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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Kiev Public Russian Baths

you can't beat spa's and saunas round the world.

So, as all the various Kiev art galleries were closed for the holiday (thanks guys) we sought out the Central Public Baths which is ...

Tsentralni Torgovi Lazni (Central Public Baths)

3A Mala Zhitomirska, 278-0102.
Open Tue.-Sun. from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m.
It's a broken down looking building just up from the main independence square (the right fork where Macdonalds is) You can see it because an old man is selling birch branches outside. Anyway, of course, like everything in Kiev its woefully badly signposted, so i'll save you the trouble of wandering around the whole building and tell you its upstairs on the top floor, through a pine looking door. When you get in, the  entrance hall looks like a pretty dodgy bar in some Godforsaken part of Russia (which it is, if you spoke to certain opinions on the matter)  So the guy there sells the tickets, the vodka and the beer. And dried herrings, if you want them.  Im afraid there is the 'foreigner premium' we paid 120 thingies each ($12) for a VIP changing room next to the bar. Its 100 thingies for foreigners in the main bit but the real price is 40 so try to get near to that. The guy with the beard pockets the difference, i'm afraid.
So we got a sheet for some reason (no towels) and in i went wearing it like a kind of toga thing. The whole thing looks like some Soviet style Cannibal Abbatoir. The first room was full of the most grotesque looking humans lying prostrate on stone slabs, some with steam coming off them. 
going through there is the shower room, with various basins you can use and cold showers. Then to the heart of the beast....
The sauna was old school, ugly, ancient and dirty but still functioning exactly as it should. Like a 1930's Lada. Or a 1930's Russian woman (since 1930's Russian men are all dead)  These massive saunas, being inefficient, are pretty dangerous. Its quite cool at the bottom, but as you just go up one level, the heat is unbearable. As we arrived the guys were in the middle of cleaning it out, and putting water into the stove. So you'd be sitting there minding your own business and phhhhooooaaa  the heat comes down and almost drives you unconcious. 
Like it's been since time immemorial, enormously fat Russian guys beat each other with the branches at the top, you get a great cleanout of all that vodka red bull from the last 3 nights party, Mafia guys covered in tattoos plot their plans and the deaths of their enemies, without earshot of prying ears and eyes, and all is good in the world.
A burn for 15 minutes, then a short cold shower and cooloff, and a beer, about 3 times, is about fine here. I must say that this isn't something for tourists though, i'd say it was even a little scary for some foreigners i know - Banyan Tree it ain't, its even a lot dodgier than Clapton or Bethnal Green Russian Baths.  But, sure if hanging out with enormously fat naked old men is your thing, then get yourself down there. 

Kiev tips and Pointers (and pointy shoes)

Kiev really wasn't what i expected though. It's changed a lot from the wild east days - hardly anyone packs a piece here anymore. (I do wonder where the 'every man has a gun' cutoff is nowadays...maybe Uzbekstan?..theres a thought for another story. It used to be anywhere east of Poland)  So here you basically have a normal emerging market with normal young people who, despite some serious dress sense issues, are quite ok, have dropped the 'uberspud' mobster role models, and want to look outwards at the world with a smile.

Getting there

Get the bus from the airport, its quite easy so i don't have to explain it. It takes you to the main train station at the edge of the centre - you can walk, get a cab, or metro from there where you need to go. (taxi from airport is about 230 locals currency, if you get a normal cab its 140 - or $14 odd)
Kiev (Pechersk Lavra)- These guys plainly had something going for them at one stage


So anyway, arriving at Kiev, where to stay? there are 3 main hostels that I checked out. Kiev Hostel on 5 Pushkin street (see here for list of Hostels) was actually pretty good and clean and cheap and well located. We also stayed at 'One step' just round the corner which was pretty ok too, despite some freaks staying there, like a guy who washes his hands every 30 seconds. And German families. Only Germans would bring their families to a hostel in Kiev for their summer holiday. But they do a pub crawl every night and have really nice staff.

 The weirdest place, which i suggest you avoid is 'Really Central' Hostel. Which is quite ironic as its impossible to find. If you are looking for it by the way, its hidden at the block behind where its supposed to be, you need to go under some underpass and up some stairs. If you look hard there is a small paper sign giving you a clue it exists. We got there though eventually and there was no staff there at all (even after waiting 30mins) and some kind of messed up French Canadian semi hooker crackhead chick turned up and started asking us for money. In the hostel hallway. The place was small and stuffy and smelled bad anyway.

Best thing to do is contact kiev apartments and you can get an apartment for really cheap in the centre, on a daily basis. It was $68 a night for 2 of us in a 2 bed place.

Kiev itself isn't so cheap. Anyway here are the basics -

Food -
The best food we ate was in 'Buddha Bar' but its pricey. That's pretty much the same all along the main street. I ate in 'Mafia' too, which had tiny portions and no potatoes for some reason. Theres a good middle market Japanese chain called Mirakami. But basically, if it looks glamourous, it will be overpriced but good food, and if it looks Soviet, it will all taste of cabbage no matter what you buy.

Drinking - 
You know, if you're looking for a shag with a random chick and don't really care what age she is or what she looks like, then go to Vodka Bar (on the main street, at the main square) or Shooters (get a taxi) they are busy every night pretty much, and are Kiev's versions of Tallinns Nimeta bar, full of lithe teenagers eager to pounce on unwary good looking charming foreigners. Shooters is owned by a Scotsman and the staff bizzarely all wear kilts.

If you happen to have taste, then your options are more limited. There are numerous glammy places with swish names, you know the usual Eastern European moneytrash pits, but they aren't much fun unless you are fat and bald and like beautiful hookers (who i understand from other blogposts can fall in love with you for $300 a night, dear fat bald guy)

The best all round area to go for nightlife is probably the Arena area. We started off (luckily with pals who live here) in a nearby place called Ikon, which is quite sophisticated for Kiev, if it wasn't full of expats and the usual smattering of young models. Anyway, our models wen't to Arena, a place called 'Mantra' which looked quite good if you like las vegasy clubs. I decided not to pay 30 Euros entry and went to 'Piggy' next door which was great - good retro music, more studenty, free entry, lots of very drunk but normalish people, a bit more of an artsy vibe. Anyway the atmosphere was great and there may have even been some drunk pogo dancing in there one night last week....

There's also Arena in there which is more for the fat bald hooker lover category, i understand.

The other option in Kiev are the Irish Bars - Golden Gate, O Briens, and Lucky Bar. Full of foreign blokes drinking beer and playing pool if you like that kind of thing. And girls who like to marry foreign guys, if you like that kind of thing.

And finally if the above is not enough and you want real up to date info. check my pal Vijai's site kiev tonite which gives up to date reviews on all the cool shops, bars, clubs, restaurants, name it, in Kiev.

Independance Square, Kiev

Sights -
Tourism in Ukraine is not set up for the benefit of tourists. This is an ex soviet country remember. There are lots of beautiful churches, you can get a boat ride down the river, and there is a lovely statue on the hill. As or Art Galleries and museums, forget it. We tried all weekend, but they were either closed for the holidays (i.e. the times when people might like to visit them) or were closing so a babushka wouldn't let us in anyway.  The other option is to get stitched by the main tourist thing - go to Chernobil. You don't even have to wear a suit anymore, you can go on your own, and it looks pretty boring. And the tour package normally costs about $200 for the daytrip.  You can also shoot AK47's .

Annoying things.

Ukranian Police solving crimes
Police -
true to form, Ukranian Police are your worst enemy here in ex-soviet land. Always bring your passport with you - They actively seek out foreigners, especially drunk ones, and especially at night, in order to extract bribes from you (i saw some guys hand over $200!) Anyway, if you see any, best cross the street - they're at best a nuisance and at worse can ruin your holiday.

Drunks and Robbers -
They aren't nearly as dangerous as the police but they still roam about in gangs, especially at the underpasses in the centre at night. Usually they are too drunk to do much damage and (as my friend found out could possible be good fun as punchbags) Anyway the main thing to bear in mind is that the Police are not on your side here so don't bother with them.

Shoes and Clothing -

See previous post. I always encourage travellers to 'go ethnic' when visiting a new country. DO NOT FORGET to go to your local charity shop and buy a pair of white pointed leather (even better crocodile skin) pointy shoes. Slip on's are preferred here. If you can't find a pair, just steal your dads old Golf shoes.  But don't be surprised if people start talking to you in Ukrainian or Russian. Or if they have watched Borat, Khazakstani.    You are still likely to be turned down from the more trendy clubs if you aren't wearing a cream suit, or perhaps one of those nasty purple shirts that pass for fashion in places like Munich or Brisbane, so don't say you weren't warned.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Style Merchants of Kiev

The first thing you notice when you get to Kiev, after you've crossed the bridge into town across the river, with the beautiful golden spires of the city in the distance, and after you notice how the women are certainly the worlds most beautiful.....The first thing you notice is that all the men seem to have bought all their clothes from the charity shops of Dortmund and Sardinia.

Last night, i wasn't allowed into the club, because my shoes weren't right. So we took some photos of the shoes that 'were' right....
My not acceptable shoes on the left, with a selection of Kievs finest
So today i have a task to find a nice pair of blue suede slip ons or white crocodile skin pointy toed numbers. Then i'll get in....


Trying to find the cheapest and nastiest footwear in the whole country
It was a tough struggle but i managed to buy a rather offensive pair of white pointed leather slip-on shoes. They were like 1970's golf shoes gone mad.  Needless to say, after that i swanned into any bar or club i wanted to, with local ladies swooning at my (white and pointy) heels.

What really gets my goat is - why don't any of the guides tell you about the 'awful shoes' rule in Kiev? Guys, don't even think about turning up here with Timberlands or normal shoes, it's just not going to cut it. If you want to really get into the vibe, a cream suit and a manbag also helps.

I'm glad this blog at least is doing some service by warning people about this local cultural nuance.

Brothers in Arms - me with my new 'Ukraine style' beside some random Ukranian who takes this type of footwear seriously.

Ok, so as for the feel of the city, its changed a lot over the past 5 years, for the better or worse. Back then, the only guys who spoke English were the Mafia and the Hookers, and a Manbag held your gun. but now the city's cleaned its act up and has, like Tallinn back in 2004, become a haven it seems for 2nd rate western men looking to score the woman of their dreams. Amusingly, this was exactly what was happening last night in Vodka Bar (if you don't believe me about the people check this )  where some black DJ guy was up on the stage, acting like a superstar, and telling all the girls he was from .....York. No, not New York, (which would have impressed drunk 18 year olds i'm sure) but. York. In Yorkshire. Fortunately for him, I think the locals considered the two to be similar.

Ok...i'll do a proper report on Kiev after the holiday, now its time to shoot AK47's, go to Chernobil and play Poker with the local Mafiosi (oh, and visit lots of medeival churches of course)

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ayahuasca comes to Estonia

Is it just me, or has 'spiritualism' swept the western world ?

Some people might argue that it's just preparation for Dec 2012 when the world ends as we know it, but others, including me would say something like

'thats a lot of crap, made up by people playing flutes and wearing aqua, or with silly names like 'Storm' (like this girl) '  

Well, i haven't seen any actual Mayan experts saying anything bad about it, just a lot of ponytailed twats pontificating on youtube (like here )

Talking of which, Ayahuasca is again coming to Estonia this summer. Despite having no knowledge of the Equadorian Shaman, or indeed if it's a new age scam (it seems a bit dodgy to me) i think i'll do a 'top up' for one night, just to see how different it is to do it in Estonia, and not in a normal shamanic setting.

Probably this is similar to taking crack cocaine at a techno rave but hey..what the hell, it can only kill me...

I just watched an interesting film on the subject tonight, ( here ) which reminded me a lot about how lucky i was to do it with a decent bunch of shamans (blue morpho) who helped me birth my demons naturally, instead of using a backstreet abortionist like this guy seemed to.

Anyway, more on this later...its not until July the 1st, so i have a couple of weeks to continue enjoying the usual shallow pleasures,  before joining the real and nightmare world that exists inside all of us.

Friday, 3 June 2011

You are not You - Zombie Nations

(I feel i must write something down here before  i go crazy. Feel free not to read on, it's just the ramblings of a madman....)

So i had a thought, on the other days 'wake up its above zero degrees and not raining' run, here in Glasgow Scotland, about where actually do our personalities come from? i.e. what makes you, you?

 I'd been thinking about this ever since i lost my personality in an Ayahuasca session (see here )  albeit temporarily. I still was around, i just wasn't me any more. My ego, my self had gone awol.

So when someone comes to you and says 'well you can't say that because no-one says that anymore' or 'you can't call him that anymore, its not cool'   Then, dear friend feel free to smile, as that person is no more than an empty husk, mimicking an opinion that his environment made him think is correct. He or she doesn't know what they are saying is correct any more than a dog knows to sit when he's told.

Back in the old days, when people hunted in tribes and there was no TV, no schools, mass media, or internet blogs to mould and programme peoples personalities, people did things differently. Your average tribe had a belief system that they were born into, and you didn't really need to be witty and charming to woo the love of your life into bed, you just did it. You didn't have a personality. Simple.

Skip on a few generations, and you have the all encompassing power of mass religion. Think about how people exposed to hardcore Judaism, Islam or Christianity differ in personality from you, simply because thats what they have been exposed to, thats what they reflect.

But now, in the post monothist west, from the very day you are born, there are competing value systems attacking you and attempting to get you to 'join their tribe' - and most of them not very good for you. This means that nowadays, everyone has an Ego. A 'personality'. Or do you?

Lets look at a few things that mould a personality -

1. The majority of the population in some countries still have an idea that 'well i'm American/Scottish/Canadian/Japanese/English so i should act decently (throwback from organised religion?) but what of Latvians? Estonians? Moldovans? Russians? Chinese? do you guys think you should act a certain way because of where you are from? (can you imagine it.....i'm Nigerian so i feel i should scam you somehow)

2. One other main influence on people is still the family, and the upringing. 'i cant do it because its the way i was brought up' is a common excuse i've had from nice girls who i've tried to kiss, since time immemorial.

3. Religion. This doesn't apply to most people in the west - since there is a moral vacuum, which is either taken up by fake 'consumer religions' like Satanism or Scientology or Wiccan and whatever the bad guys will make up soon with media backing to brainwash the masses into Armageddon (did you ever read 'ape and essence' by Aldius Huxley? the world gets nuked and the survivors end up worshipping the devil)   Anyway, as followers of  Reverend Jim Johnson will tell you (he led the infamous 'cult of the damned' where they drank arsenic laced 'kool aid' in Guyana and they all died)  It can be an all powerful influence on people's personality, far stronger than 1 and 2, and as your average suicide bomber will tell you, far more dangerous. Basically when it gets like that, it's just simple hypnotism.

4. Mass Media and the resultant peer pressure. The lack of religion in the west, and the lack of influence of 1,2 and 3 has led to a generation of 'lost children' looking for something to believe in, looking for something to do.

Total cannon fodder for the mass media.

This is the new religion, and its agenda serves as direction for millions. This is where your goatee bearded clown at a dinner party will pretend to defend the right of women to go to work naked if they so wish. Not because he's thought it through, because he was hypnotised by a documentary on it, and it was presented by a 'guy like him'

Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable, since often their idiot parents are either divorced, never married, or don't care enough, so they get the hardest sell into the system. Peer pressure to conform with that ensures a vast unpaid police force to keep the fashion/message like this or like that.

If you aren't 'on message' you are nobody. Just look at smoking and drinking and as a teenager. Pressure is enormous to do it, but why you are doing it, nobody actually knows.

So if we have a generation of adults weaned on TV rather than values, then what? their 'personalities' are simply reflections of what marketing hypnotists want them to be. Easily malleable Zombies - a marketing mans dream. If you don't believe me, go and ask the opinion of anyone in the rat race - middle managers, council workers, office receptionists, shopkeepers....

Sadly, and frustratingly, you'll soon be able to pidgeonhole them to the point of predicting how the rest of their lives will go, because their whole pointless lives are merely a reflection of what is around them - i.e. mass media and what their peers think of them (with, if they are lucky, the dwindling semblance of an upbringing)

So, unlike 100 years ago - who controls the mass media controls the world.

So what if the agenda of the (very few) owners of the mass media was malign?

Right now we see the US mass media brainwashing a whole country to forget about them stealing all their money. And that Libya is a bad dictatorship all of sudden (since they're pulling out of Iraq and Afghanstan, a new bogeyman is needed to distract the populace from their current bankruptcy. )

And who loses here - the poor average Libyan in the street, who's economy is being ravaged because of NATO intervention, thats who.

So you ask an average Joe american his opinion (i have done so, with everyone i met at the casinos there) and it seems his 'personality' is so non-existant that he's quite ok to turn up at 'ground zero' , and chant 'USA' like a zombie, when the news tells him that the culprit is dead.

In other words - he is so dead inside that he will act on something that the media tells him to act on, not on something he has experienced or has any knowledge about.

And if the media chose not to report about something (for example the total media blackout of Ron Paul's Presidential Campaign) then he remains blissfully ignorant in his world of hamburgers, baseball and Oprah Winfrey.

So there you have it. The fact that you follow Rangers or Manchester City, like healthy eating, and enjoy Yoga, and the odd glass of white wine, is not your opinion, or your personality, it's a product of your influences and the environment around you. Your choice of friends is relative to mutual media exposure (i.e. you'll be drawn to people who reaffirm your belief system) , of partner, of love, is merely a chemical reaction combined with environmental factors, as it the number of children you have. So, for most of us, our ability to make decisions of our own are limited to nothing more important than the menu in Starbucks.

But this leads to a deeper thought - who controls that environment ultimately? Are we, the sheeple, being sheparded into a new age, that we don't have control over? Has this happened before, i.e did we have an 'advanced civilisation' , some atlantis, before, and a 'fall of man' into barbarism resulting from a few people enslaving the population and ultimately destroying it and themselves? will it be different this time? The Hindu Vedas, the story of Gilgamesh, from thousands of years ago, are all about nuclear war in the dim and distant past.

The only conclusion I can come to on this quite spurious philosophical argument is that perhaps there is somewhere in every human a seed of genetic memory from all history, hidden away in the DNA (where we, in theory hold a vast shared memory of our history since we were apes and before) and so such a vast range of perspectives can come out, that now and again throws up genius, and truly inspirational people who can direct us in a way that is positive for the human race and doesn't involve destabilising and then economically enslaving innocent 3rd world countries. Maybe thats our only hope.

Anyway, any contrary opinions welcome.

On that note i'm off outside, its a beautiful day, for a change...