Before setting off on this leg of the trip, I’d contacted a local guide named Alex to plan an itinerary which would make the most of my short stay in the city.
With me landing in the late afternoon he’d kindly agreed to meet me for dinner and show me the night time sights of the city.
After a four hour flight with Ukraine Air I touched down in Kiev and was met by my driver. We set off at deadly speeds touched 150km an hour down the motor way into town. With him speaking no English and me no Russian I fastened my seatbelt and braced myself the whole way. On the positive side, pre-booking the taxi with Alex meant it cost only 250 UAH (about $10) compared to 350 UAH with Uber and double that with anyone else.
I was staying at the Hotel Ukraine (formerly the Hotel Moscow before recent Russian transgressions in the south. The hotel had been recommended for its fantastic location looking down over Independence Square.
The hotel reminded me of most Soviet era hotels – big cold lobbies and dates rooms but it did the job perfectly for my short stay.
After putting my bags down I had a few minutes for a quick walk around outside, noting that the Square and surrounds were packed with young people drinking, socialising and enjoying the unseasonably warm autumn evening.
I headed back inside to shower and change before meeting Alex in the lobby at 8pm. He was exceptionally friendly, speaking good English and going out of his way to share both knowledge and stories about the history and life in modern day Ukraine.
We strolled around Independence Square, stopping for pictures in front of the Independence Monument, the Monument of the Founders and the to Lach Gates, upon which stands the dark faced figure of Saint Michael, the patron Saint of Kiev and of miners.
The whole Square was buzzing with people, but instead we descended beneath the Gates into a hidden subterranean room. Behind a secret concrete wall was an underground room which was part boutique restaurant and part museum. The walls were adorned with historical artefacts and newspapers, while in some areas the walls themselves were the original foundations of the old city gates.
We ordered some local dishes, a selection of smoked cold meats and a soup, as well as beers and discussed politics and geography.
After dinner took the subway to the waterfront. The escalators down to the tracks were wooden and looked like something from the 1950s – while the rickety train carriages were packed full of revellers enjoying a night out. Alex had to prop a drunken local up against the door to keep him from collapsing on us.
We hopped off just two stops from the Independence Square and walked down to the esplanade running alongside the Dnieper River. The whole area was filled with busy bars and restaurants that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Londons South Bank. In one small square a hundred or so people danced the tango, while nearby the latest Justin Bieber song blared out from a bar.
On the hill in the distance was the large frame of the Friendship Arch – a gift from Russia to Ukraine in more peaceful times. Beneath the hill the Parkovy Bridge was lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
After a pleasant walk in the mild evening air we decided to walk the twenty minutes back to my hotel, where Alex said goodbye and we agreed to meet at 10am the next morning.
I decided to try and take some evening drone photos of the city but wanted to wait until the crowds had died down, so set my alarm for 3am. Alas, the city lights clearly go out before that time as it was pitch black and deserted when I got outside. Defeated I decided to get up at dawn to get some sunrise photos.
My alarm went off at 6.30am and I ventured out sent LARS out for a series of long flights across the Square, down the churches and over to the Arch.
Alex had planned out an itinerary to maximise my limited time in the city; first stop was the Sofia Cathedral, which is easily identifiable by its large bell tower.
Alex asked if I wanted to climb the bell tower for a panoramic view, and stupidly I agreed. Whilst a great way to see a 360 view of the city, with my fear of heights there’s a reason I have LARS! After quickly checking out the view from all four angles whilst holding on for dear life, we descended and explored the Cathedral and its impressive murals.
From the Cathedral we took the short walk opposite to Saint Michael’s church – a gold-domes Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We stopped en route for a coffee from a local street stall and photos and several imposing statues.
We entered Saint Michaels during a service, stepping through the door just as the priests and congregation started chanting and exited past us. With the church empty I took a few photos before strolling around the striking baby blue exterior.
Outside I flew LARS for a few minutes to get photos of the church and the nearby ‘u’ shaped Foreign Ministry – although signal was weak so we moved on the short five minute walk to Saint Andrew’s church.
Saint Andrew’s was arguably the most impressive, smaller in size but with a more detailed green dome, with gold beading, set upon a pedestal overlooking the Dnieper River and bridges. The church was closed for renovation so we only briefly poked our heads inside before moving on to the National Museum.
It seems all the major downtown tourist attractions in Kiev are conveniently just five minutes apart – the National Museum sitting on a ride just above Saint Andrews.
We were the only visitors to the vast four floor museum, but had limited time to explore. Each floor explored a different era of Ukrainian history, from Stone Age tribes, to the glory years when it was the capital of the whole region to more modern history and political troubles.
While you could spend hours in the Museum, we had to cut our visit short to reach the Pechersk Lavr Monastery and The Motherland Monument, which were a 5 minute taxi ride from the city centre.
The Motherland Monument is a stunning 62m high female figure holding a sword and shield – a tribute to dead of WWII. We explored from the base and walked the impressive grounds, sending LARS over the nearby monastery.
We said our goodbyes and I climbed into my taxi for the start of my travels in Central Asia.