Kiev, Ukraine

4-6 December, 2015

My Aunt Di works for the World Bank in Washington D.C. Her job takes her all over the world several times a year. Since I grew up quite far from her, I have very few memories of us together Stateside. When I studied abroad, however, we were able to meet once in Paris, France and once in Geneva, Switzerland.

That was six years ago.

As she prepared for a trip earlier this fall, I sent her a message to remind her to tell me when she is crossing the pond so that I can see her again. Sure enough, she told me her plans to visit Kiev in December.

The plane ticket was surprisingly expensive considering that Istanbul and Kiev are only two hours apart. I flew with Ukranian International as it was significantly cheaper than Turkish Airlines, but UIA didn’t even pass out water!

My aunt arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport and bring me to the hotel, which was about forty-five minutes from the airport. My driver had legs for days. I struggled to keep up with him as we walked from arrivals to the car. He was very friendly, too. Throughout the drive, he told me about food I should try, what he thought about the trouble with Russia, and sights I should see.

Quickly after giving my aunt our first hug in years, we went out for dinner. I tried borscht, a delicious soup that I had twice on this trip, as well as a spinach ravioli and beef stroganoff .

Saturday we walked nowhere in particular all day long. We found our way down towards the river and I’m surprised my aunt, mermaid that she is, didn’t dive right in.

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As we explored, I noticed that Kiev doesn’t really have a café culture like Istanbul. There wasn’t really anywhere for us to sit down and people watch. It’s certainly possible that Kiev has areas like that, but certainly not wherever we were lost.

That night, we were bumped into one of my aunt’s colleagues. She told us where to go for dinner and negotiated the fare with a taxi driver. Our dinner was delicious. We share fish filled black dumplings and I had duck in a cherry sauce. Aunt Di ordered an incredible chestnut soup that I should definitely learn how to make.

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Church near the restaurant

After dinner, we ordered a taxi to take us back to the hotel. There was one waiting outside. When we got in, we told him to take us to the Radisson Blu, but as he started to drive, my aunt said, “I think we’re supposed to be going up hill?” I said, “It’s probably a one-way street…” Sure enough, he took us to the wrong hotel.

From what we gathered, someone else had gotten in the taxi before us, said where he needed to go, and then got out. Therefore, the taxi driver thought that’s where we needed to go. The unfortunate part is that we were on the meter, so his mistake was added to our fare.

I tried, with the help of the doorman at the hotel, to get the same rate that we , but it was clear by the phone calls that the taxi driver had to report to an authority and collect what was on the meter. We were able to meet in the middle, but it was definitely a hassle. I don’t think that the taxi driver was trying to mess with us in this case, and in the end, the difference was about a dollar or two.

Moral of the story is to negotiate the fare before you sit down. Easier said than done when you’re new to a city and don’t know what the going rate is from point A to any point B.

On Sunday, we went to St. Sophia’s cathedral. It truly was spectacular. The exterior had some of the old brick exposed and the interior was covered in frescos that had once been plastered over.

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St. Sophia

Upstairs, there was a hand painted Easter Egg mosaic. I was in awe. What a neat way to remake old art through a unique medium.

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As we walked towards St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery, which had an impressive exterior and an underwhelming interior, we noticed that their Christmas markets were being set up. Since they celebrate Orthodox Christmas in January, they were still a month out. It’s a shame we couldn’t see the markets in full swing. That would have been a delightful taste of the culture.

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St. Michael’s

I had led us towards St. Michael’s thinking it was the monastery where the caves were. I’ve never been good with maps… We were far from where we wanted to be and didn’t have much time left. They say that monastery and caves, near the Motherland statue, is the most impressive sight in Kiev. It’s a shame we missed it.

We did, however, have an outstanding lunch. In between St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s, there is a street that goes down a hill. We walked into this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that smelled divine. This sweet woman home made everything. We ate potato pancakes, sausage, dumplings, and more. I can’t recommend the restaurant enough.

At that point, it was just about time to gather my things and go to the airport. We arranged a driver to take me there for 390 Ukrainian hryvnia. The exchange rate at the time was about 1 to 25. I rounded up to 400 making the fare about $16. I read online that a taxi at the airport costs about $35-45, so I’m glad the hotel arranged this for me.

Ukrainian International DID give me water on the way back, but the stewardess was very discreet while passing it out as if she didn’t want people to know it was available. Very strange.

Overall, I didn’t think Kiev was all that fascinating, but there were entire neighborhoods we didn’t see. It’d be worth another try, but certainly isn’t high on my priority list at this time. The best part was just getting to catch up with my aunt.

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