Weather stops cycling
I decided to stay an extra day in Kiev, I didn't feel as if I'd really seen all of what I wanted to see yesterday.
I was partly persuaded by a dinner the previous evening. As I mentioned in my last post Natalie's parents have just returned from their very own epic trip around Russia by train. Her mother Helena had prepared a special meal to celebrate their return. I had heard Yuri (her father) talking busily on the phone earlier that day and heard the words – velosiped (bicycle in Russian) and Kitay (China) uttered in excited tones. About half an hour before dinner was served Yuri's best mate also named Yuri turned up at the apartment. It turns out that Yuri is something of a keen cycle tourist himself having toured in England and Greece to name but two countries.
Helena served up what can only be described as a mammoth meal enough to feed fifty. Natalie spent most of the evening acting as a translator as both Yuri's fired different questions to me about my trip. Likewise I had many questions for Yuri and in particular about his time in England. He loved, by all accounts the English countryside but couldn't understand why angry farmers would come and usher him off their fields! Wild camping is far easier in this neck of the woods.
Yuri, Natalie's father had come to me before dinner and asked in a rather clandestine way if it would be possible for me to drink with them at dinner. I'm not sure why he felt the need to ask perhaps he thought I was in some way now this finely tuned Olympic sportsman who had totally abstained from alcohol consumption.
Ukraine like Russia and Kazakhstan before are very big into their 'toasts' I'd experienced this integral part of a meal way back in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I'd also been invited to toast a young lad on the occasion of his 16th birthday.
This time it was very much Yuri who was in charge of toasting. He produced a bottle of cognac and proceeded to fill both mine and Yuri's glasses. The first toast went to the 'travellers' at the table and by that Yuri meant me, Helena and his good self. Ten minutes later we were raising our glasses to Olga as she prepares for University. I managed to jump in with my very own toast third time around and thanked them for their hospitality and wished health and prosperity to the whole Ukrainian nation.
By now the cognac was flowing freely and the two Yuri's despite their age continued to fill their glasses with a kind of cheeky, youthful glee. Once the bottle was finished Yuri reached down for a bottle of vodka, Yuri two made no objection but the women of the room spoke up and it was promptly put back on the floor.......I'd escaped!
Yuri asked lots of questions about what equipment I have and if I'd had any problems, he was particularly interested in my sleeping mat and when I explained to him that it had a small hole in it which I'd thus far been unable to locate he promised to return the very next morning with a new one for me. I told him it really wasn't necessary but he insisted.
The evening was a roaring success and I went to bed stuffed full and with that warm feeling that only the contents of a bottle of cognac can produce.
When I awoke in the morning I finally decided and not due to a hangover I might add to stay an extra day.
I'd become intrigued by the story of the legendary football match that is said to have taken place in Kiev during the second world war, that of the so called 'death match' I won't go into the details as you can find them here on this Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_Match The general story goes that a group of workers from the local bakery factory took on members of the German Luftwaffe in 1942 and beat them. The upshot of this was that members of the team were sent to prisoner of war camps and some of them were said to have been executed, although a German court of law found recently that there was no evidence of this. It is said that the game itself was part of the inspiration behind the Christmas holiday classic 'Escape to Victory'
The entrance to the Start stadium
The game has gathered something of almost mythical, legendary status amongst locals and the events are somewhat clouded.
I decided to pay a visit to the rather run down and neglected stadium of 'Start' or formerly Zenit Stadium. It was pretty derelict to say the least and had fallen into serious disrepair. There was a monument however erected near the entrance which is I assume is in memory of those brave and inspirational souls who lost their lives. According to Wikipedia it bears the inscription in Ukrainian:
For our beautiful presence
They fell in a fight
For ages your glory won't fade,
The fearless hero-athletes.
I was in full blown stadium overdrive mode at this point and from there I proceeded swiftly on the venue for the Euro 2012 final the Olympic Stadium. Unlike the stadium I visited a day earlier I was this time allowed to go and walk around the outside although the security guard was insistent that I leave my bike with him at the gate. It was a real shame to see that they actually run tours of the stadium but unfortunately these are carried out every weekday except Thursday.
Nevertheless I enjoyed my short stroll around the stadium and the small yet impressive museum next to the club shop.
It wasn't long after that that my decision to not leave Kiev today was fully justified as it began to pour down with rain. I was forced to take cover for a good half an hour under an archway.
Once the rain had cleared I set about ticking off the last of the things I wanted to see in Kiev. One of Kiev's most striking landmarks is that of the 'Mother of the Fatherland' statue which was erected as part of the museum of the Great Patriotic War from 1941-1945. It actually stands at over one hundred metres high. It seems that the monument divides opinion and I've been told is more popular with foreign visitors who see it as a symbol of Kiev. Some have argued that it's something of a monstrosity but I have to say while it's not the kind of thing you'd want in your back garden it's quite impressive all the same.
I was pleased that I'd managed to see a little bit more of Kiev. It's certainly a city that warrants much more time but isn't that the case for most places?
And one more thing.....Kiev and its homeless dog population.......at least these ones much preferred a nap as opposed to chasing myself and the bike saliva dripping from their teeth
Helena was waiting for me when I got back and despite the fact that it was four o'clock she still insisted on feeding me some Borsch, apparently she made a batch especially for me as news that I'd yet to sample 'real' Borsch had reached her. In Borsch terms it was certainly up there with the best.
Helena prepared one final supper for us and Yuri also returned in the evening with another map of the Ukraine. In typical male fashion he had managed to coincide his visit with the serving of dinner and was duly invited to stay.
Once again I've run out of superlatives to describe the hospitality shown to me. I learned some much from sitting around the kitchen table drinking endless cups of tea about life in the Ukraine both past and present. I once again cannot thank Natalie, Helena, Olga and of course the two Yuri's for making my time in Kiev a memorable one and of course how could I forget Brian the ferret.