Tuesday, 29 December 2009


When you travel to the Ukraine, to Kyiv in particular,

Excuse me, I am talking to my daughter in law. Sorry, but does it ever strike you how amazing these times are? Used to be that communication to people around the globe was slow and difficult. Now it is as easy as sitting at your computer. Speaking the same language helps, but there are translator programs... Or I could learn to speak Russian or Ukrainian.

When you travel in Kyiv, the one thing everyone tells you is don't use the metro. It is noted on every website about travel to Kyiv that I have come across. But we did.

During the snow storm, cabs were extremely hard to come by. OK, they were impossible to come by. And we had a big dinner to go to. We had to meet the Bride's parents. So the determined bride says we will have to take the metro.

It must be said, nobody really likes to take the metro but like anywhere else, there isn't any choice. It isn't the sort of Metro where you can knit.

Buses are small vehicles, about the size of a large van, you know, the old 15 seater kinds. They vary from very very old to spanking new fancy soft seater buses more like a distance transit bus. With the storm it is possible we saw a bus that meant for longer distances.

The buses usually have two doors, front and back on the sidewalk side and people get on the front and the back of the bus. There is a crush for the bus, because it might be a long while till the bus comes again, so as many people as can humanly fit go on that bus. The goal seems to be don't stick out the door. So with all these people getting on, how can they possibly pay?

People pass their funds forward. It is the strangest thing I have seen, and yet, so common sense, as I found much of Kyiv to be. Everybody passes the fee forward, and tell the person he passes it to how many fares he is covering. Change or a punched pass, is then passed from the driver back to the person it belongs to. People smile and talk and you get a feeling of camaraderie and unity. The bus fares are a sign of faith in a honourable people.

But the metro? The metro is a place of pick pockets, and they don't seem to care who they target. I have never seen so many cling tightly to their bags. forget holding on to something. The crowd will hold you upright. You hold your bag very carefully in front of you, and you never ever look at anyone in the eyes. There is no talking. There is no camaraderie. It is just bodies getting where they are going.

The distance between bus and metro is down. Way down. Near the place we stayed was the high hill of the city, the massive height where the Cathedral of Saint Sophia sits. You can see her for miles and she is only slightly over looked by the weight of the Soviet era Motherland figure, which marks what we call World War II.

So the metro goes down. Down under the fortress and cave complex that is part of this hill. Down under the river. You go down by two escalators. One was like going down 2 of ours, maybe 3. It was long, but you didn't think about how long it was till you were off it. And it moved fast. That little fear about stepping onto a moving platform and missing the step was magnified. When you got to the bottom of that one, you went on the second.

It was a short walk. While there was no waiting it was a space full of busy moving people. There were 2 escalators going down, 2 going up and every step held at least one person. There was a very tall guy in front of me, so my first thought on this second escalator was what a tunnel feeling. There was a tiled rounded roof to the place. Interesting but not really breathtaking. Then out of the corner of my eye, a guy on the other down escalator sat down. I thought it seemed odd.

And then it occurred to me that we had already been on this escalator a long time. It got to be a very long time. At home, an escalator ride is mere seconds, 10 maybe 8, but it is short and quick and you don't even register it in your day. This escalator ride took minutes. Long minutes. Here is what I found on Wikipedia in an article on long escalators.

'The Kiev Metro Kreschatik station's lower-level second exit escalator (a type ЛТ-2, circa 1965), lifts riders 216 feet (66 m), or 743 steps, up a 432-foot (132 m)-long incline'

Funny. After the fact, it seemed longer. And we were going down, not up. The ride home took much less time, and was by car. By then (very late) the crowds were off the roads, and the driving was good.

The winter storms being what they were, meant I might not have seen much of Kiev, but I did see and ride on the Metro.