Sunday, 20 October 2013

 КУРы  В  КИЕВЕ ............................ 

  Because most gadgies had things to do for family or were suffering from colds there was no walk on Friday October 18th. To fill my time in on a wet Saturday evening I have decided to drag up the great Kiev adventure.

Irina Guy, Ukrainian, lovely lady and the best Russian teacher ever (although she did think I was the second naughtiest boy in the class, aged 60 too) decided to organise a trip to Kiev and Yalta for her friends and pupils. So one August day a few years ago, Irina, her  husband David, Dennis and his son Martin, sister Kate, daughter Kate, Georgie, Liz, John, Lesley and myself left that hell on earth called Heathrow and a few hours later found ourselves in Kiev, capital of Ukraine.

We booked in to  the Hotel Russia, Soviet style but comfortable, good rooms, good food, good beer and for some reason a number of heavily made up young women hanging around the lifts. Perhaps they were WAGS, as the football ground was next door.
Historians reckon that Kiev dates back to the end of the fifth century but it was at the end of the tenth century that the city became the political, economic and spiritual centre of Kievan Rus. Today it is a beautiful city filled with Orthodox churches, fine buildings and some bitter history.
  A guide took us round the city, stopping at the University and the Cathedral of St. Michael where she came out with,
"You have probably been wondering what happened to the preserved remains of St. Barbara." A thought that has always been uppermost in my mind! And there she was, inside her coffin in the most ornate cathedral. Founded in 1108 the cathedral was blown up in 1936 no doubt in an anti religious purge. It was rebuilt  at the end of the twentieth century, St. Barbara was restored to her rightful place. When we went in there was a service in progress, many worshippers kissed the glass plate through which we had a glimpse of the sainted lady's mummified head. Not the sort of thing for northern protestants.

                                                St. Michael's Cathedral.

                                                        The golden dome, St. Michaels.
  Another day some of us  found our way by bus to an outdoor museum of Ukrainian Life. Rather like the Beamish Museum of the North, but set in an earlier period it came complete with village, farms and a church. Sadly it was closing day for many of the buildings but we were free to wander round the huge site.

                                                              Cottage interiors
                                                  Village windmills, the Ukraine was the breadbasket
                                                              of Russia
                                                            It's a pigsty
                                                       A gin gan

                                                          The village church.
                                             And some of the old villagers.
Back in the city we had a wander, just to take in the sights of the city. Although there has been considerable rebuilding since the collapse of the Soviet Union there are still several monuments to the glories of communism


                                                    Symbol of unity between Ukraine and Russia

The workers.

And the monument to Ukrainian Independence.

The Golden Gate of Kiev.  Eleventh century, currently being restored.

One of the more depressing monuments in the city is that to the thousands of Soviet citizens killed in Babi Yar* in 1941. It was built in 1976 but the monument to the Jews slaughtered in  the ravine was only built in 1991. There is also a museum dedicated to the accident at Chernobyl nuclear facility which is not that far away. It is possible to take a tour close to the concrete enclosed plant but we opted not to go. Overlooking the river Dnieper is a 102 metre high statue of The Motherland, commemorating the Great Patriotic War of 1941 -45.

To complete our short stay in the city we visited  the Lavra (Monastery) of Kiev Percherskya.  It has several ornate churches but more interesting are the caves, they contain the preserved bodies of some of the monks who lived in the monastery years ago. By candle light we walked through the underground system. Unfortunately I was behind a very large lady who insisted on stopping at each coffin, crossing herself and offering a brief prayer. The passage was too narrow for overtaking!

On a lighter note we  visited the Bessarabian market on Kreshchatik, the main street of the city. Stalls laden with food!
                                                       Puts the Grainger Market to shame.
                                       We drank Kvass, a very mildly alcoholic drink sold in summer
                                       on the streets, made from bread and very refreshing.
                                                 And how we ate.
                                                 Decoration on the metro system. Guess who?

The Dnieper.

And then we caught the train to Yalta.

                                          The interior of Kiev Station. Better than King's Cross!
The overnight journey took about fourteen hours. We travelled in the Russian style compartments; bunk beds for four people, put your jim jams on if you must and bring your own food, although the conductor in our carriage had an almost endless supply of bottled beer which he was only to happy to sell. In our compartment we were in the charge of sister Kate who had decided that cheese would not be suitable for eating as it was so hot and maybe the cheese would go off. Fortunately John and Liz were next door and they had cheese which they happily shared, secretly.

                                                      Kate tries the upper bunk.
I was not impressed with Yalta, like Blackpool with sub-tropical heat. No tower, but unlike Blackpool it has  a range of mountains as a backdrop. And it is in the Crimea, very popular with Russian holidaymakers and near t6he site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in which they wore cardigans and balaclavas. But I did enjoy our stay there; based on the Hotel Bristol where the rooms were comfortable, the food was a mixture of west and east and the TV showed BBC World, but only in the daytime.
Great centre for trips though. Naturally we visited the Livadiya Palace, site of the 1945 conference between Churchill, Rooseveldt and Stalin. I think the palace started life as a summer palace for the Romanovs, after all if you are stuck in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg you need a summer break somewhere and the Alexandra  and Catherine Palaces are such a bore.
Quit a small palace by Romanov standards but interesting as the site of the carve up of Europe.
                                                     The leaders at Yalta

                                  Watched over by the Romanovs, now interred in the
                                      Peter Paul Cathedral in St.Petersburg - possibly.
Churchill did not stay in the palace but commuted daily from the Alupka Palace west of Yalta. Sadly many of the photographs I took have been mysteriously wiped from my computer and are living as pixels somewhere in the cloud no doubt, so this picture of the Alupka is not mine.
                                                      The Alupka Palace, Crimea. Looks a bit Tudor.
Another day of culture found us in Anton Chekov's house in Yalta, sadly interior photographs are among the missing. Anton, according to the lady who gave us a tour, was very fond of roses, planting many, and in her words the one in the picture below may well have known Chekov himself.

                                                              Chekov's Rose

                                              Coming in from The Cherry Orchard for
                                                       tea with Uncle Vanya.
                                              Lesley shows little respect for the great man.
Daughter Kate.
Sister Kate and me

                                                       The Swallow Restaurant

                                                            That man gets everywhere.

                                            Eating again,or getting ready to. Georgie is
                                           timing the service. It was usually good, as was the food.
                        The food in Yalta was fine. The only problem was that if it was on the menu that was exactly what you got. One evening David asked for a steak, without the onions, but it arrived with its garnish "because it is on the menu".
One day Kate asked for a cheese sandwich which was refused because it was not on the menu. We enquired if they had bread and cheese and yes they had but were adamant a sandwich was out of the question because it was not.....................

The Botanical gardens were beautiful, apart from the disgusting toilets and the odd snake but the photos are lost.
After a few days we returned by train to Kiev, this time being permitted cheese which was of course helped down with bottles of beer. Back in Kiev we had the best part of the day in the city before flying home. Some of us decided to pay a visit to the Mikail Bulgakov Museum. The house of the writer of The Master and Margarita turned out, sadly, to be closed because there was no electricity. Come back this afternoon, Too late, going home.
                                               Close to the Bulgakov Museum. There was a great street market too where I bought a red T shirt printed with the Soviet Anthem, and a box of Christmas decorations.
And that was that, we flew home to London and on to Newcastle after a great ten days.

* Read "Babi Yar" by Anatoli Kutzenov and never complain again

I once had the cheek to send a blog (Le Gadgie Grande) to the Travel pages of The Sunday Times. The editor wrote me a nice letter  saying it was very interesting but that her readers were really interested in the stories of well known people. That's the trouble with newspapers, even the heavies, they must have their quota of celebrity tittle tattle. And don't get me started on the columnists.