Here's the fourth part of my trip report from Moldova and Ukraine from June 2009. It includes some impressions and pictures of Kyiv and the flights home to Helsinki via Germany.
Kyiv is the home of all things Russian. It was the centre of the Kyivan Rus, the original slavic nation, the ancestor of modern day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Later on it has acted as the capital of both independent and Soviet controlled Ukraine in various stints. The city is spread on several lush green hills on the eastern bank of the mighty Dniepr river - on several occasions I was reminded of San Francisco by the hilliness of the terrain and some crooked streets. The almost completely flat eastern bank contains huge residential suburbs. There are also numerous islands in the river, containing parkland, nature reservoirs and beaches. Today the city has over 5.5 million inhabitants. Being mostly flattened by the second world war most of it has been rebuilt, the city centre in the grandiose style so much favored by totalitarian governments and the suburbs in the concrete housing block style. There are a number of impressive (mostly reconstructed) Orthodox churches in the city as well - most of them with beautiful golden domes.
I was pretty impressed by Kyiv. I didn't really expect it to be so beautiful and green. I did most of the basic touristic stuff - two full days just wasn't nearly enough to cover the city.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence square:
Saint Sophia's Cathedral, an UNESCO World Heritage Site:
St. Michael's monastery:
Colorful buildings on the touristic Andriuivskyy ul:
Rodina Mat, the memorial to the destruction experienced by Ukraine in the second world war. The military history buff in me was delighted to find tons of old tanks and other military hardware on display here:
The giant Motherland statue, an Iron Lady to put even Mrs. Thatcher to shame:
View towards the suburbs on the eastern bank of the Dniepr. Massive traffic jam as far as the eye can see on the bridge and highway. The beach in the foreground belongs to the Hidropark island:
A church at the cave monastery of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, another World Heritage Site. The mummified monks at the caves were actually quite a letdown.
A metro train emerging from the tunnel to cross the Dniepr on the bridge:
The beach at Hidropark island in the middle of the Dniepr river:
The weather was great the whole time, the daytime had mostly sunshine or some scattered clouds with the temperature between 25-30 degrees. The continental climate, combined with the heat provided some very impressive thunderstorms in the evenings and during the night - they actually had to shut down the hotel terrace one evening when the wind started throwing the tables and chairs around.
I stayed at the Hotel Rus, which is another monolithic Soviet relic:
Fortunately inside the hotel has seen extensive renovations - the public areas were top notch and even had free Wifi, although the signal was a bit flaky. My room was a little on the small side and worn, but very clean and comfortable. The hotel is located on a hillside above the Sports Palace complex, around 15 minute walk from the city centre's Khreschatyk avenue. There are also a couple of metro stations within 10 minutes walk as well so access is great. And taxis are cheap if you know how to negotiate.
After a leisurely breakfast I leave the hotel around 7.45 - with a 11.15 flight I wasn't in too much of a hurry. My initial plan was to save some money and take the metro to the Kharkovskaja station on the right bank of the Dniepr along the main highway to Boryspil and then catching a bus from there. While making my way downhill toward the metro station I spot a lone taxi waiting on the street corner and laziness kicks in, so I decide to try my luck. The driver seems to be tired and doesn't really even try to bargain that hard - so after a few lazy attempts he accepts my offer for 150 UAH (a little on the high side but not bad for the 35 kilometer ride) so I hop in. As it is Sunday morning the streets are almost deserted, so we make good time out of the city and even better on the highway. After 20 minutes we pull in front of the main B terminal at KBP and I wish "Dasvidanya" to the quiet but in the end quite pleasant driver.
Outside the view is like a refugee camp - there are lots and lots of people sitting around with tons of luggage. Inside it's even more packed and despite having air conditioning running in full swing it seems to be grossly underpowered so it is very stuffy and hot. I take a look at the setup - noticing that the check in desks are located after a ticket control and you are only allowed to pass once your flight shows up on the screen. Obviously my WU flight is not yet open, so I gladly escape to the fresher air outside and actually manage to find a bench to sit down on despite all the people. I spend three quarters of an hour or so reading and people watching, after which I get back inside - check in is not yet open but I stand in front of the entrance to that area anyway as it is now T-2 hours and I expect it to open any minute. There are repeated announcements about the DL flight to JFK which is delayed by an hour or so. While waiting an older Ukrainian lady and a young girl she is obviously using as a translator come up to me and she starts mumbling something along the lines: "We love you, Jesus loves you, Ukraine loves you, God loves you, Accept Jesus, He loves you..." mixed with some Ukrainian. I'm not really sure what she wants (ok, it must be money - it always is as my soul is worth zilch), so I politely tell her that my view of the world is vastly different from hers, being of the atheistic kind. This causes some confusion, the girl shrugs when the lady looks at her for translation but at least they wish me a good day and leave me alone, which is exactly what I wanted.
Soon after our flight shows up on the screen and we are allowed to proceed. Everybody makes a mad dash towards the check in area, but I am able to outrun most of them and end up being around fifth in the line for the three counters. Some older suits decide that it is their right to cut to the end of the line as they are more nicely dressed than us peasants, so they do. Of course being a Finn and thus a sheep I don't say anything, just give them a bad stare. Still, it doesn't take many minutes to reach the counter where the girl wants to weigh my rollaboard. At around 9 kilos it is accepted as carry on baggage just fine so I walk away with my boarding pass, adorned with a couple of priority boarding stickers (yes, I paid for it, even though it will be a bus boarding - which they conveniently actually told on the WU website - I'm curious to see how they'll deal with it).
Then it's one level up to the departures, past the Delta check in area which is absolutely packed with people with absurd amounts of luggage. First ordeal is the security check. They have a small poster announcing the carry on liquid rules, but I have my doubts whether they'll actually enforce the rules at all so decide to leave my liquid baggy and bottle of water in the luggage. Sure enough I pass with flying colors, the X-ray guy couldn't really care less about my shampoo, hair gel and dirty underwear. Next an official asks me where I'm going and after being told "Germany" he asks me how much cash I have - again my meager amount of cash doesn't flag me as a mule or money launderer so he wishes me a nice flight instead. The final stop in the departure process is the passport control, where a stern looking guy stamps my passport and retrieves the immigration card slip that you're supposed to keep with your passport the whole time you are visiting Ukraine (I didn't, I took it away to keep it from getting torn! Does this make me a criminal or persona non grata for Ukraine!?).
Errr... what is it that you're trying to tell me:
At first sight the departure area seems tiny, with an Irish bar (of all things...), a small cafe and a large duty free shop which is surprisingly operated by AerRianta, the Irish airport folks. All the prices are once again in Euros and obviously bloated. The duty free selection is quite uninviting and surprisingly expensive, but I grab some dirt-cheap vodka (4 EUR per litre, that's a bargain if ever) and a carton of cigs for the mother-in-law. When exiting the shop I realize that there's actually more to the terminal than just this area as just past the cafeteria a walkway connects it to a newer, larger hall with plenty of seating, another duty free shop, a souvenir stand, transit desk and a bar, which I make a beeline to. I grab a beer and later a sandwich and a bottle of soda and pass the time by reading until I spot an agent walking to our assigned gate. There's already a stampede of people there, but I make my way around and through most of them right in front of the gate - expecting perhaps the priority boarders being let first.
Well, this doesn't happen, instead there's a generic boarding call and we walk downstairs to the bus. I get stuck at the corner of the bus, not near a door and curse the wasted money on the priority boarding. The bus gets packed and drives to the near apron, stopping in front of UR-WUA, a very smart-looking A320 in the WizzAir livery. Next to us is a Turkish 738, with the DL 767 occupying one of the two jetways at the terminal:
Other planes in the apron include an OS/VO CRJ, Belavia 737, various Ukrainian planes and this airline I've never heard about:
Only the front stairs are used for boarding this time - people flock in front of them but the agent spreads her hands and blocks everybody. She then asks for "Any priority boarders?", which is music to my ears so I and some other girl show the red sticker in our boarding passes and are allowed to board first.
This was another cheap flight, 374 UAH (around 35 EUR) all in, including priority boarding and credit card fees.
Inside the Ukrainian crew, consisting of 1 male and three females wish us welcome with a smile. The seats are dark maroon leather, and the standard seat pitch is rather tight. I had forgotten that WizzAir charges extra for the exit rows and when the girl tries to sit down in one of those the FA asks her for another sticker in her boarding pass which she doesn't have and is told to sit somewhere else. So instead of the intended exit row I sit on 10A, one row before. The exit rows were occupied later, I'm not sure if anybody actually paid any extra for those seats - I highly doubt it. This system is not really good at all. If you want to guarantee an exit row seat you probably need to buy both the better legroom seat and priority boarding - unless the FAs will help you to boot people who are not entitled to the exit row out of there.
For a while I'm wishful that the middle seat next to me will remain empty, which would help as the seat pitch is not the world's greatest. Unfortunately a second bus pulls up and another load of passengers board, and it looks like all the seats get occupied in the end. Boarding takes a long time as people are trying to find spaces for their hand luggage and shift seats to keep spread out families together. Passengers seem to be mostly Ukrainian with some Germans as well.
After everyone is finally settled the flight time is announced as "2 hous and 50 minutes" which sounds quite excessive to me for this 1016 miles flight - but matches the padded official schedule. We depart 14 minutes after the scheduled departure time, taxi fast to the 36R threshold but have to make a detour as some of the taxi ways are being resurfaced. A powerful take off follows, with an immediate left turn towards Kyiv city and further to Central Europe. Unfortunately I anticipated we would fly due north of the city instead of the southern route we take, so I'm sitting at the wrong side of the plane to catch some views of the city proper - instead I just see some random southern suburbs and of course bid the mighty Dniepr farewell one more time. Soon heat haze starts obscuring the views of the ground. I catch a glimpse of something I assume is L'viv, but at this point it starts to get cloudy and I'm not sure at all whether it really is or not.
Entering 36R, tails of some (abandoned?) IL-76s can be seen in the background:
Off we go:
Goodbye to KBP, hopefully I'll be back:
Ozerne air force base near the city of Zhytomyr soon after departure:
There's a BOB menu card on the seat pocket, but for whatever reason this is ignored and the service consists of two rounds of free drinks. First juices and water, and a second time with hot drinks. The juice is a horrible el cheapo sugary one, fortunately the coffee is quite decent by airline standards. Nothing is offered for sale, not even duty free items which is a bit weird, especially on a LCC.
13.15 Ukrainian time, less than two hours after departure the seat belt sign is switched back on and the descent is announced. So much for the 2h50mins flight time... Weather around Nordrhein-Westfalen is once more quite appalling, with grey cloudbase hanging very low. Fortunately there's no rain. We make lots of turns and after breaking below the clouds the first familiar thing I see is the Signal Iduna Park football stadium and the Wesftalenhalle exhibition centre which means that we'll be approaching DTM from the southwest to land on runway 06:
Next we fly past the Westfalenpark with a view of the high Florianturm TV tower in the middle of it and the city centre beyond:
A few minutes later, after around 2h10mins flight we land gently on the aforementioned runway, which is followed by lots of clapping hands:
The airport is quiet, with the only other plane being an Easyjet A319 that's preparing to depart. Wait a minute, why is it parked the wrong way around:
We taxi past all the free jetways in the terminal and stop on an apron parking position at the end of the terminal.
UR-WUA at the DTM apron:
This is definitely Germany as the first thing I see in the terminal is a very orderly queue for the passport control. It actually extends already outside the terminal, and more and more people are joining. Too bad there isn't a separate line for EU citizens and the Ukrainians need a Schengen visa which slows down the process somewhat. Luckily they have all four counters open, so in less than 15 minutes I'm admitted into the country. As I expected to be able to buy some food on the plane I'm feeling somewhat hungry. And again, this being Germany I'm craving for that weirdest combination of flavors, curry wurst. Fortunately the restaurant at the departure level of the airport is able to fulfill this need - albeit at prices that are around 4 times of what I'd paid in Kyiv...
After feeding my gut it's time to get to the Dortmund train station. I start queuing for the direct bus service, but it is already very packed and all the people on the queue have very large luggage with them so I hop on the shuttle bus to the nearby Holzwickede train station instead. What a mistake. After a five minute ride AND conveniently only after I had already purchased my train ticket from the ticket machine I take a look at the posted train schedules and realize that the next train is almost an hour away. I'd completely forgotten it being a Sunday (being on a holiday tends to do that to you) and in Sundays Germany pretty much shuts down. Not being eager to write off the ticket money I just resent to sitting down and reading. Eventually the train arrives and I board. There are a number of football fans dressed appropriately in the train with beer cans in their hands, there must be a match today. This is confirmed by all of them getting off the train at the Signal Iduna Park station.
Despite the hour lost waiting for the train I still have a number of hours to kill before my flight to HEL. I've been to Dortmund once before and to Dusseldorf many times, so I want to try something else. Looking at the train map it's a tie between Bochum or Essen, and in the end I settle for Essen as that is what I plan on doing there (for the German-challenged, the verb "essen" means "to eat") and am a little afraid that the Bochumites (heh) might still hold some grudges towards a Finn over the Nokia thingy last year. So I purchase a train ticket to Essen and hop on the next regional train there - which disgorges a good number of already drunk football people on the platform.
Half an hour later I get off at the Essen Hauptbahnhof. The station is in the middle of a large renovation and I'm unable to locate the luggage lockers. Mind you, this is Germany so they are bound to have those, so instead of panicking I ask at the DB ticket kiosk and am pointed to the proper direction. After leaving the rollaboard there I cross the street to the pedestrianized city centre.
Essen lies pretty much in the centre of the notorious Ruhr urban area (even as much as some sources list is as Germany's largest city with over 6 million inhabitants which is actually the population of the whole conurbation). It is the cradle of the heavy industry in Germany, especially metallurgy, and the home turf of the Krupp family whose business has eventually evolved into the ThyssenKrupp conglomerate. Despite this I fail to see any smoke stacks, there's no smog anywhere and the pedestrian streets are quite green and pleasant to walk around in. Maybe I came 150 years too late.
After a pleasant stroll I end up eating a huge (and I mean it) burrito at Sausalito's. Once again, as very often in Germany the waiter is talking to me in German and I'm talking to him in English. I don't mind this as my German is very asymmetric (I understand the language far better than actually speak it), but it is just very weird. Then it is time to head to the airport. After picking up my bag from the storage I try to buy a ticket from a machine, but unfortunately it doesn't accept credit cards, I don't have enough coins and the smallest note I carry is 20 EUR which doesn't work either (why oh why does it have to be so complicated?) so I step inside the temporary DB barrack to buy one. The ticket agent is clearly annoyed at me trying to buy such a simple ticket from her instead of using self service, so she takes my 20 EUR, breaks it to smaller denominations, walks me over to the machine and walks me through the purchase process (im Deutsch), lecturing me at the same time. Gee, thanks, why didn't I think of that? The language barrier is just too high so I decide not to defend myself and just thank her.
I just catch the next NRW Express train and arrive at the Dusseldorf airport station in 20 or so minutes. Then it's a ride in the weird hanging people mover to the terminal where I use an AB self service machine to check myself in and drop the rollaboard off at the appropriate desk. I'm too tired to lug it around any more and besides the vodka I purchased in KBP is not properly packaged anyway. Next it's off to the top floor to visit my favorite shop in this airport - the aviation shop. Alas, to my horror it's been shut down with the empty shelves staring at me menacingly. This economic recession is now going a bit too far. I don't bother with the nice rooftop viewing gallery as the blisters in my feet are killing me (note to self: next time when traveling with only one pair of shoes make sure those are comfortable for lots of walking) so I drown my sorrows (and the money reserved for plane models) in some beer at the restaurant next door.
At about T-1 I decide to move to the departure area. Security lines for once are very short - and security is much more strict than over in Ukraine. The x-ray guy spots the bottle of hand disinfectant gel I forgot in my bag without the appropriate plastic bag, but after taking a look let's me pass anyway. Then it's off to partake in the travel value shopping spree and finally a beer or three at the weird Swiss bar staffed by Chinese. At around allocated boarding time I make my way to the gate only to find no plane there. I ask at the counter and they confirm that the incoming flight is indeed delayed a little and boarding should start in 20 or so minutes. I tell the girl that "Ok, I really wanted to know whether I have time for another beer, which I now do". This gains me a smile and some kudos points, I'm sure. So I fulfill this prophecy, and watch our plane rolling in. The registration looks strangely familiar to me, and sure enough, it's D-ABLD again, the same bird I flew a couple of weeks earlier on the same flight and also in March from HEL.
20.30 - 23.43
Boarding is called by rows, but most of the people seem to ignore this and the gate crew doesn't really enforce it either. Still I play along the rules and stick to the last group, which exposes me to the weird mutterings of a very drunk older Finnish guy behind me in the line. I try to get him off my back with a few sarcastic remarks, but with drunken stubbornness he carries on. The gate agents spot him and he is taken off the line, presumably to see whether he is fit to fly or not. All the same to me, really. I'm not sure if he actually boards the plane or not. Boarding is rather quick despite the around 80% load and we depart only 20 minutes late.
I wonder why did AeroSvit send an 767 here - anyway I'm tempted to go back to Kyiv with her:
LS Arriving from LBA:
I have the misfortune of sitting in the front of three loud teenage kids (who appear drunk as well) who are very annoying. Luckily right after take off from runway 05R and the subsequent switching off the seat belt sign I put on my Ipod to drown the noise and it stays on until the end of the flight.
30 minutes into the flight over Hamburg the captain welcomes us on board, apologises for the delay, which was caused by the late incoming aircraft (D'oh, how about giving us some more information like why and where was the plane delayed etc.) and announces our route as DUS-HAM-CPH-ARN-HEL. I observe a more southern routing, along the following airports: HAM-LBC-RNN-RNB-KLR-VBY-HEL. The weather is beautiful so most landmarks are visible, although my camera has some problems getting decent photographs.
Bad shot of LBC airport:
Visby town and VBY airport:
Service is the customary cheese or turkey sandwich. Unfortunately the cheese sandwich is not the delicious one I had on the previous flight on this route a couple of weeks ago, but instead the regular very dry and tasteless one. I wash it down with a few beers from the BOB menu and just relax and doze a little bit for the rest of the flight.
We land after a bit over two hours at the expected runway 15 (night time noise restrictions) and taxi pretty fast to gate 26 which is the usual gate for the overnighting AB plane in HEL. The airport is deserted at this late hour. My bag is pretty fast on the belt and I'm too tired to wait 15 minutes for the next bus so just hop in a taxi instead. The drive costs around 8 times of what it would cost in Ukraine, but at least the car is a brand new one, has working air conditioning, seat belts, a fare meter and a nice enough driver. In 10 minutes I'm home where I wade through almost week's worth of newspapers and mail and collapse into bed.
There will still be an epilogue part to conclude the trip and cover the flight TMP-KUO.