Speelunking for Christ
Trip Start May 12, 2006
20Trip End Jun 03, 2006
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Dinner last night was the best so far. The place is called "The War and The Peace" and offers Russian and Ukrainian fare. Located in a little hole in the wall on Andriyivsky, it's lined with "windows" framing black and white photos of the city in the 19th century. A guy was playing "Ä Man and a Woman" and "Strangers in the Night" on an upright piano at the end of the room while I supped on potato pancakes with sour cream and red caviar and an absolutely stunning dish of "rabbit rolls" stuffed with rabbit liver in a rasberry sauce, washed down with more red Georgian wine. Evesdropped on the next table where two businessmen from Belgium were making a deal with a strapping, black-suited, tonsorially elegegant gray-haired and gold-toothed Ukrainian, all in English through a lovely young translator. At one point they were discussing the American moon landing and whether or not it was a Hollywood illusion. One of the Belgians talked about visting Arlington cemetary and Kennedy's grave and weeping without knowing why.
Last night I woke up around midnight and ended up flipping around like a freshly-caught fish for three hours, my mind racing, my ears filled with the sounds of the Kievan night. Still, I managed to get out on the streets again by 9.30 and found my way down to the center in one shot. I think if I had another week here I could pretty well know the lay of the land, which would be useful since the dogs here know more Ukranian than I do.
Follwed parallel to my first day's hike, passing Kate the Great's Kiev crash pad again and following the river further on until I met Rodina Mat. She's quite a stunner. I'd say well over 100 feet tall and very shiny. She towers above the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), piercing the cerulean sky with her silver sword. A woman to be reckoned with. Spent about 45 minutes in the museum itself, dodging school groups and skimming the exhibits of crashed planes, personal military effects, endless photos of officers, flags, weaponry and photos of the ruins of Kiev. Sacked again by the Nazis and once more when the Red Army took it back. It's truly amazing there's any city left here at all. There was a particularly grim exhibit devoted to the concentration camps. The room lined with barbed wire, photos of the prisoners, a gallows, what appeared to be a guillotine and, in one glass case, a pair of women's gloves made from human skin.
Without being distracted by any English signage, I'm finding you can get through most museums here pretty rapidly. But then I don't see any helpful Ukrainian labeling in any of America's museums either, so if they visit, they'll be able to take in quite a bit quickly, too.
Then it was time to meet the monks. The Monastery of the Caves has sat on a hillside above the Dnieper since 1051. Its gold dome-dotted grounds are open free to the public, though its still occupied by Orthodox monks and priests. (No t-shirts, shorts, cameras or smoking allowed.) I'm certain I'll regret it later, but I skipped the Museum of Microminiature, consisting of a 20th-century Russian artist's works which include a flea wearing gold shoes and chess set on the head of a nail. You have to actually use a microscope to appreciate it. But, having just come from a museum, I decided to just take the plunge into the catacombs. You enter through a church, pay for a single candle and off you go through a door and down the steps into a winding low-ceilinged warren of dark passageways that give way to small alcoves which hold the remains of monks who've been giving up the Holy Ghost there for centuries. They're all lying in glass coffins now, to protect them from the humidity that comes from human breath (they see a lot of visitors, this being the holiest of all places in Ukraine). You sort of feel a little awkward in the extremely dim surroundings as you hold your thin taper close enough to get a peek at them. Most of the other visitors were crossing themselves and whispering prayers, while I was just trying to see if anything was poking out of their ornate shrouds. (A few tiny, shriveled little black hands can be seen protruding from their sacred vestments, but their faces are all covered. I would want my own draped the same way with all the company passing by every day of the year. It's an interesting way to spend eternity, I'll say that.)
Back up again into the light of another hot spring day to retrace my steps back to Independence Square which I have recently learned lies on top of a vast underground shopping center and food court. Maybe it's no Mall of America, but in the depths of a Ukrainian winter, it probably makes for a cozier shopping experience.
This will be my last night in Kiev until June 1. I catch the plane to Odessa tomorrow morning. Looking forward to a new city and a new hotel -- perhaps one that has a wider selection of piped in music. Here at the SAS Radisson it's breakfast with Clapton and cocktails with Coldplay every day. I tuck into my sausage and eggs with "Bellbottom Blues" and quaff my first vodka of the day to "Square One." Speaking of which ...