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TRIP TO KIEV & SIMFEROPOL

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My trip to Kiev and Simferopol,
Well, I departed from Washington DC, Dulles airport, on Sunday 30 September, arriving in Kiev on the 1 October. The flight was book via Delta but was actually on Air France, cabin service and food was excellent. We landed at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) on time. The lay-over was about 4 hours and I took the shuttle between terminal in the mistaken belief I was staying in the secure/sanitized zone, you do but you will still go through a security check at the gate, you just save the walk. The continuation via Ukraine International Airlines was somewhat delayed by both weather and the remodeling of CDG, we were moved from gate one in terminal “B” to another in the middle of the terminal to another near the opposite end of the terminal finally ending at the last gate at the opposite end of the terminal.
Ukraine International Airlines did a good job but the food showed the delay in the flight departure.
We landed at Kiev Boryspil (KBP) about 20 minutes late, not bad considering it was delayed longer at CDG. The changes to both immigration and customs was amazing and really a very pleasant surprise, the uniformed immigration officials were actually rather helpful and moved the people quickly. There is a form that you fill out, the instructions say to fill out only part A, don’t believe it, fill both sides out exactly the same and they take half and you get the other half, don’t loose it, you will be asked for it at hotels and some Cambio/Money Kiosks and upon departure. Customs was more like Paris and that by itself was a shock, it was simply a walk thru affair. Overall impression was that I was in for many more surprises.
I used Kiev Apartment Hotel Service (AHS), the picked me up at the airport and took me to the apartment on Michailovskaya square, http://www.kievhotelservice.com/.
The ride from Boryspol to my apartment was another surprise, the day was warm and the traffic was heavy, there was a demonstration in Kiev, not to mention many new vehicles and very few “well used” Ladas.
The road itself was in “Remode”, repaving and digital traffic signs being installed. My apartment was near St . Michael's Monastery of the Golden Domes, actually I could see the dome from the bedroom window or the living room balcony, in an enclosed courtyard. Walking out of the courtyard by the drive tunnel you saw the Ukraine State Department building across the street and looking to the left you could see the flag on the British embassy. The area felt very safe, with plain clothes, uniform, military and private security (construction site on one side of the courtyard). It is the second time that I have used them and I would not hesitate to use them again, they have one and two bedroom apartments for very reasonable prices. AHS has other services offered also.
I saw many changes since 2000/2001, ATM’s abound, few, if any, beggars at the church entrances, signs in Ukraine/Russian/English (not a lot but mainly at museums). I went to the ballet, the theater on Vladimirskaya (both opera and ballet) which is still a favourite of mine. I was surprised that there were announcements in English! I did tour the city, going to areas that I had not seen and was impressed; Kiev has changed with the times!
We found a Jazz club not far from the apartment, while not New Orleans Bourbon street (it was a work day night) the music was good and the atmosphere of the club was good.
We also went to a night club and had rather impressive service for a reasonable price and again I was left with a very positive impression, (how many places bring a lemon water finger bowl and a steaming towel after a chicken dinner? Besides they gave me a discount card for many of Kiev’s restaurants and clubs). Credit cards are widely accepted but be sure that you notify the card issuer that you will be using their card outside the country.
St.Michael’s has the bell tower open to the public and it is a great photo opportunity! It also has a small museum with some rather impressive artifacts and well worth the time and small expense.
St. Sophia’s, actually opposite end of the street from St. Michael’s, is a museum that is still state operated. The tour was short about 15-20 minutes, you have to arrange the tour.
We hired a tour guide/translator Olga Tikhosha (http://www.olgatikhosha.com). She is very competent and cordial. Even after hours a quick phone call helped to find restaurants and clubs. She even helped with explaining my train ticket to Simferopol. She knows the city and I would not hesitate to hire her again. She is far and away much better than the guides at the museums or parks, this is her city and she knows it, who seem to recite the tour litany as if by rote. Check her website. By-the-way if you hire her and keep her past 1200, buy her lunch! If you cannot find it by yourself, ask her, she is a wealth of knowledge on the city.
Simferopol to Kiev was via train, first class, television in the compartment! I was raised in a railroad family and I was impressed, the carriage concierge was very nice and tea was served shortly after the train departed and the compartment had a nice variety of snacks for the evening, tea was served again in the morning. If you want coffee bring some instant, it isn’t always available. The compartment was well appointed and clean as any you would find in Western Europe, actually better than some I have used for the price.
In Simferopol, I stayed in Hotel Ukraine, while a three star, who rates these I don’t know but this hotel definitely rates more. The rooms while a bit small by American standards are clean, plenty of hot water around the clock, excellent restaurant on the second floor, they use the American floor numbering system (ground being one), there is a cozy little café on the 3rd floor which in summer opens on to a balcony with a nice view. The hotel has a bank, pharmacy, sauna, and business center. In the evenings there was a delightful lady playing piano in the lobby/bar. As an aside for every paid night you get a hot breakfast buffet, no not the Continental breakfast think more like a cross between an Irish/British and Continental, scrambled eggs/kasha/sausages/juice/coffee/tea(think variety). Laundry & dry cleaning services are available, laundry 1 day, dry cleaning/ironing 2 days, see the Chamber Maid, me I talked to the reception staff and next I had the Chamber Maid and her staff at my door to collect my laundry. The restaurant on the second floor has English menu and the food is excellent, try the local Crimean wines. The staff I cannot speak more highly of, they are charming and speak some English and are willing to help.
Simferopol is a good base to tour the Southwestern Crimea in the off season. It is also the Crimean rail hub and international airport. Speaking of airports, be aware if you chose to fly internally that you are allowed only 20 kilo vice the international weight, you might be charged for excess baggage. If you plan to travel by rail, go 1st or 2nd class, platzcart is not for tourists. Book your tickets in advance for long distance, a certain times weekends and holidays it may be difficult to get to Kiev from Simferopol. I know I had to take the platzcart, very interesting and cheap way to travel but I would not recommend it to those faint of heart, there are no compartments, think of it like a coach sleeper.
Kiev, Boryspol airport hotel, a bit expensive without reservations which without prior arrangement can be difficult. I tried from Simferopol, actually there are two hotels but Boryspol is within walking distance from the main international terminal and has a shuttle available around the clock. The room was a bit expensive but considering that there is not another hotel/motel within competitive distance? I paid for a deluxe room, large enough to sleep a family of four, two adults and two children, un-stocked mini bar, but by any standards a large room. The restaurant is connected by a tunnel or a few seconds of a walk from the front door of the hotel, breakfast is included in the price of the room.

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