Kiev and not one chicken Kiev.
12.06.2011 - 14.06.2011 30 °C
Whilst in Krakow we started to panic as we had not booked our ticket to Moscow. Time was ticking and we had to be there for Tuesday the 14th to catch our trans Siberian train which left on the Tuesday night. Now we arrive in Kiev Monday morning and the options were, try and get a ticket at the station in Kiev, a gamble as we read that the train quickly sells out in advance. Forget about going to Kiev and take the train up to Warsaw and then a connecting train or bus through the Baltic countries and into St Petersburg and down to Moscow. A long way but a more popular way to get there, or cheat and fly into Moscow, not my first choice as there's not enough milk in the world that could get me onto a plane. (A-Team reference.)
So Kiev it was. We paid an extra 20 pounds and got a sleeper compartment, which felt like first class. The porter with his little red waistcoat and red hat, ushered us on to a three bed room with it's own sink, complementary treats and a man by the name of Michael. A Ukrainian man that seemed rather displeased to be sharing with two ignorant tourists. We had stocked up for the journey, but felt like we needed some more bread, Sarah headed off with 10 zloty to get some. 10 minutes later she returned back with what she thought was a bread roll, but turned out to be a block of salty cheese. It was very tasty though.
The train rolled off into the night, somehow the rocking of the train has started to become quite soothing to the both of us and aides our sleep. Although we felt we were cheating slightly by traveling in a better class it was nice to have a little more comfort and not spend the night crammed into a claustrophobic aisle. We were both a little fearful of entering the Ukraine, based on horror stories that from friends and family and reports from other travelers. We awoke the following morning feeling hot and humid from the early morning sun as we pulled into the main train station in Kiev. The station was packed full of Ukrainians heading off on holiday and was an ordeal to pass through. We headed straight to the ticket office and I presented my Cyrillic translation asking for a ticket to Moscow the ticket lady found it rather amusing but understood clearly what we were wanting and presented us with two tickets to Moscow for eighty pounds each. Feeling very relieved we walked out of the station heading towards our hostel. Outside the station, first impressions of the Ukraine were that it was going to be a country that we were going to have to be careful in. On the surface it felt rather unsafe but with the heavy presence of police and armed soldiers all around I doubt very much that there is all that much trouble. Following the directions that we got from the hostel website we felt confident in our ability to find the location. So heading out of the station we immediately felt glad to only have forty liter backpacks as the sweat was quickly pouring of us from the blistering heat of the sun. Approaching the first street we realized it wasn't going to be as easy as we anticipated, as Ukrainian street signs are written in Cyrillic which didn't match our instructions. We decided just to walk off aimlessly anyway hoping we'd come across a street map or a sign that would lead us to our destination. However forty five minutes late we realized that we were lost in the heart of Kiev. By this time Sarah was becoming rather agitated and worried at the prospect of not knowing where we were going. By a stroke of luck we came across a monument which was written in the instructions and from there with the aide of Divine Intervention we found our hostel which was not highlighted by any sign.
The hostel seemed to be run by a young girl who was very enthusiastic and helpful, highlighting all the attractions and sights of Kiev on the free map she gave us. Once we'd freshened up we headed out in search of some traditional Ukrainian food however after walking around for some time we ended up going into a cafe with an English menu! Sarah got a vegetarian pizza which came with brussel sprouts cauliflowers mushrooms and tomatoes all of which she picked off. Myself, I had gloopy spaghetti with no sauce and bits of tin in it. Tasty.
Walking around Kiev took us both by surprise every corner you turn you're presented with a beautifully ornate buildings or a golden domed churches with hordes of babushkas outside blessing themselves and cleaning up any litter on the street. Markets in Kiev have quite an array of contraband, you're able to buy plenty of Soviet artifacts from Lenin statues to huge Soviet flags. Also in the markets you can buy lots or war memorabilia from gun holsters, war uniforms, medals and even a cosmonaut helmet! Best just not to ask where these items come from. It's amazing how the inner tourist comes out when given the opportunity to buy things that you would normally only see in a museum however being tight-fisted Scots we resisted the temptation.
We both agreed after being fearful of the Ukraine that we wished we'd spent more time getting to know the city and the people but we had to continue our journey on to Moscow.
Our Moscow train was a huge Soviet piece of steel which would of have had Thomas the Tank Engine piss his pants. There was a bit of confusion with our cabin numbers as we didn't memorize our cabin number. The train porter had taken our tickets off of us. At this point a large Russian man complete with shell suit and gold medallion took over and got us seated, it turned out that we were sharing with this gentlemen along with an older sharply dressed Argentinian who every now and again jotted notes in his journal. Leaving Ukraine we first have to go through the Ukrainian border control police along with with their German shepard's and less intimidating beagle. The guards have you feeling feeling guilty of a crime you haven't committed and from the look on Sarah's face I'm surprised they didn't cuff her and take her away! Next we had to face the Russian border control, notoriously known as the most feared of all the border control police with their complicated bureaucracy. However after a quick check of our passports and a stamp of our migration cards we were through. And so begins our Russian odyssey.