Kiev has a strange below ground collection of shops. Certain subways are populated by a variety of shops and cafes, never seeing the light of day.
There is a strong presence of sex tourism in Kiev, more than I have seen anywhere else. Strip clubs are common and Tinder was extremely active. It doesn’t feel sleazy so much as that there is a deep power imbalance between the Ukraine and the outside world.
The city has a strange character. Deeply religious with a number of well attended churches, old and incredible architecture vies with a a number of bland modern options and scattered throughout are futurist brutalist structures of incredible strangeness.
There are a great deal of museums and spaces, but they are heavily focused on wartime periods rather than the more technology or naturalism you find elsewhere.
Kiev was perhaps the most alien of all the cities I have done on this tour
My journey to Kiev was a strange one. I took the train after work having had some food in town and spent a few hours on the train to Copenhagen Airport. It was a bit of a remembrance of Oslo, the only other 12 Cities challenge where I’ve spent time travelling by train. This time I was drinking, so tracked down the buffet cart, which was unable to move through the train due to the various hight differences in the train carriages. I bought two cans of Heineken and watched some TV on my phone.
The seats on Swedish trains are a good size and have power above them so they make for a convenient way to travel. Considering the size and emptiness of the city, that is perhaps not a surprise.
When I arrived at the airport, there was no queue at all as it was almost midnight and so I breezed through customers and found myself in an almost empty airport where all the shops and restaurants were closed. I knew I should find somewhere to sleep, but I was still quite awake from the travel and checkin and so i managed to find the Mikkele bar that was still open run by a cheerful androgynous character who recommended a few beers for my to try.
At about 1am i decided enough was enough and headed into the transfer area where I’d previously seen a decent length set of chairs that didn’t have arm rests ever two seats like many of the others had. I settled into this space with my rucksack as a pillow and managed to get a few hours sleep before my alarm let me know it was time to find my gate.
A few of the coffee places were beginning to open at 4am when i started walking to my gate, but I decided to avoid the caffeine so I could sleep on the flight as well. I bordered, slumped into the window seat and have no recollection taxiing or taking off, just of landing in Kiev.
The queue for passport control was long, and I didn’t help that I was in the wrong queue for a while, waiting in the transfer line. I ducked under the ropes and joined the correct set of people waiting. There were a lot of desks open, but like US customs it isn’t fast to get through as they do a fairly detailed check. There was a fingerprint scanner, but I want asked to use it.
Having got through customs, the bus to town was waiting right outside. It was cheap, and pretty decent and the drive took me through a city suburb that reminded me a great deal of Lagos in Nigeria. Lots of concrete buildings, a strong sun and improvised markets and stalls scattering the roadways. In pockets around the city there were identical tall residential tower blocks giving a strange sense of looking at a video game where someones just pasted in the same housing in rows.
The bus station we stopped at was a fair walk from where my hotel was based, but I like to walk and explore so rather than taking the train as Google suggested, I started walking. There wasn’t much excitement, and by the time i got to the Hilton hotel, i decided i wanted a break and a beer and so stopped. I was also given some complimentary savory snacks, I’m unsure what they are, but they were vibrant in colour and varied in flavour.
It took another while before I was getting close to my first intended stop of the day, the Natural History museum and so I stopped for lunch at INK, a nice, fairly upmarket restaurant in the middle of a shopping mall. It was fairly late in the day for lunch by this point and so the venue was empty except one other table. An older foreign man meeting a young girl for lunch with a chaperone. He’d brought a bunch of roses half as tall as she was. It was a clear ‘mail order bride’ situation and uncomfortable to watch. It was my first warning that the Ukraine had a dark relationship with sex tourism.
The Natural History museum was across the road from where I ate, and after taking the wrong door into the building, I paid the entrance fee and explored. Set over four floors, each one is primarily a long corridor lined with glass cases with a side room or two. Its not the most impressive of venues and certainly compared to Belgrades Roman treasures it is disappointing.
I then took an Uber to my hotel, a tall Brutalist, Futurist building that you’d only see in the former Soviet Union. The base is square, but the hotel itself is a circular structure, there are no stairs but rather a spiral ramp between floors. each room is almost a wedge shape with windows overlooking more than you’d expect.
My intent was to drop my clothes off and anything else I didn’t need and head back out to see more of the city. I sat down on the edge of the bed and work up at 11pm having been overwhelmed by the travel. I read a book for an hour or so before going back to sleep to get a decent start in the morning.
Considering I went to sleep at 5pm, I was up early and ready to go. I stopped for a coffee in the hotel cafe as I was exploring before any of the museums were open!
I crossed the road to the park near my hotel and walked through to the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, a tall obelisk on a circular stand with a view over the river.
Following that, I walked down to the Holdomor Genocide museum, housed in the space below a tall monument. There were three famines, inflicted on the Ukraine that resulted in a significant death toll. The museum is small, and circular. The walls have artwork and projected films, and the centre is full of machinery and farm equipment. It is completely silent in the museum.
I then headed to Uspensʹkyy Sobor Upts Mp, a series of monastic buildings which had been repurposed into museums and cultural spaces. Outside were a small number of artistic statues and a disappointing view point. There are also a two large churches, with gold domes dominating the space. Old women sat outside begging for money and crossing themselves regularly.
I went through the Ukrainian Treasure Museum, housing a wide collection of gold jewelry and treasures from Kiev's history. Some were truly ancient.
I also found the Museum of Theatre, music and cinema, where I was given the tour by four old women who didn’t speak English but did point to the English translation on each wall. As I walked through the space, they turned off the lights behind me so the electricity wants wasted as I was the only guest in the museum at that time. The whole place is well set out, and despite the name it is much more focused on theatre than Cinema or music, though there is a good room full of traditional instruments under the title of Animate Strings of the Ukraine. There are playbills, costumes and props all lovingly cared for. I also learned about Serf theatre, where novels owned the players as well as the sets and stage and would sell actors to each other. The phrase used was ‘traded like cattle’. The museum ends with an avant Gard display and film. Really quite interesting and very different. Single concepts animated to explain their ideas.
There are priests everywhere in Kiev, particularly around the mosaic square, but men in black cassock are easily found and are often leading a group of people around. Its a strange sight to see coming from the UK or Sweden where religious figures are rare outside of scandals in newspapers.
I stopped at this point for lunch at the Cupola cafe and had the mandatory Chicken Kiev and spent a bit of time catching Pokemon for Community Day. I then headed further south to another park to see the Eternal Flame, a large bowl with an everlasting flame. Almost opposite it is the Motherland Monument, a huge silver statue of a woman with a sword looking out over the city. In the base is a museum of of the Ukrainian State of the Great Patriotic War, a title that shows heavily the Ukraine’s soviet history. It is primarily focused on WWII history and and has a huge huge number of items from various conflicts. Perhaps the most powerful is a long table set on one side with normal cutlery and crockery and on the other with the items a soldier would carry with them, canteens, field rations and a tin cup. Called ‘Peace and War’.
Both Art Museums in the park were closed for refurbishment.
I then jumped into an Uber and headed to the National Art Museum. Which was closed for refurbishment. So I stopped at the Monument to Vladcheslav Chomvil before walking around to the Founders of Kiev Monument. It is set in one of the cities main squares and I was plagued with people trying to sell me a bracket or two. There is also the Independence Monument next to it, tall, golden and central with the Independence Square around it.
I stopped at this point for a beer and to listen to some live museum playing on the closed off street. It never really kicked off at the time unfortunately.
I then headed down the road to have dinner at Mufasa, an Uzbek restaurant with the women in traditional outfits and the men dressed as modern waiters. Its a common theme I’ve seen before. The food was good, plain but wholesome and the wine was lovely.
I then headed back to the hotel, deciding to walk the whole way, and passed a street dancing event near where I had been listening to live music earlier in the day. One old man was very into the event and was rocking out hard.
Back at the hotel, I walked unto what I assumed was the hotel bar and found out, due to the naked woman on stage, that it was both the bar and strip club. I went back outside and got some wine from the restaurant instead. Having had a few glasses of wine, I decided perhaps a strip club wants such a bad place to be and wandered back in, but at this point they wanted an entrance fee, so I left again and went back to my room. Having a beer or two from the minibar lead me to realised the entrance fee was not that high and perhaps was worth paying. I headed back down to the bar and paid to enter, having a limited amount of cash on me. I was the only patron at this time and once I’d paid for a beer, I got lap dances from two different acts rather than them performing on stage. Both ended up taking a tip, but the prices in Kiev are generally so low that it was still a cheap evening.
My last day in Kiev was, unsurprisingly, a late start. I took an Uber down to St Andrews Church in the north of the city, and then followed the pedestrian street along as the stall keepers setup their wares. Mostly 2nd hand goods with a number of wartime items like gas masks for the tourists. I went along and paused at Richard the Lionheart’s Castle, where he was imprisoned leading to Robert of Loxley taking up his longbow in the forests of Nottingham. It has been deeply modernised and barely looks like castle any more, but more like an apartment block.
I stopped in the Brovarnia microbrewery for a pint which faced the Lionheart castle before heading to the National Museum of the History of the Ukraine. It was a good museum over several floors with a great deal of the history on display. Much like the Natural History Museum, everything was stored in glass cases.
I then headed back down the hill to see St. Michaels church, much like many of the others it is a traditional Eastern orthodox with gold domes and whitewashed walls. I walked further to the Princess Olga Monument and its neighbour the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument. Which faces the impressive St. Sophia’s Cathedral. I didn’t have time to go into the Cathedral, but its a major landmark in the city.
I headed back to Independence square and stopped for a fairly mediocre pizza and a really really good dark beer at Chateau Robert Doms. Once I was refuled, I walked to the river to see the Friendship of Nations Arch. At the top of a small hill, it is a huge metal arc under which a statue and a carnival stand. The Arc is impressive and with the light it was a lovely view. Its also a regular hang out space for the locals, a busy crowd of people were around in the cafes, the rides or just hanging out on the rocks.
I had a little time remaining, so stopped into a nearby hotel for a beer and found once again that every hotel in Kiev seems to have a strip club as part of it. Avoiding the club I drank my beer whilst waiting for my Uber to the airport to arrive.
Checking was easy and the airport is small, so I found a cafe and had a very bland Salmon pasta and a red wine in a paper cup from another coffee shop. Not a memorable experience. At least not in a good way.
I slept the entire journey back to Copenhagen. We landed at about 11pm, and I took the train to Malmo, where I’d booked a hotel room right by central station. 1 stop away from Malmo central, the train I was on stopped and we were told due to animals on the track we’d be better off walking as the driver had no idea how much longer they would be. I decided I’d rather Uber than walk and was apparently the only customer the driver had ever had that met him at the correct place by the station rather than expecting him to drive up a pedestrian area.
My hotel was basic, and the room was small. The Bed touched three of the four walls, but it was reasonably priced, two minutes away from the station and clean. Everything you need. I checked in, and about five hours later checked out with the same receptionist before getting on the 6am train to Gothenburg where I again went straight to sleep.
By the time I got to work, I was actually feeling quite well rested.