After spending some lovely days in my beloved Toruń and just one night in a collapsed and messy Warsaw that works in a frenzy for showing a pretty face of progress, developement and modernity to the world in general and, in particular, to the hordes of upcoming tourists that will arrive to Poland for the UEFA finals, I set forth on a night train with the destination Kiev. There was an airplane alternative, only a bit more expensive, but I decided on the seventeen hours train trip against the one hour flight. I like trains better, find them safer, more ecological and comfortable; where I feel that I have a better control of my life, I handle the rudder, I coexist with other passengers; I’m a human being traveling along the Earth’s surface, progressing along the fields or mountains, enjoying the landscapes; I can pace up and down the corridor, stretch my legs, sleep when I want to… On a plane, I’m an air intruder stuck to a chair hanging on the sky, slave to other’s whims or skills. When flying, we helplessly deliver our freedom, for a few hours, in the hands of other people: security studs, check-in staff, air hostesses, custom authorities… We can be denied boarding for no reason, taken away our property without due explanation, forced to comply with a number of things we don’t have to… So, I bought a train ticket and jumped in the carriage in the last minute for the pleasure of so doing: no check-in, no boadring cards, no boarding queues, no restrictions or conditions: just arrive to the station –the unusual Warszawa Gdańska– and board the train.
There are three of us in the compartment; one of them mute, the other a talkative senior, kind and helpful, with whom I communicate in my broken and forgotten Polish. The coach attendant brings you tea, for free, upon demand. The trip is long, mostly because of the border crossing: Poland and Ukraine, hostile and afraid of each other, have different railroad beams, making it necessary to change the bogies. And also the documents checking: to get out of Poland is easy; to enter Ukraine is a bit more of a hassle, there are more questions, but no big deal either. UEFA is close, and the country has to show a nice face to Europe. But the whole process takes three hours: the three hours of mistrust.
Finally, after seventeen hours, we approach the Kiev Passenger train station. The locomotive slowes down and I can shoot the typical ocean of coaches.
And some people freely crossing the rails.
And a peculiar railroad building.
The train halts. Maria is waiting for me, as she promised. She takes my hand and leads me towards the gothic station building, with its spectacular hall.
On exiting, we look for some place where to have a cup of tea. You can never be far too wrong with a cup of tea.
Once satisfied and recovered, we head for the city center taking the underground, whose tunnels, built war-proof and bomb-proof, are so deep that it often takes longer to dive to the platform and climb outside, than the actual time you spend traveling in the metro itself.
Lots of informal commerce, small shops, kiosks, irregular stands, and “underground” economy takes place in the underground alleys leading to the subway.
And then you go down, down, down almost to the center of the Earth. These aren’t very good shots, but it’s possible to appreciate the giddy length of its scalators.
Perhaps this is a good moment for shouting my motto: to hell with growth, progress and developement. After taking some distance to these values that are nowadays indisputable, I’ve stopped understanding what is it with them. Humans have lived for hundreds of thousands of years without caring at all about any growth, progress or developement, and there seems to be no concluding evidence that humankind is happier in our times. Do we really need to grow economically? Do we really need to develop our societies? Do we really need to “progress”? What does progress mean? Aren’t these terms just euphemisms for justifying the increasing social and economical differences between humans? First: it’s impossible to grow indefinitely in a finite planet. Constant growth can only be achieve at the expense of others. Second: what’s wrong with the old and traditional things?
These thoughts have been refreshed in my mind when comparing the old and new subway stations in Kiev:
How much have we gained with the “progress and developement” in this case? Personally, I’d rather use the old stations than the new ones. I prefer the aesthetics, the ornaments, the cozy feeling of history and meaningfulness in the old stations, ten times better than the impersonal, standard, globalized-world look of the new ones. But, of course, that’s only my personal taste and my eccentricity…
Out into the daylight again we find the ubiquitous florists. These enduring women spend endless hours trying to sell their flowers to an indifferent crowd of passers by.
So, by and by, for the next few days Maria and me tirelessly walked up and down Kiev, drawing with our footsteps the random pattern of a leisure time.
Of course, first of all, the city center: the majestic Maidan Nezalezhnosti square.
Half an hour walk or two subway stations away, the always busy and often crowded Kontractova Ploscha square, one of the main local communication hubs. Too old a tramway for some of you folks, my dear progress vassals?
From Sofiis’ka square, the golden domes of Saint Michael’s monastery outstand behind the monument of Bohdan Khmelnitskiy, the Polish hetman who led an uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth which resulted in the creation of the Cossack state during XVIth century, though later on he concluded a treaty with Russia which led to loss of independence to this empire.
To the other side of Sofiis’ka square, the bell tower and main building domes of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Sofia Kiyvska, looks great and appealing under the stormy clouds.
Let’s get a ticket and pay a visit to this outstanding monument, of which is said that, after the Russian revolution of 1917 and during the Soviet antireligious campaign of the 1920s, the government planned its demolition. The cathedral was saved from destruction thanks to the effort of many scientists and historians, though Soviet authorities confiscated the structure from the Church.
Entrance to the main building, the Cathedral itself.
The cathedral’s rear side.
The brotherhood building. Who wouldn’t surrender before the brilliance of its suns? It has to be holy!
The monastic inn.
One of the many green areas around the historical center. It started raining and we had to shelter under Masha’s tiny umbrella, same as the couple in this photo.
After the rain, the awesome sudden view of fairy tale Vodzvyzhens’ka street, in a forested valley among two of the seven hills upon which –the legend says– the city was founded.
And, then, some of the many beautiful buildings in the Andriivs’kyi descent, the biggest tourist trap of Kiev, fortunately empty that day because of the rain.
Another day, and quite another facet of Kiev. The striking contrast between the decaying aspect of some buildings, the general poverty, and the wealth shown by the abundance of expensive cars.
This one doesn’t look like very earthquake proof, huh?
We also went some building hunting. This one shows the decadence of what once was opulence.
Some look still magnificent, most of all around the city center (of course with the help of some paint for the occasion, the UEFA finals).
One of the best views, on top of Andriivs’ka descent, with Saint Andrews cathedral’s domes in the background.
Or this one in Ivan Franko square. Doctor of philosophy Ivan Franko is one of Ukraine’s heroes: poet, writer, social and literary critic, journalist, economist and radical political activist, founder of the socialist and nationalist movement in western Ukraine.
The famous Chimaera House, or Gorodetski house (named after its architect’s name), in Bankova street. Constructed as Gorodetski’s private upmarket appartment building in the early XXth century, it changed ownership numerous times and at present is used as a presidential residence for official and diplomatic ceremonies. The “Chimaera” name refers to an architectural decoration style, in which animal figures are applied as decorative elements. They were sculpted by Italian architect Emilio Sala.
This is also a very nice one.
Though not everything is as nice as it looks.
The last sun rays of our building-hunting day brought us some nice final shots.
Of course, when visiting Kiev, the Lavra-Pecherska monastery complex is an absolute must see. But there are way too many good pictures of it already out there in the internet, so ours is just a testimony that we were there.
Some dreadful warrior’s weapons.
Some dreadful characters.
A very bored and a bit angry Ukrainian lady (though, by the expression of her face, I’d swear she’s Polish) waiting for someone who’s late.
One last evidence of human’s stupidity: 10,000 square metres of deforested area in one of the most beautiful and worthful parks in Kiev. Thousands of trees cut for erecting an unnecessary and boastful building just for the sake of progress, growth and developement. One year ago, the same view from the same spot was all green.
And, well, a final toast to you folks, from a terrace in Volodimirs’kyii passage, for making me company along this modest slide show.