A well seasoned approach to travel and food

Discovering Kyiv

July 26, 2019

Due to my schedule change coming out of Tbilisi, I had to cancel a couple of walking tours that I had planned.  When I arrived back a bit earlier from my cooking class than I planned, I decided to check another one out through FreeTour.com called “Undiscovered Kyiv.”  I wasn’t sure exactly where the tour would take me, but it was the only tour with a convenient start time.

I was provided the following directions as to the meeting point:  “Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in front of the Central Post Office by the Monument with the Globe (small Stella with Globe on it).” I wasn’t sure what a “small Stella” was, but I figured that I’d know it when I saw it.

I started up my Navigation app (thanks T-mobile for free data on my international plan) and began my walk – up a long hill.  Not sure how I’ve picked all hilly cities to visit on this trip, but I feel like I’m always walking up or down a steep hill.  I was happy to find out that Dream Hostel was in a flat area, but it turns out that everything I want to see is at the top of the hill.  I have a feeling that I will get to know the hill very well.

Just up the block from the hostel, I came upon a lovely mural and some nice graffiti. 

A little further along, I found this colorful artwork in an alley.

As I walked, I marveled at the bright classical architecture that seems to be prominent in the old town.  There are also a lot of monuments scattered here and there.

At the top of the hill, I came upon a bright teal, gold-domed church – St. Andrew’s, which would later become a landmark for me when trying to find my way back to the hostel.  It’s absolutely gorgeous; I made a mental note to return to see the inside at a later time. 

Across the street from St. Andrew’s, I found a statue that appears to be dedicated to engaged couples.  Upon closer examination, however, there’s some kind of menacing insect on the kneeling man’s butt, so I’m not sure if there’s an alternate meaning.  If anyone has an explanation, please let me know.

I eventually made it into a large square where several large monuments were located.  I saw a sign about “heroes,” so I figured I was in Independence Square.  I found a monument that had an angel standing on a ball at the top, but it didn’t look like a globe and it definitely wasn’t small. I figured it was the wrong monument. 

The other monuments I saw didn’t seem to have anything to do with the world or a globe, so I ticked them off the list.  Finally, as I came up from an underpass (to cross the road, you often have to go under it), I saw a podium with a globe sitting on top.  I had to be in the right location.  When our tour guide Anna approached, it was confirmed.

It turns out that Maydan/Maidan is the main meeting point in Kyiv, possibly the entirety of Ukraine.  If there’s a political rally, a revolution, a protest, a festival, or a concert, it will happen in Maidan.  It sounds like it’s a hub of excitement.

We had a rather large group, most of them students in Kyiv to study international law at the university for a few weeks.  As chance would have it, many were staying at Dream Hostel.  In addition to the 15-20 law students, we had a mid-40s guy from Britain who is on year three of a five-year world exploration (not sure what he does for a living), a nurse from the Philippines on vacation, a student from Taiwan, and two guys who kept to themselves, so I’m not sure their story.

We spent most of the tour walking around Central Kyiv.  We saw the City Hall, where there is an ongoing protest set up against the Crimean War (most of the refugees in Kyiv and other places in Ukraine are from Crimea).

In the toney Lypky district, we walked by an underground mall and an upscale market and saw some of Kyiv’s most expensive apartment buildings (they are near government offices, so lots of officials live in the buildings).

We walked by the former Lenin statue.  It was the last statue of Lenin in Kyiv, which was smashed to bits in 2014.  What replaced him was a large blue hand, a sculpture that is supposed to symbolize “friendship and cooperation.” Not sure how, but that’s what it’s supposed to mean. To each their own.

Along boulevards lined with art museums and statuary, we headed to Schevchenko Park, named after Ukraine’s beloved poet Taras Schevchenko. 

The park was nice and would be a great place to sit in the shade by a fountain and read a book (possibly of Schevchenko’s poems – translated into English, of course).  The main attraction, however, is a heavily shaded area where old Ukrainian men (not surprising since I’m in Ukraine) spend their days playing chess – competitively.  It will cost you the equivalent of a dollar to try and go up against one of them if you think you’re good.  I caution you though, they play all day, every day, so I’m sure they are hard to beat.  I’m also sure that their wives are happy they have somewhere to go every day, all day to stay out of their way.

Our final major stop on the tour was St Volodymyr’s Cathedral.  It isn’t one of Kyiv’s primary churches (and there are many), but it does stand out by its bright yellow Byzantine-style exterior with seven blue domes and its phenomenally beautifully art nouveau-influenced interior.  Built in the late 19th century, the interior uses lots of color and gold leaf.  It’s a feast for the eyes.

Anna left us to our own devices to find our way back home.  She left us on the corner across from a lovely building that, on the exterior, says it’s a Renaissance Hotel, but it’s not.  I guess the owner of the building wanted it to be a hotel but ran out of money.  So the sign is there, but it has been abandoned for many years.  A real pity as it’s gorgeous on the outside.

I headed off in the general direction of the hostel (i.e. down a hill).  I passed more cool architecture and eventually found myself in a large park that holds one of Kyiv’s historical museums.  I thought about going in, but a guard wasn’t letting anyone through.  I also thought about going into the little church situated in the park, but mass was being said and it was standing room only.

As I tried to get my bearings, I turned around and what did I see through the trees – the bright teal walls and golden domes of St. Andrew’s, my beacon in the dark.  Somehow, I had navigated my way back to the top of the street where the hostel is located.  I know I was lucky, but I’d rather think it was my navigation skills.

Since I needed a wallet refill, I bypassed the hostel and head to the square just below.  The receptionist had told me earlier that I could find an ATM in the red building (she showed me a picture) next to the “big white wheel, yes?”  The building looked just as she had said and yes, it stood beside the big white Ferris wheel.  The large square also had a few pedestrian streets branching off – areas for future investigation.

My first day of exploring Kyiv was a success.  I didn’t get lost and I think I’m falling in love with another city.  We’ll see how the next few days go.