A week in Kyiv – Day 1

Originally I wanted a week’s holiday on a Greek Island somewhere by the beach but booking that kind of holiday was too complicated for me. So instead, we booked flights to Kyiv in Ukraine.

Kyiv (or Kiev as you may also know it) had been on our to-visit list for a while, but we only just found out you can get there on a budget airline, and even if that budget airline is Ryanair, it still opened up Kyiv for us as a potential destination.

The outbound flight on Saturday had the pleasant departure time of 9:00am from London Stansted, our closest airport. We had a slight panic when our taxi was 20 minutes late but made the journey in good time and got through security quite quickly despite the large number of Tottenham supporters in the airport making their way to Madrid for the Champions League final.

Due to the longish flight time (3hrs 20min), we paid extra to guarantee sitting together, and as we were travelling for a week, paid another extra fee to guarantee one carry-on bag in both directions. The flight passed quickly; I’d just started a new book and got a good third of the way through it.

Coming out of the airport, we turned right for the SkyBus. This was an easy way to get to the main train station (“Voksal”) without needing to argue with a taxi driver.

We booked the Ibis Kiev Railway Station for our first night because we were being collected from nearby early the next day for our 2-day trip to Chernobyl/Pripyat. It was convenient too, because the train and bus connections from the airport go to the main station, so we only had a short walk to the hotel.

After checking in, we set out for a walk around Kyiv. Like many cities, the area around the train station isn’t great. Its a hub not just for trains but also for minibuses (marshrutkyas) and the intercity bus terminal is also nearby.

But once away from the travel chaos, Kyiv became more charming… and steep. We walked uphill and found ourselves in a pleasant park where we took a pause for ice cream (morozyvo in Ukrainian) before buying some metro tokens (zheton) for later in the week. We confused the kassa (cashier) by asking for eight tokens. She only wanted to sell us two. It seems not typical behaviour to plan ahead and buy multiple tokens, and not typical for a kassa to sell more tokens than there are people in front of you.

We found ourselves in Taras Shevchenko park which was just about as nice and relaxed a park as you could hope to find on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a big city. With dappled shade, a busker playing jazz, plenty of cafes, a trickling fountain, the park had a relaxed family vibe. There were even pony rides on offer!

Although there were plenty of places offering coffee and snacks, we were attracted by the handwritten sign in a kiosk window advertising “KBAC”. Kvas is one of those things that sounds disgusting but is actually tasty. It’s made of fermented black bread, which already sounds awful. But it’s not. It is less fizzy and less sweet than soft drink; and less sour than beer. On a hot day it’s refreshing, and it’s something we now look for when travelling in any Slavic/ex-Soviet country.

Wandering out of the park, we made our way down to Khreshatyk street. Normally a busy street with six lanes of traffic, today it was closed to traffic for some kind of festival. There were stalls (although most were closing up by this time of day), and some singing and dancing events on various stages.

This was the perfect time and place to pause for an ale, so we stopped in at Shato Robert Doms for a locally brewed dark ale and a snack described as “Cheese plate for beer”.

The plate that arrived had us perplexed. Six pieces of cheese and what looked like a pile of string and a pile of straw. One pile was salty, like it had been soaked in brine; the other pile was smoky. It’s cheese Jim but not as we know it.

How do you eat string/straw cheese? We just wound it up into little bundles and popped it into our mouths, all the while looking around nervously to see if other pub patrons were staring in horror or laughing at us.

After all that cheese we weren’t very hungry, so we took the metro back to Voksal,  and our hotel, picking up some ice tea and snacks on the way, where we indulged in a favourite holiday pastime of eating snacks in bed in the air-conditioned hotel room while watching a trashy action film dubbed into another language.

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