Wednesday, August 13, 2008

UA - Kyiv

Another slow morning as I remained in bed while the apartment moved about. When I awoke, most of the apartment was at work, and Svitlana was just returning from picking up Anastasia. We lounged about much of the day, finally mobilizing ourselves about 14:00 to get ourselves moving. I was eventually the first to budge.

During the downtime at the apartment, I learned that Russia is the gift that keeps on giving. One of the documents I received when registering my visa was supposed to remain with Anastasia. Instead, when I handed everything I had to the passport control agent at St. Petersburg’s airport (including the train ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg – I didn’t even know it was a train ticket; I thought it was part of my visa registration), I also handed over this piece of paper that was supposed to be in the hands of Anastasia. All I got back was my passport. Today I learned that Anastasia was supposed to return that little piece of paper or else pay a fine… so I guess I’ll get to pay a fine eventually. Woo hoo! This reinforces what is perhaps Russia’s greatest hurdle with regards to tourism: itself.

I budged first, leaving to take the Metro to the Caves Monastery. I had been there the day before but arrived to late to see the caves. This time I wouldn’t make that same mistake. I arrived on the grounds at about 15:00 and immediately made my way to the caves. First the nearer; than the farther. However, when I first attempted to enter the monastery by way of the upper lavra (upper level), I was a bit surprised when some babushkas at the gate asked me for a ticket.

I thought I had seen the ticket-collectors there yesterday, which is why I very slowly entered then – anticipating that someone would stop me, but no one did. Today, I was halted & they directed me to the kasa – ticket office. However, thanks to yesterday’s trek, I also knew that I had not seen any ticket collectors at all at the entrance to the lower lavra. Also, I was quite sure that area wasn’t billeted because the caves are a pilgrimage site, and it’s unethical to charge for pilgrimages. Through the lower lavra I went without any hassle.

They were much smaller than I expected & it was easy to navigate, mostly because I suspect the majority of passageways were closed to general tourism. I considered making an attempt at the prayer-only areas, but decided that I didn’t have enough time – I only had an hour before I had to meet the girls at another part of the monastery.

Within the caves, the ceilings were at the perfect height that I generally didn’t have to duck – apart, perhaps, from a couple portalways and at a couple steps. The glass-enclosed bodies of the church’s founders & other dignitaries were mostly covered, apart from the protruding hand or toe here and there. Beside each body was a sign with the person’s name as well as a painting of what they looked like in life. It was neat to look at those paintings and think that their remains are just inches away, hidden only by expensive fabrics.

My phone’s alarm rang just as I was leaving the second set of caves. I made my way to the upper lavra directly from the lower, passing by a ticketing office. Just as on the previous day, however, there were no ticket-collectors here. I just walked past the queues at the office and through the gate opening several meters to the side – no one even tried to stop me. Up and around I went, to the park in front of the Museum of Microminiature.

I arrived about three minutes before our meeting time of 16:00, as the bells sounded not long after my arrival. I checked the museum but didn’t see the girls, so I had a seat on the bench. After about half an hour of relaxing about in the shade, I decided to go in and see the museum before it closed at 17:00. The museum is a collection of works by Russian artist N. Siadristy. He is renowned for creating absolutely tiny creations which were really quite neat to see under the microscopes.

The girls arrived as I was about halfway through the small museum, and together we departed right about 17:00. We made our way toward Rodina Mat – a large metal statue that is tough to miss – located at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II). While we didn’t go into the museum, I did lose the girls for several minutes as we passed by a whole bunch of military machinery. Like a kid in a candy store, first my head turned; then my body turned; and before I knew it, I was staring at machinery & had completely lost the girls.

We found each other perhaps 10 minutes later just in front of Rodina Mat, and proceeded to send the next 20 minutes or so laying in the statue’s shadow. When the sun had shifted far enough such that we were now in the blazing sun, we got ourselves up and departed back toward the Metro station & on to the apartment.

That evening we caught an overnight train to Lviv. This train was a marked improvement over our previous overnight train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, as this time around we had our own cabin for four – arranged with two on each side, and one above the other (bunk beds). We lucked out even further in that the fourth bed remained unused the entire trip. The train cars were brand new – they even smelled new.

Upon boarding, I immediately made my way into the hallway to take advantage of the open windows. The temperature within the train was excruciating, so I tried to get as much fresh, cool air as I could – even better when we started to roll out of the station. The man from our adjacent cabin overheard me talking to the girls, leading him to strike up conversation and ask where I was from.

He asked in perfect English, so I didn’t pull my “Ireland” response and instead went ahead with “America; yourself?” Turns out: another Philadelphian. Well, Bucks County to be more precise; but still more than familiar with the city. His family (himself included) are native Ukrainians – he emigrated to America back when he was 9 years old, during the Cold War. I’d place his age at not too much older than I – perhaps upper 20’s or lower 30’s. His children were both born in America, but where tagging along to experience their heritage.

It was fun talking to him, but perhaps 10 minutes after departing from the station: a conductor came by and shut all the windows. It turns out the AC had been on since we left, so when I walked back into the cabin: it was like entering a refrigerator – it felt wonderful. I slept rather soundly, though I recall pulling the blanket over me in the middle of the night (when fridge turned to freezer) and discovered that it was a rather itchy blanket which made me sneeze… but I found a happy medium between too much and too little blanket.

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