After two intense days at Chernobyl, we slept late and then sat in the apartment trying to organise a schedule. Sometimes this happens on trips – if we don’t have a pre-defined agenda, we sit around procrastinating. It’s as if we are afraid to say, “Let’s relax and take it easy,” because we feel we should be doing something, but at the same time we are tired and want to relax. So we procrastinate, which is not relaxing and not doing nothing, and actually can be stressful. Admittedly, planning what to do was difficult because my husband had all our sites to see in Kyiv on maps.me on his phone, and his phone had died while in Chernobyl (could it be the radiation?). This meant we had to try and remember what we wanted to see and re-plug the locations into the maps.me on my phone.
Realising it was nearly lunchtime and we were still sitting in our Airbnb looking at our phones, we pulled ourselves together, pulled our shoes on and went out into Kyiv.
Our first stop was Gorodetsky House (House with Chimeras) opposite the President’s Administration building. This house was built in the early 1900s and is decorated with many animal sculptures – elephants, rhinos, frogs, catfish. The house is not open to the public, but I have a feeling the interesting part is the outside.
The second building-of-note was the Chocolate House, built around the same time. Although less decorative than Gorodetsky’s exterior, the Chocolate House is painted shiny milk chocolate colour, and it does look like it is made from sculpted chocolate. There is an art gallery inside the house but it was not open when we were there.
So onto the next building, the National Bank of Ukraine. I wanted to see this because I had worked on a project for them some years ago. The building also dates from the early 1900 and looks like strawberry ice cream with whipped cream tracing. Or maybe I was hungry. But for such a serious institution, it does have a very frilly pink and white exterior.
We consulted the map to see what recommended places were nearby for lunch. Ostannya Barykada (the Last Barricade) had been recommended by two friends separately so we decided to go there. Except – where is it? There was a neon sign at the entrance to a shopping mall so we followed it to the lift. We pressed the button “OB” but when we got there, it wasn’t a restaurant, only a stand up bar with no seating, so we got back in the lift. We were in the mall, looking up, and could see the restaurant – there were people in there, sitting, eating – but how to get there?
Using the mall Wi-Fi, I consulted the internet for more information. Several reviews referred to the restaurant’s “secret entrance”. Oh, right, so it’s a challenge. We made our way back up the stairs, looking for a secret door, but we reached the restaurant level and still no door. But there was an exit to the car park. We could be onto something here.
Out to the car park, past the nail bar and there was a small unmarked doorway, “This must be it.” And it was. I haven’t had to work that hard for lunch for some time. So I felt I had earned that nettle beer. (Yes, it was green.)
After lunch, we decided to keep walking and headed towards Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate) as this was also recommended. Here we came up against typical Kyiv geography and found ourselves walking steeply uphill. Be warned! Kyiv is full of hills so wear flat, comfortable shoes.
The Golden Gate was in a pleasant tree-lined square. We looked at the building, a reconstruction of one of the old city gates of Kyiv from the 11th century.
“Do you want to go in and see the museum?” It turns out that, no, we didn’t. What we did want was to see the two cat sculptures in the square and then go for a drink in the cafe. The two cat sculptures appeared on our map as “bronze cat sculpture” and “cat made of plastic forks.” This was intriguing and it turns out, quite typical of Kyiv, as there are quirky little statues/sculptures/memorials dotted throughout the city. There’s even a whole blog post about them.
“Bronze cat” was a memorial of the cat Panteilemon, who belonged to a woman who owned a restaurant beside the square. Whereas “cat made of plastic forks”… well I think whoever made it had it confused with a koala.
We decided to have a sit down and relax in the open air cafe in the square. Husband had a beer and I had a kvas. I think after two busy days of walking on our Chernobyl tour we were tired of being on our feet. We sipped our drinks and watched the other cafe patrons.
There was a table of six older men nearby just finishing their lunch when one of them – the oldest or the richest I’m not sure, but certainly the one with the long “aging rockstar” haircut – ordered cognac for the table. Six of those wonderfully shaped brandy balloons were brought out. The man who ordered it was making magnanimous gestures, indicating his generosity in ordering this for everyone. The man closest to us was looking at his brandy with disgust and a little later quietly slipped away from the table, leaving his brandy glass untouched. The other men at the table looked like they were trying to appear happy when the last thing they wanted was a brandy. Certainly no-one seemed in a hurry to drink it.
The sky was clouding over so we decided while there was a threat of rain we should stay under cover at the café for a second drink. This time I had a coffee because I was so tired I thought I might fall asleep. We stayed for over an hour in the cafe and it was only when we left that the anticipated rain came down in earnest. And of course we hadn’t packed an umbrella – if we had, it wouldn’t have rained.
Just down the road was the St Sophia complex, with a cathedral, a belltower and some other museums. Being late in the day, we got the simple ticket for the cathedral and the refectory museum.
The cathedral was typical of orthodox churches in side: a gold-encrusted screen, Jesus peeking down from the cupola and walls covered in frescoes of saints.
Upstairs there was some history about the churches of Kyiv and the steps people took to protect various significant artworks and religious artefacts during the Soviet time. But for me the highlight was the modern artwork made of 15,000 wooden Easter eggs.
When we came out from the cathedral it was still raining so we trotted over to the Refectory, but there was a service going on in the main museum room and it didn’t feel right to go in there while the priest was singing and his parishioners were worshipping.
So we stood in the doorway of the building, waiting for the rain to stop.
But it didn’t.
Although it did ease after a bit, enough for us to leave and head back to our accommodation through the drizzle.
We stopped at the Billa supermarket (other food stores are available) which seemed to be crowded with young people buying alcohol. We bought cheese dumplings and khinkhali for dinner, along with a bottle of Bastardo wine. (And yes, we only bought it for its name.)
Dinner was not a success. Our frozen khinkhali broke apart as we cooked them, creating a weak kind of greasy soup. And the cheese dumplings were sweet – some kind of sweet cottage cheese that would go well with fruit compote but not so well as a main course for dinner.
Luckily the Bastardo wine was tasty.