Saturday, February 9, 2013

Making the best of winter

There's a lot of general dismay going around the Ukrainian blogsphere about February and this blog certainly hasn't been immune. The weather is always dreary and each day seems like a faded reprint of the day before.
I find myself going through old photo albums looking for proof that yes, at some point dry sidewalks and colorful flowers did exist here, that it wasn't just my imagination.
Despite all that, the temperatures have risen and sometimes the faintest glimmer of spring appears on the horizon. Have faith- it's coming! With that certainty, I wanted to get outside and document what's left of winter. D and I have been cooped up for the past month, working on websites and projects, and today was our first real afternoon of city exploration in 2013! I was so excited to get outside that I practically scrambled out of bed in the morning like a 7-year-old on Christmas day. D had promised to show me a shortcut he'd discovered between the Metalist Stadium and the Holiday Bowling Club.

We started out here, climbing up the yellow steps of the Metrobudivnykiv imeni H.I. Vashchenka metro station. Although I've been changing lines at this station for over a year, I'd never actually been above ground.
I think you'll agree with me that this area is much more pleasant on a summer's eve : )
We began to follow D's shortcut by heading away from the stadium, past buildings still decorated for last summer's football championships. The shortcut took us through the common area between all the massive apartment complexes.
As I paused to photograph this bulletin board, a lightly-dressed twenty-something approached us, lit cigarette in hand. "Excuse me, can I make a call on your phone? I'll pay you."  The call was answered right away and I heard the shivering smoker address his friend: Рома, где ты, блять?! Я замерз, быстрее! Roman, where the hell are you? I'm frozen, hurry up! Hopefully Roman arrived shortly after, for we continued walking on through the parking lot, pausing briefly to inspect a nearby table displaying a pig's head. Yes, a pig's head: eyes closed, snout pointed toward the sky. If this seems like a weird thing to find for sale outside of your apartment building, then you probably haven't been Ukrainian-ized enough yet :p I suggest you keep reading this blog on a regular basis.

I wanted to ask how much the pig's head cost- and what exactly would one do with such a thing (any ideas, readers? mount it like a trophy on your wall?)- but then it seemed silly to ask so we kept walking.

It only took about 10 minutes to reach our destination, the Holiday Entertainment Complex. The Holiday bowling alley was one of the first places I visited in Kharkov. D hadn't even arrived to the city yet when I tagged along with some friends one Saturday afternoon back in 2011. We've returned several times, most recently to present a булава traditionally to a friend and party next door at a Kazaky show.

But this not to be our final destination today. Now there was a choice to be made: turn right and explore Gagarin Prospect as it winds nicely through the city, or turn left and follow the street as it heads out of town.

Old vs new?
It wasn't even a question. We turned left. Wouldn't you do the same?
Admittedly, there are not a lot of tourist attractions in this direction.

We passed the sprawling campus of ХМК, otherwise known as the Kharkov Meat Factory (website). Yum.

Is it just me, or does their symbol look a tiny bit like another kind of symbol??
We slogged through mud alongside the busy road and crossed an overpass of train tracks. Peeking through open gates as we passed by private homes, I spotted a yard full of gravestones. The slabs were leaned against each other like a giant stack of dominoes, ready to be sold to whoever walked through the gate.

Then a castle-themed playground appeared, deserted save for a father, a little girl, and her blue shovel.
Supermarkets lined both sides of the road. Private homes turned into massive apartment complexes, uniform in size and appearance. "Standing like soldiers", commented D.

At this point what lay ahead didn't look especially encouraging-
so cold and hunger led us to the only restaurant around-
where in extremely short order this happened-
By the way, I've finally pinpointed the biggest difference between American and Ukrainian pizzas. I had an awesome pizza shop job in college and lovingly made lots of pizzas at a major take-n-bake chain. We considered the pizza base to consist of three parts: the crust, the sauce, and the cheese. That thick base layer of cheese was mandatory unless it was a "diet" pizza.

In Ukraine, however, pizza sauce (or mayo, if you're unlucky, haha) and cheese seem to count as toppings and tend to be carefully rationed. In fact, you can see that on this Hawaiian pizza there's no base layer of cheese at all, but rather it's an afterthought. And trust me, a generous afterthought. Usually pizzas come with less cheese than this.

But I can't complain, because I eat a lot of pizza here and don't gain weight, probably because of this topping policy. The tourism board could easily put out a new slogan: come to Ukraine, eat pizza*, lose weight!
* of course, you've got to walk to the restaurant, none of this everyone-has-a-car business! which probably also explains the lack of weight gain....

Okay, now that you're hungry for pizza, let's wrap this up!

By that point a dull gray gloom had descended on the city streets. Having walked so far already, we were ready for an alternate form of transportation: the tram.
I love taking the tram. They're rumbly, they're old, and best of all- they're usually not crowded.

There was a warm heating vent next to the window, so my frozen skin got a chance to thaw. It was wonderful to be on that tram, full of pizza, watching the buildings and factories roll by. I even finally spotted Взлетающий Дракон (Flying Dragon), a Vietnamese/Chinese/Japanese restaurant that's highly recommended by a reader of this blog (website). It's housed in a huge building with yellow walls and an elaborately decorated roof guarded by two giant dragons. I've never seen anything like this before in Kharkov!

But before the tram approached our stop, Lenin's stern countenance glared down from the top of an academy. Four red and gold Soviet emblems adorned the entryway of another building. A vibrant cosmonaut mural brightened the street corner. By the time this ornate mosaic showed up, we knew we had to jump off the tram right here to get a better look.
 We had to backtrack to photograph this mural but don't you think it was worth it?
And since we were almost back where we began, at the Metalist stadium, it wasn't a big surprise to see the stately "Metalist House of Culture" across the street.
And that was it. Three hours of sidewalks like this will wear you out!

So in conclusion, while there is probably still a month of this ahead...
...I'm going to get out there and make the best of it. Whether you too venture outside or whether you wait it out more comfortably from inside your home, good luck : )

PS: For those who'd like to follow this route themselves, view the Google map below or click here to see the map in another tab.

View Out and About in Kharkov 2/9/13 in a larger map


  1. No photo of the pig's head? We had soooo much snow again in Kiev yesterday.

    1. Haha, no, no picture of the pig's head. You know my track record for getting busted with those things :P

      Wow, that's a bummer. I hope the streets in Kiev aren't too bad this week. Kharkov's winter has been much better than last year's winter was, we are lucky this time around.

  2. You have my kudos for making gray and dismal seem interesting and colorful. Great post.