I know this post is a bit overdue, but here it is nonetheless. I am still mourning the loss of one photo I wish I had taken, but did not. You see, every single day, my husband and I would walk through this one park around the corner from where we were staying and there would be all these old men playing chess, many of them wearing their Шапки (the classic fur hats) and drinking vodka. The only day we did not see them out there was on our last day, when I said I would finally carry my long heavy lens and get a picture. But when we walked by, there were no old men out playing chess……
Kyiv – what an interesting city. It emanates a bit of “the West,” but with that distinct post-Soviet atmosphere that I have come to love so dearly. In winter, Kyiv is bleak and damp, with that sort of penetrating cold. In summer, I imagine the city is very green and attractive, when all of the public parks are in bloom. Kyiv is actually the third largest Russian speaking city in the world (behind Moscow and Piter, of course), so I was able to communicate well enough with people in my mediocre broken Russian. The city is lined with beautiful cathedrals and as you come in on the train you cannot miss the behemoth “Mother of the Fatherland” statue on the hillside (she’s taller than our Lady Liberty). I wanted to call this entry “Vagabonding in Kyiv” because that’s pretty much what we did for five or six days….. My husband and I wandered the streets, got lost in the parks, spent almost everyday looking through the market that winds down the Андреевский Спуск (St. Andrew’s Descent), and spent most nights at our rental apartment drinking cheap Georgian wine (something that cannot be bought in Russia for embargo reasons) and eating cheese and homemade matzo from the stellar Jewish Restaurant we stumbled upon in old Kyiv. The apartment we rented for the week was super cheap and located in one of the classic Soviet era apartment buildings. It had this pungent smell in the corridor….. we literally had to hold our noses at all times while in the hallway because the smell was so foul, it could bring one to tears. We also learned a valuable lesson that week – when doing laundry, put the machine’s hose in the bathtub so as not to flood the downstairs neighbor’s apartment (this is also common in Russia, but not where I lived, so I was not aware this was normal).
Our original plan was to go to Pripyat, the now abandoned city that housed the workers (and their families) who worked at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. From what my friends have told me, it used to be that you could arrange a tour anytime with an agency in Kyiv, but the laws changed shortly before we made our trip and you have to plan at least 12 days (not including holidays) in advance so that a permit may be obtained. We were not able to go for this reason and it is still on our list of must-visit places in the future, although we did go to the museum in downtown Kyiv, which we thought was one of the most interesting museums we had been to and very well put together.
As for my overall impressions of Kyiv, I really want to revisit during a season with nicer weather. The market on St. Andrew’s Descent was one of the best souvenir markets I’ve been to (outside of Moscow), and I definitely ate my fill of potato pancakes and borsch that week. There was a great Jewish restaurant in the old Merchant’s district at the bottom of St. Andrew’s Descent that I would highly recommend if you want something different but authentic to the area and with some of the friendliest servers we have ever had. The Monastery and Museum of the Great Patriotic War are must sees and located right next to each other. Honestly, we did a lot of wandering and missed the one thing we really wanted to see (Pripyat), but Kyiv is a really interesting city and so affordable. Plus, American citizens do not need a visa for tourist travel to the Ukraine. However, we did run into a huge mess trying to get back to Saint Petersburg on the train – note, the direct train to Piter does transit Belarus (something you think would be easy to find out ahead of time, but is not) and we did not have transit visas, which led us on a comical travel experience you may read about in my other blog entry “Only in the Ukraine.” Seriously, for me it was the best part of the trip because I like a good laugh and we met some really stellar people, such as our taxi driver.
As for the rest, the pictures can do the speaking. Here is Kyiv, the fourth and final “Hero City” we have now been to (there are twelve of them, 13 including Brest, and one day I hope to make it to all of the others).