If you had asked me a year ago about the countries in the world I wanted to visit, I doubt Ukraine would have made it into the top 100. Ukraine just wasn’t on my travel radar. In fact I’d never even considered it.Â Until… I was invited to Â my brother-in-law’s wedding that is.
Just a few months ago, Ukraine went through a revolution. Independence Square in the city centre became the scene for a number of riots, where both protesters and police sadly lost their lives.Â
At the time we visited, the country had an interim President and Russia had just taken control of the Crimea, so of course I had my reservations about going to a politically unstable country. In fact everyone I spoke to had their reservations and I lost count of the amount of times people expressed their concern over the trip, but we were determined to go and celebrate the wedding.
With the FCO advising it was safe enough to visit the regions we were going to, our party of nine flew into Kiev late on a Wednesday afternoon. We had Thursday to explore the city, before taking a three hour train ride to Cherkasy on Friday, where the wedding was being held.We met our hosts, my brother-in-law and his fiance (now wife) at the President Hotel.Â What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that I’d stupidly forgotten my camera. Travel blogger fail! So all of the pictures you’ll see from my Ukrainian adventure are courtesy of my iPhone 5.
After a quick change we headed out to dinner at Chachapuri, a cute little Georgian restaurant, named after khachapuri, a traditional Georgian dish of bread filled with cheese and egg (I think chachapuri is the Ukrainian-English spelling).
Dinner at ChachapuriÂ
The menu looked delicious, but there was so much choice, I didn’t know where to start. My brother-in-law, whoâ€™d eaten there before, told us and I quote ‘it’s a bit like tapas’, so we got to work ordering a few dishes each. I opted for a bit of Georgian wine on the side – which was pretty damn good I’m glad to report.
First out was some canapes courtesy of the restaurant, with a shot of chacha, a clear brandy, on the side. With arms raised and a collective Â â€œBudâ€™moâ€ (cheers) we drank our shots. I have absolutely no idea what the red and green pastes were on top of the bread, my best guess is ground beef (the red one) and some kind of pine nut/basil ensemble (the green one) – although I could be completely wrong! They were nice, not overly flavoursome, but tasty all the same.
When the food began to arrive, I soon realised we may have made a bit of a mistake. Delicious salads, dumplings and phallic shaped meat and mushroom kebabs (tasted better than they looked) were brought out. Followed by more food and more food, and more foodâ€¦
Yes, the food was like tapas, the dishes were great to share, but they were big, like, actual meal sized. It was apparent that ordering three dishes each may have been a little bit of a judgement error. However, we gave it a good go. We left full to bursting, under the spell of tasty Georgian wine and all for around Â£10.
My mother-in-law had been to Ukraine previously, and had arranged for us to get a private guided tour of Kiev (Kyiv) the following day. So right after breakfast we were picked up by our guide, Helen. Upon meeting me, Helen told us that when two people with the same name meet, they can make a wish. So I did (nope, I’m not telling) and then off we went to explore Kiev on perhaps a day with theÂ mostÂ vibrantÂ blue sky I’ve ever seen!
As we drove, Helen told us about how the city of Kiev came to be. Did you know, that legend has it that Kiev was founded by 3 brothers calledÂ Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv? Well, now you do!
Here’s what we saw…
(Note: this isn’t the ‘Ultimate Guide to Kiev‘ or my ‘Top 10 Things to Do in Kiev‘ type of post. This is just what I did. But I enjoyed it and I’m sure most people would too!)
The Museum of the Great Patriotic War
Our first stop was the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. The museum pays tribute to the heroes of the German-Soviet War. Army vehicles and equipment are on display, along with giant statues that depict the people of Ukraine during that time, both soldiers and civilians.
The highlight is the Motherland Statue, reaching up 102m into the air. The brave traveller can take a trip up to the top of the shield, but I’m a wimp who hates heights so I stayed on the ground, just where I like it.
Monument to Leonid Bykov
This monument is a statue of Leonid Â Bykov, a Ukrainian born script writer, actor and director who starred in many military movies. The statue is dedicated to the pilots of the former Soviet Union who fought in World War 2 and many veterans lay flowers to honour their fallen comrades. TheÂ statue pays homage to one of his most famous roles,Â Tytarenko, from the film ‘Only the Seasoned Join the Fight.’
It’s a peaceful place, and as you can see, the views over the city are pretty stunning too!
House with Chimaeras
The House of the Chimaeras, also known as Gorodetsky House, is the presidential home. Built in the early 20th century, the decorations were created by Italian sculptor, Emilio Sala. They depict animals and hunting scenes, as Gorodesky was a keen hunter (I’m guessing by the type of animals, he may have been a trophy hunter). I don’t care for his choice of hobby, but needless to say, it’s a visually a very good looking building although I can’t say I feel sorry for the fact that he had to sell it due to financial troubles…
Whilst you’re there, see if you can spot the crocodile… it’s not that easy! Hint: you can’t see it in this picture.
Nicholas F. Yakovchenko
Walking down a few steps from the House with Chimaeras, we came to a small park. The park contained a a couple of statues of Nicholas F Yakovchenko, a much loved, famous Ukrainian actor and his dog, Fan-Fan.
St Volodymyrâ€™s Cathedral
I’d spotted this striking yellow building on the ride to the hotel the evening before and knew it was somewhere I wanted to visit. Inside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral is more stunning than the outside. Saints adorn the golden walls, as people stand in silent prayer around the room.
Cameras are forbidden inside, but trust me, it’s beautiful. Ukrainian Orthodox women cover their hair before they go in, so perhaps take a scarf if you want to, but it isn’t necessary. However, it is a church, so I would dress modestly and keep shoulders and knees covered.
St Michaelâ€™s Monastery
Seeing St Michael’s was when I really regretted leaving my camera at home. Buildings like this command that you zoom in and capture every, gorgeous little detail. Trust me to be so forgetful! The only picture I have (fail), isn’t that great, so I borrowed this one!
There are many other different but equally distinctive churches and monasteries around the city. Visit as many as you can (see below for the ones I saw from a distance, but wish I’d seen up close)!
Peyzazhna (Landscape) Alley
One of my favourite places was the very quirky and random Landscape Alley. Part art installation, part children’s playground, this is a little bit different!
I thought this was a real pillow and blanket but on closer inspection, it’s a piece of art!
St Andrewâ€™s Church
Climb up the steps and get up close to St Andrew’s Church and look out over the city or admire the painted eggs.
Independence Square is one of the main square in Kiev, and has seen a lot of political action over the years. Locals and tourists went about their business, as street vendors sold their wares in between road blocks, barricades and tributes to those who had lost their lives in the riots. Â It’s hard to imagine what it looked like before.
Lunch at Varenichnaya Katyusha Restaurant
Yeah… what she said! No idea how to pronounce the name of this restaurant.
We’d left Helen at Independence Square as our three hours were up, so we headed toÂ Varenichnaya KatyushaÂ RestaurantÂ to get some lunch. The restaurant was decorated in a funky, fifties-esq, soviet style, decoration that would be quite at home in one of the trendy eateries in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
I wanted to try the famous Ukrainian (and Polish) dish Borscht (beetroot soup). It came with a big dollop of sour cream in the centre. For dessert I had apple pancakes – both delicious!! The speciality of the restaurant is Vareniki, dumplings stuffed with various things including cheese, potato, meat, sauerkraut or cabbage. I’d eaten about 4 different varieties during the feeding frenzy the previous night so I passed on these today. They brought us some juice, called kompot. On first inspection, it looked like apricot or peach juice, but it didn’t taste like either.Â It tasted like I imagine a tyre would taste. Maybe a tyre mixed with apricot juice. Yes, all rubbery and smoky. Not unpleasant though. I didn’t love it, but I kept drinking it. Have I sold it to you??? You see, this is why I am not a food blogger.Â
The restaurant sits on top of Roshen, a famous Ukrainian chocolatier. So we had a little look in there, I bought some chocolates for my folks! I was disappointed that the puppet band wasn’t playing though. Yes, they have a puppet band! It’s all very Willy Wonka!
Ride the Kiev Metro
If you’re looking for beautiful decor in Kiev, look no further than the underground. We were trying to get taxis home after our trip to Roshen but could only manage to get two. Seven of our group went on ahead, and the four of us remaining decided to get the Metro back to the hotel. And I’m soooo glad we did! We walked to Zoloti Vorota Metro Station and made our way down to the platform. Our train was just arriving as we reached our destination, so we had little time to stop and admire the beautiful ceiling of this underground station. But I managed to grab a quick pic on my iPhone! Probably just as well, I would have been down there for ages photographing this! With it’s chandeliers and mosaics, this is one of the most beautiful undergrounds in the world and definitely the prettiest one I’ve ever seen. And it’s really cheap, around 10 pence a go!
Sunset River Cruise on Dnieper River
I like to call this the river cruise that wasn’t. We headed down to the river bank and booked on to a boat. We sat waiting, looking over the river. The minutes ticked by and soon it was fifteen minutes after the proposed sailing time. So my sister-in-law went to see what was going on. Turns out they wouldn’t go until there was more people. With no other folks in sight, and a rapidly disappearing sun, we decided to ditch the river cruise and walk to the nearest bar.
HopefullyÂ you’ll have more luck than we did – but you have been warned. They did give us back our money though.
On the plus side, we did get to see a little bit more of Kiev as we walked back towards the city. I spotted this great door, which you may have seen if you follow me on Instagram! If you don’t, come on over and say hi!
Dinner at Vulyk
We finished off our day with dinner at a traditional Ukrainian restaurant called Vulyk. Having learned our lesson from the previous day, we went a little easier on the ordering this time. For starters we had home baked Ukrainian garlic bread with cheese. The bread was so light and fluffy! I can honestly say it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. For the main course, whilst the ‘cock jelly’ sounded really tempting (not), I opted for the Chicken Kiev as I couldn’t come to Kiev and not have Chicken Kiev – a dish I’d had at home in the UK many times as a kid, and never really thought about where it came from. Anyway, that was also pretty tasty and beats any I’ve had from the frozen section of Asda!
Along with our meals, we ordered some shots of honey and chilli vodka which were a little too good. Even the mother-in-law tried the vodka – her face was a picture, reminiscent of the time we convinced her to go on the Runaway Mine Train at Alton Towers… but that’s another story!
We ended up getting a few rounds in and for some ‘strange’ reason (can’t have been the 3 shots of vodka each and the Ukrainian wine) the end of the meal became a little raucous and slightly blurry. We were sat in the underground section of the restaurant and there was another big table sitting near to us. They were a mix of nationalities, I could hear a Welsh accent and also some Russian being spoken. We’d just finished our meals, when one of the party began singing a Russian/Ukrainian song, which built up to a climatic Â ‘Hey!” every so often, so naturally, we all joined in too. Clapping , singing the wrong words and certainly joining in with the ‘Heys’! This then carried on with The Wild Rover by The Dubliners.
“And it’s no, nay, never, (clap clap clap clap) no, nay, never, no more will I play the wild rover no, never, no more”
Â The staff at the restaurant waved us off into the night with cheeky shots in three different flavours and pickles on the side!
I’d never been to Eastern Europe before and I really wasn’t expecting to love Kiev or Ukraine. But I really did. The people were friendly, the food and drink were gorgeous and cheap as chips and there were so many cool things to see.Â Thanks for a great day and night Kiev.Â I’ll definitely be coming back!
- We flew to Kiev from Luton with Wizz Air. The plane was nice and comfortable, reasonably priced, pretty efficient, no complaints at all.
- The currency of the Ukraine is theÂ Hryvnia. Currently, there’s about 20 Hryvnia to the Great British Pound, 11 to the US Dollar.
- It’s hard to get currency in the UK, so we changed our money at the airport when we got there.
- You’re not supposed to take the currency out of the country, so we changed it back at the airport.
- We stayed at the President Hotel. The rooms were lovely, great views over Kiev – we could see the Olympic National Sports Complex where Dynamo Kyiv play and Ukraine’s national team. The hotel had a pool and casino!
- Kiev Day is celebrated on the last weekend of May. I can imagine that is a great time to be in the city.
- A guided tour with the lovely Helen cost just Â£10 each. I’m trying to get hold of her details… bear with me!
- The places I didn’t go, but wish I had: The Monastery of the Caves, the Women’s Monastery, St Sophia’s Cathedral andÂ Mariyinsky Palace. Oh well, I will just have to return.
- If you want to make any of the Ukrainian dishes I mentioned in my post, here’s some recipes I found:Â Kompot, Borscht,Â VarenikiÂ or Chicken Kiev. I have some friends over for dinner in a couple of weeks, so I might throw a Ukrainian theme night! Watch this space.
If there’s anything else you want to know, let me know in the comments!Â