As we close the books on another Eurovision finale with Portugal taking home their first ever trophy, we at HelloEurope.eu reflect on our few days in the Ukrainian capital and all it has to offer.
Despite initial organisational problems, the ‘Eurovisual’ atmosphere in Kiev was celebratory. You couldn’t turn a corner without having a poster or logo pop up in your face. Even the political propaganda leaflets from tellers at the gates were strewn with Eurovision emblems.
Security was top notch, if a little intimidating. Swathes of police buses and military vehicles surrounded the arena and stood century around the fan zones. Given the mixed opinions of gay rights and the Ukraine’s on-going turbulence with Russia it was a relief to see safety was a priority.
Fan zones and Euro Villages were set up in every square and the locals, for the most part, seemed to enjoy the presence of foreign visitors. The HelloEurope gang were approached several times by people wanting to know where we were from. One even commented that Ukrainians “are not so emotional” as we are, as our poor singing renditions of favourite Eurovision entries with dramatic hand gestures made us stick out like sore thumbs in the arena of stoic Ukrainians.
But aside from Eurovision festivities what else does Kiev have to offer? For a sunny day of sight-seeing it offers quite a lot.
The Thrifty Traveller
Thrift is not a worry in Kiev. The prices are considerably low compared to the West of Europe, and a lot can be done with very little. Even when the prices are jacked up for the tourists they are still quite cheap. Most of the sights are a comfortable walk away from the centre but if your feet start failing the metro is easy to use and extremely affordable!
If you are an ‘On-foot Explorer’ like me, however, it’s worth noting in advance of your planned expedition that most of the street names are written in Cyrillic. If you can read Cyrillic, great! If you can’t then I’d advise that you make note of the characters of the street names you’re looking for. ‘Backwards ‘N’’, ‘‘B’ with a hat’, and ‘chair shape’ were some of the nicknames we’d given the calligraphic characters on our walkabout.
An Uphill Descent; Andriyivskyy Descent (Андріївський узвіз)
Or Ascent depending on which way you approach it. In our case it was the latter, but our uphill struggle did not diminish our enjoyment of this picturesque cobbled street with vendors selling tourists tat and home-made traditional goods alike. Some of the wares are quite beautiful and add colour to the street’s character.
On a sunny day it can’t be beaten. The scenery is cosy combined with sweeping vistas of the city around you. Juxtopositioning is full frontal with antiquity meeting modernity as high-rises tower over Orthodox churches.
At the top of Andrew’s Descent stands St. Andrew’s Church of which local lore will tell you it was built as a gesture of (unrequited) love. In brief, a Russian ruler who wanted to marry a beautiful Ukrainian woman had the church built as a token of his love for her and had hoped to marry her within. Alas, the woman said ‘no’.
St. Andrew’s beauty is not diminished by lovelorn stories and is worth a look after, or before, a leisurely stroll on the Descent.
The Descent and St. Andrew’s Church (circa 2017). Photos by Steph.
An effortless way to get to the historic upper or commercial lower parts of the city is to use the funicular. If you manage to get a seat at the front you can admire the view over the river as you go down. And if you miss it, at 3 Hryvnia a ride, you can always hop on again.
The ride is short but can add a little variety to your exploration of the city as it leads from Mykhailivska Square by St. Michael’s church in the Uptown down to the Poshtova Square in the Podil and back again.
The best time to ride the funicular is in the morning as it can get quite busy in the afternoon with commuters and tourists. For the locals it is just another means of public transport and can become as crowded as the metro, but get there early enough and you can rest your weary legs whilst enjoying the ride.
Going down! The upper station and track (circa 2017). Photos by Steph.
Fine Dining at Spotykach
There are a number of good eateries around Kiev and all quite affordable for the visiting tourist. The range of restaurants contain anything from traditional Ukrainian dishes and entertainment to modern décor and world food. If you’d like a combined taste of a modern take on the old then Spotykach is a place to experience neo-traditional Ukrainian food.
Only a 2-minute walk from Sophia Square you can sample some traditional Ukrainian borscht frozen as an ice lolly, followed by Ukrainian Flag dumplings (coloured yellow and blue) or even black squid ink dumplings. And why not end on a chessboard of Ukrainian liqueurs and chocolates? They also serve some of the best chicken Kievs you’ll ever taste in Kiev!
Down the Rabbit Hole into Landscape Alley (Пейзажна Алеи)
While on a walkabout around Kiev it’s worth paying a visit to the mosaic park. Hidden between two main roads it may be difficult to find at first but once you’ve discovered it you’ll find it a veritable park of delights.
From colourful benches where you can sit inside a cat’s mouth to simply enjoying the abstract and slightly bizarre mosaic sculptures and wall art, it is a family favourite and a wonderful place to relax and break up your sight-seeing stroll with a few laughs.
Any guesses as to what Alice is up to? (circa 2017). Photos by Steph.
St. Nicholas Wondermaker on The Water Church
A small chapel juxtaposed next to a busy motorway and seemingly misplaced amongst the commercial buildings it’s almost as though one piece of old town scenery dislodged itself from the upper part and trickled down to the main city area.
Located on the Dnieper River the church makes a nice little stop-off for a riverside walk and is only a few minutes away from the funicular Podil station.
You’ll find a lot of ornate frescos and shrines inside with a few areas of prayer, and for such a small building it really does give the illusion of seclusion and grandeur in contrast to the concrete highway outside.
A tip to those not familiar with religious surroundings; Ukraine’s Orthodox religious practice is very much still adhered by the locals so one must be respectful of the etiquette. Photos are allowed in the chapel but it is advised to turn off the flash and not disturb any people in prayer.
Diamond in the rough (circa 2017). Photo by Steph.
Kiev Perersk Lavra
Speaking of prayer, one area of Kiev which is filled with stunning Orthodox architecture and the sound of praise is the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. For a small fee you can enter the monastic area on which stands the St. Sophia Cathedral and cloisters. It is revered as the most holy place in Kiev with services and prayer sounding out from speakers around the churches.
The golden domes and majestic towers are stunning to look upon and the entire area is a peaceful and scenic walk around, and for a few hryvnia more you can go inside the buildings and visit the caves which acted as the monks’ burial chambers.
Be prepared to see a lot of piety as church-goers genuflect several times before going in and after coming out of the churches, and Orthodox clergy pace around the grounds with black vestments and impressive facial hair.
Golden domes and grey sky (circa 2017). Photo by Steph.
Kiev has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture and it is also worth mentioning the forward-thinking efforts of the young locals who are embracing of foreign visitors.
However, given the Ukraine’s political struggles and conflicts with Russia many of the people are still a bit wary of people from other countries, so it pays to be prudent.
Aggressive taxi drivers at the airport are not indicative of all Ukrainians, most tend to mind their own business. You’ll find less street hassle in Kiev than walking past discos down an Ibiza bar strip!
Although, undoubtedly, tension and hostility is still palpable in some parts of Ukraine the centre of Kiev is not where you’ll find them. Provided you are careful, mindful, and respectful you can enjoy all Kiev has to offer!
Featured image; Opposite Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності) Independence Square Kiev Circa 2017). Photo by Steph.