Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gorky Park and Саржин Яр

Gorky Park is a gigantic city park here in Kharkov. It had been under construction pretty much since I arrived to the city last year. Rumor had it that the remodeled park was to open by June's EURO 2012 tournament but the soccer championship came and went... and a big tree-cutting scandal was the only news from the park.

Where's my park? is probably what this little boy is thinking.

But fear not, intrepid readers, for the work has finished at last and the entire park is again open to all! The park officially reopened on August 23rd (city day) after a visit from Viktor Yanukovich, President of Ukraine. About 80,000 people showed up that first weekend, especially since all the rides were free on opening day. If you're intrigued by the idea of 80,000 visitors in just a couple of days, check out this 3 minute video on the city's website. It's also a great way to see what the locals look like (not supermodels, not drunks, simply regular people) and hear their thoughts, albeit in Russian: "Now there are no problems with the bathrooms (as there had been before.)" "We feel like real Europeans." And for more, read the impressions of a Peace Corps volunteer who visited the park on opening day.

 I didn't make it there until almost 2 weeks later. My friend Tanya and I chose a sunny weekday afternoon to stroll over and walk among all the rides. We were both a week away from payday so it was a look-but-don't-pay kind of visit : )

The ferris wheel is by far the star of the show. It's located all the way at the back of the park, surrounded by several indoor arcades and a large plaza with dancing fountains. While it may not be the most adrenaline-producing attraction, it undoubtedly provides an amazing view from the top.
This place really gets going after the sun sets!

And the ferris wheel is just the start- there's SO much more to Gorky park. You know I usually keep my entries short but for this one, it's best to grab a cup of tea and settle in!
View from park (back) entrance near family entertainment center area
The family entertainment center has world-themed rides: Egypt, England, Canada, Arabia, Tortuga, Barbados, India, Japan, and "Maya".

Above, from left to right: Canada, Tortuga, Japan (in which you sit in a moving plane and fire at a bat holding a target while your score is recorded on an electronic scoreboard. Of course.)

Below, from left to right: Egypt (this attraction is named "Mega Disco"), England, Arabia?

A beautifully painted haunted house is slated to open soon.

People like to get around the park on wheels: bicycles, rollerblades, Segways, and- for the very young ones- all shapes and sizes of baby strollers.

Next there's the extreme park (экстрим парк) with a roller coaster, tower drop, space gun (literally спейс ган) and super spin (супер спин). On a related note, has anyone else noticed the peculiar translations of the word roller coaster? In Russian it translates as американские горки, American hills, but the Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese words translate to Russian mountain.

Roller coaster before and after:

I heard a story that Yanukovich and crew were all geared up to ride this roller coaster. They climbed in and sat down.... and the ride didn't work, so they climbed back out and left.

Next to the roller coaster, this mural-
nothing says Ukrainian theme park more than this mural ; )

Not far from the roller coaster is a nice tranquil lane, perfect for catching up on your favorite newspaper-
or at least it was calm enough for reading until this crazy squirrel showed up and started harassing people!

Squirrels have always been hanging around this area but I don't remember them being this bold before.

Other tranquil spots include the merry-go-round and an outside cafe.

Onward! These pictures are from the children's park.

Meanwhile, there another section called the "retro park" that has been open all summer. It's filled with paths and benches and speakers designed as little mushrooms.

This group showed up one afternoon to sing in Ukrainian-

Here's another before/after shot from the entrance to the park.

main entrance

For the moment there's a "Park Before the Reconstruction" exhibit near the main entrance.

Gorky Park has a couple other cool activities. There's a two-story movie theater that we've been to several times, most recently to spend an (uber-patriotic) 4th of July watching Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter in Ukrainian. Tickets are pretty pricey but you do get to pick out your own seat. There's a small lobby that's always filled with couples waiting for their movie to start. Maybe it's popular place for a first date because no one ever speaks in the lobby. There's just a creepy silence.

Another popular activity is the cable carts. It's a 20-minute long trip above the trees of Gorky Park, across the road, over a swamp, before eventually leaping off at the other end (or vice versa). The cableway was built in 1971 and while the trip is ominously creaky, I've never heard of anyone not making it to the other side. That said, it does go fairly high up: altitude varies from 8-26 meters (25-85 feet) over the 1385 meter (4500 foot) long ride. The best part? It's only 10 grivna and you can drink beer. I discovered this one afternoon after a flat-out painful job interview. D met me and we decided to shortcut home by hopping on the cable carts. A woman not only sold us beer from a little cart next to the entrance, she then opened it for us. By the time we got to the other end of the ride I'd finished the bottle and almost forgotten about the interview :p

This is where the cable carts will drop you off, not far from another park called саржин яр.

саржин яр map- click to enlarge
 Sarzhine Ravine is gorgeous during the summer!

but not quite so glamorous in April
One of the main attractions is a spring where you can fill up whatever container you brought. Every time I'm even remotely near this park, there are scores of pedestrians with empty water jugs in hand en route to the spring.

Other things this park offers: a plethora of benches for sitting around, a children's play area and an outdoor workout area. Yes, exercise! There's simple equipment for doing pull-ups, sit-ups, etc, and even a rudimentary elliptical machine. I saw a lot of serious-faced athletic individuals getting down to business. And if you're up for a short swim-
Brave swimmers on a chilly spring afternoon

Яр means ravine in English, and this park is indeed in a ravine. There are several paths out and upward. One of these paths will take you back to the main street. Another meanders through the forest for a long ways, eventually leading back to the cable carts. The third leads you to a parking area and a church. We heard the bells ringing several times during our Easter picnic.

And there you have it. If you're planning a visit to Kharkov, leave an afternoon free so you can come explore these popular places!


  1. LOL. Someone needs to tell them about a few basics. First of all, tortuga is a turtle, not a place. And I guarantee you it's definitely not a country. Second, Canada should be a bunch of hockey players with no teeth and Celine Dion. And some badly dressed people as well (no offense Canada). But it's hardly a woodoo pillar or whatever the hell that thing is. Third, Japan... Well, Japan is freaking weird, so I'm actually OK with that one :)

    Also on the subject of the cable carts. About half way down the road there's a hospital and several residential houses adjacent to the cable path. When I was in college my girlfriend at the time lived in one of those houses. It was not uncommon for us to hear people screaming for help after 9pm on summer nights, because the road would just stop. She even passed a blanket up there once, because those people weren't going anywhere till the morning. You may have not heard about anybody not making it to the other side but I've actually seen it :)

    But in all seriousness, thank you so much for this review. It made me homesick. Gorky Park has always been my favorite place in town, mostly for its quiet green side alleys. I heard about the buildout but haven't seen it yet.

    1. Hi Sergiy, great comment!! I love it when someone has stories to share! Now I'll be sure to always take at least a jacket on the cable carts, just in case :p

      It will be very interesting to hear your thoughts once you arrive to Kharkov and see the remodeled park.

  2. I must say that one of my favorite things about this part of the world is its kickass playgrounds, theme parks, and parks. I can't wait :P

    1. Speaking of which, if you're into slightly run-down children's playgrounds, there's a cool place called "Fairytale Meadow" near the Oleksiivska metro. It's really small, so it would only take a few minutes to walk through, but it's neat for photos.