Thursday, 25 July 2013

Kiev in 3 days: Day 3 ;The Underworld: Death,War and Peace


I am ashamed to say that my history knowledge is poor. Double doses of Romans and Tudors until the age of 16 then no history except Wilfred Owen and other World War poets via English literature, I am therefore poorly equipped to interpret World History. So day three is dedicated to rectifying that. We had already used the buses, trolleybuses and trams, but now it was time to use the serious transport system, the Metro. After purchasing little blue tokens, we entered an underworld that is well worth a visit, even if you only do it the once. In parts, you are entering almost the deepest underground in the World. Fast moving escalators take you deep under the city, watched by a woman in a kiosk as you reach the end of escalator one [could never work out her function] take a moment to look around you at the tiled cupolas before you access escalator two. Stand with someone tall in front of you if vertigo is a problem. I am assured that they never break down as the climb back up is not a pleasant contemplation. On reaching the bottom, you are met by a series of tiled arches with multiple chandeliers before a blue and yellow train hurtles you to your destination.

Our destination was the Eternal Flame, and the  National Museum to the Victims of Famine in Ukraine . This genocide museum is sobering and shocking. It presents the Ukrainian experience of war, Holodomors , occupation, famine and repression in a stark but moving memorial to the millions of victims and the' Hall of Memory' is a place of commemoration for the years 1921-22, 1932-1933 and 1946-47. After leaving the darkness it is wonderful to stand and gaze at the view from the hills and back at the huge 'Candle of Memory' which is a symbol of the Ukrainian Nation's journey to independence.

This is a bronze sculpture called 'The Sad Memory of Childhood'.

       This is one of the' Angels of Sorrow' who bow their heads in memory of the dead.

 Nearby are The Caves Monastery, a monastic complex with museums, churches and caves. You can pay for a guided tour or if you can just wander around the complex and pay a small amount which gives you access to the main cathedral, the grounds and the view. Entrance to the caves is free. So unless you intend to spend the whole day there it is best to pay the small entrance requirement. We walked around the complex and visited one of the churches and then headed to the caves. I had read quite a bit about them and the approximate one hundred and twenty mummified monks and this had been high on my list of must visit places. Even though I was slightly apprehensive. Out came the scarf, I am at that stage in life when having a scarf is a second consideration to which pair of earrings I shall wear. A scarf is useful when travelling on planes, trains and visiting churches. You will need to wear one when entering the caves, so make it lightweight and breathable as the caves are hot and you will have enough to cope with as a woman, carrying a handbag, negotiating pathways and shielding your flame to stop it from blowing out or from igniting your scarf as you negotiate the narrow tunnels that can feel slightly claustrophobic. It goes without saying that flat shoes are required, even though you will be in the land of impossibly high heels. Should you forget then there is no shortage of purchasing opportunities or you can borrow one as you enter, if your male companions are in shorts then they will be required to don a green apron before being allowed to enter.

 Clutching your wax candle, you begin to enter another world and progress through the tunnels. Underground churches, monks in glass coffins, covered with ecclesiastical robes but the occasional mummified hand visible. This is a religious site and people actively come here to worship. Stepped in tradition and an active place of worship, pilgrims and tourists mix together in narrow corridors and the gentle glowing light from candles. The tunnels open up into small rooms lined with shelves and the occasional altar ornately decorated with gold. A quiet reverence, mixed with gentle sobs and repetitive prayer succumbs chatter into reverential silence or whispers as candles are joined to maintain the fluttering flames. These corridors are narrow but not too claustrophobic and it is hot. I was glad when we reached the end, but would not have declined the experience.  Photography is not permitted and anyway there is no way one could balance a candle with a camera. So your images are sensory memories, the smell of dripping candle wax, hot living bodies, warm dust, the sound of footsteps and whispers and respectful silence. Flashes of white fabric robes and blackened fingers, coloured lanterns, a touch of gold, all mirrored in the glass coffins shelved in alcoves. A sense of time standing still and the past being part of the present.

Then onto the  Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Actually, we never did make it inside as we had arrived just as some foreign dignitaries were making a visit and so the museum was shut. However, just to be close to the statue of Rodina Mat, the Nation's Mother is inspiring.

 This huge titanium statue is visible from many parts of the city  and was one of the first icons we could view on our way from the airport. However, just to walk in the open air and through the surrounding tunnels and study the overwhelming statues was enough for the day.

After all the images of death, starvation and cruelty and the imposing monuments to adversity, I left my companions to enjoy their refreshing beer and went for a walk in the nearby gardens to refresh my mind. The Singing Field was the perfect antidote to grim destruction and grey monuments  It is amazing what can be created out of scrap and rubbish and there was a profusion of artful creations.

And my personal favourite...........

Here ends my blog about Kiev. I did see so much more and have written pages and pages in my travel notebook. I will  be going back. We went for family reasons to see my son and meet the young man he has become and I saw him through other people's eyes. Travel is amazing but sometimes I think it is the journeys you make that others plan for you that can be more of an adventure and are a richer experience because of it. We had our own personal guide, my son's fiancé whose exuberance opened this city up to us and together they showed us somewhere I am so glad to have visited. The greatest privilege was to be entertained with family, the hospitality was very generous and the food amazing. Comfortable clothes required for the expanding waistline.
Travel is about the places that you see and the changes and experiences that happen to you and how you deal with them. I bought very few souvenirs but am much richer for the three days out of my comfort zone.

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