Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Our Whirlwind trip to Kiev (or, A Relative Finally Visits!)

After 22 months, our entreaties to "come visit us!" finally got a response. My brother Nick has been racking up some serious travel time lately and I was thrilled when he agreed to stop in Ukraine for the weekend. We've only seen each other a handful of times over the past 12 years so this was a looong overdue meet-up!
Our time in Kiev was barely over 24 hours but like good travelers, we packed a ton of stuff into that short period. First, a quick note for anyone else traveling soon: try using the website In Ukraine, it's common to rent a room/apartment instead of checking into a hotel, but it can be a bit of a hassle to negotiate with the ladies at the train station who offer the apartments and to accept a place sight unseen. Airbnb is an international Craigslist of lodging- 192 countries and counting!- and makes it easy to find something more comfy than a sterile гостиница. We found a cute apartment in downtown Kiev for $100 a night. It was only 20 seconds away from the Lev Tolstoy metro stop, across the street from a vibrantly green park, and a very short walk from the main street of крещатик. There was even a microwave; pity we didn't get to use it, as it's the first time I've been around a microwave in the past 2 years and because it had a mysterious setting labeled "Russian chef", which may or may not have instantly replicated a delicious bowl of borsch, we'll never know.
View from the balcony of our rented apartment
The day Nick arrived fortuitously happened to be Victory Day, the last of the May holidays. Downtown Kiev was packed with people wringing every last drop of pleasure out of their final time off from work. Elderly war veterans wandered here and there in military uniforms dripping with medals. Posters on every street corner proclaimed "Happy Victory Day!" and orange-and-black ribbons were proudly pinned to shirts.
Independence Square on May 9th
My brother was amused by the macho street games. Drunken bicycle involved making a fool of yourself by trying to ride a messed-up bicycle in a straight line. Another game could only be won by hanging to a chin-up bar for two to five minutes but again, the bar had somehow been tampered with. Such bad odds didn't scare off men eager to prove themselves, though, and large crowds would gather to watch the often comical attempts.

Living statues, Segway riders, and costumed characters also performed for the passerby.
That evening was the perfect time for walking and watching the city come to life against the darkening skyscape.
The pricey Hotel Ukraine
The following morning found us gorging ourselves on the fifty (fifty!) baklava that Nick had brought from Turkey. We attempted to make up for this indulgence by exploring nearby Park Shevchenko and walking back to the train station with luggage in tow.
Taras Shevchenko statue
Taras Shevchenko university
For a nice write-up of this park, read Coffee, Kindle, Good Company and the Secrets of Shevchenko Park from Many Colored Days.
old apartment building next to the Hotel Express
We met up with a friend for lunch. Nick got to try vareniky (verdict: yum!) at our old favorite, Вареничная Победа. The restaurant had been renamed to Вареничная Катюша since our last trip to Kiev but the food was the same. This time we visited the train station location. Nick saw his first electrichka (slow, old passenger train used to cover short distances, usually uncomfortable and cheap). Even though it was barely 1 PM, one of the electrichka passengers was so drunk that he fell out of the train the first two times he tried to board. It was only with a strong push from the passengers behind him that he was at last able to get up the stairs and into the car.

Then we set off for one of my favorite spots in Kiev- Родина Мать. It was my second time here and the views were just as breathtaking and rewarding as they were on the first visit.

There's always so much to see here, I doubt we'll ever have time to see these churches from the inside.

My brother has always been fascinated with tanks, planes, and artillery, so we spent part of the afternoon exploring both the War Museum (about 5 uah to enter) and the plane/truck graveyard (around 3 uah to enter).
Memorial signed by veterans of the Afghan war
I liked the War Museum. The first floor was filled with bits and pieces from Soviet military campaigns/business around the world (Cuba, Ethiopia, different Asian countries, etc). One sign labeled in Russian showed the range of Cuba's missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The second floor documented the Afghanistan campaign down to the smallest details.
IED clearing, Soviet style
After viewing grim picture after grim picture, it was back outside to the toys of war.
There were some seriously scary weapons here. It was interesting to note how men and women responded differently to all this deadly equipment. The men were fascinated and slack-jawed with wonder, snapping lots of pictures. The women, meanwhile, preferred to express themselves by posing  in front of the tanks and gun boats. Some women went for the sexy look, others liked the sulky you-owe-me-one-for-coming-here expression.
With the minutes ticking down until our train departed, there was just enough time to reach the actual Rodina Mat statue before turning back and joining fifty other overheated tourists on a marshrutka back to the metro station.
Lest all that look too glamorous to you (mainly thanks to the special effects on Nick's camera ), here's a more behind-the-scenes picture of what it's like to get to Rodina Mat on a sunny day.
You'll definitely need a cold cup of kvass after battling through those sidewalk crowds!

And then it was on to Kharkov...


  1. Классно Погуляли! Ник уже уехал?

    1. Да, уже уехал. It's a pity you guys didn't get to meet!

    2. It's soo pity, realy...:(

  2. Yay, I'm glad to hear that you had a visitor (especially a baklava-bearing one)! Your time in Kiev looked great, especially the rolling expanses of hill. Also, I had to chuckle at the observation of how men and women responded differently to the war museum! I guess you didn't see any weddings this time in Kiev...?

    1. Just two weddings this time. Such a small number that I didn't even think to mention it :p Perhaps Many Coloured Days (comment below) is right... it's too early in the season.

  3. I bet he enjoyed those tanks :) Thanks for the mention, too. As for weddings, I think I've read somewhere that they are supposed to begin after Victory Day???

    1. MCD, I was really excited to see your post on the park at approx the same time I was writing this! You had lots of very good info there. When we visited on Thursday, btw, the babushka wasn't wrapped yet. And we kept looking around for that giant sideways cat head, but I guess it's in another park, right?

  4. Perhaps I can answer this question.
    > And we kept looking around for that giant sideways cat head, but I guess it's in another park, right?

    If you were talking about these guys -
    Yes, they are in a different place - near Andriyivskyy Descent and the National Museum of History.