Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chisinau & Kiev

Sorry, it's been a couple of weeks, hasn't it? I've been busy with the cycling but also revision for my MT365 maths exam on the 11th June in Latvia. Since last time I've seen two more capitals, Moldova's Chisinau and Ukraine's Kiev.

What can I say about Chisinau? Well, I can't see many people adding it to their bucket lists. It's got no real sights to see and none of that magic that you sometimes find in smaller cities, like the joyous Sarajevo. Moldova itself was lovely, a giant allotment of a country with, it seemed, each household growing fruit or vegetables in its back garden, maybe out of necessity but it still looked pretty. Moldova does countryside very well. But its cities are not up to much. And the country as a whole is desperately short on road signs. Finding your way out of a strange, car-stuffed city with half a million inhabitants and without any help at junctions or roundabouts is a bit taxing. Perhaps it's the Moldovan government's way of keeping you trapped in town spending your money.

Luckily, using the power of my trusty compass, I escaped the city. The first road sign confirmation that I was on the right road out of town came about 20 kilometres from the centre. I was heading to Orhei or, rather, a small village, Trebujeni, nearby that has a little, pink house. And after the traffic, noise and dirt of Chisinau it was lovely to spend one evening sat in the garden of the little pink house, reading as the sun went down, being served up way too much Moldovan home cooking. Don't worry, it didn't go to waste; I took cakes and pancakes with me the following day to sustain me on the next leg. If you fancy a trip to Moldova, skip Chisinau and go to the pink house.

A week or so later I was hauling myself into Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. I'd been warned that hotel prices in Kiev were inflated. Although my first Ukrainian night cost me only €8, the cheapest bed of my entire tour, elsewhere in Ukraine I'd been paying around €25 for a room. Kiev would be double this, giving my budget a good kicking. Ten minutes after hitting the city proper, I found a hotel that €50. I was all ready to accept this when the glum receptionist added that she wanted another €4 per night to lock up my bike. Every other hotel on this trip has done this for free and so I walked away. If I'd found an offer so soon, how hard could it be to find a second?

It would be two hours before I found another room, cycling around a 2.5 million inhabitant city without a map. The first hotel I approached was full, the second was, ahem, a dog hotel (OK, I know the Ukrainian word for 'hotel', but not 'dog'). The next was full, the next's only remaining single room was 'premier', whatever that means, and was going to cost me €170. Er, no thanks. The next was full. I was beginning to think that I might end up sleeping in a park. But then I found a tiny place, with only seven rooms, and they wanted the same price as the very first hotel and were happy to include the price of the stored bike. Result! Much longer searching and I might have returned to the dog hotel and given them €20 for a cage.

So, having cycled around much of Kiev already, the next day I went out to explore. I wonder if all this city seeing is making me slightly jaded. Kiev has some lovely churches, the glittering, onion-domed towers of Orthodox architecture, but it also has a lot of the crap that comes with a successful tourist market, people dressed up in costume to winkle the cost of a photo out of a passing tourist. You could choose from a rabbit, a pharoah, Scrat from Ice Age and a manky-looking home-made Bart Simpson with a nose that would have been more more suited to Squidwood - all national icons of Ukraine, as you well know. And you also had plenty of those turnips who dress up as statues and then stand about. I think if you've looked at the balance of your talents and decided that your only chance of income comes from standing still for hours on end, it's probably time to get that CV moving with an OU course.

Chisinau and Kiev may not have been this year's Rome or Istanbul but I'm glad I've seen them, and even happier that I saw all the places in between. But now it's time to go as eastern European as it's possible to go. Next stop, Belarus!

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