My arrival in Kiev was greeted with torrential rain, claps of thunder, and lightning so bright the pictures look as though they were taken in broad daylight.
My guided tour began with the city’s ‘Golden Gate’, a reconstruction of the main entrance to the old city, under which a bit of 10th century wall is still preserved. The eighteenth-century zeal to recoat and paint ancient monuments also struck the city’s oldest church, St Sophia. Originally built by Yaroslav in the 11th century, its bright white, green and gold facade is hard to connect to the originally round-domed church within (as seen in the model held by Yaroslav in this statue) and its old frescoes and mosaics.
Outside St Sophia, and in several other parts of the city, clusters of candles commemorate those killed during the tragic events earlier this year.
The tour was sprinkled liberally with stops at statues – to make a wish on the lucky ear of the cat, the lucky ring and shoe of the lover, the lucky hand print on Yaroslav.. This, and my guide Hannah’s enthusiastic report on the importance of the number 13 and black cats, made me wonder if she, Kiev, or both, were just a little superstitious. However, my skepticism didn’t stop me wishing on the ear of the cat for peace in Donetsk.
On Andreevsky Descent, we wandered past stalls selling antiques, embroidered Ukrainian shirts and tablecloths, and pottery bowls and ornaments, to number 13 – home to the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose for a picture with the bronze Bulgakov next to the museum, holding my (borrowed) half-finished copy of The Master and Margarita. The stranger who took my picture recommended reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* next.
We then went on to Vichnoi Slavy Park, a popular spot next to the Dnipro river for couples to have their wedding photos taken, and tie a ribbon to the ‘love tree’. When the tour finished, I asked the guide to drop me off at the Ivan Gonchar museum and National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art, which really need a piece of their own to properly do them justice.
*20/05/2014 My dad has warned me that Atlas Shrugged is “the most extreme neo-lib novel imaginable”, and it’s been described by critics as an “homage to greed”, and “shot through with hatred”. Perhaps I’ll try Gogol’s The Overcoat instead.