Saturday 14 April 2018

Alone in Kyiv!

One thing I forgot to mention in the previous post is that I was in Ukraine during Orthodox Easter, so it was a holiday weekend. Many trains were fully booked and Marta hadn't booked a return rail ticket because her preferred train at 6pm was full. After we returned from the Residence (this was Friday 6th), she rang a friend in her town and he agreed to come and pick her up. So we both took the Metro to the end of the line, Lisova in an easterly direction, where they had arranged their rendezvous. By chance, he was passing but unable to park as we came out of the Metro station. So we bade a hasty farewell at 6.30pm and I took a train back to the centre. 
I had been in two minds whether to go directly back to the hotel or go to a concert in The National House of Organ and Chamber Music. It is a large Gothic style church with an organ at the east end. As I passed Maiden station, I realised that the timing was perfect to go the the concert, so I jumped off the train and took another metro to Olympiyska. I took a 20 minute walk to the station. I told Marta previously that I might go to the concert but, when I arrived at the church and bought my ticket, the battery in my Ukrainian phone was flat and I was unable to tell her of my plans. That was a great shame because she was expecting me to go directly back to the hotel and was anxious that something had happened to me. But I knew that the duration of the concert would be 90 minutes and calculated that I would be back at the hotel by 9.30pm. I was then able to contact her, by which time she had arrived back home.
The concert comprised a number of Bach organ pieces and the main item, the Pergolesi Stabat Mater which uses two female singers, one soprano and one contralto. The orchestra of two violins, viola, bass and harpsichord was, I think, their resident backing group. The keyboard player was a young girl but the others were older men, I assume retired. The two violins were not always in tune with each other when playing unison, which rather spoilt the effect. The two singers were excellent. A young man in evening dress came on to announce each piece. The organist was a rather large woman. Forgive my mentioning it but it was very difficult to avoid! She played the Bach Tocata and Fugue in D minor faultlessly.

Saturday was a day at leisure, as the travel brochures describe it. Marina was due to arrive at 6pm so I was free all day. The weather every single day was superb so I paid for a late checkout at the Ibis Hotel and took the Metro into the centre, this time getting off at Arsenalena which is one stop beyond Maiden. Then I took a walk down to Mariinskiy Park which overlooks the river. I visited briefly the places that I planned to visit with Marina. I had lunch in my favourite restaurant which Marta introduced me to - Kamoucha, it has a 50s theme and a colour scheme which I remember is called Gingham. Their theme is a red and white check fabric.
I went back to the Ibis Hotel, checked out at 5pm and walked down to the central station to meet Marina. For reasons of economy, we were staying in Hotel Florida which is a little out of town, near to Nyvki Metro. Although it was cheaper than the Ibis, the standard was excellent. We took a taxi to the hotel and had a meal in the evening.
On Easter Sunday, we went to a blessing outside a church at Kontrakto Plosohova which is a large square slightly to the north of Maiden. We then retraced the route I had taken the previous day. All these photos were taken in The National Culture and History Centre overlooking the river.

The Easter custom is for people to bring bread and painted eggs to be blessed. Expect to get wet if you go to one of these ceremonies!

This is a refectory and beyond, you can see a church attached.

We went shopping in Ocean Plaza. Not exactly accurate as we didn't buy anything! I have bought lots of clothes recently, so there was nothing I needed. We returned to the hotel by Metro and then a bus. But once or twice, I walked between the Metro and the hotel, it was only about 20 minutes.
The original plan for Monday was for us to stay in Kyiv all the time untill I came back to Spain on Wednesday 11th but Marta suggested I visit her in Nizhyn on Monday which was a holiday. For a while I thought about leaving Marina in Kyiv but instead the plan was for us both to go to Nyzhin. I suggested an early train but, at that point I left home for Kyiv and decided to book trains later. Unfortunately, by the time we decided when to travel, the trains were fully booked. It didn't help that I read "09.00pm" as "09.00" online - I thought we had plenty of time to buy tickets. So neither of us went to Nizhyn and instead I took Marina to Mezhyhirya Residence because she wanted to visit it too. The weather was still magnificent. We took the Metro to Herovi Dnipra and a small mini-bus was waiting. This time, we paid less but the driver waited till the seats were filled. This was no great hardship as I went to get a coffee.

 We traced the same route on bikes as I had taken with Marta but in the reverse direction!

We stayed till about 5pm and then took a car back to the Metro, this time I paid a little extra (the same as I had paid with Marta) in order to save us waiting for more passengers. There were very many visitors, it being a bank holiday Monday but because the site is so huge, they were soon scattered around the park. We waited an age to get some food when we were down by the river. The small kiosk was not really up to the task.
Next day, Tuesday, was a slight anti-climax. Marina had a cold and we didn't go to the centre till around lunch time, so that gave us very little time to walk around before having to return to the hotel to check out. Marina's train was at 6pm and we left the hotel in plenty of time at 4.30pm. I saw her onto her train and then took the Skybus to the airport. As the bus was leaving the centre the road passes by the railway and, at 6.10pm Marina's train passed by!
The rest of my journey was routine! The Skybus drops off passengers at International Departures on the top level (of 3) and that is where Ligena Hotel picks up its guests, so there was no need to enter the airport. I rang the hotel, their min-bus arrived after 15 minutes and very soon, I was having a beer in the restaurant. For some reason, I slept badly but I managed to catch up on the plane. The hotel took me to the airport at 7.30am and I took the regular Barcelona flight at 9.55. 
And now, I will not be travelling much for the next few months. I like to travel to France but the strikes on SNCF will make that difficult. I can travel to France with my passport copy but I can't fly anywhere for 4 weeks until I get my new passport.

Friday 13 April 2018

Lots to tell you!

In Kyiv
This morning I carefully placed my passport in an envelope and posted it to the Passport Office in the UK! So I will not be travelling for a month, at least outside Europe. That is the time that I have to wait for my new passport to arrive. The current version expires on 10th September so this is a good time to renew it because I don't normally go outside Europe during the summer. Why should I? It it is perfect.
I just got back from Ukraine but I didn't write about it until now because it is much easier writing on my computer at home and not on a laptop in a hotel room!

In my last post I wrote about difficulties with my two social groups in Girona. I tried to find solutions but that was not possible. So Girona Social Meetup has a new Organiser, I am not a member, and Girona Grapevine... well they just turn up! I was rather upset by one guy who suggested that I maintained the Girona Grapevine website for my own pleasure, to feel important! Within about 2 minutes, it was no more. I have other things with which to occupy myself. My annoyance lasted for a very short time!

I have two friends in Ukraine: Both are around 30 years of age. I am sure I have said before, it is a huge pleasure having young female friends but of course, there is no physical relationship. Hey, I am 74. But my mental age has no age. I know that "Kyiv" is spelt "Kiev" sometimes but it is simply a transliteration of the Cyrillic, київ. The use of Ukrainian is more common in Kyiv, Marina in the east speaks Russian. Marta uses Ukrainian. But both of them speak both languages.

I decided to base myself in Kyiv and not go to Kharkiv this time. That way, I could see both my friends. I arrived last Wednesday in the evening, booked into the Ibis Hotel near to the railway station and relaxed with a beer. There is an airport bus, Skybus, which takes 40 minutes from the airport to the station and then there is a 20 minute walk to the hotel.

Marta arrived by train next day at mid-day and we spent the afternoon in a small tour bus. It was great to see her again! Last year we went to Lviv together and we are very relaxed with each other. She checked into the Ibis Hotel and we had a meal together in the restaurant. She felt rather uncomfortable because the restaurant was almost empty and two of the waitresses were simply standing near by watching us. Too attentive! Naturally, people sometimes assume that the relationship is about something more than friendship! But I think she simply didn't like being watched. I was facing in the opposite direction so I was not subject to their gaze.

Next day Marta looked up excursions to Mezhyhirya Residence which is where the previous president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych lived in stupendous luxury. After the protests and violence in Feburary 2014 centred in Maiden Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), he fled to Moscow, Petro Porochenko became President and Ukraine turned more towards Europe and away from Russia. How is it possible to write in one paragraph what happened four years ago? The police fired on the protesters and almost 100 people died. It is impossible to visit the square without thinking about those events. Photos of those who died are posted on the hill above Maiden. The paths around the square still have many paving blocks missing as a reminder that these were used as missiles. The building which was burnt down is still covered with a huge fabric screen with a message of freedom, an image of chains broken. I am sure I have a photo from a previous visit - I will look for it later.

After breakfast on Friday, Marta was searching the internet on her phone. She reckoned that we needed to take the Metro to the end of the line to the north of Kyiv, Heroiv Dnipra, and then there would be transport waiting to take us to the residence. And she was right! Dnipro is the river of Kyiv, more about that later. We took a very comfortable car with only the two of us in the back seat, the journey was about 20 minutes.

The estate is enormous and we hired bikes. I've added lots of photos here which I hope you enjoy looking at.

The whole time I was in Ukraine, the weather was superb! Blue sky every day, a big high-pressure area sitting above me! I was expecting it to be cold but, in fact, the weather was better than in Barcelona. 

These first two photos are when we visited Maiden Nezalezhnosti after the bus trip.

I know it looks like the sea, but this is looking north up the Dnipro River. In parts it is very wide.

I bet they had some great parties here! I can just imagine the large black limousines with tinted windows parked up by the river.