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Trip Report Trip Report - Kiev, Ukraine

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Better late than never. Had a wonderful time in Kiev, Ukraine for one week. We were a bit disappointed that we unable to get to the south, Odessa, but did get out of down for one day to Chernigiv (hired a driver). I was there to give a talk, which was mid-week, so it created a small logistical problem to wander too far from the city.

We went the first week of November (2009), so the weather was not the greatest. Although it was cold, cloudy and a bit drizzly at times, we never had to stay inside because of the rain. We brought winter jackets, and found ourselves a bit on the hot side, once we started walking.

Kiev is a great walking and public transportation city. You definitely don't need a car (unless you want to get out of town) or to take taxis. Walking five or six miles a day was not a big deal for us. The only time we took a cab, was getting to the Lavra (caves), because the person at the front desk gave us a weird look when we asked about walking there. We walked back to our hotel easily.

We saw all the various neighborhoods and sites that were of interest to us, including:

1. Khreschatyk Street
2. Independence Square
3. St. Michael's
4. Andriyivskyy Descent
5. St. Sophia's
6. Bulgakov Museum
7. St. Andrew's Church (though it was closed for renovations)
8. Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves)
9. Babi Yar
10. Central Synagogue

We stayed at a nice hotel, Hotel Rus. It had a great breakfast buffet included. It was just a short walk from some really delicious restaurants and the Central Synagogue (the old Jewish neighborhood). The room was basic, but comfortable. It had wifi for an additional charge, so we could use Skype to call our daughter back in the states. The people were pretty nice and helpful, though the person at the currency exchange put out some really negative vibes, but both being psychologists, we didn't take it personally.

One of the most special moments was afternoon tea at the cafe at the Bulgakov Museum. Although the women working there didn't speak English, and we didn't know Ukraine, there was a wonderful feeling of hospitality. We were the only people at the cafe, so the woman turned off the lights, and brought a few candles to our table. We had the most delicious tea and pastries. It was the most relaxing moment I think we experienced the whole week. A combination of sweet romance between me and my wife, and solitude, warmth and comfort from the cold and dreary weather outside.

Babi Yar (Holocaust Memorial) was a very moving experience. We took the train to and from the park (the subways themselves are an interesting experience). The rainy weather accentuated the mood that we experienced from the moment we got off the train. The park actually begins at the train station. The first thing you see is the statute built for the child victims. All I can say, is it was a profoundly sad day, and that was hard to shake the residual feeling that resulted from the visit. But I was glad that we went.

The Monastery of the Caves was also very interesting. It felt very spiritual walking through the caves and paying homage to the saints. Afterward, we went across the street to the art museum and were lucky to catch an incredible Rodin exhibit. We walked back to our museum in the park across the the government buildings. There was even a demonstration going on in front of the Parliament building.

We walked to the Podil neighborhood, which is the other side of the Andriyivskyy Descent. There is a cool museum call the Museum of One Street, which has many, many artifacts demonstrating the history of the street. It was very interesting!

We stopped by the Opera House several times, but that week, everything was canceled due to the swine flu epidemic. That was the biggest disappointment of the week. Lots of people were wearing masks, but we escaped without infection. ;-) There was a cool street art exhibit about the way the government was dealing with the epidemic, just a few blocks from our hotel.

On our final day, we hired a driver to take us to Chernigiv. We spent the day walking through the large park and viewing the sights of the river, religious sites and cathedrals. Before we left, we had a nice late lunch/early dinner at this cool little restaurant that seemed to mostly cater to college students. We could have been on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, except for the language and smoking.

Oh yes, smoking. Sometimes we forget how California is different from the rest of the world. The smoking in Kiev is really, really intense. A non-smoking section of a restaurant is not really free of smoke. We had to get all our clothes and jackets dry cleaned when we got back to get rid of the smell. A small inconvenience, but definitely not a place for people who are really uptight about breathing second hand smoke.

Overall, I loved the trip. Both of our families (grandparents) were from the Ukraine, so it felt a bit like a return to our roots. Interestingly, the food was very reminiscent of the food we both ate as children. Next year, we are going to Israel for the first time, so it kind of completes the circle for us. Looking forward to sharing those experiences here as well.

Photos from our trip can be found here:

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