You’ve already heard about my Chernobyl experience but it’s time now to carry on the Ukrainian adventure.
I flew with my friend Sam from London-Luton Airport on a sunny Friday afternoon to Kyiv-Zhuliany airport. We flew via Wizz air since this trip Ryanair now offer a service from London-Stansted as well. As well as the pre-existing Ukranian International Airlines service from London-Gatwick (I’m sure there are many other routes as well).
The flight times were not the most fortunate as we eneded up finally stepping outside of Zhuliany airport around 4am. You do not need to apply for a visa in advance in Ukraine as you receive a standard 90 days on arrival.
The currency in Ukraine is the Hryvnia this is a closed currency and is only available in Ukraine.
So our first stop was to find a cash machine then to find a taxi to take us to our hotel.
For this trip, we stayed at the Ibis hotel in Kyiv City centre. I’ve already said how much I trust this chain so nothing new there. You always know what you are getting. Finally around 5:30 am we got to sleep.
After a slightly late start to the day we headed out into the city for the first time. This was my first time seeing Cyrillic text in the flesh on signs and placenames. To start with I found it horrendusly disoritenting and confusing. Eventually you begin to figure out a pattern however.
Our hotel was next to the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv which was also next to the aptly named Universytet station. A single ticket on the Kyiv metro is 8 Hryvnia which is around 25 pence in Stirling.
The Metro is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Kyiv, I found the buses confusing and complicated. Uber is also present in Kyiv and Ukraine’s own version called Uklon.
We headed immediately for the city centre to Volodymyrska Hill a park overlooking the river front and which also contained a number of Kyivs golden domed orthadox catherdrals.
To get to the top of the park we cheated by taking the funicular railway to the top. This once again was 8 Hryvnia.
Once at the stop we saw St. Michael’s Monastery a site comprising of a cathedral, bell tower, refectory & gates, all built in Ukrainian Baroque style. The grounds are impressive and there is no charge to view inside the grounds and the cathedral.
We continued along our walk in the park until we found the Friendship of Nations Arch. This arch in a rainbow type structure was constructed in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union as well as the 1500th year of Kyiv.
Concrete in structure it stands at 50m high with a bronze statue depicting Russian and Ukrainian workers holding up the Soviet Order of the Friendship of Peoples.
This arch is scheduled for demolition due to the mass decommunisation efforts in Ukraine and will be replaced with a monument to the victims of the war in Donbass in 2014.
We walked down from the park to the riverfront to the Parkovyi Bridge a suspension bridge going over the Dnieper River. On the otherside there are beaches which had plenty of sunbathers.
For the more extreme among you reading there were bunjee jumping experiances off of the bridge, perhaps anothertime!
The day was slowly drifting by and it was time for lunch. We soon found an area with boats for river trips and while waiting we found a huge waterfront area with many food stalls selling hot dogs, burgers and other grilled meats. Word of warning from experiance here. Don’t eat it. Find a proper resturant.
Boat trips are often a must on these kind of breaks, the cost for this was around 150 Hryvnia which works out at about £4.50. This is in exchange for an hour and a half river trip. It’s a pleasent trip but theres no commentary onboard or anything like that but there is a little kiosk to by a beer, ice cream as well as other snacks.
The boat sailed along the river allowing us to take in many of Kyiv’s sites all the way along to the Motherland Monument before turning around and heading back to the dock.
The evening was drawing nearer and it was time to look for something to eat. We headed towards Independence square, when we got there we found something we really weren’t expecting. A total festival atmosphere was in full swing. Music, Dancers, Performers, Games for all to enjoy. It was quite an experience and a real welcome to Ukraine. We ate at a pizzeria that night it was about the only place we could get into as the whole area was incredibly busy.
Shortly after this, there was a huge commotion as people moved over towards the large fountains in the middle of the square. In a total surprise to us, an incredible sound and light show began with the fountains. With the water shooting as high as some of the buildings in the area.
It was a really cool thing to watch and clearly for other tourists and locals alike. Kyiv was beginning to leave an impression on me.
That evening I was able to complete a personal objective by buying a Dynamo Kyiv football scarf continuing the tradition of buying a football scarf of the local team. Those who know me well know how many of these things I have now!
The next day was the visit to Chernobyl you can read about that in my previous post.
The day after Chernobyl was another day exploring Kyiv. First stop was the Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum after our previous Chernobyl filled day it was good to see many artefacts and other bits from the distorter. You may have gathered Chernobyl is a subject I find particularly fascinating, along with ex Soviet-era places.
On a side note museums and attractions generally, are incredibly cheap in Ukraine. the museum was about 20 Hryvnia which is about 60 Pence.
We took a walk to Saint Sophias Cathedral after a quick stop for lunch the whole area is impressive again with more gold-topped spires in true Orthodox style.
Once again entrance was about 20 Hryvnia. After almost interrupting a wedding we made it to the top of one of the spires and saw a fantastic view of Kyiv.
For some reason, photos were not allowed inside the walls of Saint Sophia’s so I have no photos to show you.
Dinner that evening was fast approaching, my friend Sam who I travelled with picked out one of the best restraints I have ever eaten at. Suitably named Beef, Meat & Wine, a hint to what was coming.
Our waiter that evening Andrei really looked after us and went all out with recommendations for food and wine, I had wonderful Frois Grois to start with my first ever tasting of Kobi beef for the main course with a fantastic cheesecake for dessert followed by cheese, dessert wines and a very kind complimentary cocktail. We were definately full after this meal!
So far as service and experience go this is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten. If you find yourself in Kyiv then do go and visit, their website is linked here http://beef.kiev.ua/en/, however, this meal wasn’t cheap compared to what we had been paying up to this point. Our total dinner cost for the two of us was about 7500 Hyyvina around £230. Pricy I know but when you consider the high-quality food, wines and the service we received it’s really actually incredible value. It was also Sams 30th birthday so we were celebrating anyway!
The next morning we were doing something a little different we were going shooting. This was another tour arranged through our friends at Chernobyl Tour https://www.chernobyl-tour.com/english/ for $150 each you get the use of 5 guns at a shooting range, we had the use of a Sniper Rifle, an AK47 assault rifle, a Shotgun, Handgun and an 1890’s Lee Enfield rifle. You get a lift to and from the range and a professional instructor guiding you the whole way. It’s a fun way to spend a morning.
After this, we went for a stroll around the city centre. Stopping at Dynamo Kyiv’s stadium which also doubles as an Olympic standard stadium. It’s a huge stadium which has a museum which sadly had been incorrectly marked as open on Google Maps but was infact closed upon arrival, much to my disappointment. We’d have to make do with a walk around the stadium perimeter.
That night for novelty factor we wanted a Chicken Kiev, now as it turns out Chicken Kiev didn’t actually originate in Kyiv but that’s another story.
We found the suitably named restaurant Chicken Kyiv and had a Chicken Kiev, in Kyiv… Kievception… Interestingly the Kiev was served on the bone a new experience to me as previously any Chicken Kiev I had had had come from Tesco in a cellophane wrapper. This version was far tastier.
Dessert was a Kyiv Cake a traditional cake to Kyiv the cake has layers of meringue with nuts, chocolate, and a buttercream filling. Theses were apparently very popular all over the Soviet Union.
The next day it was time to return home, Kyiv and Ukraine had left an impression on me and I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface. I went to Ukraine to go to Chernobyl but I discovered so much more. The place fascinated me and I wanted to see more.
Less than a week at back at work and back at reality I made one of the most spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made. I booked a flight to return to Kyiv. I was going back to Ukraine less than two weeks after returning. This time travelling solo with other cities in mind…
Part 2 coming soon.