Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ukraine (14/02 – 21/02)

Ok, I haven’t written anything for a pretty long time. It’s true. I was too busy travelling and doing some journalistic job for a Basque newspaper, to which I gave more importance than to this personal blog.

I will try to catch up in a series of not very long posts.

My journey came to a halt after I arrived to Kiev, due to several reasons, but mainly because I had been travelling fast and needed to live a bit more while on the road.

Besides, the winter cold was at its high point in Ukraine, only some days later in Moscow I experienced such a sensation of coldness like I had never before.

I came quite unexpectedly earlier to Kiev, so I took like a long weekend to stay at a relatively cheap hostel, know the place, and write.

As I wrote before, my border crossing was not smooth, and I chose to go directly to Kiev, missing the charm of Lviv.

Because of that, I had to spend most of the following day on the train, where I met a friendly Russian young mate who could speak some English, and unpurposely introduce me to the ways of train-travelling in Russia, like carrying your own food, getting tea at the samovar, and some minor details that Russian people don’t even realized, used as they are to this kind of travel for long distances.

So, in short, he made my journey a bit shorter, told me some tips for Ukraine and shared the food his girlfriend had prepared for him.

Actually, it seems that all of that is natural to Russians on trains, but anyway it was very helpful to me.

Well, the problem was that I didn’t know beforehand that I was arriving at 21h to Kiev, which is pretty late for a place as huge as Kiev, not having a clue of its urban landscape and without a hostel reservation for the night.

Anyhow I managed to get to this hostel I mentioned, some 15 minutes walking from the train station, very practical.

That I had to walk with my heavy baggage through unknown streets at night while snowing heavily, and all of that, take it for granted, no big deal, and already forgotten. Quite the routine for backpackers.

One funny thing was that I forgot to write down the opening code of the door of the building where the hostel was, so when I got there I was desperately knocking on the wooden door, but it wouldn’t open. Funny it is that if you don’t know the code you can’t even make yourself noticeable to the hostel crew, and I had to wait till some other tourists came and opened it.

It kept on snowing for most of my stay in Kiev, with temperatures under -7º.

The hostel was comfy and not crowded at all, so I made myself comfortable inside (some nights I had a very big room just for myself).

I had the chance to talk with a couple from East Germany (so they told me), working as doctors in Sweden.

On the next Friday I had been invited to a CS party at a girl’s place somewhere in an outskirt of Kiev.

We all met outside a metro station, near a MacDonalds.

It took me 15 minutes to get to the closest metro station from the hostel (Universitet), and it was my first contact with the old Soviet metros, and was quite impressed (but that was nothing compared to Moscow, of course). It worked on jettons that you inserted before the access to the escalator (a steep one, as it’s usual in Soviet engineering, just like the escalator they showed me in Warsaw).

20 minutes to the metro station where we had met, far on the other side of the river (the metro crossed over the wide river on a bridge).

After we were all together then the girls leaded us to a marshrutka, this kind of really old taxi-van-buses that took us to the place where she lived, 20 minutes or more inside the wheeled tin to a desolate place dotted with huge towers of appartment buildings.

The party was great, we only spent 4 € each and had drinks and food for everyone.

There I met a guy from Mexico, who was a photographer doing a dossier about the ruins of the town that had to be abandoned after the catastrophe of Chernobyl.

This guy had lived in many countries, apparently being raised in Middle East as he spoke perfect Arabic, and mastered English and Portuguese too (he had lived in Brazil too). He told us that his grandfather was the advocate to Trotsky's killer in Mexico.

Incidentally, there were two other guys from Brazil (strangely enough, both of Italian descent, and they had met in Italy), who had just turned 30 and left their jobs in Ireland to travel around Asia, more or less like I did. But they were travelling counter-clockwise, so having started in Estonia, they were heading to Bulgaria, and after that Turkey, Iran, India, China…

The couple from East Germany had told me that there were no clear sights in Kiev. Then they changed their mind and told me that the “lavras” or monasteries were a must see, even if they were recently (re)built.

They were not wrong in this last statement, but I might say that there are clear sights in Kiev, as I spent three days walking around the centre and was quite delighted by what I saw, and positively surprised.

It’s true that I was initially somehow lazy and didn’t take much time in visiting it, but it was rewarding in the end.

Elegant avenues, neat classical buildings, Soviet architecture, epic statues, shiny Orthodox temples under the snow…

I was amazed by the size of a huge female statue (tens of meters?) representing the victorious Soviet Union over the nazis in the great patriotic war (their name for the WWII), it was located in a park dedicated to the fallen soldiers, and home to a cemetery of Soviet tanks, missiles, helicopters, etc.

The day before I left there was a minor incident at the hostel.

Apparently, a guy from Barcelona had just stayed at the hostel but left before I got there, and he claimed that he had been robbed there, some computer material he had, very important for him, since he was travelling one year around the world (same story again).

Well, there were no proofs, but a hostel worker found this guy’s belonging under the bed of a Turkish guest and he was accused of robbery.

She, the hostel worker, asked me and a Pakistan guy (who was spending a lot of time in the hostel) to back her up while she threw the Turkish guy away, just in case he became violent.

Obviously, he got offended, guilty or not, and after an absurd discussion he left.

The thing is that the day I left the hostel crew asked me to bring these belongings to Fede, the guy from Barcelona, who was currently in Moscow.

I took the white bag they gave me (I saw inside a MP3 player, an “Around the World” travelling guide, and a PC memory).

I crossed the border between Ukraine and Russia by night, on a train of course, but they didn’t check anything especially, not even my ID photo or visa.

Next day when I arrived to a frozen platform at Kievskaya station in Moscow, Fede met me and I gave him the bag. End of the story. Good luck with you, Fede, wherever you are now (he was heading directly to Beijing on that same day).

Some minutes later, in the same place, I also met my CS host in Moscow, but that is another story ;)

Wow, it all seems such a long way back now that I am writing this chronicle from a futon on the floor of a motel’s room in a lost tiny volcanic island of South Korea, halfway to Japan, Ulleung-do.

But we’ll get to this too, in time :)


  1. Your stories are interesting, what a cold weather in Kiev, we have got + 4 today but plenty of snow. I hope your good luck continues, sounds so dangerous a life to me! You write so well, a joy to follow your route.

  2. Those buildings in candy colours look amazing! Really enjoying reading this...

  3. YES! The contrast between the utterly white surroundings (snow+ice) with the vivid colours of the churches is amazind.
    Thanks for reading and commenting! Very much appreciated, so more given than you are a great blogger yourself!

  4. Asier campeon! lo que no te pase a ti! vaya aventuras... un dia cuando tenga bien de dinero ahorrado me voy a atar los cordones de las zapatillas y voy a empezar a caminar...hasta donde llegue! sigue pasandolotan bien y deleitandonos con tus historias y fotos :)

  5. epa, Osane naz, baina mutilaren ordenagailutik idatzi det! que lio!!! jaja

  6. Oh, yeah, I was wondering about the Venezuelan admirer xDD