Kiev 2018: Wed 31st (day 1)

It’s 11:29. The flight was supposed to take off ten minutes ago & we haven’t got everyone through the gate yet. A lot of people are queuing by the door and announcements to “please have a seat, we’re not ready for boarding yet” are getting more & more insistent.

When I arrived at Gatwick I went to check in, even though I checked in on Monday and already had both boarding passes. I wanted to see if I could put my bag in the hold. In my experience, if you ask at check-in, they almost always allow it for free – and they did, after a lot of “but you can take it on the plane. But the weight is fine. You can take it with you.” I finally got it across that I didn’t want to take it with me, if possible. It’s so much easier to navigate an airport and a plane without a 7.2kg suitcase on your back.

The flight was an hour and a half late taking off. For the first half of the flight it was clear. I saw the sea and I saw something that might have been Amsterdam, lots of fields, a power station on the edge of a lake and then it began to get dark and by the time we landed in Kyiv it was really dark.

Kyiv Boryspil looks like every airport in the world. Signs are in Ukrainian and English. I’ve never seen such a long passport queue. I thought I’d still be there when we flight left again on Sunday and I was concerned about 1) the presence of a Visa on Arrival desk 2) landing cards to be filled in by “foreigners”. Was I supposed to fill one in? Why was there no pen in my travel pouch? In front of me in the queue were three men from Georgia. The first one went up to passport control, spent a while looking at things and discussing things and then all three were taken aside. Now it was my turn. I had my photo scrutinised, “London?” “Yes.” “Ukraine International Airlines?” “Yes.” and then had my passport stamped. The only time I’ve had my passport stamped before was Russia and when Catherine & I went to Italy and asked for passport stamps because it was all new and exciting.

Next was baggage reclaim. I came down the stairs as the “which carousel?” screen was on its second page, with only the Bucharest flight on it, which I interpreted as “walk up and down the hall until you spot London on one of them”.

Then there was money. Outside Arrivals were machines for exchanging Euros but I was trying to keep hold of mine. I wanted a cash machine. There were two and the people in the queue at mine just couldn’t seem to work it. Four people got through the machine on the right while the people in front of me failed to get money out of it. I sat on the floor in protest eventually. It turns out you have to request the amount of money it offers and not try to make up an amount.

I got the Skybus, which is frequently a normal bus and definitely not the hot pink it shows on the website. That dropped me at the main station south. How did we manage before Google Maps? I’d looked up how to get from the bus stop to the metro – walk through the main station and find the big round building. I bought a single token for the metro by the simple act of putting my smallest note through the window and receiving a plastic disk and a pile of smaller notes in return. No other options. The person in front of me handed over 200uah for an 8uah token and got lots of change. Not a word spoken.

The metro was easy. I knew it was only three or four stops, no changes, and the stations have a list of each station on the wall so you know which train to get on in which direction, as long as you know what your stop’s called. Mine is Хрещатик, Kreshchatyk. When I arrived, it turns out Хрещатик is one of the deepish ones. By the time I reached the top of the first escalator I could hardly see the bottom. The second was shorter but still longer than most I’ve seen on the Tube. The deepest in Kyiv and second deepest in the world is Арсенальна which happens to be the next stop on the line, so guess what I’m doing tomorrow? One of my first impressions of Kyiv – people sit down on the metro escalators.

I emerged onto the correct street – Google Maps again – and walked down to the hotel. The surrounding streets are quiet and well-lit and I think I might go out tomorrow evening just to see Maydan by night.

My room is huge. It doesn’t quite overlook Maydan but I can see a corner of it and I’m overlooking some interesting yellow buildings. Second observation about Kyiv – all switches and buttons are much higher than you expect.

And that’s it for now.