25 January 2022

Where’s The Chicken?

By admin

So a lifetime ago (last September) I started looking at a possible city break destination. Initial thoughts centred around Poland but then I read somewhere that UK nationals didn’t require a visa to visit Ukraine until the end of January 2022 and that immediately made Kyiv the destination of choice. Flights and hotel were booked. But. It was still a wait of four months. And as we all know a lot can happen at the moment in four days let alone four months. Yet, unbelievably, as the time grew closer the rules around travel actually got easier until the day finally arrived that I found myself at Gatwick Airport awaiting my flight.

After an uneventful flight I was in a new country, one where I not only couldn’t speak the language but I couldn’t read the alphabet even. This was going to be a fun trip! I ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers and headed to the railway station. I love trains and it will always be my preferred way of getting from airport to city centre, even more so here as my hotel was by the station. It’s a very basic station. Very. Just a couple of platforms under a roof. The ticket booth was in darkness and there was no machine. I approached the booth to see if there was any indication of what I should do. The desk drawer snapped open before me! I then realised that there was indeed a woman in there. In the dark. At this point I still didn’t have any cash so I was relying on being able to pay by card. I needn’t have worried as, as I would discover during my time there, cards are accepted everywhere and contactless payment is the norm.

I had my ticket but it transpired that the Airport Express is a very infrequent service and I had nearly an hour to wait. It was cold but the adrenalin was keeping me warm. Now, I’ve done quite a few of these airport rail services in various cities, they are a way to give a good first impression to visitors. And then there is Ukrainian Railways who provide a one car DMU as their introduction… But hey, it was my first rail journey in a new country.

After getting myself sorted out in my hotel it was time to head out and start exploring, beginning, obviously, with a bar. One big difference travelling now from years ago is the ability to tell Google Maps where you want to go and have a choice of routes available instantaneously. Part of me misses the time when you could get yourself lost exploring a city, but given the language barriers here I was very grateful indeed to able to know exactly where I was at all times! It should have taken about 15 minutes to walk to my chosen bar but a combination of adjusting to walking on the snow and ice and the thrill of being somewhere new meant it took me twice as long. I still hadn’t managed to get any cash so it felt really weird walking in to the bar and hoping that I hadn’t had a wasted journey. Luckily I hadn’t. Given that this was primarily a beer trip I’ll cover all of the bars completely in a separate post. So at this point you get to find out that I had a really good evening before retracing my steps back to the hotel for a relatively early night!

The first thing that I did the following morning was take a wander around the immediate area and eventually I found a bank. I tried the cashpoint and it not only accepted my card but also gave me the option for an English menu. The initial cash options all seemed ridiculously low, in my head I was going to take out 3000UAH but it was allowing me to choose 10, 20, 50 or 100! A few options later and it gave me the choice of 2000UAH so I went with that, c£50. I felt happier knowing that I had cash in my wallet, even if I would end up bringing nearly half of it home with me! I was also happier being able to use a cashpoint in a bank as I knew that should I have any problems I could speak to the staff.

So that was my first mission accomplished, next up was to work out the transport system. I went to the nearest Metro station and after a little bit of searching I found some information in English. I decided to go for the Kyiv equivalent of an Oyster Card loaded with 72 hours of travel. By the end of the trip I realised that I had paid way more than I needed to have done! The card itself was 50UAH and would have had to have been bought anyway, even if you just bought a number of single journeys, and it was another 200UAH for unlimited travel for my stay. Single journeys are 8UAH and I probably only ended up making about a dozen of them, so that was £2 wasted. Yep, travel around the city really is that cheap, and I was happier knowing I had all of my trip covered without having to worry about topping up. Now I could really start exploring.

The Metro system here really knows how to do escalators…

So armed with my ticket I set off on my first journey. Following the directions from Google I knew I had to change lines. So far, so good. Except I failed to find the correct tunnel from one line to the other. I told you that I missed the days of getting lost! Instead I left the station and tried to work out an overground route to the next Metro stop. I failed on that too! But in my attempts I did stumble across a memorial church remembering people killed in the independence demonstrations, and then a little bit further on I found myself in Independence Square. Sometimes getting lost isn’t a bad thing.

It was now early afternoon and the bars were open. From where I was it was only a short walk to my first stop of the day and where I spent a couple of hours as the only customer. I was working out a route to my next stop when Google dropped this bombshell – the directions told me to take the Funicular! The Funicular! This city was getting better and better, and there was no way I was going to turn down this opportunity. The initial part of the walk took me past the very impressive St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, and once you walked around the back of it you were at the upper Funicular station.

Once at the bottom I walked to my next bar, the excellent Punkcraft, and got my first views of the mightily impressive Dnieper River, but in all of my time there I wasn’t able to fathom a way across the multi-lane road alongside to actual get a closer look! Next time…

From here I made my way to what would end up being my final bar of the night, and at some point between the two bars, or maybe between the last bar and the hotel, the ice finally got the better of me and down I went. Luckily it was on a quiet street so I didn’t lose my diginity. Much. Over a week later the bruising on my leg is still quite spectacular. I took this as a sign, unsurprisingly, to call it a night.

To be continued…