Malta day 4

Another thunderstorm tumbled at about 5am, the breakfast room (which is mostly a conservatory & is probably the pool room in the summer) leaked a bit and it was kind of raining, right up until I went outside.

I successfully found the bus stop for the fast bus to Valletta, we manoeuvred around a prang between a Mercedes and a bus and then the hop-on-hop-off bus man said the words “harbour cruise”. So I did. As I walked away with a handwritten paper ticket for a boat leaving in an hour and a half from a different peninsula, it occurred to me that maybe it was a fake ticket. Well, if it was, never mind. I’ve never been caught out before and once in 10+ years isn’t bad. I didn’t opt for the quick Sliema ferry. I had time to kill and a card full of bus journeys to use up. I took the bus to the headland at the bottom of St Julian and walked back to Sliema.

The boat was real and the ticket was real. And it was the pretty boat, not the functional one, the one in the style and paint job of a traditional Maltese luzzi. Boarding it as soon as it got in from its previous trip saved me sitting on the seafront in the boiling sun but if I was going to be first on a boat, I was going to take my choice of seat, not shelter under the deck, so I sat in the full glare of the boiling sun on a seat that bobbed gently up & down. I could see my left arm getting sunburnt so I hid it inside my t-shirt and draped my jacket over my head. Yes, I looked ludicrous. But I was avoiding the worst of the sun

It got cold once we were out on the water. Once we were moving, I decided to sit along the side of the boat in the shade instead of at the front and that worked quite well until we were sailing up the creeks between the Three Cities, when it got very cold indeed. I moved back to my seat at the front for the return journey, right in the sun.

Now what? I had two or three hours. That’s not time to do anything. I returned to Valletta and used the bus wifi to look up airport bus timetables. Ah ha! The X4 would take me to a place called Pretty Bay, 15 or 20 minutes beyond the airport. I could look at the view and catch the earlier bus back to the airport on its return loop.

Pretty Bay is pretty but it does have a big container porr at the south end. But the water is proper blue, there are rock pools and a stretch of yellow sand and if you want a quiet bit of beach,this probably isn’t a bad choice. Then I got the bus back to the airport where I sit right now, finishing up orange juice and eating the first meal-like thing since breakfast.

Malta day 3

Today, after breakfast (someone burnt the toast & then retrieved it from the toaster with her knife!) I wrote Thursday & Friday’s blog and then went out. It had rained a little bit in the morning but by the time I got to the bus stop, the sun was out. I hid down the road in the shade to figure which bus I should be getting – the info said only one was going to Valletta but I know that every bus that came to the other stop yesterday was going there. As it turns out, they are, but they’re marked for the far end of the loop they’re making before they all finish up back in Valletta. The one I got on went to San Gwann and the back streets of Sliema before ending up at the main bus station. It was hot, I had to lean against the cold window but it had free wifi – Malta’s very good at that.

Now I could understand how Valletta works – or at least, where it starts and finishes, which had been a mystery. Valletta is a walled city occupying the end of this peninsula. I entered through the City Gate, which is a combination of huge dry most, massive lumps of yellow limestone and a big stone doorway. Immediately on the other side is Parliament, more yellow limestone but this time very much of the future, and the new royal theatre, an open-air built in the bombed-out remains of the old one. It was hot. Really hot. I wandered a little way down the main street then spied a sign for the Sliema ferry. That meant a sea breeze so off I went. Valletta is very hilly. As I made my way down to the shore I found a 4×4 that was holding up traffic by not being able to get up a steep hill and another hill with grippy sttips cut into it.

At the bottom was the ferry – much more the size I’d imagined for the Gozo ferry, more like the Browner’s ferry. Sliema, on the other side, was very different to Valletta, all high-rise towers, no limestone at all. I got my return ferry ticket & sat at the front upstairs. The wind was cold as we sailed across, the sort of freezing cold I’d hoped for. And when we reached Sliema… it was like being in any town in Britain. M&S, Burger King, Zara, Matalan, an entire seafront of British high street shops. Great view of ancient Valletta, though. And right in the sun. I walked along the seafront and then decided it might be best to get the ferry back over to Valletta and hide in its narrow alleys.

So I did. I walked to the end of the peninsula looking over at St Elmo’s Fort and ate some lunch on the rocks. I walked round the fort via the narrow back streets of what is apparently the old red light district, round all the historical stuff, saw the Three Cities on the other side of the Grand Harbour, the Siege Bell and then walked back into the touristy streets where I got on the land train. It basically did the same route I’d just walked but it kept up a commentary and we went found a few places at the south end of the city that I hadn’t seen.

I finished off my tour of Valletta with St John’s Co-Cathedral – best on the inside but closed after 12:30, also I need to find out why “co”-cathedral – and the main square and armoury. That done, I bought some postcards and went to the bus station.

They don’t make it easy there. I eventually had to look up buses that would go to Qroqq 2 on the app and then go and look up the bay on the departure board and found my bus not in the main bus station but a separate set of bays at the bottom of the road. And then I discovered if you go a direct route, Qroqq is only 5-10 minutes on the bus, virtually in easy walking distance.

I thought I had plenty of good to last 24 hours but when I’d eaten pretty much everything within twenty minutes of getting home, I realised I needed to go shopping. I found a quicker way to Gala Center, this time via Gzira, more or less. This is why I’m confused about exactly where I am – all the town’s and villages I’ve ever heard of seem to overlap just here.

At 10:50 that night, there was a bright flash of light – not the notification light on my phone. Then what? Then a huge rumble of thunder, one of the biggest I’ve ever heard. Ah. Yes, it had been ridiculously hot ever since I’ve been here. A thunderstorm is always what follows excessively hot weather. It tumbled on and off all night and had a second go at a real thunderstorm about 4.30am. It’s now 9.17 on Sunday morning and although the thunder has finished, it’s still drizzly and grey – which suits me far better than the sun.

Malta 2019: days 1 & 2

Day One

I’ve never flown Ryanair before. It was fine, except that pretty much everyone on the plane had paid to upgrade to Priority to get a cabin-sized bag as well as their free small bag and there wasn’t room in the overhead lockers to put all the suitcases. The people opposite me were upset that their Priority bags didn’t get priority in the lockers and that they hadn’t been allowed to board early to get first use of the lockers. That’s not what Priority is on Ryanair and it definitely doesn’t work if there’s only one person on the entire plane (hello!) who hasn’t paid for it.

We took off over Poole Harbour & then went over Southampton and Portsmouth before flying across the Channel to France, at which case my geography dissolved and I settled down to my tablet. The lady at the end of my row was up & down, apparently not sure whether to take her designated seat in front of her husband, the empty seat next to him or the entire empty rows at the front. Well, when the cabin crew handed the lady directly in front of me a sick bag & turned on her fan, I thought I might make use of those empty rows.

The front of the plane was basically empty. I helped myself to an entire row and enjoyed the freedom of leaving my stuff on the seat next to me for the next two and a bit hours. I saw an unidentified Mediterranean island, I saw spectacular mist and waves and I watched the Malta-Gozo ferries chugging across the Channel before we reached the airport. Being right at the front, I was 7th into the building, 6th past passport control & then 1st out into arrivals.

I decided the best way to deal with the bus was to get a 12-journey card rather than pay cash (and therefore keep enough small coins) for every journey. It would have been nice to hang around at the airport for five minutes – sunset and palm trees! Not a combination I generally see in Norway or Iceland – but the X2 was already about to depart. True, for the first five minutes the LCD display inside said X3 & I had to adjust my plans before realising i was on the right bus after all.

I got off at the wrong place. I thought Qroqq 4 came straight after University so I jumped off at the hospital. Still, my phone said it was only a 16 minute walk to the residence & I reached Qroqq roundabout in under ten minutes.

I knew my room was in student accommodation but I’m so glad I’m not a student here. All the windows look out over internal shafts. My room is quite luxurious – you’d have to jump to reach the other side rather than step and light comes down the shaft. There’s a perpetual rumbling noise a bit like a giant fridge, the lights aren’t quite bright enough & the fire alarms keep going off. It’s absolutely fine for £43 but I think it would be pretty grim to live here for a year.

Day two

I got up early for breakfast (toast good, juice bad, cereal worse) and then went out. Quick stop at the tiny shop near Qroqq for food supplies, then to the bus stop. 9:05 in Malta in January is not meant to be so hot. There was nowhere to shelter from the sun while I waited for the bus and by the time it turned up, I was about ready to collapse from heatstroke. The bus didn’t help by having its heating going. By the time I reached the Gozo ferry, I knew I’d be seeking out the shadiest breeziest spot on the deck and staying there. Maybe I’d stay there and go backwards and forwards all day until I’d cooled down enough to function. In fact, standing right at the front un just a t-shirt was freezing and then I finished the job by deciding the best way to explore Gozo was on the top deck of an open-topped hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus.

We went all over the island. There was an audio guide but mostly it crackled and only one ear worked. Gozo was not built for buses. We took some very tight corners & some very narrow streets and you could have stepped off the narrow balconies onto the top deck. It was windy and the sun kept going behind clouds so most people sat with winter coats and hats on.

The only place I actually hopped off was at Dwejra. That’s where the Azure Window used to be, a 50m high Durdle Door, before it collapsed in a storm in winter 2017. However, the guidebook mentioned “distorted crater-like topography” and of course I liked the sound of that. It’s limestone but in places it looks like pumice and in places it’s as much shells as rocks. Very weird to scramble on.

But what I enjoyed in Dwejra was the helicopter. A big chunky one, the kind that does search and rescue. It swooped over the beach twice, looked like it was going to land, then winched down two people. Yes, I went to see what was going on. No, I wasn’t the only one. It swooped away again and then returned and winched up two people, together. They both looked like they were in helicopter uniform. There was no sign of any rescue needed. I conclude that it was training. It was very interesting but also very noisy.

I got back on the next bus. The audio guide actually worked on this one but it was ten minutes behind where we were so we didn’t know what to look at until it was far too late. In Victoria/Rabat there’s a street leading to the bus station that’s one way except buses. I’m not convinced that’s a system that works very well.

We returned to the harbour & rather than rush for the next ferry, I found a table & had late lunch so I could get calmly on the following ferry. It seems to go so quickly – well, it doesn’t move quickly and it was a bit tougher on the way back but the journey was over do soon. I enjoyed the ferry.

I expected the bus back to be chaotic, what with an entire ferry-load trying to get on but they all went for the non-express buses with Valletta on the front. Ok, the X1 doesn’t technically go to Valletta but it doesn’t exclusively go from Gozo to the airport. But it meant I could sit at the front, where I could see where we were going and where the windows aren’t filtered to make sunset appear half an hour earlier (this was a problem on the X2 yesterday – from my seat it was pitch black outside). The driver went a little too fast – if he has to hang onto the side of his cabin when we go round a corner, he’s going too fast – but it was fun and we got back to Qroqq 4 far too soon. I nearly missed it. By the time I realised we were getting close, it was already the next stop.

I stopped at Gala Centre for food on the way back – it’s inside a Seat dealer, there’s no obvious entrance to the supermarket although there are two exits and there’s no obvious way out of the building either. Still, I got 2 litres of Happy Day orange juice and some food and then I went back to my room.

Kiev 2018: Sun 4th (day 5)

There are many things to hate about Kyiv Boryspil. Like that the spelling on the door is not the same as the spelling on my boarding card. Like the fact that you have to go through an x-ray machine just to get into the building, because emptying your pockets in the doorway with no tables handy is loads of fun. Like the fact that it’s taken an hour to connect my tablet to the wifi.

Today I went to St Volodymyr’s Cathedral, said to be the prettiest (if not the most important) in Kyiv. In Kyiv. On a Sunday. Well, now I know what a Ukrainian Orthodox service looks and smells like. It’s prettier outside, that dark brown Art Nouveau thing is not as much to my taste as the mounds of gold in the other churches.

I walked down to Shevchenko Park where trees have eyes, all the benches are weird and children wear manes made of golden autumn leaves. Back to the metro at Khreshchatyk and along to Arsenalna to visit Rodina Mat, Nation’s Mother, a 91m statue of a warrior on the hillside, surrounded by a war museum. It’s just next to the Lavras but I didn’t walk to walk the extra distance on Thursday. I had lunch down there and then walked back.

Back at Maidan I did some shopping, finished lunch, collected my luggage and made for the airport. This time the Skybus was a coach and half empty, which was nice. Wifi’s not very good on it.

I also hate that there are only three places in this entire airport where you can get food or drinks – all takeaway bar things. Kyiv Boryspil, you need something like a mini Smiths.

Kiev 2018: Sat 3rd (day 4)

Today I went to При́п’ять, Pripyat. It was a new city, built in the 1970s, with an average age of 26 and all the amenities you could want. Today it’s a ghost town, totally abandoned. Why? Because the town was built to house the workers in & around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Short story: unnecessary safety test about 1am in April 1986 resulted in a fire which resulted in a steam explosion which resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in history. I read about it a lot. Today I visited it.

We met at 7.30. This was the bit of this whole trip I’d been nervous about – finding a single bus in a strange city and having my passport checked against the details I’d provided when I booked, even though I’d double and triple checked. Both went fine. In fact, I was the first there and it wasn’t a single bus, it was five buses. I was on the last one, one of at least two English-speaking buses, with guides Олександра and Oльга – Alexandra & Olga.

Having arrived first I sat and watched everyone else arrive. Every single other person, once it was established which bus they were on, asked “Is there time to go to the toilet/ATM/McDonalds/food shop before we go?” as if those weren’t things you were supposed to do before you got to the bus. I also noticed that almost all the tour guides smoke. Well, if your job is to expose yourself to radiation…

We drove an hour and a half to the first checkpoint where Special Group Permission was eventually granted and our passports were checked by military officials. While we waited for the bus to cross, we were advised to use the last “civilised restrooms” of the day – not so civilised, really, but better than the “radioactive – but not because of the radiation” ones we might encounter later on. Now we were in the 30km exclusion zone.

It was at this point that we were given our Geiger counters. They’re yellow and look like big GPS units except that they click incessantly and beep frantically if radiation levels get higher than national average of 0.3 µSv/h. At the checkpoint it was 0.16.

We drove to Zalissya, an abandoned village. It’s in the woods now – they’ve grown up around everything in the last 32 years. Here we went in a small hospital, a mini supermarket and the house of a girl called Yulya. These buildings are in worse condition than they should be for mere abandonment – the walls and floors have been torn apart by looters looking for copper wiring and valuables.

We drove straight past Chernobyl city and to the checkpoint at Leliv, entrance to the 10km zone where we didn’t have our passports checked. Not far along the road we got our first glimpse of reactor 4 under its new dome. We stopped at Kopachi, another abandoned village. This is where you see the photos of dolls – the only building still standing is the kindergarten and it’s surrounded by hotspots, which is where radioactive residue was literally washed off with soap and water which then soaked into the soil. Geiger counter says 2-3 around here but you can get it up to 13 at the roots of some trees.

Next: Pripyat, the town built to house the workers. Soviet Paradise. Best city for best people. Average age: 26. Definitely has something in common with Disney’s Discoveryland. It’s a ghost town now. You can’t live here. Well, you probably could. Radiation here mostly averaged 1 µSv/h except in hotspots, the hottest of which was on the bottom of one of the Ferris wheel cages, which got up to 270 and which Alexandra has seen at 350. We walked through the abandoned overgrown streets. It’s hard to get a sense of scale. Old photos says this is a wide road and those blocks right over there are on the other side of the road. But we were looking at them half an hour ago.

We had lunch at the canteen at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Reactor 3 was still producing electricity until 2000 and now reactors 1, 2 & 3 are in the process of being decommissioned so there are still workers here. The canteen is both very Soviet and very Discoveryland. We had to go through radiation control before we were allowed in – a frame that measures how radioactive you are, that is, how much dust you’ve picked up. We passed with flying colours.

After lunch was reactor 4 itself. You’re only allowed to take photos of the New Safe Confinement from one angle, no photos of the facility or the protection. It’s a big fence with razor wire on top, exactly what you’d expect and the new NSC control building is a two-storey portacabin. Nuclear secrets revealed. What’s amazing is that exploded reactor is right there. Like right there, under the big steel cover. It’s due to keep it safe for 100 years and in the meantime they’re hoping to dismantle and clean up the wreckage underneath by 2065. Radiation here 1.01 µSv/h.

By now we were about done but there was more to see. There was Radar Duga-1, a secret Soviet military installation disguised as an abandoned Soviet kids’ summer camp, right down to the painted bus stop at the junction. It’s a pair of big antennae, like 150m high fences that were supposed to detect USA ballistic missile launches – except that it never worked. By the time the zone was evacuated it worked in test mode. Secret Soviet military installation is interesting but it was getting cold, the sun was setting and everyone was too tired to take much interest in it.

We left the 10k zone at Leliv, via another radiation control frame, made two stops in Chernobyl itself to see some of the clean-up robots and the monument to Those Who Saved the World and then a final radiation check back at Dytiatky before returning to the real world. Alexandra read my Geiger counter and declared I’d been exposed to 0.004 mSv today – higher than the other two people with them on the bus at 0.003 and 0.002, although Conrad left his on the bus most of the day. Olga managed 0.003 as well but Alexandra, who had hunted down the hotspots, had managed 0.006.

An hour and a half later, on Ukrainian roads in the dark and we were home.

I have a lot of reading to do about radiation and nuclear power.

Kiev 2018: Fri 2nd (day 3)

Today I got up early (earlier…), had breakfast (the bread was nice and crispy on the bottom today. High hopes for crispy top as well by Sunday) and went out into Kyiv.

My first destination was St Sophia’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the monastery where I went yesterday. And when I say “along with”, I mean the two are considered one entry on the list.

I paid my 20UAH to go into the grounds. It’s a good cathedral although I start to wonder if someone around the 11th century had a lot of green and gold paint to sell off. The trees here were yellow and the grounds were relatively quiet and the sun came out so I sat on benches and looked at it and maybe took a few selfies.

Then I went back outside & spotted another gold-domed church at the other end of the road. This is St Michael’s Gold Domed Monastery and it’s another 21st century reproduction of an ancient building destroyed in the last seventyish years. I suspect the Kyiv of 100 years ago would look very different. This church is bright blue and you can see it beautifully from outside the walls so I enjoyed it for a while and then walked round the back to the funi.

For another 8UAH you can go down to the river and the Podil district. From down by the river I could see the floodlights of a stadium up on the hill – the very same ones I can see from my window. I hadn’t gone as far as it felt. The road would go up the hill, turn right and end up on Maidan. Bit steep though.

I took the funi back up & went into the grounds of St Michael’s through the side gate. This is one of those rare ones that’s free to enter. You can go inside the cathedral free too. There are two things inside Kyivan churches – old ladies sweeping the floor and people kissing the icons. They even keep a cloth on the frame to wipe them clean. I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve seen religion taken so seriously.

I was right about St Michael’s, it’s prettier from outside the walls, although from the inside you can see how very very blue the cathedral is. I walked back up to St Sophia’s and down the hill to Maidan, popped into the Billa for more supplies and came home for lunch.

After lunch I set off for St Amdrew’s Descent, which starts near St Michael’s. No need to walk all the way up there, not when it’s one stop on the Blue Line to the metro outside the funi. 65p to be too lazy to walk up the hill in the drizzle. It probably took longer, though.

St Andrew has a good church. I’d seen it from the river this morning. It’s closed for renovations so you can’t go inside. Behind it is a nice winding steep street with interstate yellow buildings. It doesn’t take long to realise it’s just a steep street lined with souvenir stalls. I’m sure St Andrew did walk here when he put his cross on the hill but this vitally important sight is not as exciting or beautiful as it was made out to be.

At the bottom was a big square with a Ferris wheel. Can’t be a serious capital city without a wheel in this century. Attached to the square was the ruins of an old shopping centre, with neither insides, roof or windows. Beyond that was another square, clearly a hub for minibuses and trams and just up the road is what I think the guidebook called Kyiv’s oldest surviving church. No gold here but the customary green domes very much present.

Once I’d wandered this square two or three times, gone in the big sweet shop and got lost, I found the metro. I could have walked along parallel to the river and returned to the one at the bottom of the funi, where I’d emerged earlier but this one was closer and still only two stops from home.

Kiev 2018: Thur 1st (day 2)

Having woken up early, I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 9.15, which left only three quarters of an hour to get up, get dressed and eat breakfast.

Breakfast was fine – cherry juice alongside orange for once, the usual assortment plus bread & butter. What was difficult was finding a seat. All the tables are for four to six and hardly anyone was even in a four so more than half the seats were unused & unusable. I walked at least two circles of the place looking for somewhere to sit.

Afterwards I got ready, put on some socks, packed a few snacks and went out into Kyiv. First stop: Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s main square and site of the Euromaidan revolution of 2013/14. Half the square is a memorial to the people killed in the Revolution of Dignity and so is half the street leading down from Хрещатик. I declined to buy a length of woven Ukraine ribbon from a man who materialised right behind – the ribbons are tied on and around all the memorials. I went to cross the road to the other half of Maidan and discovered that Хрещатик – the street, not the metro station named after it – is six lanes of traffic and generally to cross roads here you go underneath. And underneath Maidan is a huge shopping centre. You want books? Make up? Medicine? Clothes? A guitar? It’s all down here – as is a Billa. So I did the day’s shopping. Ukraine really likes crab-flavour crisps.

With food on my back, I headed back to Хрещатик, only to be caught by a girl with white doves perched on her arms. I shouldn’t have stopped. I shouldn’t have touched the doves. I definitely shouldn’t have let her put one on my hand and the other on my shoulder. But I did refuse to let her take a picture of me with them (“I’m not a gangster, you know”) and handed the birds back and fled for Хрещатик, where I soon spotted three men doing the same thing with little grey monkeys in children’s coats.

I walked down Хрещатик, took a wrong turning in another underground shopping centre – put one anywhere you might want to cross a road – and eventually found myself at the Olympic stadium. Having seen it on my map, I’d said I wouldn’t be walking that far and now I had but at least 1) I knew where I was and 2) there was a metro station there. I got on the Blue Line and traveled two stops north to Майдан Незалежності, the Blue Line station connected to my Red Line Хрещатик. I emerged and came home for lunch.

After lunch I set out again, this time bound for Арсена́льна, the deepest metro station in Kyiv, Ukraine, Europe and the entire world except the one in Malaysia. I think it’s Malaysia. No, it’s not. It’s Pyongyang. I was disappointed. It’s two escalators deep but neither of them felt as long as the deeper one in Хрещатик.

But before I got there, I encountered a police or army roadblock right outside the hotel. You could cross at the top or bottom and walk up by the yellow buildings but both sides of the road were lined with people in green uniforms and yellow jackets and there were police cars at the top. Not much going on – a planned road closure for a parade?

I walked down the street, past the WWII memorial and the Holodomor memorial and then to Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, the monastery of the caves. I paid 30UAH (83p) to go in. It’s a mass of gold-domed churches, one of the holiest places in Ukraine. You can go into most of the churches as long as you wear a headscarf and don’t take photos, which is a pity because they are spectacularly gold inside and there are monks everywhere – mostly wearing puffy jackets over their robes. I went into the big Dormition Cathedral, a recent reproduction of the 11th century original which was destroyed in 1941. It’s very big and very gold. So very gold.

Outside, I prowler the Upper Lavra and then went down the hill to the Lower Lavra, which is smaller but contains the caves. I went into the Nearer Caves for the price of a candle (3UAH/8p) although some people just used their phones for light. Oh, the fun of juggling a lit candle & a headscarf in a confined space! I dropped one drop of wax on my finger but I didn’t set fire to anything or anyone. And actually, other than the fun of using a candle for light, the caves were a bit underwhelming. They’re tunnels, not caves and there are a few chambers containing mummified bodies of saints and then you’re out the other end. I’m not even convinced they’re actually underground. I think there’s a chance they’re just built into the walls of the church.

I headed for the Further Caves via the walkway and then the viaduct. As I went into the viaduct, a priest was trying to come out and we both tried to get out of each other’s way. As I walked up the viaduct, I saw him walking outside. He saw me see him and put his hand through the window so I now have something chocolatey as a present from a priest. I didn’t go in the Further Caves – I couldn’t figure out how to get into anything except the Prayer Pass Only so I went back to the Upper Lavra and explored another church.

By then my feet were tired and the sun was getting low – not that you could tell because Kyiv’s been covered in a grey mist all day. I walked back to the metro and came home. The army or police were gone when I got back and there was no sign of anything in or around the road.

Tomorrow I’m heading for St Sophia’s Cathedral and Andriyivskyy Descent.

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.

EdFringe 2018: Sunday

Last days in Edinburgh always feel weird. Shows don’t get started until midday mostly and then you have to be off to the airport. Traditionally I don’t see much on the last day.

I left my room at 10, with all my luggage, including the remains of a carton of orange juice and a half-hour drunk 2l bottle of lemonade. I’d want it later but for now it was invonveniein to carry.

First stop, George Square Gardens, just because it’s quiet and green and pleasant. Actually, first I’d stopped at the Pleasance Dome to see if the dome really was clear glass. It is. Then George Square Gardens, where I made a sort-of plan, which was mostly to go back to the Pleasance Courtyard to find something to watch. There I got given a flyer for a play/spoken word called Finding Fassbender, in Pleasance This, which is a shipping container. Then down to the Holyrood Coffee Shop for a cheese toastie, in which the cheese was just too rubbery to eat. I came here a few times last year and liked it but this was not the best toastie ever.

After that I went to see Ahir Shah, only the unticketed queue, 35 minutes before the show started, was all the way up the street. Fine. Cold As Iceland, in the same pub, would be even better. Except that by the time we’d queued for 35 minutes, both shows were full, with the Iceland one presumably full of people who couldn’t get in to Ahir Shah.

So I went down the road to see what was on at the Underbelly. Sketch comedy! In the weird dark vaults! Yay!

And finally, back to the Pleasance one more time for Flo & Joan from the adverts.

And now I’m on the tram heading for the airport. 13 shows in 3 days isn’t bad – almost definitely more than I saw in 6 days last year. Having a fully-functioning phone to find shows and book tickets makes a huge difference.

I checked in, nearly finished the lemonade, got slightly confused about where I go at security (bag’s fine, it’s on its way into the scanner, it’s me lost & confused) and had time to get food and sweets before going to my gate.

Swapping 4C for 9D turned out to be a good idea. There was no one in 9C and I got to sit on my own! I watched Mission Impossible 2 on my tablet – a film I know well, fortunately, because I could hardly hear anything over the engines. We flew over Liverpool, we flew over Winchester and I had my phone out with the stopwatch ready. I started it the second the wheels touched the ground and I was back at my car 15 minutes and 35 seconds later, and that included a very necessary quick stop in the terminal. Less than an hour later I was home, sitting on my bed to write this last paragraph.

This morning, when I started writing it in George Square Gardens, I scheduled it to automatically post at about 11.15pm because then it would post whether or not I remembered or had time to come back and add to it later, and also because it’s easier to find a scheduled post than a draft one. But as I was driving over Badbury Rings it crossed my mind that it would post automatically whether I died in a spectacular crash or not, making “I aten’t dead” a total waste of time posting. (I hadn’t set up the link to Facebook. I don’t know how to schedule that. But I might have been dead and you might still have found and read this blog and assumed I wasn’t. I’m home now. I’m not dead. I’m posting it right now by hand.)

EdFringe 2018: Friday

07:23 I’m at Southampton Airport. I got petrol, parked at the station & had a disagreement with the ticket machine and still got through security one hour and ten minutes after leaving home. It was misty this morning and then the mist vanished at Canford Bottom, after giving me a quick glimpse of a huge yellow sun through the mist. Driving east at sunrise is fun – as was the idiot at the Ringwood junction who came up and swerved in front of me from my left, swooped around the car in front and then slid away across two lanes.

10:15 We’re in Edinburgh but waiting to be allowed off the plane. I was randomly allocated 16C and I’ve decided I really don’t like not being able to see what’s going on. Also the plane was very hot
Five minutes after I started writing that, I was outside the airport heading for the tram. The bus is right outside the door but the tram is more fun, especially if you get one of the seats right at the front.

15:37 I’ve moved into my little student room on Cowgate. It’s noisy because it literally overlooks Cowgate but at least that means it’s nice and central. I picked up my tickets this morning at the Underbelly, had first lunch sitting under there looking at the big board and hoping to spot something as good as Prophetic Beth (Werewolf Live sounds like it could be promising) and then went off for my first show of 2018: The Amazing Bubble Man. He blows bubbles for an hour, he’s a man and he’s amazing. Not a lie on the poster. The target audience (small kids) are not great. So many taken out, brought back in, arrived three quarters of the way in or just plain yelled or shrieked or fidgeted for an hour. They also do a late night adults only bubble show but that doesn’t start until about the 15th.

After I’d settled into my room, it was off to the Pleasance to see Adam Hess and Marcus Brigstocke, time to come back to my room for half an hour then back to George Square for Andrew Maxwell and the Pleasance again for the Nouse Next Door’s late night show.

When I came out it was cold – not freezing cold but cold enough to want my jumper. As for Cowgate, I thought it was going to be noisy but I hadn’t thought that it might be even noisier at night than day. It’s like being in the middle of the pub and closing the window makes no difference to the noise levels at all, so let’s hope when it says it’s open until 3am that it shuts up very quickly after that.