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Trip Report Five Days in Kiev (longish)

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My dear friend is assigned to the US Consulate in Kiev (or Kyiv, as it is spelled there), so we combined a planned trip to Germany with a visit there. Kiev is 2.5 hours by air from Frankfurt.

Day 1: We flew from Seattle to Frankfurt, had a 5 hour layover there, and then flew to Kiev on Ukrainian Airlines. The flight was interesting...the plane was full; there were lots of disputes over who could claim the overhead compartments, and finally the pilot started to taxi down the runway while people were still standing in the aisles. Everybody got seated before takeoff, however, and the rest of the flight was uneventful, and even included a good sandwich.

We arrived at Borispol Airport and were met by our friend and her driver at baggage claim. We had about a 30 minute drive to downtown; at this point I had been awake for 30 hours and could barely register what I was seeing. The initial impression was of many grim Soviet style apartment blocks...this impression would change dramatically later.

Day 2: My friend's apartment was lovely, in a green, leafy section of the city near Shevchenko University. The Canadian ambassador lives in her building – not too shabby.

After 10 hours of restorative sleep, we set out for the “MegaMarket” by taxi. This is a huge, multilevel, centrally-located grocery store with a huge inventory and a good wine selection. I love to cruise through foreign grocery stores to see the different food items and packaging; in this case things were doubly mysterious because the Cyrillic alphabet is totally incomprehensible to me. After lunch at the apartment, we headed out through the public garden to the upscale shopping district on Khreschatyk Street. This wide, elegant boulevard is truly the Champs-Elysees of Kiev. Beautiful shops and hotels line the street, and we visited the Bessarabskiy Market, well known for its beautiful produce and flowers. Unfortunately tSum, the famous department store known for Soviet Service without a Smile, is currently closed for renovations. At International Square, we were entertained by buskers and people in Disney character costumes, wanting to pose for pictures with you (and be paid for it).

Day 3: We spent today with our friend's driver, Oleg Kryvoshyy, who moonlights as a tour guide. Oleg was wonderful, spoke good English and was very knowledgeable about Ukrainian history...our visit was completely enhanced by his narratives and unflappable driving. (He can be reached at olegk211@yandex.ru) We began with city sights: the “Great Gate” of Kiev immortalized in Moussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition” symphony, St. Sophia's Cathedral with its lavish interiors (and stern docents enforcing a “No Photography” rule), St. Michael's with its spectacular golden domes, and St. Andrew's with its nearby Uzviz (literally “Descent”), a narrow, steep winding street filled with artists and their paintings...very Montmartre-feeling. Back at the apartment, we watched the moving and terrifying film “Battle for Chernobyl”...Chernobyl is a tourist site today, but very expensive to visit, and still slightly radioactive. (We were warned not to eat certain foods, like strawberries and potatoes, that grow in the irradiated earth near Kiev.)

Day 4: A beautiful, sunny day; near 70 degrees...miraculous for October. We went to Kiev's magnificent opera house for a matinee performance of “The Nutcracker”. It was a brilliant, delightful performance, and cost us each the equivalent of $17...amazing. In the afternoon, we walked through the Botanical Garden and visited St. Volodymyr's (Vladimir)Cathedral. This bright yellow 19th century building looks like a wedding cake and is the headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Day 5: Another beautiful day weather-wise, and a busy one for us. Oleg was our guide again today and we first went to the Pechersk Lavra, a UNESCO World Heritage site with churches, bell towers and caves dating back to 1051. This is easily the most popular tourist attraction in Kiev, and it was very crowded on this sunny Sunday. We strolled through the beautiful grounds and gardens, and donned head scarves to go into the somewhat claustrophobic caves...burial sites for ancient monks. In a park on the banks of the Dnipro River, we next visited the Monument to the Founders of Kiev, a massive bronze sculpture of a boat bearing the three brothers who were the legendary founders of the city. Next was the Motherland Statue and the Great Patriotic War Memorial. The Motherland Statue is a massive stainless steel monument; at 335 feet it is taller than the Statue of Liberty and can be seen from great distances. The Patriotic War Memorial (and Museum) commemorates World War II, and there are beautiful bas-relief sculptures of war victims, soldiers and resistance members in the breezeway that leads to the foot of the statue.

Finally, Oleg brought us to the outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture and Lifestyle, which again was swamped with visitors on this unusually warm fall day. More than 300 original buildings, some from as early as the 16th Century, have been transported here to represent country life in all the regions of Ukraine. Singers and entertainers in traditional costume are here, as well as craft and souvenir shops, and lots of ethnic food booths. It is a very interesting and photogenic place.

The next morning Oleg escorted us back to the airport, and we were off for Frankfurt and the next adventure. But we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kiev. It is a beautiful city, well-loved and well taken care of by its residents, with many grand buildings and boulevards and beautiful parks. In addition, since being chosen as the Euro2012 site, much care has gone into infrastructure improvements and English-language signage, making tourism that much more accessible.

Go to Kiev! You won't regret it. I will post a link to some pictures when I've processed them.

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