“Okay, before I head to the airport, have I forgotten anything? I feel like I have…”
Passport? Check. Wallet? Check. Phone, tablet, extra socks? All check. Something was bugging me. What had I forgotten…
…oh, that’s right. Tiananmen Square. I forgot to visit one of the most important sites in Beijing. I mean sure, I saw it from across the road, but does that count? And besides, it was pretty low on my itinerary anyway.
As a parting gift, Chinese border control decided to help me relive their terrible entrance with an equally terrible departure. After several repetitive checks completed by an under-staffed (and perhaps under-skilled) security team, one of my power banks (Made in China) was confiscated whilst the other (Made in Switzerland) was deemed acceptable. I finally made it to my plane, and before I knew it I was in Kyiv!
The Ukrainian immigration process was…well, it was also long, but with a major difference. Firstly, the staff went out their way to be both helpful and helpful. We had to wait for passengers with existing visas to pass through before someone came to meet us, but other than the waiting time the process was painless. I’d even forgotten to print off proof of my accommodation, yet the staff were able to give me access to a printer so that all the boxes were checked. Ukraine 1, China -2.
As soon as I could, I bought a Ukrainian SIM card and went online, finally free of the Great Firewall! Resisting the urge to post “Free Tibet” on every social media account I could remember the password for, I instead checked to make sure my Untappd messages had snuck through successfully (they had) before figuring out how to to get to the city of Kyiv itself.
After a bus to the train station then a cab to my hostel, I was ready to check in. The problem was, I had no ide where said hostel actually was! The building had a sign outside so I knew I was in the right area, but with all of the doorbells being unlabelled I couldn’t buzz reception. I tried calling their listed number – twice – to no answer. I ghosted another occupant of the building to get past the locked, before climbing several flights of stairs asking someone on everyone floor for directions. Carrying my pack. Sans elevator. With no knowledge of the Ukrainian language. Everyone I met tried their best, but nobody knew where the hostel was until I met someone at the very top… who told to open the unlabelled door at ground level. Great start!
After checking in (mostly via sign language), it was time to explore. I decided to first head to the Golden Gate, being both the closest landmark and the location of my nearest metro station. Although the posted hours suggested the museum should be open, everything was closed so I kept walking instead. St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral was only a few blocks away, and was the main church in Kyiv I wanted to see. It’s not considered as iconic as other religious buildings in the city, but it looked to me to be one of the most unique. Upon seeing it in person I was awestruck – completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Inside the church, I overcame my nerves about speaking Ukrainian to check what the policy was on taking photos. After paying a small photography fee and picking my jaw off the floor, I headed out for dinner.
Before researching this trip, the only thing I associated with Kyiv was Chicken Kiev – my favourite meal. Even though it wasn’t really Ukrainian cuisine, I had to have it in the city it was named after. I took the scenic route to a restaurant, all the while wondering if I should have instead applied to live in Ukraine for a year. The mix of Baroque architecture, Eastern Orthodox churches, and street art made the place feel like the hipster child of Athens and Vienna. Dinner was astounding, and even though I’d been given a voucher I ended up leaving a tip bigger than the discount. This restaurant would have been out of my price range in New Zealand, and yet at Ukranian prices it was cheaper than fast food. Kyiv, you’ve won me over in record time.