Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kiev, Part 1

(Kiev, continued) The first afternoon and evening in Kiev were a blur. I know I didn’t go out to eat with my roommate, so I must eaten food from the food bag (chips and nuts and an orange, probably) in the room.
The next morning, we had a bit of an orientation to the trip as a whole and to Kiev in particular, and we were asked to choose our optional tours for the whole trip.
Then we left on the bus for a city tour of Kiev. I believe we started out with the “Great Gate of Kiev,” a painting of which was inspiration for one of Mussorgsky’s tone poems in “Pictures at an Exhibition." When we got out to explore, there was some question about where the actual gate entrance was. But I found an opening, barred by two gates with heavy, medieval, iron grill-work, and with pointed spikes at the base on either side of the stone-and-cement gate tunnel. So that was probably the gate entrance, back in medieval times, when Kiev was a fortress town. Someone suggested that this wasn't, in fact, the "real" gate of Kiev; that it had been destroyed during the war and this was a reconstruction.
The Gate of Kiev
Then we drove around the town, stopping first at St. Sophia, the most ancient church in Kiev (built during the 11th century) and one of the few not destroyed during the Communist era. We were able to take photos around the grounds of the church, but not inside the church itself. The glittering contrasts of gold above green cupolas, and white towers rising into the blue and white sky is stunning. But going inside the church itself, with its feeling of height, the mosaic of Mary, the brilliant, gilded iconostasis with its recently constructed (Polish metalworkers) replica of the previous gate (melted by the Soviets or Germans during WWII), the gilded paintings in the cupola high above the main floor of the church, all lent the interior a truly otherworldly air. Mosaics on the wall are pale in comparison to the iconostasis, but they add a special softness to the otherwise overwhelming intensity of the alter area.
St Sophia
After we left the church, we saw a model of the city and also a statue of Vladimir the Great (“the Baptist” – or was it Yaraslov the Wise? Maybe both). We then wandered to an overlook from which we could view the city and the Dnieper River.  Leaving the church through the baroque-era bell tower, we came out onto the large main square from which we saw the reconstructed St. Michael’s church painted in heavenly blue.
St Michael's Church
Then the bus took us to another overlook from which we could see the city and the river, as well as the domes of the Cave Monastery, which we visited the following day.
Cave Monastery at a distance
That evening we heard a talk by a young Ukrainian man who seemed pretty savvy in the ways of modern Ukraine. The average monthly wage is quite low, but a lot of people apparently have cars and nice apartments. There seems to be a large shadow economy in the country, and he made it obvious that palm-greasing is standard operating procedure. He blames this modus operandi on the period of economic collapse of the USSR (in the ‘80s) when barter and bribery were the only ways to function, and these habits persisted after national freedom was achieved in 1991.
We had dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant with horseradish vodka in a tumbler to drink and smoked pig fat on bread as appetizers! A wonderful group of musicians played folk music that reminded me a lot of Klezmer music (with violin and accordion, etc.).

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