Christmas and beyond
Christmas itself was predictably quiet. The Carol Service on Christmas Eve went as well as could be expected, on a very cold night with a small handful of people. On Christmas Day morning we went to mass at St Alexander’s Roman Catholic cathedral. There were maybe 200 people, and excellent music with a small choir ad musicians in the gallery. Lunch was at a Georgian basement restaurant.
On Boxing Day our service included the baptism of Arthur, a rather active three-year-old. His father is in the Embassy here; a soldier and a Russian specialist. He and his family were previously in Belarus and in Georgia, and they will move on from here to Albania. Arthur got a bit nervous as we approached the key moment when, as his mother explained the next day, he was nervous that it might be another vaccination. In the evening we went to the Opera with Christina and Vlad, and their daughter Margarita. It was a splendid occasion: a melange of music, light operatic pieces, and ballet performed by favourite local performers in an ornate nineteenth century opera house. With crowds of people.
I am puzzled about cars here. This is said to be a poor country. But I haven’t yet seen a single old car. On the contrary there are a lot of Range Rovers and Discoveries and top-end, big Mercedes. As a general rule it is always the biggest car, usually with tinted windows, that jumps the lights at the numerous pedestrian crossings. Just as the pedestrian light turns green a big black car always barges through. And, on our rare taxi journeys, it is apparently compulsory to drive with one hand while using the other to access southing [the route ?] on a mobile phone
Christmas to New Year is generally a season for finding inventive ways of recycling the turkey [I am very fond of turkey and cranberry sandwiches on wholemeal bread] and finishing off anything left over from the Christmas pudding. Neither of those options have been available to us. Instead we have continued to patronise the several branches of Pusata Hata. The food is generally fine, through rarely hot. And there is plenty of choice. I assume that the budget prices are only made possible by the very high turnover of customers.
The best meal we have eaten in Kiev came on New Year’s Eve. It was a damp, dank, misty morning. [Think Oxford in November, or out on Otmoor.] And very cold. Susie and I went for a tour of the Lavra monastic churches with Christina and Margarita. A lavra is the senior monastery, and pecherska means dug out of the caves. The monastery was founded in 1051 by St Antony, shortly after Orthodoxy was adopted as the religion of the Kievan Rus. The monastery grew rapidly, and soon became the intellectual and artistic centre of the country, training scribes and painters of icons and builders. Most of the churches have been rebuilt and made into museums, under the authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchy.
After a visit to the Museum of Micro-Miniatures [the world’s smallest book, a flea with golden boots – all so small they can only be viewed through a microscope] Christina’s husband Vlad joined us for late lunch at la Coupole, a bijou restaurant within the Lavra complex. I had a large chicken breast stuffed with spinach, with a sauce made of apples and calvados; followed by a cherry pie with crème anglaise. Both excellent.
Now after a quiet few days we are heading to Lviv, in the west of Ukraine, towards the Carpathian Mountains and towards Poland. It is about six hours journey on a high-speed train, which seems to continue to Vienna. In Lviv we shall be staying in the George Hotel. I am excited about the prospect of going there …