The last week

And so my travels come to a close.

We flew into Dubrovnik airport, and bussed to the resort village of Prčanj close to the ancient walled town of Kotor, for our senior staff retreat. Lovely place, of course; I went with a small group into Kotor itself for dinner one evening, and then on the last morning took a walk with a Kenyan colleague around the village itself – massive Catholic church on a promontory, originally built under French/Italian rule in 1809, and then revamped under Franz Josef in 1913. We also had lunch with the prime minister and dinner with the speaker of parliament. They are pretty firm about heading for an independence referendum next year.

Then 24 hours in Vienna, doing meetings in the Austrian Foreign Ministry in the morning and the OSCE in the afternoon. No time for tourism, alas, though I have been to Vienna before.

And so to Kyiv, where we’ve been having our organisation’s board meeting. Ukraine is my 44th country (will update that web page when I get home). We had dinner with the prime minister.

I managed to get out for a good walk around town with a colleague. The architecture is reminiscent of Moscow – Slavic and monumental – yet somehow a little less oriental. The Ukrainian letter І/і seems to be in every single word, so for someone like me who is used to other varieties of Cyrillic you really know which country you are in. (Have also been looking out for Ї/ї, Є/є and Ґ/ґ – plenty of the first, fewer of the second and I haven’t seen any of the third.)

We wandered through the Maidan where the revolutionary students camped at the end of last year (I bought a Yuliya Tymoshenko t-shirt), and then down the cobbled street at the bottom of which Bulgakov (or, as they say here, Bulhakov) lived. The street is full of artisan stalls, selling paintings, embroidery, matrioshka dolls, painted eggs, everything. I found one little stall selling Red Army and Soviet memorabilia, but also other second world war relics including Wehrmacht medals and more Nazi stuff than I think I’ve ever seen before. (That is, not very much but enough to cover two or three dinner plates.) I commented later to a colleague that while I’ve seen Red Army stuff for sale in Germany I’ve never seen Nazi memorabilia there. He reminded me that it is in fact illegal to sell such items in Germany.

They wouldn’t let us go around Bulgakov’s house without a tour guide and there wasn’t an English-speaking one available so we got a cab down the river to the fantastic Lavra complex of monasteries, where there is a poorly sign-posted but utterly amazing collection of Scythian gold. The Scythians obviously get a bad press from their Greek neighbours but they clearly had a very advanced material culture. It was rather stunning to compared the superb artistry of the 5th century BC with the much inferior products of the 12th century AD downstairs. Also rather fascinating was the small collection of Jewish silverwork from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries – striking, in a way, that there was so little of it. (The Khazars were mentioned in one of the earlier explanatory panels; their religion was not.)

Home this evening. Can’t wait.

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