Kiev – A City of Churches (day 1)

A city that has survived nearly a century of soviet rule which involved a systematic plunder of its cultural roots. Since the breakup of USSR the culture is evolving again, some of the structures are being rebuilt and the markets are getting more cosmopolitan and the city is trying to find an identity of its own. The motherland statue towers over the city – majestic, but not pretty. The bar scene is alive and for a cold country the vodka is slowly giving way to beer and cider. July is the perfect weather where all the locals are also out to make best use of the warm sun. On one of the days, there was even a small car rally on the main commercial street of Kiev in Maidan.

Street car racing – the showcase event

Our interactions with Kiev began with looking for a bar to enjoy the world cup encounter between Croatia and Russia. While there was no local team, everyone there was cheering for Croatia – or more like against Russia. Most of the bars had all tables booked out but we managed to find one with a few seats on the bad. The beer was amazing and had to keep my love for the Russian team to myself. The beer was great and the bar food was highlighted by strands of smoked cheese – which was outstanding. The crowds were surprisingly quiet during the match though. There was hardly any cheering even when Russia lost.

While Kiev is the city of churches, there is one that stands out, both in terms of the visual appeal and also religious significance – this is the Pechersk Lavra. A Lavra is typically a large and very orthodox Russian monastery. It is huge to start with, occupying one full side of a hillside and is inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also known as the Monastery of the caves, though the caves were visually disappointing. The Lavra was built in 11th century though most of the buildings have been built or rebuilt more recently between 16-20th century – kind of reminds of you the ship of Theseus paradox. There is a lot to see, though, and the view from the bell tower is amazing – a sweeting sight of the Lavra structures, the motherland statue and the river. The main monastery structures are decorated by amazing paintings on the inside – typical of most Russian churches. The interiors of the Dormition Church are especially grand, though they were done only after it got rebuilt post WW-II. Give this whole attraction at least 2-3 hours and there are some cafes inside for a quick bite or an ice-cream.

View from the Bell Tower
Interior Motifs

About a km walk from the Monastery of the Caves is the Motherland Monument. In all honesty, it is a huge and ugly structure made of metal which sits on a pedestal that houses a small museum and then you go up to a hallway with a tiny elevator to take you to the foot of the statue. The journey is interesting – rather than the elevator take you right upto the base, it takes you to a couple of floors lower and then you walk through some odd metal stairs with a number of overhanging metal beams to actually get to the pedestal top. The view is amazing and this is possibly the place the statue looks the most amazing. There is also a way to get to a platform on the shield of the statue, much higher up but that was closed for the day. Apparently the interiors become too hot for visitors on a sunny day. Looking at how precarious it was to get to the simple base of the statue, I wasn’t very optimistic about the full climb anyway, though the view would have been worth it. There are some really angry war sculptures in the park around the statue area – angry but well done.

Statue of the Motherland
From the Base of the Statue

It had already been a long day with a lot of walking, so we took a short break at the hotel and then I decided to take a stroll to St Micheal’s Golden Domed monastery which was a 20 minute walk from the hotel. This was another of the famous churches burnt down during the Soviet era and then reconstructed as a replica of the original in 1999. The monastery is functional and I was lucky enough to witness the evening sermon which looked like something straight out of a Dan Brown novel. A tall handsome man in a black overcoat and a hood was reading out of a book. His words were being broadcast out of some really expensive audio system all over. Blend that with an interior completely painted on with some amazing paintings, it created quite a spooky atmosphere. A board at the entrance prohibited photography but fortunately I saw the board on the way out.

My watch already showed some 30,000 steps for the day. The evening was spent finding this awesome cocktail and cider bar off the tourist circuit. The decor was heavily gothic and the bartender got a snap with us holding dildos. Later we found a nice sheesha bar and chatted away into late night.

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