As I mentioned in the blog about Cinque Terre, we've really struggled to find cheap flights for bank holidays this year. We struggled in particular with the second May bank holiday, which seemed to be more expensive than the first one; probably because it coincides with school half terms. After a lot of research, the only place to which I managed to find what I would describe as a truly cheap flight was Kiev, from Gatwick with Ukraine International Airlines.
Could we go to Kiev for a weekend? It felt like potentially a very long journey for a short trip, but then we are the people who went all the way to Tenerife for a weekend in 2017 More to the point, did we want to go to Kiev for a weekend? We spent a very memorable week in Kiev in 2011 when we attended an international Esperanto youth conference. The event itself was very badly organised and the quality of the accommodation was absolutely dreadful, so Kiev hadn't necessarily been high on our list of places we wanted to return to. But I remembered the city itself as being beautiful, and I figured that if we were able to stay in a proper hotel that had luxuries like power sockets and curtains this time, we might enjoy the experience more. I decided to go ahead and book
Our flight today wasn't until around midday, so we had a rather relaxed start to the trip by our normal standards, not leaving home until after 7am. Gatwick wasn't as busy as I thought it might be considering it was school holidays, and by around 10.30 we were sitting in Wetherspoons enjoying a large breakfast. Gate information for our flight was given at 11.30 and it seemed like everything was going to be plain sailing.
Until we got to the gate, that is. First of all there seemed to be a delay with boarding. Then when boarding was announced, the staff were trying to get people to board based on row order, but some of the passengers struggled to understand this and chaos ensued, with people queuing up with their boarding passes and then being sent to the back of the queue if they had the wrong row numbers. We made it onto the plane eventually and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite spacious and comfortable. Tim even managed to fit his bag in the overhead lockers for a change
It's a good job that the plane was comfortable, because it turned out that we were going to be sitting on it for a long time. The cabin crew began to make the usual announcements - firstly in Ukrainian, then repeated in English and Russian - but then the plane just sat on the runway and didn't move. Eventually the pilot made an announcement to say that our departure was going to be delayed by at least an hour because of air traffic congestion over Poland That was rather unexpected!
We sat there and we sat there and we sat there. In the end it was around 14.30 before the plane took off, which was over two hours late. How frustrating! It was already a long flight (3 hours) so this meant it was going to be pretty late by the time we finally landed in Kiev, especially taking into account the fact that Ukraine is two hours ahead of the UK.
The weather was good for most of the journey, but the view wasn't very exciting as we flew over incredibly flat Polish and Ukrainian countryside. It was only as we began coming in to land around 3 hours later that we got an interesting view of the enormous river Dnieper that runs through Kiev.
We could see lots of islands in the middle of the river
Once we'd landed we had to get through passport control. This gave us a vision of our post-Brexit future, as we had to join an "All passports" queue and wait in line behind all kinds of nationalities, some of whom seemed to be getting very tough questioning by the Ukrainian border staff. Some people were led off in separate directions to be questioned, while others had to have their fingerprints recorded, so I was slightly apprehensive by the time we got to the front of the queue! Luckily our passports didn't seem to present any problems; the border guard just asked if I'd come from London, stamped my passport and waved me through. Phew!
Next step was to acquire some Ukrainian currency. You can't buy hryvnia in the UK, so we had brought Euros with us to change. The arrivals hall was home to some sophisticated looking machines where it looked like you could feed in Euros and get hryvnia in return. We were just in the process of trying to figure out how to use one of these when we got accosted by a random man. To start with we couldn't understand what he was saying, but it transpired that he ran a small stall nearby and said he would give a better exchange rate than the machine. His rate was indeed slightly better, and so we changed 40 Euros.
All that remained now was to find our way into central Kiev. You can travel into the city centre by train, but when I researched it the timetable seemed quite infrequent. The other option is to take the airport bus, and we were luckily that we stepped out of the terminal building and saw one waiting right in front of us. The fare was 100 hryvnia (about £3) which seemed quite good value. As we drove out of the airport and along the main road into town, guess what one of the first things I saw was?!
The bus took us across the river and towards the main train station.
From there, we needed to find the Vokzalna metro station and catch the metro to a station called Arsenalna. The metro in Kiev is an absolute bargain, with a token for a single journey costing 8 hryvnia (24p!!!). We tried to buy tokens at a machine but it didn't work, so we had to go to the ticket desk instead. The lady behind the counter didn't look terribly impressed that we were trying to buy two tokens with a 100 hryvnia note.
The metro in Kiev is incredibly deep underground and this means that the escalators are enormous. As in, you get on the escalator and it's so big you can't see the other end of it.
Arsenalna, where we were getting off, is the deepest metro station in the world according to our guidebook. It certainly felt like it; we came up one long escalator, assumed we were at the top, then found there was a second equally long one still to go!
The aparthotel we are staying in is only a few hundred metres from Arsenalna station. By the time we emerged from the metro, darkness had fallen so it was a little bit harder to find it than I expected, but we got there in the end (and just about managed to check in in Russian!).
When we stayed in Kiev in 2011, our room looked like this:
Our bedroom this time around is considerably nicer
In fact, we have a choice of two bedrooms in case we fall out
And we have a little kitchen too
It's worked out at about £60/night and that includes breakfast as well, so it feels like pretty good value
It's a lovely apartment but overall it's been a rather tiring day of travelling! Let's hope that we get to see more of Kiev tomorrow