Despite how much we loved both the feeling and people of Kiev, Peder and I forced ourselves – in extremely rare fashion – to sacrifice a Thursday night out in favor of getting an early start Friday morning. Our destination would be the Lavra, Kiev’s “single most fascinating and extensive tourist site.”
“Set on 28 hectares of grassy hills above the Dnipro River, the monastery’s tight cluster of gold-domed churches is a feast for the eyes, the hoard of Scythian gold rivals that of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and the underground labyrinths lined with mummified monks are exotic and intriguing.”
Unfortunately, despite our promise to get off to a quick start I found myself waiting nearly an hour while my companion got ready to roll But at least we still managed to beat most of the crowds…
The Lavra complex was pretty much what I expected: memory-card-fillingly beautiful. And very, very expansive.
So, with all those glistening buildings, statues, caves, rose gardens, paintings, and frescos, what was the highlight for me? It was the most unexpected – and tiniest – of the day’s exhibitions:
The Museum of Microminiature’s exhibits were so microscopic that they required…well…a microscope to be seen!
Among the impressive collection of works by Russian artist Nicolaï Siadristy were a flea fitted with golden horseshoes, a fully functioning clock on the snout of a mosquito, and a single hair that had been hollowed out, polished until it was clear, and a golden rose constructed inside of it.
There was also a gold padlock attached to the tip of a human hair, completely detailed yet utterly invisible to the naked eye. I have NO idea how the artist managed to make them. Simply mindboggling.
After having our fill of the seemingly endless religious artwork and architecture, we said goodbye to the Lavra and proceeded to a very strange nearby monument: an enormous Statue of Liberty-like woman.
“There’s not much to say about Rodina Mat…However, from certain parts of Kyiv it’s highly visible and so requires a high profile explanation. Especially when you’re approaching from the left (or east) bank, this 62m-tall statue of a female warrior is liable to loom on the horizon and make you wonder, ‘What the hell is that?’
What the hell, indeed. It’s the icing on top of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. The statue has been nicknamed ‘the Iron Lady’ and ‘Tin Tits’. Even if you don’t like such Soviet pomposity, don’t say too much; you’d be taking on a titanium woman carrying 12 tonnes of shield and sword. You can get right into her head – literally, via an elevator in the museum.”
Personally, I found this whole area to be amazingly interesting – far more worth a visit than the preceding description might lead you to believe.
Because in addition to the towering statue itself, around the base were an extensive collection of old soviet tanks, artillery, aircraft, missiles, and even a nuke or two. Huge iron communist statues lined the entrance walkway as Russian songs straight out of “Hunt for Red October” played over countless loudspeakers. It honestly felt like a tiny slice of Soviet Russia had been preserved – just a few blocks from the holiest site in all of Ukraine.
And inside the base of the statue was an extensive WW2 museum, with everything from crashed aircraft to – hold on to your hats – gloves made from human skin. It did feel a bit inconsistent with the rest of the area (what do WW2 Nazis have to do with Soviet memorabilia?) but it was quite interesting nonetheless.
Only two unfortunate things accompanied our otherwise fun-filled visit to this unusual monument:
First, despite what the guidebook said, you actually cannot ascend into the statue’s head for what would undoubtedly be an unforgettable panorama of the city.
Second, it took us over half an hour to get just a few unobstructed photos playing on the tanks out front (one of which I posted above). Although there were surprisingly few tourists in the sprawling plaza, and although we were clearly waiting patiently with two cameras on tripods ready to go, the instant one group finished scurrying atop the tanks another would walk right into the shot, as if we hadn’t even been waiting there.
If it had been super busy I would’ve been more understanding, but considering there was virtually nobody there, and that we’d been standing around just waiting, it was pretty rude that the moment the scene opened up another parent would run up and encourage their kids to climb onto the tanks right in front of us, without leaving 10 seconds for us to take a single photo.
Ah well, at least we got them…eventually 😛