with many cathedrals and gold domed onion tops.  I just loved looking up at them as they glistened in the sun.

Caves Monastery and rose garden

Caves Monastery and rose garden


Caves Monastery

Caves Monastery

The big draw to the Monastery was the labyrinth of underground caves and there are hundreds of mummified monks in glass coffins/cases.  This is the spiritual head of the Ukrainian people and all the visitors were kissing the mummified monks on the cases and praying to them.  Very interesting to see.  As I was finally done there, I met two men that were there on business.  Both work in Israel and were just finishing up work in Kiev.  After talking to them, they were shocked I was traveling on my own, didn`t know how I could get around on my own and I ended up being their tour guides back to the metro (as neither had taken the metro) and I said it was quite an experience, plus the metro we would take (Arsenal`na station) is the deepest in the world at 107 meters deep.  So they followed me back and we had a fun time.

That night, Morgan, Jonathan and I decided to try to find a local restaurant that was recommended and this adventure took us an hour to take 2 metro lines and we wandered the streets trying to find it and when we stopped to ask police as Morgan speaks a little Ukrainian, the police laughed at her (not nice), but finally gave us some help.  If we could read the signs, we would have known this place was across the street from where we got out of the metro.  Oh well, we got some extra walking in.  This dinner turned out to be one of the best as we had out Chicken Kiev plus veggies and a really nice night.

Real Chicken Kiev and the city of Kiev - it was delicious!

Real Chicken Kiev and the city of Kiev – it was delicious!


Final day was Friday.  Morgan, Josh and Anton and I decided to go see the Chornobyl museum and wander the streets some more before we all took night trains to new cities.  Chornobyl was very interesting to learn about the worst disaster in 1984.  It ended up being the Swedes that discovered it as there was radiation 6 times a normal level in the air.  Very moving to learn about how many people died and how the clean up crew was sent in with out any proper cover up and many of them died 3 weeks later.  There was a formal tour of the disaster site and I considered going, but since it was $180, I needed to get security clearance and no one can really say if it`s completely safe, I decided to save my money (and maybe my life) and see the museum instead.  That was enough.

Choronobyl attire

Choronobyl attire


Choronobyl Clean up attire - really no protection at all.  Plus signs

Choronobyl Clean up attire – really no protection at all. Plus signs


At the end of the day, the four of us wanted one last dinner which was great until I was robbed at the restaurant (details in separate entry).  After all that, I just wanted to get out of Kiev and I walked to the train station with Morgan to get a ticket anywhere…but most trains were sold out and I couldn`t get another ticket to Odesa where I wanted to go and I just wanted to leave.  When I got to the international ticket window #9, I was told to go to another hall to buy at #23.  I waited in line there and when I got to the front, I was told to go back to 8 or 9.  When I got to 8, she told me to go to 9 as she sells to foreigners only.  When I got back to 9, she told me no tickets.  That`s when I showed her my notebook saying I was robbed and my ticket was stolen.  She felt bad and told me to come back in 45 minutes at 8pm and she would help me.  I didn`t know why I needed to come back and what she could do if there weren`t any tickets.  At this point, I was so upset, frustrated and felt at the end of my rope and I was very emotional.  I decided to sit and wait for her (until a grandma yelled at me as I guess she was saving that seat for someone).  Not my day…

Anyways, I finally go back and she sells me a ticket to Lviv, Ukraine as I was planning to go there the next week.  I took it and was thrilled.  It was a slower train, I had 2 old, smelly men in my compartment, but I was on a train and had a place to stay in Lviv and was so happy.

I so appreciate all the emails from friends that were concerned about me.  I don`t want say that I would never go back to Kiev as it was a nice city.  Just I had a bad experience with the thieves but it was a nice city beyond that.

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