Monday, September 7, 2009

Kiev, Ukraine

Since Americans recently did not require visas to visit Ukraine, I decided to visit another former Soviet republic. As it turns out often, the journey itself is more interesting than the destination.

I decided to take at 17.5-hour train ride from Chisinau to Kiev because of two reasons. First, there are several bus stations in Chisinau, making it confusing to know which one to depart from. Second, this train did not pass through Transdniester, the “independent” part of Moldova in the east. I had heard that the border guards there harass travelers and thus was keen to bypass that area.

On the train (which was 45 minutes late), we waited 3 hours at the border. One reason explaining the slowness of Ukrainian trains are the long (up to 20 minutes) pauses whenever it arrives at a station. However, that did not matter too much as even the cheapest class, platzkarnty had fold-down beds, complete with pillows, sheets and blankets.

One intriguing aspect of Ukrainian life that I observed several times on the train are the sellers who get on the train and sell all types of goods. Examples include food, magazines and sweets. Furthermore, the Moldovan woman who slept on the bed next to mine offered me an egg and some chicken. Do they share food only in developing countries? I don’t think this would have occurred in the West.

Kiev itself is full of Orthodox churches and monasteries in various colors and shades. Examples include St Sofia Cathedral, St Michael’s Monastery and St Andrew’s Church. The city also has few English speakers and all signs are in Cyrillic, making this one of my toughest destinations.

One interesting part of the city is the metro, with its long escalator to reach the platforms and its Soviet-style d├ęcor.

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