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Tuesday, 4 September:  It was an early morning as we got up at 4:45AM so that we could check-out and leave the hotel in time to catch a 6:19AM bus to the airport.  As it turned out, we were a bit ahead of schedule and we checked out of the Holiday Inn at 5:45AM.  The reception desk had arranged for us to have a “breakfast box” to go which was really thoughtful!  After paying our bill, we added the two boxes to our luggage and we were off.

We walked to the bus stop and arrived early – just in time to catch the 5:59AM bus to the airport.  We rode it to the final stop (the airport) and arrived there just before 6:30AM.  AirBaltic check-in began at 6:30AM so we were first in the queue to drop off our luggage.  We then enjoyed part of the contents of our breakfast box – water, juice, yogurt, a ham & cheese sandwich and a muffin – before going through security where we knew liquid items would be confiscated. 

At 8:20AM our flight left for Riga.  Once we arrived there, we had to wait for several hours for our connection to Kiev.  So, we finished our remaining breakfast items, worked on the computer, etc. until boarding our 12:20PM flight to Kiev.

We arrived at the Kiev Airport as scheduled at 2:10PM.  We had previously arranged to have a driver from the InterContinental Hotel transfer us into town.  However, after waiting 30 minutes, no one arrived.  So, Ed stayed near the arrival area while Lindy went to see if she could get assistance in calling the hotel from staff at the information center.  Unfortunately, no luck there and the airport had no pay phones.  When Lindy retuned to the arrival area, Ed was there but still no driver and it was now about 45 minutes after our arrival.  We then decided we should hire a taxi at a nearby booth that had some signs posted in English.  The clerk was very nice (with limited English skills) and she was willing to first dial the InterContinental and then hand the phone over to us.  After explaining to the individual who answered what had happened, we were transferred to the concierge and immediately went into voice mail.  Talk about frustration!  So, after a leaving a message questioning what was going on and explaining our disappointment, we finally went to an ATM (we actually tried several before we had any success) and withdrew cash to pay for the taxi. 

Thankfully, the taxi ride was a positive experience.  The taxi company basically subcontracts with individuals owning a presentable car.  Our driver, who told us to call him either Alexander or Sasha, spoke some English and pointed out a few sites as we drove from the airport into town. 

Once at the InterContinental we checked into the hotel and we were upgraded to a Deluxe Room thanks to Ed’s Platinum status with the IHG Hotel group.  After that occurred, we politely expressed our extreme disappointment in not having a car waiting as promised and asked for some type of explanation.  We were assured the concierge would be in touch with us in our room.  Well, we settled in and it was now about 4:15PM.  At 5:00PM, we decided we had waited long enough because we wanted to walk to a local market to buy some picnic items (as well as some Ukrainian Vodka) for the evening.  So,  as we were leaving we once again stopped by the Front Desk, this time to express our displeasure in more stern terms – both that we had not been met at the airport and that no one from the Concierge had contacted us.  Kateryna (the Concierge),  came out immediately to offer her sincere apologies and she explained that she had just sent an apology note and a basket of goodies to our room.  She also then offered to have the InterContinental’s car take us back to the airport on a complimentary basis.  Both were wonderful gestures and we accepted her gracious offer of the return transport.  We then took a long walk (it seemed longer coming back since the InterContinental sits on a hill opposite St. Michael’s Square) to an upscale market, Furshet.  We founds lots of interesting items as well as the Vodka (an excellent 80 proof bottle costing ~$8.60USD per liter; what a deal!). 

When we returned to our room, we did find the basket that Kateryna said had been sent up to our room.  It was indeed very, very nice.  We then enjoyed some of the items in our complimentary mini-bar before enjoying some of the items we purchased at Furshet.

Wednesday, 5 September:  The InterContinental is ideally situated for viewing three major landmarks in Kiev – St. Michael’s Cathedral (or the Gold Dome Church), St. Sophia’s and St. Andrew’s.  However, to do more than just look at these beautiful buildings and/or unless you know the Cyrillic alphabet, read Russian or read Ukrainian, you need a tour.  And, we found the perfect one! 

There is a group of young individuals who provide free guided tours in English through “FreeTours.”  While the tours are free, the guides hope for tips to make a living. We read about FreeTours on the internet ( www.freetours.kiev.ua ) and, as promised, we found several of their representatives waiting outside the Main Post Office at 12:00PM with a blue “FreeTours” flag.  There we met Marina – a principal in the organization. Then, we along with 12 other individuals from a variety of countries, began a three hour walking tour with Galena as our guide.  She did a terrific job providing both historical information and telling some fun tales about the various areas we explored.

We began the tour immediately because the Post Office is opposite Independence Square.  The first item we photographed was a City Gate with the St. Michael as an angel, on its top.  Interestingly, St. Michael was painted black (rather than being white or gold) because he is going into battle to protect the Kiev and “angels” can’t do such things.  From the square, we walked up the hill (the same one we walked to/from the InterContinental) to St. Michael’s Cathedral. 

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The City Gate with St. Michael
Unique building construction in Kiev
A beautiful archway
with amazing mosaics

St. Michael’s Cathedral is gorgeous with its gold domes and beautiful colors.  The original Cathedral/Monastery was built in the years 1108-1113.  It is of particular importance since it is dedicated at the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Kiev.  St. Michael’s was destroyed during an invasion by the Mongolians and it fell into disrepair.  It was rebuilt again in the 16th century and prospered under wealthy Cossacks.  Unfortunately, 1934-1936, the Soviets demolished the Cathedral but thankfully sent some of its mosaics, frescoes and other parts to various locations, including St. Sofia’s Cathedral.  The Cathedral ultimately was rebuilt and restored to its current glory during the late 1990’s.  After visiting both the grounds and interior altar area, we continued onto a fountain located on the premises.  Galena shared that the fountain is said to make wishes comes true if you can affix a coin to one of the fountain’s spigots (the fountain no longer flows).  Of course, Lindy had to try it and guess what…. Her coin stuck so we’ll see if her wish comes true.

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St. Michael's or Gold Dome Square
A close-up view of the
amazing domes and crosses
Inside St. Michael's
The wishing fountain near
St. Michael's

Next, the group walked to St. Andrew’s Church which was completed in 1762.  Galena told us that there was a legend that the Apostle Andrew erected a cross on what would later be the location of St. Andrew’s saying that a great city would be built near the church.  Several smaller wooden and stone churches were originally built on the location of St. Andrew’s.  However, they ultimately fell apart because of the shifting of the hill.  So, as part of the construction of St. Andrew’s, a massive foundation was built to support the new church – a huge two story building made of stone and bricks.  It too has a beautiful altar area.

In addition to viewing the Church, it’s also possible to get great views of the Dnieper River, the lower Old Town area as well as the huge suburbs that lie across the Dnieper and provide homes for some 2 million people.  Yes, Kiev is a very large town!

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The beautiful St. Andrew's Church
Inside St. Andrew's Church
A view of the Dnieper River
and its environs

Following Galena, we next went to a public park decorated with lots of cute items created by a variety of artists.  This is definitely a local spot we would not have discovered without FreeTours!  From it, we passed by St. Sofia’s but the sun wasn’t in the right direction for photographs.  So, we continued on to see an old City Gate, the Golden Gate.  It doesn’t look anything like a “golden gate” since it’s constructed of bricks and wood.   However, it is important because it let individuals into the “golden city of Kiev” in its heyday.  The current Gate has been reconstructed and moved slightly from its original spot due to modern buildings being constructed over what would have been its original location.

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The entry to the amazing, splashy,
perky public park
A fountain in the park
No, Ed didn't bring a blanket
& pillow for the walk; it's all
part of this sculpture
The Golden Gate
Tree art.... a kitten
made from plastic straws

It was now getting close to 3:00PM and our tour came to an end just before we reached the major road leading back to Independence Square.  Everyone gave Galena accolades for a job well done and most individuals gave her a generous tip since she gave her time and knowledge for free.  So, remember if you use FreeTours, tipping is the appropriate thing to do for your guide!

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Independence Square
Our home in Kiev,
The InterContinental

 [ T O P ]

We were close to the Furshet Market so we stopped by to pick up some Ukrainian cheese to enjoy later in the evening.  Then, we once again had the long trek back to the InterContinental where we once again enjoyed our mini-bar beverages (cold bubbly water and Turborg Beer) followed by a cocktail and then cheese & bread and wine.  Who could ask for more, esp. since we also enjoyed a great view of St. Sofia’s from our room.

Thursday, 6 September:  After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we once again walked to Independence Square.  Unlike yesterday which was bright and sunny, today was cloudy and overcast.  So no need to worry about getting sun burned today!  We previously had arranged with Marina, principal of FreeTours, to take a tour of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery.   At 11:00AM, we met Marina who introduced us to our guide for the tour, Victoria.

We walked with Victoria to the Metro at Independence Square and took it to a stop nearby the Monastery.  The Metro itself is very interesting because the Red Line – the line we took – was built in the 1960’s during the time of the “Cold War” between the US and USSR.  In addition to serving as public transit, the Metro was to be used as a shelter in the event of an attack from the West.  So, the metro stations on the Red Line are very deep.  We had to take two escalators down to the platform which was over 300 feet deep!

After a quick ride (one stop), we once again took escalators out of the Metro.  When we arrived at the top, it had started to rain.  As we walked toward the Monastery, we saw the Ukrainian Monument to the Unknown Soldier in front of which were the graves and headstones of the Ukrainian generals killed in World War II.  As we were photographing here, the light rain turned into a downpour.  Oh well, nothing we could do but proceed!  On the upside, we each had an umbrella which helped keep us somewhat dry; also, the rain kept some tourists indoors so the Monastery wasn’t extremely crowded.

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Monument to the Unknown Soldier

Pechersk Lavra Monastery is located in a wooded area on two hills overlooking the Dnieper River.  It is now surrounded by the city of Kiev.  The Lavra (as it is commonly referred to) is a Ukrainian Orthodox Monastery which dates back to the 11th century. The name “Pechersk” comes from the word “cave” and “Lavra” is an honorable title which is given to monasteries which are large and important.

We went to Lavra not knowing too much of what to expect.  We understood that there were caves there which were used by monks but that was about it.  Our guide, Victoria, provided a great insight into this huge monastic area.  We began our explorations inside what is called the “Upper Compound.”  It is comprised of churches, a Cathedral and various other buildings used by the monks.  Some of these buildings have now been converted into museums.  We were blown away by the beauty of the architecture of these buildings. It was one “Wow” after another!  The churches in the Upper Compound were each built over the caves where the monks originally worshipped and lived.  We had assumed that the caves were natural but we learned that the monks had actually created them by carving out the rock.  The caves weren’t built underground due to religious persecution but instead were carved out by the monks who sought to practice their religion in solitude. What started with one monk worshipping and living primarily underground grew into about 50 monks doing so. 

The caves are separated into the Near Caves and the Far Caves.  Since these areas are still used for religious purposes, women are asked to cover their heads as a sign of respect and photographs are not permitted.  As instructed by Victoria, we all purchased a candle which we used to help light our way in the dimly light caves and then to leave it in a holder in a final prayer room.  To get into the Near Caves, we had to walk down a long flight of stairs.  Then, we went through various hallways in which the bodies of mummified monks are on display in glass cases which are lit from above with oil lamps.  Many individuals were making pilgrimages to the Lavra and would stop at most of the displays to offer prayers and/or kiss the case.  After visiting this area, we then took a wooden walkway to reach the Far Caves that were carved out from the base of the next hill.  The interiors in the Far Caves were very similar with narrow hallways and small rooms in which the monks originally lived.  Now, mummified monks are placed in these locations.  At the end of our visit to the Far Caves, we each left our candle burning at the altar.

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Entering the Complex
Another view of these
beautiful decorations
Look at this amazing building!
Double domes & crosses
An interior altar
A large courtyard
This church boasts
familiar domes
Another beautiful altar area
Incense burning before a
beautiful painting
Views of the Dnieper River
One of the narrow walkways
in the complex
Victoria, our beautiful guide,
with Lindy

[ T O P ]

When we left the Lavra, Victoria suggested that we take a bus back to Independence Square so that we could avoid a long walk back to the Metro in the rain.  It worked out great as the bus we needed was waiting at the nearby stop.  It was only about a 10 minute ride back to the Square.  There we thanked Victoria for a wonderful and informative day and said our good-byes.

We then walked up beyond Independence Square the hill to reach the InterContinental.  Thankfully, the rain had slowed to a drizzle.  However, we were both cold and wet from our outing so it was nice to get to our room and warm up.  There we relaxed and enjoyed our complimentary mini-bar beverages and stayed in for the balance of the evening.

Friday, 7 September:  On our final day in Kiev, we decided to return to St. Sofia’s (or St. Sophia’s) to take some photographs.  Thankfully, it was another sunny day (at least it started out that way) so we headed out.  Indeed, it’s another beautiful Cathedral and it too is within easy walking distance of the InterContinental.  Also, it’s interesting that you can see St. Michael’s from St. Sofia’s and, obviously, vice versa.

 St. Sofia’s has 13 golden domes which are fantastic.  The Cathedral was built in 1037, but fell into disrepair in the 1200s.  However, it was never destroyed.  In the early 1600’s, restoration began.  During restoration and renovations from 1744 to 1752, the Bell Tower was added.  In 1852, a gilded cupola was added to the Bell Tower; it took approximately four kilograms (or almost 9 lbs.) of gold to decorate the dome.  This was done to ensure the prominence of the Cathedral.  St. Sofia’s is now a museum.

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A view of the St. Sophia's complex
A close-up of the beautiful domes

 [ T O P ] 

Visiting St. Sofia’s was the extent of our touring for this final day in Kiev.  Afterwards, we wandered through several of the nearby streets and then did some shopping.  Then, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our flights tomorrow (first to London and then to Rome) before returning to our touring in Australia.

 [Next, see our touring in AUSTRALIA]